Some three months slipped away — right dreary months for Lancelot, for the Lavingtons went to Baden–Baden for the summer. ‘The waters were necessary for their health.’ . . . How wonderful it is, by the bye, that those German Brunnen are never necessary for poor people’s health! . . . and they did not return till the end of August. So Lancelot buried himself up to the eyes in the Condition-of-the-Poor question — that is, in blue books, red books, sanitary reports, mine reports, factory reports; and came to the conclusion, which is now pretty generally entertained, that something was the matter — but what, no man knew, or, if they knew, thought proper to declare. Hopeless and bewildered, he left the books, and wandered day after day from farm to hamlet, and from field to tramper’s tent, in hopes of finding out the secret for himself. What he saw, of course I must not say; for if I did the reviewers would declare, as usual, one and all, that I copied out of the Morning Chronicle; and the fact that these pages, ninety-nine hundredths of them at least, were written two years before the Morning Chronicle began its invaluable investigations, would be contemptuously put aside as at once impossible and arrogant. I shall therefore only say, that he saw what every one else has seen, at least heard of, and got tired of hearing — though alas! they have not got tired of seeing it; and so proceed with my story, only mentioning therein certain particulars which folks seem, to me, somewhat strangely, to have generally overlooked.
But whatever Lancelot saw, or thought he saw, I cannot say that it brought him any nearer to a solution of the question; and he at last ended by a sulky acquiescence in Sam Weller’s memorable dictum: ‘Who it is I can’t say; but all I can say is that somebody ought to be wopped for this!’
But one day, turning over, as hopelessly as he was beginning to turn over everything else, a new work of Mr. Carlyle’s, he fell on some such words as these:—
‘The beginning and the end of what is the matter with us in these days is — that we have forgotten God.’
Forgotten God? That was at least a defect of which blue books had taken no note. And it was one which, on the whole — granting, for the sake of argument, any real, living, or practical existence to That Being, might be a radical one — it brought him many hours of thought, that saying; and when they were over, he rose up and went to find — Tregarva.
‘Yes, he is the man. He is the only man with whom I have ever met, of whom I could be sure, that independent of his own interest, without the allurements of respectability and decency, of habit and custom, he believes in God. And he too is a poor man; he has known the struggles, temptations, sorrows of the poor. I will go to him.’
But as Lancelot rose to find him, there was put into his hand a letter, which kept him at home a while longer — none other, in fact, than the long-expected answer from Luke.
‘Well, my Dear Cousin— You may possibly have some logical ground from which to deny Popery, if you deny all other religions with it; but how those who hold any received form of Christianity whatsoever can fairly side with you against Rome, I cannot see. I am sure I have been sent to Rome by them, not drawn thither by Jesuits. Not merely by their defects and inconsistencies; not merely because they go on taunting us, and shrieking at us with the cry that we ought to go to Rome, till we at last, wearied out, take them at their word, and do at their bidding the thing we used to shrink from with terror — not this merely but the very doctrines we hold in common with them, have sent me to Rome. For would these men have known of them if Rome had not been? The Trinity — the Atonement — the Inspiration of Scripture. — A future state — that point on which the present generation, without a smattering of psychological science, without even the old belief in apparitions, dogmatises so narrowly and arrogantly — what would they have known of them but for Rome? And she says there are three realms in the future state . . . heaven, hell, and purgatory . . . What right have they to throw away the latter, and arbitrarily retain the two former? I am told that Scripture gives no warrant for a third state. She says that it does — that it teaches that implicitly, as it teaches other, the very highest doctrines; some hold, the Trinity itself. . . . It may be proved from Scripture; for it may be proved from the love and justice of God revealed in Scripture. The Protestants divide — in theory, that is — mankind into two classes, the righteous, who are destined to infinite bliss; the wicked, who are doomed to infinite torment; in which latter class, to make their arbitrary division exhaustive, they put of course nine hundred and ninety-nine out of the thousand, and doom to everlasting companionship with Borgias and Cagliostros, the gentle, frivolous girl, or the peevish boy, who would have shrunk, in life, with horror from the contact. . . . Well, at least, their hell is hellish enough . . . if it were but just. . . . But I, Lancelot, I cannot believe it! I will not believe it! I had a brother once — affectionate, simple, generous, full of noble aspirations — but without, alas! a thought of God; yielding in a hundred little points, and some great ones, to the infernal temptations of a public school. . . . He died at seventeen. Where is he now? Lancelot! where is he now? Never for a day has that thought left my mind for years. Not in heaven — for he has no right there; Protestants would say that as well as I. . . . Where, then? — Lancelot! not in that other place. I cannot, I will not believe it. For the sake of God’s honour, as well as of my own sanity, I will not believe it! There must be some third place — some intermediate chance, some door of hope — some purifying and redeeming process beyond the grave. . . . Why not a purifying fire? Ages of that are surely punishment enough — and if there be a fire of hell, why not a fire of purgatory? . . . After all, the idea of purgatory as a fire is only an opinion, not a dogma of the Church. . . . But if the gross flesh which has sinned is to be punished by the matter which it has abused, why may it not be purified by it?’
‘You may laugh, if you will, at both, and say again, as I have heard you say ere now, that the popular Christian paradise and hell are but a Pagan Olympus and Tartarus, as grossly material as Mahomet’s, without the honest thorough-going sexuality, which you thought made his notion logical and consistent. . . . Well, you may say that, but Protestants cannot; for their idea of heaven and ours is the same — with this exception, that theirs will contain but a thin band of saved ones, while ours will fill and grow to all eternity. . . . I tell you, Lancelot, it is just the very doctrines for which England most curses Rome, and this very purgatory at the head of them, which constitute her strength and her allurement; which appeal to the reason, the conscience, the heart of men, like me, who have revolted from the novel superstition which looks pitilessly on at the fond memories of the brother, the prayers of the orphan, the doubled desolation of the widow, with its cold terrible assurance, “There is no hope for thy loved and lost ones — no hope, but hell for evermore!”
‘I do not expect to convert you. You have your metempsychosis, and your theories of progressive incarnation, and your monads, and your spirits of the stars and flowers. I have not forgotten a certain talk of ours over Falk Von Muller’s Recollections of Goethe, and how you materialists are often the most fantastic of theorists. . . . I do not expect, I say, to convert you. I only want to show you there is no use trying to show the self-satisfied Pharisees of the popular sect — why, in spite of all their curses, men still go back to Rome.’
Lancelot read this, and reread it; and smiled, but sadly — and the more he read, the stronger its arguments seemed to him, and he rejoiced thereat. For there is a bad pleasure — happy he who has not felt it — in a pitiless reductio ad absurdum, which asks tauntingly, ‘Why do you not follow out your own conclusions?’— instead of thanking God that people do not follow them out, and that their hearts are sounder than their heads. Was it with this feeling that the fancy took possession of him, to show the letter to Tregarva? I hope not — perhaps he did not altogether wish to lead him into temptation, any more than I wish to lead my readers, but only to make him, just as I wish to make them, face manfully a real awful question now racking the hearts of hundreds, and see how they will be able to answer the sophist fiend — for honestly, such he is — when their time comes, as come it will. At least he wanted to test at once Tregarva’s knowledge and his logic. As for his ‘faith,’ alas! he had not so much reverence for it as to care what effect Luke’s arguments might have there. ‘The whole man,’ quoth Lancelot to himself, ‘is a novel phenomenon; and all phenomena, however magnificent, are surely fair subjects for experiment. Magendie may have gone too far, certainly, in dissecting a live dog — but what harm in my pulling the mane of a dead lion?’
So he showed the letter to Tregarva as they were fishing together one day — for Lancelot had been installed duly in the Whitford trout preserves’— Tregarva read it slowly; asked, shrewdly enough, the meaning of a word or two as he went on; at last folded it up deliberately, and returned it to its owner with a deep sigh. Lancelot said nothing for a few minutes; but the giant seemed so little inclined to open the conversation, that he was forced at last to ask him what he thought of it.
‘It isn’t a matter for thinking, sir, to my mind — There’s a nice fish on the feed there, just over-right that alder.’
‘Hang the fish! Why not a matter for thinking?’
‘To my mind, sir, a man may think a deal too much about many matters that come in his way.’
‘What should he do with them, then?’
‘Mind his own business.’
‘Pleasant for those whom they concern! — That’s rather a cold-blooded speech for you, Tregarva!’
The Cornishman looked up at him earnestly. His eyes were glittering — was it with tears?
‘Don’t fancy I don’t feel for the poor young gentleman — God help him! — I’ve been through it all — or not through it, that’s to say. I had a brother once, as fine a young fellow as ever handled pick, as kind-hearted as a woman, and as honest as the sun in Heaven. — But he would drink, sir; — that one temptation, he never could stand it. And one day at the shaft’s mouth, reaching after the kibble-chain — maybe he was in liquor, maybe not — the Lord knows; but —’
‘I didn’t know him again, sir, when we picked him up, any more than —’ and the strong man shuddered from head to foot, and beat impatiently on the ground with his heavy heel, as if to crush down the rising horror.
‘Where is he, sir?’
A long pause.
‘Do you think I didn’t ask that, sir, for years and years after, of God, and my own soul, and heaven and earth, and the things under the earth, too? For many a night did I go down that mine out of my turn, and sat for hours in that level, watching and watching, if perhaps the spirit of him might haunt about, and tell his poor brother one word of news — one way or the other — anything would have been a comfort — but the doubt I couldn’t bear. And yet at last I learnt to bear it — and what’s more, I learnt not to care for it. It’s a bold word — there’s one who knows whether or not it is a true one.’
‘Good Heavens! — and what then did you say to yourself?’
‘I said this, sir — or rather, one came as I was on my knees, and said it to me — What’s done you can’t mend. What’s left, you can. Whatever has happened is God’s concern now, and none but His. Do you see that as far as you can no such thing ever happen again, on the face of His earth. And from that day, sir, I gave myself up to that one thing, and will until I die, to save the poor young fellows like myself, who are left now-a-days to the Devil, body and soul, just when they are in the prime of their power to work for God.’
‘Ah!’ said Lancelot —‘if poor Luke’s spirit were but as strong as yours!’
‘I strong?’ answered he, with a sad smile; ‘and so you think, sir. But it’s written, and it’s true —“The heart knoweth its own bitterness.”’
‘Then you absolutely refuse to try to fancy your — his present state?’
‘Yes, sir, because if I did fancy it, that would be a certain sign I didn’t know it. If we can’t conceive what God has prepared for those that we know loved Him, how much less can we for them of whom we don’t know whether they loved Him or not?’
‘Well,’ thought Lancelot to himself, ‘I did not do so very wrong in trusting your intellect to cut through a sophism.’
‘But what do you believe, Tregarva?’
‘I believe this, sir — and your cousin will believe the same, if he will only give up, as I am sore afraid he will need to some day, sticking to arguments and doctrines about the Lord, and love and trust the Lord himself. I believe, sir, that the judge of all the earth will do right — and what’s right can’t be wrong, nor cruel either, else it would not be like Him who loved us to the death, that’s all I know; and that’s enough for me. To whom little is given, of him is little required. He that didn’t know his Master’s will, will be beaten with few stripes, and he that did know it, as I do, will be beaten with many, if he neglects it — and that latter, not the former, is my concern.’
‘Well,’ thought Lancelot to himself, ‘this great heart has gone down to the root of the matter — the right and wrong of it. He, at least, has not forgotten God. Well, I would give up all the Teleologies and cosmogonies that I ever dreamt or read, just to believe what he believes — Heigho and well-a-day! — Paul! hist? I’ll swear that was an otter!’
‘I hope not, sir, I’m sure. I haven’t seen the spraint of one here this two years.’
‘There again — don’t you see something move under that marl bank?’
Tregarva watched a moment, and then ran up to the spot, and throwing himself on his face on the edge, leant over, grappled something — and was instantly, to Lancelot’s astonishment, grappled in his turn by a rough, lank, white dog, whose teeth, however, could not get through the velveteen sleeve.
‘I’ll give in, keeper! I’ll give in. Doan’t ye harm the dog! he’s deaf as a post, you knows.’
‘I won’t harm him if you take him off, and come up quietly.’
This mysterious conversation was carried on with a human head, which peeped above the water, its arms supporting from beneath the growling cur — such a visage as only worn-out poachers, or trampling drovers, or London chiffonniers carry; pear-shaped and retreating to a narrow peak above, while below, the bleared cheeks, and drooping lips, and peering purblind eyes, perplexed, hopeless, defiant, and yet sneaking, bespeak their share in the ‘inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.’— Savages without the resources of a savage — slaves without the protection of a master — to whom the cart-whip and the rice-swamp would be a change for the better — for there, at least, is food and shelter.
Slowly and distrustfully a dripping scarecrow of rags and bones rose from his hiding-place in the water, and then stopped suddenly, and seemed inclined to dash through the river; but Tregarva held him fast.
‘There’s two on ye! That’s a shame! I’ll surrender to no man but you, Paul. Hold off, or I’ll set the dog on ye!’
‘It’s a gentleman fishing. He won’t tell — will you, sir?’ And he turned to Lancelot. ‘Have pity on the poor creature, sir, for God’s sake — it isn’t often he gets it.’
‘I won’t tell, my man. I’ve not seen you doing any harm. Come out like a man, and let’s have a look at you.’
The creature crawled up the bank, and stood, abject and shivering, with the dog growling from between his legs.
‘I was only looking for a kingfisher’s nest: indeed now, I was, Paul Tregarva.’
‘Don’t lie, you were setting night-lines. I saw a minnow lie on the bank as I came up. Don’t lie; I hate liars.’
‘Well indeed, then — a man must live somehow.’
‘You don’t seem to live by this trade, my friend,’ quoth Lancelot; ‘I cannot say it seems a prosperous business, by the look of your coat and trousers.’
‘That Tim Goddard stole all my clothes, and no good may they do him; last time as I went to gaol I gave them him to kep, and he went off for a navvy meantime; so there I am.’
‘If you will play with the dogs,’ quoth Tregarva, ‘you know what you will be bit by. Haven’t I warned you? Of course you won’t prosper: as you make your bed, so you must lie in it. The Lord can’t be expected to let those prosper that forget Him. What mercy would it be to you if He did let you prosper by setting snares all church-time, as you were last Sunday, instead of going to church?’
‘I say, Paul Tregarva, I’ve told you my mind about that afore. If I don’t do what I knows to be right and good already, there ain’t no use in me a damning myself all the deeper by going to church to hear more.’
‘God help you!’ quoth poor Paul.
‘Now, I say,’ quoth Crawy, with the air of a man who took the whole thing as a matter of course, no more to be repined at than the rain and wind —‘what be you a going to do with me this time? I do hope you won’t have me up to bench. ‘Tain’t a month now as I’m out o’ prizzum along o’ they fir-toppings, and I should, you see —’ with a look up and down and round at the gay hay-meadows, and the fleet water, and the soft gleaming clouds, which to Lancelot seemed most pathetic — ‘I should like to ha’ a spell o’ fresh air, like, afore I goes in again.’
Tregarva stood over him and looked down at him, like some huge stately bloodhound on a trembling mangy cur. ‘Good heavens!’ thought Lancelot, as his eye wandered from the sad steadfast dignity of the one, to the dogged helpless misery of the other —‘can those two be really fellow-citizens? fellow-Christians? — even animals of the same species? Hard to believe!’
True, Lancelot; but to quote you against yourself, Bacon, or rather the instinct which taught Bacon, teaches you to discern the invisible common law under the deceitful phenomena of sense.
‘I must have those night-lines, Crawy,’ quoth Tregarva, at length.
‘Then I must starve. You might ever so well take away the dog. They’re the life of me.’
‘They’re the death of you. Why don’t you go and work, instead of idling about, stealing trout?’
‘Be you a laughing at a poor fellow in his trouble? Who’d gie me a day’s work, I’d like to know? It’s twenty year too late for that!’
Lancelot stood listening. Yes, that wretch, too, was a man and a brother — at least so books used to say. Time was, when he had looked on a poacher as a Pariah ‘hostem humani generis’— and only deplored that the law forbade him to shoot them down, like cats and otters; but he had begun to change his mind.
He had learnt, and learnt rightly, the self-indulgence, the danger, the cruelty, of indiscriminate alms. It looked well enough in theory, on paper. ‘But — but — but,’ thought Lancelot, ‘in practice, one can’t help feeling a little of that uneconomic feeling called pity. No doubt the fellow has committed an unpardonable sin in daring to come into the world when there was no call for him; one used to think, certainly, that children’s opinions were not consulted on such points before they were born, and that therefore it might be hard to visit the sins of the fathers on the children, even though the labour-market were a little overstocked —“mais nous avons change tout cela,” like M. Jourdain’s doctors. No doubt, too, the fellow might have got work if he had chosen — in Kamschatka or the Cannibal Islands; for the political economists have proved, beyond a doubt, that there is work somewhere or other for every one who chooses to work. But as, unfortunately, society has neglected to inform him of the state of the Cannibal Island labour-market, or to pay his passage thither when informed thereof, he has had to choose in the somewhat limited labour-field of the Whitford Priors’ union, whose workhouse is already every winter filled with abler-bodied men than he, between starvation — and this —. Well, as for employing him, one would have thought that there was a little work waiting to be done in those five miles of heather and snipe-bog, which I used to tramp over last winter — but those, it seems, are still on the “margin of cultivation,” and not a remunerative investment — that is, to capitalists. I wonder if any one had made Crawy a present of ten acres of them when he came of age, and commanded him to till that or be hanged, whether he would not have found it a profitable investment? But bygones are bygones, and there he is, and the moors, thanks to the rights of property — in this case the rights of the dog in the manger — belong to poor old Lavington — that is, the game and timber on them; and neither Crawy nor any one else can touch them. What can I do for him? Convert him? to what? For the next life, even Tregarva’s talisman seems to fail. And for this life — perhaps if he had had a few more practical proofs of a divine justice and government — that “kingdom of heaven” of which Luke talks, in the sensible bodily matters which he does appreciate, he might not be so unwilling to trust to it for the invisible spiritual matters which he does not appreciate. At all events, one has but one chance of winning him, and that is, through those five senses which he has left. What if he does spend the money in gross animal enjoyment? What will the amount of it be, compared with the animal enjoyments which my station allows me daily without reproach! A little more bacon — a little more beer — a little more tobacco; at all events they will be more important to him than a pair of new boots or an extra box of cigars to me.’— And Lancelot put his hand in his pocket, and pulled out a sovereign. No doubt he was a great goose; but if you can answer his arguments, reader, I cannot.
‘Look here — what are your night-lines worth?’
‘A matter of seven shilling; ain’t they now, Paul Tregarva?’
‘I should suppose they are.’
‘Then do you give me the lines, one and all, and there’s a sovereign for you. — No, I can’t trust you with it all at once. I’ll give it to Tregarva, and he shall allow you four shillings a week as long as it lasts, if you’ll promise to keep off Squire Lavington’s river.’
It was pathetic, and yet disgusting, to see the abject joy of the poor creature. ‘Well,’ thought Lancelot, ‘if he deserves to be wretched, so do I— why, therefore, if we are one as bad as the other, should I not make his wretchedness a little less for the time being?’
‘I waint come a-near the water. You trust me — I minds them as is kind to me’— and a thought seemed suddenly to lighten up his dull intelligence.
‘I say, Paul, hark you here. I see that Bantam into D * * * t’other day.’
‘What! is he down already?’
‘With a dog-cart; he and another of his pals; and I see ’em take out a silk flue, I did. So, says I, you maunt be trying that ere along o’ the Whitford trout; they kepers is out o’ nights so sure as the moon.’
‘You didn’t know that. Lying again!’
‘No, but I sayed it in course. I didn’t want they a-robbing here; so I think they worked mainly up Squire Vaurien’s water.’
‘I wish I’d caught them here,’ quoth Tregarva, grimly enough; ‘though I don’t think they came, or I should have seen the track on the banks.’
‘But he sayed like, as how he should be down here again about pheasant shooting.’
‘Trust him for it. Let us know, now, if you see him.’
‘And that I will, too. I wouldn’t save a feather for that ’ere old rascal, Harry. If the devil don’t have he, I don’t see no use in keeping no devil. But I minds them as has mercy on me, though my name is Crawy. Ay,’ he added, bitterly, ”tain’t so many kind turns as I gets in this life, that I can afford to forget e’er a one.’ And he sneaked off, with the deaf dog at his heels.
‘How did that fellow get his name, Tregarva?’
‘Oh, most of them have nicknames round here. Some of them hardly know their own real names, sir.’ (‘A sure sign of low civilisation,’ thought Lancelot.) ‘But he got his a foolish way; and yet it was the ruin of him. When he was a boy of fifteen, he got miching away in church-time, as boys will, and took off his clothes to get in somewhere here in this very river, groping in the banks after craw-fish; and as the devil — for I can think no less — would have it, a big one catches hold of him by the fingers with one claw, and a root with the other, and holds him there till Squire Lavington comes out to take his walk after church, and there he caught the boy, and gave him a thrashing there and then, naked as he stood. And the story got wind, and all the chaps round called him Crawy ever afterwards, and the poor fellow got quite reckless from that day, and never looked any one in the face again; and being ashamed of himself, you see, sir, was never ashamed of anything else — and there he is. That dog’s his only friend, and gets a livelihood for them both. It’s growing old now; and when it dies, he’ll starve.’
‘Well — the world has no right to blame him for not doing his duty, till it has done its own by him a little better.’
‘But the world will, sir, because it hates its duty, and cries all day long, like Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”’
‘Do you think it knows its duty? I have found it easy enough to see that something is diseased, Tregarva; but to find the medicine first, and to administer it afterwards, is a very different matter.’
‘Well — I suppose the world will never be mended till the day of judgment.’
‘In plain English, not mended till it is destroyed. Hopeful for the poor world! I should fancy, if I believed that, that the devil in the old history — which you believe — had had the best of it with a vengeance, when he brought sin into the world, and ruined it. I dare not believe that. How dare you, who say that God sent His Son into the world to defeat the devil?’
Tregarva was silent a while.
‘Learning and the Gospel together ought to do something, sir, towards mending it. One would think so. But the prophecies are against that.’
‘As folks happen to read them just now. A hundred years hence they may be finding the very opposite meaning in them. Come, Tregarva — Suppose I teach you a little of the learning, and you teach me a little of the Gospel — do you think we two could mend the world between us, or even mend Whitford Priors?’
‘God knows, sir,’ said Tregarva.
‘Tregarva,’ said Lancelot, as they were landing the next trout, ‘where will that Crawy go, when he dies?’
‘God knows, sir,’ said Tregarva.
Lancelot went thoughtful home, and sat down — not to answer Luke’s letter — for he knew no answer but Tregarva’s, and that, alas! he could not give, for he did not believe it, but only longed to believe it. So he turned off the subject by a question —
‘You speak of yourself as being already a member of the Romish communion. How is this? Have you given up your curacy? Have you told your father? I fancy that if you had done so I must have heard of it ere now. I entreat you to tell me the state of the case, for, heathen as I am, I am still an Englishman; and there are certain old superstitions still lingering among us — whencesoever we may have got them first — about truth and common honesty — you understand me. —
‘Do not be angry. But there is a prejudice against the truthfulness of Romish priests and Romish converts. — It’s no affair of mine. I see quite enough Protestant rogues and liars, to prevent my having any pleasure in proving Romanists, or any other persons, rogues and liars also. But I am-if not fond of you — at least sufficiently fond to be anxious for your good name. You used to be an open-hearted fellow enough. Do prove to the world that coelum, non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56