The last rays of the sun, contending with clouds of smoke that drifted across the country, partially illumined a peculiar landscape. Far as the eye could reach, and the region was level, except where a range of limestone hills formed its distant limit, a wilderness of cottages or tenements that were hardly entitled to a higher name, were scattered for many miles over the land; some detached, some connected in little rows, some clustering in groups, yet rarely forming continuous streets, but interspersed with blazing furnaces, heaps of burning coal, and piles of smouldering ironstone; while forges and engine chimneys roared and puffed in all directions, and indicated the frequent presence of the mouth of the mine and the bank of the coal-pit. Notwithstanding the whole country might be compared to a vast rabbit warren, it was nevertheless intersected with canals crossing each other at various levels, and though the subterranean operations were prosecuted with so much avidity that it was not uncommon to observe whole rows of houses awry, from the shifting and hollow nature of the land, still, intermingled with heaps of mineral refuse or of metallic dross, patches of the surface might here and there be recognised, covered, as if in mockery, with grass and corn, looking very much like those gentlemen’s sons that we used to read of in our youth, stolen by the chimneysweeps and giving some intimations of their breeding beneath their grimy livery. But a tree or a shrub — such an existence was unknown in this dingy rather than dreary region.
It was the twilight hour; the hour at which in southern climes the peasant kneels before the sunset image of the blessed Hebrew maiden; when caravans halt in their long course over vast deserts, and the turbaned traveller bending in the sand, pays his homage to the sacred stone and the sacred city; the hour, not less holy, that announces the cessation of English toil, and sends forth the miner and the collier to breathe the air of earth, and gaze on the light of heaven.
They come forth: the mine delivers its gang and the pit its bondsmen; the forge is silent and the engine is still. The plain is covered with the swarming multitude: bands of stalwart men, broad-chested and muscular, wet with toil, and black as the children of the tropics; troops of youth — alas! of both sexes — though neither their raiment nor their language indicates the difference; all are clad in male attire; and oaths that men might shudder at, issue from lips born to breathe words of sweetness. Yet these are to be-some are — the mothers of England! But can we wonder at the hideous coarseness of their language when we remember the savage rudeness of their lives? Naked to the waist, an iron chain fastened to a belt of leather runs between their legs clad in canvas trousers, while on hands and feet an English girl, for twelve, sometimes for sixteen hours a-day, hauls and hurries tubs of coals up subterranean roads, dark, precipitous, and plashy: circumstances that seem to have escaped the notice of the Society for the Abolition of Negro Slavery. Those worthy gentlemen too appear to have been singularly unconscious of the sufferings of the little Trappers, which was remarkable, as many of them were in their own employ.
See too these emerge from the bowels of the earth! Infants of four and five years of age, many of them girls, pretty and still soft and timid; entrusted with the fulfilment of most responsible duties, and the nature of which entails on them the necessity of being the earliest to enter the mine and the latest to leave it. Their labour indeed is not severe, for that would be impossible, but it is passed in darkness and in solitude. They endure that punishment which philosophical philanthropy has invented for the direst criminals, and which those criminals deem more terrible than the death for which it is substituted. Hour after hour elapses, and all that reminds the infant Trappers of the world they have quitted and that which they have joined, is the passage of the coal-waggons for which they open the air-doors of the galleries, and on keeping which doors constantly closed, except at this moment of passage, the safety of the mine and the lives of the persons employed in it entirely depend.
Sir Joshua, a man of genius and a courtly artist, struck by the seraphic countenance of Lady Alice Gordon, when a child of very tender years, painted the celestial visage in various attitudes on the same canvass, and styled the group of heavenly faces — guardian angels!
We would say to some great master of the pencil, Mr Landseer or Mr Etty, go thou to the little trappers and do likewise!
A small party of miners approached a house of more pretension than the generality of the dwellings, and announcing its character by a very flagrant sign of the Rising Sun. They entered it as men accustomed, and were greeted with smiles and many civil words from the lady at the bar, who inquired very cheerfully what the gentlemen would have. They soon found themselves seated in the tap, and, though it was not entirely unoccupied, in their accustomed places, for there seemed a general understanding that they enjoyed a prescriptive right.
With hunches of white bread in their black hands, and grinning with their sable countenances and ivory teeth, they really looked like a gang of negroes at a revel.
The cups of ale circulated, the pipes were lighted, the preliminary puffs achieved. There was at length silence, when he who seemed their leader and who filled a sort of president’s seat, took his pipe from his mouth, and then uttering the first complete sentence that had yet been expressed aloud, thus delivered himself.
“The fact is we are tommied to death.”
“You never spoke a truer word, Master Nixon,” said one of his companions.
“It’s gospel, every word of it,” said another.
“And the point is,” continued Master Nixon, “what are we for to do?”
“Ay, surely,” said a collier; “that’s the marrow.”
“Ay, ay,” agreed several; “there it is.”
“The question is,” said Nixon, looking round with a magisterial air, “what is wages? I say, tayn’t sugar, tayn’t tea, tayn’t bacon. I don’t think it’s candles; but of this I be sure, tayn’t waistcoats.”
Here there was a general groan.
“Comrades,” continued Nixon, “you know what has happened; you know as how Juggins applied for his balance after his tommy-book was paid up, and that incarnate nigger Diggs has made him take two waistcoats. Now the question rises, what is a collier to do with waistcoats? Pawn ’em I s’pose to Diggs’ son-in-law, next door to his father’s shop, and sell the ticket for sixpence. Now there’s the question; keep to the question; the question is waistcoats and tommy; first waistcoats and then tommy.”
“I have been making a pound a-week these two months past,” said another, “but as I’m a sinner saved, I have never seen the young queen’s picture yet.”
“And I have been obliged to pay the doctor for my poor wife in tommy,” said another. “‘Doctor,’ I said, says I, ‘I blush to do it, but all I have got is tommy, and what shall it be, bacon or cheese?’ ‘Cheese at tenpence a pound,’ says he, ‘which I buy for my servants at sixpence. Never mind,’ says he, for he is a thorough Christian, ‘I’ll take the tommy as I find it.’”
“Juggins has got his rent to pay and is afeard of the bums,” said Nixon; “and he has got two waistcoats!”
“Besides,” said another, “Diggs’ tommy is only open once a-week, and if you’re not there in time, you go over for another seven days. And it’s such a distance, and he keeps a body there such a time — it’s always a day’s work for my poor woman; she can’t do nothing after it, what with the waiting and the standing and the cussing of Master Joseph Diggs — for he do swear at the women, when they rush in for the first turn, most fearful.”
“They do say he’s a shocking little dog.”
“Master Joseph is wery wiolent, but there is no one like old Diggs for grabbing a bit of one’s wages. He do so love it! And then he says you never need be at no loss for nothing; you can find everything under my roof. I should like to know who is to mend our shoes. Has Gaffer Diggs a cobbler’s stall?”
“Or sell us a penn-orth of potatoes,” said another. “Or a ha’porth of milk.”
“No; and so to get them one is obliged to go and sell some tommy, and much one gets for it. Bacon at ninepence a-pound at Diggs’, which you may get at a huckster’s for sixpence, and therefore the huckster can’t be expected to give you more than fourpence halfpenny, by which token the tommy in our field just cuts our wages atween the navel.”
“And that’s as true as if you heard it in church, Master Waghorn.”
“This Diggs seems to be an oppressor of the people,” said a voice from a distant corner of the room.
Master Nixon looked around, smoked, puffed, and then said, “I should think he wor; as bloody-a-hearted butty as ever jingled.”
“But what business has a butty to keep a shop?” inquired the stranger. “The law touches him.”
“I should like to know who would touch the law,” said Nixon; “not I for one. Them tommy shops is very delicate things; they won’t stand no handling, I can tell you that.”
“But he cannot force you to take goods,” said the stranger; “he must pay you in current coin of the realm, if you demand it.”
“They only pay us once in five weeks,” said a collier; “and how is a man to live meanwhile. And suppose we were to make shift for a month or five weeks, and have all our money coming, and have no tommy out of the shop, what would the butty say to me? He would say, ‘do you want e’er a note this time’ and if I was to say ‘no,’ then he would say, ‘you’ve no call to go down to work any more here.’ And that’s what I call forsation.”
“Ay, ay,” said another collier; “ask for the young queen’s picture, and you would soon have to put your shirt on, and go up the shaft.”
“It’s them long reckonings that force us to the tommy shops,” said another collier; “and if a butty turns you away because you won’t take no tommy, you’re a marked man in every field about.”1
1 A Butty in the mining districts is a middleman: a Doggy is his manager. The Butty generally keeps a Tommy or Truck shop and pays the wages of his labourers in goods. When miners and colliers strike they term it, “going to play.”
“There’s wus things as tommy,” said a collier who had hitherto been silent, “and that’s these here butties. What’s going on in the pit is known only to God Almighty and the colliers. I have been a consistent methodist for many years, strived to do well, and all the harm I have ever done to the butties was to tell them that their deeds would not stand on the day of judgment.
“They are deeds of darkness surely; for many’s the morn we work for nothing, by one excuse or another, and many’s the good stint that they undermeasure. And many’s the cup of their ale that you must drink before they will give you any work. If the queen would do something for us poor men, it would be a blessed job.”
“There ayn’t no black tyrant on this earth like a butty, surely,” said a collier; “and there’s no redress for poor men.”
“But why do not you state your grievances to the landlords and lessees,” said the stranger.
“I take it you be a stranger in these parts, sir,” said Master Nixon, following up this remark by a most enormous puff. He was the oracle of his circle, and there was silence whenever he was inclined to address them, which was not too often, though when he spoke, his words, as his followers often observed, were a regular ten-yard coal.
“I take it you be a stranger in these parts, sir, or else you would know that it’s as easy for a miner to speak to a mainmaster, as it is for me to pick coal with this here clay. Sir, there’s a gulf atween ’em. I went into the pit when I was five year old, and I count forty year in the service come Martinmas, and a very good age, sir, for a man what does his work, and I knows what I’m speaking about. In forty year, sir, a man sees a pretty deal, ‘specially when he don’t move out of the same spot and keeps his ‘tention. I’ve been at play, sir, several times in forty year, and have seen as great stick-outs as ever happened in this country. I’ve seen the people at play for weeks together, and so clammed that I never tasted nothing but a potatoe and a little salt for more than a fortnight. Talk of tommy, that was hard fare, but we were holding out for our rights, and that’s sauce for any gander. And I’ll tell you what, sir, that I never knew the people play yet, but if a word had passed atween them and the main-masters aforehand, it might not have been settled; but you can’t get at them any way. Atween the poor man and the gentleman there never was no connection, and that’s the wital mischief of this country.
“It’s a very true word, Master Nixon, and by this token that when we went to play in — 28, and the masters said they would meet us; what did they do but walk about the ground and speak to the butties. The butties has their ear.”
“We never want no soldiers here if the masters would speak with the men; but the sight of a pitman is pison to a gentleman, and if we go up to speak with ’em, they always run away.”
“It’s the butties,” said Nixon; “they’re wusser nor tommy.”
“The people will never have their rights,” said the stranger, “until they learn their power. Suppose instead of sticking out and playing, fifty of your families were to live under one roof. You would live better than you live now; you would feed more fully, and he lodged and clothed more comfortably, and you might save half the amount of your wages; you would become capitalists; you might yourselves hire your mines and pits from the owners, and pay them a better rent than they now obtain, and yet yourselves gain more and work less.”
“Sir,” said Mr Nixon, taking his pipe from his mouth, and sending forth a volume of smoke, “you speak like a book.”
“It is the principle of association,” said the stranger; “the want of the age.”
“Sir,” said Mr Nixon, “this here age wants a great deal, but what it principally wants is to have its wages paid in the current coin of the realm.”
Soon after this there were symptoms of empty mugs and exhausted pipes, and the party began to stir. The stranger addressing Nixon, enquired of him what was their present distance from Wodgate.
“Wodgate!” exclaimed Mr Nixon with an unconscious air.
“The gentleman means Hell-house Yard,” said one of his companions.
“I’m at home,” said Mr Nixon, “but ’tis the first time I ever heard Hell-house Yard called Wodgate.”
“It’s called so in joggraphy,” said Juggins.
“But you hay’nt going to Hell-house Yard this time of night!” said Mr Nixon. “I’d as soon think of going down the pit with the windlass turned by lushy Bob.”
“Tayn’t a journey for Christians,” said Juggins.
“They’re a very queer lot even in sunshine,” said another.
“And how far is it?” asked the stranger.
“I walked there once in three hours,” said a collier, “but that was to the wake. If you want to see divils carnal, there’s your time of day. They’re no less than heathens, I be sure. I’d be sorry to see even our butty among them, for he is a sort of a Christian when he has taken a glass of ale.”
Two days after the visit of Egremont to the cottage of Walter Gerard, the visit of the Marney family to Mowbray terminated, and they returned to the Abbey.
There is something mournful in the breaking up of an agreeable party, and few are the roofs in which one has sojourned, which are quitted without some feeling of depression. The sudden cessation of all those sources of excitement which pervade a gay and well arranged mansion in the country, unstrings the nervous system. For a week or so, we have done nothing which was not agreeable, and heard nothing which was not pleasant. Our self-love has been respected; there has been a total cessation of petty cares; all the enjoyment of an establisnment without any of its solicitude. We have beheld civilization only in its favoured aspect, and tasted only the sunny side of the fruit. Sometimes there are associations with our visit of a still sweeter and softer character, but on these we need not dwell: glances that cannot be forgotten, and tones that linger in the ear; sentiment that subdues the soul, and flirtation that agitates the fancy. No matter, whatever may be the cause, one too often drives away from a country-house, rather hipped. The specific would be immediately to drive to another, and it is a favourite remedy. But sometimes it is not in our power; sometimes for instance we must return to our household gods in the shape of a nursery; and though this was not the form assumed by the penates of Lord Marney, his presence, the presence of an individual so important and so indefatigable, was still required. His Lordship had passed his time at Mowbray to his satisfaction. He had had his own way in everything. His selfishness had not received a single shock. He had lain down the law and it had not been questioned. He had dogmatised and impugned, and his assertions had passed current, and his doctrines been accepted as orthodox. Lord Mowbray suited him; he liked the consideration of so great a personage. Lord Marney also really liked pomp; a curious table and a luxurious life; but he liked them under any roof rather than his own. Not that he was what is commonly called a Screw; that is to say he was not a mere screw; but he was acute and malicious; saw everybody’s worth and position at a glance; could not bear to expend his choice wines and costly viands on hangers-on and toad-eaters, though at the same time no man encouraged and required hangers-on and toad-eaters more. Lord Marney had all the petty social vices, and none of those petty social weaknesses which soften their harshness or their hideousness. To receive a prince of the blood or a great peer he would spare nothing. Had he to fulfil any of the public duties of his station, his performance would baffle criticism. But he enjoyed making the Vicar of Marney or Captain Grouse drink some claret that was on the wane, or praise a bottle of Burgundy that he knew was pricked.
Little things affect little minds. Lord Marney rose in no very good humour; he was kept at the station, which aggravated his spleen. During his journey on the railroad he spoke little, and though he more than once laboured to get up a controversy he was unable, for Lady Marney, who rather dreaded her dull home, and was not yet in a tone of mind that could hail the presence of the little Poinsett as full compensation for the brilliant circle of Mowbray, replied in amiable monosyllables, and Egremont himself in austere ones, for he was musing over Sybil Gerard and a thousand things as wild and sweet.
Everything went wrong this day. Even Captain Grouse was not at the Abbey to welcome them back. He was playing in a cricket match, Marney against Marham. Nothing else would have induced him to be absent. So it happened that the three fellow-travellers had to dine together, utterly weary of themselves and of each other. Captain Grouse was never more wanted; he would have amused Lord Marney, relieved his wife and brother, reported all that had been said and done in their neighbourhood during their absence, introduced a new tone, and effected a happy diversion. Leaving Mowbray, detained at the station, Grouse away, some disagreeable letters, or letters which an ill-humoured man chooses to esteem disagreeable, seemed to announce a climax. Lord Marney ordered the dinner to be served in the small dining-room, which was contiguous to a saloon in which Lady Marney, when they were alone, generally passed the evening.
The dinner was silent and sombre; happily it was also short. Lord Marney tasted several dishes, ate of none; found fault with his own claret, though the butler had given him a choice bottle; praised Lord Mowbray’s, wondered where he got it, “all the wines at Mowbray were good;” then for the twentieth time wondered what could have induced Grouse to fix the cricket match the day he returned home, though he chose to forget that he had never communicated to Grouse even the probable day on which he might be expected.
As for Egremont it must be admitted that he was scarcely in a more contented mood than his brother, though he had not such insufficient cause for his dark humours. In quitting Mowbray, he had quitted something else than merely an agreeable circle: enough had happened in that visit to stir up the deep recesses of his heart, and to prompt him to investigate in an unusual spirit the cause and attributes of his position. He had found a letter on his return to the Abbey, not calculated to dispel these somewhat morbid feelings; a letter from his agent, urging the settlement of his election accounts, the primary cause of his visit to his brother.
Lady Marney left the dining-room; the brothers were alone. Lord Marney filled a bumper, which he drank off rapidly, pushed the bottle to his brother, and then said again, “What a cursed bore it is that Grouse is not here.”
“Well, I cannot say, George, that I particularly miss the presence of Captain Grouse,” said his brother.
Lord Marney looked at Egremont pugnaciously, and then observed, “Grouse is a capital fellow; one is never dull when Grouse is here.”
“Well, for my part,” said Egremont, “I do not much admire that amusement which is dependent on the efforts of hangers-on.”
“Grouse is no more a hanger-on than any one else,” said Lord Marney, rather fiercely.
“Perhaps not,” said Egremont quietly; “I am no judge of such sort of people.”
“I should like to know what you are a judge of; certainly not of making yourself agreeable to young ladies. Arabella cannot he particularly charmed with the result of your visit to Mowbray, as far as Lady Joan is concerned, Arabella’s most intimate friend by the bye. If for no other reason, you ought to have paid her more attention.”
“I cannot pay attention unless I am attracted,” said Egremont; “I have not the ever-ready talent of your friend, Captain Grouse.”
“I do not know what you mean by my friend Captain Grouse. Captain Grouse is no more my friend than your friend. One must have people about the house to do a thousand things which one cannot do oneself, and which one cannot trust to servants, and Grouse does all this capitally.”
“Exactly; he is just what I said, a capital hanger-on if you like, but still a hanger-on.”
“Well, and what then! Suppose he is a hanger-on; may I not have hangers-on as well as any other man?”
“Of course you may; but I am not bound to regret their absence.”
“Who said you were? But I will regret their absence, if I choose. And I regret the absence of Grouse, regret it very much; and if he did happen to be inextricably engaged in this unfortunate match, I say, and you may contradict me if you please, that he ought to have taken care that Slimsey dined here, to tell me all that had happened.”
“I am very glad he omitted to do so,” said Egremont; “I prefer Grouse to Slimsey.”
“I dare say you do,” said Lord Marney, filling his glass and looking very black; “you would like, I have no doubt, to see a fine gentleman-saint, like your friend Mr St Lys, at Marney, preaching in cottages, filling the people with discontent, lecturing me about low wages, soliciting plots of grounds for new churches, and inveigling Arabella into subscriptions to painted windows.”
“I certainly should like to see a man like Aubrey St Lys at Marney,” said Egremont quietly, but rather doggedly.
“And if he were here, I would soon see who should be master,” said Lord Marney; “I would not succumb like Mowbray. One might as well have a jesuit in the house at once.”
“I dare say St Lys would care very little about entering your house,” said Egremont. “I know it was with great reluctance that he ever came to Mowbray Castle.”
“I dare say; very great reluctance indeed. And very reluctant he was, I make no doubt, to sit next to Lady Maud. I wonder he does not fly higher, and preach to Lady Joan; but she is too sensible a woman for such fanatical tricks.”
“St Lys thinks it his duty to enter all societies. That is the reason why he goes to Mowbray Castle, as well as to the squalid courts and cellars of the town. He takes care that those who are clad in purple and fine linen shall know the state of their neighbours. They cannot at least plead ignorance for the nonfulfilment of their duty. Before St Lys’s time, the family at Mowbray Castle might as well have not existed, as far as benefiting their miserable vicinage. It would be well perhaps for other districts not less wretched, and for other families as high and favoured as the Mowbrays, if there were a Mr St Lys on the spot instead of a Mr Slimsey.”
“I suppose that is meant for a cut,” said Lord Marney; “but I wish the people were as well off in every part of the country as they are on my estate. They get here their eight shillings a week, always at least seven, and every hand is at this moment in employ, except a parcel of scoundrels who prefer woodstealing and poaching, and who would prefer wood-stealing and poaching if you gave them double the wages. The rate of wages is nothing: certainty is the thing; and every man at Marney may be sure of his seven shillings a-week for at least nine months in the year; and for the other three, they can go to the House, and a very proper place for them; it is heated with hot air, and has every comfort. Even Marney Abbey is not heated with hot air. I have often thought of it; it makes me mad sometimes to think of those lazy, pampered menials passing their lives with their backs to a great roaring fire; but I am afraid of the flues.”
“I wonder, talking of fires, that you are not more afraid of burning ricks,” said Egremont.
“It’s an infernal lie,” said Lord Marney, very violently.
“What is?” said Egremont.
“That there is any incendiarism in this neighbourhood.”
“Why, there was a fire the day after I came.”
“That had nothing to do with wages; it was an accident. I examined into it myself; so did Grouse, so did Slimsey; I sent them about everywhere. I told them I was sure the fire was purely accidental, and to go and see about it; and they came back and agreed that it was purely accidental.”
“I dare say they did,” said Egremont; “but no one has discovered the accident.”
“For my part, I believe it was spontaneous combustion,” said Lord Marney.
“That is a satisfactory solution.” said Egremont, “but for my part, the fire being a fact, and it being painfully notorious that the people of Marney —”
“Well, sir, the people of Marney”— said his lordship fiercely.
“Are without question the most miserable population in the county.”
“Did Mr St Lys tell you that?” interrupted Lord Marney, white with rage.
“No, not Mr Lys, but one better acquainted with the neighbourhood.”
“I’ll know your informant’s name,” said Lord Marney with energy.
“My informant was a woman,” said Egremont.
“Lady Maud, I suppose; second-hand from Mr St Lys.”
“Mv informant was a woman, and one of the people,” said Egremont.
“Some poacher’s drab! I don’t care what women say, high or low, they always exaggerate.”
“The misery of a family who live upon seven or even eight shillings a-week can scarcely be exaggerated.”
“What should you know about it? Did you ever live on seven or eight shillings a-week? What can you know about the people who pass your time at London clubs or in fine country houses? I suppose you want the people to live as they do at a house dinner at Boodle’s. I say that a family can live very well on seven shillings a-week, and on eight shillings very well indeed. The poor are very well off, at least the agricultural poor, very well off indeed. Their incomes are certain, that is a great point, and they have no cares, no anxieties; they always have a resource, they always have the House. People without cares do not require as much food as those whose life entails anxieties. See how long they live! Compare the rate of mortality among them with that of the manufacturing districts. Incendiarism indeed! If there had been a proper rural police, such a thing as incendiarism would never have been heard of!”
There was a pause. Lord Marney dashed off another bumper; Egremont sipped his wine. At length he said, “This argument made me forget the principal reason, George, why I am glad that we are alone together today. I am sorry to bore you, but I am bored myself deucedly. I find a letter from my agent. These election accounts must be settled.”
“Why, I thought they were settled.”
“How do you mean?”
“I thought my mother had given you a thousand pounds.”
“No doubt of that, but that was long ago disposed of.”
“In my opinion quite enough for a seat in these times. Instead of paying to get into Parliament, a man ought to be paid for entering it.”
“There may be a good deal in what you say,” said Egremont; “but it is too late to take that view of the business. The expense has been incurred and must be met.”
“I don’t see that,” said Lord Marney, “we have paid one thousand pounds and there is a balance unsettled. When was there ever a contest without a balance being unsettled? I remember hearing my father often say that when he stood for this county, our grandfather paid more than a hundred thousand pounds, and yet I know to this day there are accounts unsettled. Regularly every year I receive anonymous letters threatening me with fearful punishment if I don’t pay one hundred and fifty pounds for a breakfast at the Jolly Tinkers.”
“You jest: the matter indeed requires a serious vein. I wish these accounts to be settled at once.”
“And I should like to know where the funds are to come from! I have none. The quantity of barns I am building now is something tremendous! Then this rage for draining; it would dry up any purse. What think you of two million tiles this year? And rents — to keep up which we are making these awful sacrifices — they are merely nominal, or soon will be. They never will be satisfied till they have touched the land. That is clear to me. I am prepared for a reduction of five-and-twenty per cent; if the corn laws are touched, it can’t be less than that. My mother ought to take it into consideration and reduce her jointure accordingly. But I dare say she will not; people are so selfish; particularly as she has given you this thousand pounds, which in fact after all comes out of my pocket.”
“All this you have said to me before. What does it mean? I fought this battle at the instigation of the family, from no feeling of my own. You are the head of the family and you were consulted on the step. Unless I had concluded that it was with your sanction, I certainly should not have made my appearance on the hustings.”
“I am very glad you did though,” said Lord Marney; “Parliament is a great point for our class: in these days especially, more even than in the old time. I was truly rejoiced at your success, and it mortified the whigs about us most confoundedly. Some people thought there was only one family in the world to have their Richmond or their Malton. Getting you in for the old borough was really a coup.”
“Well now, to retain our interest,” said Egremont, “quick payment of our expenses is the most efficient way, believe me.”
“You have got six years, perhaps seven,” said Lord Marney, “and long before that I hope to find you the husband of Lady Joan Fitz–Warene.”
“I do not wish to connect the two contingencies,” said Egremont firmly.
“They are inseparable,” said Lord Marney.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I think this pedantic acquittance of an electioneering account is in the highest degree ridiculous, and that I cannot interfere in it. The legal expenses are you say paid; and if they were not, I should feel myself bound, as the head of the family, to defray them, but I can go no further. I cannot bring myself to sanction an expenditure for certainly very unnecessary, perhaps, and I much fear it, for illegal and very immoral purposes.”
“That really is your determination?”
“After the most mature reflection, prompted by a sincere solicitude for your benefit.”
“Well, George, I have often suspected it, but now I feel quite persuaded, that you are really the greatest humbug that ever existed.”
“Abuse is not argument, Mr Egremont.”
“You are beneath abuse, as you are beneath every sentiment but one, which I most entirely feel,” and Egremont rose from the table.
“You may thank your own obstinacy and conceit,” said Lord Marney. “I took you to Mowbray Castle, and the cards were in your own hands if you chose to play them.”
“You have interfered with me once before on such a subject. Lord Marney,” said Egremont, with a kindling eye and a cheek pallid with rage.
“You had better not say that again,” said Lord Marney in a tone of menace.
“Why not?” asked Egremont fiercely. “Who and what are you to dare to address me thus?”
“I am your elder brother, sir, whose relationship to you is your only claim to the consideration of society.”
“A curse on the society that has fashioned such claims.” said Egremont in an heightened tone —“claims founded in selfishness, cruelty, and fraud, and leading to demoralization, misery, and crime.”
“Claims which I will make you respect, at least in this house, sir,” said Lord Marney, springing from his chair.
“Touch me at your peril!” exclaimed Egremont, “or I will forget you are my mother’s son, and cleave you to the ground. You have been the blight of my life; you stole from me my bride, and now you would rob me of my honour.”
“Liar and villain!” exclaimed Lord Marney, darting forward: but at this moment his wife rushed into the apartment and clung to him. “For heaven’s sake,” she exclaimed, “What is all this? George, Charles, dearest George!”
“Let me go, Arabella.”
“Let him come on.”
But Lady Marney gave a piercing shriek, and held out her arms to keep the brothers apart. A sound was heard at the other door; there was nothing in the world that Lord Marney dreaded so much as that his servants should witness a domestic scene. He sprang forward to the door to prevent any one entering; partially opening it, he said Lady Marney was unwell and desired her maid; returning, he found Arabella insensible on the ground, and Egremont vanished!
It was a wet morning; there had been a heavy rain since dawn, which impelled by a gusty south-wester came driving on a crowd of women and girls who were assembled before the door of a still unclosed shop. Some protected themselves with umbrellas; some sought shelter beneath a row of old elms that grew alongside the canal that fronted the house. Notwithstanding the weather, the clack of tongues was incessant.
“I thought I saw the wicket of the yard gates open,” said a woman.
“So did I,” said her neighbour; “but it was shut again immediately.”
“It was only Master Joseph,” said a third. “He likes to see us getting wet through.”
“If they would only let us into the yard and get under one of the workshop sheds, as they do at Simmon’s,” said another.
“You may well say Simmon’s, Mrs Page; I only wish my master served in his field.”
“I have been here since half-past four, Mrs Grigsby, with this chilt at my breast all the time. It’s three miles for me here, and the same back, and unless I get the first turn, how are my poor boys to find their dinner ready when they come out of the pit?”
“A very true word, Mrs Page; and by this token, that last Thursday I was here by half-past eleven, certainly afore noon, having only called at my mother-in-law’s in the way, and it was eight o’clock before I got home. Ah! it’s cruel work, is the tommy shop.”
“How d’ye do neighbour Prance?” said a comely dame with a large white basket, “And how’s your good man? They was saying at Belfy’s he had changed his service. I hear there’s a new butty in Mr Parker’s field; but the old doggy kept on; so I always thought, he was always a favourite, and they do say measured the stints very fair. And what do you hear bacon is in town? They do tell me only sixpence and real home-cured. I wonder Diggs has the face to be selling still at nine-pence, and so very green! I think I see Dame Toddles; how wonderful she do wear! What are you doing here, little dear; very young to fetch tommy; keeping place for mother, eh! that’s a good girl; she’d do well to be here soon, for I think the strike’s on eight. Diggs is sticking it on yellow soap very terrible. What do you think — Ah! the doors are going to open. No — a false alarm.”
“How fare you neighbour?” said a pale young woman carrying an infant to the comely dame. “Here’s an awful crowd, surely. The women will be fighting and tearing to get in, I guess. I be much afeard.”
“Well, ‘first come, first served,’ all the world over,” said the comely dame. “And you must put a good heart on the business and tie your bonnet. I dare guess there are not much less than two hundred here. It’s grand tommy day you know. And for my part I don’t care so much for a good squeedge; one sees so many faces one knows.”
“The cheese here at sixpence is pretty tidy,” said a crone to her companion; “but you may get as good in town for fourpence.”
“What I complain is the weights,” replied her companion. “I weighed my pound of butter bought last tommy day, and it was two penny pieces too light. Indeed! I have been, in my time, to all the shops about here, for the lads or their father, but never knew tommy so bad as this. I have two children at home ill from their flour; I have been very poorly myself; one is used to a little white clay, but when they lay it on thick, it’s very grave.”
“Are your girls in the pit?”
“No; we strive to keep them out, and my man has gone scores of days on bread and water for that purpose; and if we were not forced to take so much tommy, one might manage — but tommy will beat anything; Health first, and honesty afterwards, that’s my say.”
“Well, for my part,” said the crone, “meat’s my grievance: all the best bits go to the butties, and the pieces with bone in are chopped off for the colliers’ wives.”
“Dame, when will the door open?” asked a very little palefaced boy. “I have been here all this morn, and never broke my fast.”
“And what do you want, chilt?”
“I want a loaf for mother; but I don’t feel I shall ever get home again, I’m all in a way so dizzy.”
“Liza Gray,” said a woman with black beady eyes and a red nose, speaking in a sharp voice and rushing up to a pretty slatternly woman in a straw bonnet with a dirty fine ribbon, and a babe at her breast; “you know the person I’m looking for.”
“Well, Mrs Mullins, and how do you do?” she replied, “in a sweet sawney tone.”
“How do you do, indeed! How are people to do in these bad times?”
“They is indeed hard Mrs Mullins. If you could see my tommy book! How I wish I knew figures! Made up as of last Thursday night by that little divil, Master Joe Diggs. He has stuck it in here and stuck it in there, till it makes one all of a-maze. I’m sure I never had the things; and my man is out of all patience, and says I can no more keep house than a natural born.”
“My man is a-wanting to see your man,” said Mrs Mullins, with a flashing eye; “and you know what about.”
“And very natural, too,” said Liza Gray; “but how are we to pay the money we owe him, with such a tommy-book as this, good neighbour Mullins?”
“We’re as poor as our neighbours Mrs Gray; and if we are not paid, we must borrow. It’s a scarlet shame to go to the spout because money lent to a friend is not to be found. You had it in your need, Liza Gray, and we want it in our need; and have it I will, Liza Gray.”
“Hush, hush!” said Liza Gray; “don’t wake the little-un, for she is very fretful.”
“I will have the five shillings, or I will have as good,” said Mrs Mullins.
“Hush, hush, neighbour; now, I’ll tell you — you shall have it; but yet a little time. This is great tommy-day, and settles our reckoning for five weeks; but my man may have a draw after tomorrow, and he shall draw five shillings, and give you half.”
“And the other half?” said Mrs Mullins.
“Ah! the other half,” said Liza Gray, with a sigh. “Well, then — we shall have a death in our family soon — this poor babe can’t struggle on much longer; it belongs to two burial clubs — that will be three pounds from each, and after the drink and the funeral, there will be enough to pay all our debts and put us all square.”
The doors of Mr Diggs’ tommy-shop opened. The rush was like the advance into the pit of a theatre when the drama existed; pushing, squeezing, fighting, tearing, shrieking. On a high seat, guarded by rails from all contact, sate Mr Diggs senior, with a bland smile on his sanctified countenance, a pen behind his ear, and recommending his constrained customers in honeyed tones to be patient and orderly. Behind the substantial counter which was an impregnable fortification, was his popular son, Master Joseph; a short, ill-favoured cur, with a spirit of vulgar oppression and malicious mischief stamped on his visage. His black, greasy lank hair, his pug nose, his coarse red face, and his projecting tusks, contrasted with the mild and lengthened countenance of his father, who looked very much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
For the first five minutes Master Joseph Diggs did nothing but blaspheme and swear at his customers, occasionally leaning over the counter and cuffing the women in the van or lugging some girl by the hair.
“I was first, Master Joseph,” said a woman eagerly.
“No; I was,” said another.
“I was here,” said the first, “as the clock struck four, and seated myself on the steps, because I must be home early; my husband is hurt in the knee.”
“If you were first, you shall be helped last.” said Master Joseph, “to reward you for your pains!” and he began taking the orders of the other woman.
“O! Lord have mercy on me!” said the disappointed woman; “and I got up in the middle of the night for this!”
“More fool you! And what you came for I am sure I don’t know,” said Master Joseph; “for you have a pretty long figure against you, I can tell you that.”
“I declare most solemnly —” said the woman.
“Don’t make a brawling here,” said Master Joseph, “or I’ll jump over this here counter and knock you down, like nothing. What did you say, woman? are you deaf? what did you say? how much best tea do you want?”
“I don’t want any, sir.”
“You never want best tea; you must take three ounces of best tea, or you shan’t have nothing. If you say another word, I’ll put you down four. You tall gal, what’s your name, you keep back there, or I’ll fetch you such a cut as’ll keep you at home till next reckoning. Cuss you, you old fool, do you think I am to be kept all day while you are mumbling here? Who’s pushing on there? I see you, Mrs Page. Won’t there be a black mark against you? Oh! its Mrs Prance, is it? Father, put down Mrs Prance for a peck of flour. I’ll have order here. You think the last bacon a little too fat: oh! you do, ma’am, do you? I’ll take care you shan’t complain in futur; I likes to please my customers. There’s a very nice flitch hanging up in the engine-room; the men wanted some rust for the machinery; you shall have a slice of that; and we’ll say ten-pence a pound, high-dried, and wery lean — will that satisfy you!
“Order there, order; you cussed women, order, or I’ll be among you. And if I just do jump over this here counter, won’t I let fly right and left? Speak out, you ideot! do you think I can hear your muttering in this Babel? Cuss them; I’ll keep them quiet,” and so he took up a yard measure, and leaning over the counter, hit right and left.
“Oh! you little monster!” exclaimed a woman, “you have put out my babby’s eye.”
There was a murmur; almost a groan. “Whose baby’s hurt?” asked Master Joseph in a softened tone.
“Mine, sir,” said an indignant voice; “Mary Church.”
“Oh! Mary Church, is it!” said the malicious imp, “then I’ll put Mary Church down for half a pound of best arrow-root; that’s the finest thing in the world for babbies, and will cure you of bringing your cussed monkeys here, as if you all thought our shop was a hinfant school.
“Where’s your book, Susan Travers! Left at home! Then you may go and fetch it. No books, no tommy. You are Jones’s wife, are you? Ticket for three and sixpence out of eighteen shillings wages. Is this the only ticket you have brought? There’s your money; and you may tell your husband he need not take his coat off again to go down our shaft. He must think us cussed fools! Tell him I hope he has got plenty of money to travel into Wales, for he won’t have no work in England again, or my name ayn’t Diggs. Who’s pushing there? I’ll be among you; I’ll close the shop. If I do get hold of some of you cussed women, you shan’t forget it. If anybody will tell me who is pushing there, they shall have their bacon for seven-pence. Will nobody have bacon for seven-pence? Leagued together, eh! Then everybody shall have their bacon for ten-pence. Two can play at that. Push again, and I’ll be among you,” said the infuriated little tyrant. But the waving of the multitude, impatient, and annoyed by the weather, was not to be stilled; the movement could not be regulated; the shop was in commotion; and Master Joseph Diggs, losing all patience, jumped on the counter, and amid the shrieks of the women, sprang into the crowd. Two women fainted; others cried for their bonnets; others bemoaned their aprons; nothing however deterred Diggs, who kicked and cuffed and cursed in every quarter, and gave none. At last there was a general scream of horror, and a cry of “a boy killed.”
The senior Diggs, who, from his eminence, had hitherto viewed the scene with unruffled complacency; who, in fact, derived from these not unusual exhibitions the same agreeable excitement which a Roman emperor might have received from the combats of the circus; began to think that affairs were growing serious, and rose to counsel order and enforce amiable dispositions. Even Master Joseph was quelled by that mild voice which would have become Augustus. It appeared to be quite true that a boy was dead. It was the little boy who, sent to get a loaf for his mother, had complained before the shop was opened of his fainting energies. He had fallen in the fray, and it was thought, to use the phrase of the comely dame who tried to rescue him, “that he was quite smothered.”
They carried him out of the shop; the perspiration poured off him; he had no pulse. He had no friends there. “I’ll stand by the body,” said the comely dame, “though I lose my turn.”
At this moment, Stephen Morley, for the reader has doubtless discovered that the stranger who held colloquy with the colliers was the friend of Walter Gerard, arrived at the tommy-shop, which was about half-way between the house where he had passed the night and Wodgate. He stopped, inquired, and being a man of science and some skill, decided, after examining the poor boy, that life was not extinct. Taking the elder Diggs aside, he said, “I am the editor of the Mowbray Phalanx; I will not speak to you before these people; but I tell you fairly you and your son have been represented to me as oppressors of the people. Will it be my lot to report this death and comment on it? I trust not. There is yet time and hope.”
“What is to be done, sir,” inquired the alarmed Mr Diggs; “a fellow-creature in this condition —”
“Don’t talk but act,” said Morley. “There is no time to be lost. The boy must be taken up stairs and put to bed; a warm bed, in one of your best rooms, with every comfort. I am pressed for business, but I will wait and watch over him till the crisis is passed. Come, let you and I take him in our arms, and carry him up stairs through your private door. Every minute is precious.” And so saying, Morley and the elder Diggs entered the house.
Wodgate, or Wogate, as it was called on the map, was a district that in old days had been consecrated to Woden, and which appeared destined through successive ages to retain its heathen character. At the beginning of the revolutionary war, Wodgate was a sort of squatting district of the great mining region to which it was contiguous, a place where adventurers in the industry which was rapidly developing, settled themselves; for though the great veins of coal and ironstone cropped up, as they phrase it, before they reached this bare and barren land, and it was thus deficient in those mineral and metallic treasures which had enriched its neighbourhood, Wodgate had advantages of its own, and of a kind which touch the fancy of the lawless. It was land without an owner; no one claimed any manorial right over it; they could build cottages without paying rent. It was a district recognized by no parish; so there were no tithes, and no meddlesome supervision. It abounded in fuel which cost nothing, for though the veins were not worth working as a source of mining profit, the soil of Wodgate was similar in its superficial character to that of the country around. So a population gathered, and rapidly increased, in the ugliest spot in England, to which neither Nature nor art had contributed a single charm; where a tree could not be seen, a flower was unknown, where there was neither belfry nor steeple, nor a single sight or sound that could soften the heart or humanise the mind.
Whatever may have been the cause, whether, as not unlikely, the original squatters brought with them some traditionary skill, or whether their isolated and unchequered existence concentrated their energies on their craft, the fact is certain, that the inhabitants of Wodgate early acquired a celebrity as skilful workmen. This reputation so much increased, and in time spread so far, that for more than a quarter of a century, both in their skill and the economy of their labour, they have been unmatched throughout the country. As manufacturers of ironmongery, they carry the palm from the whole district; as founders of brass and workers of steel, they fear none; while as nailers and locksmiths, their fame has spread even to the European markets, whither their most skilful workmen have frequently been invited.
Invited in vain! No wages can tempt the Wodgate man from his native home, that squatters’ seat which soon assumed the form of a large village, and then in turn soon expanded into a town, and at the present moment numbers its population by swarming thousands, lodged in the most miserable tenements in the most hideous burgh in the ugliest country in the world.
But it has its enduring spell. Notwithstanding the spread of its civic prosperity, it has lost none of the characteristics of its original society; on the contrary it has zealously preserved them. There are no landlords, head-lessees, main-masters, or butties in Wodgate. No church there has yet raised its spire; and as if the jealous spirit of Woden still haunted his ancient temple, even the conventicle scarcely dares show its humble front in some obscure corner. There is no municipality, no magistrate, no local acts, no vestries, no schools of any kind. The streets are never cleaned; every man lights his own house; nor does any one know anything except his business.
More than this, at Wodgate a factory or large establishment of any kind is unknown. Here Labour reigns supreme. Its division indeed is favoured by their manners, but the interference or influence of mere capital is instantly resisted. The business of Wodgate is carried on by master workmen in their own houses, each of whom possesses an unlimited number of what they call apprentices, by whom their affairs are principally conducted, and whom they treat as the Mamlouks treated the Egyptians.
These master workmen indeed form a powerful aristocracy, nor is it possible to conceive one apparently more oppressive. They are ruthless tyrants; they habitually inflict upon their subjects punishments more grievous than the slave population of our colonies were ever visited with; not content with beating them with sticks or flogging them with knotted ropes, they are in the habit of felling them with hammers, or cutting their heads open with a file or lock. The most usual punishment however, or rather stimulus to increase exertion, is to pull an apprentice’s ears till they run with blood. These youths too are worked for sixteen and even twenty hours a day; they are often sold by one master to another; they are fed on carrion, and they sleep in lofts or cellars: yet whether it be that they are hardened by brutality, and really unconscious of their degradation and unusual sufferings, or whether they are supported by the belief that their day to be masters and oppressors will surely arrive, the aristocracy of Wodgate is by no means so unpopular as the aristocracy of most other places.
In the first place it is a real aristocracy; it is privileged, but it does something for its privileges. It is distinguished from the main body not merely by name. It is the most knowing class at Wodgate; it possesses indeed in its way complete knowledge; and it imparts in its manner a certain quantity of it to those whom it guides. Thus it is an aristocracy that leads, and therefore a fact. Moreover the social system of Wodgate is not an unvarying course of infinite toil. Their plan is to work hard, but not always. They seldom exceed four days of labour in the week. On Sunday the masters begin to drink; for the apprentices there is dog-fighting without any stint. On Monday and Tuesday the whole population of Wodgate is drunk; of all stations, ages, and sexes; even babes, who should be at the breast; for they are drammed with Godfrey’s cordial. Here is relaxation, excitement; if less vice otherwise than might be at first anticipated, we must remember that excesses are checked by poverty of blood and constant exhaustion. Scanty food and hard labour are in their way, if not exactly moralists, a tolerably good police.
There are no others at Wodgate to preach or to control. It is not that the people are immoral, for immorality implies some forethought; or ignorant, for ignorance is relative; but they are animals; unconscious; their minds a blank; and their worst actions only the impulse of a gross or savage instinct. There are many in this town who are ignorant of their very names; very few who can spell them. It is rare that you meet with a young person who knows his own age; rarer to find the boy who has seen a book, or the girl who has seen a flower. Ask them the name of their sovereign, and they will give you an unmeaning stare; ask them the name of their religion, and they will laugh: who rules them on earth, or who can save them in heaven, are alike mysteries to them.
Such was the population with whom Morley was about to mingle. Wodgate had the appearance of a vast squalid suburb. As you advanced, leaving behind you long lines of little dingy tenements, with infants lying about the road, you expected every moment to emerge into some streets and encounter buildings bearing some correspondence in their size and comfort to the considerable population swarming and busied around you. Nothing of the kind. There were no public buildings of any sort; no churches, chapels, town-hall, institute, theatre; and the principal streets in the heart of the town in which were situate the coarse and grimy shops, though formed by houses of a greater elevation than the preceding, were equally narrow and if possible more dirty. At every fourth or fifth house, alleys seldom above a yard wide and streaming with filth, opened out of the street. These were crowded with dwellings of various size, while from the principal court often branched out a number of smaller alleys or rather narrow passages, than which nothing can be conceived more close and squalid and obscure. Here during the days of business, the sound of the hammer and the file never ceased, amid gutters of abomination and piles of foulness and stagnant pools of filth; reservoirs of leprosy and plague, whose exhalations were sufficient to taint the atmosphere of the whole kingdom and fill the country with fever and pestilence.
A lank and haggard youth, ricketty and smoke-dried, and black with his craft, was sitting on the threshold of a miserable hovel and working at the file. Behind him stood a stunted and meagre girl, with a back like a grasshopper; a deformity occasioned by the displacement of the bladebone, and prevalent among the girls of Wodgate from the cramping posture of their usual toil. Her long melancholy visage and vacant stare at Morley as he passed, attracted his notice, and it occurring to him that the opportunity was convenient to enquire something of the individual of whom he was in search, he stopped and addressed the workman:
“Do you happen to know friend a person here or hereabouts by name Hatton?”
“Hatton!” said the youth looking up with a grin, yet still continuing his labour, “I should think I did!”
“Well, that’s fortunate; you can tell me something about him?”
“Do you see this here?” said the youth still grinning, and letting the file drop from his distorted and knotty hand, he pointed to a deep scar that crossed his forehead, “he did that.”
“Very like. An accident that often happened. I should like to have a crown for every time he has cut my head open. He cut it open once with a key and twice with a lock; he knocked the corner of a lock into my head twice, once with a bolt and once with a shut; you know what that is; the thing what runs into the staple. He hit me on the head with a hammer once. That was a blow! I fell away that time. When I came to, master had stopped the blood with some fur off his hat. I had to go on with my work immediately; master said I should do my stint if I worked till twelve o’clock at night. Many’s the ash stick he has broken on my body; sometimes the weals remained on me for a-week; he cut my eyelid open once with a nutstick; cut a regular hole in it, and it bled all over the files I was working at. He has pulled my ears sometimes that I thought they must come off in his hand. But all this was a mere nothin to this here cut; that was serous; and if I hadn’t got thro’ that they do say there must have been a crowner’s quest; though I think that gammon, tor old Tugsford did for one of his prentices, and the body was never found. And now you ask me if I know Hatton? I should think I did!” And the lank, haggard youth laughed merrily, as if he had been recounting a series of the happiest adventures.
“But is there no redress for such iniquitous oppression,” said Morley, who had listened with astonishment to this complacent statement. “Is there no magistrate to apply to?”
“No no,” said the filer with an air of obvious pride, “we don’t have no magistrates at Wodgate. We’ve got a constable, and there was a prentice who coz his master laid it on, only with a seat rod, went over to Ramborough and got a warrant. He fetched the summons himself and giv it to the constable, but he never served it. That’s why they has a constable here.”
“I am sorry,” said Morley, “that I have affairs with such a wretch as this Hatton.”
“You’ll find him a wery hearty sort of man,” said the filer, “if he don’t hap to be in drink. He’s a little robustious then, but take him all in all for a master, you may go further and fare worse.
“What! this monster!”
“Lord bless you, it’s his way, that’s all, we be a queer set here; but he has his pints. Give him a lock to make, and you won’t have your box picked; he’s wery lib’ral too in the wittals. Never had horse-flesh the whole time I was with him; they has nothin’ else at Tugsford’s; never had no sick cow except when meat was very dear. He always put his face agin still-born calves; he used to say he liked his boys to have meat what was born alive and killed alive. By which token there never was any sheep what had bust in the head sold in our court. And then sometimes he would give us a treat of fish, when it had been four or five days in town and not sold. No, give the devil his due, say I. There never was no want for anything at meals with the Bishop, except time to eat them in.”
“And why do you call him the Bishop?”
“That’s his name and authority; for he’s the governor here over all of us. And it has always been so that Wodgate has been governed by a bishop; because as we have no church, we will have as good. And by this token that this day sen’night, the day my time was up, he married me to this here young lady. She is of the Baptist school religion, and wanted us to be tied by her clergyman, but all the lads that served their time with me were married by the Bishop, and many a more, and I saw no call to do no otherwise. So he sprinkled some salt over a gridiron, read ‘Our Father’ backwards, and wrote our name in a book: and we were spliced; but I didn’t do it rashly, did I, Suky, by the token that we had kept company for two years, and there isn’t a gal in all Wodgate what handles a file, like Sue.”
“And what is your name, my good fellow?”
“They call me Tummas, but I ayn’t got no second name; but now I am married I mean to take my wife’s, for she has been baptised, and so has got two.”
“Yes sir,” said the girl with the vacant face and the back like a grasshopper; “I be a reg’lar born Christian and my mother afore me, and that’s what few gals in the Yard can say. Thomas will take to it himself when work is slack; and he believes now in our Lord and Saviour Pontius Pilate who was crucified to save our sins; and in Moses, Goliath, and the rest of the Apostles.”
“Ah! me,” thought Morley, “and could not they spare one Missionary from Tahiti for their fellow countrymen at Wodgate!”
The summer twilight had faded into sweet night; the young and star-attended moon glittered like a sickle in the deep purple sky; of all the luminous host, Hesperus alone was visible; and a breeze, that bore the last embrace of the flowers by the sun, moved languidly and fitfully over the still and odorous earth.
The moonbeam fell upon the roof and garden of Gerard. It suffused the cottage with its brilliant light, except where the dark depth of the embowered porch defied its entry. All around the beds of flowers and herbs spread sparkling and defined. You could trace the minutest walk; almost distinguish every leaf. Now and then there came a breath, and the sweet-peas murmured in their sleep; or the roses rustled, as if they were afraid they were about to be roused from their lightsome dreams. Farther on the fruit-trees caught the splendour of the night; and looked like a troop of sultanas taking their gardened air, when the eye of man could not profane them, and laden with jewels. There were apples that rivalled rubies; pears of topaz tint: a whole paraphernalia of plums, some purple as the amethyst, others blue and brilliant as the sapphire; an emerald here, and now a golden drop that gleamed like the yellow diamond of Gengis Khan.
Within — was the scene less fair? A single lamp shed over the chamber a soft and sufficient light. The library of Stephen Morley had been removed, but the place of his volumes had been partly supplied, for the shelves were far from being empty. Their contents were of no ordinary character: many volumes of devotion, some of church history, one or two on ecclesiastical art, several works of our elder dramatists, some good reprints of our chronicles, and many folios of church music, which last indeed amounted to a remarkable collection. There was no musical instrument however in the room of any kind, and the only change in its furniture, since we last visited the room of Gerard, was the presence of a long-backed chair of antique form, most beautifully embroidered, and a portrait of a female saint over the mantel-piece. As for Gerard himself he sat with his head leaning on his arm, which rested on the table, while he listened with great interest to a book which was read to him by his daughter, at whose feet lay the fiery and faithful bloodhound.
“So you see, my father,” said Sybil with animation, and dropping her book which however her hand did not relinquish, “even then all was not lost. The stout earl retired beyond the Trent, and years and reigns elapsed before this part of the island accepted their laws and customs.”
“I see,” said her father, “and yet I cannot help wishing that Harold —” Here the hound, hearing his name, suddenly rose and looked at Gerard, who smiling, patted him and said, “We were not talking of thee, good sir, but of thy great namesake; but ne’er mind, a live dog they say is worth a dead king.”
“Ah! why have we not such a man now,” said Sybil, “to protect the people! Were I a prince I know no career that I should deem so great.”
“But Stephen says no,” said Gerard: “he says that these great men have never made use of us but as tools; and that the people never can have their rights until they produce competent champions from their own order.”
“But then Stephen does not want to recall the past,” said Sybil with a kind of sigh; “he wishes to create the future.”
“The past is a dream,” said Gerard.
“And what is the future?” enquired Sybil.
“Alack! I know not; but I often wish the battle of Hastings were to be fought over again and I was going to have a hand in it.”
“Ah! my father,” said Sybil with a mournful smile, “there is ever your fatal specific of physical force. Even Stephen is against physical force, with all his odd fancies.”
“All very true,” said Gerard smiling with good nature; “but all the same when I was coming home a few days ago, and stopped awhile on the bridge and chanced to see myself in the stream, I could not help fancying that my Maker had fashioned these limbs rather to hold a lance or draw a bow, than to supervise a shuttle or a spindle.”
“Yet with the shuttle and the spindle we may redeem our race,” said Sybil with animation, “if we could only form the minds that move those peaceful weapons. Oh! my father, I will believe that moral power is irresistible, or where are we to look for hope?”
Gerard shook his head with his habitual sweet good-tempered smile. “Ah!” said he, “what can we do; they have got the land, and the land governs the people. The Norman knew that, Sybil, as you just read. If indeed we had our rights, one might do something; but I don’t know; I dare say if I had our land again, I should be as bad as the rest.”
“Oh! no, my father,” exclaimed Sybil with energy, “never, never! Your thoughts would be as princely as your lot. What a leader of the people you would make!”
Harold sprang up suddenly and growled.
“Hush!” said Gerard; “some one knocks:” and he rose and left the room. Sybil heard voices and broken sentences: “You’ll excuse me”—“I take it kindly”—“So we are neighbours.” And then her father returned, ushering in a person and saying, “Here is my friend Mr Franklin that I was speaking of, Sybil, who is going to be our neighbour; down Harold, down!” and he presented to his daughter the companion of Mr St Lys in that visit to the Hand-loom weaver when she had herself met the vicar of Mowbray.
Sybil rose, and letting her book drop gently on the table, received Egremont with composure and native grace. It is civilization that makes us awkward, for it gives us an uncertain position. Perplexed, we take refuge in pretence; and embarrassed, we seek a resource in affectation. The Bedouin and the Red Indian never lose their presence of mind; and the wife of a peasant, when you enter her cottage, often greets you with a propriety of mien which favourably contrasts with your reception by some grand dame in some grand assembly, meeting her guests alternately with a caricature of courtesy or an exaggeradon of supercilious self-control.
“I dare say,” said Egremont bowing to Sybil, “you have seen our poor friend the weaver since we met there.”
“The day I quitted Mowbray,” said Sybil. “They are not without friends.”
“Ah! you have met my daughter before.”
“On a mission of grace,” said Egremont.
“And I suppose you found the town not very pleasant, Mr Franklin,” continued Gerard.
“No; I could not stand it, the nights were so close. Besides I have a great accumulation of notes, and I fancied I could reduce them into a report more efficiently in comparative seclusion. So I have got a room near here, with a little garden, not so pretty as yours; but still a garden is something; and if I want any additional information, why, after all, Mowbray is only a walk.”
“You say well and have done wisely. Besides you have such late hours in London, and hard work. Some country air will do you all the good in the world. That gallery must be tiresome. Do you use shorthand?”
“A sort of shorthand of my own,” said Egremont. “I trust a good deal to my memory.”
“Ah! you are young. My daughter also has a wonderful memory. For my own part, there are many things which I am not sorry to forget.”
“You see I took you at your word, neighbour,” said Egremont. “When one has been at work the whole day one feels a little lonely towards night.”
“Very true; and I dare say you find desk work sometimes very dull; I never could make anything of it myself. I can manage a book well enough, if it be well written, and on points I care for; but I would sooner listen than read any time,” said Gerard. “Indeed I should be right glad to see the minstrel and the storyteller going their rounds again. It would be easy after a day’s work, when one has not, as I have now, a good child to read to me.”
“This volume?” said Egremont drawing his chair to the table and looking at Sybil, who intimated assent by a nod.
“Ah! it’s a fine book,” said Gerard, “though on a sad subject.”
“The History of the Conquest of England by the Normans,” said Egremont, reading the title page on which also was written “Ursula Trafford to Sybil Gerard.”
“You know it?” said Sybil.
“Only by fame.”
“Perhaps the subject may not interest you so much as it does us,” said Sybil.
“It must interest all and all alike,” said her father; “for we are divided between the conquerors and the conquered.”
“But do not you think,” said Egremont, “that such a distinction has long ceased to exist?”
“In what degree?” asked Gerard. “Many circumstances of oppression have doubtless gradually disappeared: but that has arisen from the change of manners, not from any political recognition of their injustice. The same course of time which has removed many enormities, more shocking however to our modern feelings than to those who devised and endured them, has simultaneously removed many alleviating circumstances. If the mere baron’s grasp be not so ruthless, the champion we found in the church is no longer so ready. The spirit of Conquest has adapted itself to the changing circumstances of ages, and however its results vary in form, in degree they are much the same.”
“But how do they show themselves?”
“In many circumstances, which concern many classes; but I speak of those which touch my own order; and therefore I say at once — in the degradation of the people.”
“But are the people so degraded?”
“There is more serfdom in England now than at any time since the Conquest. I speak of what passes under my daily eyes when I say that those who labour can as little choose or change their masters now, as when they were born thralls. There are great bodies of the working classes of this country nearer the condition of brutes, than they have been at any time since the Conquest. Indeed I see nothing to distinguish them from brutes, except that their morals are inferior. Incest and infanticide are as common among them as among the lower animals. The domestic principle waxes weaker and weaker every year in England: nor can we wonder at it, when there is no comfort to cheer and no sentiment to hallow the Home.”
“I was reading a work the other day,” said Egremont, “that statistically proved that the general condition of the people was much better at this moment than it had been at any known period of history.”
“Ah! yes, I know that style of speculation,” said Gerard; “your gentleman who reminds you that a working man now has a pair of cotton stockings, and that Harry the Eighth himself was not as well off. At any rate, the condition of classes must be judged of by the age, and by their relation with each other. One need not dwell on that. I deny the premises. I deny that the condition of the main body is better now than at any other period of our history; that it is as good as it has been at several. I say, for instance, the people were better clothed, better lodged, and better fed just before the war of the Roses than they are at this moment. We know how an English peasant lived in those times: he eat flesh every day, he never drank water, was well housed, and clothed in stout woollens. Nor are the Chronicles necessary to tell us this. The acts of Parliament from the Plantagenets to the Tudors teach us alike the price of provisions and the rate of wages; and we see in a moment that the wages of those days brought as much sustenance and comfort as a reasonable man could desire.”
“I know how deeply you feel upon this subject,” said Egremont turning to Sybil.
“Indeed it is the only subject that ever engages my thought,” she replied, “except one.”
“And that one?”
“Is to see the people once more kneel before our blessed Lady,” replied Sybil.
“Look at the average term of life,” said Gerard, coming unintentionally to the relief of Egremont, who was a little embarrassed. “The average term of life in this district among the working classes is seventeen. What think you of that? Of the infants born in Mowbray, more than a moiety die before the age of five.”
“And yet,” said Egremont, “in old days they had terrible pestilences.”
“But they touched all alike,” said Gerard. “We have more pestilence now in England than we ever had, but it only reaches the poor. You never hear of it. Why Typhus alone takes every year from the dwellings of the artisan and peasant a population equal to that of the whole county of Westmoreland. This goes on every year, but the representatives of the conquerors are not touched: it is the descendants of the conquered alone who are the victims.”
“It sometimes seems to me,” said Sybil despondingly, “that nothing short of the descent of angels can save the people of this kingdom.”
“I sometimes think I hear a little bird,” said Gerard, “who sings that the long frost may yet break up. I have a friend, him of whom I was speaking to you the other day, who has his remedies.”
“But Stephen Morley does not believe in angels,” said Sybil with a sigh; “and I have no faith in his plan.”
“He believes that God will help those who help themselves,” said Gerard.
“And I believe,” said Sybil, “that those only can help themselves whom God helps.”
All this time Egremont was sitting at the table, with the book in his hand, gazing fitfully and occasionally with an air of absence on its title-page, whereon was written the name of its owner. Suddenly he said “Sybil.”
“Yes,” said the daughter of Gerard, with an air of some astonishment.
“I beg your pardon,” said Egremont blushing; “I was reading your name. I thought I was reading it to myself. Sybil Gerard! What a beautiful name is Sybil!”
“My mother’s name,” said Gerard; “and my grandame’s name, and a name I believe that has been about our hearth as long as our race; and that’s a very long time indeed,” he added smiling, “for we were tall men in King John’s reign, as I have heard say.”
“Yours is indeed an old family.”
“Ay, we have some English blood in our veins, though peasants and the sons of peasants. But there was one of us who drew a bow at Azincourt; and I have heard greater things, but I believe they are old wives’ tales.”
“At least we have nothing left,” said Sybil, “but our old faith; and that we have clung to through good report and evil report.”
“And now,” said Gerard, “I rise with the lark, good neighbour Franklin; but before you go, Sybil will sing to us a requiem that I love: it stills the spirit before we sink into the slumber which may this night be death, and which one day must be.”
A bloom was spread over the morning sky. A soft golden light bathed with its fresh beam the bosom of the valley, except where a delicate haze, rather than a mist, still partially lingered over the river, which yet occasionally gleamed and sparkled in the sunshine. A sort of shadowy lustre suffused the landscape, which, though distinct, was mitigated in all its features — the distant woods, the clumps of tall trees that rose about the old grey bridge, the cottage chimneys that sent their smoke into the blue still air, amid their clustering orchards and garden of flowers and herbs.
Ah! what is there so fresh and joyous as a summer morn! That spring time of the day, when the brain is bright, and the heart is brave; the season of daring and of hope; the renovating hour!
Came forth from his cottage room the brother of Lord Marney, to feel the vigorous bliss of life amid sunshiny gardens and the voices of bees and birds.
“Ah! this is delicious!” he felt. “This is existence! Thank God I am here; that I have quitted for ever that formal and heartless Marney. Were it not for my mother, I would remain Mr Franklin for ever. Would I were indeed a journalist; provided I always had a mission to the vale of Mowbray. Or anything, so that I were ever here. As companions, independent of everything else, they are superior to any that I have been used to. Why do these persons interest me? They feel and they think: two habits that have quite gone out of fashion, if ever they existed, among my friends. And that polish of manners, that studied and factitious refinement, which is to compensate for the heartlessness or the stupidity we are doomed to — is my host of last night deficient in that refinement? If he do want our conventional discipline, he has a native breeding which far excels it. I observe no word or action which is not prompted by that fine feeling which is the sure source of good taste. This Gerard appears to me a real genuine man; full of knowledge worked out by his own head; with large yet wholesome sympathies; and a deuced deal better educated than Lord de Mowbray or my brother — and they do occasionally turn over a book, which is not the habit of our set.
“And his daughter — ay, his daughter! There is something almost sublime about that young girl, yet strangely sweet withal; a tone so lofty combined with such simplicity is very rare. For there is no affectation of enthusiasm about her; nothing exaggerated, nothing rhapsodical. Her dark eyes and lustrous face, and the solemn sweetness of her thrilling voice — they haunt me; they have haunted me from the first moment I encountered her like a spirit amid the ruins of our abbey. And I am one of ‘the family of sacrilege.’ If she knew that! And I am one of the conquering class she denounces. If also she knew that! Ah! there is much to know! Above all — the future. Away! the tree of knowledge is the tree of death. I will have no thought that is not as bright and lovely as this morn.”
He went forth from his little garden, and strolled along the road in the direction of the cottage of Gerard, which was about three quarters of a mile distant. You might see almost as far; the sunshiny road a little winding and rising a very slight ascent. The cottage itself was hid by its trees. While Egremont was still musing of one who lived under that roof, he beheld in the distance Sybil.
She was springing along with a quick and airy step. Her black dress displayed her undulating and elastic figure. Her little foot bounded from the earth with a merry air. A long rosary hung at her side; and her head was partly covered with a hood which descended just over her shoulders. She seemed gay, for Harold kept running before her with a frolicsome air, and then returning to his mistress, danced about her, and almost overpowered her with his gambols.
“I salute thee, holy sister,” said Egremont.
“Oh! is not this a merry morn!” she exclaimed with a bright and happy face.
“I feel it as you. And whither do you go?”
“I go to the convent; I pay my first visit to our Superior since I left them.”
“Not very long ago,” said Egremont, with a smile, and turning with her.
“It seems so,” said Sybil.
They walked on together; Sybil glad as the hour; noticing a thousand cheerful sights, speaking to her dog in her ringing voice, as he gambolled before them, or seized her garments in his mouth, and ever and anon bounded away and then returned, looking up in his mistress’ face to inquire whether he had been wanted in his absence.
“What a pity it is that your father’s way each morning lies up the valley,” said Egremont; “he would be your companion to Mowbray.”
“Ah! but I am so happy that he has not to work in a town,” said Sybil. “He is not made to be cooped up in a hot factory in a smoky street. At least he labours among the woods and waters. And the Traffords are such good people! So kind to him and to all.”
“You love your father very much.”
She looked at him a little surprised; and then her sweet serious face broke into a smile and she said, “And is that strange?”
“I think not,” said Egremont; “I am inclined to love him myself.”
“Ah! you win my heart,” said Sybil, “when you praise him. I think that is the real reason why I like Stephen; for otherwise he is always saying something with which I cannot agree, which I disapprove; and yet he is so good to my father!”
“You speak of Mr Morley —”
“Oh! we don’t call him ‘Mr’,” said Sybil slightly laughing.
“I mean Stephen Morley,” said Egremont recalling his position, “whom I met in Marney Abbey. He is very clever, is he not?”
“He is a great writer and a great student; and what he is he has made himself. I hear too that you follow the same pursuit,” said Sybil.
“But I am not a great writer or a great student,” said Egremont.
“Whatever you be, I trust,” said Sybil, in a more serious tone, “that you will never employ the talents that God has given you against the People.”
“I have come here to learn something of their condition,” said Egremont. “That is not to be done in a great city like London. We all of us live too much in a circle. You will assist me, I am sure,” added Egremont; “your spirit will animate me. You told me last night that there was no other subject, except one, which ever occupied your thoughts.”
“Yes,” said Sybil, “I have lived under two roofs, only two roofs; and each has given me a great idea; the Convent and the Cottage. One has taught me the degradation of my faith, the other of my race. You should not wonder, therefore, that my heart is concentrated on the Church and the People.”
“But there are other ideas,” said Egremont, “that might equally be entitled to your thought.”
“I feel these are enough,” said Sybil; “too great, as it is, for my brain.”
At the end of a court in Wodgate, of rather larger dimensions than usual in that town, was a high and many-windowed house, of several stories in height, which had been added to it at intervals. It was in a most dilapidated state; the principal part occupied as a nail-workshop, where a great number of heavy iron machines were working in every room on each floor; the building itself in so shattered a condition that every part of it creaked and vibrated with their motion. The flooring was so broken that in many places one could look down through the gaping and rotten planks, while the upper floors from time to time had been shored up with props.
This was the Palace of the Bishop of Wodgate, and here with his arms bare and black, he worked at those locks, which defied any skeleton key that was not made by himself. He was a short, thickset man, powerfully made, with brawny arms disproportionately short even for his height, and with a countenance, as far as one could judge of a face so disfigured by his grimy toil, rather brutal than savage. His choice apprentices, full of admiration and terror, worked about him; lank and haggard youths, who never for an instant dared to raise their dingy faces and lack-lustre eyes from their ceaseless labour. On each side of their master, seated on a stool higher than the rest, was an urchin of not more than four or five years of age, serious and demure, and as if proud of his eminent position, or working incessantly at his little file; — these were two sons of the bishop.
“Now boys,” said the bishop, in a hoarse, harsh voice, “steady, there; steady. There’s a file what don’t sing; can’t deceive my ear; I know all their voices. Don’t let me find that un out, or I won’t walk into him, won’t I? Ayn’t you lucky boys, to have reg’lar work like this, and the best of prog! It worn’t my lot, I can tell you that. Give me that shut, you there, Scrubbynose, can’t you move? Look sharp, or I won’t move you, won’t I? Steady, steady! All right! That’s music. Where will you hear music like twenty files all working at once! You ought to be happy boys, oughtn’t you? Won’t there be a treat of fish after this, that’s all! Hulloa, there, you red-haired varmint, what are you looking after? Three boys looking about them; what’s all this? Won’t I be among you?” and he sprang forward and seized the luckless ears of the first apprentice he could get hold off, and wrung them till the blood spouted forth.
“Please, bishop,” sang out the boy, “it worn’t my fault. Here’s a man what wants you.”
“Who wants me?” said the bishop, looking round, and he caught the figure of Morley who had just entered the shop.
“Well, what’s your will? Locks or nails?”
“Neither,” said Morley; “I wish to see a man named Hatton.”
“Well, you see a man named Hatton,” said the bishop; “and now what do want of him?”
“I should like to say a word to you alone,” said Morley.
“Hem! I should like to know who is to finish this lock, and to look after my boys! If it’s an order, let us have it at once.”
“It is not an order,” said Morley.
“Then I don’t want to hear nothing about it,” said the bishop.
“It’s about family matters,” said Morley.
“Ah!” said Hatton, eagerly, “what, do you come from him?”
“It may be,” said Morley.
Upon this the bishop, looking up to the ceiling of the room in which there were several large chinks, began calling out lustily to some unseen person above, and immediately was replied to in a shrill voice of objurgation, demanding in peremptory words, interlarded with many oaths, what he wanted. His reply called down his unseen correspondent, who soon entered his workshop. It was the awful presence of Mrs Hatton; a tall, bearded virago, with a file in her hand, for that seemed the distinctive arm of the house, and eyes flashing with unbridled power.
“Look after the boys,” said Hatton, “for I have business.”
“Won’t I?” said Mrs Hatton; and a thrill of terror pervaded the assembly. All the files moved in regular melody; no one dared to raise his face; even her two young children looked still more serious and demure. Not that any being present flattered himself for an instant that the most sedulous attention on his part could prevent an outbreak; all that each aspired to, and wildly hoped, was that he might not be the victim singled out to have his head cut open, or his eye knocked out, or his ears half pulled off by the being who was the terror not only of the workshop, but of Wodgate itself — their bishop’s gentle wife.
In the meantime, that worthy, taking Morley into a room where there were no machines at work except those made of iron, said, “Well, what have you brought me?”
“In the first place,” said Morley, “I would speak to you of your brother.”
“I concluded that,” said Hatton, “when you spoke of family matters bringing you here; he is the only relation I have in this world, and therefore it must be of him.”
“It is of him,” said Morley.
“Has he sent anything?”
“Hem!” said Morley, who was by nature a diplomatist, and instantly comprehended his position, being himself pumped when he came to pump; but he resolved not to precipitate the affair. “How late is it since you heard from him?” he asked.
“Why, I suppose you know,” said Hatton, “I heard as usual.”
“From his usual place?” inquired Morley.
“I wish you would tell me where that is,” said Hatton, eagerly.
“Why, he writes to you?”
“Blank letters; never had a line except once, and that is more than twelve year ago. He sends me a twenty-pound note every Christmas; and that is all I know about him.”
“Then he is rich, and well to do in the world? said Morley.”
“Why, don’t you know?” said Hatton; “I thought you came from him!”
“I came about him. I wished to know whether he were alive, and that you have been able to inform me: and where he was; and that you have not been able to inform me.”
“Why, you’re a regular muff!” said the bishop.
A few days after his morning walk with Sybil, it was agreed that Egremont should visit Mr Trafford’s factory, which he had expressed a great desire to inspect. Gerard always left his cottage at break of dawn, and as Sybil had not yet paid her accustomed visit to her friend and patron, who was the employer of her father, it was arranged that Egremont should accompany her at a later and more convenient hour in the morning, and then that they should all return together.
The factory was about a mile distant from their cottage, which belonged indeed to Mr Trafford, and had been built by him. He was the younger son of a family that had for centuries been planted in the land, but who, not satisfied with the factitious consideration with which society compensates the junior members of a territorial house for their entailed poverty, had availed himself of some opportunities that offered themselves, and had devoted his energies to those new sources of wealth that were unknown to his ancestors. His operations at first had been extremely limited, like his fortunes; but with a small capital, though his profits were not considerable, he at least gained experience. With gentle blood in his veins, and old English feelings, he imbibed, at an early period of his career, a correct conception of the relations which should subsist between the employer and the employed. He felt that between them there should be other ties than the payment and the receipt of wages.
A distant and childless relative, who made him a visit, pleased with his energy and enterprise, and touched by the development of his social views, left him a considerable sum, at a moment too when a great opening was offered to manufacturing capital and skill. Trafford, schooled in rigid fortunes, and formed by struggle, if not by adversity, was ripe for the occasion, and equal to it. He became very opulent, and he lost no time in carrying into life and being the plans which he had brooded over in the years when his good thoughts were limited to dreams. On the banks of his native Mowe he had built a factory which was now one of the marvels of the district; one might almost say, of the country: a single room, spreading over nearly two acres, and holding more than two thousand work-people. The roof of groined arches, lighted by ventilating domes at the height of eighteen feet, was supported by hollow cast-iron columns, through which the drainage of the roof was effected. The height of the ordinary rooms in which the work-people in manufactories are engaged is not more than from nine to eleven feet; and these are built in stories, the heat and effluvia of the lower rooms communicated to those above, and the difficulty of ventilation insurmountable. At Mr Trafford’s, by an ingenious process, not unlike that which is practised in the House of Commons, the ventilation was also carried on from below, so that the whole building was kept at a steady temperature, and little susceptible to atmospheric influence. The physical advantages of thus carrying on the whole work in one chamber are great: in the improved health of the people, the security against dangerous accidents for women and youth, and the reduced fatigue resulting from not having to ascend and descend and carry materials to the higher rooms. But the moral advantages resulting from superior inspection and general observation are not less important: the child works under the eye of the parent, the parent under that of the superior workman; the inspector or employer at a glance can behold all.
When the workpeople of Mr Trafford left his factory they were not forgotten. Deeply had he pondered on the influence of the employer on the health and content of his workpeople. He knew well that the domestic virtues are dependent on the existence of a home, and one of his first efforts had been to build a village where every family might be well lodged. Though he was the principal proprietor, and proud of that character, he nevertheless encouraged his workmen to purchase the fee: there were some who had saved sufficient money to effect this: proud of their house and their little garden, and of the horticultural society, where its produce permitted them to be annual competitors. In every street there was a well: behind the factory were the public baths; the schools were under the direction of the perpetual curate of the church, which Mr Trafford, though a Roman Catholic, had raised and endowed. In the midst of this village, surrounded by beautiful gardens, which gave an impulse to the horticulture of the community, was the house of Trafford himself, who comprehended his position too well to withdraw himself with vulgar exclusiveness from his real dependents, but recognized the baronial principle reviving in a new form, and adapted to the softer manners and more ingenious circumstances of the times.
And what was the influence of such an employer and such a system of employment on the morals and manners of the employed? Great: infinitely beneficial. The connexion of a labourer with his place of work, whether agricultural or manufacturing, is itself a vast advantage. Proximity to the employer brings cleanliness and order, because it brings observation and encouragement. In the settlement of Trafford crime was positively unknown: and offences were very slight. There was not a single person in the village of a reprobate character. The men were well clad; the women had a blooming cheek; drunkenness was unknown; while the moral condition of the softer sex was proportionately elevated.
The vast form of the spreading factory, the roofs and gardens of the village, the Tudor chimneys of the house of Trafford, the spire of the gothic church, with the sparkling river and the sylvan hack-ground, came rather suddenly on the sight of Egremont. They were indeed in the pretty village-street before he was aware he was about to enter it. Some beautiful children rushed out of a cottage and flew to Sybil, crying out, “the queen, the queen;” one clinging to her dress, another seizing her arm, and a third, too small to struggle, pouting out its lips to be embraced.
“My subjects,” said Sybil laughing, as she greeted them all; and then they ran away to announce to others that their queen had arrived.
Others came: beautiful and young. As Sybil and Egremont walked along, the race too tender for labour, seemed to spring out of every cottage to greet “their queen.” Her visits had been very rare of late, but they were never forgotten; they formed epochs in the village annals of the children, some of whom knew only by tradition the golden age when Sybil Gerard lived at the great house, and daily glanced like a spirit among their homes, smiling and met with smiles, blessing and ever blessed.
“And here,” she said to Egremont, “I must bid you good bye; and this little boy,” touching gently on his head a very serious urchin who had never left her side for a moment, proud of his position, and holding tight her hand with all his strength, “this little boy shall be your guide. It is not a hundred yards. Now, Pierce, you must take Mr Franklin to the factory, and ask for Mr Gerard.” And she went her way.
They had not separated five minutes when the sound of whirling wheels caught the ear of Egremont, and, looking round, he saw a cavalcade of great pretension rapidly approaching; dames and cavaliers on horseback; a brilliant equipage, postilions and four horses; a crowd of grooms. Egremont stood aside. The horsemen and horsewomen caracoled gaily by him; proudly swept on the sparkling barouche; the saucy grooms pranced in his face. Their masters and mistresses were not strangers to him: he recognized with some dismay the liveries, and then the arms of Lord de Mowbray, and caught the cold, proud countenance of Lady Joan, and the flexible visage of Lady Maud, both on horseback, and surrounded by admiring cavaliers.
Egremont flattered himself that he had not been recognised, and dismissing his little guide, instead of proceeding to the factory he sauntered away in an opposite direction, and made a visit to the church.
The wife of Trafford embraced Sybil, and then embraced her again. She seemed as happy as the children of the village, that the joy of her roof, as of so many others, had returned to them, though only for a few hours. Her husband she said had just quitted the house; he was obliged to go to the factory to receive a great and distinguished party who were expected this morning, having written to him several days before for permission to view the works. “We expect them to lunch here afterwards,” said Mrs Trafford, a very refined woman, but unused to society, and who rather trembled at the ceremony; “Oh! do stay with me, Sybil, to receive them.”
This intimation so much alarmed Sybil that she rose as soon as was practicable; and saying that she had some visits to make in the village, she promised to return when Mrs Trafford was less engaged.
An hour elapsed; there was a loud ring at the hall-door, the great and distinguished party had arrived. Mrs Trafford prepared for the interview, and tried to look very composed as the doors opened, and her husband ushered in and presented to her Lord and Lady de Mowbray, their daughters, Lady Firebrace, Mr Jermyn, who still lingered at the castle, and Mr Alfred Mountchesney and Lord Milford, who were mere passing guests, on their way to Scotland, but reconnoitering the heiresses in their course.
Lord de Mowbray was profuse of praise and compliments. His lordship was apt to be too civil. The breed would come out sometimes. To-day he was quite the coffee-house waiter. He praised everything: the machinery, the workmen, the cotton manufactured and the cotton raw, even the smoke. But Mrs Trafford would not have the smoke defended, and his lordship gave the smoke up, but only to please her. As for Lady de Mowbray, she was as usual courteous and condescending, with a kind of smouldering smile on her fair aquiline face, that seemed half pleasure and half surprise at the strange people she was among. Lady Joan was haughty and scientific, approved of much, but principally of the system of ventilation, of which she asked several questions which greatly perplexed Mrs Trafford, who slightly blushed, and looked at her husband for relief, but he was engaged with Lady Maud, who was full of enthusiasm, entered into everything with the zest of sympathy, identified herself with the factory system almost as much as she had done with the crusades, and longed to teach in singing schools, found public gardens, and bid fountains flow and sparkle for the people.
“I think the works were very wonderful,” said Lord Milford, as he was cutting a pasty; “and indeed, Mrs Trafford, everything here is quite charming; but what I have most admired at your place is a young girl we met — the most beautiful I think I ever saw.”
“With the most beautiful dog,” said Mr Mountchesney.
“Oh! that must have been Sybil!” exclaimed Mrs Trafford.
“And who is Sybil?” asked Lady Maud. “That is one of our family names. We all thought her quite beautiful.”
“She is a child of the house,” said Mrs Trafford, “or rather was, for I am sorry to say she has long quitted us.”
“Is she a nun?” asked Lord Milford, “for her vestments had a conventual air.”
“She has just left your convent at Mowbray,” said Mr Trafford, addressing his answer to Lady Maud, “and rather against her will. She clings to the dress she was accustomed to there.”
“And now she resides with you?”
“No; I should be very happy if she did. I might almost say she was brought up under this roof. She lives now with her father.”
“And who is so fortunate as to be her father?” enquired Mr Mountchesney.
“Her father is the inspector of my works; the person who accompanied us over them this morning.”
“What! that handsome man I so much admired,” said Lady Maud, “so very aristocratic-looking. Papa,” she said, addressing herself to Lord de Mowbray, “the inspector of Mr Trafford’s works we are speaking of, that aristocratic-looking person that I observed to you, he is the father of the beautiful girl.”
“He seemed a very intelligent person,” said Lord de Mowbray with many smiles.
“Yes,” said Mr Trafford; “he has great talents and great integrity. I would trust him with anything and to any amount. All I wish,” he added, with a smile and in a lower tone to Lady de Mowbray, “all I wish is, that he was not quite so fond of politics.”
“Is he very violent?” enquired her ladyship in a sugary tone.
“Too violent,” said Mr Trafford, “and wild in his ideas.”
“And yet I suppose,” said Lord Milford, “he must be very well off?”
“Why I must say for him it is not selfishness that makes him a malcontent,” said Mr Trafford; “he bemoans the condition of the people.”
“If we are to judge of the condition of the people by what we see here,” said Lord de Mowbray, “there is little to lament in it. But I fear these are instances not so common as we could wish. You must have been at a great outlay, Mr Trafford?”
“Why,” said Mr Trafford, “for my part. I have always considered that there was nothing so expensive as a vicious population. I hope I had other objects in view in what I have done than a pecuniary compensation. They say we all have our hobbies; and it was ever mine to improve the condition of my workpeople, to see what good tenements and good schools and just wages paid in a fair manner, and the encouragement of civilizing pursuits, would do to elevate their character. I should find an ample reward in the moral tone and material happiness of this community; but really viewing it in a pecuniary point of view, the investment of capital has been one of the most profitable I ever made; and I would not, I assure you, for double its amount, exchange my workpeople for the promiscuous assemblage engaged in other factories.”
“The influence of the atmosphere on the condition of the labourer is a subject which deserves investigation,” said Lady Joan to Mr Jermyn, who stared and bowed.
“And you do not feel alarmed at having a person of such violent opinions as your inspector at the head of your establishment,” said Lady Firebrace to Mr Trafford, who smiled a negative.
“What is the name of the intelligent individual who accompanied us?” enquired Lord de Mowbray.
“His name is Gerard,” said Mr Trafford.
“I believe a common name in these parts,” said Lord de Mowbray looking a little confused.
“Not very,” said Mr Trafford; “’tis an old name and the stock has spread; but all Gerards claim a common lineage I believe, and my inspector has gentle blood, they say, in his veins.”
“He looks as if he had,” said Lady Maud.
“All persons with good names affect good blood,” said Lord de Mowbray; and then turning to Mrs Trafford he overwhelmed her with elaborate courtesies of phrase; praised everything again; first generally and then in detail; the factory, which he seemed to prefer to his castle — the house, which he seemed to prefer even to the factory — the gardens, from which he anticipated even greater gratification than from the house. And this led to an expression of a hope that he would visit them. And so in due time the luncheon was achieved. Mrs Trafford looked at her guests, there was a rustling and a stir, and everybody was to go and see the gardens that Lord de Mowbray had so much praised.
“I am all for looking after the beautiful Nun,” said Mr Mountchesney to Lord Milford.
“I think I shall ask the respectable manufacturer to introduce me to her,” replied his lordship.
In the meantime Egremont had joined Gerard at the factory.
“You should have come sooner,” said Gerard, “and then you might have gone round with the fine folks. We have had a grand party here from the castle.”
“So I perceived,” said Egremont, “and withdrew.”
“Ah! they were not in your way, eh?” he said in a mocking smile. “Well, they were very condescending — at least for such great people. An earl! Earl de Mowbray — I suppose he came over with William the Conqueror. Mr Trafford makes a show of the place, and it amuses their visitors I dare say, like anything else that’s strange. There were some young gentlemen with them, who did not seem to know much about anything. I thought I had a right to be amused too; and I must say I liked very much to see one of them looking at the machinery through his eye-glass. There was one very venturesome chap: I thought he was going to catch hold of the fly-wheel, but I gave him a spin which I believed saved his life, though he did rather stare. He was a lord.”
“They are great heiresses, his daughters, they say at Mowbray,” said Egremont.
“I dare say,” said Gerard. “A year ago this earl had a son — an only son, and then his daughters were not great heiresses. But the son died and now it’s their turn. And perhaps some day it will be somebody else’s turn. If you want to understand the ups and downs of life, there’s nothing like the parchments of an estate. Now master, now man! He who served in the hall now lords in it: and very often the baseborn change their liveries for coronets, while gentle blood has nothing left but — dreams; eh, master Franklin?”
“It seems you know the history of this Lord de Mowbray?”
“Why a man learns a good many things in his time; and living in these parts, there are few secrets of the notables. He has had the title to his broad acres questioned before this time, my friend.”
“Yes: I could not help thinking of that today,” said Gerard, “when he questioned me with his mincing voice and pulled the wool with his cursed white hands and showed it to his dame, who touched it with her little finger; and his daughters who tossed their heads like pea-hens — Lady Joan and Lady Maud. Lady Joan and Lady Maud!” repeated Gerard in a voice of bitter sarcasm. “I did not care for the rest; but I could not stand that Lady Joan and that Lady Maud. I wonder if my Sybil saw them.”
In the meantime, Sybil had been sent for by Mrs Trafford. She had inferred from the message that the guests had departed, and her animated cheek showed the eagerness with which she had responded to the call. Bounding along with a gladness of the heart which lent additional lustre to her transcendent brightness, she suddenly found herself surrounded in the garden by Lady Maud and her friends. The daughter of Lord de Mowbray, who could conceive nothing but humility as the cause of her alarmed look, attempted to reassure her by condescending volubility, turning often to her friends and praising in admiring interrogatories Sybil’s beauty.
“And we took advantage of your absence,” said Lady Maud in a tone of amiable artlessness, “to find out all about you. And what a pity we did not know you when you were at the convent, because then you might have been constantly at the castle; indeed I should have insisted on it. But still I hear we are neighbours; you must promise to pay me a visit, you must indeed. Is not she beautiful?” she added in a lower but still distinct voice to her friend. “Do you know I think there is so much beauty among the lower order.”
Mr Mountchesney and Lord Milford poured forth several insipid compliments, accompanied with some speaking looks which they flattered themselves could not be misconstrued. Sybil said not a word, but answered each flood of phrases with a cold reverence.
Undeterred by her somewhat haughty demeanour, which Lady Maud only attributed to the novelty of her situation, her ignorance of the world, and her embarrassment under this overpowering condescension, the good-tempered and fussy daughter of Lord de Mowbray proceeded to reassure Sybil, and to enforce on her that this perhaps unprecedented descent from superiority was not a mere transient courtliness of the moment, and that she really might rely on her patronage and favourable feeling.
“You really must come and see me,” said Lady Maud, “I shall never be happy till you have made me a visit. Where do you live? I will come and fetch you myself in the carriage. Now let us fix a day at once. Let me see; this is Saturday. What say you to next Monday?”
“I thank you,” said Sybil, very gravely, “but I never quit my home.”
“What a darling!” exclaimed Lady Maud looking round at her friends. “Is not she? I know exactly what you feel. But really you shall not be the least embarrassed. It may feel strange at first, to be sure, but then I shall be there; and do you know I look upon you quite as my protege.”
“Protege,” said Sybil. “I live with my father.”
“What a dear!” said Lady Maud looking round to Lord Milford. “Is not she naive?”
“And are you the guardian of these beautiful flowers?” said Mr Mountchesney.
Sybil signified a negative, and added “Mrs Trafford is very proud of them.”
“You must see the flowers at Mowbray Castle,” said Lady Maud. “They are unprecedented, are they not, Lord Milford? You know you said the other day that they were almost equal to Mrs Lawrence’s. I am charmed to find you are fond of flowers,” continued Lady Maud; “you will be so delighted with Mowbray. Ah! mama is calling us. Now fix — shall it be Monday?”
“Indeed,” said Sybil, “I never leave my home. I am one of the lower order, and live only among the lower order. I am here today merely for a few hours to pay an act of homage to a benefactor.”
“Well I shall come and fetch you,” said Maud, covering her surprise and mortification by a jaunty air that would not confess defeat.
“And so shall I,” said Mr Mountchesney.
“And so shall I,” whispered Lord Milford lingering a little behind.
The great and distinguished party had disappeared; their glittering barouche, their prancing horses, their gay grooms, all had vanished; the sound of their wheels was no longer heard. Time flew on; the bell announced that the labour of the week had closed. There was a half holiday always on the last day of the week at Mr Trafford’s settlement; and every man, woman, and child, were paid their wages in the great room before they left the mill. Thus the expensive and evil habits which result from wages being paid in public houses were prevented. There was also in this system another great advantage for the workpeople. They received their wages early enough to repair to the neighbouring markets and make their purchases for the morrow. This added greatly to their comfort, and rendering it unnecessary for them to run in debt to the shopkeepers, added really to their wealth. Mr Trafford thought that next to the amount of wages, the most important consideration was the method in which wages are paid; and those of our readers who may have read or can recall the sketches, neither coloured nor exagerated, which we have given in the early part of this volume of the very different manner in which the working classes may receive the remuneration for their toil, will probably agree with the sensible and virtuous master of Walter Gerard.
He, accompanied by his daughter and Egremont, is now on his way home. A soft summer afternoon; the mild beam still gilding the tranquil scene; a river, green meads full of kine, woods vocal with the joyous song of the thrush and the blackbird; and in the distance, the lofty breast of the purple moor, still blazing in the sun: fair sights and renovating sounds after a day of labour passed in walls and amid the ceaseless and monotonous clang of the spindle and the loom. So Gerard felt it, as he stretched his great limbs in the air and inhaled its perfumed volume.
“Ah! I was made for this, Sybil,” he exclaimed; “but never mind, my child, never mind; tell me more of your fine visitors.”
Egremont found the walk too short; fortunately from the undulation of the vale, they could not see the cottage until within a hundred yards of it. When they were in sight, a man came forth from the garden to greet them; Sybil gave an exclamation of pleasure; it was MORLEY.
Morley greeted Gerard and his daughter with great warmth, and then looked at Egremont. “Our companion in the ruins of Marney Abbey,” said Gerard; “you and our friend Franklin here should become acquainted, Stephen, for you both follow the same craft. He is a journalist like yourself, and is our neighbour for a time, and yours.”
“What journal are you on, may I ask?” enquired Morley.
Egremont reddened, was confused, and then replied, “I have no claim to the distinguished title of a journalist. I am but a reporter; and have some special duties here.”
“Hem!” said Morley, and then taking Gerard by the arm, he walked away with him, leaving Egremont and Sybil to follow them.
“Well I have found him, Walter.”
“No, no; the brother.”
“And what knows he?”
“Little enough; yet something. Our man lives and prospers; these are facts, but where he is, or what he is — not a clue.”
“And this brother cannot help us?”
“On the contrary, he sought information from me; he is a savage, beneath even our worst ideas of popular degradation. All that is ascertained is that our man exists and is well to do in the world. There comes an annual and anonymous contribution, and not a light one, to his brother. I examined the post-marks of the letters, but they all varied, and were evidently arranged to mislead. I fear you will deem I have not done much; yet it was wearisome enough I can tell you.”
“I doubt it not; and I am sure Stephen, you have done all that man could. I was fancying that I should hear from you today; for what think you has happened? My Lord himself, his family and train, have all been in state to visit the works, and I had to show them. Queer that, wasn’t it? He offered me money when it was over. How much I know not, I would not look at it. Though to be sure, they were perhaps my own rents, eh? But I pointed to the sick box and his own dainty hand deposited the sum there.”
“’Tis very strange. And you were with him face to face?”
“Face to face. Had you brought me news of the papers, I should have thought that providence had rather a hand in it — but now, we are still at sea.”
“Still at sea,” said Morley musingly, “but he lives and prospers. He will turn up yet, Walter.”
“Amen! Since you have taken up this thing, Stephen, it is strange how my mind has hankered after the old business, and yet it ruined my father, and mayhap may do as bad for his son.”
“We will not think that,” said Morley. “At present we will think of other things. You may guess I am a bit wearied; I think I’ll say good night; you have strangers with you.”
“Nay, nay man; nay. This Franklin is a likely lad enough; I think you will take to him. Prithee come in. Sybil will not take it kindly if you go, after so long an absence; and I am sure I shall not.”
So they entered together.
The evening passed in various conversation, though it led frequently to the staple subject of talk beneath the roof of Gerard — the Condition of the People. What Morley had seen in his recent excursion afforded materials for many comments.
“The domestic feeling is fast vanishing among the working classes of this country,” said Gerard; “nor is it wonderful — the Home no longer exists.”
“But there are means of reviving it,” said Egremont; “we have witnessed them today. Give men homes, and they will have soft and homely notions, If all men acted like Mr Trafford, the condition of the people would be changed.”
“But all men will not act like Mr Trafford,” said Morley. “It requires a sacrifice of self which cannot be expected, which is unnatural. It is not individual influence that can renovate society: it is some new principle that must reconstruct it. You lament the expiring idea of Home. It would not be expiring, if it were worth retaining. The domestic principle has fulfilled its purpose. The irresistible law of progress demands that another should be developed. It will come; you may advance or retard, but you cannot prevent it. It will work out like the development of organic nature. In the present state of civilization and with the scientific means of happiness at our command, the notion of home should be obsolete. Home is a barbarous idea; the method of a rude age; home is isolation; therefore anti-social. What we want is Community.”
“It is all very fine,” said Gerard, “and I dare say you are right, Stephen; but I like stretching my feet on my own hearth.”
Time passes with a measured and memorable wing during the first period of a sojourn in a new place, among new characters and new manners. Every person, every incident, every feeling, touches and stirs the imagination. The restless mind creates and observes at the same time. Indeed there is scarcely any popular tenet more erroneous than that which holds that when time is slow, life is dull. It is very often and very much the reverse. If we look back on those passages of our life which dwell most upon the memory, they are brief periods full of action and novel sensation. Egremont found this so during the first days of his new residence in Mowedale. The first week, an epoch in his life, seemed an age; at the end of the first month, he began to deplore the swiftness of time and almost to moralize over the brevity of existence. He found that he was leading a life of perfect happiness, but of remarkable simplicity; he wished it might never end, but felt difficulty in comprehending how in the first days of his experience of it, it had seemed so strange; almost as strange as it was sweet. The day that commenced early, was past in reading — books lent him often too by Sybil Gerard — sometimes in a ramble with her and Morley, who had time much at his command, to some memorable spot in the neighbourhood, or in the sport which the river and the rod secured Egremont. In the evening, he invariably repaired to the cottage of Gerard, beneath whose humble roof he found every female charm that can fascinate, and conversation that stimulated his intelligence. Gerard was ever the same; hearty, simple, with a depth of feeling and native thought on the subjects on which they touched, and with a certain grandeur of sentiment and conception which contrasted with his social position, but which became his idiosyncracy. Sybil spoke little, but hung upon the accents of her father; yet ever and anon her rich tones conveyed to the charmed ear of Egremont some deep conviction, the earnestness of her intellect as remarkable as the almost sacred repose of her mien and manner. Of Morley, at first Egremont saw a great deal: he lent our friend books, opened with unreserve and with great richness of speculative and illustrative power, on the questions which ever engaged him, and which were new and highly interesting to his companion. But as time advanced, whether it were that the occupations of Morley increased, and the calls on his hours left him fewer occasions for the indulgence of social intercourse, Egremont saw him seldom, except at Gerard’s cottage, where generally he might be found in the course of the week, and their rambles together had entirely ceased.
Alone, Egremont mused much over the daughter of Gerard, but shrinking from the precise and the definite, his dreams were delightful, but vague. All that he asked was, that his present life should go on for ever; he wished for no change, and at length almost persuaded himself that no change could arrive; as men who are basking in a summer sun, surrounded by bright and beautiful objects, cannot comprehend how the seasons can ever alter; that the sparkling foliage should shrivel and fall away, the foaming waters become icebound, and the blue serene, a dark and howling space.
In this train of mind, the early days of October having already stolen on him, an incident occurred which startled him in his retirement, and rendered it necessary that he should instantly quit it. Egremont had entrusted the secret of his residence to a faithful servant who communicated with him when necessary, under his assumed name. Through these means he received a letter from his mother, written from London, where she had unexpectedly arrived, entreating him, in urgent terms, to repair to her without a moment’s delay, on a matter of equal interest and importance to herself and him. Such an appeal from such a quarter, from the parent that had ever been kind, and the friend that had been ever faithful, was not for a moment to be neglected. Already a period had elapsed since its transmission, which Egremont regretted. He resolved at once to quit Mowedale, nor could he console himself with the prospect of an immediate return. Parliament was to assemble in the ensuing month, and independent of the unknown cause which summoned him immediately to town, he was well aware that much disagreeable business awaited him which could no longer be postponed. He had determined not to take his seat unless the expenses of his contest were previously discharged, and despairing of his brother’s aid, and shrinking from trespassing any further on his mother’s resources, the future looked gloomy enough: indeed nothing but the frequent presence and the constant influence of Sybil had driven from his mind the ignoble melancholy which, relieved by no pensive fancy, is the invariable attendant of pecuniary embarrassment.
And now he was to leave her. The event, rather the catastrophe, which under any circumstances, could not be long postponed, was to be precipitated. He strolled up to the cottage to bid her farewell and to leave kind words for her father. Sybil was not there. The old dame who kept their home informed him that Sybil was at the convent, but would return in the evening. It was impossible to quit Mowedale without seeing Sybil; equally impossible to postpone his departure. But by travelling through the night, the lost hours might be regained. And Egremont made his arrangements, and awaited with anxiety and impatience the last evening.
The evening, like his heart, was not serene. The soft air that had lingered so long with them, a summer visitant in an autumnal sky and loth to part, was no more present. A cold harsh wind, gradually rising, chilled the system and grated on the nerves. There was misery in its blast and depression in its moan. Egremont felt infinitely dispirited. The landscape around him that he had so often looked upon with love and joy, was dull and hard; the trees dingy, the leaden waters motionless, the distant hills rough and austere. Where was that translucent sky, once brilliant as his enamoured fancy; those bowery groves of aromatic fervor wherein he had loved to roam and muse; that river of swift and sparkling light that flowed and flashed like the current of his enchanted hours? All vanished — as his dreams.
He stood before the cottage of Gerard; he recalled the eve that he had first gazed upon its moonlit garden. What wild and delicious thoughts were then his! They were gone like the illumined hour. Nature and fortune had alike changed. Prescient of sorrow, almost prophetic of evil, he opened the cottage door, and the first person his eye encountered was Morley.
Egremont had not met him for some time, and his cordial greeting of Egremont to-night contrasted with the coldness, not to say estrangement, which to the regret and sometimes the perplexity of Egremont had gradually grown up between them. Yet on no occasion was his presence less desired by our friend. Morley was talking as Egremont entered with great animation; in his hand a newspaper, on a paragraph contained in which he was commenting. The name of Marney caught the ear of Egremont who turned rather pale at the sound, and hesitated on the threshold. The unembarrassed welcome of his friends however reassured him, and in a moment he even ventured to enquire the subject of their conversation. Morley immediately referring to the newspaper said, “This is what I have just read —
“EXTRAORDINARY SPORT AT THE EARL OF MARNEY’S.
On Wednesday, in a small cover called the Horns, near Marney Abbey, his grace the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, the Earl of Marney, Colonel Rippe and Captain Grouse, with only four hours shooting, bagged the extraordinary number of seven hundred and thirty head of game, namely hares three hundred and thirty-nine; pheasants two hundred and twenty-one; partridges thirty-four; rabbits eighty-seven; and the following day upwards of fifty hares, pheasants, &c., (wounded the previous day) were picked up. Out of the four hours’ shooting two of the party were absent an hour and a-half, namely the Earl of Marney and Captain Grouse, attending an agricultural meeting in the neighbourhood; the noble earl with his usual considerate condescension having kindly consented personally to distribute the various prizes to the labourers whose good conduct entitled them to the distinction.”
“What do you think of that, Franklin?” said Morley. “That is our worthy friend of Marney Abbey, where we first met. You do not know this part of the country, or you would smile at the considerate condescension of the worst landlord in England; and who was, it seems, thus employed the day or so after his battue, as they call it.” And Morley turning the paper read another paragraph:—
“At a Petty Sessions holden at the Green Dragon Inn, Marney, Friday, October — 1837.
“Magistrates present: The Earl of Marney, the Rev. Felix Flimsey, and Captain Grouse.
“Information against Robert Hind for a trespass in pursuit of game in Blackrock Wood, the property of Sir Vavasour Firebrace, Bart. The case was distinctly proved; several wires being found in the pocket of the defendant. Defendant was fined in the full penalty of forty shillings and costs twenty-seven; the Bench being of opinion there was no excuse for him, Hind being in regular employ as a farm labourer and gaining his seven shillings a-week. Defendant being unable to pay the penalty, was sent for two months to Marham Gaol.”
“What a pity,” said Morley, “that Robert Hind, instead of meditating the snaring of a hare, had not been fortunate enough to pick up a maimed one crawling about the fields the day after the battue. It would certainly have been better for himself; and if he has a wife and family, better for the parish.”
“Oh!” said Gerard, “I doubt not they were all picked up by the poulterer who has the contract: even the Normans did not sell their game.”
“The question is,” said Morley, “would you rather be barbarous or mean; that is the alternative presented by the real and the pseudo Norman nobility of England. Where I have been lately, there is a Bishopsgate Street merchant who has been made for no conceiveable public reason a baron bold. Bigod and Bohun could not enforce the forest laws with such severity as this dealer in cotton and indigo.”
“It is a difficult question to deal with — this affair of the game laws,” said Egremont; “how will you reach the evil? Would you do away with the offence of trespass? And if so, what is your protection for property?”
“It comes to a simple point though,” said Morley, “the Territorialists must at length understand that they cannot at the same time have the profits of a farm and the pleasures of a chase.”
At this moment entered Sybil. At the sight of her, the remembrance that they were about to part, nearly overwhelmed Egremont. Her supremacy over his spirit was revealed to him, and nothing but the presence of other persons could have prevented him avowing his entire subjection. His hand trembled as he touched her’s, and his eye, searching yet agitated, would have penetrated her serene soul. Gerard and Morley, somewhat withdrawn, pursued their conversation; while Egremont hanging over Sybil, attempted to summon courage to express to her his sad adieu. It was in vain. Alone, perhaps he might have poured forth a passionate farewell. But constrained he became embarrassed; and his conduct was at the same time tender and perplexing. He asked and repeated questions which had already been answered. His thoughts wandered from their conversation but not from her with whom he should have conversed. Once their eyes met, and Sybil observed his suffused with tears. Once he looked round and caught the glance of Morley, instantly withdrawn, but not easy to be forgotten.
Shortly after this and earlier than his wont, Morley rose and wished them good night. He shook hands with Egremont and bade him farewell with some abruptness. Harold who seemed half asleep suddenly sprang from the side of his mistress and gave an agitated bark. Harold was never very friendly to Morley, who now tried to soothe him, but in vain. The dog looked fiercely at him and barked again, but the moment Morley had disappeared, Harold resumed his usual air of proud high-bred gentleness, and thrust his nose into the hand of Egremont, who patted him with fondness.
The departure of Morley was a great relief to Egremont, though the task that was left was still a painful effort. He rose and walked for a moment up and down the room, commenced an unfinished sentence, approached the hearth and leant over the mantel; and then at length extending his hand to Gerard he exclaimed, in a trembling voice, “Best of friends, I must leave Mowedale.”
“I am very sorry,” said Gerard; “and when?”
“Now,” said Egremont.
“Now!” said Sybil.
“Yes; this instant. My summons is urgent. I ought to have left this morning. I came here then to bid you farewell,” he said looking at Sybil, “to express to you how deeply I was indebted to you for all your goodness — how dearly I shall cherish the memory of these happy days — the happiest I have ever known;” and his voice faltered. “I came also to leave a kind message for you, my friend, a hope that we might meet again and soon — but your daughter was absent, and I could not leave Mowedale without seeing either of you. So I must contrive to get on through the night.”
“Well we lose a very pleasant neighbour,” said Gerard; “we shall miss you, I doubt not, eh, Sybil?”
But Sybil had turned away her head; she was leaning over and seemed to be caressing Harold and was silent.
How much Egremont would have liked to have offered or invited correspondence; to have proffered his services when the occasion permitted; to have said or proposed many things that might have cherished their acquaintance or friendship; but embarrassed by his incognito and all its consequent deception, he could do nothing but tenderly express his regret at parting, and speak vaguely and almost mysteriously of their soon again meeting. He held out again his hand to Gerard who shook it heartily: then approaching Sybil, Egremont said, “you have shewn me a thousand kindnesses, which I cherish,” he added in a lower tone, “above all human circumstances. Would you deign to let this volume lie upon your table,” and he offered Sybil an English translation of Thomas a Kempis, illustrated by some masterpieces. In its first page was written “Sybil, from a faithful friend.”
“I accept it,” said Sybil with a trembling voice and rather pale, “in remembrance of a friend.” She held forth her hand to Egremont, who retained it for an instant, and then bending very low, pressed it to his lips. As with an agitated heart, he hastily crossed the threshold of the cottage, something seemed to hold him back. He turned round. The bloodhound had seized him by the coat and looked up to him with an expression of affectionate remonstrance against his departure. Egremont bent down, caressed Harold and released himself from his grasp.
When Egremont left the cottage, he found the country enveloped in a thick white mist, so that had it not been for some huge black shadows which he recognized as the crests of trees, it would have been very difficult to discriminate the earth from the sky, and the mist thickening as he advanced, even these fallacious landmarks threatened to disappear. He had to walk to Mowbray to catch a night train for London. Every moment was valuable, but the unexpected and increasing obscurity rendered his progress slow and even perilous. The contiguity to the river made every step important. He had according to his calculations proceeded nearly as far as his old residence, and notwithstanding the careless courage of youth and the annoyance of relinquishing a project, intolerable at that season of life, was meditating the expediency of renouncing that night the attempt on Mowbray and of gaining his former quarters for shelter. He stopped, as he had stopped several times before, to calculate rather than to observe. The mist was so thick that he could not see his own extended hand. It was not the first time that it had occurred to him that some one or something was hovering about his course.
“Who is there?” exclaimed Egremont. But no one answered.
He moved on a little, but very slowly. He felt assured that his ear caught a contiguous step. He repeated his interrogatory in a louder tone, but it obtained no response. Again he stopped. Suddenly he was seized; an iron grasp assailed his throat, a hand of steel griped his arm. The unexpected onset hurried him on. The sound of waters assured him that he was approaching the precipitous bank of that part of the river which, from a ledge of pointed rocks, here formed rapids. Vigorous and desperate, Egremont plunged like some strong animal on whom a beast of prey had made a fatal spring. His feet clung to the earth as if they were held by some magnetic power. With his disengaged arm he grappled with his mysterious and unseen foe.
At this moment he heard the deep bay of a hound.
“Harold!” he exclaimed. The dog, invisible, sprang forward and seized upon his assailant. So violent was the impulse that Egremont staggered and fell, but he fell freed from his dark enemy. Stunned and exhausted, some moments elapsed before he was entirely himself. The wind had suddenly changed; a violent gust had partially dispelled the mist; the outline of the landscape was in many places visible. Beneath him were the rapids of the Mowe, over which a watery moon threw a faint, flickering light. Egremont was lying on its precipitous bank; and Harold panting was leaning over him and looking in his face, and sometimes licking him with that tongue which, though not gifted with speech, had spoken so seasonably in the moment of danger.
END OF THE THIRD BOOK
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