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Title: Crying for the Light, Vol. 2 [of 3] - or Fifty Years Ago
Author: Ritchie, J. Ewing (James Ewing), 1820-1898
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1895 Jarrold and Sons edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org.  Many thanks to Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library,
UK, for kindly allowing their copy to be used for this transcription.

    “This is the condition of humanity; we are placed as it were in an
    intellectual twilight where we discover but few things clearly, and
    yet we see enough to tempt us with the hope of making better and more
    discoveries.”—BOLINGBROKE.



                           Crying for the Light


                                * * * * *

                                                           J Ewing Ritchie
                                                   Author of ‘East Anglia’

                                * * * * *

                                  Vol 2

                                * * * * *

London: Jarrold and Sons
   Warwick Lane E.C.
      1895



CONTENTS OF VOL. II.

CHAPTER                                        PAGE
         XI.  THE STRUGGLES OF A SOUL             1
        XII.  IN LOW COMPANY                     30
       XIII.  CONCERNING SAL                     54
        XIV.  AN ENCOUNTER                       73
         XV.  ELECTIONEERING                     94
        XVI.  ELECTIONEERING AGAIN              114
       XVII.  QUIET TALKS                       138
      XVIII.  THE IRISH PRASTE                  176
        XIX.  WENTWORTH RETIRES                 195
         XX.  A STORM BREWING                   212
        XXI.  AN UNPLEASANT RENCONTRE           232



CHAPTER XI.
THE STRUGGLES OF A SOUL.


There comes to us all a time when we seek something for the heart to rely
on, to anchor to, when we see the hollowness of the world, the
deceitfulness of riches; how fleeting is all earthly pleasure, how great
is the need of spiritual strength, how, when the storm comes, we require
a shelter that can defy its utmost force.  Out of the depths the heart of
man ever cries out for the living God.  The actress Rose felt this as
much amid the glare of life and the triumphs of the stage as the monk in
his cloister or the hermit in his desert cell.  Like all of us, in whom
the brute has not quenched the Divine light which lighteth everyone who
cometh into the world, she felt, as Wordsworth writes:

    ‘The world is too much with us, late and soon;
    Getting and spending we lay waste our power.
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away a sordid boon.’

She felt, as we all must feel, that there is something more than this
feverish dream we call life—something greater and grander and more
enduring beyond.  To her the heavens declared the glory of a God, and the
firmament showed forth His handiwork.  To her day unto day uttered
speech, and night unto night showed forth knowledge.  She had no wish to
shut out Divine speech.  Her labour was how best to hear it, and most
quickly to obey.  The history of humanity testifies to this one
all-pervading desire in ages most remote, in countries the most savage.
As the great Sir James Mackintosh wrote to Dr. Parr in 1799, after the
loss of his wife: ‘Governed by those feelings which have in every age and
region of the world actuated the human mind to seek relief, I find it in
the soothing hope and consolatory reflection that a benevolent wisdom
inflicts the chastisements, as well as bestows the enjoyments of human
life; that superintending goodness will one day enlighten the darkness
which surrounds our nature and hangs over our prospects; that this dreary
and wretched life is not the whole of man; that an animal so sagacious
and provident, and capable of such science and virtue, is not like the
beasts that perish; that there is a dwelling-place prepared for the
spirits of the just, and that the ways of God will yet be vindicated to
man.’  Our actress felt the same; she had, she felt, a soul to be saved,
a God to be loved, a heaven to be won.

But how?  Ah! that was the question.  Naturally she turned to the old
Church of Christendom, the Church that calls itself Catholic and
universal.  She went to the priest; he showed her a bleeding Saviour, and
a burning, bottomless pit.  She trembled as she stood in the old dim
cathedral, where no light of heaven ever came, where no voice of mercy
ever penetrated, where the whole air of the place was redolent of
priestcraft and artifice and sham.

‘You,’ screams the priest, ‘are all unjust, extortioners, adulterers,
dead in trespasses and sins.  Give me money, and I will make it right
with the Almighty.  Down on your marrow-bones, eat fish on a Friday,
count your beads, confess to me—a man no better than yourself—pay for
Masses.  In my hand is the key to eternal joy; pay my fees, and the door
shall be unlocked, and you shall straightway go to paradise.’

Refuse, and he shows you an angry Jehovah, in His rage destroying a fair
world which He Himself had called into being and filled with life, and
sweeping millions into torments that never end.  The sight is awful.
Happily, reason comes to the rescue, and the priest and the cathedral,
and the Mass and the music, the incense and wax lights, disappear.

Enter the State Church, not of the Romanist, but the Protestant, where
you are told you are made a child of God in baptism, where the cure of
souls is sold in the market-place, and where the Bishop, or overseer of
the Church, often is put into his high position because he is a relative
of a lord, or is a firm supporter of the Minister of the day.  There is
no room for the anxious inquirer in a Church which rejoices in the
Athanasian Creed, and which regards all Free-Church life as schism.  With
its pomp and wealth and power, with its well-paid clergy, in time past on
the side of the rich against the poor, of abuse and privilege against the
rights of the people and the progress of the nation, the Church has left
the masses whom it was paid to teach and save little better than heathen.
You ask, What has it to do with the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, the
carpenter’s son?  What is it but an institution to give an air of
respectability to life, to confer a prestige on the church-goer, and to
lend an additional charm to a State ceremony?  Is it not there
emphatically that, as a rule—to which there are splendid exceptions—

    ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed;’

that is, if they need something more than a musical performance or a
conventional observance?

‘Do you mean to say,’ said the actress to a clergyman’s wife, ‘that you
can follow the psalms of the day, and ask God to crush your enemies and
make them perish for ever?’

‘Oh,’ said the lady, ‘I always repeat them all.  You know, one does not
believe exactly all one says.  All you have to do is to give a general
assent.’

This was what the actress could not do.  Her Bible was a constant
difficulty.  She could believe it was the Word of God, but not all of it.
Its contradictions puzzled and perplexed her.  Give it up, said her
worldly friends.  Be happy in Agnosticism.  Leave off thinking about the
hereafter and a God.  Believe what you see and hear.  Life is short; it
has not too much of joy in it.  Be happy while you may.

In her distress she consulted a clergyman of the class more common now
than they were then, who reject the term Protestant, and whose aim is the
revival of what they call the Church Primitive and Apostolic.

‘You must be baptized,’ he said.

‘But I have been.’

‘Where?’

‘In a chapel.’

‘A mere form,’ was the reply.  ‘Our Church teaches that man is made a
member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of
heaven, in and by holy baptism.’

‘I cannot see that.’

‘Then you are shut out, unless you are baptized, from the sacrament in
which the body and blood of Christ are given to every one who receives
the sacramental bread and wine.’

‘How do you prove that?’

‘Prove it: I don’t want to prove it.  I fear you are in grievous error.
Your duty and that of everyone is to obey the Book of God: a book not to
be dealt with upon the same rules which are applicable to the works of
man.’

And then they parted; he stern and resolved, she sorrowful and sad; he
intimating something about it was a pity that people could not remain
satisfied with the station of life in which they were born, which did not
pour balm into a wounded soul.  Happily for herself, however, she could
exclaim with Sir Thomas Browne, ‘As for those mazy mysteries in divinity
and airy subtleties in religion which have unhinged the minds of many,
they have never stretched the _pia mater_ of mine.’  But to gain this
position was a work of time.

With an aching heart, once more the actress sought a clergyman.  He was a
Broad Churchman.  There were no difficulties for him.  In antiquated
forms, in vain repetitions, in decaying creeds, there were difficulties,
it might be; but one was not to bother one’s self about them.  It was
true that one had to conform to outward form, but the spirit was greater
than the form.  The time would come when the Church would burst its
bonds, but at present all they had to do was to make the best of a bad
situation.  It seemed to her such church-worship was a sham.  The man in
the pulpit, the man in the pew, alike ignored the dead creed, and instead
revelled in glib phraseology, in poetical nothings, in much-sounding
rhetoric and ecclesiastical show and ritual.  The chief things were the
music, the millinery, and the show—the white-robed choristers, the dim
religious light.

Then she thought of her old training among the Dissenters, and went to a
chapel.  She was staying at an old country mansion, when one Sunday
morning the gentlemen were going to have the usual smoke in the stables,
and examine the horses and the hounds, and to make a few bets about a
forthcoming race, and there was a smile of perfect horror as she
expressed her intention of going to the village meeting-house, while the
ladies were inexpressibly shocked.  No one went to meeting; it was low.
One could not be received in society who was known to go to meeting.

‘I show myself once or twice in a year at church just to keep myself on
good terms with society,’ said the gentleman of the mansion.

The actress went to the chapel, as nowadays the meeting-house is termed.
It was as Gothic in style as it was possible to be.  The singing was
good.  The preacher was a man of culture, and was dressed as much like a
clergyman as was possible.  The hearers were of the respectable middle
class; the working man was conspicuous by his absence.  But, alas! it was
known the next Sunday that the quiet lady who had attended the previous
Sunday was an actress from town.  She found every eye turned towards her.
There was quite a crowd to see her arrive and depart, and further
attendance was impossible.

When are we to have a rational change in the land?  We have had a
Reformation that, incomplete as it was, freed us at any rate from the
worship of the Mass.  When is our religion to be free of Church creeds—of
the Assembly Catechism—of the iron fetters of chapel trusts—of the
traditions of the elders—of the influence of the fables and traditions
and superstitions of the Middle Ages?  When is a man to stand up in our
midst and honestly utter what he believes, careless of his ecclesiastical
superiors, of the frowns of deacons and elders?  When are we to get rid
of conventional observances and conventional forms?  There is no place of
worship in which it would be proper for me to enter without the
chimney-pot hat, or take a brown-paper parcel in my hand.  If I did so, I
should be set down as little better than one of the wicked—as wicked as
if I were to read the _Weekly Dispatch_ on a Sunday, or spend an hour or
two in a museum or a picture-gallery.  When are we to realize that the
Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath?  Why are Churches
to be less tolerant than the Master, who invited all to come, and who
rebuked His ignorant disciples when they would have put obstacles in
their way?  It is hard to think how many souls have been thus driven
away.  You are an actress, said the Church to her; you must give up your
profession.  She felt that was wrong; that on the stage she could be as
good a Christian as anywhere else.  It was her happiness to believe in a

    ‘Father of all, in every age,
       In every clime, adored—
    By saint, by savage, or by sage,
       Jehovah, Jove, or Lord.’

Toleration is the great need of our day.  But we need more: we need less
of prayer that is not worship; of hymnology that makes men utter on their
tongues what is rarely, if ever, in their hearts.  We want more of
honesty in all our public services, to whatever denomination we belong.
We have far too much of indifference; too much of dogma; too much of
silly sentimentalism; too much mysticism; too much morbid faith.  Our
missionaries often make converts, who are the worse, and not the better,
for the use of their primitive creeds.  The shapeless block of wood,
hideously carved and fantastically ornamented, that I, in the sunlight,
may look upon with scorn, my brother, living in the dark places of the
earth, may look upon as the very highest type of his ideal god, and as
such he may gaze upon it with reverence, and worship it with awe.  And
who am I that I may say that he is not the better for so doing?  Who am I
that I am to laugh as my happy sister prays, or to deprive her of a faith
that ‘scorns delights and lives laborious days’?  Would the savage be
less a savage had he not before him that type of a Divine ideal?  Would
he be a better man if I were to blot that out of his being?  Would that
make him less selfish, less cruel; more kindly in act, more ready to do
good?  Would he be happier in the sunshine, braver in the battle and the
storm?  Yes, it is more religious toleration that we need, though we
have, rather against the grain, ceased to burn heretics.  And that comes
only as knowledge increases, and the torch of science throws its light
over the dark mysteries of Nature and her laws.

The difficulty with the actress was not faith, but the form; not with the
Spirit, but with its manifestation in so-called Christian churches and
among Christian men; not with the Divine idea, but its human expression.
And that is the giant Difficulty of our day.  It is impossible for any
Church to realize its truest conceptions.  It is in vain that finite man
seeks to grapple with the problem of the infinite.  It is told of St.
Augustine, how once upon a time he was perplexed about the doctrine of
the Trinity while he was walking on the seashore.  All at once he saw a
child filling a shell with water, and pouring it out on the sand.  ‘What
are you doing?’ said the old saint.  ‘Putting the sea into this hole,’
was the reply.  The child’s answer was not lost on the saint if it made
him feel the main essence of Christianity is not a dogma, but a life.

The Church service day by day gets more ornate, more artificial, more of
a show, and men and women go to it as a theatre.  But, any rate, it is
devotional so far as devotion is displayed in form, in the Free Churches,
as they are called, or, rather, love to call themselves, for freedom is
as much to be found in the Church service as in that of the chapel; the
pulpit and the man who fills it play a more important part.  The vanity
which is in the heart of all of us more or less is gratified more than in
the Church service, which has a tendency to sink the man and to exalt the
function.  The whole tone of the chapel service is personal.  The man in
the pulpit is the great ‘I am.’  The deacons have more or less the same
spirit.  Positively it is amusing: you enter before the time of
commencing worship.  Presently a man ascends the pulpit stairs.  Is he
the preacher?  Oh no, he is only the man to carry up the Bible.  Again
the vestry door opens, and in the conquering hero comes.  A deacon
reverently follows.  Is he going to assist?  Not a bit of it.  He merely
shuts the pulpit-door, and sinks back into his native insignificance.
The sermon over, then comes the collection.  It seems, apparently, that
this is the great thing after all.  I remember once going into a chapel;
the minister had a weak voice, I could not hear a word of the prayer or
the sermon.  The only thing I did hear, and that was pronounced audibly
to be heard all over the place, was, ‘The collection will now be made.’
Organization is carried to excess, till it becomes weariness and
destructive of the spirit.  What is wanted is something simpler.  Listen
to the minister as he announces from the pulpit the engagements and
arrangements for the week; and as to the sermon, how often is it a
pamphlet, or an essay, or a newspaper leader!  One feels also prayer is
too long and wearying, and that the personal element is somewhat
intrusive.  It is there the Church has the advantage; the chapel-goer is
disgusted if the minister does not call on him, if the deacon does not
shake hands with him, if he himself has not some official standing as a
member of some committee or other.  The poet tells us,

    ‘God moves in a mysterious way
       His wonders to perform.’

Not so says the Evangelical; it is by means of our fussy activity and
mechanical organization that His wonders are performed.  ‘It is,’
exclaims the Methodist, ‘a penny a week, a shilling a quarter, and
justification by faith.’  No wonder that there are good Christians who
never darken church or chapel doors.  ‘It conduces much to piety,’ said
the late Earl Russell to his wife, ‘not to go to church sometimes.’  And
the actress was a Christian, godly, if not according to the godliness of
Little Bethel.  I don’t know that she kept the Sabbath holy; she loved
that day to get away from town and the world, and to worship Him whose
temple is all space and whose Sabbath all time.  In the Roman Catholic or
Protestant cathedral alike, she could worship, and from occasional
attendances she often returned refreshed, but she could identify herself
with no particular body.  In the freer Churches of Christendom she would
enter, and could leave all the better for the service, even if the
preacher had, as preachers often do, proved unequal to her state of mind.
Here she listened to an essay logical and profound, which touched on no
matter of earthly interest, and was as vain and worthless as questions as
to how many angels could stand on the point of a needle, or what were the
songs the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself
among women.  There a raw youth thumped the pulpit, as he complacently
dwelt on the doings of a God of whom his very idea was a caricature.
Then there were ingenious clerics who spoke upon the ‘little horn’ in
Daniel, and who, while ignorant of Cheapside and the City, could unfold
the Book of Revelation, and to whom the prophecies were as easy as A B C.
A good deal of what is commonly called good preaching was but to her an
idle dream as preachers painfully tried to realise the past, and talked
of distant lands, and worthy old patriarchs who had been dead thousands
of years, and grand old prophets, who though able forces in their own
times and amongst their own people, had little to do with the passions
and prejudices of the living present.  Even when the preacher was
morbidly sentimental, as so many of them were—and that is why the men
stop away, or only attend to please their wives—or too prone to take for
granted fables which cannot stand a moment’s rational investigation,
even, though they were more or less common to the mythology of every
nation under the sun, poor Rose boldly faced the situation and sat it all
out, though for all practical purposes she felt that she might just as
well have listened to a lecture on the Digamma.  One admits the force in
many cases of associated worship, the charm of the living voice, of a
good delivery, of a pleasing figure; and yet a man is not to be condemned
as one of the wicked because his pew is empty at times, because he reads
the Bible and says his prayers alone, because he is distracted by the
delivery of stale religious commonplace.

But the Free Churches, are not they the home of free thought?  Are they
not leaders in religious reform?  Alas! they all have their dogmas and
creeds to the believer in which they promise eternal life, while to the
unbeliever, no matter how honest he may be, or how pure in heart and
life, there is anathema maranatha.  If the Church of England apes the
Church of Rome, what are we to say of the conventicle, with its
antiquated creed and its obsolete theology?  Are they not still, in spite
of their boasted freedom, under the rule of St. Augustine and the monks?
Nor can it well be otherwise.  You take a young man, ignorant of the
world, unversed in human nature; you shut him up in a college with others
as ignorant as himself.  You teach him theological conundrums rather than
real life.  Can such as they minister to a mind diseased?  Am I to be
saved by listening to such as they?  Ah, no!

    ‘In secret silence of the mind,
    My heaven, and there my God, I find.’

It was so with Rose as she wandered drearily from one church door to
another, seeking rest and finding none.  It was clear to her that there
was no room for her in the narrow circle of the Churches.

As long as you are an actress, as long as you get your living by
following the stage, said they all, you cannot be a church-member,
forgetting that the stage itself was, in a prior age, but the child of
the Church.

One day she tried the Quakers, but there the silence was too
oppressive—nor did she feel called upon to make herself singular by a
display of Quaker dress or Quaker speech.

One Sunday she was in Edinburgh, staying at the house of one of the
University professors.  She had heard much of Scotch piety, and she
wanted to see what it was like.  A grand scientific gathering was being
held, and the house was full of men of science.  In the morning she went
to church.  Again she was taken to church in the afternoon, very much
against the grain; but she was in Rome, and had to do as the Romans did.
In the evening there was a dinner-party.  As they repaired to the
drawing-room, the lady of the house said:

‘It is very questionable whether we shall see any more of the gentlemen
to-night.  If they rise from the table sober, they will come into the
drawing-room.  If they take too much, they will go up by the backstairs
to bed.’

The lady of the house said this as if it were the most natural thing in
the world, but it shocked Rose to find that, in the city where the
Sabbath is observed more strictly than anywhere else, this was how the
Sabbath night was spent, and, naturally, she had little respect for the
piety which could attend church twice a day on the Sunday, and make the
Sunday night a convivial carouse.

What was she to do?  She went to many a Congregational, or Baptist, or
Unitarian, or Episcopalian church in London, where she heard much that
was helpful to her spiritual life—much that it did her good to hear.

‘You can’t join my church,’ said a popular divine to her.

‘Why not?

‘Because you are an actress.  My deacons would not hear of such a thing.’

‘Have you ever been to a theatre?’

‘Never!’ was the emphatic reply.

‘How, then, can you condemn that of which you are ignorant?’ asked the
actress.

‘Well,’ said the preacher, ‘I can go by popular report.  Look at the
lives of the professionals.  Was not Kean a drunkard?  Did not the Duke
of So-and-so keep an actress?  Did not So-and-so’—naming a popular
actor—‘run off with another man’s wife?’

‘What of that?’ said Rose.  ‘I am told your predecessor in your very
chapel did the same.’

The preacher did not know what to say, except that there were black sheep
in all professions, and that there was a Judas even among the Apostles,
and it became them all to judge in charity of one another.

‘That is what I want of you,’ said the actress.

But the preacher did not respond to her appeal, and again she left the
church for the world.

Another day she tried the Methodists.  Unfortunately, as she stepped in
they were singing:

    ‘And be the business of my life
    To cry, “Behold the Lamb!”’

In that church she saw some Wesleyan tradesmen whom she knew.  Was that
the business of their lives?  Of course not.  Man comes into the world to
get a living and to make the most of it.  The secular life is not
superseded by the religious life—only adorned and purified by it.

‘You must give up your calling,’ said they all.

Indignantly she asked herself, Why?  Her acting was her one talent.  Was
one to hide it in a napkin?  Certainly not, said common-sense, and for
once common-sense was right.  Was she not doing good in her way, finding
people innocent amusement, and teaching them, as she repeated nightly the
great words of the great dramatist of our land, something of the wonder
and grandeur and pathos and mystery of life?  Hers was not an art to be
despised.  Hers was not a course of life to be abandoned at the command
of a bigot, be he Roman monk or Protestant preacher.  There was a time
when the stage was the teacher of the people; why should it not be so
now? she asked herself.  It was her resolve that it should be so, as far
as it was in her power.  For as Tom Campbell wrote:

    ‘Ill can poetry express
       Full many a tone of thought sublime;
    And painting, mute and motionless,
       Steals but one glance from Time.
    But by the mighty Actor brought,
       Illusion’s wedded triumphs come;
    Verse ceases to be airy thought,
       And Sculpture to be dumb.’

‘Ah!’ wrote Wentworth to her, ‘we need not despair of Divine mercy.
Christ is bigger and broader than the Church.  You in your way, and I in
mine, have wandered far in search of such happiness as earth can give,
and found it to be of little worth, and the sects look on us as sinners,
because we refuse to bow to the image they have set up, or to utter their
Shibboleth.  I know not that it matters much.  I know not that it matters
anything at all.  How can any man or any set of men pretend to have
penetrated the full meaning of Scripture, or that they can bid stand back
those as humble and patient in the pursuit of truth as themselves?’

One day when Robert Hall had been having a conversation with Sir James
Mackintosh, he told a friend: ‘Sir, it was the Euphrates pouring itself
into a teapot.’  If a great orator like Hall could say that of a
fellow-man, what can we say of such Divine revelation as comes to us
either by the experiences of actual life or by the world of nature around
us, or by the written Word which was and is Life?  How can we grasp it?
How can we cut it up into dogmas and creeds?  How can we say to any
brother man, Believe as I believe, or be damned?  The Churches have tried
to do so and failed, even when they had at their back the terrors of
Inquisition or the sword of the Civil Magistrates.  They are beginning to
understand that it is all up with priestcraft, and that the Church as it
exists to-day everywhere is in danger; that they cannot stop the onward
march of the people; that they cannot say to the waves of free thought,
‘Hitherto shall ye come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves
be stayed.’  It is a kindly light that leads on, and we cannot stop.
Take all the creeds, pile them one upon the top of another, and there is
still a void, for the finite cannot grasp the Infinite, and man cannot by
searching find out God.  At the best we can but guess; at the best, and
may we ever be that, we are but children crying for the light.  Here we
see through a glass darkly; let us humbly do our duty, and wait the time
when all mystery shall be unravelled, when we shall stand face to face,
when we shall know even as we are known.

Wentworth and Rose had resolved to become one in life, as they had been
in years of struggle and endeavour.  As she rose she dragged him upward
and onward.  God had come to him as his Father and his Friend.  He was of
no Church.  He needed the aid of no priest.  He distrusted the emotional
sensationalism of what is called religious life.  It had done little for
him in the past—only helped him to his fall.  Church members he had found
no better than other men; church life just as worldly as that of the
wicked.  It needed not that he should enter man’s churches to see in all
His glory and tenderness and love the Man of sorrows and acquainted with
grief; Him who had wept over impenitent Jerusalem, and had tears and pity
for such frail women as Mary the Magdalene; who had said as He walked the
crowded streets of Jerusalem, beneath the proud pillars of the Temple
itself: ‘Come unto Me all ye that are weary and are heavy-laden, and I
will give you rest’; the lustre of whose life and the music of whose
voice had bettered and brightened all time and space.  It was no
Agnostic’s dream that had made Wentworth a new man, but a great spiritual
reality, of which he felt as sure as he did of his own existence, as he
wrote:

    ‘O Thou, the God of life and light,
    In whom all heaven and earth unite,
    Fain would I raise my humble voice
    And with all people round rejoice.

    ‘I cannot see Thee as Thou art,
    I only know Thee with the heart.
    All language fails me when I try
    To shadow forth Thy Deity.

    ‘I love, I worship, I adore—
    Can man give less, can God ask more?
    That love in life I would translate,
    And freely trust Thee with my fate.’



CHAPTER XII.
IN LOW COMPANY.


Nothing was blacker than the outlook in this land of ours fifty years
ago.  The parson droned away on Sunday, preaching a gospel which had not
the remotest reference to living men, and good people sighed placidly as
the preacher dwelt apparently _con amore_—and without the slightest sign
of regret—on the torture and the flame to which the wicked would be
eternally condemned.  The hearer, if well to do, went home complacently
to his Sunday dinner and glass or two of port; while the poor sinner
preferred to sleep off the Saturday night’s debauch, leaving the missus
and the children to go to a place of worship, on the condition that the
dinner should not be forgotten.  But it was chiefly the small shopkeepers
who came to attend what were called the means of grace.  I remember a
parish clerk who made a point of attending the Wesleyan chapel in the
evening.  In time the old vicar died and a new one reigned in his stead.
In his wisdom he proposed to have evening service in the parish church to
hinder the sheep from roving in forbidden pastures.

But said the parish clerk, when his vicar suggested the idea: ‘Oh no,
sir; that will never do.  You will deprive me of the means of grace
altogether.’

Surely when Queen Victoria commenced her reign the sun never shone on a
darker land than ours.  Ignorance, poverty, intemperance, licentiousness
ran riot—in spite of the fact that good people were subscribing their
tens of thousands to spread the Bible all over the world and to convert
the heathen, who many of them lived more decent lives than our own
people.  Not far from the scene of which I write, a noble lord, who had
been a sailor and had a fine gift of swearing, presided over a local
meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society.  As a chairman he
laboured under many difficulties, but he managed to make a short speech,
in which he assured his hearers that the society was a d---d good one and
deserved to be d---d well supported.  The country life of the gentleman
was just what we see it in ‘Tom Jones.’  In the towns things were little
better.  Lives were shortened by intemperance and neglect of all sanitary
requirements.  The employer had no thought for the people he employed.
The peasant and the workman had little done for them, the pauper had even
less.  There were no cheap newspapers to stir up the sleeping intellect
of the country.  If such a thing as a national conscience existed it was
very feeble—eaten up with pride.  The Englishman was dead to the needs of
the times.  The bitter cry of the distressed had not then sounded over
the land.

Little children from four to eight years of age, the majority of them
orphans, the rest sold by brutal parents, were trained as chimney-sweeps.
In order to make their skins tough and not to suffer as they climbed they
were rubbed with brine before a hot fire.  They were liable to what was
called chimney sweeper’s cancer.  They were often suffocated by soot and
died when at work.  Often they were stifled by the hot sulphurous air in
the flues; often they would stick in the chimney and faint from the
effects of terror, exhaustion and foul air.  Lighted straw was used to
bring them round, and if that failed they were often half killed, and
sometimes killed outright, by the efforts to extricate them.  Sailors
were sent to sea in ships heavily insured—and great was the loss of
valuable life—in order that some shipowners might reap a hellish profit.
It was reckoned that at that time the preventible mortality of the
country was annually 90,000.  In 1843 there were 1,500 young persons of
fourteen and upwards engaged as milliners and dressmakers in the
Metropolis.  Their hours were from fifteen to eighteen a day, with only a
little interval of rest, and the consequence was that consumption and
impaired eyesight were terribly prevalent among them.

As late as 1854 a gentleman who commenced a religious service in one of
the largest cottages on his estate for the benefit of the dense
population around him of miners, had to give up the good work, as he was
threatened with a prosecution for the breach of the Conventicle Act.
Churchyards in overcrowded districts were allowed to spread disease and
death all around.  The houses in which the poor were forced to herd were
almost destitute of sewage drainage and water supply.

It was found that in the fourteen houses of which Wild Street, Drury
Lane, for example, consisted, nearly one thousand persons found shelter,
and that the very staircases were crowded nightly with poor wretches, to
whom even the pestilential accommodation of the rooms was an unattainable
luxury.  It was said that more beggars were to be encountered in a walk
from Westminster Abbey to Oxford Street than in a tour from London to
Switzerland, whether by Paris or the Rhine.  There were 80,000 in the
common lodging-houses of the City, and no authority to see that decency
and proper sanitary conditions were applied to any of them.  Nor were the
homes of the agricultural peasants much better.

When Lord Ashley became Earl of Shaftesbury, and took possession of the
family estate, he writes: ‘Inspected a few cottages—filthy, close,
indecent, unwholesome.’  All England was a whited sepulchre, full of dead
men’s bones.  But the climax of wickedness was only to be seen in a low
London lodging-house; let us enter one.

Mint Street, Borough, was better known than trusted some years not very
long ago.  It was a nasty place to go down of a night, especially if you
happened to be the owner of a watch or had a sovereign or two in your
pocket, nor did the police much care to explore its mysteries.  Somehow
or other the place bore a bad name, and has ever done so since the days
of Jonathan Wild and his merry men, who at one time are reported to have
resided there.  In its low lodging-houses were to be found the very scum
of the earth—the virtuous and deserving poor, as they would have us
believe they are, always in search of employment, which they
unfortunately never find—who are dishonest, and lazy, and improvident,
and drunken, and dissolute, very much against their own inclination, and
to their own intense disgust—the victims of the wicked landlord or
wickeder capitalist.  They live in the lodging-houses of the district,
which are generally pretty full, at the rate of fourpence a night, except
when the hop-picking is on, when away the inmates tramp by the hundred
down to the pleasant hop-gardens of Kent, or Sussex, or Hampshire,
carrying with them all the filth and squalor of the town, tainting the
air and polluting the fair face of Nature as they pass along.  It is true
that now the city missionary follows in their steps, otherwise it would
be a bad look-out indeed.

Turning down into the street, avoiding the policeman who happened to be
on duty at the time, one summer evening might be seen a man and a woman.
They were tired and dusty, and had evidently travelled far.  On both was
the mark of Cain, and they were fleeing from justice to quarters where
guilt and shame find convenient repose.  They knocked at a door, where,
after they had been surveyed through a wicket, they were received on the
payment of such small sum as the deputy-keeper was legitimately entitled
to charge.  It was a big room into which they entered, with a great fire
at one end, at which various cooking operations were going on; and on the
benches at the side some slept, or smoked, or talked, or read, as the
fancy suited them.  Behind was a yard, in which one or two were engaged
in the process familiarly known as cleaning themselves up.

Neither the place nor the company would have been attractive to a decent
working man.  There was a foulness in the air and talk of the place which
would have revolted him, yet in that crowd of needy and disreputable
creatures were men who had been to college and had had the benefit of a
University education, and women who had known something of the sunshine
of life; alas! all—all were given over to evil, utterly lost and
reprobate.  It was not ignorance, not misfortune, not a wicked world,
that had made them what they were.  They had been the architects of their
own lives.  They had to lie on the beds they had made.  Society is much
troubled about them.  What if society were to leave them alone, and to
look better after the really deserving poor, who are always present with
us—who are so low down in the world as to be compelled to take wages on
which they cannot possibly live—who require and deserve the utmost
sympathy from all classes of the community in their sorrow and distress
and struggles?  These are the weak, whose burdens the strong are bidden,
in the Book to which most of us appeal for instruction and guidance, to
bear.

‘Why, ye’re soon back again,’ said one of the inmates, engaged in the
interesting operation of frying a Yarmouth bloater—‘you’re soon back
again; I thought you was down at Sloville.’

‘Lor’ bless you! we han’t been near Sloville for years.’

‘Ah, I remember, I heard you were in the Black Country.’

‘Yes, we was there, but the fact was we had to hook it!’

‘Oh, I see, up to the old trick!’ said he with a smile.

‘Perhaps,’ was the reply.

The fact was that one afternoon the tramp and the woman met with an old
farmer coming home from market a little the worse for liquor, and him
they had kindly relieved of his watch, as he was far too gone to be able
to take proper care of it himself.  The old farmer, naturally, was
aggrieved, and tried to defend himself.  This led to a little compulsory
action on the part of his friends, and he was left senseless by the
roadside, while they made the best of their way out of the neighbourhood.

Fortune always favours the brave, and our friends were in this respect no
exception to the general rule.  They had had rather a successful
campaign—visiting lonely lanes untrodden by the police, and robbing
romantic young ladies fond of the country of what jewellery they might
happen to wear.  People are always asking us to pity the poor worn-out
tramp.  I am rather inclined to pity his victim.

‘But where’s the kid?’

‘Oh, we left him behind.  But, lor’ bless you, we know where to find him
again.  He’s safe to be in Parker’s Buildings, or somewhere thereabout.’

‘Got any money about you?’

‘Not much worth speaking of—not quite done for, either,’ continued the
tramp.  ‘Look here,’ said he, peering cautiously about, and drawing out
of his coat-pocket a very dirty and ragged handkerchief, in which was
wrapped up a watch—an old-fashioned one, but real silver, nevertheless.
Seeing no one was looking on, he proudly exclaimed: ‘What do you say to
that?’

‘A beauty, but why didn’t yer spout it at once?  Suppose the peeler had
collared yer—what a mess ye would have been in.’

‘Lor’ bless ye, I wa’nt such a flat as that.  What could I ’ave got for
it on the tramp?  Now, it is good for a round sum.’

‘Shall I go and spout it?’ said the old acquaintance.

‘Yes, me and missus have walked enough to-day; but ain’t it rather late?’

‘Yes, but there is the shop at the corner.  You know they are not
particular.’

And that was quite true.  The head of that respectable establishment
generally contrived to do a good deal of business, in spite of the law
and the police, and, if the receiver is as bad as the thief, was a very
bad man indeed.  In a little while the messenger returned, bearing with
him a bottle of gin, a couple of pounds of rump steak, and the other
materials for a good supper, and a certain amount of cash, which he
handed over to the new-comer, and which seemed perfectly satisfactory.
As eagles round the carcase gathered the few casuals that happened to be
present.  Most of them were old gaol-birds, all of them were the slaves
of drink—quarrelsome or good-tempered according to their respective
temperaments.  They were ready for any feat, or not averse to any crime,
if it could be done in a sneaking, underhand manner.  Literally their
hands were against everyone, and everyone’s hands against them.  But now
they were all on the best of terms.  There was a little drink going on;
who knew but what a drop might fall to their share.  At any rate they
were all glad to see Carroty Bill as they called him once more in their
midst; in the line of life they affected his ruffianism made him a hero.

That night was an extra scene of festivity at the lodging house; one of
the inmates had been bagged, and had served his time, and had come back
resolved to qualify himself as soon as possible for another term of
imprisonment, at the expense of the unfortunate taxpayer.  And there was
a good deal of sociable enjoyment in accordance with the old saying, that
when the wine is in the wit is out.

‘Anybody been in trouble, since I was here?’ asked our friend the tramp.

‘No, nothing particular—drunk and disorderly, that’s all.  But we’ve had
some narrow shaves, and the sergeant told the guvnor last night that ’e’s
got his heye on hus.’

‘His eye be blowed!  But who is yon cove?’

‘Oh, a poor banker’s clerk.’

‘And the fellow he’s talking to?’

‘Him with the red nose?  Oh, we call him the Professor.  He’s from Oxford
University he says, and gives himself very high and mighty airs when he’s
in his cups.  But they’re all right.’

‘I’ll soon let you know who I am,’ said a lad who was listening to the
talk.

‘Well, who are you?’

‘I am a thief, and not ashamed to own it.’

Here there was a general cry of ‘Bravo!’

‘I ain’t done a day’s work in my life, and don’t mean to.  Wot’s the good
on it?  A fellow ain’t a bit the better for it at the year’s end.  He’s a
deal to bear.  He’s got to put up with his master’s whims; to put up with
his foreman and his mates; to toil from morning to night, never to have a
day’s pleasure; to be a poor slave.  No, I know a trick worth two of
that.’

Again there were cries of ‘Bravo!’

‘Why should I work hard for a master to make money by me!  Here I can
lead a free life.  If I am hill, can’t I go to the ’ospital?  If I ain’t
got a shot in the locker, can’t I nurse up at a soup-kitchen?  At the
worst I can go into the work’ouse, and get my keep out of the parish.
And then when I’m in luck, what a life I can have at the music-halls and
with the gals!  I heard the chaplain of the gaol preach a sermon about
honesty being the best policy.  That’s all very fine, but somehow or
other I did not seem to see it.’

Here there was more applause.

The speaker continued:

‘I’ve done nothing wot’s good.  I know I’m a bad un.’

‘Yes, we all know that.’

‘And why?’

‘Ah, that’s the question!’ said the interested group of listeners.

‘I’ll tell you for why.  I han’t no father—at any rate, I never knowed
one.  My mother turned me out o’ doors at the age of thirteen.  I then
stole a pair o’ boots, and was sent to prison for one month for it.  What
could I do when I came out but go back to thievin’?  In a little while I
was convicted for stealing out of a till, and sent to prison for three
months.  Arter a little spreein’ about, and a few ups and downs, I came
to grief again in an attempt to steal a watch, and this time got six
months.  After I came out I renewed my wicious courses’ (here a laugh
went round the room), ‘and I got four months for stealin’ a purse.  As
soon as I came out I run agin a perliceman, against whom I had a spite,
as he was always ’avin’ his heye on me, and got fourteen days’
imprisonment for assault.  The next time I had three months for an
attempt to rob a drunken old sailor in the Borough.  Then I ’ad six
months for stealin’ a watch.  And the next time—and that I did not
like—twelve months for stealin’ a purse.  However, when I came out I
enjoyed my liberty, and did not make a bad use o’ my time.  Arter that I
got a long sentence, and now for good behaviour I am out with a liberty
ticket.’

‘Well, well, such is life!’ said the red-nosed curate, who had been
listening attentively.  ‘I suppose we’re all villains of necessity, and
fools by a divine thrusting on.  What’s the odds as long as we’re happy?
Look at my learning, my abilities, my virtues—where am I the better?  Are
we not all on the same low level?  All, if I may be pardoned the phrase,
a little shaky, a little down in the world?  Let’s liquor up,’ said he,
bringing out of his side pocket a bottle of rum, and passing it round,
often tasting with evident gusto its contents.

In the midst of the excitement a gent came in apparently much excited.  I
say gent, as he was not a gentleman.  He had too red a nose and too
sodden an appearance to be taken for anything of the kind.  He was a
perfect picture of a human wreck as, unwashed and unshaven, with a short
pipe in his mouth, he joined the drinking group.

‘Hollo, parson,’ they all exclaimed, ‘wot’s the row?  Anythink up?’

‘Nothing particular, only a highway robbery in the Black Country, and a
farmer left for dead.’

‘In the Black Country?  Where’s that?’ asked the tramp.  ‘Whoever heard
of such a place?’

‘Why, you just said you’d been down there,’ said one of the party.

‘Well, what if I did?  You don’t suppose I had anything to do with the
job?’ said the new-comer angrily.

‘Of course not,’ was the universal reply.

Harmony being restored, the bottle of gin was drunk, and another sent
for.  The fun grew fast and furious.  The conviviality was of the
choicest character, or rather it degenerated into an orgie.  Does the
reader recollect that splendid passage of Lord Bacon, in which he tells
us, ‘In Orpheus’s theatre all the birds assembled, and forgetting their
several appetites—some of prey, some of game, some of quarrel—stood all
sociably together, listening to the concert, which no sooner ceased, or
was drowned by some louder noise, but every beast returned to his own
nature.’  The gin in the low lodging-house had produced a similar effect.
While it lasted the partakers for the time being had forgot their several
appetites—some of prey, some of game, some of quarrel—and stood or sat
all sociably together.  No sooner had the supply of liquor ceased than
the good-fellowship became changed into hate and discord, as the various
natures of the guests reasserted themselves.

The tramp’s female companion became suspicious.  She was not so drunk as
the rest, and had become conscious that there was a reward of ten pounds
offered to anyone who should give such evidence as might lead to the
conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the recent outrage.  The
company she knew comprised more than one individual who was quite ready
to earn a ten-pound note in such a way, and she determined, as far as it
was in her power, not to give them the chance.  Unperceived she slipped
out, and fled as fast as she could and as far as she could.  All at once
there was a cry on the part of the tramp and his friends, ‘Where’s Sal?’

Some searched for her under the table, others investigated the sleeping
apartments, others the back premises, which were of the most capacious
kind, but no Sal was to be found.

The curate summoned up all his dignity, and, approaching the inebriated
tramp, said to him:

‘My friend, I have a painful revelation to make.’

‘A wot?’

‘A painful revelation.’

‘I don’t know wot yer mane; but out with it, old man, and don’t stand
there as if you was chokin’.’

‘Your wife has bolted.’

‘Oh, has she?  Let her bolt.  She’s no wife of mine.  There are others as
good as she.’

‘You don’t seem much affected by the loss,’ replied the Oxonian.  ‘You’re
quite a philosopher.  You seem perfectly aware how _femina mutabile
est_.’

‘Now, don’t come that nonsense with me,’ said the man angrily.  ‘When I
drinks, I drinks; and I don’t bother my head about anything else.  Why
should I?  As to women, they’re like all the rest of us—here to-day, gone
to-morrow.’

‘Ah, I see you’re a man of the world.’

‘I believe yer, my boy,’ said the tramp, who felt flattered at the
intended compliment.

‘You don’t think she’s gone to split,’ whispered one of the party in the
tramp’s ear.

‘No, I should think not.  Let me catch her at it!’

‘Or me,’ added his chum.  ‘We’ll be sure to mark her, and serve her d---
well!’

The sentiment being favourably received, more exhilarating liquor was
circulated.  That which cheers and inebriates at the same time by many is
much preferred to that which cheers alone.  In that long room and low
company it was intoxicating liquor that had done the mischief.  Without
character, without clothes, without food, without money, filthy and
fallen, these poor wretches had given up all for drink.  For that the
mother was ready to sell her child, or the husband his wife.  For that
the criminal was ready to give up an accomplice, and to turn King’s
evidence, or to commit any deed of shame.  In time the drink supply was
stopped, and the drinkers staggered upstairs to the crowded bedrooms,
redolent of filth and blasphemy.

‘I say,’ said the tramp’s friend, ‘where do you think that woman’s gone?’

‘Gone; how should I know?  Perhaps she’s gone back to Sloville.’

‘To Sloville! why?’

‘To look after the boy.’

‘A child of hers?’

‘What do you want to know for?’ said the tramp angrily.  ‘You’re too
inquisitive by half,’ said he, in a drunken tone, and in the next moment
he sank into a drunken sleep.  And the questioner—he, too, in a moment
was in the Land of Nod, dreaming of the days of innocence, when he was a
bright, happy boy, guarded with a mother’s love and father’s care, in a
well-appointed home, with gardens where grew fruits and flowers, and
musical with the song of birds; where the sun shone bright and the air
was balmy; in a home where care and filth and sorrow and disease and want
and woe seemed almost unknown.  His pals carried him off to bed.
Suddenly he woke up and asked himself where he was.  Presently he lifted
himself up in bed and looked around.  At the far end a dim gas-light
helped him to realize the horrors of his situation.  He was in a long,
filthy, evil smelling, low room, with thirty beds in a row, side by side,
packed as close together as sardines in a box.  Every bed was occupied.
And as he gazed on the sad faces near him he gave a scream which drew
down on him many a curse.

‘Hush! why can’t you be quiet?’ said the deputy keeper, ever fearful of
the police.

But the scream was renewed.

‘Why, I’m blessed,’ said one, ‘if he ain’t got the D.T.!’

Could anything be more horrible, as the angry keepers mocked and jeered
and maddened him?  Struggling and shrieking, he was borne off by men
stronger than himself to the nearest hospital, and for awhile there was
peace.



CHAPTER XIII.
CONCERNING SAL.


And where had the woman gone?  Westward, we are told by the poet, the
course of empire takes its way.  She had gone west, and very naturally;
not at first, she was too artful for that—her old man, as she called him
(she did not know his proper name), might be after her, and she had had
enough of him, and wanted to be free.  In this case she had not two
strings to her bow.  She was not thinking of accepting a new keeper in
the case of the one cashiered.  She simply wanted to be free—at any rate
for awhile.  As to the child left behind, she had no thought of that.
Somebody would give it a crust and a night’s lodging.  Then it would roam
into the streets to be picked up by the police, and supported by the
British taxpayer.

We are a very humane people.  The more people neglect their offspring,
the more ready are we to look after them.  If Sal, as she was called, had
been a true and tender-hearted woman, she would have dragged the little
fellow out with her into the cold, raw night away from Sloville.  He
might have caught his death o’ cold, and then and there ceased to be a
blessing to her or anybody else.  As a waif off the streets he had a
better chance of being clothed, and fed, and educated, and cared for, and
planted out in life.  It is thus we reward our rascals.  It is thus we
relieve fathers and mothers of their responsibility, do our duty, ease
our consciences, and offer a premium to vice.

Finding the way clear, our Sal emerged from her hiding-place, and made
her way, as much hidden as possible by the dark shades of lofty walls,
towards Waterloo Bridge.  She was a remarkable woman, was our Sal.  Her
father was an agricultural labourer, earning his ten or twelve shillings
a week, and bringing up a numerous family on that exceedingly limited
sum.  At the National school she had learned, in a very imperfect way, to
read and write, to do a little needlework, and to curtsey to her betters.

As she grew up, she displayed alike her good looks and good manners.  As
to morals, they were not to be expected of a girl who lived in a cottage
with but one sleeping room for the entire family, and whose good looks
exposed her to the bucolic amativeness of the Bœotians of the district.
All her ambition was to go to London in service in a superior family.
She had known girls leave that district and come back real ladies, though
they were as low down in the world as herself.  One of the girls, a
little older than herself, had gone to London, and turned gay; and what
was the result?  That she was living with the son of a lord, and she and
all the other girls, who soon learned the story, were quite eager to be
off to win, if possible, a similar prize.

Surely that was better than hard work, or remaining satisfied with the
station in which God had placed them, as they were told every Sunday they
ought to be—if that only meant marriage with Hodge, and the workhouse
when she and Hodge would be past work.  It was all very well to be called
a good girl by the Rector’s wife, to be confirmed, whatever that might
mean, as a matter of course, by the Bishop, to sing in the parochial
choir, and once a year to be admitted to the privileges of the
Sunday-school treat; but that did not buy her a new bonnet, or prevent
her wearing her old clothes, or save her from doing a lot of drudgery at
times when she preferred romping in the hayfields with Farmer Giles’s
sons, strapping young fellows, just as rustic and as ignorant as herself.

A time came when she went out to service at a country house just by.  A
London lady of fashion saw her, was attracted by her appearance, and got
her to come to town.  The illustrious aristocrat she married was taken
with the kitchen wench, as her ladyship indignantly termed her, and then
there was a row, and the poor girl was ignominiously discharged to hide
her head where she could, and to give birth to an illegitimate child.
That aristocratic admirer was Sir Watkin Strahan.

Everyone heard the story of Sal’s disgrace in her native village, and she
dared not return thither.  She had to hide herself in London where she
could, and to live as best she could, all the while cherishing a fearful
revenge against the gay Baronet.

Her aristocratic seducer sent her fifty pounds, with an intimation that
in that quarter she was to look for no more, and that she must do the
best she could for herself.  With that money, later on, she married a
Sloville inhabitant, who soon died and left her destitute.

Naturally, in her fallen state, she took to drink, and she drank till her
good looks were gone—till she was a bundle of filthy rags, till she had
lost alike all decency and sense of shame.  It was nothing new to her to
prowl about London by night when honesty and respectability had gone to
bed.  She rather liked the excitement of that kind of life.

On she went beneath the lamps and the stars, past gin palaces, where fair
young girls were learning to fall as completely and rapidly as herself;
past cadgers and tramps, like herself on the look-out for what chance
might send in their way; past old criminals, training young ones in the
same dreary and joyless round.  She saw what we all of us see if we walk
out of a night, the drunken harlot run in by the police, who stand in
admiration as her more fortunate and equally sinning sister drives by in
her brougham.  She saw ragged, distress, imperiously bidden to be off,
whilst wealthy rascality, in pomp and majesty, was drawn in a carriage
and pair with fine flunkies behind.  She peered into club windows, where
rich sinners quaff rich wine in warmth and comfort, while their victims
walk the streets in sorrow and despair.

She stood on Waterloo Bridge—that bridge of sighs—where many a poor girl
has leaped

    ‘Mad with life’s history,
    Glad to death’s mystery,
    Swift to be hurled
    Anywhere—anywhere
    Out of the world.’

And she felt half inclined to climb over and do the same herself, only
the water looked so black and cold, and she put off her half-formed
purpose for another day.  Perhaps, also, she was too old for that sort of
thing.  She should have taken the false leap when she was gay and
good-looking.  Then the papers would have made London ring with her
story, and the low pictorial pennies would have made her the subject of a
sensational sketch.

As she was, alas! prematurely old, and wrinkled, and gray, no one would
take any notice of her; it was hardly worth while attempting to drown
herself, she thought.  She might as well live on, she could not well be
worse off; and then she sat herself down in the arch and fell asleep,
dreaming of—  But who can tell the grotesque misery of a tramp’s dream?

Suddenly she was awoke by the policeman’s grasp.

‘Well, old ’oman,’ said he, ‘you’ve been having a nice time of it here.’

‘And why not?’ said she, waking up to a sense of her condition.  ‘Why
not?  What’s the harm of sleeping out here?  I arn’t kicking up a row—I
arn’t creating a disturbance—I arn’t screaming “Perlice!” am I?  I arn’t
in no ways disrespectful or aggravatin’—why can’t you let me be?’

‘’Cause it is agin the perlice regulations,’ was the reply.

‘The perlice regulations, what are they?’

‘Why, that you must not stop here, and it is as much as my place is worth
to let you.’

‘Oh, p’liceman, don’t be hard on a poor old woman that’s enjoying the
hevening hair!’

‘No, I can’t,’ said he.  ‘I am going over the bridge.  When I come back,
don’t let me find you here.  You’ve had a nice little nap.  You must be
as fresh as a daisy now.’

‘Perhaps I am, and perhaps I am not,’ said the poor woman, as she renewed
her aimless walk.

In a few minutes she was in the Strand, just as the theatres were emptied
of admiring crowds.  Of course the poor woman knew all about such
matters.  Many a time in the pride of youth had she spent an evening in
the pit.  Many a time, at a later period, she had sold lucifer matches at
the pit doors, and many were the coppers she had earned thereby.

She liked to see the bright lamps, and the swells, and the women, as well
as anyone else.  The sight, she said, did her old eyes good.  That night
the crowd had been unusually large.  The last theatrical star, as she
learned from the bills, Miss Kate Howard, had been performing, and all
the world and his wife had come there to see.

‘Lor’ bless me!’ said Sal to herself, ‘I’ll go to the stage-door at the
back.  I’ve seen a good many of these women in my time.  I’d like to see
what this one is like.  I suppose she is like all the rest of ’em, as
fine as paint and fine feathers can make ’em, but not of much account,
neither.  Many of ’em ain’t much better than me, after all.’

She turned up a side-street, hurried down another, and soon was at the
stage-door.

A brougham was drawn up before it; on the box a page was seated.  As she
looked, her first impulse was to scream out his name.  It was her
Sloville boy, looking clean and respectable.

‘Wait a bit, Sally,’ she said to herself.  ‘This is a serious business.
It ought to be made to pay.  Oh, my fine young gentleman belongs to the
popular actress.  Ah, if I can come the broken-hearted mother dodge it
ought to bring me a fiver.’

Presently there was a rustle under the stage-door, and a pressure of the
crowd without.  The actress appeared wrapped up and well attended.  As
she leaped into the brougham she told the driver to make the best of his
way home.

‘Gad! I know that voice,’ said a gentleman in the crowd.  ‘It is that
girl Rose; good heavens! where’s her home?  Oh, there you are, Harry,’
said he, speaking to the manager as he stood at the door watching the
brougham as it drove away.  ‘You’ve done it to-night, you have!  Where on
earth does that woman live?’

‘Well, Sir Watkin, I can tell you, but it is no good.  She lives with her
mother.’

‘And is married?’ he eagerly exclaimed.

‘Yes, to be sure.  No, not married, but just about to be so.’

‘Then, I am after her!’ he exclaimed.  ‘Faint heart never won fair lady.’

‘It is a wild goose-chase, Sir Watkin;’ but Sir Watkin was off in a
hansom, nevertheless, not before, however, our Sal had made an effort to
secure him, which effort he impatiently evaded, bidding her ‘go to the
d----’ and not bother him.

‘You nearly had him then, old girl,’ said a ragged bystander, in a voice
perfectly familiar to her ear.  It was the tramp’s chum from Mint Street.

‘You here?’ said she, in a tone which did not express delight.  ‘I
thought yer was as tight as my old man.’

‘Not exactly; as soon as I missed you I thought I’d see that you did not
come to harm.’

‘Thank you for nothin’,’ said the woman angrily.

‘Now, don’t be angry,’ he said, with a good-natured smile, ‘now I’ve
come.  I wants to do yer a good turn.  That old tramp will be cotched
to-morrow as sure as eggs is eggs, and I thought I’d better tell ye to
keep out of the way.’

‘Out of the way; wot do you mean?  Do you think I’ve been up to
anything?’

‘No, of course not,’ said the chum in a mocking tone; ‘but appearances
ain’t promising, and that is all I’ve got to say.  You’d better work yer
way along with me to-night.’

‘Where to?’

‘Down Drury Lane way; it ain’t safe to be in the Boro’.’

‘But lor, bless me, how you’ve altered!’ said Sal.  ‘You had a couple of
arms; wot have you done with one?’

‘Oh, it is buttoned down by my side.’

‘And your boots, where are they?’

‘Hid away in my clothes.  Ain’t it a capital dodge?  I gets lots of
coppers when I thus go out cadging.  I was goin’ to perform on the
bridge, when I saw you walk past, and then I followed.  I ain’t made much
money to-night.  Perhaps we’d better go home.’

‘You’re very kind, but I think I shall stop here.’

‘No you won’t,’ said the man.

He had watched the woman, and he had come to the conclusion that
something was up.  He had seen how she gazed at the lad on the box; how
her face betrayed emotion at the sight of the actress; how she had
endeavoured to speak to a swell as he was talking to the manager at the
stage-door, and he had rapidly formed a conclusion in his own mind that
Sal somehow or other had connections which might, in due time, be made
subservient to his own interest.  He was a sneak and a cur, but he had a
plausible way of talking and a certain amount of cunning which he had
always turned to excellent account.  It was with gratification, then,
that he found the woman was half persuaded to listen to his proposals.
Alas! there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.  As they stood
arguing the matter, a cab dashed up against them, and when he came to his
senses he found his Sal, as he called her, had been taken to the accident
ward of the nearest hospital.

‘That’s just like my ill-luck,’ said he, with an angry oath, as he turned
away in search of cheap lodgings for what was left of the night.

Happily it did not much matter to him if he went to bed late.  He was
under no necessity to rise early the next morning.  The tramp in old
times led a merry life.  In London, at the present time, he certainly
leads an idle one.

Let us follow our Sal to the hospital, one of those noble institutions
which are the glory and pride of London, the money to support which had
been left long ago by pious founders, and which have been the means of
saving many a life, of setting many a broken limb, and of curing many a
foul disease.  Under its august wall and in its studious cloisters many
generations of medical students had been trained up for a profession
which has done much to make life worth living, to stay the advance of
disease, to battle with grim death.  Gibbon tells us the world is more
ready to honour its destroyers than its saviours.  The taunt is too true.
When it ceases to be that, the medical profession will receive its due
homage and reward.  The courage of the medical man is quite equal to that
of the hero on the battle-field.  His ardour in the pursuit of his
vocation is greater, and the good he does, what tongue can adequately
tell? in generosity, in readiness to relieve human suffering, where is
the equal of the medical man?  The more illustrious he is, the more ready
he is to give of his time and money to the poor.  There is no truer
Samaritan than a medical man.

The hospital was over London Bridge, as the tourist who rushes to
Brighton is well aware.  It stands a lasting monument to the charitable
London publisher known as Guy.  It covers a considerable extent of
ground, and consists of several buildings more or less detached.  Little
of the original building remains, as, like the British Constitution, it
has grown considerably beyond the general design.

Thomas Guy, Alderman of the City of London, and M.P. for Taunton, who
made his fortune by a printing contract, by buying sailors’ tickets, and
by South Sea speculations, was little aware of what London would become
in the Victorian era, or of the enormous amount of suffering and disease
that would be reached and alleviated by the hospital of which he was the
original founder.

As you enter you have little idea of its extent.  On each side are the
residences of officers and medical men.  Then you go under a porch, where
students have their letters addressed them, and look into a spacious
quadrangle, lined with wards, which were part of the original building.
Further on are newer buildings and museums, fitted up for the use of
students, and in every way skilfully planned for the accommodation of
patients.  On one side is a theatre for surgical operations, a dead-house
for post-mortem examinations, and a little green, on which in fine
weather patients are permitted to take a little exercise, and to
congratulate each other on the fact that this time they have given the
old gentleman, who is always drawn with a scythe and an hour-glass, the
slip.  Further beyond are the gates which admit the enormous mass of
out-patients, who, alas! most of them require what not even Guy’s can
give them—fresh air, good food, and a little more cash than they can
manage to secure by their daily labour.  It is rather a melancholy place
to visit.  Looking up at the long windows all round you, you can’t help
thinking what human suffering lies concealed behind them, and misery
defying alike the aid of doctor or nurse or chaplain.  Science may do,
and does do, all it can to make the place healthful.  Thoughtful
consideration may line the walls with pictures, and make the old wards
gay with summer flowers, and the nurse may be the kindest and tenderest
of her sex to whom we instinctively turn when in pain, and suffering for
relief; but, nevertheless, you feel in a hospital as if you were in a
city of the dying and the dead.

Our Sal was at once carried to the accident ward, and taken care of by
tender nurses and watchful surgeons.  No bones were broken, but she was
very much bruised, and the recovery, if she did recover, it was clear
would be long and tedious.  The chances were very much against her.
Drink and evil living had wrecked her stamina in spite of the fine
constitution which she had received from her parents and her early
country life.  Fever set in, and it seemed as if the poor woman would
have sunk.  She was often delirious, and her mind wandered.

‘There’s something that keeps her back,’ said her attendant guardian.
‘She has either committed some crime she wants to confess, or she has
some secret of which she would fain get rid,’ and the physician was
right.



CHAPTER XIV.
AN ENCOUNTER.


One morning, shortly after the events described in the previous chapter,
all England was startled by the intelligence that the Ministry had been
beaten, that the leader of the Liberal Party had resigned, and that the
free and independent were to be called on to exercise their privileges by
returning members to Parliament likely to serve them well, and to promote
the honour of the country, and the best interests of the community at
large.  I write this last sentence with peculiar pleasure.  It sounds
nice and pleasant.  The fact is, I fear, the free and independent
electors, as a rule, take little interest in politics.  The working man
is, as he has every right to be, suspicious of both parties alike, and
especially of his oratorical brother of his own class, who comes to him
with a pocket well lined as the result of his professional talk.

Liberal and Conservative clubs and newspapers were much excited.
According to them never had there been such tremendous interests at
stake.  They, the enlightened, were to rally round the altar and the
throne, both in danger, said the latter, while the former called on the
intelligent manhood of the country to take one more step in the paths of
progress and reform, and by that step to secure for ever the triumphs our
forefathers had won for us with their blood.

Never were there such tremendous gatherings at Sloville.  The Liberal
leaders had held an open air meeting, which was the grandest thing of the
kind ever known, but it was surpassed by an artfully got up demonstration
by the Tories, accompanied by popular sports and cakes and ale.  The one
drawback to the success of the Liberal Party was that they had been in
office for half a dozen years, and had disgusted all their friends, and
had given the enemy occasion to blaspheme by their utter inability to
pass any good measures, by their irresolute policy on foreign matters, by
their extravagant expenditure at home, by their complete abandonment of
their old battle-cry of ‘peace, retrenchment, and reform.’  Trade also
was bad, and that did not mend matters.  People are always discontented
when times are bad.  That is always the fault of the Government for the
time being.  It is generally assumed also that they are, to a certain
extent, responsible for the weather.  There had been a great deal of wet,
and that the farmers attributed to the Radical element.

Farmers are naturally averse to Radicals.  The Radical naturally thinks
the farmers fools, because they are averse to change, and prefer to vote
for their landlords to strangers sent down to agitate the country, who
did not own an acre of land in it, who resided chiefly in our great
cities, and who had little sympathy with agriculturists or agriculture in
any shape.

The farmers are not quite such fools as the town radicals are apt to
fancy.  Most of them had good landlords, and few of them were averse to
the Church, and it was pretty clear to the agricultural mind that whilst
the big loaf, like the celebrated Pickwick pen, was a boon and a blessing
to men, it was a grievous loss to themselves; much more so than was
anticipated by the learned, who assured the farmers that it was
impossible to flood the market with American wheat under fifty shillings
the quarter.  At Sloville also the brewers were afraid of the Liberal
Party, who seemed much inclined to shut up the public-houses or, at any
rate, to worry the trade.  They struck up an alliance with the Church,
and that alliance between the friends of the Bible and beer threatened
serious danger to Liberals at Sloville as well as elsewhere.

It was clear that the battle to be fought was a very severe one; that a
good deal of money would have to be spent on both sides; a great many
windy orations made, and a good deal of the trickery usual at election
time would have to be resorted to.  The theory of representative
institutions is beautiful.  Nothing sounds finer than an appeal to the
country.  It is a grand thing for the rulers of the people to have to
come to them at times, and ask for a renewal of their confidence, and a
new lease of political power.  It presumes that the public take an
interest in public questions, that they are educated and intelligent;
that they know their duty, and are prepared to discharge it; that they
are above all paltry and personal considerations; that they only care for
the public good.  It assumes also that the candidates are men of
intelligence and patriotism—not merely wealthy nobodies anxious for the
social distinction of a seat in Parliament; or barristers in search of
office; or aristocratic hangers-on, hoping, by means of Parliamentary
influence, to secure an honourable position in one or other of the
services: diplomatic, or naval, or military.

For a long time Sloville had rejoiced in an independent Radical as a
representative, and yet Sloville was hard up.  It is true that he had
feathered his own nest by securing for his son a good Government
appointment, but that had been no benefit to Sloville.  He had also
offended his constituents by the paltry way in which he subscribed to the
local charities and local amusements.  He was believed to be niggardly.
It was known that he dealt at the Civil Service Stores.  It was clear
that no Sloville tradesman would vote for him.  He had declined to pay
the expenses of local Liberals, and in disgust they had hawked about the
borough to anyone who would come down handsomely on their behalf.  The
managers of the party were in despair.  Happily Sir Watkin Strahan
offered them his services.  He had property in the borough.  His family
were always good to the poor, and as a racing and betting man he was
popular with the sporting fraternity.  Sir Watkin was accepted as a
matter of course.

A day or two after the dissolution of Parliament had been announced, as
Wentworth was breakfasting in his solitary chambers in Clifford’s Inn,
slowly reading the morning papers, and meditating out of what material he
could make best a leader, he heard a rap at the door.  Opening it, a
stranger met his view—tall, aristocratic, well dressed, in the prime of
life, with the air and appearance of a gentleman.

‘You’re Mr. Wentworth, I believe,’ he said.

‘That’s my name, sir.’

‘I am Sir Watkin Strahan,’ was the reply, as he handed his card to
Wentworth.

‘Pray walk in, Sir Watkin.’

Sir Watkin complied with the request.

Taking a chair, and lighting a cigar offered him by Wentworth, who did
the same, the stranger continued:

‘I am commissioned to call on you by Mr. Blank,’ naming the proprietor of
a morning journal with which Mr. Wentworth was connected.  ‘The fact is,
we are on the eve of a General Election.’

‘I am perfectly aware of that,’ said Wentworth, smiling.

‘Undoubtedly; and I come to solicit your aid.’

‘How can I help you?’

‘Why, the fact is, I am anxious for a seat in Parliament.’

‘For what purpose: public or private?’

‘Why, Mr. Wentworth, how can you ask?  I am a Liberal.’

‘And, then, are all Liberals public spirited, and not averse to
feathering their own nest when they have a chance?’

‘Well, you know,’ replied the Baronet, ‘our party always aim at the
public good.’

‘Yes; but professions and practice don’t always harmonize.  Sometimes
private interest draws one way, and public duty points another.’

Sir Watkin coloured.  He had consented to fight Sloville in the Liberal
interest, but he had made a bargain on the subject with his party, and
Wentworth’s casual remark had gone home.

Wentworth continued:

‘In what way can I help you, Sir Watkin?’

‘Mr. Blank tells me that you know something of Sloville.’

‘Very little, indeed.  I was there a short while some years ago.  That is
all.  I doubt whether I can do you any good there.’

‘Oh yes, you can.  I recollect hearing you speak on the night of the
Chartist meeting, and upon my word you spoke out well.  There are many
who still remember that speech.’

‘Yes; but it did not gain me many friends.’

‘Well, it was talked about for a good while after.’

‘Do you want me to repeat it?’

‘Not exactly, but I am not much of a speaker myself, and I want a clever
man like yourself to be by my side, and speak now and then on my behalf.
Of course I should be prepared to pay handsomely for such assistance.’

‘I am much obliged for the offer.  Of course I feel complimented by it,’
said Wentworth; ‘but I fear that sort of thing is not much in my line.
Indeed, I hear so much oratory that I am sick of it, and have come to
regard an orator as a personal enemy, who really desires to do me wrong.
In the heat of the moment an orator is apt to forget himself, to fling
charges against his opponents which he cannot justify, and make promises
to the people which he cannot perform.  I fear a good deal of humbug goes
on when there is much oratory, and that a man who gets into a habit of
public speaking later on becomes a humbug himself.  At any rate, I know
this is true of some of our London popular orators.  You may be better in
the country.  It is to be hoped you are.’

‘As to oratory, we are very badly off.  And that is the real reason,’
said Sir Watkin, ‘why I came to you.  I am not, as I have said, much of a
speaker myself.  Whereas my Conservative opponent is a clever barrister,
with a tremendous gift of gab.’

‘Yes, that is it.  You ought to go to a barrister and take him down with
you.  So long as a barrister is well paid he is ready to speak on any
side.’

‘But there are difficulties which I fear will prevent my doing that.  I
want a novelty—a newspaper man, in fact.  Lawyers have such a
professional style of talking.  They deceive no one; no one believes
them.  If a lawyer ever does by accident make a good speech it carries no
weight with it.  It is expected as a matter of course.  If a lawyer can’t
talk we don’t think much of him or his law, and then there is another
reason.’

‘What is that?’ said Wentworth, lazily puffing his cigar.

‘Lawyers ain’t popular at Sloville with the Radicals.  They say that our
present law is a disgrace to the country, and that as long as we fill the
House with lawyers, we shall never get a proper measure of law reform.
In our town the people are very much opposed to lawyers and parsons.’

‘Very wrong of them,’ said Wentworth ironically.

‘Very wrong, indeed,’ replied the Baronet; ‘but we must take people as we
find them, and act accordingly.  It is no use sending down a lawyer to
fight for me.  The people would not go to hear him.  Their last
representative won by the aid of a lawyer, and they won’t stand another.’

‘But, then, in London there are no end of men who pass themselves off as
working-men politicians, though it is precious little work they do.  I
believe they are to be had at a very moderate figure, and they can do the
roaring part of the business first-rate.  They are always trotted out
when the Liberals want to get up a grand demonstration, more especially
when the Conservatives are in place and power.  Had not you better take
one or two of them down with you?  They’ll be sure to fetch the rest.’

‘Alas, I’ve tried them,’ said the Baronet, ‘and I found they were of no
use.  As soon as they had fingered a fiver or two they began to give
themselves such airs.  I could not get on with them at all, and after
all,’ said the speaker, looking down complacently at his well-dressed
figure, ‘people prefer a gentleman.’

‘Perhaps so; but real gentlemen are scarce nowadays,’ said Wentworth.
‘Where is the real gentleman now, brave, truthful, unsullied, with hands
and heart clean, without fear or reproach?  In political life, at any
rate, he seems to me almost as extinct as the dodo.’

Wentworth was getting on dangerous ground.  He had a faint suspicion that
his visitor was not one of this class.  The visitor felt it himself, and
was getting rather uncomfortable in consequence.  He had come on business
to hire a speaker, and to pay him for his services, and to be helped in
other ways.  Fellows who wrote in newspapers had, he knew, many ways of
obliging a friend.  It was important to him to get into Parliament.  If
he carried Sloville he conferred a favour on Ministers, who would reward
him in due time with a comfortable office, where the pay was heavy and
the burden light, and just at that time money was an object to our
Baronet, who as a gambler and man of the world managed to get rid of a
good deal of it in the course of a year.  At any rate he rather liked the
look of M.P. after his name, and M.P. he was determined to be.  All his
life he had lived in excitement, and now he had reached an age when the
excitement of politics in lieu of wine or women or horse-racing or
gambling had special charms.

‘You see,’ he remarked, ‘we are an old family in the neighbourhood, and
we have a certain amount of legitimate influence which will certainly be
in my favour.’

He might have added that in the day of rotten boroughs it was as
proprietor of Sloville, and as in that capacity a useful servant of the
Government, that the first baronet of the family had been adorned with
his hereditary rank.  A Royal Duke had been guilty of gross misconduct—a
slight indiscretion it was termed by his friends.  The matter was brought
before Parliament, and a vote by no means complimentary to H.R.H.—either
as regards morals, or manners, or understanding—would have been carried,
had not the Strahan of that day saved the Government by his casting vote.
Government was grateful, and so was Strahan—in the sense of further
favours to come.

‘Well, that is something,’ said Wentworth; ‘birth and connection are of
some account in politics.’

‘I should think so,’ said the Baronet.

‘And the borough is Liberal?’

‘Most decidedly.’

‘And you have a good chance of success?’

‘Yes; if it were not for the publicans, who have great influence, and are
bitterly opposed to the Liberals.’

‘Naturally; their craft is in danger.  Well, I might run down to one or
two of your meetings.’

‘Thanks; I’m much obliged.  I thought about having a public meeting next
week.  There is no time to lose.  It is a great thing to be first in the
field.’

Just as Wentworth was about to reply, the door opened, and the actress
rushed in.  Suddenly perceiving that Wentworth had company, she
exclaimed:

‘I beg pardon.  I thought you were alone.’

‘Never mind, madam,’ said the Baronet; ‘we have just finished what we had
to say,’ turning to address the last comer.  All at once he faltered, and
turned all the colours of the rainbow.  Could it be?  Yes, it was the
poor girl he had brought up to London, and then deserted—left, as he
coolly supposed, to perish on the streets, and whom, to his surprise, he
had seen radiant on the stage.

A stony and contemptuous stare was the actress’s only reply.

‘Dear me,’ said the Baronet, recovering his self-possession.  ‘’Pon my
honour, this is an unexpected pleasure;’ but before he had finished his
sentence Rose had gone.

‘You’ll excuse me, I am sure,’ said the Baronet, turning round to
Wentworth; ‘I believe that young lady and I are old friends.  I had lost
sight of her for a long while, and to my intense astonishment and
gratification I found her acting at Drury Lane.  I followed her the other
night in a cab in order to overtake her and explain everything; but her
coachman was quicker than mine, and I was obliged to give up the chase.’

‘I am sorry you should have had so much trouble, Sir Watkin.  That young
lady needs no attention from you, nor will she require any explanation.’

‘Well, I am sure I congratulate you, Mr. Wentworth, to have such an
acquaintance,’ returned the Baronet ungraciously.  ‘Her beauty as a girl
quite overcame me, and I was very much tempted to act in a foolish manner
to her.  We men of the world are apt to do silly things.’

‘Instead,’ said Wentworth, with increasing anger, ‘you preferred to make
a fool of her.  I found her when you had thrown her off, and abandoned
her to the cruel mercies of the world.  I saw her in her bitter agony and
despair.  I saved her from dishonour.  For all you cared she might have
been on the streets in infamy and rags.  She has little to thank you for.
I know how she had been deceived.  Weeping, she told me the story of her
life; but I never knew who was the wrong-doer until this moment.  I have
an account to settle with him,’ he added angrily.

‘And you find him penitent,’ said the Baronet.

‘Penitent or not, I vowed I would call him to account.’

‘My good sir,’ said the Baronet, ‘how was I to know that the lady was in
any danger?  I was not even in England at the time.  I felt she would
soon forget me, as indeed she seems to have done,’ added the speaker
sarcastically.  ‘Now I come to think of it,’ he continued, ‘I think it is
I, indeed, who have reason to complain.  You see with what scorn she
treated me as she came into the room.’

‘Surely, Sir Watkin cannot wonder at that.’

‘On the contrary, I think it rather hard, after the money I spent on
her.’

‘That won’t do, Sir Watkin!  You, and such as you, are a disgrace to your
class; cruel as wild beasts you spend your lives in pursuit of victims
whom you ruin with fair words and foul lies and for foul ends.  A time
must come when England will no longer tolerate such men in her midst.
English women will come to the rescue of their tempted sisters.  Society
will demand that wealth should not thus be iniquitously squandered in
pursuit of vice and selfish gratifications.  There is no greater crime a
rich man can commit, and yet there is no punishment can reach him.  The
rich man can always get off, or take himself off.  He leaves the seduced
to perish of want and infamy, while he is honoured and admired.’

‘Upon my word, Mr. Wentworth, you are using language which I am quite
unaccustomed to.’

‘I dare say you are, Sir Watkin; but it is the language of truth and
soberness, nevertheless.’

‘Why, one would fancy you were a parson, and availing yourself of the
privileges of the cloth,’ said the Baronet with sneer.

‘I was very near being one,’ said Wentworth; ‘and now I recollect that it
was then you and I met for the first time.  I remember you nearly ran
over a poor old woman who was coming to hear me preach.’

‘Upon my word you have a good memory.  I’d forgotten all about it.’

‘So good a memory,’ said Wentworth, ‘that for the future I recommend you
to keep out of my way.’

‘By all means,’ replied the Baronet; ‘but you ought to hear what I have
to say in my defence.  I own my conduct was shabby.’

‘It was infamous.’

‘But recollect what a mess I was in.’

‘I will not hear another word,’ said Wentworth.  ‘Leave this room, or—’

But there was no occasion to say what he meant to say.  Putting on his
hat and gathering up his gloves, the Baronet retreated as quickly as he
could, looking very different to the finished and self-satisfied
appearance of respectability he presented when he first knocked at the
door.

‘The scoundrel!’ said Wentworth to himself when alone.  ‘He will hear
from me further.  I have not done with him yet.  I’ll meet him at
Philippi.  I’ll take care that he does not get in for Sloville after
all.’

And he kept his word.



CHAPTER XV.
ELECTIONEERING.


The writ for Sloville would be out in a few days.  The defeated Liberals
were winding up business in Parliament as quickly as possible, in order
at once to appeal to the country.  The Tadpoles and Tapers were at their
wits’ ends for a good cry.  Wentworth rushed down to Sloville, invited
the electors to hear him, advertised in the local papers, and covered the
walls with his posters.  He was for the extension of the Franchise to all
men of age of sound mind, untainted by crime, and to all women who paid
rates and taxes.  He advocated the separation of Church and State,
arbitration instead of war, reduction of national expenditure, a reform
of the House of Lords, free trade in land, and free secular education.
He was ready even to give Ireland as much Home Rule as he would give to
England or Scotland.  At that time the great Liberal leader had not
dreamed of anything of the kind.

‘I like that,’ said the Tory candidate to his agent; ‘all the respectable
people will vote for me.’

‘Confound the fellow!’ said Sir Watkin, in a rage.  ‘I shall have hard
work to beat that, and if I did the people would never believe I meant
it.  I am of an old Whig family, and it is hard to give up one’s
principles.’

‘We shall have to _finesse_ a bit,’ said Sir Watkin’s agent and
confidential man.  ‘Suppose you placard yourself as the working-man’s
friend.’

‘Capital!’ said Sir Watkin delightedly.

‘Suppose we send agents to break up all his meetings, so that he can’t be
heard.’

‘A capital idea!’

‘Suppose we get the Rev. George Windbag, the leading Dissenting minister
in the town, to make a grand speech at our first meeting, to talk of the
need of unity and the danger of splitting up the Liberal Party.  We can
secure the man at once, Sir Watkin, if you will but ask him to dinner at
the Hall.  There is not a bigger tuft-hunter in the county, and he has
immense weight with the respectable shop-keeping class.’

‘Capital!’ repeated the Baronet.

‘And suppose we get one or two Chartists from town.  They will be sure to
come.  Pay them well, and feed them well, and you can do anything with
them.’

‘Right you are,’ said the Baronet.

‘And we might get a Socialist or Republican down.’

‘What for?’

‘To divide the Rads.’

‘But I hate them like poison,’ said the Baronet.

‘Never mind,’ said the agent.  ‘You need not appear in the matter.  Leave
them to me.  I know how to secure them.  This ain’t the first time I’ve
been electioneering.’

‘So it seems,’ said the Baronet.  ‘All I say is, keep me out of a
scrape.’

‘That is not quite so easy as it was.  Yet the thing can be done;
Parliament, naturally being in favour of returning rich men to
Parliament, is never much in earnest in attempting to put down bribery
and corruption.’

‘Ah! my father had never much difficulty in securing his seat,’ said the
Baronet in a tone of regret.

‘Yes; but he spent a good deal of money, as I have heard.’

‘That was true; but he got it all back again.’

‘Yes, he had an easy life of it.  I was looking over Oldmixon, and he
thus describes the borough as it was in the good old times.  You
recollect the town sent two members till the Reform Bill of 1831 robbed
us of one?’

‘I have heard my father say so; but read what Oldmixon says.’

‘“SLOVILLE.—This is a large town, containing more than a thousand houses,
where the right of election is confined to a corporation of twenty-four
individuals, who elect each other.  The inhabitants have no share in
choosing the members or magistrates, and as all these
corporations—possessing exclusive rights of electing Members of
Parliament—have some powerful nobleman or opulent commoner who finds it
his interest to take the lead and management of their political
influence, the election of the members is directed by this patron.  The
Earl of Fee-Fum, who has a seat at Marbourne, within seven miles of the
town, and Watkin Strahan, Esq., of Elm Hall, whose residence and estate
are also in the neighbourhood, have first command of this corporation.”
At that time the number of votes, according to Oldmixon, was
twenty-four.’

‘And now there are a thousand electors on the register.  It is a pity we
ever had Parliamentary reform.’

‘Sir Watkin, you are a Whig, are you not?’ said the agent.

‘Oh yes, of course I am.  That was only my fun.’

‘It would not be fun if the people heard it.’

‘No, perhaps not.  But we are talking privately and confidentially.’

‘Of course we are.’

‘But to business.  How do matters stand?’

‘It is impossible to be better, or, rather, it would have been
impossible.  I’ve been nursing the borough a long while, but now the
appearance of another Liberal candidate will give the Conservative a
chance such as he otherwise would not have had.’

‘Yes, that is pretty clear.  But how can we get rid of this Wentworth?’

‘Leave that to me.  We can make it pretty hot for him.  Just at this time
the town is unusually full of roughs, and I know where to lay my hand on
them.  Brown, the Conservative agent, told me yesterday that he could
always get a bigger lot of roughs than the Liberals.  “I ain’t quite sure
of that,” said I to myself, “as I think this Mr. Wentworth will find out
before we are done with him.”  Of course, he has got no money?’

‘Well, I don’t suppose he has,’ said Sir Watkin; ‘he is only a newspaper
writer.  Just like the impudence of his class.  They talk about the
fourth estate, and think themselves equals to Kings, Lords and Commons.
However, we are right as far as the press is concerned.  We have only one
paper here, and that is ours.  The proprietor is hard up.  He owes me a
lot of money, and he knows on which side his bread is buttered.’

The next day Wentworth came down to hold the first public meeting, and
that same day every voter had a bill—and a good many who were not
besides—as follows:

                                    TO THE
                         RADICAL AND LIBERAL ELECTORS
                                    OF THE

                             BOROUGH OF SLOVILLE.

                                  ATTEND THE

                          MEETING AT THE TOWN HALL,

                             ON THURSDAY EVENING,
                                At 7.45 sharp,
                To prevent the Election of the Tory Candidate.

The placard was not in vain.  The good seed had been sown on fruitful
soil.  The chairman, an old gentleman with whom Wentworth was familiar
when he was a student, was quite unequal to the occasion, and he gave in
at the first sign of a squall.

Let me recommend all Parliamentary candidates, when there is a contested
election, to be very particular as to their chairman.  An immense deal
depends upon him.  He ought to have a personal knowledge of all the
individuals in the meeting, and an imperturbable good nature.  He ought
to have an enthusiastic prepossession in favour of his candidate.  He
ought to have a voice that could be heard above the roaring of any storm.
He should have an intuitive faculty at feeling the pulse of the meeting.
He should be a master of making an adversary look ridiculous.  He should
have the physical power to sit out any time in the midst of any row, no
matter how noisy the crowd, and how heated the atmosphere.  His tact
should be great.  He should have immense personal influence in the place.
Above all, he should never lose his temper or have recourse to threats,
unless he has an overwhelming majority on his side.

When Wentworth appeared upon the scene he saw at a glance that his
enemies were far more numerous than his friends.  His chairman, for
instance, had taken no trouble about the meeting.  He had not even
brought a friend with him, and he and Wentworth had the platform almost
entirely to themselves.  This was an initial mistake.  Learn of me, O
candidate, and never attend a public meeting unless you can fill the
platform with out-and-out adherents; men who will applaud in season and
out; men whose solid front will impose on the ignorant and thoughtless;
men whose countenances will express the utmost rapture at your stalest
jokes or feeblest witticisms, who will seem absorbed and riveted by your
dreariest display of statistics, and who will cheer the louder the more
you stumble and get confused.  Canning understood how useful aid of that
sort was to a speaker when he wrote:

    ‘Cheer him when his audience flag,
    Brother Riley, Brother Bragg;
    Cheer him when he hobbles vilely,
    Brother Bragg and Brother Riley.’

Again, another secret in the way of successful public meetings is to have
beside the chairman, and in front of the audience, a jolly looking fellow
always ready to laugh.  We English are an imitative people.  One laugher
on the platform will make many laugh below.  Laughter is contagious.  One
man laughs because he sees another doing so, and in nine cases out of ten
at a public meeting if you ask him he can give no better reason.  Ladies
are all very well in front, if the meeting is harmonious, and they are
well dressed and good-looking; but if they are well bred they do not roar
out, and if they clap their hands it is in such a graceful feminine
manner as to produce no effect like your red-faced jolly fellow, always
ready with the loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind.

A few Radicals, delighted at Mr. Wentworth’s programme, were in the hall
at the far end.  Unfortunately between them and the platform were the
enemy, who had rallied round in consequence of the lying hand-bill, and
they were led by a full-necked gamekeeper, who roared like a bull of
Bashan all the time Mr. Wentworth was speaking, or rather, attempting to
speak.  Sir Watkin Strahan’s agent was also present, to watch with
complacency the result of his trick.  The roughs had an idea that the
more noise they made the better, and their number was increased by some
of the Free and Independent, who had met the Gent from London, as they
termed him, at the railway station, and who had been immensely disgusted,
that in reply to their hints as to his ordering a supply of beer, he had
intimated that so far as he could judge they had had enough already.
That was adding insult to injury, and they resented it accordingly.

At all times the Free and Independent are a thirsty race, particularly at
election times.  In every beer-shop in the borough Wentworth had thus
raised up a host of enemies.  In many a borough the election has been
fought and won by beer alone; there is no other product of man’s
industry, unfortunately, such a power, and the publican is not such a
fool as he looks.

‘Who do you vote for?’ said I to one of them at the time of an election
contest.

‘For them as I gets the most by,’ was his reply.

Frightened at the aspect of affairs, the aged chairman, with a feeble,
trembling voice, told his fellow-townsmen that he had the pleasure of
introducing to them Mr. Wentworth, a clever journalist from London, whom
some of them knew when he was formerly a preacher in that town, and whom
he hoped they would listen to that evening with all the respect and
attention the occasion demanded.  It was with difficulty and not a little
interruption that the chairman could say as much, and then he collapsed,
wishing that he had stayed at home in the bosom of his family.  The
London candidate then came forward, to be assailed with a howl of
derision from his foes closely packed in the front, while but a faint
cheer from the far end was now and then perceptible as the roar was
slightly lulled.

‘Gentlemen, pray give Mr. Wentworth a fair hearing,’ cried the chairman,
and again the storm grew and the confusion increased.  ‘Order! order!’
said the chairman, screaming at the top of his voice.  He might just as
well have spoken to the winds or waves.  Then he grew angry and began to
threaten, and that only made matters worse.  Wentworth, erect as a statue
and with folded arms, calmly surveyed the scene.  It was not a pleasant
sight; it suggests to one the truth of the Darwinian origin of the human
race.  In a crowd men act like monkeys.  I remember as a boy sneaking
into an election crowd and calling a decent, respectable, white-haired
old baronet, who had been the Tory representative of the county for a
quarter of a century, and whom every decent body respected, the old
Benacre Bull (Benacre being the name of the village in which he lived);
and everyone repeated the nickname till the old gentleman had to stop
speaking, and I have been ashamed of the thing ever since.  Had the
individual members of that howling mob met the Baronet in the street as
he rode by on his favourite chestnut mare, there was not one of them but
would have treated him with every appearance of courtesy and respect.
There is something very cowardly in an election mob.

Long did the storm roar and rage as Wentworth stood up, the true friend
and earnest champion of his rough and unmannerly audience.  The chairman
in vain appealed for fair play.  That was the last thing to be expected
at such a time; in vain he addressed them as gentlemen, or friends, or
electors, still the storm raged.  However, Wentworth was not a man to be
put down, and he resolutely maintained his ground.

‘I am come,’ he said, ‘to put you on your guard, to ask you not to be led
away by clap-trap, to tell you that all my life I have been fighting on
behalf of the people, to lift up my voice on behalf of Peace,
Retrenchment and Reform.  You have a serious duty to discharge: to send a
member to Parliament to help the good old cause of liberty and freedom
and human progress.’  Again his voice was lost in an uproar.  ‘You have,’
he continued, ‘rights to be won, a victory to achieve.’  Again there was
an uproar.  ‘You have three candidates before you, one of them a Tory.
What, I ask, have Tories done for you and yours?’—more insane clamour.
‘You know better than I do, they are not the friends but the foes of the
people, that it is only as you have triumphed over them that you have
become free, that the history of Toryism is a record of resistance to
popular rights—’  ‘And precious freedom,’ said a socialist, who darted up
from the mob, amidst cheers on every side.  ‘You Liberals give us liberty
to work and slave and starve.  What with the landlords who have robbed us
of the land which belongs to the people, and what with the millowners who
grind us in their mills, and your priests who make earth a hell, and then
bid us think of a better land, what have we to thank our leaders, be they
Whig, Tory or Radical, for?  We are nothing to society, whose laws are
framed for the purpose of securing the wealth of the world to the
haristocrat or the rich snob, thereby depriving the larger portion of
manhood of its rights and chances.’

This was a new doctrine for Sloville, and it was resented accordingly,
and the socialist orator was pulled and hustled out of the hall, amidst
increasing cries of order and police.  The poor frightened chairman
bolted out of the chair, much to the delight of the Tory roughs, and then
one of the biggest of them moved a resolution to the effect that Mr.
Wentworth was not a fit and proper person to represent the borough, and
that he be requested to retire, and without calling for a show of hands,
or putting the contrary, declared the resolution carried.  At length Mr.
Wentworth succeeded in getting him to do so, and the motion was lost.
However, it was felt to be a farce to attempt to do any sane business
that night, and Mr. Wentworth, as he left the hall, was heard loudly
asserting that they would hear from him again, whilst from the far end of
the hall there came many who claimed to be his supporters, and who
assured him that he had but to continue his meetings and he would be sure
to win.

He knew better, he knew that the chief agent in elections was money, that
the candidate with longest purse generally wins, and money he was not
prepared to spend.  So it has ever been, and so it will according to
present appearances ever be, and must be so, till paid canvassing be put
down by Act of Parliament, and election agents’ fees reduced.  There is
little likelihood of Parliament doing that.  Wealthy men like to get into
the House, it confers upon them prestige, a seat in Parliament helps the
lawyer to a place, a seat in Parliament gives a naval or a military
officer another chance of dipping his hand in John Bull’s purse, or it
enables a wealthy ignoramus who has managed either by the blessing of God
upon his labours, or with the aid of the devil, to become a millionaire,
to obtain admission for his sons and daughters into circles in which they
would otherwise have no claim.  Everybody who is a somebody is anxious to
see only men of wealth in Parliament.  You may call it the people’s House
if you will, it is only the House of the rich people after all.  Now and
then one of the people finds his way there as a working man, but he is
the exception, not the rule, and too often is but the paid agent of the
rich man who defrays his expenses, and expects him, with all his show of
independence, to support the party, right or wrong.  Nor is he much more
independent if he is paid by the working men themselves.

‘What impudence!  Serve the fellow right,’ said Sir Watkin Strahan, the
swell Liberal candidate, as he talked over the matter with his brother
swell, the Tory candidate, in the club-room of Sloville next day.  ‘What
impudence for a London newspaper man to come down here and upset the
town!  Things have come to a pretty pass, when such fellows are permitted
to interfere into our local matters.  At any rate, we may agree to get
rid of him as a common enemy.’

And for that purpose they entered into an alliance offensive and
defensive.  Sloville was to be made too hot for Mr. Wentworth—that was
understood in every public-house; there was no need to hint any more.

Once upon a time Sir Godfrey Kneller overheard a British working man
devoting, as was the wont of British workmen in his day (they don’t do it
now, they know better), the various members of his body to perdition.
The courtly painter was shocked and scandalized.  ‘What!’ said he, ‘do
you think that God Almighty will take the trouble to damn a poor wretch
like you?  The idea is absurd; it is lords and fine gentlemen he will
damn, I assure you.’

So it has been with the British public in the choice of a member of
Parliament.  It is only lords and fine gentlemen, or at any rate rich
ones, who have been held to be worthy of being sent by the people to the
House of the people.  A time will come when the electors will think
differently; when they will feel that a newspaper man is more likely to
serve them faithfully; more likely to decide rightly in political
matters; more likely to study the best interests of the nation than a
fine gentleman, who thinks politics a bore, and who only consents to
fight the battle of party on the understanding that, whether he wins or
loses, he shall not go without his reward.



CHAPTER XVI.
ELECTIONEERING AGAIN.


Elections fifty years ago, if partly a farce, were at any rate
picturesque.  For a while, everyone seemed insane—the publican, who
reaped a golden harvest; the local drapers, who sold the ribbons which
formed the colours of the respective parties; the lively stable-keeper;
the crowd of idle loafers who were hired to do little more than cheer one
candidate and hoot down the other.  The town rolled in wealth, which
poured in on all sides, and a good deal of it made its way to the
electors’ wives and children.  The out-voter from the most distant
quarter was hunted up and sent down in coaches chartered for the purpose
and paid for by the happy candidate or his friends, and every night there
was a row and a fight, and a good deal of bad language.  All the while
there was a perpetual canvass, and the elector was in danger of bursting,
as a feeling of his temporary importance grew and swelled within him.

Some refused to vote, as they flattered themselves, vainly, that they
should thus offend neither party.  The clergy were specially active; nor
were their dissenting brethren—with the exception of the Methodists, at
that time very cautious in political matters—much behind.

The nomination day was one of great display, and the day of polling was
one of still greater, as hourly there was published a state of the poll,
and the rival candidates drove from one polling-place to another to cheer
the hearts of their supporters, who were many of them so drunk as
scarcely to know for whom they were going to vote.

It was often dangerous work taking up the men to the poll through a crowd
of heated roughs, who were placed round the booth to increase the
difficulties of the intending electors.  Meanwhile, all the town was
holiday-making and enjoying the sport.  Ladies looked down from the
first-floors of every house in the neighbourhood to encourage one party
and to cheer on its supporters and friends.  Voters came in masses,
headed by bands playing and with colours flying.  Surely there was
excitement enough, and folly enough, displayed on the occasion.

Sloville was agitated from top to bottom.  Yet some people are never
satisfied.  They regretted that the harvest was so brief; that it was all
over in a day, and did not last, as it did in the good old times, a
fortnight; that there was not so much of locking up doubtful voters as of
old, and keeping them stowed away drunk till the election was over.

‘There ain’t a voter in the town but what I can account for,’ said Sir
Watkin’s agent to his principal.  ‘I have got all their names down in
black and white.  By-the-bye, Sir Watkin, can you let me have another
cheque?’

‘I am sorry to hear that.  How much do you want?’

‘Another thousand will do it.’

‘Why, you have had one thousand already.’

‘Never mind,’ said the election agent.  ‘What’s the good of having money
if you don’t spend it.  You’ll be sure to get it all back again.  Nobody
is so popular as a man who spends his money freely.’

‘That may be; but money is hard to get.’

‘Oh, leave that to me,’ said the agent.

‘Well, I suppose I must.  But,’ added the Baronet, ‘at any rate you might
send up to London and see what the Reform Club will do.’

‘Of course, we must apply to them.  A stranger came down from town last
night.  He has not shown his face, but I’ve pumped the boots at the “Old
Swan,” and I find that he is from the Carlton, and has brought a trunk
full of sovereigns with him.  The voters must have got an inkling of it,
and are in ecstasies, and are now keeping off till the last moment.  I
believe I spotted the fellow in the disguise of an old woman working in
the slums this morning’.  I could not see his face because he put up his
handkerchief; but I do believe it was no other than Shrouder.’

‘Oh, no: it can’t be him.  I am told he is at Birmingham.’

‘You may depend upon it, Sir Watkin, he is here, and we shall have the
devil to pay.’

‘Devil take him,’ said the Baronet angrily.

‘I must say that Shrouder is a bit of a scamp, and that he is the man for
a dirty job.  But I am quite a match for him,’ said the agent proudly.
‘At any rate, I am up to his little games.  I am really quite delighted
to have him as an opponent, and think it complimentary to the borough
that he is come here to work it.  The Carlton would not have sent him
here had they not felt that they were in a desperate state indeed.  Ah,’
continued he excitedly, ‘there is nothing like a well-contested election.
I am of the opinion of a noble duke.  “After all,” said he, “what greater
enjoyment can there be in life than to stand a contested election for
Yorkshire, and to win it by one?”’

‘Yes; but I ain’t a duke, and have not got a duke’s wealth.’

‘Never mind,’ said the agent; ‘elections don’t happen every day, and when
it is over you can economize.’

‘For the first time in my life.  That will be hard work.’

In the meanwhile the Baronet continued his canvass, and his carriage with
the family arms, and the servants in the family liveries, were
incessantly to be seen.  He appealed to the Churchmen as one of
themselves, to the Dissenters as their friend and ally in the cause of
religious freedom.  As a landowner he reminded the farmers that they were
all in the same boat, and that legislation that was beneficial to the
landlord was equally to the advantage of the tenant and the farm-labourer
as well.  No one was such an ardent admirer of the manufacturing system
which had made us a nation of shopkeepers, and he won the hearts of the
manufacturers as he told them that to him they seemed as the very pillars
of the State.  Somehow or other he seemed in a fair way of success, and
when he got into a mess his agent was there to pull him out.  Thus, one
day he happened to call on a humble shopkeeper, who regarded him with
natural distrust.

‘Oh, Sir Watkin,’ said he, ‘I am sure I respect you and your family very
much; but before I promise you my vote I’d like to hear what are your
principles.’

Sir Watkin was about to give the usual and evasive reply, when his agent
pulled him back and opened a broadside:

‘His _principles_.  You ask a gentleman like Sir Watkin his principles;
go along with you!  Things have come to a pretty pass when a gentleman
like Sir Watkin must stop in the road to tell you his principles.  Come
along, Sir Watkin, don’t be losing precious time here.’  And the small
shopkeeper felt that he had done wrong, and promised him his vote
accordingly.

‘That was a clever trick of yours,’ said Sir Watkin, laughing; ‘but it
would not do a second time.’

‘I don’t know, Sir Watkin; it is well to ride the high horse now and
then.’

In another case the Baronet did not get off quite so well.  Said an
operative at one of his meetings:

‘Why are the mothers and sisters of peers, who have done nothing for the
public, to be maintained in luxury and at the public expense, while we
are obliged to support our poor relatives from our hard-earned wages or
see them sent to the workhouse?’

Happily the Baronet’s supporters made such a noise that the reply was
unheard.

But there was a stronger influence at work.

‘What is the chief recommendation of Sir Watkin?’ asked one of Mr.
Wentworth’s supporters of a friend of the Baronet’s.

‘Money, to be sure.  He’s got it here,’ said the Baronet’s supporter,
significantly slapping his pocket.

But the Conservative candidate had money as well.  The question was,
which had the longest purse.

‘And, then, look at the requisition presented to him,’ continued the
Baronet’s friend.

‘Got up by his agent, as a matter of course, who was well paid for his
work.’

‘Then look at his committee.’

‘All men who are his tradespeople, or tenants and dependents, or flunkies
who want to be invited to the Hall.  There has been no independent action
in the matter.’

‘You are very green if you expect that in Sloville,’ continued the
Baronet’s supporter.  ‘If you ask nine men out of ten in the borough who
they will vote for, the answer will be, “For them as I gets the most
by.”’

It was too true.  The Sloville people were as selfish as their
representatives.  They were like the voters of St. Albans, who, when the
traffic on the great North Road was ruined by the railway, lamented that
they had nothing to sell but their votes; or like the voters of Stafford,
who requested Sheridan to vote against reform, as it was by the sale of
votes that they chiefly got their money.  They in this resembled the
illustrious Samuel Johnson, who, upon his friend Thrale demurring to the
expense of a contested election for Southwark, remarked: ‘The expense, if
it were more, I should wish him to despise.  Money is made for such
purposes as this.’

It was an Irish M.P. who, when reproached with selling his country,
thanked God that he had got a Government to sell.  There were many of the
Sloville electors who were of the Irishman’s way of thinking.

‘I suppose there is little chance for me,’ said Wentworth, as he walked
home with the Unitarian minister—who had a large chapel, generally empty,
but which had been crowded to suffocation to hear him utter his political
programme.  Wentworth, as the papers say, had received quite an ovation.
He had come amongst them as a stranger; he had made them all friends; he
was an effective speaker, and his audience were of his side in politics.
Unfortunately, it consisted largely of excitable young people who had no
votes.  They had been told to do their duty: to support neither a
half-hearted Liberal nor a thorough-going old Tory, but to rally round
the gentleman from London.  The Unitarian brother heartily endorsed that
appeal.  He had known Wentworth when he came to preach as a sapling from
college.  He had sympathized a good deal with him in his view.  He had
the Christian charity not to judge too harshly of a man who, it seemed to
him, had in a sense gone wrong, but who was a man and a brother still.

‘My dear fellow,’ said he to his guest, as they were seated in his
sanctum, ornamented with portraits and darkened with the quartos of the
old divines, ‘I fear in politics, as in religion, people do much as they
please, lecture them as you will.  To listen is one thing, to practise
what you hear is another.  You are for the separation of Church and
State, and I support you; but the respected minister who preaches in your
old chapel will preach about Christ’s kingdom being not of this world,
and then will go and vote for the Whig Baronet because he belongs to such
a respectable family, and all the respectable Dissenters in the town will
do the same, and when Christmas comes will receive their reward.  Their
deacons are very good men, but they will never vote to offend their rich
customers.  I could get a thousand people to come and hear you, to
applaud all your hits, to see all your arguments, to endorse all your
opinions, but I could not get ten of them to vote for you—that’s quite
another thing.  It is all very well to applaud Radical sentiments, so
long as business is not interfered with.’

‘But the poorer voters—there are a good many of them in the borough, are
there not?’

‘Well, they will do as their betters, and you can’t wonder at it.  The
Tories and the Liberals give away coal and beef and blankets at
Christmas.  There are lots of Radicals in the town, but they will not
vote for a Radical, however much they may cheer a Radical speech.  Their
wives wouldn’t let them.’

‘I fear Sloville is in a bad way,’ said Wentworth.

‘Well, it is a fair sample of an English borough.  I often grieve over
it, nevertheless.’

‘Why not make it better?’

‘Ay, that’s the question.  I can see no other road to improvement but to
go on talking.  Liberal ideas spread and light does come, however slowly.
Sometimes I almost feel inclined to ask for a drastic reform.’

‘What is that?’

‘To get the borough disfranchised.  It would be very easy to get up a
petition for bribery and corruption; it would be easier still to prove
it.’

‘And then?’

‘The result would be that I should lose my congregation, and be the most
unpopular man in the town.’

‘Why not “dare to be a Daniel”?’

‘Because I am poor and have a large family to keep; because I love peace
and quietness; because I am a little older than you, know a little more
of country life, and feel inclined to make the best of it what little
time I have to live.  If we are bound to run amuck at all we disapprove
of, life, I fear, would be a burden too heavy to be borne.  I may be
slow, but, at any rate, I am sure.’

‘So you are, old fellow.  You were talking just the same way when I came
here to preach—it seems to me ages ago—and a good deal has happened since
then.’

‘Just what I was going to say,’ said the clerical brother.  ‘Politically
we have made great progress.  We are on the eve of extension of the
franchise and vote by ballot, and whoever we return at Sloville—they are
safe.  I could have got up a petition against bribery and corruption in
the place.  I ought, perhaps, you say, to have done so.  Well, I should
have had to spend hundreds of pounds, which I have not got; and if I had
succeeded and got the borough disfranchised, I should never have been
able to show my face in the town again.’

‘But you would have had another call,’ said Wentworth, with a touch of
sarcasm.

‘Not at my time of life.  But that is a digression.  You London newspaper
men may write about bribery and corruption, and you can do good in that
way, more even than if you get into Parliament.’

‘I am of the same opinion,’ said Wentworth; ‘but, tell me, is the borough
so very bad?’

‘That it is.  I can point you to no end of people who take money and are
not ashamed.  There are gangs of them who meet in public-houses, with
whom each party negotiates, and who turn the scale.  To-day they are
Liberal, to-morrow they will be Conservative.  The men are notorious, but
they are useful to both parties.  The only remedy for that is extension
of the suffrage so as to include all householders, and to make bribery
impossible by the increase of the number to be bribed.’

‘I would go a step further,’ said Wentworth.  ‘In our great cities few of
our working classes have that qualification.  This raises a demand for a
lodger franchise—that is, a fancy franchise—that will give a great
opening for ingenuity and fraud, and will only work well for the lawyers,
to whom such a state of things will bring plenty of business.  No, we
must fall back on manhood suffrage.  It is the only real and direct
qualification.  Give the working man a vote, let him feel that he is part
and parcel of the community, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh—not
a pariah politically, but a brother man—and he will use his vote for his
own advantage, and for that of the rest of the community.  ‘But, now I
think of it, there is a better plan.’

‘What is that?’ said the parson.

‘A money qualification.  I was in Jersey last summer, and I found there
were a large number of men who voluntarily paid a certain tax in order
that they might get a vote.  After all, what is Government but a limited
liability company for the governing of the nation?  In all limited
liabilities every man has a vote, but the man who has a larger share than
the others has more votes.  I would give the vote to every man who cared
enough about it to pay for it, and I think that a revenue might be thus
raised for the relief of taxation.’

‘Your scheme is excellent, but it will never take.’

‘I fear so, and that is why I fall back on manhood suffrage.’

‘Yes, I quite believe that, but he must have the ballot.’

‘I fear so, though with the ballot we shall still have a good deal of
intimidation and bullying.  The rich employer, unless he be more Liberal
than many of them, will try still to carry his friend or himself, as the
case may be.  It seems very degrading, however, for a man to vote by
ballot, as if he were ashamed of his opinions.  I always think of what
the great American statesman said when he was in England on that
subject.’

‘And what was that?  I never heard of it.’

‘When asked at a dinner-party in London whether the ballot prevailed in
his State of Virginia, he replied:

‘“I can scarcely believe in all Virginia we have such a fool as to
mention even the vote by ballot, and I do not hesitate to say that the
adoption of the ballot would make a nation a set of scoundrels if it did
not find them so.”’

‘Rather hard, that, on the ballot, seeing that we shall have it very
shortly.’

‘Yes, the demand is a popular one with the Liberals, and they will carry
it.  There is one measure I should like to see, but I fear there is no
chance of its coming yet.’

‘What is that?’

‘Annual Parliaments.’

‘Oh,’ exclaimed the parson, ‘that will never do!  As it is, the amount of
mischief an election does in a borough like ours in the way of creating
drunkenness, and bad feeling, and lying, and swearing, is incalculable.’

‘Yes, but if we had an election once a year it would be quite different.
In the first place, an election would be a tamer and much more
commonplace an affair than it is now.  A man would not care to spend much
money on elections if his seat was only good for a year, and all that
time he would be on his good behaviour—attending in his place, helping on
needful reforms.’

‘Why not triennial Parliaments?’

‘Why, then things would be no better than they are now.  There would be
the same excitement and bitterness.  The new M.P. would be remiss in his
attendance the first or second year, while in the last session his only
aim would be to gain the goodwill of the electors of his district.
Again,’ added Mr. Wentworth, ‘as a rule the people are indifferent to
politics.  You only move them from their torpor at the time of a General
Election.  When that is over they become indifferent and apathetic again.
With an election once a year you would have the people anxiously
discussing political questions.  It would be an education for them.  It
would ensure all the advantages without the disadvantages of the present
system.’

‘Upon my word,’ said the parson, ‘there is a good deal in what you say,
though I never thought of it before.  An election would then be a very
commonplace affair.’

‘And then,’ said Wentworth, ‘under such an arrangement the people would
be better educated.  As it is, it is hard work to get them to the poll at
all.  Practically, England never gives a verdict—never expresses her
political opinions.  And I mean by England, Scotland, where the people
are better educated than they are here, and Wales, where the people are
far more religious.  We have a Tory or a Liberal Government in office in
consequence of the support of the Irish M.P.’s returned by illiterate
voters under the rule of the Roman Catholic priest—who hates England,
because it is a prosperous and Protestant nation.  The Irish “praste,” as
his people call him, creates all the bad blood that has done so much
mischief in Ireland.  If the Tories are in power, they can only maintain
their position by pandering to the Irish members, and if the Liberals are
in power they have to do just the same.  This difficulty arises from the
fact that, whether as regards property or population, Ireland is
over-represented.  If Sir Robert Peel had had his way, and been able to
pension the Irish priests, we should have had no such wretched state of
affairs.  The “praste” would have taken jolly good care that the Irish
M.P. was loyal to the Government that granted him an independent income.’

‘But Peel could not have done so had he wished.  You forget the English
Evangelicals, with their hatred of Popery in any shape, and the Scotch
Presbyterians, and the English Dissenters, who object on principle to any
State support of religion.’

‘Alas! I know it too well,’ replied Wentworth; ‘yet had Peel or Pitt had
their way, we should have had no Irish difficulty.  As it is, Ireland has
her revenge.  It is she who decides the fate of parties, the rise and
fall of ministries, the policy of our great empire, with its conflicting
interests in every corner of the globe.  Oh that the Green Isle were a
thousand miles away!  The difficulty would be removed if Ireland had only
her fair share of representation, but that is an impossible reform.’

A curious character was that old parson; professedly a Presbyterian, and
calling himself such, he and his people were Unitarians.  He lived on an
endowment left by Lady Hewlett, whose charities were such a bitter bone
of contention between the Unitarians and the orthodox Dissenters; but
Parliament interfered, and a Bill was carried to render all further
litigation impossible.  He preached in a grand old red-brick chapel in
the busiest part of the town.  He had an old-fashioned pulpit with an
old-fashioned sounding-board above, and in front of him were great square
pews lined with green baize; while behind, in the little red-brick
vestry, there were quaint portraits of old divines, of whom no one knew
anything.  Now, in his meeting-house, with its memorial tablets of
departed workers, the worshippers were few and far between.  Once there
had been life there, but that was a long time ago; and now his hearers
were chiefly old, gray-headed men and women, whose fathers and mothers
had taken them there in early childhood, and whose talk, when they did
talk, which was but rarely, was of Drs. Price and Priestley, and Mr.
Belsham, and of Mrs. Barbauld and other ornaments of their expiring
creed.  It was hard work to preach to such; nevertheless the little
parson was a happy man, as he thought of the God of love, of whom once a
week he loved to speak.  No one interfered with him.  To no religious
gathering in the town was he ever invited.  Churchmen and Dissenters
alike gave him the cold shoulder.  But he upheld the standard of a Church
with no creeds; was content to receive such as could not subscribe to
other dogmas, and to believe in a Christian charity which was to cover a
multitude of sins.  He damned nobody, he frightened nobody, he was
nobody’s enemy.  His was a voice crying in the wilderness.  Once a year
he went to the assembly of his denomination in Essex Street Chapel,
London, and heard how the cause with which he was connected was
advancing, and the day-dawn of a national Christianity was at hand, and
then he came back to Sloville to vegetate for another year, while
sensational preachers filled the other chapels.

He had his garden, and that was a constant source of happiness, and as he
was a vegetarian and his garden supplied all his needs, it mattered
little that his salary was a scanty pittance, such as a respectable
working mechanic would turn up his nose at.  His wife was a lady who did
not hesitate to do all the household work herself.  Modern life in its
rush and roar has left such people far behind.  But one loves to remember
them, and their peaceful ways, their cheerful solitude, their plain
living and high thinking.



CHAPTER XVII.
QUIET TALKS.


On the day of the public meeting, just as Wentworth had retired to his
head-quarters at the Red Lion, one of the few old-fashioned public-houses
which survive to tell us how truly Shenstone wrote when he told us that
the warmest welcome he found was at an inn—and how wise were men of the
Johnson era in recognising that fact—he heard a tap at the door, after he
had taken off his boots and had lit his cigar.

‘Come in,’ he cried.

The new visitor availed himself of the invitation.  He was a tremendous
fellow to look at, with something of an animal expression, with a loud
voice, and a little bloated about the face, as if he took rather more
beer than was good for him.  His hands were rather grimy, his clothes
were the worse for wear, and he had a short pipe in his mouth, which he
was about to put out, but did not, as he saw Wentworth was smoking
himself.

‘Your name, sir?’ said Wentworth.

‘My name—you know me well enough.  My name is Johnson—I was at your
meeting to-night, and you and I have met before.’

‘Yes, you were there, as you say—one of my noisiest opponents, I
believe—and now I think of it, when I was at Sloville, you were one of
the Chartists who tried to put me down.’

‘You’re right, Mr. Wentworth.’

‘Happy to renew the acquaintance.  To what am I indebted for the honour
of this visit?’

‘Well, you see, we are in now for an election, and I flatter myself the
winning candidate will be the man for whom I vote.’

‘Is that so?’

‘True as the Gospel.’

‘Well, you did not seem very favourable to-night.’

‘No, and that’s why I am here.  My party won’t think much of me unless I
act an independent part, and there’s a good many of us; we wish to have a
bit of a literary man.  It is my belief, as I tells ’em, that there is
nothing like eddication and the gift of the gab.’

‘Upon my word, you’re right, Mr. Johnson, though when one looks at
Ireland and England, too, one is inclined to feel that we may have too
much of a good thing, and that we should be all the better if we had a
little less talk and a little more work.’

‘Capital! that’s the very thing for Sloville, only you must pitch it a
little stronger, and fire away at the lazy parsons and the ’aughty
haristocracy, and say something about the blood-sucking manufacturers who
leave us—who make all their wealth—to starve and die.  We’re agin ’em
all, me and my pals.’

‘Well, we will talk of that presently.  If I get into Parliament, how am
I to live?’

‘Well, we must have paid members of Parliament; you’ll be all right
then.’

‘Are you fond of professional parsons, Mr. Johnson?’

‘No, I hate ’em like p’ison.’

‘And yet you would have professional politicians.  They are as odious to
me as professional parsons.  A man may mean well when he first sets out,
but directly his political career becomes to him his bread-and-butter, he
will cease to be an honest man.  If he is paid by the people, he will be
their slave, and not their representative.  If he is paid by the State,
he will so shape his conduct that he may secure his re-election.  He
cannot act honestly.  By the necessity of his position he is bound to
keep his place, because he needs his salary.  It is as bad and infamous
for a man to make politics his livelihood as religion.  In America they
have a class of men known as professional politicians, and what is the
result? that respectable Americans rarely enter public life.’

‘Well, you do surprise me!’ said Johnson, smoking his pipe uneasily.  ‘I
knew you were a little crotchety when you came to our Chartist meeting,
but I thought you went the whole hog.’

‘Well, we’ve secured a good deal more for the people than you or I
expected at that time.’

‘Maybe,’ said Johnson doggedly.

‘But what do you want?’

Johnson’s face brightened as he said:

‘That’s coming to the point—we do not want any more Whigs or Tories.’

‘But if a Tory comes to Sloville and offers to give the people land—we
can’t say restore it, for we Anglo-Saxons never had an inch of the soil
of England.  If, further, he tell them that they have not had their fair
share of the profits of capital—if he says he will get every one a fair
day’s wages for a fair day’s work—that the working men shall have decent
homes built for them by Government—that every one shall have his three
acres and a cow—that the parent shall be relieved of all responsibility
as regards his children—that, in short, he will bring the
millennium—don’t you think he will get returned whether he calls himself
Whig or Tory?’

‘I believe you,’ said Johnson excitedly, giving the table an emphatic
thump.  ‘Leastways, I knows many as will vote for him, and this I knows,
that no one opposed to him would have much chance.  There’s none on ’em
dare turn me out of a meetin’, and there’s none of ’em can drown my
voice.’

‘Yes, I had a good proof of that to-night.  But don’t you know that any
man coming with such a programme is an impostor?’

‘No, hang me if I do!  I say he is the man for me and the United
Buffaloes, of which I am the president, and who will vote as I do.  I
repeat, he is the man for Sloville.’

‘Of course,’ said Wentworth sarcastically, ‘he is, and he is quite safe,
because he knows he promises what he can never perform.’

‘How do you make that?’

‘Let us take the question of the working man not getting his fair share
of the profits.  You know Lancashire?’

‘Well, I should think I do.’

‘Well, so do I, and it seems to me that the workmen are pretty well
employed, and pretty well off.  They get their weekly wages.’

‘Yes, in course they do.’

‘But is it not a fact that not a brass farthing of profit is being made
in the cotton trades, and that consequently at this time the workman has
quite his fair share of the capital?  Look at our great companies, our
railways, our ships, most of them earning no dividends or but small ones,
but who employ millions of men at fair wages.  You call the capitalist a
bloodsucker, a vampire.’

‘And so he is.’

‘Well, get rid of his tyranny.’

‘How?’

‘Become a capitalist yourself.  As a rule the capitalist is a working man
who has lifted himself out of his class by superior self-denial, or tact,
or skill, or perseverance.  Last night when I went to the Town Hall I saw
the name of Brown over a grand shop.  When I knew Sloville, Brown’s
father was one of the poorest men in the place, and there was no boy
worse off than poor Brown.  I went in and said to him: “I am glad to see
you so flourishing.”  “Yes,” said he, “I’ve much to be thankful for.”
“How is it you’ve got on so?” I said.  “By minding my own business, and
by not going to the public-house,” he replied.’

‘Yes,’ said Johnson, ‘Brown was allus a pushing boy.’

‘So have all of us to be nowadays.  You don’t think we are to sit still,
and open our mouths and shut our eyes, and see what Heaven will give us;
do you?’

‘Yes, but—’

‘But what?  It is in ourselves that lies the secret of success.  Look at
Ireland: for ages the people have come to the English Government for aid
to fish, to farm, to manufacture, and what is the result?  That now there
are no people so badly off.’

‘Ireland, sir,’ said Johnson angrily, ‘is ruined by the injustice of
England.’

‘Not quite so much as you think.  Though Ireland has been shamefully
treated, as much by Irishmen as Englishmen, however, I admit.  But to
return to the question of capital, why cannot a workman become an
employer?  You can run a cotton-mill if you like to co-operate and put by
your savings.  There is no need to ask Parliament to interfere.  You want
the landlords abolished.  Take to farming yourselves.  Land is cheap
enough, and farms are to be had almost for the asking.  Don’t ask
Government to take the land and employ all who live in the country on it,
whether they are worth their salt or not.  This is a free country, and
any men who have sufficient confidence in each other, and self-reliance,
can become their own employers, as farmers or manufacturers, if they will
join their savings for that purpose.  There are no better workmen than
the English, and I want to see them better off.’

‘I am glad to hear that,’ said Johnson; ‘it seemed to me that you were
rather against the working man.’

‘I am against some of his ways,’ said Wentworth.  ‘I am against
improvident marriages.  In the middle circles of society we can’t marry
till we have a chance of keeping a wife.  But almost directly poor lads
or girls—especially in our great cities—are of age, and often before,
they are married, and have families that they can’t keep, and then the
taxpayer, often little better off than themselves, has to pay for their
support.  Is that fair?’

‘Well, it do seem rather hard.’

‘As long as that is the case wages must be low, for the supply will be in
excess of the demand.  Suppose you get Parliament to come to the aid of
such.  The result is you will have more improvident marriages.  Then you
tax still more heavily the middle and the upper classes, and the middle
classes become paupers themselves.  I see a remedy for this.  We shall
have the children of the working classes better educated, and then they
will not think of marrying till they can live in a decent manner.  They
will shrink from inflicting hardships on innocent children, as they do
now.’

‘Well, they have to wait a long time.’

‘I fear so.  But how is trade at Sloville?’

‘Why, just now very bad.’

‘Shall I tell you one reason?’

‘Just as you please; only, whatever you say I shall report to the United
Buffaloes.’

‘Well, I don’t want to go out of my way to offend them, especially since
they all vote together.  But you had a strike here last summer, had you
not?’

‘Yes, and a pretty time of it we had.’

‘It is over now, and what is the result?’

‘Why, that we are going on pretty much as usual.’

‘Not exactly.  That strike cost a lot of money.’

‘I believe you.’

‘And that is all thrown away, and to that extent the working men are so
much the poorer.  Is not that a fact?’

‘Well, it is no use denying of it; but the masters have suffered as well,
though you get no benefit by their suffering.’

‘And whose fault is that?’

‘The Unions’, I suppose.  ‘They were beaten, at any rate.’

‘The Unions.  I am glad you mention them, because there is another thing
I have to say.  I fear that you can never get good work as long as men
are all paid alike, whether they are good workmen or not.’

‘But that is what we insist on more than anything else.’

‘I am sorry for it.  Such a condition is fatal to individual excellence.
Let me illustrate my remarks: I knew a man employed at a printing-office
in connection with printing steel-plates.  He was an intelligent, careful
workman, and he did more work and better than the others, and earned more
money.  The other men conspired against him, and he found in his absence
his work was spoilt, and his press injured, and he was driven away.  Now,
such cases are of constant occurrence.  Let me give you another case: A
man was taken into an office at a lesser rate than the others, and they
gave up their work and had to come on the Union.  Again, how often is a
good man worried out of his place unless he joins the Union and works as
slowly, and makes a job last as long, as the others!  You complain of the
great competition from foreign workmen—how is it that they are in this
country?’

‘Ah! that’s the question.’

‘A question easily answered.  Most of them are brought over on the
occasion of a strike, and when they come here they stop here, and add to
the overstocked market.  Your regulations for the support of your members
are excellent, and deserve all praise; your Unions also are most
desirable when protection is required against hard and unjust masters,
though the number of them is not so large as you endeavour to make it.
But when you set up to dictate to masters as to whom they shall employ,
you do injustice to respectable men willing to work, whom you compel to
starve, and in the long-run you help to create that depression of trade
of which we all complain.’

‘Have you anything more agin the Unions?’ asked Johnson angrily.

‘Yes; I maintain that when they thus endeavour to control the labour
market they often drive away trade.  Why are our shops filled with
American manufactures?  For this simple reason: In America the men are
always looking out to improve the processes of manufacture.  A workman
who can strike out a new and improved method is rewarded by his masters
and applauded by his fellows.  Here masters and men are against him.  The
workmen are too conservative.  You are not offended, I hope, by my plain
speaking?’

‘Not at all,’ replied the visitor in a sulky tone.

‘Well, I will add that, so far as I can see, they often drive trade away
as well.  I will just give you one instance: I was spending an evening
with an eminent judge a little while ago.’

‘Why, the lawyers are the greatest trades unionists going,’ said Johnson
passionately.

‘It may be.  I am not a lawyer, and have not much to say on their behalf.
The judge of whom I speak had just been at one of our great Midland
towns, where an order had come for a large supply for a foreign
Government.  “But,” said the English firm, “we must have a strike clause
inserted in the agreement, as our men will strike directly they hear
we’ve got the order.”  The agent of the foreign Government declined to
agree to such a proposal, and the order was taken to Belgium and executed
there.’

‘Ah, that was an isolated case.’

‘Not a bit of it,’ said Mr. Wentworth.  ‘I can give plenty of other cases
that show how often the British workmen unwittingly drive away trade, and
make us all suffer in consequence.’

‘Well, this is a free country, and the workmen have a right to act as
they think best,’ said Johnson.

‘Undoubtedly; I do not dispute that for an instant.  All I say is, don’t
throw all the blame of poverty on the rich; a good deal of it is due to
the poor themselves.  Parliament can do little more than it has done.  No
Act of Parliament can give permanent employment and good wages to a man
who drinks, or neglects his duty, or who will not work properly and
efficiently.’

‘Ah, there are people who think otherwise.’

‘I fear there are.’

‘According to your way of talk, Mr. Wentworth, Parliament ain’t of much
use.’

‘I fear not.  I only defend representative government as the only
possible mode of political life in the absence of a benevolent despotism,
controlled by a free press.  The ideal government is that which
interferes least with the people.’

‘Then, what do you recommend?’

‘Moral reform.  Do you know,’ continued Wentworth, ‘that Trade Unionism
seems to me essentially one-sided.’

‘That is rather too rich,’ said the visitor.  ‘All we seek is justice to
ourselves.’

‘But is not that unjust to the masters?  A firm commences a business or
works a mine.  It is put to great expense; sinks an enormous amount of
capital, and then because it chooses to employ individuals who have a
right to be employed, who have as much right to earn their own living as
other men, the Union withdraws their men, and the works have to be
stopped, and many a firm has given up business in consequence, and thus
the area of the unemployed and the amount of national poverty and
distress is increased.  No man can serve two masters.  There must be a
head somewhere, and a firm naturally may claim to be at the head of a
business, and should be left to regulate its own affairs.  What would
become of a ship if the crew were to deprive the captain of his command,
and to navigate it themselves?’

‘What would you do, then?’

‘Why, just act according to Christian principles.’

‘Christian principles—what are they?’

‘That man and master should do to each other as to themselves.’

Johnson blackened in his face and whispered something about nonsense.

‘But that is not all.’

‘No, I should think not,’ said Johnson.

‘My next demands are moral reform, and the power of the people.’

‘Ah, now, that’s coming to the point.’

‘But I mean by the power of the people, not a vote at the dictation of a
caucus, but the action of an educated independent people.’

Again Johnson frowned.

‘Well, let me hear what you recommend.  The future belongs to you, Mr.
Johnson.’

‘Why, we want State aid against the selfishness of the rich, and State
employment for the poor.’

‘Well, that is rather a reversal of the system which has made England
great by reason of the energy and freedom of her people.  The State works
clumsily and ineffectively.  Look at the memoirs of officials, or
Government reports, or the revelations of our great establishments, and
you will see for yourself that the State works in a way which, if a
private firm followed, it would soon be in the Bankruptcy Court.  In
America things in this respect are as bad as here.  The abuses of the
Civil Service there are greater than at home.  A distinguished American
writes: “The spoil system, introduced by President Jackson, which is now
stigmatized as ‘the American system,’ imperils not only the purity,
economy, and efficiency of the Government, but it destroys confidence in
the method of popular government by party.  It creates a mercenary
political class, an oligarchy of stipendiaries, a bureaucracy of the
worst kind, which controls parties with relentless despotism.”  How do
you like that, friend?’

‘Not at all,’ said Johnson.

‘No; we must continue fighting on the old lines.  Like Burke, I believe
at this period of the world’s history there is nothing new in politics or
morals.  Society has got into the groove which was the only one possible.
It must ever go on the old lines.  Upset it, turn it topsey-turvy, as
they did in France, or as the Socialists would do, and a little while
again you will find it on the old lines.  Share the wealth of the
country, if you like, between you all; it won’t make much difference to
me, but the next generation will be as badly off as ever—worse off—for
you will have taken from the labourer all motive for exertion.’

‘And is this what I am to tell the United Buffaloes?’

‘If you like.’

‘If I do, not one of us will vote for you.’

‘Then, perhaps the sooner I give up the contest the better.’

‘That is what I think,’ said Johnson, as he took up his hat and departed,
leaving Wentworth to fear that his mission to Sloville was at an end.

Why, even, as he confessed to himself, the Tory programme was more
attractive than his own.  Toryism is never particular on the score of
money.  Its generosity at the expense of other people is prodigious.
Naturally, we all like a lavish expenditure.  There is no one so popular
as a spendthrift, as long as his money lasts, no one so hated as a screw.

When rosy-fingered morning next day dawned on Sloville, there was quite a
crowd of visitors at the hotel patronized by Mr. Wentworth.  Everybody is
supernaturally and unusually wise when an election takes place, and,
feeling how uncertain is human life, seems apparently determined to make
the most of it.  It is the harvest, if not of the busy bee, at any rate
of the busybody.  Before Mr. Wentworth had finished his coffee and bacon
and eggs, while the dry toast in the rack was yet untouched, the aged and
beery waiter announced as how there was a lady outside waitin’ to speak
to him.

‘Show her in,’ said the candidate, and in she walked with that boldness
and self-possession, unpleasant in woman, which marks the advanced
female.

‘I hear, Mr. Wentworth, you are a candidate for our borough.  May I ask
what are your views on the subject of Women’s Rights?—a question of vast
importance to our sex.  You know our abject and degraded state; how we
are trodden under foot by our lord and master, man.’

The lady was a spinster, or she would not have talked in that style, but
at length she had said all that she wanted, and paused for a reply.

‘I fear,’ said Wentworth, ‘that you and I can never agree.  I don’t
believe that man and woman are the same.  Nature has made them different.
A woman treads the earth with a lighter step, talks in a feebler voice.
If she succeeds on the platform or in public life, it is because of her
exceptional performance in that character; and owing to her more
excitable temperament and physical peculiarities, and to the duties
devolving on her as wife and mother, I argue that she is unfitted for
public life.  Her duty is at home.  It is there she reigns a queen, and
where, I ask, can she desire a nobler field?  Our men are what their
mothers make them.  I say it is to the home that we have to look for the
purification and elevation of our public life; it is to the mothers of
to-day that we look for the great men of the morrow.’

‘And is this all you’ve got to say?’ said the lady, with a somewhat
chap-fallen countenance.  ‘I did hope, as a journalist, I might have
heard something more satisfactory.  There are many of us in Sloville.  We
are affiliated to a society whose headquarters are in London, and we are
determined to vote for no man.’

‘Excuse me, I understood ladies had no votes.’

‘I mean we are determined that no man shall vote for anyone who is not
sound on the question of Women’s Rights.’

‘I am quite ready to give a widow, or any woman housekeeper, or any woman
in business, a vote.  As a Liberal I don’t know whether I ought to say as
much.  The women will be sure to give a Tory vote.  They are sure to vote
as their favourite parson or priest wishes.’

‘Not the emancipated female of the future.’

‘Alas!’ said Wentworth, ‘I don’t know her.  I can only talk of woman as
she is—charming, lovely, worthy of all honour, in her own peculiar
sphere.’

‘Thank you,’ said the lady haughtily; ‘we want something more;’ and she
went out of the room to report to her committee that on Women’s Rights
the candidate gave a very uncertain sound.

‘Will you,’ said one other fair enthusiast a little later on, ‘vote for
the repeal of the Vaccination Acts?’

‘Certainly not,’ said Mr. Wentworth.  ‘Why should I?’

‘Because it is an interference with the freedom of the subject.’

In vain he argued all government, more or less, was that, and that
small-pox was an awful malady, against which it behoved the nation to
take every precaution.  He spoke in vain.  The anti-vaccinators did not
go so far as to say, as the old opponents did, that vaccination made
children as hairy as bullocks, or that it led them to bellow like bulls.
In our day they have shifted their grounds, but their opposition remains
the same.

The Sabbatarians came next.  They were Liberals mostly, with a sprinkling
of Tory Evangelicals, yet rather than see any mitigation in the severity
of the Jewish Sabbath, any attempt made to divert the working man from
the public-house on a Sunday, they declared themselves dead against Mr.
Wentworth.  The loafers, of course, were against him.  He refused to
treat them to beer.  He kept no public-houses open.  He did not even
offer to stand glasses round when they called.  If he was above obliging
them, why should they put themselves out of their way to oblige him?  He
was for purity and independence.  Little they cared for either the one or
the other.  Every hour it seemed to him that his chance grew less.  What
was the good of talking about an improved foreign policy, about the
advancement of the people in political power, about the reduction of
taxation, or free trade in land, or land reform, to such men?  According
to one class, an election was simply an excuse for bribery and
corruption.  It meant money and beer.  A candidate was to be bled to the
uttermost farthing, and he was to repay himself how he could, and as best
he could, when he got into Parliament.  According to another class, a
General Election was simply an opportunity for fighting on side issues,
and the ventilation of all sorts of fads.

Musing on these things, the waiter came to him to announce another
visitor.  Mr. Wentworth groaned.

‘Not a lady, sir.’

‘Thank God for that!’ he replied.

‘A gentleman this time.’

‘Show him in.’

‘Ah, Mr. Wentworth,’ said the new visitor, ‘I thought I would just run in
and see you.’

‘Happy to see you—take a seat.’

‘I have read your programme, and am delighted with it.’

‘Sir, you flatter me.’

‘Not a bit of it.  It is just what I like.  I don’t think I could have
done it better myself.  You’re the coming man—all Sloville will rally
round you.’

‘It does not seem like it at present,’ said Wentworth gloomily.

‘My dear sir, you astonish me; I should have thought a man of your talent
would have carried everything before him.  But I see I am come in the
nick of time—quite providential, as it were.  I can promise you entire
success.’

‘Upon what terms?’

‘Well, if you put it in that light, I, of course, expect to be paid.  As
a fellow literary man, I would, of course, prefer to work for you for
nothing; but you see, sir, one must live, and the fact is, I have a duty
to discharge to my wife and family.  A man who neglects them, you know,
is worse than an infidel.  I believe I have Scriptural authority for that
statement?’

‘I believe you have, sir.’

‘Ah, yes, my dear sir, I thought a man of your knowledge and good sense
would admit as much.  You know me—my name is Roberts.’

‘I can’t say that I do.’

‘Well, that is a good one!  Did you never read my poem on the death of
Prince Albert?’

‘I can’t say that I have.’

‘Don’t you remember my celebrated speech at Little Pedlington in favour
of the Society for the Equal Diffusion of Capital?’

‘I can’t say that I ever heard of it.’

‘Well, you do surprise me!  How true it is that the world knows nothing
of its greatest men!  Surely you must have heard of my celebrated
discussion with the great O’Toole in the Town Hall of Mudford on the
rights of man, of which the _Mudford __Observer_ remarked that I
demolished my unfortunate antagonist with the brilliancy of Macaulay,
with the philosophy of a Burke, with the wit of a Sheridan, and with a
native originality indicative of the rarest genius.  Why, it was the talk
of the whole town for weeks.  Do you really mean to tell me, Mr.
Wentworth, that you never heard of that?’

‘Never,’ said Wentworth dryly.

‘Well, that’s a good one!  I thought you gentlemen of London kept your
eye on everybody and everything.  But you know the Temple Forum?’

‘Oh, certainly I do.’

‘Ah! I am glad to hear that, because I am one of the leading lights of
that select assembly.’

‘Well, I am very unfortunate.  I cannot remember to have heard you even
there; but I must own I seldom went near the place.’

‘Ah, if you had you would have known me well.  Many is the speech I have
made there.  But perhaps you will kindly glance at this?’ taking out of
his hat a dilapidated and somewhat greasy paper.

Reluctantly Mr. Wentworth took it.

‘It is an account of one of my lectures before the Minerva Institute at
Bullock Smithy.’

‘Bullock Smithy—never heard of that.’

‘Come, Mr. Wentworth, you are a bit of a wag, I see.’

‘Not a bit of it.  Never heard of Bullock Smithy in my life.’

‘Why, it is a rising watering-place in Blankshire, and I had the public
hall to lecture in, with the head notable in the chair, and all the
_élite_ of the place present; and I assure you, as the _Bullock Smithy
Observer_ remarks, it was quite a treat I gave ’em.  “Feast of reason,
flow of soul,” they call it.  I am to give ’em another lecture next
summer.’

‘I am delighted to hear it.’

‘Yes, I knew you would be.  We men of genius always recognise each other.
And now I’ll tell you why I am here.  I’ve come to offer you my services
as a public speaker.  I was at your meeting the other night, and I saw
what was wanted immediately.  “Clever fellow,” said I to myself; “but too
modest and retiring—not enough bounce and brag to fetch the general
public.”  Says I to myself: “I will do it for him; I am the boy for that
kind of work; I am used to it.”  Many a man has got into Parliament
through me.  Indeed, I have never known anyone fail who has secured my
services, and you shall have ’em cheap.  Five pounds for the week and
board and lodging, and I make a speech for you every night.  That’s what
I call a fair offer.  You hesitate.  Well, suppose we say two pounds ten.
I never made so low an offer before, but you are a man and a brother, and
I would do for you what I would not do for anyone else.’

‘I am afraid, Mr. Roberts,’ said Wentworth—‘I fear I must dispense with
your services.’

‘No, don’t say that; don’t stand in your own light, man.  You don’t know
what you’re refusing.  I can almost guarantee your election.  Let me
begin to-night.  Send the crier round to say that Mr. Roberts, the
celebrated orator of the Temple Forum, will speak at your meeting.  If I
don’t astonish ’em I’ll eat my hat.’  A very battered one, by-the-bye,
which it would have required rather a strong stomach to digest.

‘The fact is, Mr. Roberts,’ continued Wentworth, ‘I consider an election
is purely a matter between a candidate and his constituents, and no one
else has a right to interfere.  I should be glad of all the local
strength I could get.  That would show the electors we’re in earnest in
the matter; but as to getting strangers down from town to dazzle the
people with rhetorical fireworks, I really don’t care about it.  I really
should not care to gain my election by such means.  I think it great
presumption even for a London committee, whether sitting at the Carlton
or the Liberal Club, to seek to control the electors.  It is something
very serious to me, the freedom of election and the independence of the
voters.’

‘Sir, you take matters too seriously.  We all know electioneering is
humbug, and the biggest humbug wins.’

‘I fear you and I could not agree, Mr. Roberts, and perhaps you had
better take your talents to another quarter.’

‘And you mean to say, then, that you have no occasion for my services?’
said the collapsing Roberts, who seemed to become smaller every minute.

‘I do, indeed.’

‘Then, sir, I am sorry for you,’ said the indignant orator.  ‘I came out
of friendship; but I am a professional man, and I shall be under the
unpleasant necessity of going to some other party.  I believe Sir Watkin
Strahan will be only too glad of my assistance.’

‘By all means try him,’ said Wentworth.

And the itinerant orator retreated, having first secured a trilling loan
on the plea that his journey down to Sloville had quite cleaned him out,
and that he had been disappointed of a remittance.

No sooner had the orator departed than another arrival was announced.

‘A gentleman from London.’

The Hon. Algernon Smithson, a fellow-member with Wentworth of the
Mausoleum Club, was his name.  In he rushed, protesting that he had
called at the club, that he had gone to Clifford’s Inn, that he had come
on to Sloville, just to see how his friend was getting on.

‘And is that all?’ asked Wentworth.

‘Well, now you mention it, I don’t mind telling you,’ was the reply,
‘that our party are rather uncomfortable about the state of things here,
and Twiss, of the Treasury, asked me if I could not have five minutes’
chat with you, and so, you see,’ said the Honourable, with a jolly laugh,
or, rather, an attempt at it, ‘like the good-natured donkey that I am,
I’ve let the cat out of the bag.  Perhaps that is bad policy; but, then,
you and I, Wentworth, are men of the world, and I like to be
straightforward.’

In most quarters it was considered that the Hon. Smithson was rather a
cunning old fox.

‘The fact is, you Government people don’t want an independent candidate.
Is not that so?’ asked Wentworth.

‘Why, you see, my dear friend, the circumstances of the case are somewhat
peculiar.  We are rather hard pushed, as you know, in the House; parties
are evenly balanced.  Now, Sir Watkin has a good chance here, and his
connections are very numerous in this part of the world.  He is of an old
Whig family.’

‘Yes, I understand; he is to win the borough, and then to be repaid by a
Government appointment.  And if I throw him out?’

‘Why, then we lose a safe man.  You are a very good fellow, Wentworth,
but, then, you are only to be depended on when the Government is right.
You would desert us to-morrow if we went wrong.’

‘I believe I should.’

‘And if you go to the poll you let in a Tory.  Think of that.  Our party
will never forgive you.  There will be a mark against your name as long
as you live.’

‘I have an idea that there is something more important than the triumph
of a party.’

‘What is that?’

‘The triumph of principle.’

‘Ah, that is so like you, Wentworth!’ said the Hon. Smithson, laughing.
‘Men like you are always in the clouds.  We wire-pullers are the only
practical men.’

‘And a pretty mess you’ve made of it.  Now you’ve a Liberal Government on
its last legs that four years ago had nearly a majority of a hundred.’

‘I own it—and I own it with sorrow.  But I am here on business.  I have a
proposition to make.’

‘What is that?’

‘That you arbitrate.’

‘I am quite willing; but the question is, how to arbitrate, and that is
rather a difficult one.’

‘Not at all; it is the easiest thing in the world.  Get a public meeting,
admit an equal number of the supporters of each candidate, and abide by
the result.’

‘Which, if there has been fair play—if one party has not taken a mean
advantage of the other—will leave matters just as they are.’

‘Well, then, let the meeting be an open one, and let the best man win.’

‘That won’t do.  The richer man will be sure to pack it with his
supporters.’

‘Well, then, refer it to a London committee.’

‘A committee of wealthy men, who are sure to favour the wealthiest
candidate, with whom, possibly, they may be on friendly terms; and a rich
man, with the deceitful returns of his paid canvassing, can always make
out a more plausible case than a poor man.  I have a plan,’ continued the
speaker, ‘which might solve the difficulty.’

‘What is it?’

‘Let as many candidates go to the poll as like.  Let them be ranged as
Liberal or Conservative—for we have in reality no Tories now—let the
votes all together be cast up, and let the man who has the highest number
of votes on the winning side be the elected candidate.  One advantage of
such a system would be that it would create more interest in an election.
The difficulty is at present to get people to take an intelligent
interest in politics at all.’

‘Very good; but that is a question for the future.’

‘In the meanwhile,’ said Wentworth, ‘arbitration is a farce.’

Just before the visitor could ransack his brain for a fitting reply, the
waiter (he was an Irishman and a comic genius in his way), in a tone of
awe and eagerness, interrupted the _tête-à-tête_ by announcing the
arrival of Father O’Bourke.



CHAPTER XVIII.
THE IRISH PRASTE.


There are three distinct classes of Roman Catholic priests—the ascetic
and spiritual, the jolly and intellectual, the brutal and Bœotian.  Of
the first Cardinal Manning is the type.  The second was presented to us
in the person of Cardinal Wiseman, who made the Romanist priest as famous
in his day as Cardinal Manning in ours.  Of the third class you may see
specimens every day in every Belgian town, and in many parts of England
and Ireland.  Father O’Bourke was a combination of the two latter types—a
man of humour, a plausible speaker, a tremendous orator, and a man whose
great art was to be conciliatory to all.  He could be very rollicking
over a glass of whisky-and-water, but his power was more physical than
spiritual.  He had something of a domineering tone, the result chiefly of
his mixing with the low Irish who emigrate to England, where, like the
Gibeonites of old, they become chiefly hewers of stone and drawers of
water.

Mr. Wentworth received the priest with all due politeness, as he
explained that he had come for a friendly chat.

‘I am delighted to hear it,’ said Wentworth.  ‘I have been much in
Ireland.’

‘And you learnt there, sir,’ said the priest, ‘that England is a very
cruel country.’

‘I don’t see that, exactly,’ said Mr. Wentworth; ‘for fifty years we
English have been trying to do all the good we can for Ireland.’

‘Ah, so you think, but I assure you, sir, that it is quite otherwise; yet
all that we ask from England is justice.  England is rich and powerful,
and uses her riches and her power to oppress poor Ireland.’

‘How so?’

‘Sir, allow me to refer you to the history of my unfortunate country.
There was a time when Ireland had a flourishing linen trade, but England,
in her jealousy of Ireland, destroyed it.’

‘Well,’ said Wentworth, ‘I have been in Belfast, and was struck with the
prosperity of the place, the respectability of its shops, the size of its
warehouses, the extent of its harbours.  I saw a large population all
seemingly well employed, well dressed, and well fed, with no end of
public institutions and newspapers, and all in consequence of that linen
trade which you tell me the English have destroyed.’

‘Oh, sir,’ said the priest, ‘one swallow does not make a summer.  If one
town is fairly well off, that is no reply to the charge of poverty
produced by the English.  You’ve seen our harbour in Galway?’

‘I have been there, and, undoubtedly, it is a fine harbour.’

‘Indeed, sir, it is,’ replied the priest; ‘and, as you are probably
aware, at one time it was intended to be the seat for a great
Transatlantic trade.’

‘Yes, we all know that.  We have, unfortunately, all heard of the
collapse of the Galway Line.  It is a sad sight to see the great
warehouse standing there empty.  I believe a good deal of money was lost
by too confiding shareholders?’

‘Indeed, sir, you’re right; but what was the reason?’

‘Well, I really don’t recollect at this particular moment.’

‘Sir, the reason was the jealousy of the Liverpool shipowners.  What do
you think they did?’

‘I really can’t say.’

‘Well, as soon as the Liverpool shipowners saw the line was going to be a
success, they came over to Galway and bribed the pilot to run the ship on
the only rock there was in the harbour, and there was the end of the
Galway Transatlantic Line.’

‘Of course, Father O’Bourke, I am not going to contradict you,’ replied
Wentworth.  ‘I am not a Liverpool shipowner, and know little about them;
but I was not long ago in Galway, in the very harbour to which you refer,
and while I was there a man said to me that Allan’s steamers used to call
in there for emigrants, and I asked why they did not then.  “Oh,” said
he, “the fact was, that while they charged in Londonderry a penny a ton,
and in Queenstown a halfpenny, in Galway the charges were sixpence a ton,
and so the steamers were driven away.”  Thus, you see, it was not the
Liverpool shipowners, but the Galway people themselves, that drove the
trade away.  What do you say to that?’

‘Well,’ said the priest, rather confusedly, ‘the fact is, there are
wheels within wheels; we do not want the people to emigrate.’

‘No, you fear you will lose your power over them if they do; but, for the
sake of abusing England, you tell me that England ruined the Galway Steam
Packet Company.  I am inclined to believe it did nothing of the kind.’

‘But the landlords, what do you think of them?’

‘So far as I have seen them, they are a mixed lot, like all the rest of
us—some good, some bad.  I blame people who bid against each other in
their madness to get a bit of land on which it is impossible for anyone
to live.  I blame the priests and the patriots and the landlords who for
ages have winked at this, and allowed the people to sink into a state of
degradation such as you see nowhere else.  For miles and miles, as you
know, Father O’Bourke, in many parts of Galway, you see fields covered
with stones, and these fields are let off as farms.  If the landlord
resides on the estate the stones are cleared off, the soil is drained,
and the tenant manages to make a living—not such as he could get in
America, or Canada, or Australia, if he had pluck enough to leave the old
country and emigrate, but a living of some kind.  If he is under a bad
landlord—a poor Irish squire, for instance—of course it is different.  If
the landlord does not reside upon the estate—unless he be a great English
landlord, like the Duke of Devonshire—the tenant and the land have alike
a bad time of it.  But as the stars in their courses fought against
Sisera, so the heavens are unpropitious to the small farmer.  If he rises
early and sits up late, and eats the bread of carefulness, all is in
vain.  In Liverpool there are five or six miles of docks filled with
American corn and cheese and bacon.  How can the small farmer, either in
England, or Ireland, or Scotland, compete with that?  “It is my belief,”
said a Liverpool gentleman to me—who in the famine year went on a mission
of mercy, and as a messenger of relief exposed himself to all the horrors
of a Connemara winter—“that the small farmer could not get a living even
if, instead of paying rent, rent were given him on condition of his
taking the farm.”

‘I fear, Mr. Wentworth,’ said the priest, ‘you have looked at Ireland
with prejudiced eyes.’

‘Not a bit of it.  No one has been more friendly to the Irish than the
Liberal Party, of which I am a member, and yet we are called infamous,
and bloodthirsty, and base, and brutal.  You know yourself here in
England you live in perfect peace and security; you are allowed to go in
and out amongst the people to make converts if you are so disposed.  In
Ireland, if I attempted to do anything of the kind, I should stand a good
chance of a broken head.’

‘Well, sir, we are a warm-hearted, impulsive people, attached very
strongly to the old religion—the religion of our forefathers.’

‘There is no doubt of that, sir,’ continued Wentworth; ‘wherever you go
in Ireland, in the midst of all its dirt, and starvation, and
wretchedness, and poverty, you see one man well dressed and well fed.’

‘And who may he be, sir?’

‘The parish priest.’

‘And why should he not be?  Is not he the guide and shepherd of his
flock?  I suppose you will blame him next,’ said Father O’Bourke,
reddening.

‘Yes, I do.’

‘What for?’

‘For his desertion of the people.’

‘Really, Mr. Wentworth, you are amusing.  You make me laugh,’ said the
reverend father, looking uncommonly angry.  ‘Should the priest not take
the part of the people?’

‘Certainly.  But he does nothing of the kind.  Is he not the partisan of
the popular agitator?  Does he not place himself by the side of men whose
language is utterly false?  Who stimulates the passions of the people to
fever heat? who teach the poor Irish—ignorant as they are, assassins as I
fear a few of them are, cowards as they are when human life is to be
saved—that they have every virtue under heaven?’

‘Indeed, Mr. Wentworth,’ said the priest indignantly, ‘I know nothing of
the kind.  Ireland has been trampled under foot by the murdering English,
and now we are within measurable distance of Home Rule.’

‘And what will be the good of that?’

‘That the Irish will have their rights at last; that we shall be free of
English tyranny and English injustice.’

‘Yes, you will change King Stork for King Log.  Irishmen are bound to
quarrel.  I was at Queenstown last summer, and taking up the Cork paper,
I read an account of the meeting of the Harbour Commissioners.  In the
course of the meeting, one member denounced another as a humbug and
miscreant of the vilest character, and said, old as he was, he was
prepared to fight him with the weapons God had given him, and thereupon
asked him to step into the next room and have it out.  When I mentioned
the matter to a priest, he said sarcastically, “Of course there are no
rows in the British House of Commons.”  I replied that the questions
discussed there were more likely to lead to heated debate than the
trifling matters a set of Harbour Commissioners would have to deal with.
Furthermore, I added that when we did have a row, it was often begun by
Irishmen, and generally connected with Irish affairs.’

‘Ireland must be governed by Irish ideas; that is all we want.’

‘Let us look at Scotland.  England and Scotland were joined together, and
the union was as much hated by the Scotch as the Irish union is hated by
your people now.  Look at England and Scotland now.  Are they not one
people—equally great, equally flourishing, equally happy under what was,
at one time, a detested union?  Why should not England and Ireland get on
just as well?  Had we given way to Scotch ideas, we should now be at
loggerheads.’

‘Unfortunately, you see, in Ireland,’ said the priest, ‘public opinion is
the other way.’

‘Public opinion!  What public opinion have you, where boycotting and the
bullet of the midnight assassin, who, coward-like, waits for his
unsuspecting victim in a ditch or behind a stone wall, have created a
reign of terror under which all freedom of thought and action is
suppressed?  Public opinion does not exist in Ireland.  The Irish are
down-trodden indeed.  No Russian serfs are worse off.’

‘Nevertheless, in the heart of every Irishman there is a passionate
desire for freedom which has taught her sons to lead heroic lives and to
die heroic deaths.  Think of Emmet, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and many
others, whose names will live in immortal song.’

‘By all means.  They had much to complain of—though they sought a remedy
the wrong way, and suffered in consequence.  The Ireland of their day was
bad enough; but the Ireland of to-day is different.’

‘Different indeed,’ said the priest proudly.  ‘Now we are a united
people; we have the great American nation on our side.’

‘Shall I tell you what an American lady said to me the other day, as I
saw her off in a Cunarder for New York?’ asked Mr. Wentworth.

‘If you like, sir.’

‘“Pray, Mr. Wentworth,” she said, leaning over the ship’s side, as I was
getting into the tug—“pray don’t send us any more Irish.”’

‘That may be, sir.  We all know ladies have their whims and aversions as
well as other people.  But you don’t seem fond of the Irish.’

‘On the contrary, I admire them much.  I envy them their ingenuity, their
humour, their enthusiasm, their power of oratory, their pluck and spirit.
I only wish them better led.  A real union of English and Irish would, I
believe, make us the first nation in the world.’

‘Then, you don’t think much of our leaders?’

‘Oh yes I do.  They are clever men—far cleverer than our average
M.P.’s—but they have put the people on the wrong scent.  It is not
justice Ireland wants.  England and Scotland are quite ready to accord
her that.  The people of England have been the warmest friends of Ireland
from the first.  Indeed, she has had more justice done to her than
England and Scotland.  Her farmers have rights denied to ours; her
representatives occupy almost entirely the attention of Parliament.  Your
leaders only play with the people, and make the wrongs of Ireland a
stepping-stone for themselves to place and power.  What Ireland wants now
is a little peace.  The people are dying of political delirium tremens.
Said an Irish hotel-keeper to me one day, “What Ireland wants is more
industry.  Farmers’ sons won’t work.  They prefer instead to go to fairs
and races and public meetings.  Irishmen won’t invest in any Irish
enterprise, and if they do it is always a job they make of it.”  I myself
have known when Englishmen have gone to Ireland to establish manufactures
to keep the people employed, that the foremen have been shot and the
manufactories closed.  You must have known something of the same kind,
Father O’Bourke.’

‘It may be that there are difficulties between Irishmen and Saxon
masters, and that these difficulties may have occasionally led to
bloodshed and loss of life.  We are a hot-headed people.  We have besides
the wrongs of many long centuries to remember.  You recollect Sir Walter
Raleigh, Mr. Wentworth?’

‘Blessings on his sacred head, I do!  Did he not teach us to grow
potatoes and smoke tobacco?  I’d forgive a man a good deal in
consideration of such lasting benefits.’

‘Please recollect he was one of the English who accompanied Lord Grey to
the South of Ireland, and took part in the attack on a great castle
there.  All the inmates were slaughtered.  A few women, some of them
pregnant, were hanged.  A servant of Saunders, an Irish gentleman, and a
priest were hanged, also.  The bodies, six hundred in all, were stripped
and laid out upon the sands—“as gallant, goodly personages,” said Grey,
“as were ever beheld.”  Was not that murderous work?’

‘It was indeed,’ said Wentworth sadly.  ‘But why treasure up such deeds
of blood done ages ago?  It is not Christian.  The Bible tells us to
forgive our enemies.’

‘But it is human nature.  We Irishmen have long memories.  Such things
can never be forgotten or forgiven.’

‘There I think you’re wrong.  Besides, in the case you refer to the
victims were chiefly foreigners, who had no business there, who had come
merely for the sake of fighting.  What was done in barbarous times would
not be permitted now.  Let us strive to be better friends.  You Irishmen
come to England and we welcome you at the bar, on the press, in trade, in
the army or navy, or the public service.  I will go further still.  It is
a shame that when a bridge is to be built over the Shannon you have to
come to London.  You ought to manage your own local affairs.  But England
is an empire, and high-spirited, intelligent Irishmen would rather take
part in Imperial politics than shine in a local Parliament.  Home Rule
will not satisfy the natural aspirations of an Irishman of talent.  I met
an old Dutch naval captain at Flushing who complained to me one day
bitterly of the hardship of his lot.  When he was born Holland was a part
of France; now Holland was independent, and he was a citizen of a little
principality rather than of a great empire.  It will be so with the
Irishman of the future—or an Irishman in search of a career.’

‘But, sir, is not a desire for Ireland’s nationality a reasonable one?’

‘Undoubtedly; but Ireland never was a nation.  It was always torn with
dissension; with leaders and lords ready to kill each other, only kept
from doing so by England.  No one would rejoice to see Ireland a nation
more than I, but that is a dream of which I despair.’

‘But Home Rule will make Ireland a nation.’

‘How can you say that, sir?’ said Wentworth indignantly.  ‘It is in the
Protestant north that the strength of Ireland lies; it is there you meet
intelligence and industry and wealth; it is there you see what Ireland
might become.  In all other parts of Ireland, what do you see but
wretchedness and poverty?  There is a permanent line of separation which
not even Home Rule can obliterate.’

‘You are very outspoken, Mr. Wentworth—more so than is politic, I fear,’
said the reverend Father, with a bitter smile.  ‘We have many Irish
voters in this borough, and I fear they will be unable to give you their
support; and Irish support is a matter of some consequence.  In many
borough elections they can turn the scale.’

‘Alas! I am quite aware of that; but I hold my opinion, nevertheless.
The demand for an Irish Parliament independent of an Imperial one will
come to the front, the Liberal Party will find themselves compelled to
support it—’

‘And then we shall have peace.’

‘No a bit of it!  Then we shall have civil war.  It was only a week or
two since I was talking to a porter at the Limerick Station.  He said to
me: “The people want Home Rule.  Let ’em have it, and there won’t be many
of ’em left.”  And I fear the porter was right.’

‘Why, who will there be to fight?’

‘The men of the North.  I have no sympathy with Orangemen: they are hard
and bigoted, and have done immense mischief in Ireland; but they will
never be content with a Home Rule measure which will hand them over to
their foes.  Things are bad enough now, with England keeping both
parties, to a certain extent, from flying at each other.  What Ireland
will be under Home Rule such as will be accepted by the Nationalists I
shudder to contemplate.’

‘You are easily alarmed,’ said the priest, as he took his leave.  ‘We
shall have Home Rule, and for once Ireland will be at peace.’

‘I hope so, I am sure,’ said Mr. Wentworth, as the reverend gentleman
left him alone.



CHAPTER XIX.
WENTWORTH RETIRES.


Just as the Irish ‘praste’ walked out, a gentleman rushed in, breathless
and unannounced.

‘Ah, my dear boy,’ said he, ‘in the language of Scripture I ask, What
doest thou here, Elijah?’

‘Ask as much as you like,’ said Wentworth; ‘but I do not know that I am
bound to answer.’

‘Wentworth, you are making an ass of yourself.  You may think the
language rather strong, but it is true, nevertheless.  You know I am a
candid friend, and I tell you this is not your place.’

‘I am almost of the same opinion.’

‘Let us look at the thing seriously.  What is Parliamentary life but the
dreariest drudgery going?—worse than that of the treadmill.  The House
meets at four, and rises God knows when.  In any civilized community the
House would meet in the day, and the business would be got through in a
creditable manner.  In that House you must remain night after night,
never out of the sound of the division-bell or the call of the whip.
There is a nice smoking-room, I own, but as it is, I believe you smoke
too much.  There is a fine library, but it is not so convenient for you
as your own in Clifford’s Inn.  I believe the dinners are not bad; but
you are a philosopher, and prefer your roast potato and your mutton-bone—

             ‘“A hollow tree,
    A crust of bread and liberty.”

—to the dainties of the gourmand.  On a hot night you can have a
moonlight walk, to breathe the odours of the silvery Thames, and the
chances are you will go home to be laid up with rheumatism.’

This latter aspect of the question was always a serious thing to the
speaker.  He was a medical man, and had constituted himself the guardian
of Wentworth’s health.  The two were warmly-attached friends.  Buxton,
for such was his name, had not made much way in his profession; in fact,
he was not a lady’s man.  He was rough in voice, blunt in manner,
somewhat uncouth in appearance.  He might have done for the army or navy;
but as a general practitioner he had no chance.

Any respectable lady who had injured her health by tight-lacing or late
hours, or her figure by high-heeled boots, or her complexion by
cosmetics; any decent tradesman or substantial British merchant who had
ruined his liver by a too generous diet and want of fresh air and
exercise; any devoted parson who had induced—as he may well have
done—softening of the brain, considering what he has to say, and to whom,
not once a week, but all the year round, would have deemed Buxton, with
his absence of all _finesse_, with his straightforward habit of talking,
with his rude and, to them, impertinent and unfeeling questions, a brute;
and thus Buxton spread out his net and displayed his head full of strange
wares in vain.  But he was honest to the core, and a genuine friend, with
a love of science nothing could quench, and with a desire to benefit his
neighbours, which in his case was its own reward.

His wants were not many, for he was a bachelor; and independently of his
profession, he had a comfortable little property of his own.  England
owes much to her medical men.  In the priesthood of the future they will
not occupy the lowest scale.  Already they rank amongst our greatest
theological reformers.  Undoubtedly one of the healthiest signs of the
times is the attention paid by the modern Christian to that wonderful
temple of ours, the human body, fashioned, as we would fain believe, in
the Divine image by an Almighty power.

It is lamentable to see how at one time all trace of that elevating idea
was lost sight of, and how widely it was accepted as a matter of course
that this poor carcase, this earthly tabernacle, this vile body of sin
and death, was, if the Divine life was to be kept alive, to be subjected
to treatment which would have brought the wrong-doer within the four
corners of any decent Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, had
such an Act been in existence.  A good many of the sighs and groans
accepted as evidences of exalted piety in past days, were more the result
of earthly than of celestial influences—more due to the fact that the
digestion was weak than that the spirit was strong; that it was ill with
the body rather than it was well with the soul.

It was a common error not many years since—it may be that it exists more
or less now—for pious people to assume that a dislike of this world, a
shutting of the mental eye to all the wonders and glory of it as revealed
by the sun that walks by day, and the moon that rules by night, was a
sure sign of fitness for another; that maudlin sentimentalism was
religion in its purest form, that to be unhealthy and miserable was to be
a saint.  We have got rid of that folly, at any rate, and a good deal of
the credit of it is due to Dr. Andrew Combe, brother of the phrenologist,
George Combe, whose popular phrenology and other works did much to arouse
and enlighten the public mind.

It is not now that to treat the body decently is considered a sign of a
low state of spirituality—that we hear it urged as an excuse for
neglecting to take care of one’s health, the most precious talent given
by God to man, that it is wrong to take any trouble about the flesh in a
state of sin and under bondage, and in a few short years to be food for
worms.  Such talk was pitilessly flouted, if ever Buxton chanced to come
within ear-shot of it, and good people, accordingly, in their abounding
charity, fancied he was a sceptic, that he denied the faith, and was
worse than an infidel.  Buxton continued:

‘What can you do, what can anyone do in the House of Commons, but
register the people’s will.  It is outside the House, not within, that
the battle of public opinion is fought.  To you or me a Parliamentary
struggle is neither more nor less than a trial of the outs to get into
office, or of the ins to retain place and power; for, let them call
themselves what they will—Tories or Radicals, Advanced Reformers or
Obstructionists—no Government can exist in this country that does not
represent public opinion, and does not do honest work for its living.  It
was so in the days of rotten boroughs, of Sir Robert Walpole, of Pitt and
Fox, of Castlereagh and Canning and Sidmouth, and is still so now.’

‘I have said as much to you a thousand times,’ said Wentworth, smiling.

‘Of course you have.  Like myself, you are a man of sense.  If you were a
barrister, I would say, Get into Parliament by all means.  If you did not
do any good for your country, you might get a good place for yourself.
If you were a parson you could get a living.’

‘Ah,’ said Wentworth, ‘that reminds me of a good story; you recollect
Thompson, who edited the _Political Pioneer_?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘Well, he wrote, as you may remember, very violently and ridiculously in
favour of the late Government.  He took his articles to the right
quarter, and asked for a reward.  “If you were a barrister,” said the
Government manager, “we could give you a berth; if you were a parson, we
could give you a living.  As it is, I fear we can’t help you.”  Somehow
or other Thompson managed to get ordained, and was given a living in the
North, which he has been obliged to leave on account of drunkenness, and
he is now back in town working at odds and ends on his old paper.’

‘Well,’ said Buxton, ‘I am not surprised at that.  He never was a man for
whom I had any respect, but I don’t want to see you shelved in that way.
If you want office, of course you must get into Parliament, but I don’t
think you care much about that sort of thing.’

‘No, I should think not.’

‘Then, what do you want to get into Parliament for?  Think of the
hypocrisy of public life.  An independent M.P. is a nuisance to all
parties, and can do no good.  You dislike to hear the cry of the Church
in danger, because you know the man who raises it means that he is afraid
of losing his tithes.  You laugh at the man who talks about preserving
our glorious Constitution of Church and State, because you and I well
know what he means is the preservation of caste and injustice.  But is
the Liberal politician much better, who, to keep his party in power, goes
ranting about the country in the sacred name of Liberty and Freedom and
Progress, and the Rights of Man?  Depend upon it, there is little to
choose between one set of men and the other.  Both are equally selfish,
equally thinking of number one, when they are most frantic for their
revered leader, as they call him, or most eager to champion the masses;
their care is the triumph of their party, mostly, too, with an eye to
office themselves.’

‘Upon my word, I believe I have heard all this before.’

‘I believe you have, old boy, and as long as you keep such good company
as you are in at the present time I believe you stand an uncommon good
chance of hearing it again.  There is nothing like line upon line, and
precept upon precept.  You can speak well, but you won’t have a chance of
being heard in the House of Commons, where you will be muzzled in order
that the officials may have their say.  Besides, in the House speeches
are mere make-believe.  They never influence the voting.  All that you
can do is to vote black is white in the interests of your party, and is
it worth while going into the House for that?  Certainly not.’

‘Go on,’ said Wentworth sarcastically.

‘Thank you, I will.  Then think of what you have to go through to into
the House—the trouble you must take; the time you must waste; the money
you must spend; the speeches you must make; the lies you must utter.  You
will have to tell the voters they are intelligent—you know the mass of
them are nothing of the kind.  You must make them believe that, if they
do not strain every nerve to get you into Parliament, the sun will refuse
to shine and the earth to yield her fruit. At any rate, if you do not say
that, you will have to say something very much like it.  You have got to
make the voter feel that his vote will do away with the wrongs of ages,
when you and I well know that in this land of ours nothing is done in a
hurry if it is done well, and that, as Tennyson writes,

    ‘“Freedom broadens slowly down
    From precedent to precedent.”

The time is coming when the only chance for anyone to get into Parliament
will be either that he is a working man and can secure the votes of his
class, or that he shall be some large employer of labour with a certain
number of votes under his thumb, and Parliament will be little better
than a parish vestry.’

‘Well, we have not come to that yet, and a man may do a great deal of
good even in Parliament.’

‘Yes, he may, but he can do it better outside.  It was an outside
organization that carried the repeal of the Corn Laws, that carried
reform in Parliament, that repealed the taxes on knowledge, that
abolished West Indian slavery.’

‘Of course you mean the press.’

‘Of course I do, my boy.  I repeat daily to myself the words of old
Marvell, “Oh, printing, printing, how hast thou disturbed the peace of
mankind!  That lead, when moulded into bullets, is not so mortal as when
formed into letters.  There was a mistake, sure, in the story of Cadmus,
and the serpent’s teeth which he sowed were nothing but the letters he
invented.”  Stick to the press, my boy, and don’t lower yourself by
descending into the Parliamentary arena.  It is long since the House of
Commons was the best club in London, which conferred on a man _prestige_.
It is now a place where the work is mostly dull, and always hard and
unsatisfactory, and the company rather queer.  Shall we give up to party
what is meant for mankind?”  Shall the blessed sun of day prove a Micker
and eat blackberries?”  Shall we harness Pegasus or Bucephalus to a
common dray?  Never, my boy, never!’

‘I hear you, Buxton, and the worst of it is that what you say is true.’

‘I am glad to hear you say so.  Come back with me to town.  Leave the
borough to those who have nursed it.  The ox knoweth his owner, and the
ass his master’s crib.  An election is a matter of £ s. d.  It is all
very well to talk bunkum on the platform, but the wire-pullers want cash
for themselves and to work with.  When the masses are better educated,
they will be proud to return a man like you.’

‘Well,’ said Wentworth, ‘I am of your opinion, and we’ll go back to town
together.’

The mob, however, was determined not to let Wentworth depart in peace.
They followed him with stones and mud until he found shelter in the
station waiting-room.

‘Good heavens!’ said the station-master.  ‘Mr. Wentworth, what a state
you are in!  What have you been up to?  Who would have thought of seeing
you in such a mess?’

‘Ah, Mr. Johnson, you remember me!’

‘I should think so, sir.  We all missed you when you left Bethesda
Chapel.  But what have you been doing?’

‘Only speaking the truth to the free and independent electors of this
enlightened borough.’

‘You mean casting pearls before swine.’

‘Well, I fear that is the proper way of putting it; but neither you nor I
may say that in this place, and especially at this time.’

‘No, the people are half crazy, and most of them tipsy.  They always are
so at election time.  I can’t say who are the worst, Liberals or Tories,
rich or poor—they all seem to me bad alike.  The fact is, parties are
very fairly divided here, that the election is really in the hands of a
few, who only want a debauch, and don’t care a rap for politics of any
kind.  The only question with them is, Who will spend the most money?
But what are you going to do?’

‘Why, get out of the place as soon as possible.’

‘Well, perhaps that is the best thing you can do; but first let me see if
I can’t help to make you look a little more respectable.’

The attempt was partly successful; and having washed and covered his rags
with a great-coat, and exchanged his battered hat for a travelling cap,
Wentworth took his seat in a first-class carriage, and, lighting his
cigar, mused on the dangers he had run, and the disgusting scene of which
he had been a witness.

‘Good heavens!’ said he to himself, ‘what a farce!  And yet there are
those who say, _Vox populi_, _vox dei_!  Happily, as a rule, we get
gentlemen in Parliament, and the result of an election is not bad on the
whole.  Shall we be able to say as much when a lower class of candidates
are returned?’

The Liberal press were angry, and Wentworth came in for his share of
abuse.  He laughed as he read of his wickedness.  Still more did he laugh
as he thought of the people who had interviewed him—the needy Scotchman
who sympathized with his manly struggle, had read his speeches with
undying interest, who fervently prayed that he might win, and who, though
he was not an elector, felt sure that Wentworth was a Scotchman, and
would lend a brother Scot a small loan; the ladies who had endeavoured to
capture him by storm; the collectors of various great societies who felt
sure that Wentworth would not refuse to subscribe to their funds, as all
the Liberal candidates had done the same; the stupid questions he had to
answer; the slanders of which he had been the victim; the enthusiasm he
had evoked; the temporary importance he had achieved.  It was an
experience which he would not have missed, and so far he was quite
satisfied with the result.



CHAPTER XX.
A STORM BREWING.


The elections were over; Parliament had met; the nobles of the land had
returned to town as well as their toadies, and admirers, and imitators;
and all was gay and glittering in the parks, at the clubs, and in
Belgravian _salons_.  The _quidnuncs_ of society were as busy as bees.
In our time the Church and the theatre are in equal request, and it is
hard to say who is the winner in the race for public favour, the last new
star at the theatre or the last pulpit pet; the last strong man of the
music-hall, the newest favourite of the ring.  We are a catholic-minded
people, and are grateful to anyone who will give us something to talk
about.

For once the shopkeepers of Regent Street and Bond Street were in good
spirits.  There was every prospect of a successful season.  London was
full, and there was no end of society balls and dinners.  An Austrian
archduke was to appear on the scene.  One of the richest of the American
Bonanza kings had taken a great house in Grosvenor Square.

The deserted palace of Buckingham would once more open its doors, and
there were to be Drawing-rooms, whether as regards numbers or brilliancy
rivalling any that had ever been held.

We had a strong Government, with a strong majority behind, and
speculators on the Stock Exchange were buying for a rise.  The
Rothschilds of London and Paris and Vienna had all agreed that there
should be peace, and it was also understood that a great German
Chancellor had kindly condescended to intimate that for the present, at
any rate, the sword might be sheathed, and that honest peasant lads,
instead of being served up as food for powder, might be usefully employed
in agricultural occupations, much to the joy of hotel-keepers on the
Rhine, at Baden-Baden and elsewhere.  Even in the valleys and mountains
of the Alps, in the new nation of Italy, in the gilded palaces of the
Sultan on the Bosphorus, there was unusual light-heartedness, for the
Eastern Question was indefinitely postponed.  The talk of the clubs had
ceased to have any reference to politics.  A great calm had settled
everywhere in the East of London, where poverty makes men Radicals and
Social Democrats, and in the West, where the only burning question of the
hour is how to put off the day of reckoning to a more convenient season.

If it had not been for the occasional appearance of a wealthy American
heiress, whose father had ‘struck ile,’ of a fair Anonyma on horseback,
in an exquisitely-appointed equipage in some fashionable thoroughfare, or
for a whisper of a scandal in high life, or for a wild adventure now and
then of a man about town, or the unexpected collapse of a favourite on
the turf, or the disgraceful bankruptcy of a pious banker, society would
have been duller than ditch water.  As it was, what to do with the heavy
hours intervening between luncheon and dinner seemed a problem too
difficult for human ingenuity—even when most fitly trained and fairly
developed—to solve.

It was precisely at this trying hour Sir Watkin Strahan might be seen
lolling idly and discontentedly in one of the many armchairs which
adorned the smoking-room of his Piccadilly club.  By his side was an
emptied glass, the ashes of a defunct cigar, and the usual journals which
are humorously supposed to be comic, or to be remarkably witty, or to
represent society.  He did not look particularly pleased, not even when a
brother member, evidently a chip of the same block, seated himself by his
side, exclaiming:

‘Holloa, Sir Watkin, what brings yon up to town?  I thought you were
carrying all before you at Sloville.’

‘Sloville be d---d!’

‘Certainly, my dear friend, if you wish it.  What’s Hecuba to me?’

‘Now, look at me, and drop that style of remark.’

We comply with the Baronet’s suggestion, and look at him.  He was, after
all, a handsome man, carefully dressed and fitted to shine in Belgravia;
soft and gentle in manner, sleek as a tiger.  Time had dealt gently with
him, had spared his head of hair, and saved him from the obesity which
attacks most men after a certain age.  Mr. Disraeli tells us that the
English aristocracy do not read, and live much in the open air.  Hence
their juvenility.  At a distance Sir Watkin looked anywhere between
five-and-twenty and fifty.  To-day, however, he looked nearer the latter
than the former.  He did not look like a good man, such as you read of in
evangelical biographies or on the tombstones in churchyards and
cemeteries.  There was a scowl on his forehead, anger in his eye and in
his tones.

‘Well,’ said another friend, ‘all I can say is I have just seen ---,’
naming the Liberal whip, ‘and he’s terribly cut up.  He thought you were
safe for Sloville.’

‘So I should have been if it had not been for that infernal Wentworth.
My canvassers and election agent made me feel quite certain of success.
I believe they humbugged me frightfully.’

‘Oh, they always do that.  It is their nature.’

‘But it is none the less disagreeable.  My own opinion is, there was a
good deal of bribery.  Money seemed very plentiful.  The Carlton had a
finger in the pie.  Old Shrouder was there; and he is always at his old
game.  There is not another such a rascal in all England.’

‘That’s saying a great deal.  I wonder how the old scamp has managed to
keep out of Newgate.’

‘Lord bless you, man! you know none of our hands are very clean; but I am
sure I could get the new M.P. unseated on petition.’

‘What, and claim the vacant seat?’

‘No, alas! that won’t do.  How can I say what my agent was up to, or what
was done by idiotic friends?  The law is so particular.  They make out
everything to be bribery nowadays.  It is precious hard nowadays for a
gentleman to get into Parliament, and that is a rascally shame.  We have
been in the place for a hundred years.  There is not a charity in it I
don’t support.  I have spent a fortune in nursing the town.  All I can
say is, next Christmas some of the free and independent will feel rather
silly when they miss the coals and blankets, and find the key of the wine
cellar lost.’

‘I can’t make it out; there must be some other reason.  Do you think that
fellow Wentworth had anything to do with your defeat?’ asked the
Baronet’s friend.  ‘You know he seems to be rather high-minded, and these
men are in the way at an election.’

‘Well, he might, with his nonsense, have kept some of the voters away.  I
did hear some ill-natured gossip about myself, but I can’t trace it to
him.’

‘Oh!’ said his friend; ‘that’s what I was waiting for.  The British mob
won’t stand that sort of thing, though they ill-use their wives every
day.’

‘Why, I never said what the gossip was.’

‘No, but I know.  You’re not a saint, Sir Watkin.’

‘Nor you either.  The people, somehow or other, had got it into their
heads that I behaved badly to a Sloville girl.’

‘A thing you could never think of doing,’ said his friend, with affected
indignation.

‘No, it is too near home,’ said the Baronet.

‘But you know I have always said to you that the way in which you went on
with women would, one day or other, get you into a scrape.  Stick to the
married ones, and leave the young ones alone.  That is my plan.  If you
get into a mess then, the woman is bound to help you out.  The chances,
you see, are two to one in your favour.  But there is a better plan
still.’

‘What is that?’

‘Leave ’em alone.  They all mean mischief.’

‘Well, it is not everyone who is such a cool hand as you are.’

‘So much the worse for other people,’ was the reply.  ‘But in the case of
that Sloville girl, I really don’t see you have anything to reproach
yourself with.  She ran away from you, did she not? and I don’t see how
any mischief could be made of that.  I suppose she is still able to carry
on the highly respectable calling of a dressmaker; I think she was that.
She was an uncommonly fine girl; there was quite a style about her; and a
girl like that can’t take much harm—that is, as long as she keeps her
good looks.’

‘Oh no, the girl is all right.  She is now the popular Miss Howard, of
the --- Theatre.’

‘The deuce she is!  Why, then, don’t you make it up with her?  A bracelet
and a dinner at the Star and Garter will do the trick.’

‘I fear not.  The fact is, I met her accidentally a short time ago, and
she held her head as high as Lucifer.’

‘Only acting, my dear boy.  ’Tis only pretty Fanny’s way.  ’Tis well—she
might have come to you for money.’

‘I wish she had.  That would have given me a pull on her.’

‘She might have served you with an action for breach of promise.’

‘That would have been too ridiculous.’

‘She was young.  I don’t feel sure that she might not have had you up
under the Act which makes the parent the guardian of the child till she
is sixteen.’

‘Oh no, she was older than that.’

‘Perhaps she wants to excite you.  She knows now that you are a single
man, and she thinks it well to begin the renewal of her acquaintance with
a little seasonable aversion.’

‘The fact is, she not only treated me with aversion, but she cut me
dead.’

‘Shocking!’ said his friend.

‘Yes, it was.  I was always fond of her, and I am mad to get hold of her
again.’

‘That ought not to be difficult to Sir Watkin Strahan.’

‘Perhaps not.  But there is a man in the case—a newspaper fellow—the
fellow, in short, who had the impudence to come down to Sloville to
contest the borough.  I believe he lost me the seat.  I believe the girl
got him to do it out of revenge.’

‘Then, I would be even with him.’

‘So I will before I’ve done with him.  You may be sure I’ll have my
revenge,’ said the Baronet angrily.

‘Yes, I can trust you for that,’ said his friend.  ‘You are a good
fellow, Sir Watkin, but you neither forget nor forgive.’

‘No, we don’t in our family, and we have found it answer our purpose very
well.’

‘But, come, liquor up.  Never mind the women; leave them to themselves.’

‘Ah, that is easier said than done.  I suppose I must give up this sort
of life.  I must marry again, and reform, and settle down into a quiet
life, look after my tenants, attend the parish church, do my duty as a
magistrate and a breeder of fat cattle, as my fathers before me.  They
seem to have been all highly beloved and deeply regretted.  That is, if I
read aright the inscriptions on their monuments in Sloville Church.’

‘They must have been if they were at all like their latest
representative,’ said his friend sarcastically.

‘You be blowed!’ was the uncomplimentary reply.  ‘I tell you what.  I see
the girl is acting to-night.  I have nothing better to do—I’ll go and see
her.’

‘Shall I come with you?’

‘No, I thank you; I’d rather go alone.’

‘You had better take me with you.  You’ll get into another scrape.  You
always do when I am not with you.’

‘Thanks, but I think I am old enough to run alone.  If I want your
valuable aid I shall send for you.’

‘Do—I shall be here all right.  It amuses me more to have a quiet rubber
than to be tearing all over London by night after anything in
petticoats.’

‘Ah, you are a philosopher.’

‘I wish I could return the compliment.’

‘By-the-by,’ said the Baronet, changing the subject, ‘did you ever hear
of the curious predicament I am in?’

‘What do you mean—the birth and disappearance of the baby?’

‘Exactly so.  You were in Italy at the time, or I should have liked to
have talked it over.  My lady, as you know, did me the favour to present
me with a son and heir.  I am not a judge of babies myself, nor am I
particularly partial to them, but it was a creditable baby, so far as I
can judge.  I imagine its lungs were sound by the way in which it
squealed.  It had the regulation number of limbs, the family proboscis,
and apparently the parental eyes.  The women all voted it a sweet little
innocent, and the image of its father.’

‘That’s a matter of course,’ said the friend.

‘Well, one day the child was missing.’

‘I remember hearing of it.  It was said your lady was in delicate health
at the time, and the shock caused her death.’

‘I believe it had something to do with it; but the fact was with all her
admirable qualities she had peculiar notions, and that led to little
unpleasantnesses between us at times, and she worried herself about
trifles in a way I am sure that was not good for her, and I must own that
when the child was missing, naturally, she was very much cut up.’

‘And the father?’ said the friend.

‘I took it more calmly, I own.  You can’t expect a man of the world, like
myself, to have been broken-hearted about the loss of a little bit of
flesh like that.  Had it lived to become a young man, and to have plagued
his poor father as I plagued mine, or as most young fellows do, I should
have been prostrated with grief, I dare say.  As it was, I bore the loss
with the heroism of a martyr, and the resignation of a saint.’

‘You need not tell me that; I can quite believe it,’ remarked his friend
with a smile.

‘Well, as I have said, her ladyship worried herself a good deal
unnecessarily.  I never can understand why women have such particular
ideas.  I suppose they learn them from the parson.  Now, there was Lady
---’ (naming the wife of a volatile premier forgotten now, but much
beloved by the British public for his spirited foreign policy and his low
Church bishops).  ‘I had the honour of dining with her ladyship at the
time there was a little scandal afloat respecting his lordship’s
proceedings with a governess who had made her appearance in the family of
one of his relatives.  The thing was in the papers, and it was nonsense
pretending to ignore it.  Somehow or other it was incidentally alluded
to.

‘“Ah,” said her ladyship, turning to me with one of her most bewitching
smiles, “that is so like my dear old man.”

‘Her ladyship was a sensible woman, and loved her gay Lothario not a bit
the less for his little peccadilloes.  I never saw a more harmonious
pair.  They were a model couple, and if they had gone to Dunmow for the
flitch of bacon, they would have won it.  I never could get my lady to
look at things in such a sensible manner, and I do fear that at times she
fretted herself a good deal, and we know that is bad for health.  One of
our nursemaids was a perfect Hebe.  I could not resist the temptation.  I
believe some ill-natured female aroused my lady’s suspicions.  At any
rate, one cold winter’s evening she forced herself into my sanctum.  I
did not happen to be alone.  Hebe, as I called her, was with me.  We had
a scene.  I took the mail train that same night to Paris.  The poor girl,
I understand, was turned out of the house the moment I had gone.  My
opinion is she stole that baby out of revenge.  It was missing about a
month after.  I must own her ladyship took every step she could to prove
that the girl had stolen the child.  We had detectives hard at work, and
when the child was restored in a mysterious way, the matter dropped.
Then, alas! the child died, and the mother too.  That was many years ago,
and from that day to this I never have been able to hear anything of the
woman.  The child is buried in the family vault, but I have been much
troubled lately.’

‘As how?’

‘Why, suppose the child is not dead.  That the one restored was someone
else’s.  That I have a son and heir suddenly about to be sprung upon me,
at an inconvenient season.  That would be awkward, to say the least.’

‘D--- awkward,’ was the sympathetic reply.

‘Suppose, for the sake of argument, I were to marry again, and have a
family, and another son and heir, and a claimant came forward for the
family title and estate.’

‘Ah, that would be a nice business for the lawyers, and a godsend for the
newspapers.’

‘Undoubtedly, but a bad one for everyone else, especially if the costs
were to come out of the estate.’

‘Well, the lawyers would have to be paid.’

‘You may trust them for that, but I want to keep out of their clutches.
In case of a second marriage all this business will have to be gone into;
but marry I will, if it is only to spite the presumptive heir, a man whom
I always hated as a sneaking boy, and I don’t love the man now he fancies
he is going to step into my shoes, or, if not, who feels that his family
will.  I am bound to marry, if only out of spite.’

‘The best thing you can do, Sir Watkin, and I wish you well through it.
I am not a marrying man myself.  I never was.  I am getting too old for
it, and I could not afford it if I wished.  When we are young we have
dreams of love in a cottage, and try to persuade ourselves that what is
enough for one is enough for two; that there is nothing half so sweet as
love’s young dream.  But, oh, the terrible awakening, when the dream is
over, and the grim-reality of poverty stalks in at the door, and the
husband has endless toil, and the wife endless sorrow, and even then the
wolf is not kept from the door; and things are worse when the happy
couple come to their senses and feel what fools they have been.  There is
little room for love then.  I believe matrimony is the sin of the age.
No one can pretend now that to increase and multiply is the whole duty of
man.  The world is over-peopled, half of the people of England cannot get
a decent living as it is.  Why am I to drag a respectable woman down into
the depths of poverty?  Why, I ask, is she to drag me down?  I have my
comforts, my clubs, my amusements, my occupations, my position in
society.  Were I married I should lose them all, unless I married a Miss
Kilmansegg with her golden leg.  But your case is different, Sir Watkin.
You are bound to marry.  It is a duty you to owe to your ancestors, who
have given you title and fortune, to continue the family.’

It may be that some may not approve of this style of talk.  They may
question the need of great hereditary families.  They may go so far as to
insinuate that the happiness of such few individuals is often
inconsistent with the welfare of the many; that the system which keeps up
such is an artificial one; that the true aim of legislation should be the
greatest happiness of the greatest number.  Respectability in wonder may
well ask what next?  But in the coming era respectability will have a
good deal to wonder about.



CHAPTER XXI.
AN UNPLEASANT RENCONTRE.


Left alone with himself, Sir Watkin revolved many things.  He was not
sorry after all, he tried to persuade himself, that he was not in
Parliament.  He was no eager politician, and he had none of that fatal
fluency when on his legs, so common in our day among the ambitious clerks
and traders who join Parliamentary societies, and figure in them with the
hope at some time or other of calling themselves M.P.’s.  It was time, he
thought, that he should again try his luck in the matrimonial market,
and, indeed, he had almost made up his mind to secure a prize which had
been temptingly displayed.

He had been staying at Brighton, at a grand hotel, and there he had made
the acquaintance of a wealthy merchant, an old widower, with an only
daughter, for whose hand and heart he had already commenced angling.  The
father was chatty and cheerful in the smoking-room, of one of the
Brighton clubs, and the girl, if she had not the birth of a lady, had all
the accomplishments of one.  She was not romantic, few girls nowadays
are.  She was not a philosopher in petticoats, as so many of them try to
be.  She read novels, could quote Tennyson, had the usual
accomplishments, never failed to put in an appearance at a fashionable
church on a Sunday, and had once or twice figured at a stall at a charity
bazaar.  Her figure looked well on horseback, and did not disgrace a
Belgravian ball-room.  It was to her credit that she had not attempted
authorship.  She was not a bad hand at a charade, and was a proficient in
lawn tennis, where one weak curate after another had succumbed to her
charms.  Poor fellows, they singed their wings in vain at that candle.
Neither father nor daughter was ecclesiastically inclined.  In addition,
she had had the measles and been vaccinated and confirmed, and was
ambitious of worldly success.

‘Just a woman to make a lady of,’ said the Baronet to himself, as he
watched her receding figure one morning as she was on her way to Brill’s
Baths for a swimming lesson.  ‘They tell me the old man has no end of
tin, and this is his only child.’

He met the Baronet half way.  When Sir William Holles, the son of that
Sir William Holles, Lord Mayor of London, and Alderman of Candlewick
Ward, and knighted by Henry VIII., was recommended by his friends to
marry his daughter to the Earl of Cumberland, he replied:

‘Sake of God’ (his usual mode of expression), ‘I do not like to stand
with my cap in hand to my son-in-law.  I will see her married to an
honest gentleman with whom I may have friendship and conversation.’

Sir Watkin relieved the London merchant of any apprehension on that
score, when, one day, he managed to dine in his company.  It was
wonderful how well they got on together.  Sir Watkin talked of stocks and
shares, of foreign loans and the rate of exchange, of hostile tariffs, of
the fall of this house and the rise of another, of aldermen and lord
mayors, as if he had been a City man himself.  It is true this talk is
rather dull, but Sir Watkin was not brilliant by any means.

Back in town the Baronet felt rather dull.  Such men often are dull.
Time hangs heavily on the hands of such.

As Sir Watkin looked into the advertising columns of the evening paper he
caught the name of Miss Howard.  She was acting that very night.  He
would go and see her.  Just as he resolved to carry out this idea, his
old club friend reappeared upon the scene.  Sir Watkin stated his
intention.  There could be no harm in his doing that.  Perhaps she might
soften; perhaps her anger was only assumed.  Perhaps it was not the woman
but the actress that seemed so indignant at their unexpected meeting.

‘How foolish,’ thought his friend, ‘Sir Watkin is!  He had better take me
with him, or he’ll be sure to get into a scrape.  That’s like him.  Just
as he wants to pull off that Brighton affair he’s off after another
woman.’

Sir Watkin meanwhile is making his way to the theatre.  I don’t say that
he is to be condemned because he did that.  As a rule a man of a gay turn
or of idle disposition is better inside a theatre than out.  At any rate,
there he is out of harm’s way, and not losing money, as he might be if he
remained betting and gambling at his club.  The life there produced is a
good deal of it artificial and unnatural, but the spectacle is generally
pleasant, and if the actors are often ridiculous, some of them are good,
and a few of them clever.

It was late when Sir Watkin entered the theatre.  For awhile he waited in
vain; at length, on the stage, sure enough, was the woman he wanted to
see.  Did she recognise him in the stalls?  He hoped she did.  He was got
up regardless of expense, and occupied a good place.  He had dined well,
and had somewhat the appearance of a son of Belial, flushed with
insolence and wine.  He felt that the actress was in his power.  He knew
the manager, and was certain that he could gain access, when he sought
it, behind the scenes.  Strange to say, the actress regarded him not.
When you are acting, it is not always easy—especially if you are in
earnest—to single out particular individuals from the motley mass in
front of the footlights.  The good actor throws himself into his part,
and has something else to do than to gaze on occupants of the benches.
His eyes and his heart are elsewhere.  At the time, when Sir Watkin
arrived, Miss Howard was a simple village girl, engaged in warding off
the libertine advances of a wicked baron.  It seemed that he was about to
succeed in his foul designs.  According to all human appearances he had
her completely in his power.  Happily her cry for help was heard, and,
after a due amount of agony on her part, and of breathless suspense on
the part of the audience, she was saved, and the curtain fell amidst
thunders of applause.  The piece was not much as regards novelty, but it
was of a class that has just that touch of nature which makes the whole
world kin.  Miss Howard well acted the _rôle_ of the virtuous village
maiden, and when the true lover, who had come back with a fortune which
he had made in the Australian diggings, turned up, everyone felt that her
faith and virtue were to meet an appropriate reward.  Sir Watkin, cynic
as he was, could not but admire.  At first he ventured to hesitate,
dislike, to damn with faint praise, as in his somewhat superior style he
attempted one or two remarks to those around; but the feeling was too
strong, and he found himself applauding in spite of his stern resolve to
do nothing of the kind.  Yes, the girl had become a fine woman and a
clever actress.  She surely would not cut him if he made his way behind
the scenes.  In vain, however, he would have tried had not the manager
seen him.

‘How d’ye do, Sir Watkin? glad to see you.  You have not been much with
us of late.’

‘No,’ replied the Baronet; ‘I’ve been busy elsewhere.  You’ve got a good
house to-night.  A good deal of paper, I suppose?’

‘Not a bit of it.  The public pay.’

‘I am glad to hear that.  How do you account for it?’

‘Sir Watkin, I am surprised you ask such a question when you see what a
star we’ve got.’

‘Oh, Miss Howard.  Not bad.  I should like to speak to her.’

‘By all means; come along.’

And they made their way to the back, cold and draughty, and very
disenchanting, as the workmen were shifting the scenes.

‘Take care, Sir Watkin.  Mind that trapdoor.  Look out, Sir Watkin!’ and
suchlike exclamations were uttered by the manager as one danger after
another threatened.  The scene-shifters, very dirty, were numerous.
There a ballet-girl was talking to an admirer, as she was waiting her
turn.  There another was by herself practising the step which was, in a
few minutes, to crown her with well-deserved applause.  In the midst of
them presently Miss Howard appeared.  The manager hastened to introduce
his old friend, who, with his hat off, was preparing one of the polite
speeches for which men of the world are famous, and by means of which,
occasionally, they ensnare a woman.

The lady walked on.

The manager was shocked.

It was now the Baronet’s turn.

‘Permit an old friend to offer Miss Howard his congratulations on her
great success this evening.’

The lady thus addressed coldly bowed, but uttered never a word.

The situation was embarrassing.  Fain would the Baronet have detained the
actress.

‘Rose,’ he said passionately, ‘one word!’

But before he could utter another he found himself face to face with
Wentworth, who, as usual, had come to see the actress home.

‘You here?’ said he to the Baronet.

‘Yes, and why not?’ said the latter angrily.

‘And you dare speak to that lady?’

‘Yes, why not?  Do you think I am to be balked by a fellow like you?’

‘Say that again,’ said Wentworth, ‘and I’ll break every bone in your
body.’

‘Gentlemen, gentlemen,’ exclaimed the manager, ‘pray be quiet!  Sir
Watkin, come along with me.’

The manager was in a dilemma.  He would not for the world offend the
Baronet, who had often aided him with money, and at the same time he was
afraid of the press, of which Wentworth was a representative.  As he said
afterwards, he felt as if he were between the devil and the deep sea.
His aim was to offend no one who could be of any use.

‘Come along with you—yes, I will, but I must have it out with this fellow
first,’ said the Baronet, making a rush at Wentworth, who seemed quite
prepared for the encounter.

Fortunately, just at that time there was a rush of ballet-girls between
the angry combatants.  They covered the Baronet in a cloud of muslin,
who, though not seen, could be heard expressing indignation in no
measured terms.  The Baronet was powerless as, like a protecting wall,
they encircled him, all smiles and sunshine—a contrast to his scowling
face.

‘Pardon me, ladies,’ said he, ‘you’re rather in my way.  I have been
insulted on this stage, and I’ll have my revenge.’

What more the Baronet would have said is lost to history.  The stage is
full of pit-fells.  One gave way as he was speaking, and suddenly he sank
out of sight.  The ballet-girls shrieked, and then burst into a fit of
laughter as they saw no harm was done.  It is needless to say the Baronet
was soon extricated from his unpleasant position, and made a rapid
retreat.  It does not do to be ridiculous, especially when you are in a
towering rage, as we all know there is but a step between the sublime and
the ridiculous.

‘I wish,’ he said to himself, as he drove home, ‘I had stopped at the
club.  I was a fool to go behind the scenes.  I would like to be revenged
on that Wentworth, but how?  That’s the difficulty.  The age of duelling
is past, murder has ceased to be one of the fine arts, and I must grin
and bear it.’

So far the Baronet was right.  In the eye of the law, and at the bar of
public opinion, the man who resorts to force is hopelessly in the wrong.
We moderns, like the gods of Epicurus, approve

    ‘The depth, but not the tumult of the soul.’

Poor Rose was not a little upset.  Her face was marble, but her heart was
sad.  Was this man to track her steps?

‘Rose, my beautiful,’ said her companion, when they were fairly out of
the theatre, ‘we have loved each other long, and the sooner we get
married the better.  It is not safe for you to be alone.’

It was thus he spoke, nor did he speak in vain.

We hear much of woman’s rights in these days.  I am old-fashioned enough
to believe that her first right is a husband to look after her.  It is
not well for man or woman to be alone.

                                * * * * *

                             END OF VOL. II.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

                  BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD.





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