Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

Forester, a Corrector of the Press.

Forester had not, since he left Dr. Campbell’s, been often spoken to in a tone of friendship. The bookseller’s well-meant frank remonstrance made its just impression; and he resolved to make the necessary additions to his wardrobe; nay, he even went to a hair-dresser, to have his hair cut and brought into decent order. His companions, the printers, had not been sparing in their remarks upon the meanness of his former apparel, and Forester pleased himself with anticipating the respect they would feel for him, when he should appear in better clothes. “Can such trifles,” said he to himself, “make such a change in the opinion of my fellow-creatures? And why should I fight with the world for trifles? My real merit is neither increased nor diminished by the dress I may happen to wear; but I see, that unless I waste all my life in combating the prejudices of superficial observers, I should avoid all those pecuiliarities in my external appearance which prevent whatever good qualities I have from obtaining their just respect.” He was surprised at the blindness of his companions, who could not discover his merit through the roughness of his manners and the disadvantages of his dress; but he determined to shine out upon them in the superior dress and character of a corrector of the press. He went to a tailor’s, and bespoke a suit of clothes. He bought new linen; and our readers will perhaps hear with surprise, that he actually began to consider very seriously whether he should not take a few lessons in dancing. He had learned to dance formerly, and was not naturally either inactive or awkward: but his contempt for the art prevented him, for some years, from practising it; and he had nearly forgotten his wonted agility. Henry Campbell once, when Forester was declaiming against dancing, told him, that if he had learned to dance, and excelled in the art, his contempt for the trifling accomplishment would have more effect upon the minds of others, because it could not be mistaken for envy. This remark made a deep impression upon our hero, especially as he observed that his friend Henry was not in the least vain of his personal graces, and had cultivated his understanding, though he could dance a Scotch reel. Scotch reels were associated in Forester’s imagination with Flora Campbell; and in balancing the arguments for and against learning to dance, the recollection of Archibald Mackenzie’s triumphant look, when he led her away as his partner at the famous ball, had more influence perhaps upon Forester’s mind than his pride and philosophy apprehended. He began to have some confused design of returning, at some distant period, to his friends; and he had hopes that he should appear in a more amiable light to Flora, after he had perfected himself in an accomplishment which he fancied she admired prodigiously. His esteem for that lady was rather diminished by this belief; but still a sufficient quantity remained to excite in him a strong ambition to please. The agony he felt the night he left the ball-room was such, that he could not even now recollect the circumstances without confusion and anguish of mind. His hands were now such as could appear without gloves; and he resolved to commence the education of his feet.

M. Pasgrave called upon him, in consequence of the message which he left at the magistrate’s: his original design in sending for the dancing-master was to offer him some acknowledgment for his obliging conduct. “M. Pasgrave,” said he, “you have behaved towards me like a man of honour; you have kept my secret; I am convinced that you will continue to keep it inviolate.” As he spoke, he produced a ten-guinea bank-note, for at length he had prevailed upon himself to have recourse to his pocket-book, which, till this day, had remained unopened. Pasgrave stared at the sight of the note, and withdrew his hand at first, when it was offered; but he yielded at length, when Forester assured him that he was not in any distress, and that he could perfectly well afford to indulge his feelings of gratitude. “Nay,” continued Forester, who, if he had not always practised the maxims of politeness, notwithstanding possessed that generosity of mind and good sense on which real politeness must depend —“you shall not be under any obligation to me, M. Pasgrave: I am just going to ask a favour from you. You must teach me to dance.” “Wid de utmost pleasure,” exclaimed the delighted dancing-master; and the hours of his attendance were soon settled. Whatever Forester attempted, he pursued with energy. M. Pasgrave, after giving him a few lessons, prophesied that he would do him infinite credit; and Forester felt a secret pride in the idea that he should surprise his friends, some time or other, with his new accomplishment.

He continued in the bookseller’s service, correcting the press for him, much to his satisfaction; and the change in his personal appearance pleased his master, as it showed attention to his advice. Our hero, from time to time, exercised his talents in writing; and, as he inserted his compositions under a fictitious signature, in his master’s newspaper, he had an opportunity of hearing the most unprejudiced opinions of a variety of critics, who often came to read the papers at their house. He stated, in short essays, some of those arguments concerning the advantages and disadvantages of politeness, luxury, the love of society, misanthropy, &c., which had formerly passed between him and Henry Campbell; and he listened to the remarks that were made upon each side of the question. How it happened, we know not; but after he had taken lessons for about six weeks from M. Pasgrave, he became extremely solicitous to have a solution of all his Stoical doubts, and to furnish himself with the best possible arguments in favour of civilized society. He could not bear the idea that he yielded his opinions to any thing less than strict demonstration: he drew up a list of queries, which concluded with the following question:—“What should be the distinguishing characteristics of the higher classes of people in society?” This query was answered in one of the public papers, a few days after it appeared in Mr. ——‘s paper, and the answer was signed H.C., a Friend to Society. Even without these initials, Forester would easily have discovered it to be Henry Campbell’s writing; and several strokes seemed to be so particularly addressed to him, that he could not avoid thinking Henry had discovered the querist. The impression which arguments make upon the mind varies with time and change of situation. Those arguments in favour of subordination in society, in favour of agreeable manners, and attention to the feelings of others in the small as well as in the great concerns of life, which our hero had heard with indifference from Dr. Campbell and Henry in conversation, struck him, when he saw them in a printed essay, with all the force of conviction; and he wondered how it had happened that he never before perceived them to be conclusive.

He put the newspaper, which contained this essay, in his pocket; and, after he had finished his day’s work, and had taken his evening lesson from M. Pasgrave, he went out with an intention of going to a favourite spot upon Arthur’s Seat, to read the essay again at his leisure.

But he was stopped at the turn from the North Bridge, into High-street, by a scavenger’s cart. The scavenger, with his broom which had just swept the High-street, was clearing away a heap of mud. Two gentlemen on horseback, who were riding like postilions, came up during this operation — Sir Philip Gosling and Archibald Mackenzie. Forester had his back towards them, and he never looked round, because he was too intent upon his own thoughts. Archibald was mounted upon Sawney, the horse which he had so fairly won from his friend Sir Philip. The half-guinea which had been promised to the hostler had not yet been paid; and the hostler, determined to revenge himself upon Archibald, invented an ingenious method of gratifying his resentment. He taught Sawney to rear and plunge whenever his legs were touched by the broom with which the stables were swept. When Sawney was perfectly well trained to this trick, the cunning hostler communicated his design, and related his cause of complaint against Archibald, to a scavenger, who was well known at the livery stables. The scavenger entered into his friend the hostler’s feeling, and promised to use his broom in his cause, whenever a convenient and public opportunity should offer. The hour of retribution was now arrived: the scavenger saw his young gentleman in full glory, mounted upon Sawney; he kept his eye upon him, whilst, in company with the baronet, he came over the North Bridge: there was a stop, from the meeting of carts and carriages. The instant Archibald came within reach of the broom, the scavenger slightly touched Sawney’s legs; Sawney plunged and reared, and reared and plunged. The scavenger stood grinning at the sight. Forester attempted to seize the horse’s bridle; but Sawney, who seemed determined upon the point, succeeded. When Forester snatched at his bridle, he reared, then plunged; and Archibald Mackenzie was fairly lodged in the scavenger’s cart. Whilst the well-dressed laird floundered in the mud, Forester gave the horse to the servant, who had now ridden up; and, satisfied that Mackenzie had received no material injury, inquired no further. He turned to assist a poor washerwoman, who was lifting a large basket of clean linen into her house, to get it out of the way of the cart. As soon as he had helped her to lift the basket into her passage, he was retiring, when he heard a voice at the back-door, which was at the other end of the passage. It was the voice of a child; and he listened, for he thought he had heard it before. “The door is locked,” said the washerwoman. “I know who it is that is knocking; it is only a little girl who is coming for a cap which I have there in the basket.” The door was unlocked, and Forester saw the little girl to whom the fine geranium belonged. What a number of ideas she recalled to his mind! She looked at him, and hesitated, courtesied, then turned away, as if she was afraid she was mistaken, and asked the washerwoman if she had plaited her grandmother’s cap. The woman searched in her basket, and produced the cap nicely plaited. The little girl, in the meantime, considered Forester with anxious attention. “I believe,” said she, timidly, “you are, or you are very like, the gentleman who was so good as to —” “Yes,” interrupted Forester, “I know what you mean. I am the man who went with you to try to obtain justice from your tyrannical schoolmistress: I did not do you any good. Have you seen — have you heard any thing of —?” Such a variety of recollections pressed upon Forester’s heart, that he could not pronounce the name of Henry Campbell; and he changed his question. “Is your old grandmother recovered?”

“She is quite well, thank you, sir; and she is grown young again, since you saw her: perhaps you don’t know how good Mr. Henry and the young lady have been to us. We don’t live now in that little, close, dark room at the watchmaker’s. We are as happy, sir, as the day is long.” “But what of Henry? what of —?” “Oh, sir! but if you are not very busy, or in a great hurry — it is but a little way off — if you could come and look at our new house — I don’t mean our house, for it is not ours; but we take care of it, and we have two little rooms to ourselves; and Mr. Henry and Miss Flora very often come to see us. I wish you could come to see how nice our rooms are! The house is not far off, only at the back of the Meadows.” “Go, show me the way — I’ll follow you,” said Forester, after he had satisfied himself that there was no danger of his meeting any of Dr. Campbell’s family.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54