Transcribed from the 1913 Hodder and Stoughton edition by David Price, email email@example.com
THE REVOLUTION IN TANNER'S LANE
"Per various casus, per tot discrimina rerum, Tendimus in Latium; sedes ubi fata quietas Ostendunt. Illic fas regna resurgere Trojae. Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis." - Virgil.
"By diuers casis, sere parrellis and sufferance Unto Itaill we ettill (aim) quhare destanye Has schap (shaped) for vs ane rest and quiet harbrye Predestinatis thare Troye sall ryse agane. Be stout on prosper fortoun to remane." - Gwain Douglas's translation.
CHAPTER I—THE WORLD OUTSIDE
The 20th April 1814, an almost cloudless, perfectly sunny day, saw all London astir. On that day Lewis the Eighteenth was to come from Hartwell in triumph, summoned by France to the throne of his ancestors. London had not enjoyed too much gaiety that year. It was the year of the great frost. Nothing like it had been known in the memory of man. In the West of England, where snow is rare, roads were impassable and mails could not be delivered. Four dead men were dug out of a deep drift about ten miles west of Exeter. Even at Plymouth, close to the soft south-western ocean, the average depth of the fall was twenty inches, and there was no other way of getting eastwards than by pack-horses. The Great North Road was completely blocked, and there was a barricade over it near Godmanchester of from six to ten feet high. The Oxford coach was buried. Some passengers inside were rescued with great difficulty, and their lives were barely saved. The Solway Firth at Workington resembled the Arctic Sea, and the Thames was so completely frozen over between Blackfriars and London Bridges that people were able, not only to walk across, but to erect booths on the ice. Coals, of course, rose to famine prices in London, as it was then dependent solely upon water-carriage for its supply. The Father of his people, the Prince Regent, was much moved by the general distress of "a large and meritorious class of industrious persons," as he called them, and issued a circular to all Lords Lieutenant ordering them to provide all practicable means of removing obstructions from the highways.
However, on this 20th April the London mob forgot the frost, forgot the quartern loaf and the national debt, and prepared for a holiday, inspired thereto, not so much by Lewis the Eighteenth as by the warmth and brilliant sky. There are two factors in all human bliss— an object and the subject. The object may be a trifle, but the condition of the subject is most important. Turn a man out with his digestion in perfect order, with the spring in the air and in his veins, and he will cheer anything, any Lewis, Lord Liverpool, dog, cat, or rat who may cross his path. Not that this is intended as a sufficient explanation of the Bourbon reception. Far from it; but it does mitigate it a trifle. At eleven o'clock in the forenoon two troops of the Oxford Blues drew up at Kilburn turnpike to await the sacred arrival. The Prince Regent himself went as far as Stanmore to meet his August Brother. When the August Brother reached the village, the excited inhabitants thereof took the horses out of the carriage and drew him through the street. The Prince, standing at the door of the principal inn, was in readiness to salute him, and this he did by embracing him! There have been some remarkable embraces in history. Joseph fell on Israel's neck, and Israel said unto Joseph, "Now let me die, since I have seen thy face:" Paul, after preaching at Ephesus, calling the elders of the Church to witness that, for the space of three years, he ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears, kneeled down and prayed, so that they all wept sore and fell on his neck: Romeo took a last embrace of Juliet in the vault, and sealed the doors of breath with a righteous kiss: Penelope embraced Ulysses, who was welcome to her as land is welcome to shipwrecked swimmers escaping from the grey seawater—there have, we say, been some remarkable embraces on this earth since time began, but none more remarkable than that on the steps of the Abercorn Arms. The Divine couple then drove in solemn procession to town. From the park corner for three-quarters of a mile or so was a line of private carriages, filled with most fashionable people, the ladies all standing on the seats. The French Royalist flag waved everywhere. All along the Kilburn Road, then thinly lined with houses, it was triumphant, and even the trees were decorated with it. Arriving by way of Cumberland Gate at Piccadilly, Lewis was escorted, amidst uproarious rejoicing, to Grillon's Hotel in Albemarle Street. There, in reply to an address from the Prince, he "ascribed, under Providence," to his Royal Highness and the British people his present blissful condition; and soon afterwards, being extremely tired, went to bed. This was on a Wednesday. The next day, Thursday, His Sacred Majesty, or Most Christian Majesty, as he was then called, was solemnly made a Knight of the Garter, the Bishops of Salisbury and Winchester assisting. On Friday he received the corporation of London, and on Saturday the 23rd he prepared to take his departure. There was a great crowd in the street when he came out of the hotel and immense applause; the mob crying out, "God bless your Majesty!" as if they owed him all they had, and even their lives. It was very touching, people thought at the time, and so it was. Is there anything more touching than the waste of human loyalty and love? As we read the history of the Highlands or a story of Jacobite loyalty such as that of Cooper's Admiral Bluewater, dear to boys, we sadden that destiny should decree that in a world in which piety is not too plentiful it should run so pitifully to waste, and that men and women should weep hot tears and break their hearts over bran-stuffing and wax.
Amidst the hooraying multitude that Saturday April morning was one man at least, Zachariah Coleman by name, who did not hooray, and did not lift his hat even when the Sacred Majesty appeared on the hotel steps. He was a smallish, thin-faced, lean creature in workman's clothes; his complexion was white, blanched by office air, and his hands were black with printer's ink.
"Off with your tile, you b—-y Corsican!" exclaimed a roaring voice behind him. Zachariah turned round, and found the request came from a drayman weighing about eighteen stone; but the tile was not removed. In an instant it was sent flying to the other side of the road, where it was trodden on, picked up, and passed forward in the air amidst laughter and jeers, till it was finally lost.
Zachariah was not pugnacious, and could not very well be so in the presence of his huge antagonist; but he was no coward, and not seeing for the moment that his hat had hopelessly gone, he turned round savagely, and laying hold of the drayman, said:
"You ruffian, give it me back; if I am a Corsican, are you an Englishman?"
"Take that for your b—-y beaver," said the other, and dealt him a blow with the fist right in his face, which staggered and stupefied him, covering him with blood.
The bystanders, observing the disparity between the two men, instantly took Zachariah's side, and called out "Shame, shame!" Nor did they confine themselves to ejaculations, for a young fellow of about eight and twenty, well dressed, with a bottle-green coat of broadcloth, buttoned close, stepped up to the drayman.
"Knock my tile off, beer-barrel."
The drayman instantly responded by a clutch at it, but before he could touch it he had an awful cut across the lips, delivered with such scientific accuracy from the left shoulder that it was clear it came from a disciple of Jackson or Tom Cribb. The crowd now became intensely delighted and excited, and a cry of "A ring, a ring!" was raised. The drayman, blind with rage, let out with his right arm with force enough to fell an ox, but the stroke was most artistically parried, and the response was another fearful gash over the right eye. By this time the patriot had had enough, and declined to continue the contest. His foe, too, seemed to have no desire for any further display of his powers, and retired smilingly, edging his way to the pavement, where he found poor Zachariah almost helpless.
"Holloa, my republican friend, d—-n it, that's a nasty lick you've got, and from one of the people too; that makes it harder to bear, eh? Never mind, he's worse off than you are."
Zachariah thanked him as well as he could for defending him.
"Not a word; haven't got a scratch myself. Come along with me;" and he dragged him along Piccadilly into a public-house in Swallow Street, where apparently he was well known. Water was called for; Zachariah was sponged, the wound strapped up, some brandy given him, and the stranger, ordering a hackney coach, told the driver to take the gentleman home.
"Wait a bit," he called, as the coach drove off. "You may feel faint; I'll go home with you," and in a moment he was by Zachariah's side. The coach found its way slowly through the streets to some lodgings in Clerkenwell. It was well the stranger did go, for his companion on arrival was hardly able to crawl upstairs to give a coherent account to his wife of what had happened.
Zachariah Coleman, working man, printer, was in April 1814 about thirty years old. He was employed in a jobbing office in the city, where he was compositor and pressman as well. He had been married in January 1814 to a woman a year younger than himself, who attended the meeting-house at Hackney, whither he went on the Sunday. He was a Dissenter in religion, and a fierce Radical in politics, as many of the Dissenters in that day were. He was not a ranter or revivalist, but what was called a moderate Calvinist; that is to say, he held to Calvinism as his undoubted creed, but when it came to the push in actual practice he modified it. In this respect he was inconsistent; but who is there who is not? His theology probably had no more gaps in it than that of the latest and most enlightened preacher who denies miracles and affirms the Universal Benevolence. His present biographer, from intimate acquaintance with the class to which Zachariah belonged, takes this opportunity to protest against the general assumption that the Calvinists of that day, or of any day, arrived at their belief by putting out their eyes and accepting blindly the authority of St. Paul or anybody else. It may be questioned, indeed, whether any religious body has ever stood so distinctly upon the understanding and has used its intellect with such rigorous activity, as the Puritans, from whom Zachariah was a genuine descendant. Even if Calvinism had been carved on tables of stone and handed down from heaven by the Almighty Hand, it would not have lived if it had not have found to agree more or less with the facts, and it was because it was a deduction from what nobody can help seeing that it was so vital, the Epistle to the Romans serving as the inspired confirmation of an experience. Zachariah was a great reader of all kinds of books—a lover especially of Bunyan and Milton; as logical in his politics as in his religion; and he defended the execution of Charles the First on the ground that the people had just as much right to put a king to death as a judge had to order the execution of any other criminal.
The courtship between Zachariah and the lady who became his wife had been short, for there could be no mistake, as they had known one another so long. She was black-haired, with a perfectly oval face, always dressed with the most scrupulous neatness, and with a certain plain tightness which Zachariah admired. She had exquisitely white and perfect teeth, a pale, clear complexion, and the reputation of being a most sensible woman. She was not a beauty, but she was good- looking; the weak points in her face being her eyes, which were mere inexpressive optic organs, and her mouth, which, when shut, seemed too much shut, just as if it were compressed by an effort of the will or by a spring. These, however, Zachariah thought minor matters, if, indeed, he ever noticed them. "The great thing was, that she was"— sometimes this and sometimes that—and so it was settled. Unfortunately in marriage it is so difficult to be sure of what the great thing is, and what the little thing is, the little thing becoming so frightfully big afterwards! Theologically, Mrs. Zachariah was as strict as her husband, and more so, as far as outward observance went, for her strictness was not tempered by those secular interests which to him were so dear. She read little or nothing—nothing, indeed, on week-days, and even the Morning Chronicle, which Zachariah occasionally borrowed, was folded up when he had done with it and put under the tea-caddy till it was returned. On Sundays she took up a book in the afternoon, but she carefully prepared herself for the operation as though it were a sacramental service. When the dinner-things were washed up, when the hearth was swept and the kettle on the fire, having put on her best Sunday dress, it was her custom to go to the window, always to the window, never to the fire—where she would open Boston's Fourfold State and hold it up in front of her with both hands. This, however, did not last long, for on the arrival of the milkman the volume was replaced, and it was necessary to make preparations for tea.
The hackney coach drove up to the house in Rosoman Street where Zachariah dwelt on the first floor. He was too weak to go upstairs by himself, and he and his friend therefore walked into the front room together. It was in complete order, although it was so early in the morning. Everything was dusted; even the lower fire-bar had not a speck of ashes on it, and on the hob already was a saucepan in which Mrs. Coleman proposed to cook the one o'clock dinner. On the walls were portraits of Sir Francis Burdett, Major Cartwright, and the mezzotint engraving of Sadler's Bunyan. Two black silhouettes— one of Zachariah and the other of his wife—were suspended on each side of the mantelpiece.
Mrs. Coleman was busily engaged in the bedroom, but hearing the footsteps, she immediately entered. She was slightly taken aback at seeing Zachariah in such a plight, and uttered a little scream, but the bottle-green stranger, making her a profound bow, arrested her.
"Pardon me, my dear madam, there is nothing seriously the matter. Your husband has had the misfortune to be the victim of a most blackguardly assault; but I am sure that, under your care, he will be all right in a day or two; and, with your permission, I take my leave."
Mrs. Coleman was irritated. The first emotion was not sympathy. Absolutely the first was annoyance at being seen without proper notice by such a fine-looking gentleman. She had, however, no real cause for vexation under this head. She had tied a white handkerchief over her hair, fastening it under her chin, as her manner was when doing her morning's work, and she had on her white apron; but she was trim and faultless, and the white handkerchief did but set off her black hair and marble complexion. Her second emotion, too, was not sympathy. Zachariah was at home at the wrong time. Her ordinary household arrangements were upset. He might possibly be ill, and then there would be a mess and confusion. The thought of sickness was intolerable to her, because it "put everything out." Rising up at the back of these two emotions came, haltingly, a third when she looked her husband in the face. She could not help it, and she did really pity him.
"I am sure it is very kind of you," she replied.
Zachariah had as yet spoken no word, nor had she moved towards him. The stranger was departing.
"Stop!" cried Zachariah, "you have not told me your name. I am too faint to say how much I owe you for your protection and kindness."
"Nonsense. My name is Maitland—Major Maitland, 1A Albany. Good- bye."
He was at the top of the stairs, when he turned round, and looking at Mrs. Coleman, observed musingly, "I think I'll send my doctor, and, if you will permit me, will call in a day or two."
She thanked him; he took her hand, politely pressed it to his lips, and rode off in the coach which had been waiting for him.
"What has happened, my dear? Tell me all about it," she inquired as she went back into the parlour, with just the least colour on her cheek, and perceptibly a little happier than she was five minutes before. She did nothing more than put her hand on his shoulder, but he brightened immediately. He told her the tale, and when it was over desired to lie down and to have some tea.
Emotion number two returned to Mrs. Coleman immediately. Tea at that time, the things having been all cleared away and washed up! She did not, however, like openly to object, but she did go so far as to suggest that perhaps cold water would be better, as there might be inflammation. Zachariah, although he was accustomed to give way, begged for tea; and it was made ready, but not with water boiled there. She would not again put the copper kettle on the fire, as it was just cleaned, but she asked to be allowed to use that which belonged to the neighbour downstairs who kept the shop. The tea- things were replaced when Zachariah had finished, and his wife returned to her duties, leaving him sitting in the straight-backed Windsor-chair, looking into the grate and feeling very miserable.
In the afternoon Rosoman Street was startled to see a grand carriage stop at Zachariah's door, and out stepped the grand doctor, who, after some little hesitation and inquiry, made his way upstairs. Having examined our friend, he pronounced him free from all mortal or even serious injury—it was a case of contusion and shaken nerves, which required a little alterative medicine, and on the day after to- morrow the patient, although bruised and sore in the mouth, might go back to work.
The next morning he was better, but nevertheless he was depressed. It was now three months since his wedding-day, and the pomp and beauty of the sunrise, gold and scarlet bars with intermediate lakes of softest blue, had been obscured by leaden clouds, which showed no break and let loose a cold drizzling rain. How was it? He often asked himself that question, but could obtain no satisfactory answer. Had anything changed? Was his wife anything which he did not know her to be three months ago? Certainly not. He could not accuse her of passing herself off upon him with false pretences. What she had always represented herself to be she was now. There she stood precisely as she stood twelve months ago, when he asked her to become his wife, and he thought when she said "yes" that no man was more blessed than he. It was, he feared, true he did not love her, nor she him; but why could not they have found that out before? What a cruel destiny was this which drew a veil before his eyes and led him blindfold over the precipice! He at first thought, when his joy began to ebb in February or March, that it would rise again, and that he would see matters in a different light; but the spring was here, and the tide had not turned. It never would turn now, and he became at last aware of the sad truth—the saddest a man can know—that he had missed the great delight of existence. His chance had come, and had gone. Henceforth all that was said and sung about love and home would find no echo in him. He was paralysed, dead in half of his soul, and would have to exist with the other half as well he could. He had done no wrong: he had done his best; he had not sold himself to the flesh or the devil, and, Calvinist as he was, he was tempted at times to question the justice of such a punishment. If he put his finger in the fire and got burnt, he was able to bow to the wisdom which taught him in that plain way that he was not to put his finger in the fire. But wherein lay the beneficence of visiting a simple mistake—one which he could not avoid—with a curse worse than the Jewish curse of excommunication—"the anathema wherewith Joshua cursed Jericho; the curse which Elisha laid upon the children; all the curses which are written in the law. Cursed be he by day, and cursed be he by night: cursed be he in sleeping, and cursed be he in waking: cursed in going out, and cursed in coming in." Neither the wretched victim nor the world at large was any better for such a visitation, for it was neither remedial nor monitory. Ah, so it is! The murderer is hung at Newgate, and if he himself is not improved by the process, perhaps a few wicked people are frightened; but men and women are put to a worse death every day by slow strangulation which endures for a lifetime, and, as far as we can see, no lesson is learned by anybody, and no good is done.
Zachariah, however, did not give way to despair, for he was not a man to despair. His religion was a part of himself. He had immortality before him, in which he thanked God there was no marrying nor giving in marriage. This doctrine, however, did not live in him as the other dogmas of his creed, for it was not one in which his intellect had such a share. On the other hand, predestination was dear to him. God knew him as closely as He knew the angel next His throne, and had marked out his course with as much concern as that of the seraph. What God's purposes were he did not know. He took a sort of sullen pride in not knowing, and he marched along, footsore and wounded, in obedience to the orders of his great Chief. Only thirty years old, and only three months a husband, he had already learned renunciation. There was to be no joy in life? Then he would be satisfied if it were tolerable, and he strove to dismiss all his dreams and do his best with what lay before him. Oh my hero! Perhaps somewhere or other—let us hope it is true—a book is kept in which human worth is duly appraised, and in that book, if such a volume there be, we shall find that the divinest heroism is not that of the man who, holding life cheap, puts his back against a wall, and is shot by Government soldiers, assured that he will live ever afterwards as a martyr and saint: a diviner heroism is that of the poor printer, who, in dingy, smoky Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, with forty years before him, determined to live through them, as far as he could, without a murmur, although there was to be no pleasure in them. A diviner heroism is this, but divinest of all, is that of him who can in these days do what Zachariah did, and without Zachariah's faith.
The next evening, just as Zachariah and his wife were sitting down to tea, there was a tap at the door, and in walked Major Maitland. He was now in full afternoon costume, and, if not dandyish, was undeniably well dressed. Making a profound bow to Mrs. Coleman, he advanced to the fireplace and instantly shook hands with Zachariah.
"Well, my republican, you are better, although the beery loyalist has left his mark upon you."
"Certainly, much better; but where I should have been, sir, if it had not been for you, I don't know."
"Ah, well; it was an absolute pleasure to me to teach the blackguard that cheering a Bourbon costs something. My God, though, a man must be a fool who has to be taught that! I wonder what it HAS cost us. Why, I see you've got my friend, Major Cartwright, up there."
Zachariah and his wife started a moment at what they considered the profane introduction of God's name; but it was not exactly swearing, and Major Maitland's relationship to them was remarkable. They were therefore silent.
"A true friend of the people," continued Maitland, "is Major Cartwright; but he does not go quite far enough to please me."
"As for the people so-called," quoth Zachariah, "I doubt whether they are worth saving. Look at the mob we saw the day before yesterday. I think not of the people. But there is a people, even in these days of Ahab, whose feet may yet be on the necks of their enemies."
"Why, you are an aristocrat," said Maitland, smiling; "only you want to abolish the present aristocracy and give us another. You must not judge us by what you saw in Piccadilly, and while you are still smarting from that smasher on your eye. London, I grant you, is not, and never was, a fair specimen. But, even in London, you must not be deceived. You don't know its real temper; and then, as to not being worth saving—why, the worse men are the more they want saving. However, we are both agreed about this—crew, Liverpool, the Prince Regent, and his friends." A strong word was about to escape before "crew," but the Major saw that he was in a house where it would be out of place. "I wish you'd join our Friends of the People. We want two or three determined fellows like you. We are all safe."
"What are the 'Friends of the People'?"
"Oh, it's a club of—a—good fellows who meet twice a week for a little talk about affairs. Come with me next Friday and see."
Zachariah hesitated a moment, and then consented.
"All right; I'll fetch you." He was going away, and picked up from the table a book he had brought with him.
"By the way, you will not be at work till to-morrow. I'll leave you this to amuse you. It has not been out long. Thirteen thousand copies were sold the first day. It is the Corsair—Byron's Corsair. My God, it IS poetry and no mistake! Not exactly, perhaps, in your line; but you are a man of sense, and if that doesn't make your heart leap in you I'm much mistaken. Lord Byron is a neighbour of mine in the Albany. I know him by sight. I've waited a whole livelong morning at my window to see him go out. So much the more fool you, you'll say. Ah, well, wait till you have read the Corsair."
The Major shook hands. Mrs. Coleman, who had been totally silent during the interview, excepting when she asked him if he would join in a cup of tea—an offer most gracefully declined—followed him to the top of the stairs. As before, he kissed her hand, made her a profound bow, and was off. When she came back into the room the faint flush on the cheek was repeated, and there was the same unusual little rippling overflow of kindness to her husband.
In the evening Zachariah took up the book. Byron was not, indeed, in his line. He took no interest in him, although, like every other Englishman, he had heard much about him. He had passed on his way to Albemarle Street the entrance to the Albany. Byron was lying there asleep, but Zachariah, although he knew he was within fifty yards of him, felt no emotion whatever. This was remarkable, for Byron's influence, even in 1814, was singular, beyond that of all predecessors and successors, in the wideness of its range. He was read by everybody. Men and women who were accessible to no other poetry were accessible to his, and old sea-captains, merchants, tradesmen, clerks, tailors, milliners, as well as the best judges in the land repeated his verses by the page.
Mrs. Coleman, having cleared away the tea-things, sat knitting till half-past six. It was prayer-meeting night, and she never missed going. Zachariah generally accompanied her, but he was not quite presentable, and stayed at home. He went on with the Corsair, and as he read his heart warmed, and he unconsciously found himself declaiming several of the most glowing and eloquent lines aloud. He was by nature a poet; essentially so, for he loved everything which lifted him above what is commonplace. Isaiah, Milton, a storm, a revolution, a great passion—with these he was at home; and his education, mainly on the Old Testament, contributed greatly to the development both of the strength and weakness of his character. For such as he are weak as well as strong; weak in the absence of the innumerable little sympathies and worldlinesses which make life delightful, and but too apt to despise and tread upon those gentle flowers which are as really here as the sun and the stars, and are nearer to us. Zachariah found in the Corsair exactly what answered to his own inmost self, down to its very depths. The lofty style, the scorn of what is mean and base, the courage—root of all virtue— that dares and evermore dares in the very last extremity, the love of the illimitable, of freedom, and the cadences like the fall of waves on a sea-shore were attractive to him beyond measure. More than this, there was Love. His own love was a failure, and yet it was impossible for him to indulge for a moment his imagination elsewhere. The difference between him and his wife might have risen to absolute aversion, and yet no wandering fancy would ever have been encouraged towards any woman living. But when he came to Medora's song:
"Deep in my soul that tender secret dwells, Lonely and lost to light for evermore, Save when to thine my heart responsive swells, Then trembles into silence as before."
and more particularly the second verse:
"There, in its centre, a sepulchral lamp Burns the slow flame, eternal—but unseen; Which not the darkness of despair can damp, Though vain its ray as it had never been."
love again asserted itself. It was not love for a person; perhaps it was hardly love so much as the capacity for love. Whatever it may be, henceforth this is what love will be in him, and it will be fully maintained, though it knows no actual object. It will manifest itself in suppressed force, seeking for exit in a thousand directions; sometimes grotesque perhaps, but always force. It will give energy to expression, vitality to his admiration of the beautiful, devotion to his worship, enthusiasm to his zeal for freedom. More than this, it will NOT make his private life unbearable by contrast; rather the reverse. The vision of Medora will not intensify the shadow over Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, but will soften it.
CHAPTER II—OUTSIDE PIKE STREET
On the Friday evening the Major called for Zachariah. He had not yet returned, but his wife was at home. The tea-things were ready, the kettle was on the hob, and she sat knitting at the window. Her visitor knocked at the door; she rose, and he entered. This time he was a little less formal, for after making his bow he shook her hand. She, too, was not quite so stiff, and begged him to be seated.
"Upon my word, madam," he began, "if I were as well looked after as Mr. Coleman, I doubt if I should be so anxious as he is to change the existing order of things. You would think there is some excuse for me if you were to see the misery and privation of my lodgings. Nobody cares a straw, and as for dust and dirt, they would drive you distracted."
Mrs. Zachariah smiled, and shifted one of her little white-stockinged feet over the other. She had on the neatest of sandals, with black ribbons, which crossed over the instep. It was one of Zachariah's weak points, she considered, that he did not seem to care sufficiently for cleanliness, and when he came in he would sometimes put his black hand, before he had washed, on the white tea-cloth, or on the back of a chair, and leave behind him a patch of printer's ink. It was bad enough to be obliged always to wipe the door- handles.
"I do my best; but as for dirt, you cannot be so badly off in the Albany as we are in Clerkenwell. Clerkenwell is very disagreeable, but we are obliged to live here."
"If Clerkenwell is so bad, all the more honour to you for your triumph."
"Oh, I don't know about honour; my husband says it is simply my nature."
"Nature! All the better. I could never live with anybody who was always trying and trying and struggling. I believe in Nature. Don't you?"
This was an abstract inquiry beyond Mrs. Zachariah's scope. "It is some people's nature to like to be tidy," she contented herself with observing; "and others do not care for it."
"Oh, perhaps it is because I am a soldier, and accustomed to order, that I care for it above everything."
Mrs. Zachariah started for a moment. She reflected. She had forgotten it—that she was talking to an officer in His Majesty's service.
"Have you seen much fighting, sir?"
"Oh, well, for the matter of that, have had my share. I was at Talavera, and suffer a good deal now in damp weather, from having slept so much in the open air."
"Dear me, that is very hard! My husband is rheumatic, and finds Tarver's embrocation do him more good than anything. Will you try it if I give you some?"
"With profound gratitude." Mrs. Coleman filled an empty bottle, took a piece of folded brown paper out of the fireplace cupboard, untied a coil of twine, made up a compact little parcel, and gave it to the Major.
"A thousand thanks. If faith now can really cure, I shall be well in a week."
Mrs. Zachariah smiled again.
"Are you Dissenters?" he asked abruptly.
"I am not surprised. Ever since Cromwell's days you have always been on the side of liberty; but are you strict—I don't know exactly what to call it—go to the prayer-meetings—and so on?"
"We are both members of the church, and Mr. Coleman is a deacon," replied Mrs. Zachariah, with a gravity not hitherto observable.
She looked out of the window, and saw him coming down the street. She placed the kettle nearer the fire, put the tea in the teapot, and sat down again. He came upstairs, went straight into his bedroom, cleaned himself as much as possible, changed his coat, and entered. The Major, being pressed, consented to take tea, and Mrs. Zachariah was a cheerful and even talkative hostess, to the surprise of at least one member of the company. She sat next to her husband, and the Major sat opposite. Three silver spoons and silver sugar-tongs had been put on the table. Ordinarily the spoons were pewter. Zachariah, fond of sugar, was in the habit of taking it with his fingers—a practice to which Mrs. Zachariah strongly objected, and with some reason. It was dirty, and as his hands were none of the whitest, the neighbouring lumps became soiled, and acquired a flavour which did not add to their sweetness. She had told him of it a score of times; but he did not amend, and seemed to think her particularity rather a vice than a virtue. So it is that, as love gilds all defects, lack of love sees nothing but defect in what is truly estimable. Notwithstanding the sugar-tongs, Zachariah—excusable, perhaps, this time, considering the warmth of the speech he was making against the late war—pushed them aside, and helped himself after the usual fashion. A cloud came over Mrs. Zachariah's face; she compressed her lips in downright anger, pushed the tongs towards him with a rattle, and trod on his foot at the same time. His oration came to an end; he looked round, became confused, and was suddenly silent; but the Major gallantly came to the rescue by jumping up to prevent Mrs. Zachariah from moving in order to put more water on the tea.
"Excuse me, pray;" but as he had risen somewhat suddenly to reach the kettle, he caught the table-cloth on his knee, and in a moment his cup and saucer and the plate were on the floor in twenty pieces, and the tea running all over the carpet. Zachariah looked at his wife, and expected to see her half frantic. But no; though it was her best china, she stopped the Major's apologies, and assured him, with something almost like laughter, that it was not of the slightest consequence. "Tea doesn't stain; I hope it has not gone on your coat;" and producing a duster from the cupboard, the evil, save the loss of the crockery, was remedied in a couple of minutes.
At half-past seven o'clock the Major and Zachariah departed. They walked across the top of Hatton Garden, and so onwards till they came to Red Lion Street. Entering a low passage at the side of a small public-house, they went up some stairs, and found themselves opposite a door which was locked. The Major gave three taps and then paused. A moment afterwards he tapped again twice; the lock was turned, and he was admitted. Zachariah found himself in a spacious kind of loft. There was a table running down the middle, and round it were seated about a dozen men, most of whom were smoking and drinking beer. They welcomed the Major with rappings, and he moved towards the empty chair at the head of the board.
"You're late, chairman," said one.
"Been to fetch a new comrade."
"Is that the cove? He looks all right. Here's your health, guv'nor, and d—-n all tyrants." With that he took a pull at the beer.
"Swear him," said the Major.
A disagreeable-looking man with a big round nose, small red eyes, unshaven face, and slightly unsteady voice, rose, laid down his pipe, and beckoned to Zachariah, who advanced towards him.
The Secretary—for he it was—produced a memorandum-book, and began with a stutter:
"In the sacred name of—"
"Stop!" cried Zachariah, "I don't swear."
"That will do," shouted the Major across a hubbub which arose— "religious. I'll answer for him: let him sign; that's enough."
"You ARE answerable," growled the Secretary "if he's a d—-d spy we'll have his blood, that's all, and yours too, Major." The Major took no notice, and Zachariah put his name in the book, the roll of the Red Lion Friends of the People.
"Business, Mr. Secretary—the last minutes."
The minutes were read, and an adjourned debate was then renewed on a motion to organise public meetings to petition in favour of Parliamentary Reform. The reader must understand that politics in those days were somewhat different from the politics of fifty or sixty years later. Bread was thirteenpence a quartern loaf; the national debt, with a much smaller population, was what it is now; everything was taxed, and wages were very low. But what was most galling was the fact that the misery, the taxes, and the debt had been accumulated, not by the will of the people, but by a corrupt House of Commons, the property of borough-mongers, for the sake of supporting the Bourbons directly, but indirectly and chiefly the House of Hanover and the hated aristocracy. There was also a scandalous list of jobs and pensions. Years afterwards, when the Government was forced to look into abuses, the Reverend Thomas Thurlow, to take one example amongst others, was awarded, as compensation for the loss of his two offices, Patentee of Bankrupts and Keeper of Hanaper, the modest allowance annually until his death of 11,380 pounds 14s. 6d. The men and women of that time, although there were scarcely any newspapers, were not fools, and there was not a Nottingham weaver who put a morsel of bread in his hungry belly who did not know that two morsels might have gone there if there were no impost on foreign corn to maintain rents, and if there were no interest to pay on money borrowed to keep these sacred kings and lords safe in their palaces and parks. Opinion at the Red Lion Friends of the People Club was much divided. Some were for demonstrations and agitation, whilst others were for physical force. The discussion went on irregularly amidst much tumult.
"How long would they have waited over the water if they had done nothing but jaw? They met together and tore down the Bastile, and that's what we must do."
"That may be true," said a small white-faced man who neither smoked nor drank, "but what followed? You don't do anything really till you've reasoned it out."
"It's my belief, parson," retorted the other, "that you are in a d—- d funk. This is not the place for Methodists."
"Order, order!" shouted the chairman.
"I am not a Methodist," quietly replied the other; "unless you mean by Methodist a man who fears God and loves his Saviour. I am not ashamed to own that, and I am none the worse for it as far as I know. As for being a coward, we shall see."
The Secretary meanwhile had gone on with his beer. Despite his notorious failing, he had been chosen for the post because in his sober moments he was quick with his pen. He was not a working man; nay, it was said he had been at Oxford. His present profession was that of attorney's clerk. He got up and began a harangue about Brutus.
"There's one way of dealing with tyrants—the old way, Mr. Chairman. Death to them all, say I; the short cut; none of your palaver; what's the use of palavering?"
He was a little shaky, took hold of the rail of his chair, and as he sat down broke his pipe.
Some slight applause followed; but the majority were either against him, or thought it better to be silent.
The discussion continued irregularly, and Zachariah noticed that about half-a-dozen of those present took no part in it. At about ten o'clock the chairman declared the meeting at an end; and it was quite time he did so, for the smoke and the drink had done their work.
As Zachariah came out, a man stood by his side whom he had scarcely noticed during the evening. He was evidently a shoemaker. There was a smell of leather about him, and his hands and face were grimy. He had a slightly turned-up nose, smallish eyes, half hidden under very black eyebrows, and his lips were thin and straight. His voice was exceedingly high-pitched, and had something creaking in it like the sound of an ill-greased axle. He spoke with emphasis, but not quite like an Englishman, was fond of alliteration, and often, in the middle of a sentence, paused to search for a word which pleased him. Having found it, the remainder of the sentence was poised and cast from him like a dart. His style was a curious mixture of foreign imperfection and rhetoric—a rhetoric, however, by no means affected. It might have been so in another person, but it was not so in him.
"Going east?" said he.
"If you want company, I'll walk with you. What do you think of the Friends?"
Zachariah, it will be borne in mind, although he was a Democrat, had never really seen the world. He belonged to a religious sect. He believed in the people, it is true, but it was a people of Cromwellian Independents. He purposely avoided the company of men who used profane language, and never in his life entered a tavern. He did not know what the masses really were; for although he worked with his hands, printers were rather a superior set of fellows, and his was an old-established shop which took the best of its class. When brought actually into contact with swearers and drunkards as patriots and reformers he was more than a little shocked.
"Not much," quoth he.
"Not worse than our virtuous substitute for a sovereign?"
"You object to giving them votes, but is not the opinion of the silliest as good as that of Lord Sidmouth?"
"That's no reason for giving them votes."
"I should like to behold the experiment of a new form of misgovernment. If we are to be eternally enslaved to fools and swindlers, why not a change? We have had regal misrule and aristocratic swindling long enough."
"Seriously, my friend," he continued, "study that immortal charter, the Declaration of the Rights of Man."
He stopped in the street, and with an oratorical air repeated the well-known lines, "Men are born and always continue free, and equal in respect of their rights. . . . Every citizen has a right, either by himself or by his representative, to a free voice in determining the necessity of public contributions, the appropriation of them, and their amount, mode of assessment, and duration." He knew them by heart. "It is the truth," he continued: "you must come to that, unless you believe in the Divine appointment of dynasties. There is no logical repose between Lord Liverpool and the Declaration. What is the real difference between him and you? None but a question of degree. He does not believe in absolute monarchy, and stays at this point. You go a little lower. You are both alike. How dare you say, 'My brother, I am more honest and more religious than you; pay me half-a-crown and I will spend it for your welfare'? You cannot tell me that. You know I should have a RIGHT to reject you. I refuse to be coerced. I prefer freedom to—felicity."
Zachariah was puzzled. He was not one of those persons who can see no escape from an argument and yet are not convinced; one of those happy creatures to whom the operations of the intellect are a joke— who, if they are shown that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, decline to disprove it, but act as if they were but one. To Zachariah the appeal "Where will you stop?" was generally successful. If his understanding told him he could not stop, he went on. And yet it so often happens that if we do go on we are dissatisfied; we cannot doubt each successive step, but we doubt the conclusion. We arrive serenely at the end, and lo! it is an absurdity which common sense, as we call it, demolishes with scoffs and laughter.
They had walked down to Holborn in order to avoid the rather dangerous quarter of Gray's Inn Lane. Presently they were overtaken by the Secretary, staggering under more liquor. He did not recognise them, and rolled on. The shoemaker instantly detached himself from Zachariah and followed the drunken official. He was about to turn into a public-house, when his friend came up to him softly, abstracted a book which was sticking out of his pocket, laid hold of him by the arm, and marched off with him across the street and through Great Turnstile.
Sunday came, and Zachariah and his wife attended the services at Pike Street Meeting-house, conducted by that worthy servant of God, the Reverend Thomas Bradshaw. He was at that time preaching a series of sermons on the Gospel Covenant, and he enlarged upon the distinction between those with whom the covenant was made and those with whom there was none, save of judgment. The poorest and the weakest, if they were sons of God, were more blessed than the strongest who were not. These were nothing: "they should go out like the smoke of a candle with an ill favour; whereas the weak and simple ones are upholden, and go from strength to strength, and increase with the increasings of God." Zachariah was rather confused by what had happened during the week, and his mind, especially during the long prayer, wandered a good deal much to his discomfort.
CHAPTER III—THE THEATRE
Major Maitland was very fond of the theatre, and as he had grown fond of Zachariah, and frequently called at his house, sometimes on business and sometimes for pleasure, he often asked his friend to accompany him. But for a long time he held out. The theatre and dancing in 1814 were an abomination to the Independents. Since 1814 they have advanced, and consequently they not only go to plays and dance like other Christians, but the freer, less prejudiced, and more enlightened encourage the ballet, spend their holidays in Paris, and study French character there. Zachariah, however, had a side open to literature, and though he had never seen a play acted, he read plays. He read Shakespeare, and had often thought how wonderful one of his dramas must be on the stage. So it fell out that at last he yielded, and it was arranged that Mrs. and Mr. Coleman should go with the Major to Drury Lane to see the great Edmund Kean in "Othello." The day was fixed, and Mrs. Coleman was busy for a long time beforehand in furbishing up and altering her wedding-dress, so that she might make a decent figure. She was all excitement, and as happy as she could well be. For months Zachariah had not known her to be so communicative. She seemed to take an interest in politics; she discussed with him the report that Bonaparte was mad, and Zachariah, on his part, told her what had happened to him during the day, and what he had read in the newspapers. The Prince Regent had been to Oxford, and verses had been composed in his honour. Mr. Bosanquet had recited to the Prince an ode, or something of the kind, and had ventured, after dilating on the enormous services rendered by kings in general to the community during the last twenty years, to warn them:
"But ye yourselves must bow: your praise be given To Him, the Lord of lords, your King in heaven."
And Mrs. Zachariah, with a smile and unwonted wit, wondered whether Mr. Bosanquet would not be prosecuted for such treasonable sentiments. Zachariah hardly knew what to make of his wife's gaiety, but he was glad. He thought that perhaps he was answerable for her silence and coldness, and he determined at all costs to try and amend, and, however weary he might be when he came home at night, that he would speak and get her to speak too.
The eventful evening arrived. Zachariah was to get away as early as he could; the Major was to call at about six. After Zachariah had washed and dressed, they were to take a hackney coach together. At the appointed hour the Major appeared, and found Mrs. Zachariah already in her best clothes and tea ready. She was charming— finished from the uttermost hair on her head to the sole of her slipper—and the dove-coloured, somewhat Quakerish tint of her wedding-gown suited her admirably. Quarter-past six came, but there was no Zachariah, and she thought she would make the tea, as he was never long over his meals. Half-past six, and he was not there. The two now sat down, and began to listen to every sound. The coach was ordered at a quarter to seven.
"What shall we do?" said the Major. "I cannot send you on and wait for him."
"No. How vexing it is! It is just like—" and she stopped.
"We must stay where we are, I suppose; it is rather a pity to miss being there when Kean first comes on."
She was in a fretful agony of impatience. She rose and looked out of the window, thought she heard somebody on the stairs, went outside on the landing, returned, walked up and down, and mentally cursed her husband, not profanely—she dared not do that—but with curses none the less intense. Poor man! he had been kept by a job he had to finish. She might have thought this possible, and, in fact, did think it possible; but it made no difference in the hatred which she permitted to rise against him. At last her animosity relaxed, and she began to regard him with more composure, and even with pleasure.
"Had you not better go and leave me here, so that we may follow? I do not know what has happened, and I am sure he would be so sorry if you were to be disappointed."
She turned her eyes anxiously towards the Major.
"That will never do. You know nothing about the theatre. No! no!"
She paused and stamped her little foot, and looked again out of the window.
The coachman knocked at the door, and when she went down asked her how long he had to wait.
She came back, and throwing herself on a chair, fairly gave way to her mortification, and cried out, "It is too bad—too bad!—it is, really."
"I'll tell you what," replied the Major. "Do you mind coming with me? We will leave one of the tickets which I have bought, and we can add a message that he is to follow, and that we will keep his place for him. Put on your bonnet at once, and I will scribble a line to him."
Mrs. Zachariah did not see any other course open; her wrath once more disappeared, and in another moment she was busy before the looking- glass. The note was written, and pinned to the ticket, both being stuck on the mantelpiece in a conspicuous place, so that Zachariah might see them directly he arrived. In exuberant spirits she added in her own hand, "Make as much haste as you can, my dear," and subscribed her initials. It was a tremendously hot afternoon and, what with the fire and the weather and the tea, the air was very oppressive. She threw the bottom sash open a little wider therefore, and the two rolled off to Drury Lane. As the door slammed behind them, the draught caught the ticket and note, and in a moment they were in the flames and consumed.
Ten minutes afterwards in came Zachariah. He had run all the way, and was dripping with perspiration. He rushed upstairs, but there was nobody. He stared round him, looked at the plates, saw that two had been there, rushed down again, and asked the woman in the shop:
"Has Mrs. Coleman left any message?"
"No. She went off with that gentleman that comes here now and then; but she never said nothing to me," and Zachariah thought he saw something like a grin on her face.
It may be as well to say that he never dreamed of any real injury done to him by his wife, and, in truth, the Major was incapable of doing him any. He was gay, unorthodox, a man who went about in the world, romantic, republican, but he never would have condescended to seduce a woman, and least of all a woman belonging to a friend. He paid women whom he admired all kinds of attentions, but they were nothing more than the gallantry of the age. Although they were nothing, however, to him, they were a good deal more than nothing to Mrs. Zachariah. The symbolism of an act varies much, and what may be mere sport to one is sin in another. The Major's easy manners and very free courtesy were innocent so far as he was concerned; but when his rigid, religious companion in the hackney coach felt them sweet, and was better pleased with them than she had ever been with her husband's caresses, she sinned, and she knew that she sinned.
What curiously composite creatures we are! Zachariah for a moment was half pleased, for she had now clearly wronged him. The next moment, however, he was wretched. He took up the teapot; it was empty; the tea-caddy was locked up. It was a mere trifle, but, as he said to himself, the merest trifles are important if they are significant. He brooded, therefore, over the empty teapot and locked tea-caddy for fully five minutes. She had not only gone without him, but had forgotten him. At the end of the five minutes teapot and tea-caddy had swollen to enormous dimensions and had become the basis of large generalisations. "I would rather," he exclaimed, "be condemned to be led out and hung if I knew one human soul would love me for a week beforehand and honour me afterwards, than live half a century and be nothing to any living creature." Presently, however, it occurred to him that, although in the abstract this might be true yet at that particular moment he was a fool; and he made the best of his way to Drury Lane. He managed to find his way into the gallery just as Kean came on the stage in the second scene of the first act. Far down below him, through the misty air, he thought he could see his wife and the Major; but he was in an instant arrested by the play. It was all new to him; the huge building, the thousands of excited, eager faces, the lights, and the scenery. He had not listened, moreover, to a dozen sentences from the great actor before he had forgotten himself and was in Venice, absorbed in the fortunes of the Moor. What a blessing is this for which we have to thank the playwright and his interpreters, to be able to step out of the dingy, dreary London streets, with all their wretched corrosive cares, and at least for three hours to be swayed by nobler passions. For three hours the little petty self, with all its mean surroundings, withdraws: we breathe a different atmosphere, we are jealous, glad, weep, laugh with Shakespeare's jealousy, gladness, tears, and laughter! What priggishness, too, is that which objects to Shakespeare on a stage because no acting can realise the ideal formed by solitary reading! Are we really sure of it? Are we really sure that Garrick or Kean or Siddons, with all their genius and study, fall short of a lazy dream in an arm-chair! Kean had not only a thousand things to tell Zachariah—meanings in innumerable passages which had before been overlooked—but he gave the character of Othello such vivid distinctness that it might almost be called a creation. He was exactly the kind of actor, moreover, to impress him. He was great, grand, passionate, overwhelming with a like emotion the apprentice and the critic. Everybody after listening to a play or reading a book uses it when he comes to himself again to fill his own pitcher, and the Cyprus tragedy lent itself to Zachariah as an illustration of his own Clerkenwell sorrows and as a gospel for them, although his were so different from those of the Moor. Why did he so easily suspect Desdemona? Is it not improbable that a man with any faith in woman, and such a woman, should proceed to murder on such evidence? If Othello had reflected for a moment, he would have seen that everything might have been explained. Why did he not question, sift, examine, before taking such tremendous revenge?—and for the moment the story seemed unnatural. But then he considered again that men and women, if they do not murder one another, do actually, in everyday life, for no reason whatever, come to wrong conclusions about each other; utterly and to the end of their lines misconstrue and lose each other. Nay, it seems to be a kind of luxury to them to believe that those who could and would love them are false to them. We make haste to doubt the divinest fidelity; we drive the dagger into each other, and we smother the Desdemona who would have been the light of life to us, not because of any deadly difference or grievous injury, but because we idly and wilfully reject.
The tale, evermore is:
"Of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe."
So said Zachariah to himself as he came out into Drury Lane and walked eastwards. His wife and the Major were back before him. The Major did not wait but returned at once to Albany Street, leaving Mrs. Coleman to sit up for her husband. He was not hurrying himself, and could not free himself from the crowd so easily as those who left from below. The consequence was that he was a full half-hour behind her, and she was not particularly pleased at having been kept so long out of her bed. When she let him in all that she said was, "Oh, here you are at last," and immediately retired. Strange to say, she forgot all about family worship—never before omitted, however late it might be. If she had taken the trouble to ask him whether he had seen her message and the ticket so much might have been cleared up. Of course he, too, ought to have spoken to her; it was the natural thing to do, and it was extraordinary that he did not. But he let her go; she knelt down by her bed, prayed her prayer to her God, and in five minutes was asleep. Zachariah ten minutes afterwards prayed his prayer to HIS God, and lay down, but not to sleep. No sooner was his head on his pillow than the play was before his eyes, and Othello, Desdemona, and Iago moved and spoke again for hours. Then came the thoughts with which he had left the theatre and the revulsion on reaching home. Burning with excitement at what was a discovery to him, he had entered his house with even an enthusiasm for his wife, and an impatient desire to try upon her the experiment which he thought would reveal so much to him and make him wealthy for ever. But when she met him he was struck dumb. He was shut up again in his old prison, and what was so hopeful three hours before was all vanity. So he struggled through the short night, and, as soon as he could, rose and went out. This was a frequent practice, and his wife was not surprised when she woke to find he had gone. She was in the best of spirits again, and when he returned, after offering him the usual morning greeting, she inquired at once in what part of the theatre he was, and why he had not used the ticket.
"We waited for you till the last moment; we should have been too late if we had stayed an instant longer, and I made sure you would come directly."
"Ticket—what ticket? I saw no ticket?"
"We left it on the mantelpiece, and there was a message with it."
His face brightened, but he said nothing. A rush of blood rose to his head; he moved towards her and kissed her.
"What a wretch you must have thought me!" she said half laughingly, as she instantly smoothed her hair again, which he had ruffled. "But what has become of the ticket?"
"Fell in the fire most likely; the window was open when I came in, and the draught blew the picture over the mantelpiece nearly off its hook."
The breakfast was the happiest meal they had had for months. Zachariah did his best to overcome his natural indisposition to talk. Except when he was very much excited, he always found conversation with his wife too difficult on any save the most commonplace topics, although he was eloquent enough in company which suited him. She listened to him, recalling with great pleasure the events of the preceding evening. She was even affectionate—affectionate for her— and playfully patted his shoulder as he went out, warning him not to be so late again. What was the cause of her gaiety? Was she thinking improperly of the Major? No. If she had gone with Zachariah alone to the theatre would she have been so cheerful? No. Did she really think she loved her husband better? Yes. The human heart, even the heart of Mrs. Coleman, is beyond our analysis.
CHAPTER IV—A FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE
The Friends of the People continued their meetings, and Zachariah attended regularly, although, after about three months' experience, he began to doubt whether any advance was being made. The immediate subject of discussion now was a projected meeting in Spitalfields, and each branch of the Society was to organise its own contingent. All this was perfectly harmless. There was a good deal of wild talk occasionally; but it mostly came from Mr. Secretary, especially when he had had his beer. One evening he had taken more than enough, and was decidedly staggering as he walked down Lamb's Conduit Street homewards. Zachariah was at some distance, and in front of him, in close converse, were his shoemaking friend, the Major, and a third man whom he could not recognise. The Secretary swayed himself across Holborn and into Chancery Lane, the others following. Presently they came up to him, passed him, and turned off to the left, leaving him to continue his troubled voyage southwards. The night air, however, was a little too much for him, and when he got to Fleet Street he was under the necessity of supporting himself against a wall. He became more and more seditious as he became more and more muddled, so that at last he attracted the attention of a constable who laid hold of him and locked him up for the night. In the morning he was very much surprised to find himself in a cell, feeling very miserable, charged with being drunk and disorderly, and, what was ten times worse, with uttering blasphemy against the Prince Regent. It may as well be mentioned here that the greatest precautions had been taken to prevent any knowledge by the authorities of the proceedings of the Friends of the People. The Habeas Corpus Act was not yet suspended, but the times were exceedingly dangerous. The Friends, therefore, never left in a body nor by the same door. Watch was always kept with the utmost strictness, not only on the stairs, but from a window which commanded the street. No written summons was ever sent to attend any meeting, ordinary or extraordinary. Mr. Secretary, therefore, was much disconcerted when he found that his pockets were emptied of all his official documents. He languished in his cell till about twelve o'clock, very sick and very anxious, when he was put into a cab, and, to his great surprise, instead of being taken to a police court, was carried to Whitehall. There he was introduced to an elderly gentleman, who sat at the head of a long table covered with green cloth. A younger man, apparently a clerk, sat at a smaller table by the fire and wrote, seeming to take no notice whatever of what was going on. Mr. Secretary expected to hear something about transportation, and to be denounced as an enemy of the human race; but he was pleasantly disappointed.
"Sorry to see a respectable person like you in such a position."
Mr. Secretary wondered how the gentleman knew he was respectable; but was silent. He was not now in an eloquent or seditious humour.
"You may imagine that we know you, or we should not have taken the trouble to bring you here. We should merely have had you committed for trial."
The Secretary thought of his empty pockets. In truth it was the Major who had emptied them before he crossed Holborn; but of course he suspected the constable.
"You must be aware that you have exposed yourself to heavy penalties. I prefer, however, to think of you as a well-meaning but misguided person. What good do you think you can do? I can assure you that the Government are fully aware of the distress which prevails, and will do all they can to alleviate it. If you have any grievances, why not seek their redress by legitimate and constitutional means?"
The Secretary was flattered. He had never been brought face to face with one of the governing classes before. He looked round; everything was so quiet, so pacific; there were no fetters nor thumbscrews; the sun was lighting up the park; children were playing in it, and the necessity for a revolution was not on that particular spot quite apparent.
A messenger now entered carrying some sandwiches and a little decanter of wine on a tray, covered with the whitest of cloths.
"It struck me," continued the official, taking a sandwich and pouring out a glass of wine, "when I heard of your arrest, that I should like myself to have a talk with you. We really are most loth to proceed to extremities. and you have, I understand, a wife and children. I need not tell you what we could do with you if we liked. Now, just consider, my friend. I don't want you to give up one single principle; but is it worth your while to be sent to jail and to have your home broken up merely because you want to achieve your object in the wrong way, and in a foolish way? Keep your principles; we do not object; but don't go out into the road with them. And you, as an intelligent man, must see that you will not get what you desire by violence as soon as you will by lawful methods. Is the difference between us worth such a price as you will have to pay?"
The Secretary hesitated; he could not speak; he was very faint and nervous.
"Ah, you've had nothing to eat, I dare say."
The bell was rung, and was answered immediately.
"Bring some bread and cheese and beer."
The bread and cheese and beer were brought.
"Sit down there and have something; I will go on with my work, and we will finish our talk afterwards."
The Secretary could not eat much bread and cheese, but he drank the beer greedily.
When he had finished the clerk left the room. The Commissioner—for he was one of the Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury—followed him to the door, closed it, not without satisfying himself that the constable was at his post outside, returned to his seat, opened his drawer, saw that a pistol and five guineas were there, and then began:
"Now, look here, my dear sir, let me speak plainly with you and come to an understanding. We have made inquiries about you; we believe you to be a good sort of fellow, and we are not going to prosecute you. We do hope, however, that, should you hear anything which is— well—really treasonable, you will let us know. Treason, I am sure, is as dreadful to you as it is to me. The Government, as I said before, are most desirous of helping those who really deserve it; and to prove this, as I understand you are out of work, just accept that little trifle."
The guineas were handed to Mr. Secretary, who looked at them doubtfully. With the beer his conscience had returned, and he broke out:
"If you want me to be a d—-d spy, d—-d if I do!" The Commissioner was not in the least disconcerted. "Spy, my man!—who mentioned the word? The money was offered because you haven't got a sixpence. Haven't I told you you are not required to give up a single principle? Have I asked you to denounce a single companion? All I have requested you to do, as an honest citizen, is to give me a hint if you hear of anything which would be as perilous to you as to me."
The Secretary after his brief explosion felt flaccid. He was subject to violent oscillations, and he looked at the five guineas again. He was very weak—weak naturally, and weaker through a long course of alcohol. He was, therefore, prone to obscure, crooked, silly devices, at any rate when he was sober. Half drunk he was very bold; but when he had no liquor inside him he could NOT do what was straight. He had not strength sufficient, if two courses were open, to cast aside the one for which there were the fewer and less conclusive reasons, and to take the proper path, as if no other were before him. A sane, strong person is not the prey of reasons: a person like Mr. Secretary can never free himself from them, and after he has arrived at some kind of determination is still uncertain and harks back. With the roar of the flames of the Cities of the Plain in his ears, he stops, and is half afraid that it was his duty after all to stay and try and put them out. The Secretary, therefore, pondered again. The money was given on no condition that was worth anything. For aught he knew, the Commissioner had his books and papers already. He could take the guineas and be just as free as he was before. He could even give a part of it to the funds of the Friends. There obtruded, moreover, visions of Newgate, and his hands slowly crept to the coins.
"I am a Radical, sir, and I don't mind who knows it."
"Nothing penal in that. Every man has a right to his own political creed."
The fingers crept closer and touched the gold.
"If I thought you wanted to bribe me, I'd rot before I had anything to do with you."
The Commissioner smiled. There was no necessity to say anything more, for the guineas were disappearing and finally, though slowly, chinked down into Mr. Secretary's pocket.
The Commissioner held out his hand.
The Secretary before he took it looked loftier than ever.
"I hope you understand me, sir, clearly."
"I DO understand you clearly."
The Secretary shook the hand; the Commissioner went with him to the door.
"Show this gentleman downstairs."
The constable, without a look of surprise, went downstairs, and Mr. Secretary found himself in the street.
Mr. Commissioner drank another glass of wine, and then pencilled something in a little memorandum book, which he put under the pistol. The drawer had two locks, and he carefully locked both with two little keys attached to a ribbon which he wore round his neck.
CHAPTER V—THE HORIZON WIDENS
Jean Caillaud, shoemaker, whom we have met before, commonly called John Kaylow, friend of the Major and member of the Society of the Friends of the People, was by birth a Frenchman. He had originally come to this country in 1795, bringing with him a daughter, Pauline, about four or five years old. Why he came nobody knew, nor did anybody know who was the mother of the child. He soon obtained plenty of employment, for he was an admirable workman, and learned to speak English well. Pauline naturally spoke both English and French. Her education was accomplished with some difficulty, though it was not such a task as it might have been, because Jean's occupation kept him at home; his house being in one of the streets in that complication of little alleys and thoroughfares to most Londoners utterly unknown; within the sound of St. Bride's nevertheless, and lying about a hundred yards north of Fleet Street. If the explorer goes up a court nearly opposite Bouverie Street, he will emerge from a covered ditch into one that is opened, about six feet wide. Presently the ditch ends in another and wider ditch running east and west. The western one turns northward, and then westward again, roofs itself over, squeezes itself till it becomes little less than a rectangular pipe, and finally discharges itself under an oil and colourman's house in Fetter Lane. The eastern arm, strange to say, suddenly expands, and one side of it, for no earthly reason, is set back with an open space in front of it, partitioned by low palings. Immediately beyond, as if in a fit of sudden contrition for such extravagance, the passage or gutter contracts itself to its very narrowest and, diving under a printing-office shows itself in Shoe Lane. The houses in these trenches were not by any means of the worst kind. In the aforesaid expansion they were even genteel, or at any rate aspired to be so, and each had its own brass knocker and kept its front-door shut with decent sobriety and reticence. On the top floor of one of these tenements lodged Jean Caillaud and Pauline. They had three rooms between them; one was Jean's bedchamber, one Pauline's, and one was workroom and living-room, where Jean made ball-slippers and light goods—this being his branch of the trade— and Pauline helped him. The workroom faced the north, and was exactly on a level with an innumerable multitude of red chimney-pots pouring forth stinking smoke which, for the six winter months, generally darkened the air during the whole day. But occasionally Nature resumed her rights, and it was possible to feel that sky, stars, sun, and moon still existed, and were not blotted out by the obscurations of what is called civilised life. There came, occasionally, wild nights in October or November, with a gale from the south-west and then, when almost everybody had gone to bed and the fires were out, the clouds, illuminated by the moon, rushed across the heavens, and the Great Bear hung over the dismal waste of smutty tiles with the same solemnity with which it hangs over the mountains, the sea, or the desert. Early in the morning, too, in summer, between three and four o'clock in June, there were sights to be seen worth seeing. The distance was clear for miles, and the heights of Highgate were visible, proclaiming the gospel of a beyond and beyond even to Kent's Court, and that its immediate surroundings were mercifully not infinite. The light made even the nearest bit of soot-grimed, twisted, rotten brickwork beautiful, and occasionally, but at very rare intervals, the odour of London was vanquished, and a genuine breath from the Brixton fields was able to find its way uncontaminated across the river. Jean and Pauline were, on the whole, fond of the court. They often thought they would prefer the country, and talked about it; but it is very much to be doubted, if they had been placed in Devonshire, whether they would not have turned back uneasily after a time to their garret. They both liked the excitement of the city, and the feeling that they were so near to everything that was stirring in men's minds. The long stretch of lonely sea-shore is all very well, very beautiful, and, maybe, very instructive to many people; but to most persons half-an-hour's rational conversation is much more profitable. Pauline was not a particularly beautiful girl. Her hair was black, and, although there was a great deal of it, it was coarse and untidy. Her complexion was sallow—not as clear as it might be—and underneath the cheek-bones there were slight depressions. She had grown up without an attachment, so far as her father knew, and indeed so far as she knew. She had one redeeming virtue—redeeming especially to Jean, who was with her alone so much. She had an intellect, and it was one which sought for constant expression; consequently she was never dull. If she was dull, she was ill. She had none of that horrible mental constriction which makes some English women so insupportably tedious. The last thing she read, the last thing she thought, came out with vivacity and force, and she did not need the stimulus of a great excitement to reveal what was in her. Living as she did at work side by side with her father all day, she knew all his thoughts and read all his books. Neither of them ever went to church. They were not atheists, nor had they entirely pushed aside the religious questions which torment men's minds. They believed in what they called a Supreme Being, whom they thought to be just and good; but they went no further. They were revolutionary, and when Jean joined the Friends of the People, he and the Major and one other man became a kind of interior secret committee, which really directed the affairs of the branch. Companions they had none, except the Major and one or two compatriots; but they were drawn to Zachariah, and Zachariah was drawn to them, very soon after he became a member of the Society. The first time he went to Kent's Court with Jean was one night after a meeting. The two walked home together, and Zachariah turned in for an hour, as it was but ten o'clock. There had been a grand thanksgiving at St. Paul's that day. The Prince Regent had returned thanks to Almighty God for the restoration of peace. The Houses of Parliament were there, with the Foreign Ambassadors, the City Corporation, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blucher, peeresses, and society generally. The Royal Dukes, Sussex, Kent, York, and Gloucester, were each drawn by six horses and escorted by a separate party of the Guards. It took eight horses to drag the Prince himself to divine service, and he, too, was encompassed by soldiers. Arrived at the cathedral, he was marshalled to a kind of pew surmounted by a lofty crimson-and-gold canopy. There he sat alone, worshipped his Creator, and listened to a sermon by the Bishop of Chester. Neither Jean nor Pauline troubled themselves to go out, and indeed it would not have been of much use if they had tried; for it was by no means certain that Almighty God, who had been so kind as to get rid of Napoleon, would not permit a row in the streets. Consequently, every avenue which led to the line of the procession was strictly blocked. They heard the music from a distance, and although they both hated Bonaparte, it had not a pleasant sound in their ears. It was the sound of triumph over Frenchmen, and, furthermore, with all their dislike to the tyrant, they were proud of his genius.
Walking towards Clerkenwell that evening, the streets being clear, save for a number of drunken men and women, who were testifying to the orthodoxy of their religious and political faith by rolling about the kennel in various stages of intoxication, Jean pressed Zachariah to go upstairs with him. Pauline had prepared supper for herself and her father, and a very frugal meal it was, for neither of them could drink beer nor spirits, and they could not afford wine. Pauline and Zachariah were duly introduced, and Zachariah looked around him. The room was not dirty, but it was extremely unlike his own. Shoe-making implements and unfinished jobs lay here and there without being "put away." An old sofa served as a seat, and on it were a pair of lasts, a bit of a French newspaper, and a plateful of small onions and lettuce, which could not find a place on the little table. Zachariah, upstairs in Rosoman Street, had often felt just as if he were in his Sunday clothes and new boots. He never could make out what was the reason for it. There are some houses in which we are always uncomfortable. Our freedom is fettered, and we can no more take our ease in them than in a glass and china shop. We breathe with a sense of oppression, and the surroundings are like repellant chevaux de frise. Zachariah had no such feelings here. There was disorder, it is true; but, on the other hand, there was no polished tea-caddy to stare at him and claim equal rights against him, defying him to disturb it. He was asked to sit upon the sofa, and in so doing upset the plateful of salad upon the floor. Pauline smiled, was down upon her knees in an instant, before he could prevent her, picked up the vegetables and put them back again. To tell the truth, they were rather dirty; and she, therefore, washed them in a hand- basin. Zachariah asked her if she had been out that day.
"I?—to go with the Lord Mayor and bless the good God for giving us back Louis Bourbon? No Mr. Coleman; if the good God did give us Louis back again, I wouldn't bless Him for it, and I don't think He had much to do with it. So there were two reasons why I didn't go."
Zachariah was a little puzzled, a little shocked, and a little out of his element.
"I thought you might have gone to see the procession and hear the music."
"I hate processions. Whenever I see one, and am squeezed and trampled on just because those fine people may ride by, I am humiliated and miserable. As for the music, I hate that too. It is all alike, and might as well be done by machinery. Come, you are eating nothing. What conspiracy have you and my father hatched to- night?"
"Conspiracy!" said Jean. "Who are the conspirators? Not we. The conspirators are those thieves who have been to St. Paul's."
"To give thanks," said Pauline. "If I were up there in the sky, shouldn't I laugh at them. How comical it is! Did they give thanks for Austerlitz or Jena?"
"That's about the worst of it," replied Jean. "It is one vast plot to make the people believe lies. I shouldn't so much mind their robbing the country of its money to keep themselves comfortable, but what is the meaning of their Te Deums? I tell you again,"—and he repeated the words with much emphasis—"it is a vast plot to make men believe a lie. I abhor them for that ten times more than for taking my money to replace Louis."
"Oh," resumed Pauline, "IF I were only up in the sky for an hour, I would have thundered and lightened on them just as they got to the top of Ludgate Hill, and scattered a score or so of them. I wonder if they would have thanked Providence for their escape? O father, such a joke! The Major told me the other day of an old gentleman he knew who was riding along in his carriage. A fireball fell and killed the coachman. The old gentleman, talking about it afterwards, said that "PROVIDENTIALLY it struck the box-seat."
Zachariah, although a firm believer in his faith, and not a coward, was tempted to be silent. He was heavy and slow in action, and this kind of company was strange to him. Furthermore, Pauline was not an open enemy, and notwithstanding her little blasphemies, she was attractive. But then he remembered with shame that he was ordered to testify to the truth wherever he might be, and unable to find anything of his own by which he could express himself, a text of the Bible came into his mind, and, half to himself, he repeated it aloud:
"I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things."
"What is that?" said Jean. "Repeat it."
Zachariah slowly repeated it. He had intended to add to it something which might satisfy his conscience and rebuke Pauline, but he could not.
"Whence is that?" said Jean.
"From the Bible; give me one and I will show it to you."
There was no English Bible in the house. It was a book not much used; but Pauline presently produced a French version, and Jean read the passage—"Qui forme la lumiere, et qui cree les tenebres; qui fait la paix, et qui cree l'adversite; c'est moi, l'Eternel, qui fais toutes les choses la."
Pauline bent over her father and read it again.
"Qui cree l'adversite," she said. "Do you believe that?"
"If it is there I do," said Zachariah.
"Well, I don't."
"What's adversity to hell fire? If He made hell-fire, why not adversity? Besides, if He did not, who did?"
"Don't know a bit, and don't mean to bother myself about it."
"Right!" broke in Jean—"right, my child; bother—that is a good word. Don't bother yourself about anything when—bothering will not benefit. There is so much in the world which will—bear a botheration out of which some profit will arise. Now, then, clear the room, and let Zachariah see your art."
The plates and dishes were all put in a heap and the table pushed aside. Pauline retired for a few moments, and presently came back in a short dress of black velvet, which reached about half-way down from the knee to the ankle. It was trimmed with red; she had stuck a red artificial flower in her hair, and had on a pair of red stockings with dancing slippers, probably of her own make. Over her shoulders was a light gauzy shawl. Her father took his station in a corner, and motioned to Zachariah to compress himself into another. By dint of some little management and piling up the chairs an unoccupied space of about twelve feet square was obtained. Pauline began dancing, her father accompanying her with an oboe. It was a very curious performance. It was nothing like ordinary opera-dancing, and equally unlike any movement ever seen at a ball. It was a series of graceful evolutions with the shawl which was flung, now on one shoulder and now on the other, each movement exquisitely resolving itself, with the most perfect ease, into the one following, and designed apparently to show the capacity of a beautiful figure for poetic expression. Wave fell into wave along every line of her body, and occasionally a posture was arrested, to pass away in an instant into some new combination. There was no definite character in the dance beyond mere beauty. It was melody for melody's sake. A remarkable change, too, came over the face of the performer. She looked serious; but it was not a seriousness produced by any strain. It was rather the calm which is found on the face of the statue of a goddess. In none of her attitudes was there a trace of coquettishness, although some were most attractive. One in particular was so. She held a corner of the shawl high above her with her right hand, and her right foot was advanced so as to show her whole frame extended excepting the neck; the head being bent downward and sideways.
Suddenly Jean ceased; Pauline threw the shawl over both her shoulders, made a profound curtsey, and retired; but in five minutes she was back again in her ordinary clothes. Zachariah was in sore confusion. He had never seen anything of the kind before.
He had been brought up in a school which would have considered such an exhibition as the work of the devil. He was distressed too to find that the old Adam was still so strong within him that he detected a secret pleasure in what he had seen. He would have liked to have got up and denounced Jean and Pauline, but somehow he could not. His great great grandfather would have done it, beyond a doubt, but Zachariah sat still.