Reminiscences I.

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REMINISCENCES OF M. BETHAM-EDWARDS

CHAPTER I

CHILDHOOD


A BABY TAKING NOTES—THE VANISHING PIES—A VILLAGE MYSTERY—EUGENE SUE—A CHILD SUICIDE


I SUPPOSE everyone has some recollection of first consciousness, some memory, more or less distinct, with which individuality and the recognition of it began.  This experience in my own case is definite.  Years have failed to obliterate the impression.  A life-time of unceasing activity and of no little change has not dimmed the picture.  Looking back across the bridge of years, I see to-day what I realised then.  Were I transported to my childhood's home, I could put finger on the scene.

    Nursemaids in former days were no less given to flirtation than at the present time.  A red coat in a rustic village was ever as tinder to the spark.  One sunshiny afternoon some gallant soldier encountered or waylaid a young woman carrying a baby.  The little girl in her nurse's arms was too young for tale-bearing, not too young, however, for observation.  The scarlet coat so strikingly contrasted with blue sky and green hedges, the ingratiating smiles of the wearer, who, whilst making love to the maid, warily ministered to the good humour of her charge, the animation of the pair, all these things made up a clear, ineffaceable whole.  From that incident memory begins.

    The next landmark of childish life may also call up a smile.  When about four years old I was sent with a sister to school.  The arrangement was temporary; we were only exiled in view of an approaching event, but even under such circumstances our anxious mother did not forget her darlings.  A hamper of home-made cakes and fruit pies was dispatched in order to console us.  It occurred to the schoolmistress and her husband that here was an admirable opening for economical hospitality.  The little boarders were packed off to bed betimes, card tables were laid out, an occasional song or jig on the piano created pleasing diversion.

    Now, Mrs. S—'s school occupied the rooms over her husband's shop (he was a chemist, and they were all on the same floor).  Children are sure to remain wide awake when for some nefarious purpose their drowsiness is most desired.  As we lay abed, the door of our room being ajar, with silent indignation we saw our cakes and currant pies carried into the dining-room opposite and deliberately placed on the table.

    We had expected the hamper, and recognised familiar dainties and dishes at a glance.  Whether any unpleasantness arose out of the affair I cannot say.  Years after I met the worthy couple, so in the main they were, and we chatted affably, my own mind being full of these misappropriated pies.  I could not see that either husband or wife had outwardly changed in the least.

    Every village has, I suppose, its mystery, and our own ought to have figured in a romance.  Adjoining the fine old Elizabethan manor-house, which was my home, lay a small farmery with pleasant dwelling-house and garden.  It was indeed adapted as a pleasure farm, the residence appearing out of all proportion with the quantity of land.  Here, at the time I write of, lived in utter solitude a strange, as some thought a satanic, being.  Whence he came, his family history, antecedents and profession were alike dark.  After a fashion he now farmed, keeping his fifty and odd acres in some sort of cultivation by a labourer or two.  During the daytime he was rarely to be seen; towards dusk, all the year round, the awful figure, wrapped in a long black cloak, would stalk to and fro, frightening passers-by, never losing eeriness in the eyes of near neighbours.

    "Master," one evening said a village wag, emboldened by potations, "you remind me of the old one."

    "You will find the difference if you ever get to a certain place," was the slowly enunciated reply.  "You are on the right road for it, too."

    The spokesman of the gaping, tittering hobbledehoys was no very reputable character, but it required some boldness to accost the doctor, Dr. Owen he called himself.  One loafer would egg on another, less for the love of sport than of oracular response.  How different these utterances to the tongue of every day!

    Suffolk speech is a drawl, sentence after sentence forming a gamut, each ending on the upper note.  The doctor's matter was as striking as his manner.

    "Master," upon another occasion cried a looker-on, "your cloak wants mending!"

    "It does not want mending so much as your manners do," was the reply, the speaker statelily continuing his twilight stroll.  Up and down, backwards and forwards would stalk the tall, attenuated figure, enveloped from head to foot in a black cloak, the little girls of his next door neighbour scuttling away at the apparition.

    What intercourse this strange man held with his fellow farmers was characterised by grim humour.  Everyone had his nickname or diminutive.  Thus my father, whose baptismal name and patronymic were one, was always "Neddy."  One day our young heifers, in local phraseology styled "buds," got into the doctor's premises and committed all sorts of depredations.

    "Tell Neddy to drive his buds back," was the doctor's sole remonstrance, the messenger, of course, as best he could, imitating the sonorous voice and unaccustomed elocution.

    No woman ever crossed his threshold, and on his departure, the keeping-room or parlour fireplace was found piled up with egg-shells and other rubbish.  He had evidently lived after anchorite fashion, paying no heed to order or hygiene.  It speaks well for the harmless, unsuspecting nature of those Suffolk villagers that such a character should remain unvictimised by horse-play or brutal jokes.  As will be seen further on, intolerance reigned elsewhere.  We must go to the rectory, the pulpit, for anathemas and display of bitter anti-Christian spirit.

    There is little doubt that the solitary thus puzzling his neighbours was a foreigner, perhaps some Polish refugee finding harbourage on our shores.  The misfortune was that his sojourn did not occur ten years later.  What a study would he have afforded a young novelist!  The reminiscences here for the first time put upon paper are of early childhood, of years spent in the nursery, not the schoolroom.

    The dawn of literature as a force upon any active intelligence is ever of psychological interest.  Some of us are awakened to the consciousness one way, some another.  Oddly enough, that a novelist who has sedulously avoided sensation, who in maturer years has but moderately relished this element in fiction, should have surrendered to the wand of Eugene Sue!  The masterpiece of this writer, perhaps the masterpiece of all sensational literature, was now making a noise from one end of Europe to the other.  A translation fell into the hands of our governess, who read it aloud after tea and lessons, her older pupils plying the needle, the little ones, myself among the number, busy with their dolls in a corner.

    To one of these, a child of six or seven, doll-dressing now proved quite unattractive.  Not venturing to betray my interest, I listened breathlessly, every page heightening feverish excitement.  Bedtime came as a cruel sentence; to demur would of course have been fatal, a brusque end of enchantment.  So the gaps were filled by aid of imagination, enough being heard to glow over in secret, to remember ever after.

    That marvellous story has never since come in my way, the gaps remain, yet vivid as when heard are the scenes taken in so breathlessly—Adrienne's escape from the convent—Rodin and the old woman in the church—Prince Djalma and the poisoned dagger—Rose and Blanche separating as they entered a cholera ward in search of their father, at the other end falling into each other's arms fatally stricken with the pestilence.  Why seek disenchantment by reading the story right through to-day?  Spellbound I could hardly be as in that Suffolk schoolroom years ago.  The effect of those dramatic episodes was, I may add, purely literary.  They no more terrified than the witch scene in Macbeth or the ghost scene in Hamlet, both of which very soon afterwards became also familiar to me.  Creative art, whether poetic or plastic, is, or ought to be, illusion.  Yield to the illusion, and the artist receives final verdict.  Here was no question of the reader's personality or daily surroundings.  A police report, the description of a cholera ward in newspapers, demoralise, disturb young readers, and why?  Because they are living truths, not imaginative pictures.

    The divine law of retribution, the stupendous problems of good and evil, of mutability and death, were not slow to present themselves to my mind.

    The only play-fellow of these three little girls, the younger children of a numerous family, was a little boy named Arthur W—, and that most terrible phenomenon, a youthful prodigy.  Born of elderly parents, the hope of a scientific but whimsical father, the fetish of a handsome, winning, but most fond and foolish mother, he had obtained this reputation from sheer presumptuousness and a total disregard of accepted canons.  The right and the wrong of any matter in his eyes and his mother's was his own inclination.  Extraordinarily beautiful—the bloom of that cherubic face, the transparency of those blue eyes, are before me as I write—he knew how to trade upon such personal advantages and human weakness.  Whenever the dreadful boy spent a day with us, it was a case of topsy-turvydom, of general racket, discomfort, and disorder that only several days' brooming and brushing set right.

    His favourite diversion was what he called preaching the Gospel.  In order that this could be done with due ministration to his vanity, a little surplice had been made for him, having stole and bands of orthodox pattern.  In this guise he would harangue the household, a large landing-place being fitted up as a church, mattresses placed for seats, young and old, farm lads and dairymaids, called from their occupations to listen.  The spectacle never seemed to strike anyone as irreverent, yet my mother was a deeply religious woman, and family church-going at that time was the order of the day.

    Another of Master Arthur's favourite pastimes was custard-making, so-called, for the hens.  He would look up eggs, then carry them to a favourite resort of our feathered kind, a raised sandy spot of the orchard in which they could burrow and take their dust baths.  Smashing half a dozen eggs into one of the holes here abounding, and stirring the whole with a stick, he would complacently proceed to the next, wasting a shillings' worth of farm produce, but, as he said, "leaving all the hens a nice custard."

    This fooling came to an untimely and most tragic end.  Arthur's father, a retired ship's surgeon, combined the two professions of surgeon and apothecary, coloured globes, as in chemists' shops to-day, announcing the fact.  Mr. W—was a man of considerable scientific attainments and given to experimentation.  It was quite natural that an active-minded child should interest himself in his father's pursuits and pick up many facts relating to drugs and their effects.

    Natural it was also that school seemed anything but attractive in his eyes.  There at least the will of Arthur W— did not reign supreme.  There he could neither preach the Gospel in stole and surplice nor make custards of eggs and dust for the hens.  On the matter of attendance papa ever remained inexorable, or ever tried to remain inexorable, whilst mamma exhausted her ingenuity in finding pleas for default.  It dawned upon the boy's mind that as he always stayed at home when physicked by paternal hands, he might just as well physic himself in order to play the truant.  An occasional dose of mild purgative answered very well.  Something had given him the colic, said his mother.  Stay at home for once he must.

    There came at last temptation of desperate kind.  One day he returned from school determined not to go on the morrow, or to have done with it for once and for all.  Dread of punishment or disgrace, perhaps sheer perversity, actuated the deed.  Surreptitiously stealing into the surgery, possessing himself of a deadly drug, he swallowed the dose, and one summer morning news came that he was dead!  To his little play-fellows the shock was great.  Who could entirely love a being so self-centred, so perverse?  But he seemed part of our own lives, his very vagaries made the loss more sensible.  When the funeral procession stopped for some minutes at our garden gate, the gate he had oft-times swung wide with such joyful shout, there was a general wail through nursery and schoolroom.  Death had become a reality to the youngest!


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CHAPTER II

OUR RECTOR


PULPIT AMENITIES-WHAT'S IN A NAME?—"ONLY ONE D—D DROP!"—BURIAL FEES—PLAINTS OF A POOR RECTOR'S WIFE—GIRLS OF THE PERIOD—"WHO HAD THE PARSON'S WINE?"


BEFORE the reasoning faculty is awakened, children appraise things not as they are, but as they seem to be.  Their unformed minds cannot strip off excrescences, take account of what Spinoza calls limitations, divine the kernel hidden in unsightly shell.  Thus it comes about that institutions and embodiments, noble as ideals, elevating in their essential character, are wholly misjudged by youthful thinkers.  We blame and criticise what is really a decadence or maybe a parody, no reflex of lofty original.

    And nothing is more difficult to get rid of than prejudices, rather notions, formed in early life.  The following pages will illustrate these remarks.  Again and again have I been blamed for severity when writing of the Church of England and its clergy.  Strange indeed were it otherwise!

    Our village numbered three hundred and odd souls, and well bore out Voltaire's famous dictum as to the disproportion of English sauces and sects.  Two of the former were certainly known—celery-sauce eaten with roast pork and apple-sauce served with the Michaelmas goose.  Sects were almost as diverse as surnames.  One farmer was a Quaker, another a Swedenborgian, a third a Dissenter, of what precise denomination I do not recollect, our toll-gate keeper was a Roman Catholic, our cobbler a free-thinker, our labouring folk, except during a few weeks in the year, Nonconformists of various denominations.

    The infinitesimal minority attended church.  I should say that the general attitude in theological matters was one of scepticism or profound indifference.

    My penultimate remark demands explanation.  Nonconformity was of course the one unpardonable sin in clerical eyes.  On my childish ears from a neighbouring pulpit once fell inter alia this horrible sentence: "The doors of a Dissenting chapel are the gates of hell."  It may readily be imagined that when Christmas came round and the parochial charities were to be distributed, poor families eking out existence on eight or nine shillings a week thought of their beef and coals.  Some pious person hundreds of years before had bequeathed a certain sum to be thus expended by parson and churchwardens.  The latter did their best to secure an equitable apportioning, but no chapel-goer could feel sure of his dole.  Laughable, yet pathetic, it was to see how the church gradually filled as Christmas drew near.  By the third week in December hardly a seat remained vacant.  And of course the rector always hoped against hope that some who came for beef and coals might stay for their souls' sake.

    This worthy man emptied his church and drove his congregation wholesale into the arms of dissent by sheer want of tact and self-control.  He was not without kindly impulses; he paid his way and lived uprightly.  But an enormous family taxed alike his resources and his naturally bearish and ungovernable temper.  He was no more fitted to be a clergyman than to be dancing-master to the Royal family.

    Of his numerous children one boy was particularly obstreperous at church.  He would put his mother's bonnet strings into her mouth when the poor woman drowsed during the long marital sermon, make wry faces at his brothers and sisters, and otherwise set them a-titter.  The family pew lay immediately under the pulpit, but at last, the contagion of mischief proving irresistible, the incorrigible youngster was imprisoned on the steps behind his father.

    On a summer afternoon hardly had the final benediction escaped the preacher's lips, when a tremendous blow resounded through the church.  Everyone stared aghast.  With a backhanded cuff that might almost have felled an ox our rector had sent the unfortunate boy backwards, shouting for all to hear:

    "How dare you, sir, thus misbehave yourself when I am preaching God's word in the pulpit?"

    Doubtless a highly effective moral lesson was intended.  The result was that many church people betook themselves to chapel ever after.

    Upon another occasion as he entered the aisle and was proceeding toward the reading desk he perceived the village clerk whispering to a neighbour.  It was the fashion in those days, for aught I know may be so still, for this functionary to sit close to the officiating clergyman and read responses and alternate verse of the day's Psalms.

    "You, Parish Clerk," shouted the rector, "how dare you carry on conversation when your minister has entered the church?"

    The clerk explained that he was only asking after a neighbour's health, but the altercation, for so it was, caused several people to quit the sacred building, and created no little excitement.

    Here is another souvenir.  A young married couple had determined, for some reason or other, to have their firstborn christened simply "Fred."  The fancy was perhaps foolish, but the child's name certainly concerned its parents only.  They would have nothing to do with Frederick, but only the monosyllabic pet name.

    This is the scene I witnessed as a child.  We were especially interested in little Fred, and had sent him his christening frock.

    Clergyman—"Name this child!"

    Mother, shyly—"Fred, sir."

    Clergyman, roughly—"Frederick, you mean?"

    Mother, growing nervous, feeling that all eyes are upon her—"No, sir; Fred, if you please, sir."

    Clergyman, with an impatient murmur and vicious splash of holy water—"Frederick, I baptise thee in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen."

    As a matter of course, Fred's parents afterwards patronised the meeting-house.  All kinds of queer names had been accorded in orthodox fashion; one neighbour's boy was called Julius Cæsar, another child Rosabella, why not Fred?

    These scandals should have been stopped by appeal to ecclesiastical courts, public protest, wide publicity, but the Suffolk temperament is somewhat lethargic, people are slow to move, unwilling to encounter litigation.  Whilst the weather remained fine they went farther afield, attending church or chapel elsewhere.  On the return of winter, snow and slush kept them nearer home.  The parish church became a pis aller. [Ed.—last resort].

    As I have before said, under the rector's rough, even bearish, exterior beat a kindly heart.  He would laughingly recount how a poor parishioner once begged the loan of his black trousers in order to attend his father's funeral.  The request was granted.  Another form of kindliness became liable to abuse.

    I do not know how it may be in most country places, but in our village a curious custom prevailed.  The wine used for communion service was luscious Tent or Malaga, and what remained in the chalice was given to the agèd poor who were present.  The ceremonial had a peculiarly aristocratic character little according with the doctrine of Christian humility.  No chamberlain more exactly assigned the rank of court visitors.  First knelt the rector's wife and daughters and squire's family, next in order came the larger or so-called gentlemen farmers and their womankind, following these the village shopkeeper and small tradesman and tradeswomen; lastly, the labouring folk, generally a pitiable group, consisting of decrepid grandsires and crones just able to hobble.

    No sooner had the solemn rite been administered than a sonorous, deep-drawn quaffing was heard from the lower end of the rails, the poor old men and women gratefully swallowing the remains of the wine.  It might have been better to go through this little performance in the vestry.  Anyhow, who can doubt that such a custom proved a snare?  My nurse (the good woman lives and corresponds with me still) was returning from her own church one Sunday morning when she encountered a neighbour coming from his; it was Sacrament Sunday.

    "So, Master (labourers were called Master, never Mister) Smith, like me, I s'pose, you have been to the table."

    "Yes," was the ruffled reply, "and I might as well have stayed at home.  I only got one d—d drop!"

    These honest souls believed in church and chapel up to a certain point, but had very little reverence about them.  Quiet humour, a rationalist frame of mind, are Suffolk characteristics.  The spiritual aspect of religion and of religious observance, if it came at all, did not come from without.  In the matter of Biblical criticism, they were often far ahead of their teachers, at any rate of their teachers' avowed belief.  Formalism, incompetence and scandals in the church, exaggeration and grotesqueness in the meeting-house, had brought about a dead level of indifference.  In the defence of material interests there was much more alertness.  Clerical kindnesses were shown towards both rich and poor during sickness.  But when a well-to-do parishioner died there was sure to be a squabble about burial fees for "cutting the ground," "bricking the grave," etc.  The family losses which saddened my childhood, the sickness and death of mother and sisters, are subjects of no general interest, and too sacred, too near—so they seem, although divided from the present by a long life-time—to be more than just hinted at here.  But there are circumstances attending these sorrows which seem almost matters of history; at any rate, they contribute to an understanding of the times.  I well remember unseemly bickerings as to a certain bricked grave, one of the many I stood by in these early days.  So outrageous were the charges for burial ground and attendant privileges that my father demurred.  The only answer to his protest was a little volume of printed tariffs, from which it appeared that a churchyard was an incumbent's property, and that be might charge just what he chose for the permission to lie there.  In one corner was a congeries of tiny mounds, graves of unbaptised babyhood.

    A country parson, although having a good house, garden and glebe, and three hundred a year, was not rich at the time I write of, when twelve boys and girls had to be fed, clothed, and educated.

    "My dear Mrs. G—" said his wife to a neighbour in my hearing, "I assure you, it is as much as we can do to cover our children's nakedness."

    That she certainly contrived to do, poor woman, but the fare was ofttimes Spartan, while education was regarded as strictly a unisexual affair, no more a girl's prerogative than breeches or tobacco.  These sisters in more senses than one had to pick up the crumbs that fell from their brothers' table.

    "I love being ill," was the confidence of one little girl to a playfellow, "because then I have a little lump of butter and piece of bread and spread for myself."

    Many undesirable lessons these poor girls acquired; of education, in the accepted sense of the word, they got no inkling, but one thing they did learn thoroughly, namely, the doctrine of self-abnegation.  Whilst the sons obtained scholarships and nominations, by hook or by crook wriggled their way into something that could euphemistically be termed a profession, the daughters mended stockings, nursed the little ones, toiled from morning to night in keeping up appearances.  I well remember one instance of sisterly devotion.  A young brother was obliged to keep a prostrate condition for many weeks in consequence of an accident.  Day after day, hour after hour, he would amuse himself by shooting peas from a popgun, his eldest sister, a tall, growing girl, stooping to pick them up.  The perpetual bending to the ground must have been very trying; not so much as a playful remonstrance passed her lips.  Young women of the present day, Girton and Newnham students who "go up" or "come down" with their brothers and comrades of the other sex, little dream what girl-life was like in former days.  Whether higher education of women so-called has in equal degree developed this quality of self-abnegation is another matter.  For my part I have my doubts, and was ever of opinion that unselfishness is pre-eminently a masculine virtue.  We must, however, know where to look for it.  Despite the difficulty of clothing juvenile nakedness and the thread-bare gentility of a poor parsonage, it enjoyed numberless privileges.  Amongst others was that of a well-filled wine-cellar, gift or legacy of rich patron.

    "The parson's wine and who had it," now matter of local tradition, is too good a story to omit here.  Every village has its wit, and rustic wit is no respecter of persons.  When the great robbery occurred, when the parsonage was burglariously assailed and its stores of port and sherry ransacked, public excitement knew no bounds.  The wine-cellar abutted on the dwelling-house, and before effecting their purpose the thieves were obliged to reckon with a fierce dog chained up close by.  Every circumstance pointed to intimate acquaintance with premises and surroundings, but police and detectives could obtain no clue.

    One day rumours got about that our wit and oracle, a tall, lean bricklayer, had dropped significant hints and innuendoes as to the theft.  He was even heard to say that he knew well enough who had the parson's wine.

    Without losing a minute the rector hurried off, at once announcing his errand.

    "I understand, Kersey," he said, "that you should say you know who had my wine?"

    "Well, sir," was the answer, with a mischievous twinkle of the eye, "and so I do.  You had it once, but could not keep it!"

    The poor rector went home slightly crest-fallen, but he was too much of a humourist himself not to relish the joke.

    That mystery remains unsolved to this day.  General suspicion lighted upon an old and much trusted dependant of the rectory, groom, gardener, and boots, who had grown grey in clerical service and looked like an out-of-elbow parson himself.

    As I have before mentioned, narrow means did not stand in the way of routine benevolences.  When labourer's wives lay in, gifts of broth and arrowroot accompanied the parish bag, and even infectious diseases failed to deter visits of condolence or charity.  But there existed no real liking or sympathy between class and class, no tie binding rectory and cottage.  This is the parody I heard in our clergyman's nursery:


"Wheno'er I take my walks abroad,
         How many poor I see
 Eating perk without a fork.
         Oh, Lord, what beasts they be!"


    Petty slights, little acts of tyranny, made folks forgetful of broth and arrowroot.  They did not relish their front doors being pushed open without preliminary knock, nor the clipping of their children's curls at school.  As to Dissenters, these remained under perpetual ban.  Were not the doors of a meeting-house the gates of hell?


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CHAPTER III.

OUR VILLAGE


TYPES AND FEATS—A VESTAL VIRGIN—MANETTA AND THE GHOST—OUR SAPPHO


OUR village, and I presume every other, could furnish almost as many types as Homer's Iliad.  We had our Hector, our Calchas, our Odysseus, the strong man, the seer, the man of wile.  We had also a Sappho, and to come to modern parallels a longer catalogue.  These exceptional men and women have earned no immortality.  Their reputation died with them, but whilst it lasted was widespread and tremendous.  An awful halo surrounded their brows; one and all enjoyed a certain kind of solitude, the solitude that waits on inborn, unchallengeable superiority.  None wore his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck at.

    Our strong man was the miller, and emblematically his wind-mill occupied the highest point of the village.  The sails, as they deliberately rose and fell, seemed to say, "Touch me who dare,"—to symbolise the strongest arms to be found for miles around.  In local speech, you could ride a white mare black before you would find a match for miller T—'s thews and sinews.  What feats of bodily prowess he had displayed I never learned; that they must have been superlative high renown testified.  Did a half-drunken encounter take place at the Swan; did bullies and braggadocios threaten the public peace, the words "Send for the miller" sufficed.  A regiment of dragoons could not have more promptly and effectually restored order.  Had he lived in the early part of the century he would most certainly have been despatched to Folkestone or Dover, regarded as more than enough to conquer Buonaparte himself.

    He was no giant, on the contrary, under rather than over medium stature.  But you had only to look at him to endorse popular opinion.

    Nature had made him up not of bone and muscle, but of steel and iron.  He would have crushed an ordinary athlete as easily as a lion makes mincemeat of a lamb.  Personal courage is fortunately not dependent upon physical supereminence, and our bold man, whom I will next describe, was a weakling.  Long his "deed of high renown," one of many, lived in local annals.

    It was a bitter winter night when neighbour S— a small farmer, heard suspicious noises on his premises, stealthy movements of marauder or house-breaker.

    Springing from his bed, without stopping to put on shoe or stocking, coat or breeches, he felt his way downstairs and out of doors.  At the sound of his approach the thief took to his heels, Farmer S— giving chase.

    Across farmyard and orchard, past pightle [p.27] and field, over stile and five-barred gate skurried the pair, pursuer barefoot and in his shirt—an ordinary cotton shirt, so folks said—pursued having the advantage or perhaps disadvantage of full equipment.  But the farmer, a thin, ailsome, slip of a man had made up his mind.  The hen-stealer, horse-stealer, or burglar should be lodged in Ipswich jail if his name was John S—.

    Caught the runaway was, and I never beard that his captor was worse for his wintry chase.  The adventure became famous, a favourite story in alehouse and chimney corner; alas, no one ever put it into rhyme!  John Gilpin's ride in itself was not more suggestive than Farmer S—'s run.  No one ever saw him afterwards without conjuring up the scene—his thin legs bare to the knee, his white cotton shirt fluttering ghost-like in the wintry starlight, his frantic leaps over hedge and ditch, his tumbles and lightning-like recuperations.

    Our wit has been already mentioned!; we had also a master of drollery, considered as a fine art, from whose lips never under any circumstances dropped what he considered to be a truism or commonplace.

    A sheep-shearer by trade, he travelled the country far and wide, supplying every farm with comicalities till next season.

    His person evoked a smile.  Preposterously tall and preposterously lean, he stalked about with an expression of face impossible to describe.  His features were so composed as to be in themselves the best possible jest; folks laughed when he opened his lips and giggled expectantly when he remained silent.  Sheep-shearing, presided over by old Tim, did duty for the year's comic annual.  His grandiloquence never for a moment quitted him.  Thus instead of saying "Bring me the small sheep as your master bids," he would say, "Now for yonder hanimal that Mr. Edwards tarm [terms] a littl'un."  I have seen my father laugh at sheep-shearing time till the tears ran down, but most likely old Tim's jokes were not all suited to the family circle.  Anyhow his reputation must here be taken upon trust.

    The women of our village offered infinite diversity of type.

    First and foremost I must place our only old maid, named Sarah M—.  In this little Paradise there was a lover and more to spare for every lass.  The disastrous migration to towns of a later generation had not as yet begun.  Partly from this reason, and partly, I presume, from the fact that spinsterhood and an unassailable reputation were not common in rural districts, Sarah M—enjoyed a respect bordering upon veneration.  No vestal virgin of Rome in its austerer days was hedged about with more sanctity.  Middle-aged widowers and bachelors sighed as they watched the trim, spick-and-span figure, well assured that it would never dignify their fireside.  Gay Lotharios, Don Juans of the plough, wondered what a woman could be made of to resist every advance, humdrum or otherwise.  No tragic story of lost or faithless love had hardened Sarah's heart.  She preferred spinsterhood, that was all—the bare, cruel, perplexing truth.  Many and many a time have I seen her on the way to church, prayer-book and spotless pocket-handkerchief in her neatly gloved palm, little shawl nicely adjusted, the composed, slightly severe features and direct glance seeming to challenge criticism.  She ever consorted with matrons and elderly folks, never with youths and maidens, although at this time she could not have been much over thirty.

    A washerwoman by trade, she used to take laundry-work from the town, herself wheeling it in a barrow to and fro.  Her cottage and garden were ever models of neatness.  Well I remember the borders of Sweet William, Jack behind the Garden Gate, and Welcome home Husband, however-so-drunk; the second flower here named is the Polyanthus, the third, the common yellow Sedum.  Cottage folks never knew this last mentioned plant by any other name, inappropriate enough in Sarah's virginal domain.

    Manetta P—, known in local parlance as the terrifies, was the direct opposite of her demure neighbour.  Well indeed did Miss Manetta deserve her nickname, for she had done her best to drive folks stark staring mad.  A girl's life in those days was passing dull.  Here marriage came in the way of all, but if anything, it was duller than maidenhood.  And although Manetta was unbeautiful, not at all of the taking sort, she would be wooed and won after most prosaic fashion.  These drawbacks made the poor thing bitter and mischievous, ready for little, malicious turns or for anything in the way of sensation.  To use a favourite French expression, elle cherchait des emotions, she sought after emotions, good, bad, or indifferent, change she must have at any price.  Thought-reading, theosophy, psychical research, had not as yet disturbed weak brains, table-turning had not emerged from the limbo to which it has since been consigned.  But what village ever wanted its ghost story? and many a blood-curdling, hair-bristling one had our own.  On a certain wintry twilight, a carter—I knew him well—was returning from Ipswich when a woman, with eyes gleaming like red hot coals and black hair streaming upon milk-white raiment, seized his horse's head and forbade advance.  He dropped on his knees, mumbled some words out of Scripture, and lo! when he looked up, the wraith was gone.  Countless stories of the kind passed muster.  Signs and wonders were religiously believed in.  Fortune-tellers did a brisk trade.  Even the "wise man" was hardly a survival, I mean to that useful individual who could elucidate every mystification, interpret dreams, discover lost property, throw light upon coming battle, murder, and sudden death.  It entered Manetta's head one day that life would become much more diverting and the object of her destiny be immensely furthered, if she could succeed in scaring her neighbours out of their wits.  So, without taking counsel of anyone but her own foolish self, she put on a sheet, floured her face, let down her hair, and noiselessly stole from a back window.  Circumstances at first favoured this bold undertaking.  Hiding her disguises under her mother's dark market cloak, she could get unperceived to high ground overlooking the village street, there unrobe and flit hither and thither.  In summer time folks did not all go to bed with their hens.  There would, anyhow, be stragglers from the Swan, belated stockmen, or a gossip or two abroad.  To Manetta's intense gratification she was observed, fled from, evidently believed in, as the saying goes, swallowed whole.  Radiantly she flitted behind a bush, popped on her market cloak, and, almost creeping on all fours, made the best of her way home.

    Next day and the next, this terrible apparition appeared, but it was not till several had elapsed that anyone opened his lips on the subject.  All were afraid to begin, to become the general laughing stock.  When once the matter was broached, excitement became general, and the more people discussed their ghost the readier were they to believe and to caress their belief.  In itself the thing was portentous, of a piece with judgments and visitations,  Sodom and Gomorrah, but, considered from a local and individual point of view, inviting and desirable.  A ghost conferred so much distinction, created such widespread curiosity!  The notabilities of the county—who could say?—of the kingdom, would be magnetised to our village.  Its fortune was surely made as that of Shottisham [p.31] by its fasting girl.

    There is ever one rationalist to a host of the credulous.  When several children had been nearly frightened into fits and only the more valiant of their elders dared stir abroad at dusk, matters were brought to a climax.  Egged on by some bold spirit, a band of youths set upon the hapless Manetta, her ghost-hood was ignominiously unveiled, and with rough horseplay the sorry farce was brought to an end.

    Manetta had succeeded in obtaining notoriety, but of no enviable kind.  For months existence became unbearable.  But years wore on; she found a husband with the rest; very likely a time came when she gloried in the frolic of her youth.  Of a very different type was Betty H—, our village Sappho, rather should I say our feminine Heber, her gentle muse dealing not with lovers' ecstasy or frenzied desire, but pious themes and religious consolation.

    Betty H— to this hour, for she lives still, cannot write her own name.  In early days, however, she taught herself to read, and in early days she composed verse.  Needless to say that her literature consisted of the Bible, Sunday hymnals, and a few old-fashioned stories, such as "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain," "The Dairyman's Daughter," "The Cottagers of Glenburnie," "Coelebs in search of a Wife."  But a ploughman's wife has little time for reading and native faculty requires no spur.  Over her household work, her baking, brewing, and mending, Betty would put rhyme to rhyme, verse to verse, thus beautifying homely toil.  If ever existence needed the embellishment of poetry it was her own.  Two dire problems must be resolved somehow, namely, the feeding of six mouths (in village phrase, the filling of six bellies) and, next in importance, the covering of so many nakednesses upon perhaps ten shillings a week.  Betty's culinary inventions were many and ingenious.  It is wonderful how she contrived that filling of bellies.  In harvest time, her board was more generously spread.  Plum-puddings then attracted the wasps in every cottage, harvest cakes were eaten at bever, [p.32] as the afternoon collation was called, a taste of beef was added to the daily pork.  Then in times of child-birth and sickness how terrible were her deprivations!  I have no hesitation in affirming that the lot of an average workman's family nowadays is positively luxurious, Sybaritism itself, compared to the Spartan régime of former times.  The little folks who flock to the board schools, alike in town or country, have no idea how their grandparents lived.  Betty's experiences, written by herself, might cure many a malcontent.

    Many years ago her little pieces were published under the title of "Verses by the Wife of a Suffolk Ploughman," the authoress, I rejoice to say, profiting by the sale.  But Fame, that last infirmity of noble minds, offered guerdon sweeter still.  Betty enjoys a renown undiminished by time or change.


――――♦――――


 
CHAPTER IV.

THE SONS OF THE SOIL


NOTIONS GEOGRAPHICAL AND COSMOGRAPHICAL—MORAL STANDARDS —CHIVALROUS FEELING—A PLOUGHMAN'S CAREER—ONE-EYED DICK—PHARISEES IN THE PULPIT—PHOTOGRAPHY—TURTLE AND HIS GANG—SCHOOLS—STEWED PRUNES—PRISON FARE—THE "HOUSE."


HARDLY is there greater divergence between metropolitan bustle and some Cranford of to-day, than between our village at the present time and its former self.  Public life, intercourse with the outer world, cosmopolitan sympathies, were non-existent.  Perhaps a London daily might reach Hall or Rectory.  One or two local weeklies did duty in farmhouse, mill, general shop, and smithy.  Here the news-vendor's business began and ended.  Farmers for the most part remained illiterate to a degree which now appears incredible.  In the matter of politics, farm-labourers were as ignorant as French peasants before the Revolution.  Jacques Bonhomme, indeed, even under Louis XIV., the greatest and worst despot who ever lived, enjoyed certain municipal privileges, took part in what was a partially developed Parish Council.  Hodge, throughout the greater portion of the Victorian era, no more shared political or civic existence than the black population of Virginia before the War of Secession.  To him an election meant only so much boozing in an ale-house, so much throwing of rotten eggs and dead kittens at the hustings, so much hip, hip, hooraying at the bidding of his employer.

    As to parochial business, the mere suggestion of voting on rural affairs in company of parson and squire would have shocked his moral sense, savoured of sacrilegiousness, of sin against the Holy Ghost itself.  Farmers could of course read, write, and keep simple accounts; their labourers, as a rule, could do none of these things.  Otherwise the mental horizon of the two classes differed surprisingly little.

    At some distance from our village lay a hill, or what by euphemism was so called, Suffolk being as flat as a barn-floor.  This almost imperceptible slope was known as "America Hill," why, I cannot say.  The village folks, alike wise and simple, firmly believed that if you climbed "America Hill" and walked on and on and on, you would wake up in Columbus' Continent.

    Here is a well-to-do farmer's notion of cosmography, heard by myself at home.  After those wonderful farmhouse teas, to be described later on, host and guest would smoke a pipe over what our French neighbours call "un grog."  And conversation would occasionally diverge from fat stock and corn prices to topics more remote and elevating.

    "There is one thing I should much like to know," said a visitor.  "If, as wise folks say, the world is round as an apple dumpling, how on earth is the water kept in its place?"

    "Why," was the prompt reply, "it must, of course, be boarded up."

    The listeners made no observation.  Poor as the solution seemed, it was evidently thought better than none at all.

    Whether morals and manners were better or worse for such artlessness, who shall decide?  Certainly folks neither spoke, acted, nor thought as they do now.  Standards of conduct differed from those now in general acceptance.  For instance, walking one day to Ipswich, we met a labourer's wife and her two daughters, girls of twelve and fourteen.

    "So, Mrs. P—," said my eldest sister, "you have been shopping?"

    "No, miss," replied the good woman with an unmistakable air of self-approval, "but I am anxious to do my girls all the good I can, so I have just taken them to see a man hanged."

    I was about twelve years old when I heard this and another little dialogue one summer twilight in the village lane; the meaning of the latter did not dawn upon my mind till many years after.

    "Come, Ann," cried a village swain to a tall, red-haired girl standing on the doorstep, "are you ready for a walk?"

    "Oh! no, Tat," rejoined the maiden without the slightest hesitation; "it is not dark enough yet."

    Moral standards were certainly not high, nevertheless these uncouth ploughmen often testified a chivalrous sentiment, perhaps less common in other ranks.  More frequently than otherwise, the girl who had been betrayed was "made an honest woman of"—that is to say, taken to church by her lover.  One benevolent clergyman of the neighbourhood did his best to stop irregularities by marrying his parishioners for nothing; many unions were thus legalised.

    Those poor faithful lovers of the plough!  Where did they learn chivalrous sentiment?  How indeed could a spark of romance take fire in such breasts, a single ray of joyousness warm such hearts?  Alike mentally, morally, spiritually, each son of the soil could say with Topsy, "I grooved."  Set to rook-scaring and stone-picking at an age when children of a better class are coddled in the nursery, breeched without the civilising influences of ABC, Jack and the Bean Stalk, and Cock Robin; as a hobbledehoy boarded and lodged by some farmer, his daily routine hardly above the level of creatures more long-suffering still, of


                                        "sheep and goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,"


as a man, his loftiest ambition soaring no higher than the prize of a tin kettle at a ploughing match—who but feels a tinge of shame as he contemplates the picture?

    In Mr. Stead's amusing account of his imprisonment he tells us how strongly he felt tempted to throw his prayer-book at the chaplain's head, the cause of provocation I forget.  I well remember feeling temptation of the kind stronger still some years ago.  The occasion was the march of a Labourers' Union to church in Sussex.  Some fifty or more ploughmen had tramped thither from the neighbouring parishes, and it seemed natural to expect an appropriate allusion in the sermon, some word of sympathy and encouragement, at least a friendly God-speed.  The preacher was no poverty-stricken parson, whose wife found it difficult to cover her children's nakedness; he was rich, kept plenty of servants, had doubtless risen from a roast beef lunch and would go home to an orthodox dinner of soup, fish, and joint, with port at dessert.  This is what he said after a long rigmarole setting forth the claims of his brethren to gratitude.

    "Do not be misled by flatterers and false teachers who would raise your expectations to equality and an equal share of earthly blessings.  Remember what the Scripture says: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.'  If your portion is hard here below, comfort yourselves with the thought that in your Father's House are many mansions," etc., etc.

    With what relish could I have hurled, not a prayer-book, but a text at that man's head!—"Thou hypocrite"; but I leave the rest to the reader's memory or imagination.  Disappointedly the delegates went home to their tea and bread and butter, whilst with unctuous self-complacence the rector without doubt carved his fat capon and sipped his old port, caressing himself with the conviction that for a time at least he had stemmed unlawful ambitions and curbed unholy aspirations. [p.36]

    It is my misfortune, not my fault, if early experiences of what the late Lord Houghton wittily described as "that branch of the Civil Service usually called the Church of England" have been deplorable.  But even twenty years ago a farm labourer's life differed immensely from that I am describing.  In our village there was neither reading-room, cricket club, annual flower-show, brass band, nor any other organisation, social, literary, or political.  There were neither pictures on the cottage walls nor books on the cottage table.  And here I would note the incalculable, the beneficent influence of photography.  Only those familiar with rural life of an ante-photographic period can measure the revolution here affected.  Schopenhauer truly remarks that prolonged separation must in time render friends visionary to each other.

    The cheap photograph has done more than brighten the life and strengthen family ties of the poor; it has served to awaken an artistic feeling, a craving for house decoration, beauty, or at least adornment, in the home.

    "Ah, miss," said our old charwoman to an artistic young lady trying her hand at portraits, "if only you could draw my Carrie!  What a comfort for me to behold her features long after she is dead and gone!"

    It apparently never occurred to Mrs. W— that in all probability she would be dead and gone before her Carrie, but my Suffolk friends had an odd way of expressing themselves.

    We hear a good deal of Darkest England, period, distress, agricultural depression, and so on.  There is no doubt that a cheap tripper at Hastings, whether artizan or rustic, spends more on a single day's outing in 1897 than his forerunner, maybe his forerunner's family, of fifty years ago, on recreation from the cradle to the grave; equally certain it is that cottage boards of the present time are regally furnished forth by comparison with those spread when Queen Victoria was a bride.

    Two stories will illustrate the latter assertion.

    "Don't I like passing Mr. G—'s [Mr. G—was a farmer] on Christmas Day!" said a lad to his mother.  "Such a smell of roast beef! you can smell it ever so far."  Roast beef in those days could only be enjoyed thus vicariously.

    Here is another anecdote equally suggestive.  In every farm-house was kept a "baccus" boy, i.e., a boy employed in the back-house, that back kitchen containing the enormous large oven heated by faggots once a week, the kitchen proper being reserved for servant's meals and the mistress's domestic operations.

    The "baccus" boy I remember was a waif and a stray known as One-eyed Dick.  His employer's wife learned one day that Dick, before washing up her dessert plate containing gooseberry husks, was accustomed with epicurean lick to swallow the whole.  From that time Dick had his daily cabbage leaf of ripe gooseberries, and was strictly thus forbidden to rob the pigs.

    Poor Dick!  He afterwards took to himself a surname and a wife, and his eldest daughter married a "gentleman"—i.e., a person whose avocations demanded broadcloth instead of corduroy, the invariable distinction.

    These "baccus" boys, although ignorant of what I once heard called "the rudiments of reading," often possessed good parts.

    One day a lady farmer took up a knife and showed her little scullion how to clean knives quickly and well.

    "Ah, but, ma'am," retorted the youngster, "don't you know, they're your own?"

    Here was a young mind proof against the most enticing theories William Morris and dreamers of his school could propound.

    All very well for Béranger to sing, "Voir, c'est avoir!"  This lad knew the human heart better than all the Fouriérists going.  His retort was almost worthy of that little scullion immortalised by De Commines.

    One day Louis XI., whose man-cages and other devilish devices are forgotten when we read such tales as this, went incognito into the kitchen.

    "How much do you earn a day?" he asked of a little "gate-sauce" [p.39] turning a spit.

    "As much as the king," retorted the smart lad.  "By the grace of God I earn a living, and the king can do no more."

    The youthful epigrammatist, we learn, was showered with royal favours.  A "baccus" boy would perhaps pronounce himself happy as a king.  The rinsing of dried currants on baking days is a fascinating job when we have a handful given us by way of averting temptation.  No less seductive is the carrying of harvest cakes, apple turnovers, and Whitsuntide custards from baking-board to oven when we get hot buns and sugary odds and ends.

    Ham-pickling also is an enjoyable business for humble helpers.  Now pounding sugar and spice in a mortar, now watching the spiced beer as it seethes on the hob, what an improvement are such tasks upon that of scaring crows or picking stones in a gang!

    "Turtle's gang of stone-pickers" was a local institution, part of a system then in full working order throughout the country, and hardly less degrading than that of slavery itself.  Turtle did not wield the lash, it is true, nor, as Legree, had he a troop of bloodhounds in his service; the shrill-voiced, evil-tongued, hard-visaged little man nevertheless made himself a terror to his bondservants.  No other word can express the relation between gangmaster and gang.

    Many a time have I watched that train from nursery or schoolroom window; little children, girls and youths, the mentally and bodily infirm, the decent and the disreputable—all these would be herded together throughout the stone-picking season, their labour paid by the piece, Turtle, the middle-man, exacting his pound of flesh, making what he could out of his contracts.

    The moral atmosphere into which children were thus thrown may easily be guessed.  Not for the more thriving and uplooking was such an employment.  The chaste Sarahs, the poetic Bettys, the frolicsome Manettas, would have nothing to do with Turtle or his gang.  But for the rest the temptation of a weekly shilling or two over-ruled all scruples.  And here as elsewhere scolds and shrews, and perhaps worse feminine types still, were to be had for the asking.  Stone picking no more than turnip hoeing or barley sowing can wait.  Thus the ranks of the gang were filled by volunteers from town and neighbouring villages, no matter their character or career. [p.40-1]

    It will be asked, what about schools?  Were children no more sent to school at this period, than peasant boys and girls in France before '89?  Well, yes, we had in my childhood one Dame's school, and a most benignant old lady kept it.  Whether she could carry her scholars beyond the "rudiments of reading" [p.40-2] is doubtful.  She taught little boys to say hymns and "make their bow," little girls their sampler and curtsey, which was something.  Then there was the "Church School," a small room built on to the church, as much a part of it as pulpit and communion table, as completely under rectorial control as the churchyard outside.  The teacher's salary, arising from what source I cannot say, was exactly fifteen pounds per annum.  Two schoolmistresses I remember well, both respectable young women, who could just read, write, and do easy sums.  In these days they would pass no standard whatever.  Boys and girls enjoyed such opportunities of improvement together; but as stone-picking and other labours of the field interfered with scholastic routine, Miss Martha's task was not very onerous.  Miss, did I say?  Let me hastily recall the unpardonable slip.  There were no Misses in those days, except at rectory, hall, farm-house, and shop.  Had even the blacksmith's daughter arrogated to herself such an assumption of gentility she would have become general laughing stock.  Master was the designation of elderly labouring folk, their sons were young So-and-So, their daughters, the girls Smith or Brown.

    But to return to Martha L—, our schoolmistress.  A well-to-do farmer's son fell in love with her.  Of course such a mésalliance was out of the question, not so romance.  Every morning fresh flowers were surreptitiously placed in the schoolroom window, till at last folks gossiped.  With tears in her eyes Martha L— complained to the rector that the neighbours sought to "impinge her modesty."  Where she got that Newtonian predicate Heaven only knows.  Had it come in a dream, when "deep sleep falleth upon man"?  Be this as it may, the floral offerings were stopped, her modesty was not seriously impinged.  In due time she became a matron with the rest.

    Recreations were of a piece with moral, intellectual, and social conditions.  A fair, a ploughing match, a travelling circus, such were the staple recreations.  Whitsun Fair was a day of exotic dainties.

    Regularly as the day came round the sisters F—, in new print dresses, set up their booth before the Wool Pack—our village possessed two ale-houses; here, for degustation of carters, drovers, and holiday-makers in general, stood saucers innumerable, each containing a ha'porth of stewed prunes, and in this dainty a brisk trade was done from early morning till dusk.

    Why one especial regale should be chosen, and no other candies or syrups, I cannot say.  Year after year, with clock-work precision, appeared the new cotton dresses, the booth, and the array of saucers in front of the Wool Pack.

    Afflicting as is this picture of rural life from one point of view, from another, it awakens quite opposite reflexion.  There was no juvenile smoking, no poring over Penny Dreadfuls, no betting in our village at this time.

    The only criminal affair disgracing its annals throughout a period of thirty years, was a drunken affray, one young ploughman being sent to jail for three months.  Poor fellow!  Ill as he fared at home, he fared much worse in prison.  When he came out he was mere skin and bone.

    "I hardly liked to begin my bread and spoon victuals," he said, "for I always left off almost as hungry as when I began."  Joyfully he returned to his "flick" (i.e., fat salt pork), his dumplings (i.e., balls of flour and water), and "flet" cheese (i.e., cheese made of milk that has been skimmed or flet, [p.42] a compound hard as nougat).  In colloquial speech a hatchet was needed for the attack.

    And the last days of the farm labourer in the natural order of things meant "the House," with what comfort and mental stay a prospect of heavenly mansions could afford.  The House, as the workhouse was always called, rewarded three score years of Spartan fare, life-long labour unrelieved by a single holiday, a harmless, ofttimes respectable existence, domestic duties admirably performed.  Truly a retrospect even for outsiders to blush at!


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER V.

LADY FARMERS AND OTHERS


LADY FARMERS—GIGS, TOLL—BARS, AND MATRIMONY—PIGS AND PIANOS—BALLS—THE COST OF PULLING A NEIGHBOUR'S NOSE—CONTRASTS—A LOOK AHEAD


HOW it may be now I cannot say, but at the time I write of, lady farmers were found in our village and in most others—widows, sisters, and daughters of deceased tenants to whom their lease had been renewed.  Such renewal was secured by a clause, and an excellent provision it proved to capable women.  Some landowners held back, preferring to have their property represented in Parliament, and this has ever seemed to me a capital argument on behalf of female suffrage.  Tenant farming no longer offers the same guarantee, the lease of a good farm is no longer in itself a little fortune; yet we may ere long see an improved condition of things.  Fruit culture, poultry rearing, dairying, may profitably replace the old-fashioned crops and methods.  Women are sure to take advantage of the reaction.  Why they should manfully keep the world a-going, support Her Majesty's soldiers and sailors, contribute to Colonial expansion, yet, like occupants of the Oriental harem, be subject to masculine law-making, has ever seemed to me directly opposed to common sense and the most elementary notions of justice.  Women's rights had not as yet become a rallying cry.  At the time I write of it was a common thing to see Mary Smith or Ann Brown, Farmer, on tumbril and waggon.  My own name, as will be seen further on, has thus figured.  But although we could all hold our own in practical matters and farm as high [p.44-1] as our neighbours of the other sex, political equality was almost undreamed of, mooted only by the few.  Here I would mention the fact that women farmers never went to market. [p.44-2]  Their samples of wheat and barley in neatly sewed brown paper bags were exhibited either by male relative, friend, or bailiff, nor did they ever attend cattle fairs, stock sales, or rent dinners.  Here etiquette was rigid.  But they got in their wheat early, kept their land clean, and sent prime sheep and bullocks to the fair.

    In the house their management was equally beyond criticism.  Thrift, method, above all, cleanliness reached the high water-mark. Sometimes the latter proved a thorn in the flesh; emulation became absolute servitude.

    Nothing like a Suffolk girl for this excellent quality.

    In later years I took Sarah C—, my invaluable Suffolker, to London and showed her Westminster Abbey.  As she stood before the smoke-begrimed, time-honoured pile, she heaved a deep sigh, "How I should like to set to work on those black walls with soap and scrubbing-brush!" she exclaimed, adding regretfully, "but it would take too long to get off all that dirt."  In Sarah's eyes London smuts seemed a pouring out of the Seven Vials, a judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Alike for men and women with capital, farming was a fine business fifty years ago.  To procure the lease of a good farm was as difficult as to get into Parliament, so folks said, and they were not far out.  One riddle of local wit ran thus: Why was Mr. W— [an octogenarian] like the Duke of York?  Because he kept a Groom-in-Waiting; the said Mr. Groom having the promise of Mr. W—'s farm on the old gentleman's demise.  Bankruptcies among farmers, large or small, men or women, were all but unknown. [p.45]  Rents could not be called moderate.  The corn rent, or rent rising and falling with prices, nullified the effect of extraordinary years; gentility, with its attendant outlay, was gradually invading the farm-house.  Through seasons good, bad, and indifferent, the agricultural industry remained solvent.  Nor can mercenariness be held responsible for such prosperity or at least solid circumstance.

    The East Anglian farmer never or very rarely indeed thought of a dowry first and a wife afterwards.  To marry for money was looked upon as mean and low, a derogation of manhood.  Such an offence against accepted standards was never forgotten.  Any man who married for money straightway lost caste and consideration.

    There was once a case in which such a sacrifice seemed of pressing necessity.  Mr. H— E—, younger son, then middle-aged, of a numerous family of farmers, had been unlucky, a few thousand pounds would set him on his feet and enable him to hire a more promising "occupation," thus was a farm usually called.  Half a dozen miles off lived the Misses S—, spinsters of known fortune and of reputed shrewishness.  Egged on to the enterprise by his brothers and sisters, literally worried into the business of wooer, the recalcitrant one day had his gig cleaned, his harness polished, and dressing himself in his Sunday's best, drove off to propose for the better favoured heiress's hand.

    Two hours later he was seen dashing homewards in a state of frantic jubilation.  As all the members of his family rushed out to meet him, they felt that they could not misread the tell-tale front.

    "Thank God," cried one and all, "it is settled!"  The bridegroom to be, so they regarded him, threw the reins over his horse's head, led animal and gig to the stable, then returned, not as yet having opened his lips.

    Once inside the house he burst out with unfeigned relief. "She has refused me!"

    In after years he revelled in telling the story, no discreditable one either to wooer or wooed.  The one had made no pretence whatever at sentiment, the other had honestly taken his compliment for what it was worth.

    As has been already mentioned, gentility was gradually invading the farm-house.  For the most part farmers regarded wedlock as a step forward, but in the direction of social not material advancement.  The gently bred daughter of a poor clergyman, a governess with superior ways, possessed far more attractions than money.

    Many marriages were brought about after highly romantic fashion.  I am here writing of an epoch when gigs and toll gates were the order of the day, and these formed important matrimonial agencies.

    On market days everyone who could do so of course went to town, i.e., to their special market.  In the genteeler sort of farm-house a governess would be kept, but as a gig only holds two persons, or at most two and a child between their knees, the young lady presiding over the schoolroom must either walk, get a lift, or stay at home.

    A happy solution was offered by the toll-bar.  Miss So-and-So had merely to reach the nearest toll-bar and there await a spare seat in some neighbour's gig, the spare seat naturally belonged to bachelor or widower, and thus it came about that the drive to market as often as not resulted in a drive to church.  The modestly endowed young persons to whom I am indebted for instruction in "the rudiments of reading" all in turn became farmers' wives.  Their acquirements were of the slenderest, but they could play the piano, with more or less propriety speak the Queen's English, and in fine brought an atmosphere, rarefied and thin it might be, of "Shakespeare and the musical glasses."

    Culture, or what passes muster as such, was as yet the merest infiltration, only here and there modifying social strata.  The largest tenant farmer in our village openly avowed that he would rather hear the squeaking of pigs than the pianoforte!  As, however, public opinion was leaning towards pianos rather than pigs' squeaking, he bought an instrument and allowed his little girls to learn.

    It must not be supposed that there was any dearth of social intercourse.  Farming folk were devotees of what one rustic pedant of my acquaintance called "the Terpsichorean Muse."

    In the winter everyone gave a dance, the guests driving perhaps fifteen miles through the snow, their gala attire packed in the gig-box, themselves well protected by enormous gig umbrellas.

    Sometimes the roads were blocked and no one arrived but the blind fiddler; he, prudent soul, well assured of a welcome, would generally appear the day before.  A fiddle could do without a dance, but what in Heaven's name could dancers do without a fiddle?  When no mishap of this kind occurred, right merrily he set a-going country dance and Sir Roger de Coverley.  From seven in the evening till cock-crowing, alike young and old footed it merrily, a wonderful supper, crowned by the inimitable and invariable tipsy cake, invigorating dancers and musician.  That spirited old fiddler!  I feel inclined to dance as I recall him now.

    Very rarely whiffs of "Shakespeare and the musical glasses" varied the festive atmosphere.  When this phenomenon did happen the effect was not always agreeable.

    "Is it the custom in Suffolk for gentlemen to stand by their partners without speaking?" asked a pert young lady from London of her cavalier in the quadrille.  The unfortunate young man coloured, stammered a word or two about the weather, and, it need hardly be said, refrained from asking her hand for another dance.  This happened in my own home.  "Unpleasant little contingencies and delinquencies," as a grandiloquent neighbour used to say, are unavoidable in the very best society,"

    All the year round social intercourse was strictly regulated by the lunar calendar.  "The moon after next you may expect me," an habitual guest was wont to tell us.  In Gibbon's Autobiography he alludes to the same custom: "Dinners and visits (of neighbours) required in due season a similar return, and I dreaded the period of the full moon, which was usually reserved for our more distant excursions."

    Gigs would be got ready soon after the early dinner, arrival being timed for three or four o'clock; the gentlemen would take a farming survey, the ladies chat over needlework, at five o'clock tea, if tea it could be called, awaiting hosts and guests.  The first course of this elaborate regale consisted of home-cured ham, that incomparable Suffolk ham pickled in spice and harvest beer; harvest beer, itself clear as sherry and twice as strong, was drunk with this dish; next came the strongest of tea and the richest of cream with rusks, also a Suffolk speciality, and cakes equally unrivalled.  The tea things removed, hot water and spirit decanter would be brought out, pipes smoked, thereby apparently digestion being restored.  Seldom did anyone seem the worse for such prolonged eating and drinking.

    The moon regulated social intercourse and farming operations superseded the nomenclature of the calendar.  Thus no one ever talked of spring and summer, autumn and winter, but of harrowing and haysel, [p.48] harvest and wheat-sowing.  Fair days stood in place of Easter and Michaelmas, "the rent-feast," or audit dinner, marked Midsummer or Christmas.

    Urbanity and kindliness characterised these jolly farmers.  Good faith marked their dealings with one another, a charitable spirit their behaviour as employers.  During the long wet winter, when very few hands were really needed, old men and "three-quarter men," i.e., the feeble or undersized, were kept on out of pure benevolence.  Some kind of work was found for them at reduced wages.

    Personal animosities were very rare.  It was chiefly at electioneering times that "unpleasant little contingencies and delinquencies" would mar the general harmony.

    Upon one of these occasions two gentlemen farmers had a fierce fight on horseback.  Upon another a highly esteemed paterfamilias pulled another's nose.  The irate victim of political rancour went to law, with the result that damages were assessed at five pounds.  His antagonist thereupon sat down and coolly made out his cheque as follows: "To Messrs So-and-So, attorneys, for wringing their client's (Mr. William Smith) nose."

    Humour varied the dull routine, life was sometimes viewed with Rabelaisian eyes.  If the squeaking of pigs might occasionally be preferred to pianos, on the subject of a good joke opinion remained unanimous.

    When in Germany, years after these early experiences, an old German schoolmistress thus expressed herself to me: "Ah! those English farmers, Fräulein, with their red faces, great-coats, and smart gigs!  Nothing I saw in England pleased me half so much as the sight of those fine farmers driving to market."

    Fräulein Fink was right; there existed indeed matter for enthusiasm here.  And who shall say?  The wave of ruin that has of late years spread over agricultural England may disappear, the good old times may be repeated.  America, Argentina, Russia, must in the far future have vaster markets than Europe to supply with corn.  English farmers in all probability will never again eat bank-notes between their bread and butter as their forefathers are said to have done a hundred years ago.  Perhaps the lease of a good farm will never again be as hard to gain as a seat in Parliament.  It seems impossible to believe that the present state of things can last, agricultural bankruptcies of daily occurrence, thousands of acres to be had without rent for the asking, able-bodied men becoming survivals in rural districts, the great corn country of Eastern England a waste!


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CHAPTER VI.

THE WORLD OF BOOKS


THE TRIUNE SPLENDOUR—WILL WIMBLE—NURSERY SAINTS—THE DEVIL'S STORY-BOOK—MRS. FORSDYKE AND HER DONKEY-CART


TO have entered life, in the words of Charles Lamb, "an encyclopædia behind the time" is perhaps no unmixed evil.  "So farewell, Horace, whom I hated so!" would never have been uttered by a self-taught student.  "Hamlet" were surely not "Hamlet" to him whose acquaintance with Shakespeare should begin by working up the greatest play in the world for a Junior or Senior Local!  Without doubt the acquisition of a school or college certificate nowadays represents something more solid than literary rapture, or an epicurean appreciation of "the dainties that are bred in a book."  To the youth or maiden whom our French neighbours would describe as a struggle-for-lifer, such guarantees of successful cram have become indispensable, represent indeed, so much money invested at the best possible interest.  The self-educated, moreover, may sigh in after years for some of the crumbs that now fall, not from the rich but the poor man's table.  We who started in life's race modestly equipped with "the rudiments of reading," would fain have acquired one or two other things, to-day the accomplishment of workhouse foundling and street urchin as yet unbreeched.  I suppose everyone of us goes down to the grave with some rankling regret, some unsatisfied wish.  Mine will be a hankering after the Rule of Three.  Had I but learned the Rule of Three, I should style myself, that rare exception, an individual picking no quarrel with his horoscope.

    But there were compensations.  The fine old manor-house in which these early years rolled by contained a small but priceless library.  My first educators—could any of mortal born choose better?—were the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton.  Next after this triune splendour, this matchless trinity, came Walter Scott, the Spectator and Tatler, "Don Quixote" (Smollett's translation), the "Arabian Nights," "The Vicar of Wakefield," "Robinson Crusoe," "Gulliver's Travels" and Boswell's "Johnson."  Looking back I can hardly remember the time when these books were not familiar acquaintances.  Before I was twelve years old I had read them all and again and again.  Let me here protest against the assumption that the childish mind can be tainted by intimacy with the sublime masterpieces and delightful chefs d'œuvre here named.  The born booklover seeks delight in imaginative literature, food for the fancy, intellectual beauty on which to dwell in solitude.  Not in a single instance did any of these readings awaken a morbid curiosity or impure thought.

    First let me speak of the Bible, a venerable folio with curious old prints and containing the Apocrypha.  Here, naturally, the poetic aspect appealed, the pastoral, the allegorical, the superhumanly grand.  Being of a very practical turn, theology in itself, dogma, and revelation so-called, have never occupied my mind, spiritual problems have always been relegated to a secondary place.  The Bible was to the child as it has remained to the mature thinker, a great poem, a second world in marvel and beauty hardly behind the visible globe we inhabit.

    The family Shakespeare (I have it still) is a Johnson and Malone edition in fifteen octavo volumes, published by Longman and others, 1793.  On winter evenings when the family party were assembled in the keeping-room, [p.51] one little girl would become absorbed over a big volume in grey paper cover.  She knew no Christmas trees, cards, or gift-crammed stockings; juvenile balls, pantomimes, and other excitements with which boys and girls of the present day are surfeited, did not come in her way.  But rapture of quite another and more durable kind made ample amends.  Not for the most dazzling memories would I exchange my first recollection of "Winter's Tale," read to myself in the family circle, too absorbed to heed the chat of the rest, or snuff the candle at my elbow.

    Moments as exquisite and unforgettable were afforded by Cervantes and Scott.  The breathing into life of Hermione's statue, Dorothea at the brook, Norna of the Fitful Head uttering her wild prophecies, by such waving of magic wand was I ushered into the pleasure-house of Romance.

    Milton may seem an odd idol of childhood, but perhaps on the principle of the "baccus" boy mentioned earlier I adored "Paradise Lost" because it was my own.  Some grown-up cousin had purchased the book for me, most likely attracted by its gay binding, gilt edges, and pretty engravings.  This edition of Milton's poetical works, published by Milner & Sowerby, Halifax, at three shillings and sixpence, contained Addison's famous critique and Channing's memoir, also some very creditable steel plates.  Pored over morning, noon, and night, the volume proved in itself a liberal education, alike moral, spiritual, and intellectual.  Not for its weight in gold would I part with the somewhat tawdry looking little book in the crimson and gilt cover, now lost amid the more imposing array of my library shelves.

    As beloved, but in quite a different way, are twelve small octavo volumes, the Spectator and Tatler, in their original bindings, blue figured paper, olive-green leather backs and corner pieces, "printed in 1793 for J. Parsons, No. 21 Paternoster Row."  How the young reader wished that every day could still welcome its Spectator with poetic motto or Tatler dated from White's Chocolate House, or "My own Apartment"!  The wit and learning, variety of subject, genial temper and incomparable knowledge of men and manners, made these readings also an education, but unlike the afore-mentioned.

    Whilst Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Scott unveiled the realm of Fancy, whilst Milton lifted into the lofty region of the epic, Addison and his goodly brotherhood initiated into the more prosaic but hardly less fascinating precincts of literature in its wider sense, the universal world of letters.

    Stinking weeds will find their way into every garden, and in this collection of masterpieces were one or two very bad books.  The first of these ought certainly to have been burnt by the common hangman.

    Some misguided relation had sent us for nursery reading, a little book by a certain Rev. Baptist Noel, called "Infant Piety."  A more deliberate effort to render religious melancholia a juvenile malady, inevitable as measles or whooping cough, failing that, to turn tiny boys and girls into pietistic prigs of the most intolerable type, was never made.  All these babies had but one concern, namely, for their souls, but one desire, "to go to Heaven."  At two years old they would discourse glibly as a full-blown Salvationist on original sin, faith, good works, and regeneration.  One and all died before they were fairly emancipated from crib and go-cart, and one and all made edifying end after the manner of Mr. Peace.

    I ask, what useful end could be served by writing such stuff as this?  Have the majority of children, alas! come into the world invulnerably fortified against morbid introspection and religious mania by virtue of inheritance and natural temperament?  Fortunately in the present case the bad seed had fallen upon stony places.  Those odious little Davids and Abners—thus were they called—with their egregiously unctuous sayings and doings, were quizzed, smiled at, and speedily laid aside.  Of a very different kind was the other work alluded to, and of which I have forgotten alike name and authorship.  An appropriate title for this most immoral [p.54-1] yet vastly entertaining book would be not the sorrows but "The Joys of Satan."  In a series of brief parables or apologues were set forth the easy triumphs of his satanic majesty, here no awful personage recalling the classic Pluto or the Miltonic Lucifer, rather a pseudo-Mephistopheles, caricature of the devil who so divertingly flirts with Frau Marthe in "Faust."

    This out and out scoundrel—so human is he made to appear that the appellation fits—goes about his business in the most matter-of-fact-way, tackling by turns sluggard, tippler, gamester, in fact everyone who from his especial point of view seemed a promising subject.  Just as in "Infant Piety" the Unseen Power was treated with smug familiarity, much as if folks were talking of some favourite in black cloth and white choker and his "sweet truth preached last Sunday," [p.54-2] so here every vestige of the supernatural was stripped from the incarnation of evil.  Satan was simply an insinuating villain bent upon helping his fellows with all possible speed to prison, the gallows, and perpetual burning.

    The book was nicely bound in dark fancy leather with gilt edges, and contained numerous steel engravings.  One of these I remember well, although the work belongs to early childhood and was never seen later—it suddenly disappeared, perhaps being hidden away of set purpose, perhaps being borrowed and intentionally forgotten.  The vignette alluded to represented sin in the shape of the Upas tree, under its shade lying the prostrate figure of some victim.  It was an endearing cut and gazed at often and fondly.

    Mudie's and Free Libraries were not as yet thought of, but the capital of East Anglia was ever to the fore in matters intellectual. Ipswich already possessed its Mechanics' Institution, the subscription to the same being half a guinea a year.  For this modest sum subscribers could read newspapers and periodicals, and borrow several volumes.

    The librarian, who possessed the noble name of Franklin, was a very shabby, dingy, semi-blind, semi-deaf old man, not always accommodating to omnivorous readers.  Upon one occasion, a Saturday, a young man, a shop-assistant, addicted to light literature, could find nothing to his mind.  "I must take home a book of some sort or another," he said desperately; "to-morrow is Sunday."

    "Read your Bible!" growled the librarian in his surliest manner, and the devotee of poetry and romance was sent empty away.  To "old Franklin," as he was always called, seldom fell the uncongenial task of offering stones for bread or thistles for figs.  The Mechanics' Institution of my native town, [p.55-1] one of the first established in the United Kingdom, was a golden treasury of wit and learning.  The threadbare figure of its one-eyed custodian always reminded me of some wizard of fairy tale, uncouth porter of enchanted palace.

    Books, donkey-carts, and frail [p.55-2] baskets do not at first sight seem associable, but true it is that to this day the sight of a market woman in a country road transports me to bookland.  On Saturdays the Ipswich butter-market was held, and a certain rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed old dame, with silvery hair, having sold her eggs and butter, would bring home our books and parcels.  With what ecstasy I caught sight of the donkey-cart halting by our garden gate!  With what eagerly trembling hands the frail was unloaded!—groceries, draperies, perhaps a leg of mutton, placed in layers; at the bottom lying half a dozen books, one and all in that delightfully be-thumbed condition so dear to Charles Lamb.

    Good Mrs. Forsdyke of the rosy cheeks and blue eyes!  Little didst thou dream of the benignant part played by thee in another's life, that life as remote from thine as if one of us had lived under the Pharaohs!  The honest soul, I daresay, could neither read nor write; old Franklin's precious burdens represented to her a few pence paid for porterage, that was all.  But to me they were richest store.

    With the parcels of tallow-candles, spices for ham-pickling, canvas for cream sieves, and the rest, came some of the best books and some of the best of their kind ever written.  Among these were Lockhart's "Life of Scott," Bruce's "Hue's Travels," Warburton's "Crescent and the Cross," and Melville's delicious romances, "Typee" and "Omoo"; in quite a different vein, Miss Martineau's stories of "Political Economy," Hallam's great works, and G. H. Lewes's "History of Philosophy," then appearing in a more popular form than in later enlarged editions.

    Years and years after, when spending a week with Lewes and George Eliot in the Isle of Wight, I mentioned the well-thumbed little volumes and the butter-woman's cart.  He listened delightedly, as well he might.  Not to many authors comes the satisfaction of what may almost be called posthumous fame!

    But I must tear myself from a subject on which I could write volumes.  The books of our youth, the friends who neither forsake us nor drop away on our onward progress through life, the silent yet ever present witnesses of man's better, undying part, how can we cherish these too dearly, too often renew the immortelle, offering of affection—the poet's tribute of a bay wreath?


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CHAPTER VII.

THE SOCIAL MEDIUM


THE GRANDE CHARTREUSE—LOT'S WIFE—A PRODIGAL SON—A CATASTROPHE AND A COINCIDENCE—THE REV. J. C. RYLE AND HIS WAYSIDE BLESSINGS—"YOU'VE GOT THE WRONG COLOURS, MY DEARS. GO AND CHANGE THEM!"


TWELVE months' schooling may sometimes answer the purpose of twelve years, that is to say, stimulate the pupil's peculiar aptitude and thus aid a natural leaning to fittest career.  If I here dwell on matters purely personal, it is because the subject of education, considered in its widest sense, possesses universal interest.  My own opinion is that children of all classes nowadays run the risk of being over-educated.  Those of quick brains educate themselves much more than we suppose; the slow and the sure should be developed practically rather than mentally, their faculties being turned to matters well within their reach.

    Nothing is more inexplicable than parental blindness here.  The brilliant one of the family, the intellectual gymnast, is often never heard of after school and college triumphs.  The quiet plodder, set down as a dunce, will often become the mainstay of broken fortunes, perhaps shine as an inventor, suddenly become famous for heroism or genius!

    By some happy chance the little day school to which I went when ten years old was directed by a devotee of grammar in general and of French grammar in particular.  Like another schoolmistress of my acquaintance, her belief was grammar, her tenets of faith were the subject and the predicate, the major sentence and the minor sentence.  Daily she woke up to do battle for the predicate, daily she girded her loins on behalf of the major sentence.  From the dogged purpose she put into these lessons, it might have been supposed that the fate of the British Empire depended upon the syntax of half a dozen little Ipswich girls.  As my lucky stars would have it, this admirable woman was a thorough mistress of French.  She had spent some years at Grenoble.  An excursion to the Grande Chartreuse, no everyday adventure at that time, had apparently been the great event of her life.  She was never tired of describing it, now throwing her experiences into the form of a little lecture, now dictating an account, now setting us the task of a narrative.  The Grande Chartreuse gradually became a dream of marvel and beauty that must be realised somehow and at some time or other.  By an irony of fate, when years and years after, when having travelled, re-travelled and re-travelled again France from end to end, I found myself at Grenoble, enthusiasm about the Grande Chartreuse was cold.  Mountain roads and awful passes make me giddy.  Of monks and monasteries I had already seen enough and to spare.  So I left my fellow-traveller to visit the long-dreamed-of site, myself spending the day with farmers close by.

    To this admirable woman I attribute the pleasure with which I have read French from early childhood and the passionate interest afterwards taken by me in France and French affairs.  Miss Baker was not without sublunary reward.  She soon after married a Baptist minister and set up a young ladies' school on her own account, I had reason to believe with entire success.

    The nominal mistress of the little school in question was a widow lady with a large family.  Her part of the day's business consisted chiefly in keeping an eye upon everyone and in quaffing at stated intervals tumblers of foaming porter brought on a tray.  How a person so utterly incompetent came to secure one of the best woman teachers then living is a mystery.  The first class had not much in common with the ardent candidates for a Junior or Senior Local Examination nowadays.  The only thing thought of seemed some possible or perhaps wholly imaginary lover.  We used to walk to school, a distance of two miles, and be fetched home by one of our brothers in a dog-cart.  The elder girls would always contrive to get a peep at the dog-cart, its conductors transmitting by our fifteen-year-old sister poetic billet-doux in walnut shells, flowers, or fruit.  A niece of the austere Miss Baker headed the giddy band, no product, alas! of this especial school or town.  When I think of these early days, nothing strikes me more than the immense improvement in one respect.  Young women may still be as sentimental as Lily Dale, as foolish as the girls of a garrison town described by Miss Austen.  But they no longer flaunt their folly in the eyes of the world.  They may dream of lovers, sigh for a lover morning, noon, and night, at any rate they would be ashamed to confess it.

    Here I will mention another circumstance showing the curious notions of discipline prevailing at this time.

    On our way home, on the outskirts of the town we passed a second ladies' school, one with less pretensions to gentility than our own.  We often noticed in the winter twilight some girl's form standing like a statue just opposite the front door.  It was not always the same girl, and oddly enough the apparition seemed somehow immediately connected with bad weather.  When a drizzling rain was falling, when a north wind blew, and scattered snow-flakes, herald of winter, might be seen here and there, then we were pretty sure of passing the motionless figure.  Bareheaded, shivering, abashed, there stood a well-dressed girl of fourteen or fifteen, doing public penance for some petty offence.

    So much we learned afterwards.  The image recalling Lot's wife was merely some boarding-school miss guilty of having giggled over Mrs. Markham, omitted her scales, or perhaps made signs to the chemist's assistant over the way.  And chilblains, neuralgia, consumptive coughs thereby induced seemed of quite secondary importance.  O time!  O manners!  These girls of the period, be it remarked by the way, were very insufficiently clad by comparison with their fellows of to-day.  Not to go into too much details, I will cite one fact.  A young lady belonging to well-to-do people once visited us in the depth of winter, of a Suffolk winter.  Under her French merino skirt she wore a flimsy white cotton petticoat, just as one would do in the blazing heat of July.  Fashion and hygiene must have selected the fittest with a vengeance.

    We had a little social circle.  First must be named Mr. and Mrs. W—, parents of the unfortunate little Arthur.  Mr. W—, now practising as surgeon and apothecary, had been a ship surgeon in early days and had more than once circumnavigated the globe.  He was a remarkable man in every way, small, almost to dwarfishness, with an enormous head, denoting that delightful combination, the man of science and the visionary.  Ever soaring to the clouds, he yet had ever scientific light to throw upon passing questions.  Fruitless chatter, gossipy personalities were impossible to him.  He must illustrate the microscope or electric bar, dilate upon the excellent use to be made of thistle-down, or otherwise to diverge from the commonplace.  Mrs. W――, an Irishwoman, it need hardly be said, was in every respect his very opposite.  She was twice his size to begin with, and very handsome.  I see before me now her blue eyes with their sweet, vivacious, endearing expression, auburn hair piled up in curls above the forehead, and exquisitely fair throat set off by a white linen collar and blue ribbons.  Whilst her husband lived in the fairyland of science, she was all sentiment, her especial hero and heroine being Lord Byron and the Empress Josephine.  One of her favourite books was Ganganelli's "Letters," and I believe she was a Roman Catholic, although she never openly declared herself.  No one reads Ganganelli nowadays, but the letters are charming.  There was an elder son I will call Ralph, who was grown up when little Arthur made such lamentable end.  This Ralph, a handsome harum-scarum, had of course been fooled to the top of his bent also by an adoring mother, and as naturally had turned out ill.  His father was constantly sending him out to some remote quarter of the globe; a few months and the prodigal would be back again, denuded of everything but effrontery and good looks.

    Upon one occasion employment had been found for him in the heart of Russia.  Just as the snow began to fall at Ipswich Mr. W— accosted a friend with an air of extraordinary jubilation.

    "The Neva is frozen!" he cried, rubbing his hands.  "We shall not see Ralph back till the spring anyhow."

    But lo and behold! the very next morning Ralph walked into his father's shop, nonchalant as ever.  He had scraped up money enough to defray the expenses of his journey overland!

    Upon another occasion he was shipped off to the Cape third class.  Ralph might be a blackguard, but no matter how travestied, remained in appearance a gentlemanly blackguard.  It was impossible to make him look insignificant or common.  Among the saloon passengers happened to be some pretty girls who very soon discovered that the most attractive person on board belonged to the steerage.  A flirtation ensued, with the result that the first thing Ralph did on arriving was to book a berth by the next steamer bound homeward; arrived at Ipswich, he soon wheedled the money out of his mother for a first-class ticket, returned to the Cape in fine style, left his card with the saloon acquaintances of the first trip, enjoyed a few gay, idle, flattering weeks, then returned home, not a whit sadder or wiser than he went away.

    In spite of these harassing circumstances, with no skeleton in the cupboard but a diabolical Jack-in-the-box, ever ready to spring upon him unexpectedly, the little doctor maintained a persistently cheerful demeanour; the kindliest, most truly Christian spirit embellished, animated, and enlarged that small, square, grotesque frame.  Just as his prodigal could not be outwardly vulgarised, so neither surroundings nor company could detract from his own inborn nobility.  He never lost an opportunity of lifting others out of the everyday atmosphere, or of imparting instruction.  To one of his scientific hints I believe I owe the excellent eyesight I have hitherto enjoyed.  "Never let the eye dwell on an unbroken surface of white," he told us one day, as he spoke placing a coloured wafer on a sheet of notepaper.  "There," he added, "break the surface by ever so slight a bit of colour, and the eye is thereby relieved and saved from strain."  The hint was taken by at least one youthful listener, and from that day to this I have followed Mr. W—'s advice and used only deep-coloured writing paper.

    Quite different in character was the hospitality of this farm-house, and that, the drive to and fro being the principal attraction.  In the parental gig would always be found room for a small third passenger, in whose eyes every scene made a new world.  The style of these wonderful country teas has been already described; I will only mention one circumstance regarding them sufficiently strange in itself and of a nature to impress the childish mind.

    A favourite jaunt, because the longest, was that to a bachelor uncle's, he the gayest, most mundane, least reflective of my father's numerous brothers.  Returning home from market one dark winter's night, his perceptions presumably blunted by an extra "grog," this uncle was pitched with horse and gig into a deep pit by the road-side.  Fortunately, after some time his moans attracted attention, he was carried to the nearest farm-house, and there carefully tended till his death, which happened from internal injuries a few days later.

    On the morning after the accident an elder brother living in London came downstairs with a worn-out look.  "Thank God, I am alive and well," he said to his wife.  "All night long I was tossed about precipices and having my limbs broken by a fall."  A few hours later he received news of his brother's fatal accident.  This curious coincidence, for of course it was nothing more, created a considerable sensation at the time.  It is hardly necessary to add that the spot in which my ill-fated uncle thus met his death was immediately rendered safe by palings.

    A wayside acquaintance showed his love of children in a fashion very different to that of the good little doctor.  Instead of opening their eyes to the marvels of science or nature, this reverend gentleman—he is now a Bishop—as he rattled past in his high gig used to scatter tracts headed "Fire, Fire, Fire!"  "Why will you go to Hell? " and so on.  Fortunately, the young ladies entrusted with us at that time were much more occupied with romance than theology.  They pocketed the flying sheets, wondering all the while what would come of next Tuesday's drive to market.  But to this day I never recall childish primrosing in Suffolk without a vision of the Rev. J. C. Ryle and his tracts.

    Other and more amusing acquaintances were made on election day.  We used to sit in a row at the open schoolroom window, from which hung blue flags and streamers.  Of course my father, who had married a clergyman's daughter, was a tremendous Conservative.  What a pageant it was, the voters dashing by in carriages, gigs, and spring carts ablaze with blue or orange trappings, as the case might be!

    I well remember one jolly farmer, what with his yellow scarf and waistcoat, looking like a sunflower.  As he jogged past he glanced at the three little girls vigorously waving their Tory draperies, and shouted—"You've got the wrong colours, my dears.  Go in and change them."  Which I did very soon afterwards, and for once and for all.


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CHAPTER VIII.

THE SOCIAL MEDIUM—continued


A QUAKER WORLD—A YOUNG QUAKERESS'S PIN-MONEY—CONTRASTS THE STRUGGLE FOR GENTILITY: "ANYTHING TO PASS THE TIME AWAY"—JULES R—:  A KEY TO FRENCH CHARACTER.


THE Thee and Thou of the Quakers echo pleasantly across this long stretch of years.  I seem to hear still the bland "How do thee, friend Matilda?" of a venerable Quaker acquaintance of early years.

    These "egregious enthusiasts," as Hume calls them, had long conferred a distinctive character on my native town.  The most important, most liberal, and wealthiest commercial houses belonged to the Society of Friends.  The Nonconformist body was here immensely powerful, and ever—as elsewhere—in the van of progress, just as the clerical world was invariably in the rear.  But the Quakers, although by no means unsociable, formed a community apart, adhering to traditional faith, customs, and mode of life.

    Both sexes rigidly adhered to primitive costume, although the younger members were showing signs of revolt.  There were Quaker linen-drapers, Quaker milliners, Quaker tailors.  A sobriety, not without its poetic aspect, was imparted to these ancient streets by figures that might have shaken hands with William Penn.

    With all their studied simplicity the matrons were very richly dressed.  Of finest lawn their kerchiefs, of softest cashmere their dun-coloured gowns and shawls, whilst for great occasions they had an especial black silk, the like of which for beauty of texture and durability I have never since seen.

    Young girls were condemned to a novitiate of the strictest economy, their gala gown, like poor Jane Eyre's, being a clean, well starched muslin.  Among our Quaker friends were two sisters belonging to one of the wealthiest families.  These girls made no secret of their allowance for dress and pocket money.  Each received exactly ten pounds a year with the gift of a new dress at Christmas.  On this sum they continued to attain the simplex mundithii's, the exquisite neatness, extolled by Horace; they would also contrast very favourably with flaunting damsels of our own day, who spend twice as much on a cycling costume.  Already these two girls were unobtrusively breaking down the barriers, making innocent little raids into the region of coquetry.  One day, a neck-ribbon suspiciously verging on rose-colour would be introduced; another time, something very like a flounce would be ventured upon.  Restrictions of other kind were also resented.  Dancing was forbidden in Quaker circles as "an ungodly shaking of the limbs," but nothing better pleased our young friends than a waltz or polka when away from home.  Even the Thee and Thou were reserved by them for members of their own community.  And as time wore on the younger members of the Society of Friends fell away from its ranks, married outsiders, betook themselves to the world worldly and the Church of England!

    I linger lovingly over one gracious figure that stands out conspicuously from these old memories.

    The elder of the two sisters mentioned above was not beautiful, but possessed a distinction far rarer than mere personal comeliness.  Her dark eyes were wonderfully soft and expressive, and from every feature seemed to beam the light of a benignant and noble nature.  Her voice, too, was one of uncommon sweetness and feeling, and she spoke with an ease, clearness, and precision that deserved the name of an accomplishment.  A first-rate horsewoman, her slight, strong form never showed to better advantage than on horseback, although there was witchery enough about the little white straw bonnet with plain ribbon trimmings and lilac and white muslin dress guiltless of frill or furbelow.

    Young Quakeresses did not go to finishing schools, but they learned many things rarely acquired by girls of that period.  Kate and her sister had gone through the first books of Euclid and could read Homer in the original, these exceptional endowments being very modestly acknowledged.  Learning is doubtless a good thing, alike for daughters of Eve and sons of Adam.  It might, however, be well that the unpretentiousness of my dove-eyed Quakeress were commoner among the young ladies who now "go up" or "go down" with their brothers.

    As contrasted as well as could be with the sobriety, dignified ease, and self-respect of these Quaker circles was another, that of a country doctor's family some miles off.  This doctor was wealthy and had an enormous practice, besides "great expectations."  There would not, therefore, have been the slightest difficulty in comfortably settling his numerous rather good-looking daughters in their own position of life.  But no, the fond, misguided father was positively consumed by worldly ambition.  Having brought up his girls genteelly, and being able to portion them, he determined upon finding sons-in-law in what is called good society, that is to say, the enchanted regions from which, as a rule, country doctors were rigidly excluded.  What a study for Thackeray was here!  The worthy practitioner working at his profession as if for daily bread, after long drives across country making up medicines in his surgery, never affording himself the least little bit of leisure or distraction, and all the while dreaming of gentility, of that Will-o'-the-wisp, that Jack-o'-lantern, that maddening mirage now apparently within reach, now further off than ever.  Upon one occasion the doctor was thrown into a transport from which he did not easily recover.  He trod on air.  In his case truly one might have said, joy maketh afraid.  The wonder was that he did not die of heart disease.

    His elder daughters, it seemed, had been invited to an evening party at a neighbouring vicarage.  Next day their father retailed the great news as he made his round.  "The aristocracy helped my girls on with their cloaks," he said, with an air of pomposity that would have been ludicrous but for the glint of a tear accompanying the words.

    Alas! that aristocratic helping on of cloaks was like a certain American road leading to a squirrel track, or that time-honoured parturition of the mountain.  Nothing came of it.  It must be admitted that beyond a certain limp, languid personal charm, the girls were terribly uninteresting.  Their great trouble was how to get through that portion of the twenty-four hours not devoted to sleep.  One of them was showing a new kind of fancy work to a friend, and resumed the needle with a sigh.

    "Anything to pass the time away, dear!" she said dolefully.

    Year after year rolled by.  As one class of suitors had been snubbed and another class did not come forward, the limp, languid damsels became churchy old maids.  They finally settled at Clifton, or some such place, where, doubtless, early services, clerical bazaars, rummage sales, and curates' company to tea, nicely helped to "pass the time away."

    Refreshingly different from other early acquaintances was that of a Frenchman, a certain Jules R , winegrower of Burgundy, who travelled on his own account.  My brothers had made his acquaintance in Ipswich, and he often walked over to dinner or tea.  He was a very typical Frenchman, and an observation he dropped at this time has ever seemed to me a key to French character.

    Speaking of his calling as vintager and wine merchant, he said, "I take great care not to increase my business."

    Since these early days I have had a long and extraordinarily varied experience of French temperament and modes of thought.  Jules R—'s simple confession of faith and view of life generally have constantly recurred to me as throwing light upon both.

    "I take great care not to increase my business."  Have we not here an explanation of the social and economic problems that well-nigh drive French statesmen to desperation?  Why is Algeria in reality a Jewish and Italian colony, French subjects not being tempted thither even by free grants of land and other bribes?  Why is a tremendous money premium to be awarded the father of a numerous family?  Why are French commercial houses, French hotels and offices, filled with German employees?  The national idea is that of my childhood's friend Jules R—, a life of mental and bodily ease, an assured future on native soil, an absolute immunity from daily wear and tear.  Apart from all other nations is the French; certain brilliant qualities and endowments alike of intellect, heart, and brain here attaining high water-mark.  But there is a danger that the Jules R—'s, the type, the norma, will swamp the remnant, the higher-minded, more aspiring portion.  For when men take great care not to increase their business, no statesmanship can do the work for them.  "One man can lead a horse to the pond; not twenty can make him drink," says the proverb.


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