Yeast: A Problem
Part 4 out of 6
don't hit at me, and at my daughters, too, by--, worst of all! Read
it out, I say!'
Lancelot hesitated; but the squire, who was utterly beside himself,
began to swear at him also, as masters of hounds are privileged to
do; and Lancelot, to whom the whole scene was becoming every moment
more and more intensely ludicrous, thought it best to take up the
paper and begin:--
'A ROUGH RHYME ON A ROUGH MATTER.
'The merry brown hares came leaping
Over the crest of the hill,
Where the clover and corn lay sleeping
Under the moonlight still.
'Leaping late and early,
Till under their bite and their tread
The swedes, and the wheat, and the barley,
Lay cankered, and trampled, and dead.
'A poacher's widow sat sighing
On the side of the white chalk bank,
Where under the gloomy fir-woods
One spot in the ley throve rank.
'She watched a long tuft of clover,
Where rabbit or hare never ran;
For its black sour haulm covered over
The blood of a murdered man.
'She thought of the dark plantation,
And the hares and her husband's blood,
And the voice of her indignation
Rose up to the throne of God.
'"I am long past wailing and whining--
I have wept too much in my life:
I've had twenty years of pining
As an English labourer's wife.
'"A labourer in Christian England,
Where they cant of a Saviour's name,
And yet waste men's lives like the vermin's
For a few more brace of game.
'"There's blood on your new foreign shrubs, squire;
There's blood on your pointer's feet;
There's blood on the game you sell, squire,
And there's blood on the game you eat!"'
'You villain!' interposed the squire, 'when did I ever sell a head
'"You have sold the labouring man, squire,
Body and soul to shame,
To pay for your seat in the House, squire,
And to pay for the feed of your game.
"'You made him a poacher yourself, squire,
When you'd give neither work nor meat;
And your barley-fed hares robbed the garden
At our starving children's feet;
'"When packed in one reeking chamber,
Man, maid, mother, and little ones lay;
While the rain pattered in on the rotting bride-bed,
And the walls let in the day;
'"When we lay in the burning fever
On the mud of the cold clay floor,
Till you parted us all for three months, squire,
At the cursed workhouse door.
"'We quarrelled like brutes, and who wonders?
What self-respect could we keep,
Worse housed than your hacks and your pointers,
Worse fed than your hogs and your sheep?"'
'And yet he has the impudence to say he don't mean me!' grumbled the
old man. Tregarva winced a good deal--as if he knew what was coming
next; and then looked up relieved when he found Lancelot had omitted
a stanza--which I shall not omit.
'"Our daughters with base-born babies
Have wandered away in their shame;
If your misses had slept, squire, where they did,
Your misses might do the same.
"'Can your lady patch hearts that are breaking
With handfuls of coals and rice,
Or by dealing out flannel and sheeting
A little below cost price?
"'You may tire of the gaol and the workhouse,
And take to allotments and schools,
But you've run up a debt that will never
Be repaid us by penny-club rules.
'"In the season of shame and sadness,
In the dark and dreary day
When scrofula, gout, and madness,
Are eating your race away;
"'When to kennels and liveried varlets
You have cast your daughters' bread;
And worn out with liquor and harlots,
Your heir at your feet lies dead;
"'When your youngest, the mealy-mouthed rector,
Lets your soul rot asleep to the grave,
You will find in your God the protector
Of the freeman you fancied your slave."
'She looked at the tuft of clover,
And wept till her heart grew light;
And at last, when her passion was over,
Went wandering into the night.
'But the merry brown hares came leaping
Over the uplands still,
Where the clover and corn lay sleeping
On the side of the white chalk hill.'
'Surely, sir,' said Lancelot, 'you cannot suppose that this latter
part applies to you. or your family?'
'If it don't, it applies to half the gentlemen in the vale, and
that's just as bad. What right has the fellow to speak evil of
dignities?' continued he, quoting the only text in the Bible which
he was inclined to make a 'rule absolute.' 'What does such an
insolent dog deserve? What don't he deserve, I say?'
'I think,' quoth Lancelot, ambiguously, 'that a man who can write
such ballads is not fit to be your gamekeeper, and I think he feels
so himself;' and Lancelot stole an encouraging look at Tregarva.
'And I say, sir,' the keeper answered, with an effort, 'that I leave
Mr. Lavington's service here on the spot, once and for all.'
'And that you may do, my fine fellow!' roared the squire. 'Pay the
rascal his wages, steward, and then duck him soundly in the weir-
pool. He had better have stayed there when he fell in last.'
'So I had, indeed, I think. But I'll take none of your money. The
day Harry Verney was buried I vowed that I'd touch no more of the
wages of blood. I'm going, sir; I never harmed you, or meant a hard
word of all this for you, or dreamt that you or any living soul
would ever see it. But what I've seen myself, in spite of myself,
I've set down here, and am not ashamed of it. And woe,' he went on
with an almost prophetic solemnity in his tone and gesture--'woe to
those who do these things! and woe to those also who, though they
dare not do them themselves, yet excuse and defend them who dare,
just because the world calls them gentlemen, and not tyrants and
He turned to go. The squire, bursting with passion, sprang up with
a terrible oath, turned deadly pale, staggered, and dropped
senseless on the floor.
They all rushed to lift him up. Tregarva was the first to take him
in his arms and place him tenderly in his chair, where he lay back
with glassy eyes, snoring heavily in a fit of apoplexy.
'Go; for God's sake, go,' whispered Lancelot to the keeper, 'and
wait for me at Lower Whitford. I must see you before you stir.'
The keeper slipped away sadly. The ladies rushed in--a groom
galloped off for the doctor--met him luckily in the village, and, in
a few minutes, the squire was bled and put to bed, and showed
hopeful signs of returning consciousness. And as Argemone and
Lancelot leant together over his pillow, her hair touched her
lover's, and her fragrant breath was warm upon his cheek; and her
bright eyes met his and drank light from them, like glittering
planets gazing at their sun.
The obnoxious ballad produced the most opposite effects on Argemone
and on Honoria. Argemone, whose reverence for the formalities and
the respectabilities of society, never very great, had, of late,
utterly vanished before Lancelot's bad counsel, could think of it
only as a work of art, and conceived the most romantic longing to
raise Tregarva into some station where his talents might have free
play. To Honoria, on the other hand, it appeared only as a very
fierce, coarse, and impertinent satire, which had nearly killed her
father. True, there was not a thought in it which had not at some
time or other crossed her own mind; but that made her dislike all
the more to see those thoughts put into plain English. That very
intense tenderness and excitability which made her toil herself
among the poor, and had called out both her admiration of Tregarva
and her extravagant passion at his danger, made her also shrink with
disgust from anything which thrust on her a painful reality, which
she could not remedy. She was a staunch believer, too, in that
peculiar creed which allows every one to feel for the poor, except
themselves, and considers that to plead the cause of working-men is,
in a gentleman, the perfection of virtue, but in a working-man
himself, sheer high treason. And so beside her father's sick-bed
she thought of the keeper only as a scorpion whom she had helped to
warm into life; and sighing assent to her mother, when she said,
'That wretch, and he seemed so pious and so obliging! who would have
dreamt that he was such a horrid Radical?' she let him vanish from
her mind and out of Whitford Priors, little knowing the sore weight
of manly love he bore with him.
As soon as Lancelot could leave the Priory, he hastened home to find
Tregarva. The keeper had packed up all his small possessions and
brought them down to Lower Whitford, through which the London coach
passed. He was determined to go to London and seek his fortune. He
talked of turning coal-heaver, Methodist preacher, anything that
came to hand, provided that he could but keep independence and a
clear conscience. And all the while the man seemed to be struggling
with some great purpose,--to feel that he had a work to do, though
what it was, and how it was to be done, he did not see.
'I am a tall man,' he said, 'like Saul the son of Kish; and I am
going forth, like him, sir, to find my father's asses. I doubt I
shan't have to look far for some of them.'
'And perhaps,' said Lancelot, laughing, 'to find a kingdom.'
'May be so, sir. I have found one already, by God's grace, and I'm
much mistaken if I don't begin to see my way towards another.'
'And what is that?'
'The kingdom of God on earth, sir, as well as in heaven. Come it
must, sir, and come it will some day.'
Lancelot shook his head.
Tregarva lifted up his eyes and said,--
'Are we not taught to pray for the coming of His kingdom, sir? And
do you fancy that He who gave the lesson would have set all mankind
to pray for what He never meant should come to pass?'
Lancelot was silent. The words gained a new and blessed meaning in
'Well,' he said, 'the time, at least, of their fulfilment is far
enough off. Union-workhouses and child-murder don't look much like
it. Talking of that, Tregarva, what is to become of your promise to
take me to a village wake, and show me what the poor are like?'
'I can keep it this night, sir. There is a revel at Bone-sake,
about five miles up the river. Will you go with a discharged
'I will go with Paul Tregarva, whom I honour and esteem as one of
God's own noblemen; who has taught me what a man can be, and what I
am not,'--and Lancelot grasped the keeper's hand warmly. Tregarva
brushed his hand across his eyes, and answered,--
'"I said in my haste, All men are liars;" and God has just given me
the lie back in my own teeth. Well, sir, we will go to-night. You
are not ashamed of putting on a smock-frock? For if you go as a
gentleman, you will hear no more of them than a hawk does of a covey
So the expedition was agreed on, and Lancelot and the keeper parted
until the evening.
But why had the vicar been rambling on all that morning through
pouring rain, on the top of the London coach? And why was he so
anxious in his inquiries as to the certainty of catching the up-
train? Because he had had considerable experience in that wisdom of
the serpent, whose combination with the innocence of the dove, in
somewhat ultramontane proportions, is recommended by certain late
leaders of his school. He had made up his mind, after his
conversation with the Irishman, that he must either oust Lancelot at
once, or submit to be ousted by him, and he was now on his way to
Lancelot's uncle and trustee, the London banker.
He knew that the banker had some influence with his nephew, whose
whole property was invested in the bank, and who had besides a deep
respect for the kindly and upright practical mind of the veteran
Mammonite. And the vicar knew, too, that he himself had some
influence with the banker, whose son Luke had been his pupil at
college. And when the young man lay sick of a dangerous illness,
brought on by debauchery, into which weakness rather than vice had
tempted him, the vicar had watched and prayed by his bed, nursed him
as tenderly as a mother, and so won over his better heart that he
became completely reclaimed, and took holy orders with the most
earnest intention to play the man therein, as repentant rakes will
often do, half from a mere revulsion to asceticism, half from real
gratitude for their deliverance. This good deed had placed the
banker in the vicar's debt, and he loved and reverenced him in spite
of his dread of 'Popish novelties.' And now the good priest was
going to open to him just as much of his heart as should seem fit;
and by saying a great deal about Lancelot's evil doings, opinions,
and companions, and nothing at all about the heiress of Whitford,
persuade the banker to use all his influence in drawing Lancelot up
to London, and leaving a clear stage for his plans on Argemone. He
caught the up-train, he arrived safe and sound in town, but what he
did there must be told in another chapter.
CHAPTER XII: THUNDERSTORM THE SECOND
Weary with many thoughts, the vicar came to the door of the bank.
There were several carriages there, and a crowd of people swarming
in and out, like bees round a hive-door, entering with anxious
faces, and returning with cheerful ones, to stop and talk earnestly
in groups round the door. Every moment the mass thickened--there
was a run on the bank. An old friend accosted him on the steps,--
'What! have you, too, money here, then?'
'Neither here nor anywhere else, thank Heaven!' said the vicar.
'But is anything wrong?'
'Have not you heard? The house has sustained a frightful blow this
week--railway speculations, so they say--and is hardly expected to
survive the day. So we are all getting our money out as fast as
'By way of binding up the bruised reed, eh?'
'Oh! every man for himself. A man is under no obligation to his
banker, that I know of.' And the good man bustled off with his
pockets full of gold.
The vicar entered. All was hurry and anxiety. The clerks seemed
trying to brazen out their own terror, and shovelled the rapidly
lessening gold and notes across the counter with an air of indignant
nonchalance. The vicar asked to see the principal.
'If you want your money, sir--' answered the official, with a
'I want no money. I must see Mr. Smith on private business, and
'He is particularly engaged.'
'I know it, and, therefore, I must see him. Take in my card, and he
will not refuse me.' A new vista had opened itself before him.
He was ushered into a private room: and, as he waited for the
banker, he breathed a prayer. For what? That his own will might be
done--a very common style of petition.
Mr. Smith entered, hurried and troubled. He caught the vicar
eagerly by the hand, as if glad to see a face which did not glare on
him with the cold selfish stamp of 'business,' and then drew back
again, afraid to commit himself by any sign of emotion.
The vicar had settled his plan of attack, and determined boldly to
show his knowledge of the banker's distress.
'I am very sorry to trouble you at such an unfortunate moment, sir,
and I will be brief; but, as your nephew's spiritual pastor--' (He
knew the banker was a stout Churchman.)
'What of my nephew, sir! No fresh misfortunes, I hope?'
'Not so much misfortune, sir, as misconduct--I might say frailty--
but frailty which may become ruinous.'
'How? how? Some mesalliance?' interrupted Mr. Smith, in a peevish,
excited tone. 'I thought there was some heiress on the tapis--at
least, so I heard from my unfortunate son, who has just gone over to
Rome. There's another misfortune.--Nothing but misfortunes; and
your teaching, sir, by the bye, I am afraid, has helped me to that
'Gone over to Rome?' asked the vicar, slowly.
'Yes, sir, gone to Rome--to the pope, sir! to the devil, sir! I
should have thought you likely to know of it before I did!'
The vicar stared fixedly at him a moment, and burst into honest
tears. The banker was moved.
''Pon my honour, sir, I beg your pardon. I did not mean to be rude,
but--but--To be plain with a clergyman, sir, so many things coming
together have quite unmanned me. Pooh, pooh,' and he shook himself
as if to throw off a weight; and, with a face once more quiet and
business-like, asked, 'And now, my dear sir, what of my nephew?'
'As for that young lady, sir, of whom you spoke, I can assure you,
once for all, as her clergyman, and therefore more or less her
confidant, that your nephew has not the slightest chance or hope in
'How, sir? You will not throw obstacles in the way?'
'Heaven, sir, I think, has interposed far more insuperable
obstacles--in the young lady's own heart--than I could ever have
done. Your nephew's character and opinions, I am sorry to say, are
not such as are likely to command the respect and affection of a
pure and pious Churchwoman.'
'Opinions, sir? What, is he turning Papist, too?'
'I am afraid, sir, and more than afraid, for he makes no secret of
it himself, that his views tend rather in the opposite direction; to
an infidelity so subversive of the commonest principles of morality,
that I expect, weekly, to hear of some unblushing and disgraceful
outrage against decency, committed by him under its fancied
sanction. And you know, as well as myself, the double danger of
some profligate outbreak, which always attends the miseries of a
disappointed earthly passion.'
'True, very true. We must get the boy out of the way, sir. I must
have him under my eye.'
'Exactly so, sir,' said the subtle vicar, who had been driving at
this very point. 'How much better for him to be here, using his
great talents to the advantage of his family in an honourable
profession, than to remain where he is, debauching body and mind by
hopeless dreams, godless studies, and frivolous excesses.'
'When do you return, sir?'
'An hour hence, if I can be of service to you.'
The banker paused a moment.
'You are a gentleman' (with emphasis on the word), 'and as such I
can trust you.'
'Say, rather, as a clergyman.'
'Pardon me, but I have found your cloth give little additional cause
for confidence. I have been as much bitten by clergymen--I have
seen as sharp practice among them, in money matters as well as in
religious squabbles, as I have in any class. Whether it is that
their book education leaves them very often ignorant of the plain
rules of honour which bind men of the world, or whether their zeal
makes them think that the end justifies the means, I cannot tell;
'But,' said the vicar, half smiling, half severely, 'you must not
disparage the priesthood before a priest.'
'I know it, I know it; and I beg your pardon: but if you knew the
cause I have to complain. The slipperiness, sir, of one staggering
parson, has set rolling this very avalanche, which gathers size
every moment, and threatens to overwhelm me now, unless that idle
dog Lancelot will condescend to bestir himself, and help me.'
The vicar heard, but said nothing.
'Me, at least, you can trust,' he answered proudly; and honestly,
too--for he was a gentleman by birth and breeding, unselfish and
chivalrous to a fault--and yet, when he heard the banker's words, it
was as if the inner voice had whispered to him, 'Thou art the man!'
'When do you go down?' again asked Mr. Smith. 'To tell you the
truth, I was writing to Lancelot when you were announced! but the
post will not reach him till to-morrow at noon, and we are all so
busy here, that I have no one whom I can trust to carry down an
The vicar saw what was coming. Was it his good angel which prompted
him to interpose?
'Why not send a parcel by rail?'
'I can trust the rail as far as D--; but I cannot trust those
coaches. If you could do me so great a kindness--'
'I will. I can start by the one o'clock train, and by ten o'clock
to-night I shall be in Whitford.'
'Are you certain?'
'If God shall please, I am certain.'
'And you will take charge of a letter? Perhaps, too, you could see
him yourself; and tell him--you see I trust you with everything--
that my fortune, his own fortune, depends on his being here to-
morrow morning. He must start to-night, sir--to-night, tell him, if
there were twenty Miss Lavingtons in Whitford--or he is a ruined
The letter was written, and put into the vicar's hands, with a
hundred entreaties from the terrified banker. A cab was called, and
the clergyman rattled off to the railway terminus.
'Well,' said he to himself, 'God has indeed blessed my errand;
giving, as always, "exceeding abundantly more than we are able to
ask or think!" For some weeks, at least, this poor lamb is safe
from the destroyer's clutches. I must improve to the utmost those
few precious days in strengthening her in her holy purpose. But,
after all, he will return, daring and cunning as ever; and then will
not the fascination recommence?'
And, as he mused, a little fiend passed by, and whispered, 'Unless
he comes up to-night, he is a ruined man.'
It was Friday, and the vicar had thought it a fit preparation for so
important an errand to taste no food that day. Weakness and hunger,
joined to the roar and bustle of London, had made him excited,
nervous, unable to control his thoughts, or fight against a
stupifying headache; and his self-weakened will punished him, by
yielding him up an easy prey to his own fancies.
'Ay,' he thought, 'if he were ruined, after all, it would be well
for God's cause. The Lavingtons, at least, would find no temptation
in his wealth: and Argemone--she is too proud, too luxurious, to
marry a beggar. She might embrace a holy poverty for the sake of
her own soul; but for the gratification of an earthly passion,
never! Base and carnal delights would never tempt her so far.'
Alas, poor pedant! Among all that thy books taught thee, they did
not open to thee much of the depths of that human heart which thy
dogmas taught thee to despise as diabolic.
Again the little fiend whispered,--
'Unless he comes up to-night, he is a ruined man.'
'And what if he is?' thought the vicar. 'Riches are a curse; and
poverty a blessing. Is it not his wealth which is ruining his soul?
Idleness and fulness of bread have made him what he is--a luxurious
and self-willed dreamer, battening on his own fancies. Were it not
rather a boon to him to take from him the root of all evil?'
Most true, vicar. And yet the devil was at that moment transforming
himself into an angel of light for thee.
But the vicar was yet honest. If he had thought that by cutting off
his right hand he could have saved Lancelot's soul (by canonical
methods, of course; for who would wish to save souls in any other?),
he would have done it without hesitation.
Again the little fiend whispered,--
'Unless he comes up to-night he is a ruined man.'
A terrible sensation seized him.--Why should he give the letter to-
'You promised,' whispered the inner voice.
'No, I did not promise exactly, in so many words; that is, I only
said I would be at home to-night, if God pleased. And what if God
should not please?--I promised for his good. What if, on second
thoughts, it should be better for him not to keep my promise?' A
moment afterwards, he tossed the temptation from him indignantly:
but back it came. At every gaudy shop, at every smoke-grimed
manufactory, at the face of every anxious victim of Mammon, of every
sturdy, cheerful artisan, the fiend winked and pointed, crying, 'And
what if he be ruined? Look at the thousands who have, and are
miserable--at the millions who have not, and are no sadder than
their own tyrants.'
Again and again he thrust the thought from him, but more and more
weakly. His whole frame shook; the perspiration stood on his
forehead. As he took his railway ticket, his look was so haggard
and painful that the clerk asked him whether he were ill. The train
was just starting; he threw himself into a carriage--he would have
locked himself in if he could; and felt an inexpressible relief when
he found himself rushing past houses and market-gardens, whirled
onward, whether he would or not, in the right path--homeward.
But was it the right path? for again the temptation flitted past
him. He threw himself back, and tried to ask counsel of One above;
but there was no answer, nor any that regarded. His heart was
silent, and dark as midnight fog. Why should there have been an
answer? He had not listened to the voice within. Did he wish for a
miracle to show him his duty?
'Not that I care for detection,' he said to himself. 'What is shame
to me? Is it not a glory to be evil-spoken of in the cause of God?
How can the world appreciate the motives of those who are not of the
world?--the divine wisdom of the serpent--at once the saint's
peculiar weapon, and a part of his peculiar cross, when men call him
a deceiver, because they confound, forsooth, his spiritual subtlety
with their earthly cunning. Have I not been called "liar,"
"hypocrite," "Jesuit," often enough already, to harden me towards
bearing that name once again?'
That led him into sad thoughts of his last few years' career,--of
the friends and pupils whose secession to Rome had been attributed
to his hypocrisy, his 'disguised Romanism;' and then the remembrance
of poor Luke Smith flashed across him for the first time since he
left the bank.
'I must see him,' he said to himself; 'I must argue with him face to
face. Who knows but that it may be given even to my unworthiness to
snatch him from this accursed slough?'
And then he remembered that his way home lay through the city in
which the new convert's parish was--that the coach stopped there to
change horses; and again the temptation leapt up again, stronger
than ever, under the garb of an imperative call of duty.
He made no determination for or against it. He was too weak in body
and mind to resist; and in a half sleep, broken with an aching,
terrified sense of something wanting which he could not find, he was
swept down the line, got on the coach, and mechanically, almost
without knowing it, found himself set down at the city of A--, and
the coach rattling away down the street.
He sprang from his stupor, and called madly after it--ran a few
'You might as well try to catch the clouds, sir,' said the ostler.
'Gemmen should make up their minds afore they gets down.'
Alas! so thought the vicar. But it was too late; and, with a heavy
heart, he asked the way to the late curate's house.
Thither he went. Mr. Luke Smith was just at dinner, but the vicar
was, nevertheless, shown into the bachelor's little dining-room.
But what was his disgust and disappointment at finding his late
pupil tete-a-tete over a comfortable fish-dinner, opposite a burly,
vulgar, cunning-eyed man, with a narrow rim of muslin turned down
over his stiff cravat, of whose profession there could be no doubt.
'My dearest sir,' said the new convert, springing up with an air of
extreme empressement, 'what an unexpected pleasure! Allow me to
introduce you to my excellent friend, Padre Bugiardo!'
The padre rose, bowed obsequiously, 'was overwhelmed with delight at
being at last introduced to one of whom he had heard so much,' sat
down again, and poured himself out a bumper of sherry; while the
vicar commenced making the best of a bad matter by joining in the
now necessary business of eating.
He had not a word to say for himself. Poor Luke was particularly
jovial and flippant, and startlingly unlike his former self. The
padre went on staring out of the window, and talking in a loud
forced tone about the astonishing miracles of the 'Ecstatica' and
'Addolorata;' and the poor vicar, finding the purpose for which he
had sacrificed his own word of honour utterly frustrated by the
priest's presence, sat silent and crestfallen the whole evening.
The priest had no intention of stirring. The late father-confessor
tried to outstay his new rival, but in vain; the padre deliberately
announced his intention of taking a bed, and the vicar, with a heavy
heart, rose to go to his inn.
As he went out at the door, he caught an opportunity of saying one
word to the convert.
'My poor Luke! and are you happy? Tell me honestly, in God's sight
'Happier than ever I was in my life! No more self-torture, physical
or mental, now. These good priests thoroughly understand poor human
nature, I can assure you.'
The vicar sighed, for the speech was evidently meant as a gentle
rebuke to himself. But the young man ran on, half laughing,--
'You know how you and the rest used to tell us what a sad thing it
was that we were all cursed with consciences,--what a fearful
miserable burden moral responsibility was; but that we must submit
to it as an inevitable evil. Now that burden is gone, thank God.
We of the True Church have some one to keep our consciences for us.
The padre settles all about what is right or wrong, and we slip on
as easily as--'
'A hog or a butterfly!' said the vicar, bitterly.
'Exactly,' answered Luke. 'And, on your own showing, are clean
gainers of a happy life here, not to mention heaven hereafter. God
bless you! We shall soon see you one of us.'
'Never, so help me God!' said the vicar; all the more fiercely
because he was almost at that moment of the young man's opinion.
The vicar stepped out into the night. The rain, which had given
place during the afternoon to a bright sun and clear chilly evening,
had returned with double fury. The wind was sweeping and howling
down the lonely streets, and lashed the rain into his face, while
gray clouds were rushing past the moon like terrified ghosts across
the awful void of the black heaven. Above him gaunt poplars groaned
and bent, like giants cowering from the wrath of Heaven, yet rooted
by grim necessity to their place of torture. The roar and tumult
without him harmonised strangely with the discord within. He
staggered and strode along the plashy pavement, muttering to himself
'Rest for the soul? peace of mind? I have been promising them all
my life to others--have I found them myself? And here is this poor
boy saying that he has gained them--in the very barbarian
superstition which I have been anathematising to him! What is true,
at this rate? What is false? Is anything right or wrong? except in
as far as men feel it to be right or wrong. Else whence does this
poor fellow's peace come, or the peace of many a convert more? They
have all, one by one, told me the same story. And is not a religion
to be known by its fruits? Are they not right in going where they
can get peace of mind?'
Certainly, vicar. If peace of mind be the summum bonum, and
religion is merely the science of self-satisfaction, they are right;
and your wisest plan will be to follow them at once, or failing
that, to apply to the next best substitute that can be discovered--
alcohol and opium.
As he went on, talking wildly to himself, he passed the Union
Workhouse. Opposite the gate, under the lee of a wall, some twenty
men, women, and children, were huddled together on the bare ground.
They had been refused lodging in the workhouse, and were going to
pass the night in that situation. As he came up to them, coarse
jests, and snatches of low drinking-songs, ghastly as the laughter
of lost spirits in the pit, mingled with the feeble wailings of some
child of shame. The vicar recollected how he had seen the same
sight at the door of Kensington Workhouse, walking home one night in
company with Luke Smith; and how, too, he had commented to him on
that fearful sign of the times, and had somewhat unfairly drawn a
contrast between the niggard cruelty of 'popular Protestantism,' and
the fancied 'liberality of the middle age.' What wonder if his
pupil had taken him at his word?
Delighted to escape from his own thoughts by anything like action,
he pulled out his purse to give an alms. There was no silver in it,
but only some fifteen or twenty sovereigns, which he that day
received as payment for some bitter reviews in a leading religious
periodical. Everything that night seemed to shame and confound him
more. As he touched the money, there sprang up in his mind in an
instant the thought of the articles which had procured it; by one of
those terrible, searching inspirations, in which the light which
lighteth every man awakes as a lightning-flash of judgment, he saw
them, and his own heart, for one moment, as they were;--their blind
prejudice; their reckless imputations of motives; their wilful
concealment of any palliating clauses; their party nicknames, given
without a shudder at the terrible accusations which they conveyed.
And then the indignation, the shame, the reciprocal bitterness which
those articles would excite, tearing still wider the bleeding wounds
of that Church which they professed to defend! And then, in this
case, too, the thought rushed across him, 'What if I should have
been wrong and my adversary right? What if I have made the heart of
the righteous sad whom God has not made sad? I! to have been
dealing out Heaven's thunders, as if I were infallible! I! who am
certain at this moment of no fact in heaven or earth, except my own
untruth! God! who am I that I should judge another?' And the coins
seemed to him like the price of blood--he fancied that he felt them
red-hot to his hand, and, in his eagerness to get rid of the
accursed thing, he dealt it away fiercely to the astonished group,
amid whining and flattery, wrangling and ribaldry; and then, not
daring to wait and see the use to which his money would be put,
hurried off to the inn, and tried in uneasy slumbers to forget the
time, until the mail passed through at daybreak on its way to
CHAPTER XIII: THE VILLAGE REVEL
At dusk that same evening the two had started for the village fair.
A velveteen shooting-jacket, a pair of corduroy trousers, and a
waistcoat, furnished by Tregarva, covered with flowers of every
imaginable hue, tolerably disguised Lancelot, who was recommended by
his conductor to keep his hands in his pockets as much as possible,
lest their delicacy, which was, as it happened, not very remarkable,
might betray him. As they walked together along the plashy turnpike
road, overtaking, now and then, groups of two or three who were out
on the same errand as themselves, Lancelot could not help remarking
to the keeper how superior was the look of comfort in the boys and
young men, with their ruddy cheeks and smart dresses, to the worn
and haggard appearance of the elder men.
'Let them alone, poor fellows,' said Tregarva; 'it won't last long.
When they've got two or three children at their heels, they'll look
as thin and shabby as their own fathers.'
'They must spend a great deal of money on their clothes.'
'And on their stomachs, too, sir. They never lay by a farthing; and
I don't see how they can, when their club-money's paid, and their
insides are well filled.'
'Do you mean to say that they actually have not as much to eat after
'Indeed and I do, sir. They get no more wages afterwards round
here, and have four or five to clothe and feed off the same money
that used to keep one; and that sum won't take long to work out, I
'But do they not in some places pay the married men higher wages
than the unmarried?'
'That's a worse trick still, sir; for it tempts the poor thoughtless
boys to go and marry the first girl they can get hold of; and it
don't want much persuasion to make them do that at any time.'
'But why don't the clergymen teach them to put into the savings
'One here and there, sir, says what he can, though it's of very
little use. Besides, every one is afraid of savings banks now; not
a year but one reads of some breaking and the lawyers going off with
the earnings of the poor. And if they didn't, youth's a foolish
time at best; and the carnal man will be hankering after amusement,
'And no wonder,' said Lancelot; 'at all events, I should not think
they got much of it. But it does seem strange that no other
amusement can be found for them than the beer-shop. Can't they
read? Can't they practise light and interesting handicrafts at
home, as the German peasantry do?'
'Who'll teach 'em, sir? From the plough-tail to the reaping-hook,
and back again, is all they know. Besides, sir, they are not like
us Cornish; they are a stupid pigheaded generation at the best,
these south countrymen. They're grown-up babies who want the parson
and the squire to be leading them, and preaching to them, and
spurring them on, and coaxing them up, every moment. And as for
scholarship, sir, a boy leaves school at nine or ten to follow the
horses; and between that time and his wedding-day he forgets every
word he ever learnt, and becomes, for the most part, as thorough a
heathen savage at heart as those wild Indians in the Brazils used to
'And then we call them civilised Englishmen!' said Lancelot. 'We
can see that your Indian is a savage, because he wears skins and
feathers; but your Irish cottar or your English labourer, because he
happens to wear a coat and trousers, is to be considered a civilised
'It's the way of the world, sir,' said Tregarva, 'judging carnal
judgment, according to the sight of its own eyes; always looking at
the outsides of things and men, sir, and never much deeper. But as
for reading, sir, it's all very well for me, who have been a keeper
and dawdled about like a gentleman with a gun over my arm; but did
you ever do a good day's farm-work in your life? If you had, man or
boy, you wouldn't have been game for much reading when you got home;
you'd do just what these poor fellows do,--tumble into bed at eight
o'clock, hardly waiting to take your clothes off, knowing that you
must turn up again at five o'clock the next morning to get a
breakfast of bread, and, perhaps, a dab of the squire's dripping,
and then back to work again; and so on, day after day, sir, week
after week, year after year, without a hope or a chance of being
anything but what you are, and only too thankful if you can get work
to break your back, and catch the rheumatism over.'
'But do you mean to say that their labour is so severe and
'It's only God's blessing if it is incessant, sir, for if it stops,
they starve, or go to the house to be worse fed than the thieves in
gaol. And as for its being severe, there's many a boy, as their
mothers will tell you, comes home night after night, too tired to
eat their suppers, and tumble, fasting, to bed in the same foul
shirt which they've been working in all the day, never changing
their rag of calico from week's end to week's end, or washing the
skin that's under it once in seven years.'
'No wonder,' said Lancelot, 'that such a life of drudgery makes them
brutal and reckless.'
'No wonder, indeed, sir: they've no time to think; they're born to
be machines, and machines they must be; and I think, sir,' he added
bitterly, 'it's God's mercy that they daren't think. It's God's
mercy that they don't feel. Men that write books and talk at
elections call this a free country, and say that the poorest and
meanest has a free opening to rise and become prime minister, if he
can. But you see, sir, the misfortune is, that in practice he
can't; for one who gets into a gentleman's family, or into a little
shop, and so saves a few pounds, fifty know that they've no chance
before them, but day-labourer born, day-labourer live, from hand to
mouth, scraping and pinching to get not meat and beer even, but
bread and potatoes; and then, at the end of it all, for a worthy
reward, half-a-crown a-week of parish pay--or the workhouse. That's
a lively hopeful prospect for a Christian man!'
'But,' said Lancelot, 'I thought this New Poor-law was to stir them
up to independence?'
'Oh, sir, the old law has bit too deep: it made them slaves and
beggars at heart. It taught them not to be ashamed of parish pay--
to demand it as a right.'
'And so it is their right,' said Lancelot. 'In God's name, if a
country is so ill-constituted that it cannot find its own citizens
in work, it is bound to find them in food.'
'Maybe, sir, maybe. God knows I don't grudge it them. It's a poor
pittance at best, when they have got it. But don't you see, sir,
how all poor-laws, old or new either, suck the independent spirit
out of a man; how they make the poor wretch reckless; how they tempt
him to spend every extra farthing in amusement?'
'Why, he is always tempted to say to himself, "Whatever happens to
me, the parish must keep me. If I am sick it must doctor me; if I
am worn out it must feed me; if I die it must bury me; if I leave my
children paupers the parish must look after them, and they'll be as
well off with the parish as they were with me. Now they've only got
just enough to keep body and soul together, and the parish can't
give them less than that. What's the use of cutting myself off from
sixpenny-worth of pleasure here, and sixpenny-worth there. I'm not
saving money for my children, I'm only saving the farmers' rates."
There it is, sir,' said Tregarva; 'that's the bottom of it, sir,--
"I'm only saving the farmers' rates. Let us eat and drink, for to-
morrow we die!"'
'I don't see my way out of it,' said Lancelot.
'So says everybody, sir. But I should have thought those members of
parliament, and statesmen, and university scholars have been set up
in the high places, out of the wood where we are all struggling and
scrambling, just that they might see their way out of it; and if
they don't, sir, and that soon, as sure as God is in heaven, these
poor fellows will cut their way out of it.'
'And blindfolded and ignorant as they are,' said Lancelot, 'they
will be certain to cut their way out just in the wrong direction.'
'I'm not so sure of that, sir,' said Tregarva, lowering his voice.
'What is written'? That there is One who hears the desire of the
poor. "Lord, Thou preparest their hearts and Thine ear hearkeneth
thereto, to help the fatherless and poor unto their right, that the
man of the earth be no more exalted against them."'
'Why, you are talking like any Chartist, Tregarva!'
'Am I, sir? I haven't heard much Scripture quoted among them
myself, poor fellows; but to tell you the truth, sir, I don't know
what I am becoming. I'm getting half mad with all I see going on
and not going on; and you will agree, sir, that what's happened this
day can't have done much to cool my temper or brighten my hopes;
though, God's my witness, there's no spite in me for my own sake.
But what makes me maddest of all, sir, is to see that everybody sees
these evils, except just the men who can cure them--the squires and
'Why surely, Tregarva, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of
clergymen and landlords working heart and soul at this moment, to
better the condition of the labouring classes!'
'Ay, sir, they see the evils, and yet they don't see them. They do
not see what is the matter with the poor man; and the proof of it
is, sir, that the poor have no confidence in them. They'll take
their alms, but they'll hardly take their schooling, and their
advice they won't take at all. And why is it, sir? Because the
poor have got in their heads in these days a strange confused fancy,
maybe, but still a deep and a fierce one, that they haven't got what
they call their rights. If you were to raise the wages of every man
in this country from nine to twelve shillings a-week to-morrow, you
wouldn't satisfy them; at least, the only ones whom you would
satisfy would be the mere hogs among them, who, as long as they can
get a full stomach, care for nothing else.'
'What, in Heaven's name, do they want?' asked Lancelot.
'They hardly know yet, sir; but they know well what they don't want.
The question with them, sir, believe me, is not so much, How shall
we get better fed and better housed, but whom shall we depend upon
for our food and for our house? Why should we depend on the will
and fancy of any man for our rights? They are asking ugly questions
among themselves, sir, about what those two words, rent and taxes,
mean, and about what that same strange word, freedom, means. Eight
or wrong, they've got the thought into their heads, and it's growing
there, and they will find an answer for it. Depend upon it, sir, I
tell you a truth, and they expect a change. You will hear them talk
of it to-night, sir, if you've luck.'
'We all expect a change, for that matter,' said Lancelot. 'That
feeling is common to all classes and parties just now.'
Tregarva took off his hat.
'"For the word of the Lord hath spoken it." Do you know, sir, I
long at times that I did agree with those Chartists? If I did, I'd
turn lecturer to-morrow. How a man could speak out then! If he saw
any door of hope, any way of salvation for these poor fellows, even
if it was nothing better than salvation by Act of Parliament!'
'But why don't you trust the truly worthy among the clergy and the
gentry to leaven their own ranks and bring all right in time?'
'Because, sir, they seem to be going the way only to make things
worse. The people have been so dependent on them heretofore, that
they have become thorough beggars. You can have no knowledge, sir,
of the whining, canting, deceit, and lies which those poor miserable
labourers' wives palm on charitable ladies. If they weren't angels,
some of them, they'd lock up their purses and never give away
another farthing. And, sir, these free-schools, and these penny-
clubs, and clothing clubs, and these heaps of money which are given
away, all make the matter worse and worse. They make the labourer
fancy that he is not to depend upon God and his own right hand, but
on what his wife can worm out of the good nature of the rich. Why,
sir, they growl as insolently now at the parson or the squire's wife
if they don't get as much money as their neighbours, as they used to
at the parish vestrymen under the old law. Look at that Lord
Vieuxbois, sir, as sweet a gentleman as ever God made. It used to
do me good to walk behind him when he came over here shooting, just
to hear the gentle kind-hearted way in which he used to speak to
every old soul he met. He spends his whole life and time about the
poor, I hear. But, sir, as sure as you live he's making his people
slaves and humbugs. He doesn't see, sir, that they want to be
raised bodily out of this miserable hand-to-mouth state, to be
brought nearer up to him, and set on a footing where they can shift
for themselves. Without meaning it, sir, all his boundless
charities are keeping the people down, and telling them they must
stay down, and not help themselves, but wait for what he gives them.
He fats prize-labourers, sir, just as Lord Minchampstead fats prize-
oxen and pigs.'
Lancelot could not help thinking of that amusingly inconsistent,
however well-meant, scene in Coningsby, in which Mr. Lyle is
represented as trying to restore 'the independent order of
peasantry,' by making them the receivers of public alms at his own
gate, as if they had been middle-age serfs or vagabonds, and not
citizens of modern England.
'It may suit the Mr. Lyles of this age,' thought Lancelot, 'to make
the people constantly and visibly comprehend that property is their
protector and their friend, but I question whether it will suit the
people themselves, unless they can make property understand that it
owes them something more definite than protection.'
Saddened by this conversation, which had helped to give another
shake to the easy-going complacency with which Lancelot had been
used to contemplate the world below him, and look on its evils as
necessaries, ancient and fixed as the universe, he entered the
village fair, and was a little disappointed at his first glimpse of
the village-green. Certainly his expectations had not been very
exalted; but there had run through them a hope of something
melodramatic, dreams of May-pole dancing and athletic games,
somewhat of village-belle rivalry, of the Corin and Sylvia school;
or, failing that, a few Touchstones and Audreys, some genial earnest
buffo humour here and there. But there did not seem much likelihood
of it. Two or three apple and gingerbread stalls, from which
draggled children were turning slowly and wistfully away to go home;
a booth full of trumpery fairings, in front of which tawdry girls
were coaxing maudlin youths, with faded southernwood in their
button-holes; another long low booth, from every crevice of which
reeked odours of stale beer and smoke, by courtesy denominated
tobacco, to the treble accompaniment of a jigging fiddle and a
tambourine, and the bass one of grumbled oaths and curses within--
these were the means of relaxation which the piety, freedom, and
civilisation of fourteen centuries, from Hengist to Queen Victoria,
had devised and made possible for the English peasant!
'There seems very little here to see,' said Lancelot, half
'I think, sir,' quoth Tregarva, 'that very thing is what's most
Lancelot could not help, even at the risk of detection, investing
capital enough in sugar-plums and gingerbread, to furnish the
urchins around with the material for a whole carnival of stomach-
aches; and he felt a great inclination to clear the fairing-stall in
a like manner, on behalf of the poor bedizened sickly-looking girls
round, but he was afraid of the jealousy of some beer-bemuddled
swain. The ill-looks of the young girls surprised him much. Here
and there smiled a plump rosy face enough; but the majority seemed
under-sized, under-fed, utterly wanting in grace, vigour, and what
the penny-a-liners call 'rude health.' He remarked it to Tregarva.
The keeper smiled mournfully.
'You see those little creatures dragging home babies in arms nearly
as big as themselves, sir. That and bad food, want of milk
especially, accounts for their growing up no bigger than they do;
and as for their sad countenances, sir, most of them must carry a
lighter conscience before they carry a brighter face.'
'What do you mean?' asked Lancelot.
'The clergyman who enters the weddings and the baptisms knows well
enough what I mean, sir. But we'll go into that booth, if you want
to see the thick of it, sir; that's to say, if you're not ashamed.'
'I hope we need neither of us do anything to be ashamed of there;
and as for seeing, I begin to agree with you, that what makes the
whole thing most curious is its intense dulness.'
'What upon earth is that?'
'I say, look out there!'
'Well, you look out yourself!'
This was caused by a violent blow across the shins with a thick
stick, the deed of certain drunken wiseacres who were persisting in
playing in the dark the never very lucrative game of three sticks a
penny, conducted by a couple of gipsies. Poor fellows! there was
one excuse for them. It was the only thing there to play at, except
a set of skittles; and on those they had lost their money every
Saturday night for the last seven years each at his own village
So into the booth they turned; and as soon as Lancelot's eyes were
accustomed to the reeking atmosphere, he saw seated at two long
temporary tables of board, fifty or sixty of 'My Brethren,' as
clergymen call them in their sermons, wrangling, stupid, beery, with
sodden eyes and drooping lips--interspersed with more girls and
brazen-faced women, with dirty flowers in their caps, whose whole
business seemed to be to cast jealous looks at each other, and
defend themselves from the coarse overtures of their swains.
Lancelot had been already perfectly astonished at the foulness of
language which prevailed; and the utter absence of anything like
chivalrous respect, almost of common decency, towards women. But
lo! the language of the elder women was quite as disgusting as that
of the men, if not worse. He whispered a remark on the point to
Tregarva, who shook his head.
'It's the field-work, sir--the field-work, that does it all. They
get accustomed there from their childhood to hear words whose very
meanings they shouldn't know; and the older teach the younger ones,
and the married ones are worst of all. It wears them out in body,
sir, that field-work, and makes them brutes in soul and in manners.'
'Why don't they give it up? Why don't the respectable ones set
their faces against it?'
'They can't afford it, sir. They must go a-field, or go hungered,
most of them. And they get to like the gossip and scandal, and
coarse fun of it, while their children are left at home to play in
the roads, or fall into the fire, as plenty do every year.'
'Why not at school?'
'The big ones are kept at home, sir, to play at nursing those little
ones who are too young to go. Oh, sir,' he added, in a tone of deep
feeling, 'it is very little of a father's care, or a mother's love,
that a labourer's child knows in these days!'
Lancelot looked round the booth with a hopeless feeling. There was
awkward dancing going on at the upper end. He was too much sickened
to go and look at it. He began examining the faces and foreheads of
the company, and was astonished at the first glance by the lofty and
ample development of brain in at least one half. There were
intellects there--or rather capacities of intellect, capable,
surely, of anything, had not the promise of the brow been almost
always belied by the loose and sensual lower features. They were
evidently rather a degraded than an undeveloped race. 'The low
forehead of the Kabyle and Koord,' thought Lancelot, 'is compensated
by the grim sharp lip, and glittering eye, which prove that all the
small capabilities of the man have been called out into clear and
vigorous action: but here the very features themselves, both by
what they have and what they want, testify against that society
which carelessly wastes her most precious wealth, the manhood of her
masses! Tregarva! you have observed a good many things--did you
ever observe whether the men with the large foreheads were better
than the men with the small ones?'
'Ay, sir, I know what you are driving at. I've heard of that new-
fangled notion of scholars, which, if you'll forgive my plain
speaking, expects man's brains to do the work of God's grace.'
'But what have you remarked?'
'All I ever saw was, that the stupid-looking ones were the greatest
blackguards, and the clever-looking ones the greatest rogues.'
Lancelot was rebuked, but not surprised. He had been for some time
past suspecting, from the bitter experience of his own heart, the
favourite modern theory which revives the Neo-Platonism of
Alexandria, by making intellect synonymous with virtue, and then
jumbling, like poor bewildered Proclus, the 'physical understanding'
of the brain with the pure 'intellect' of the spirit.
'You'll see something, if you look round, sir, a great deal easier
to explain--and, I should have thought, a great deal easier to cure-
-than want of wits.'
'And what is that?'
'How different-looking the young ones are from their fathers, and
still more from their grandfathers! Look at those three or four old
grammers talking together there. For all their being shrunk with
age and weather, you won't see such fine-grown men anywhere else in
It was too true. Lancelot recollected now having remarked it before
when at church; and having wondered why almost all the youths were
so much smaller, clumsier, lower-brained, and weaker-jawed than
'Why is it, Tregarva?'
'Worse food, worse lodging, worse nursing--and, I'm sore afraid,
worse blood. There was too much filthiness and drunkenness went on
in the old war-times, not to leave a taint behind it, for many a
generation. The prosperity of fools shall destroy them!'
'Oh!' thought Lancelot, 'for some young sturdy Lancashire or Lothian
blood, to put new life into the old frozen South Saxon veins! Even
a drop of the warm enthusiastic Celtic would be better than none.
Perhaps this Irish immigration may do some good, after all.'
Perhaps it may, Lancelot. Let us hope so, since it is pretty nearly
Sadder and sadder, Lancelot tried to listen to the conversation of
the men round him. To his astonishment he hardly understood a word
of it. It was half articulate, nasal, guttural, made up almost
entirely of vowels, like the speech of savages. He had never before
been struck with the significant contrast between the sharp,
clearly-defined articulation, the vivid and varied tones of the
gentleman, or even of the London street-boy when compared with the
coarse, half-formed growls, as of a company of seals, which he heard
round him. That single fact struck him, perhaps, more deeply than
any; it connected itself with many of his physiological fancies; it
was the parent of many thoughts and plans of his after-life. Here
and there he could distinguish a half sentence. An old shrunken man
opposite him was drawing figures in the spilt beer with his pipe-
stem, and discoursing of the glorious times before the great war,
'when there was more food than there were mouths, and more work than
there were hands.' 'Poor human nature!' thought Lancelot, as he
tried to follow one of those unintelligible discussions about the
relative prices of the loaf and the bushel of flour, which ended, as
usual, in more swearing, and more quarrelling, and more beer to make
it up--'Poor human nature! always looking back, as the German sage
says, to some fancied golden age, never looking forward to the real
one which is coming!'
'But I say, vather,' drawled out some one, 'they say there's a sight
more money in England now, than there was afore the war-time.'
'Eees, booy,' said the old man; 'but ITS GOT INTO TOO FEW HANDS.'
'Well,' thought Lancelot, 'there's a glimpse of practical sense, at
least.' And a pedlar who sat next him, a bold, black-whiskered
bully, from the Potteries, hazarded a joke,--
'It's all along of this new sky-and-tough-it farming. They used to
spread the money broadcast, but now they drills it all in one place,
like bone-dust under their fancy plants, and we poor self-sown chaps
This garland of fancies was received with great applause; whereat
the pedlar, emboldened, proceeded to observe, mysteriously, that
'donkeys took a beating, but horses kicked at it; and that they'd
found out that in Staffordshire long ago. You want a good Chartist
lecturer down here, my covies, to show you donkeys of labouring men
that you have got iron on your heels, if you only know'd how to use
'And what's the use of rioting?' asked some one, querulously.
'Why, if you don't riot, the farmers will starve you.'
'And if we do, they'd turn sodgers--yeomanry, as they call it,
though there ain't a yeoman among them in these parts; and then they
takes sword and kills us. So, riot or none, they has it all their
Lancelot heard many more scraps of this sort. He was very much
struck with their dread of violence. It did not seem cowardice. It
was not loyalty--the English labourer has fallen below the
capability of so spiritual a feeling; Lancelot had found out that
already. It could not be apathy, for he heard nothing but complaint
upon complaint bandied from mouth to mouth the whole evening. They
seemed rather sunk too low in body and mind,--too stupefied and
spiritless, to follow the example of the manufacturing districts;
above all, they were too ill-informed. It is not mere starvation
which goads the Leicester weaver to madness. It is starvation with
education,--an empty stomach and a cultivated, even though
At that instant, a huge hulking farm-boy rolled into the booth,
roaring, dolefully, the end of a song, with a punctuation of his own
'He'll maak me a lady. Zo . Vine to be zyure.
And, vaithfully; love me. Although; I; be-e; poor-r-r-r.'
Lancelot would have laughed heartily at him anywhere else; but the
whole scene was past a jest; and a gleam of pathos and tenderness
seemed to shine even from that doggerel,--a vista, as it were, of
true genial nature, in the far distance. But as he looked round
again, 'What hope,' he thought, 'of its realisation? Arcadian
dreams of pastoral innocence and graceful industry, I suppose, are
to be henceforth monopolised by the stage or the boudoir? Never, so
help me, God!'
The ursine howls of the new-comer seemed to have awakened the spirit
of music in the party.
'Coom, Blackburd, gi' us zong, Blackburd, bo'!' cried a dozen voices
to an impish, dark-eyed gipsy boy, of some thirteen years old.
'Put 'n on taable. Now, then, pipe up!'
'What will 'ee ha'?'
'Mary; gi' us Mary.'
'I shall make a' girls cry,' quoth Blackbird, with a grin.
'Do'n good, too; they likes it: zing away.'
And the boy began, in a broad country twang, which could not
overpower the sad melody of the air, or the rich sweetness of his
'Young Mary walked sadly down through the green clover,
And sighed as she looked at the babe at her breast;
"My roses are faded, my false love a rover,
The green graves they call me, 'Come home to your rest.'"
'Then by rode a soldier in gorgeous arraying,
And "Where is your bride-ring, my fair maid?" he cried;
"I ne'er had a bride-ring, by false man's betraying,
Nor token of love but this babe at my side.
'"Tho' gold could not buy me, sweet words could deceive me;
So faithful and lonely till death I must roam."
"Oh, Mary, sweet Mary, look up and forgive me,
With wealth and with glory your true love comes home;
'"So give me my own babe, those soft arms adorning,
I'll wed you and cherish you, never to stray;
For it's many a dark and a wild cloudy morning,
Turns out by the noon-time a sunshiny day."'
'A bad moral that, sir,' whispered Tregarva.
'Better than none,' answered Lancelot.
'It's well if you are right, sir, for you'll hear no other.'
The keeper spoke truly; in a dozen different songs, more or less
coarsely, but, in general, with a dash of pathetic sentiment, the
same case of lawless love was embodied. It seemed to be their only
notion of the romantic. Now and then there was a poaching song;
then one of the lowest flash London school--filth and all--was
roared in chorus in presence of the women.
'I am afraid that you do not thank me for having brought you to any
place so unfit for a gentleman,' said Tregarva, seeing Lancelot's
'Because it is so unfit for a gentleman, therefore I do thank you.
It is right to know what one's own flesh and blood are doing.'
'Hark to that song, sir! that's an old one. I didn't think they'd
get on to singing that.'
The Blackbird was again on the table, but seemed this time
disinclined to exhibit.
'Out wi' un, boy; it wain't burn thy mouth!'
'I be afeard.'
He pointed to Tregarva; there was a fierce growl round the room.
'I am no keeper,' shouted Tregarva, starting up. 'I was turned off
this morning for speaking my mind about the squires, and now I'm one
of you, to live and die.'
This answer was received with a murmur of applause; and a fellow in
a scarlet merino neckerchief, three waistcoats, and a fancy
shooting-jacket, who had been eyeing Lancelot for some time, sidled
up behind them, and whispered in Tregarva's ear,--
'Perhaps you'd like an engagement in our line, young man, and your
friend there, he seems a sporting gent too.--We could show him very
Tregarva answered by the first and last oath Lancelot ever heard
from him, and turning to him, as the rascal sneaked off,--
'That's a poaching crimp from London, sir; tempting these poor boys
to sin, and deceit, and drunkenness, and theft, and the hulks.'
'I fancy I saw him somewhere the night of our row--you understand?'
'So do I, sir, but there's no use talking of it.'
Blackbird was by this time prevailed on to sing, and burst out as
melodious as ever, while all heads were cocked on one side in
'I zeed a vire o' Monday night,
A vire both great and high;
But I wool not tell you where, my boys,
Nor wool not tell you why.
The varmer he comes screeching out,
To zave 'uns new brood mare;
Zays I, "You and your stock may roast,
Vor aught us poor chaps care."
'Coorus, boys, coorus!'
And the chorus burst out,--
'Then here's a curse on varmers all
As rob and grind the poor;
To re'p the fruit of all their works
In **** for evermoor-r-r-r.
'A blind owld dame come to the vire,
Zo near as she could get;
Zays, "Here's a luck I warn't asleep
To lose this blessed hett.
'"They robs us of our turfing rights,
Our bits of chips and sticks,
Till poor folks now can't warm their hands,
Except by varmer's ricks."
And again the boy's delicate voice rung out the ferocious chorus,
with something, Lancelot fancied, of fiendish exultation, and every
worn face lighted up with a coarse laugh, that indicated no malice--
but also no mercy.
Lancelot was sickened, and rose to go.
As he turned, his arm was seized suddenly and firmly. He looked
round, and saw a coarse, handsome, showily-dressed girl, looking
intently into his face. He shook her angrily off.
'You needn't be so proud, Mr. Smith; I've had my hand on the arm of
as good as you. Ah, you needn't start! I know you--I know you, I
say, well enough. You used to be with him. Where is he?'
'Whom do you mean?'
'He!' answered the girl, with a fierce, surprised look, as if there
could be no one else in the world.
'Colonel Bracebridge,' whispered Tregarva.
'Ay, he it is! And now walk further off, bloodhound! and let me
speak to Mr. Smith. He is in Norway,' she ran on eagerly. 'When
will he be back? When?'
'Why do you want to know?' asked Lancelot.
'When will he be back?'--she kept on fiercely repeating the
question; and then burst out,--'Curse you gentlemen all! Cowards!
you are all in a league against us poor girls! You can hunt alone
when you betray us, and lie fast enough then? But when we come for
justice, you all herd together like a flock of rooks; and turn so
delicate and honourable all of a sudden--to each other! When will
he be back, I say?'
'In a month,' answered Lancelot, who saw that something really
important lay behind the girl's wildness.
'Too late!' she cried, wildly, clapping her hands together; 'too
late! Here--tell him you saw me; tell him you saw Mary; tell him
where and in what a pretty place, too, for maid, master, or man!
What are you doing here?'
'What is that to you, my good girl?'
'True. Tell him you saw me here; and tell him, when next he hears
of me, it will be in a very different place.'
She turned and vanished among the crowd. Lancelot almost ran out
into the night,--into a triad of fights, two drunken men, two
jealous wives, and a brute who struck a poor, thin, worn-out woman,
for trying to coax him home. Lancelot rushed up to interfere, but a
man seized his uplifted arm.
'He'll only beat her all the more when he getteth home.'
'She has stood that every Saturday night for the last seven years,
to my knowledge,' said Tregarva; 'and worse, too, at times.'
'Good God! is there no escape for her from her tyrant?'
'No, sir. It's only you gentlefolks who can afford such luxuries;
your poor man may be tied to a harlot, or your poor woman to a
ruffian, but once done, done for ever.'
'Well,' thought Lancelot, 'we English have a characteristic way of
proving the holiness of the marriage tie. The angel of Justice and
Pity cannot sever it, only the stronger demon of Money.'
Their way home lay over Ashy Down, a lofty chalk promontory, round
whose foot the river made a sudden bend. As they paced along over
the dreary hedgeless stubbles, they both started, as a ghostly 'Ha!
ha! ha!' rang through the air over their heads, and was answered by
a like cry, faint and distant, across the wolds.
'That's those stone-curlews--at least, so I hope,' said Tregarva.
'He'll be round again in a minute.'
And again, right between them and the clear, cold moon, 'Ha! ha!
ha!' resounded over their heads. They gazed up into the cloudless
star-bespangled sky, but there was no sign of living thing.
'It's an old sign to me,' quoth Tregarva; 'God grant that I may
remember it in this black day of mine.'
'How so!' asked Lancelot; 'I should not have fancied you a
'Names go for nothing, sir, and what my forefathers believed in I am
not going to be conceited enough to disbelieve in a hurry. But if
you heard my story you would think I had reason enough to remember
that devil's laugh up there.'
'Let me hear it then.'
'Well, sir, it may be a long story to you, but it was a short one to
me, for it was the making of me, out of hand, there and then,
blessed be God! But if you will have it--'
'And I will have it, friend Tregarva,' quoth Lancelot, lighting his
'I was about sixteen years old, just after I came home from the
'What! have you been in the Brazils?'
'Indeed and I have, sir, for three years; and one thing I learnt
there, at least, that's worth going for.'
'What the Garden of Eden must have been like. But those Brazils,
under God, were the cause of my being here; for my father, who was a
mine-captain, lost all his money there, by no man's fault but his
own, and not his either, the world would say, and when we came back
to Cornwall he could not stand the bal work, nor I neither. Out of
that burning sun, sir, to come home here, and work in the levels, up
to our knees in warm water, with the thermometer at 85 degrees, and
then up a thousand feet of ladder to grass, reeking wet with heat,
and find the easterly sleet driving across those open furze-crofts--
he couldn't stand it, sir--few stand it long, even of those who stay
in Cornwall. We miners have a short lease of life; consumption and
strains break us down before we're fifty.'
'But how came you here?'
'The doctor told my father, and me too, sir, that we must give up
mining, or die of decline: so he came up here, to a sister of his
that was married to the squire's gardener, and here he died; and the
squire, God bless him and forgive him, took a fancy to me, and made
me under-keeper. And I loved the life, for it took me among the
woods and the rivers, where I could think of the Brazils, and fancy
myself back again. But mustn't talk of that--where God wills is all
right. And it is a fine life for reading and thinking, a
gamekeeper's, for it's an idle life at best. Now that's over,' he
added, with a sigh, 'and the Lord has fulfilled His words to me,
that He spoke the first night that ever I heard a stone-plover cry.'
'What on earth can you mean?' asked Lancelot, deeply interested.
'Why, sir, it was a wild, whirling gray night, with the air full of
sleet and rain, and my father sent me over to Redruth town to bring
home some trade or other. And as I came back I got blinded with the
sleet, and I lost my way across the moors. You know those Cornish
'Well, then, they are burrowed like a rabbit-warren with old mine-
shafts. You can't go in some places ten yards without finding
great, ghastly black holes, covered in with furze, and weeds, and
bits of rotting timber; and when I was a boy I couldn't keep from
them. Something seemed to draw me to go and peep down, and drop
pebbles in, to hear them rattle against the sides, fathoms below,
till they plumped into the ugly black still water at the bottom.
And I used to be always after them in my dreams, when I was young,
falling down them, down, down, all night long, till I woke
screaming; for I fancied they were hell's mouth, every one of them.
And it stands to reason, sir; we miners hold that the lake of fire
can't be far below. For we find it grow warmer, and warmer, and
warmer, the farther we sink a shaft; and the learned gentlemen have
proved, sir, that it's not the blasting powder, nor the men's
breaths, that heat the mine.'
Lancelot could but listen.
'Well, sir, I got into a great furze-croft, full of deads (those are
the earth-heaps they throw out of the shafts), where no man in his
senses dare go forward or back in the dark, for fear of the shafts;
and the wind and the snow were so sharp, they made me quite stupid
and sleepy; and I knew if I stayed there I should be frozen to
death, and if I went on, there were the shafts ready to swallow me
up: and what with fear and the howling and raging of the wind, I
was like a mazed boy, sir. And I knelt down and tried to pray; and
then, in one moment, all the evil things I'd ever done, and the bad
words and thoughts that ever crossed me, rose up together as clear
as one page of a print-book; and I knew that if I died that minute I
should go to hell. And then I saw through the ground all the water
in the shafts glaring like blood, and all the sides of the shafts
fierce red-hot, as if hell was coming up. And I heard the knockers
knocking, or thought I heard them, as plain as I hear that
grasshopper in the hedge now.'
'What are the knockers?'
'They are the ghosts, the miners hold, of the old Jews, sir, that
crucified our Lord, and were sent for slaves by the Roman emperors
to work the mines; and we find their old smelting-houses, which we
call Jews' houses, and their blocks of tin, at the bottom of the
great bogs, which we call Jews' tin; and there's a town among us,
too, which we call Market-Jew--but the old name was Marazion; that
means the Bitterness of Zion, they tell me. Isn't it so, sir?'
'I believe it is,' said Lancelot, utterly puzzled in this new field
'And bitter work it was for them, no doubt, poor souls! We used to
break into the old shafts and adits which they had made, and find
old stags'-horn pickaxes, that crumbled to pieces when we brought
them to grass; and they say, that if a man will listen, sir, of a
still night, about those old shafts, he may hear the ghosts of them
at working, knocking, and picking, as clear as if there was a man at
work in the next level. It may be all an old fancy. I suppose it
is. But I believed it when I was a boy; and it helped the work in
me that night. But I'll go on with my story.'
'Go on with what you like,' said Lancelot.
'Well, sir, I was down on my knees among the furze-bushes, and I
tried to pray; but I was too frightened, for I felt the beast I had
been, sir; and I expected the ground to open and let me down every
moment; and then there came by over my head a rushing, and a cry.
"Ha! ha! ha! Paul!" it said; and it seemed as if all the devils and
witches were out on the wind, a-laughing at my misery. "Oh, I'll
mend--I'll repent," I said, "indeed I will:" and again it came
back,--"Ha! ha! ha! Paul!" it said. I knew afterwards that it was
a bird; but the Lord sent it to me for a messenger, no less, that
night. And I shook like a reed in the water; and then, all at once
a thought struck me. "Why should I be a coward? Why should I be
afraid of shafts, or devils, or hell, or anything else? If I am a
miserable sinner, there's One died for me--I owe him love, not fear
at all. I'll not be frightened into doing right--that's a rascally
reason for repentance." And so it was, sir, that I rose up like a
man, and said to the Lord Jesus, right out into the black, dumb
air,--"If you'll be on my side this night, good Lord, that died for
me, I'll be on your side for ever, villain as I am, if I'm worth
making any use of." And there and then, sir, I saw a light come
over the bushes, brighter, and brighter, up to me; and there rose up
a voice within me, and spoke to me, quite soft and sweet,--"Fear
not, Paul, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles." And
what more happened I can't tell, for when I woke I was safe at home.
My father and his folk had been out with lanterns after me; and
there they found me, sure enough, in a dead faint on the ground.
But this I know, sir, that those words have never left my mind since
for a day together; and I know that they will be fulfilled in me
this tide, or never.'
Lancelot was silent a few minutes.
'I suppose, Tregarva, that you would call this your conversion?'
'I should call it one, sir, because it was one.'
'Tell me now, honestly, did any real, practical change in your
behaviour take place after that night?'
'As much, sir, as if you put a soul into a hog, and told him that he
was a gentleman's son; and, if every time he remembered that, he got
spirit enough to conquer his hoggishness, and behave like a man,
till the hoggishness died out of him, and the manliness grew up and
bore fruit in him, more and more each day.'
Lancelot half understood him, and sighed.
A long silence followed, as they paced on past lonely farmyards,
from which the rich manure-water was draining across the road in
foul black streams, festering and steaming in the chill night air.
Lancelot sighed as he saw the fruitful materials of food running to
waste, and thought of the 'over-population' cry; and then he looked
across to the miles of brown moorland on the opposite side of the
valley, that lay idle and dreary under the autumn moon, except where
here and there a squatter's cottage and rood of fruitful garden gave
the lie to the laziness and ignorance of man, who pretends that it
is not worth his while to cultivate the soil which God has given
him. 'Good heavens!' he thought, 'had our forefathers had no more
enterprise than modern landlords, where should we all have been at
this moment? Everywhere waste? Waste of manure, waste of land,
waste of muscle, waste of brain, waste of population--and we call
ourselves the workshop of the world!'
As they passed through the miserable hamlet-street of Ashy, they saw
a light burning in window. At the door below, a haggard woman was
looking anxiously down the village.
'What's the matter, Mistress Cooper?' asked Tregarva.
'Here's Mrs. Grane's poor girl lying sick of the fever--the Lord
help her! and the boy died of it last week. We sent for the doctor
this afternoon, and he's busy with a poor soul that's in her
trouble; and now we've sent down to the squire's, and the young
ladies, God bless them! sent answer they'd come themselves
'No wonder you have typhus here,' said Lancelot, 'with this filthy
open drain running right before the door. Why can't you clean it
'Why, what harm does that do?' answered the woman, peevishly.
'Besides, here's my master gets up to his work by five in the
morning, and not back till seven at night, and by then he ain't in
no humour to clean out gutters. And where's the water to come from
to keep a place clean? It costs many a one of us here a shilling a
week the summer through to pay fetching water up the hill. We've
work enough to fill our kettles. The muck must just lie in the
road, smell or none, till the rain carries it away.'
Lancelot sighed again.
'It would be a good thing for Ashy, Tregarva, if the weir-pool did,
some fine morning, run up to Ashy Down, as poor Harry Verney said on
'There won't be much of Ashy left by that time, sir, if the
landlords go on pulling down cottages at their present rate; driving
the people into the towns, to herd together there like hogs, and
walk out to their work four or five miles every morning.'
'Why,' said Lancelot, 'wherever one goes one sees commodious new
cottages springing up.'
'Wherever you go, sir; but what of wherever you don't go? Along the
roadsides, and round the gentlemen's parks, where the cottages are
in sight, it's all very smart; but just go into the outlying
hamlets--a whited sepulchre, sir, is many a great estate; outwardly
swept and garnished, and inwardly full of all uncleanliness, and
dead men's bones.'
At this moment two cloaked and veiled figures came up to the door,
followed by a servant. There was no mistaking those delicate
footsteps, and the two young men drew back with fluttering hearts,
and breathed out silent blessings on the ministering angels, as they
entered the crazy and reeking house.
'I'm thinking, sir,' said Tregarva, as they walked slowly and
reluctantly away, 'that it is hard of the gentlemen to leave all
God's work to the ladies, as nine-tenths of them do.'
'And I am thinking, Tregarva, that both for ladies and gentlemen,
prevention is better than cure.'
'There's a great change come over Miss Argemone, sir. She used not
to be so ready to start out at midnight to visit dying folk. A
Lancelot thought so too, and he thought that he knew the cause of
Argemone's appearance, and their late conversation, had started a
new covey of strange fancies. Lancelot followed them over hill and
dale, glad to escape a moment from the mournful lessons of that
evening; but even over them there was a cloud of sadness. Harry
Verney's last words, and Argemone's accidental whisper about 'a
curse upon the Lavingtons,' rose to his mind. He longed to ask
Tregarva, but he was afraid--not of the man, for there was a
delicacy in his truthfulness which encouraged the most utter
confidence; but of the subject itself; but curiosity conquered.
'What did Old Harry mean about the Nun-pool?' he said at last.
'Every one seemed to understand him.'
'Ah, sir, he oughtn't to have talked of it! But dying men, at
times, see over the dark water into deep things--deeper than they
think themselves. Perhaps there's one speaks through them. But I
thought every one knew the story.'
'I do not, at least.'
'Perhaps it's so much the better, sir.'
'Why? I must insist on knowing. It is necessary--proper, that is--
that I should hear everything that concerns--'
'I understand, sir; so it is; and I'll tell you. The story goes,
that in the old Popish times, when the nuns held Whitford Priors,
the first Mr. Lavington that ever was came from the king with a
warrant to turn them all out, poor souls, and take the lands for his
own. And they say the head lady of them--prioress, or abbess, as
they called her--withstood him, and cursed him, in the name of the
Lord, for a hypocrite who robbed harmless women under the cloak of
punishing them for sins they'd never committed (for they say, sir,
he went up to court, and slandered the nuns there for drunkards and
worse). And she told him, "That the curse of the nuns of Whitford
should be on him and his, till they helped the poor in the spirit of
the nuns of Whitford, and the Nun-pool ran up to Ashy Down.'"
'That time is not come yet,' said Lancelot.
'But the worst is to come, sir. For he or his, sir, that night,
said or did something to the lady, that was more than woman's heart
could bear: and the next morning she was found dead and cold,
drowned in that weir-pool. And there the gentleman's eldest son was
drowned, and more than one Lavington beside. Miss Argemone's only
brother, that was the heir, was drowned there too, when he was a
'I never heard that she had a brother.'
'No, sir, no one talks of it. There are many things happen in the
great house that you must go to the little house to hear of. But
the country-folk believe, sir, that the nun's curse holds true; and
they say, that Whitford folks have been getting poorer and wickeder
ever since that time, and will, till the Nun-pool runs up to Ashy,
and the Lavingtons' name goes out of Whitford Priors.'
Lancelot said nothing. A presentiment of evil hung over him. He
was utterly down-hearted about Tregarva, about Argemone, about the
poor. The truth was, he could not shake off the impression of the
scene he had left, utterly disappointed and disgusted with the
'revel.' He had expected, as I said before, at least to hear
something of pastoral sentiment, and of genial frolicsome humour; to
see some innocent, simple enjoyment: but instead, what had he seen
but vanity, jealousy, hoggish sensuality, dull vacuity? drudges
struggling for one night to forget their drudgery. And yet withal,
those songs, and the effect which they produced, showed that in
these poor creatures, too, lay the germs of pathos, taste, melody,
soft and noble affections. 'What right have we,' thought he, 'to
hinder their development? Art, poetry, music, science,--ay, even
those athletic and graceful exercises on which we all pride
ourselves, which we consider necessary to soften and refine
ourselves, what God has given us a monopoly of them?--what is good
for the rich man is good for the poor. Over-education? And what of
that? What if the poor be raised above "their station"? What right
have we to keep them down? How long have they been our born thralls
in soul, as well as in body? What right have we to say that they
shall know no higher recreation than the hogs, because, forsooth, if
we raised them, they might refuse to work--FOR US? Are WE to fix
how far their minds may be developed? Has not God fixed it for us,
when He gave them the same passions, talents, tastes, as our own?'
Tregarva's meditations must have been running in a very different
channel, for he suddenly burst out, after a long silence--
'It's a pity these fairs can't be put down. They do a lot of harm;
ruin all the young girls round, the Dissenters' children especially,
for they run utterly wild; their parents have no hold on them at
'They tell them that they are children of the devil,' said Lancelot.
'What wonder if the children take them at their word, and act
'The parson here, sir, who is a God-fearing man enough, tried hard
to put down this one, but the innkeepers were too strong for him.'
'To take away their only amusement, in short. He had much better
have set to work to amuse them himself.'
'His business is to save souls, sir, and not to amuse them. I don't
see, sir, what Christian people want with such vanities.'
Lancelot did not argue the point, for he knew the prejudices of
Dissenters on the subject; but it did strike him that if Tregarva's
brain had been a little less preponderant, he, too, might have found
the need of some recreation besides books and thought.
By this time they were at Lancelot's door. He bid the keeper a
hearty good-night, made him promise to see him next day, and went to
bed and slept till nearly noon.
When he walked into his breakfast-room, he found a note on the table
in his uncle's handwriting. The vicar's servant had left it an hour
before. He opened it listlessly, rang the bell furiously, ordered
out his best horse, and, huddling on his clothes, galloped to the
nearest station, caught the train, and arrived at his uncle's bank--
it had stopped payment two hours before.
CHAPTER XIV: WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
Yes! the bank had stopped. The ancient firm of Smith, Brown, Jones,
Robinson, and Co., which had been for some years past expanding from
a solid golden organism into a cobweb-tissue and huge balloon of
threadbare paper, had at last worn through and collapsed, dropping
its car and human contents miserably into the Thames mud. Why
detail the pitiable post-mortem examination resulting? Lancelot
sickened over it for many a long day; not, indeed, mourning at his
private losses, but at the thorough hollowness of the system which
it exposed, about which he spoke his mind pretty freely to his
uncle, who bore it good-humouredly enough. Indeed, the discussions
to which it gave rise rather comforted the good man, by turning his
thought from his own losses to general principles. 'I have ruined
you, my poor boy,' he used to say; 'so you may as well take your
money's worth out of me in bullying.' Nothing, indeed, could
surpass his honest and manly sorrow for having been the cause of
Lancelot's beggary; but as for persuading him that his system was
wrong, it was quite impossible. Not that Lancelot was hard upon
him; on the contrary, he assured him, repeatedly, of his conviction,
that the precepts of the Bible had nothing to do with the laws of
commerce; that though the Jews were forbidden to take interest of
Jews, Christians had a perfect right to be as hard as they liked on
'brother' Christians; that there could not be the least harm in
share-jobbing, for though it did, to be sure, add nothing to the
wealth of the community--only conjure money out of your neighbour's
pocket into your own--yet was not that all fair in trade? If a man
did not know the real value of the shares he sold you, you were not
bound to tell him. Again, Lancelot quite agreed with his uncle,
that though covetousness might be idolatry, yet money-making could
not be called covetousness; and that, on the whole, though making
haste to be rich was denounced as a dangerous and ruinous temptation
in St. Paul's times, that was not the slightest reason why it should
be so now. All these concessions were made with a freedom which
caused the good banker to suspect at times that his shrewd nephew
was laughing at him in his sleeve, but he could not but subscribe to
them for the sake of consistency; though as a staunch Protestant, it
puzzled him a little at times to find it necessary to justify
himself by getting his 'infidel' nephew to explain away so much of
the Bible for him. But men are accustomed to do that now-a-days,
and so was he.
Once only did Lancelot break out with his real sentiments when the
banker was planning how to re-establish his credit; to set to work,
in fact, to blow over again the same bubble which had already burst
'If I were a Christian,' said Lancelot, 'like you, I would call this
credit system of yours the devil's selfish counterfeit of God's
order of mutual love and trust; the child of that miserable dream,
which, as Dr. Chalmers well said, expects universal selfishness to
do the work of universal love. Look at your credit system, how--not
in its abuse, but in its very essence--it carries the seeds of self-
destruction. In the first place, a man's credit depends, not upon
his real worth and property, but upon his reputation for property;
daily and hourly he is tempted, he is forced, to puff himself, to
pretend to be richer than he is.'
The banker sighed and shrugged his shoulders. 'We all do it, my
'I know it. You must do it, or be more than human. There is lie
the first, and look at lie the second. This credit system is
founded on the universal faith and honour of men towards men. But
do you think faith and honour can be the children of selfishness?
Men must be chivalrous and disinterested to be honourable. And you
expect them all to join in universal faith--each for his own selfish
interest? You forget that if that is the prime motive, men will be
honourable only as long as it suits that same self-interest.'
The banker shrugged his shoulders again.
'Yes, my dear uncle,' said Lancelot, 'you all forget it, though you
suffer for it daily and hourly; though the honourable men among you
complain of the stain which has fallen on the old chivalrous good
faith of English commerce, and say that now, abroad as well as at
home, an Englishman's word is no longer worth other men's bonds.
You see the evil, and you deplore it in disgust. Ask yourself
honestly, how can you battle against it, while you allow in
practice, and in theory too, except in church on Sundays, the very
falsehood from which it all springs?--that a man is bound to get
wealth, not for his country, but for himself; that, in short, not
patriotism, but selfishness, is the bond of all society.
Selfishness can collect, not unite, a herd of cowardly wild cattle,
that they may feed together, breed together, keep off the wolf and
bear together. But when one of your wild cattle falls sick, what
becomes of the corporate feelings of the herd then? For one man of
your class who is nobly helped by his fellows, are not the thousand
left behind to perish? Your Bible talks of society, not as a herd,
but as a living tree, an organic individual body, a holy
brotherhood, and kingdom of God. And here is an idol which you have
set up instead of it!'
But the banker was deaf to all arguments. No doubt he had plenty,
for he was himself a just and generous--ay, and a God-fearing man in
his way, only he regarded Lancelot's young fancies as too visionary
to deserve an answer; which they most probably are; else, having
been broached as often as they have been, they would surely, ere
now, have provoked the complete refutation which can, no doubt, be
given to them by hundreds of learned votaries of so-called commerce.
And here I beg my readers to recollect that I am in no way
answerable for the speculations, either of Lancelot or any of his
acquaintances; and that these papers have been, from beginning to
end, as in name, so in nature, Yeast--an honest sample of the
questions, which, good or bad, are fermenting in the minds of the
young of this day, and are rapidly leavening the minds of the rising
generation. No doubt they are all as full of fallacies as possible,
but as long as the saying of the German sage stands true, that 'the
destiny of any nation, at any given moment, depends on the opinions
of its young men under five-and-twenty,' so long it must be worth
while for those who wish to preserve the present order of society to
justify its acknowledged evils somewhat, not only to the few young
men who are interested in preserving them, but also to the many who
Though, therefore, I am neither Plymouth Brother nor Communist, and
as thoroughly convinced as the newspapers can make me, that to
assert the duties of property is only to plot its destruction, and
that a community of goods must needs imply a community of wives (as
every one knows was the case with the apostolic Christians), I shall
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