Old Fashioned Stories (4)
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"MERRIE ENGLAND"—NO MORE!
_________


THE last generation,—the generation succeeding that in which the eloquent philanthropist and the sceptical gentleman lived and conversed,—did it witness any verification of the serious prophecy uttered in that winter evening's conversation in the streets of Leicester?  The following brief but truthful sketch will furnish an answer.

    On an April morning in 'forty-two—now thirty-two years bygone,—a group of five or six destitute-looking men were standing on a well-known space in Leicester, where the frustrum of a Roman milestone (surmounted, in true Gothic style, with a fantastic cross) was preserved with an iron palisade, and where the long narrow avenue of Barkby Lane enters the wide trading street called Belgrave Gate.  The paleness and dejection of the men's faces, as well as the ragged condition of their clothing, would have told how fearfully they were struggling with poverty and want, if their words had not been overheard.

    "Never mind the lad, John," said the tallest and somewhat the hardest-featured man of the party; "he can't be worse off than he would have been at home, let him be where he will.  What's the use of grieving about him?  He was tired of pining at home, no doubt, and has gone to try if he can't mend his luck.  You'll hear of him again, soon, from some quarter or other."

    "But I can't satisfy myself about him, in that way, George," replied the man to whom this rough exhortation was addressed; "if the foolish lad be drawn into company that tempts him to steal, I may have to hear him sentenced to transportation, and that would be no joke, George."

    "I see nothing so very serious, even in that," observed another of the group; " I would as lief [Ed.—"willingly"] be transported tomorrow as stay here to starve, as I've done for the last six months."

    "It would seem serious to me, though," rejoined John, "to see my own child transported."

    "Why, John, to men that scorn to steal, in spite of starvation," resumed George, "it's painful to see any child, or man either, transported: but where's the real disgrace of it?  The man that pronounces the sentence is,—very likely—a bigger villain than him that's called 'the criminal.'  Disgrace is only a name—a mere name, you know, John."

    "I'm aware there's a good deal o' truth in that," replied John; "the names of things would be altered a good deal, if the world was set right: but, as wrong as things are now, yet I hope my lad will never steal, and have to be sentenced to transportation.  I've often heard him cry for bread, since he was born, and had none to give him; but I would sooner see him perish with hunger than live to hear him transported, for I think it would break my heart;—and God Almighty forbid I ever should have to hear it!"

    "Goddle Mitey!" said George, pronouncing the syllables in a mocking manner, and setting up a bitter laugh, which was joined by every member of the group, except the mournful man who had just spoken; "who told thee there was One?  Thy grandmother and the parsons.  Don't talk such nonsense any more, John! it's time we all gave it over: they've managed to grind men to the dust with their priestcraft, and we shall never be righted till we throw it off!"

    "No, no," chimed in another, immediately; "they may cant and prate about it: but, if their God existed, He would never permit us to suffer as we do!"

    "Well, I'm come seriously to the same conclusion," said one who had not spoken before, and was the palest and thinnest of the group: "I think all their talk about a Providence that disposes the lot of men differently here, 'for His great mysterious purpose,' as they phrase it, is mere mysterious humbug, to keep us quiet.  What purpose could a Being have, who, they say, is as infinitely good as He is infinitely powerful, in placing me where I must undergo insult and starvation, while he places that man,—the oppressor and grinder, who is riding past now, in his gig,—in plenty and abundance?"

    "Right, Benjamin," said George; "they can't get quit of their difficulty, quibble as they may: if they bedaub us with such nicknames as 'Atheistical Socialists,' we can defy them to make the riddle plainer by their own Jonathan Edwards, that they say good Robert Hall read over thirteen times, and pronounced 'irrefragable."'

    "Just so," resumed Benjamin, "whether man be called a 'Creature of Circumstance,' or a 'Creature of Necessity,' it amounts to the same thing.  And, then, none of the Arminian sects can make out a case: they only prove the same thing as the Calvinist and the Socialist, when their blundering argument is sifted to the bottom."

    "So that, if there be a Providence," continued George, "it has appointed, or permitted,—which they like, for it comes to the same,—that old K——should fling the three dozen hose in your face last November, and that you should be out of work, and pine ever since; it appointed that I should get a few potatoes or a herring by begging, or go without food altogether, some days since Christmas; and that each of us here, though we were willing to work, should have to starve; while it appointed that the mayor should live in a fine house, and swell his riches, by charging whole frame-rents, month after month, to scores of poor starving stockingers that had from him but half weeks' work."

    "And, with all their talk about piety," rejoined Benjamin, "I think there is no piety at all in believing in the existence of such a Providence: and since it appears it can't be proved that Providence is of any other character, if there be One at all, I think it less impious to believe in None."

    John stood by while this conversation was going on; but he heard little of it,—for his heart was too heavy with concern for his child,—and, in a little time he took his way, silently and slowly, towards other groups of unemployed and equally destitute men, who were standing on the wider space of ground, at the junction of several streets,—a locality known by the names of "Coal-hill," and "the Haymarket," from the nature of the merchandise sold there, at different periods, in the open air.

    "Have you found the lad yet?" said one of John's acquaintances, when he reached the outermost group.

    "No, William," replied the downcast father; "and I begin to have some very troublesome fears about him, I'll assure you."

    "But why should you, John?" expostulated the other; "he's only gone to try if he can't mend himself——Look you, John!" he said, pointing excitedly at what he suddenly saw; "there he goes, with the recruiting serjeant!"

    The father ran towards the soldier and his child; and every group on the Coal-hill was speedily in motion when they saw and heard the father endeavouring to drag oft the lad from the soldier, who seized the arm of his prize, and endeavoured to detain him.  An increasing crowd soon hemmed in the party,—a great tumult arose,—and three policemen were speedily on the spot.

    "Stick to your resolution, my boy!" cried the soldier, grasping the lad's arm with all his might; "you'll never want bread or clothes in the army."

    "But he'll be a sold slave, and must be shot at, like a dog!" cried the father, striving to rescue his child,—a pale, tall stripling, who seemed to be but sixteen or seventeen years of age,

    "Man-butcher!—Blood-hound!" shouted several voices in the crowd: whereat the policemen raised their staves, and called aloud to the crowd to "stand back!"

    "I demand in the Queen's name, that you make this fellow loose his hold of my recruit!" said the soldier in a loud, angry tone, to the policemen; two of whom seemed to be about obeying him, when a dark, stern-browed man among the crowd, of much more strong and sinewy appearance than the majority of the working multitude who composed it, stepped forward, and said,

    "Let any policeman touch him that dare!  If they do they shall repent it!  There's no law to prevent a father from taking hold of his own child's arm to hinder him from playing the fool!"

    The men in blue slunk back at these words; and the soldier himself seemed intimidated at perceiving the father's cause taken tip by an individual of such determination.

    "Tom," said the determined man to the lad, "have you taken the soldier's money?"

    "Not yet," answered the lad, after a few moments' hesitation.

    "Then he shall have my life before he has thee!" said the father, whose heart leaped at the answer, and infused so much strength into his arm, that with another pull he brought off his lad, entirely, from the soldier's hold.  The crowd now burst into a shout of triumph; and when the soldier would have followed, to recapture his victim, the stern-browed man confronted him with a look of silent defiance; and the red-coat, after uttering a volley of oaths, walked off amidst the derision of the multitude.

    "Don't you think you were a fool, Tom, to be juggled with that cut-throat?" said the stern-browed man to the lad, while the crowd gathered around him and his father.

    "I wasn't so soon juggled," replied the lad; "he's been at me this three months; but I never yielded till this morning, when I felt almost pined to death, and he made me have some breakfast with him,—but he'll not get hold of me again!"

    "That's right, my lad!" said one of the crowd; "the bloody rascals have not had two Leicester recruits these two years; and I hope they'll never have another."

    "No, no, our eyes are getting opened," said another workingman; "they may be able to kill us off by starvation, at home; but I hope young and old will have too much sense, in future, to give or sell their bodies to be shot at, for tyrants."

    "Ay, ay, we should soon set the lordlings fast, if all workingmen refused to go for soldiers," said another.

    "So we should, Smith," said a sedate-looking elderly man; "that's more sensible than talking of fighting when we've no weapons, nor money to buy 'em, nor strength to use 'em."

    "Then we shall wait a long while for the Charter, if we wait till we get it by leaving 'em no soldiers to keep us down," said a young, bold-looking man, with a fiery look; "for they'll always find plenty of Johnny Raws ready to 'list in the farming districts."

    "And we shall wait a longer while still if we try to get it by fighting, under our present circumstances," answered the elderly man, in a firm tone; "that could only make things worse, as all such fool's tricks have ended before."

    "You're right, Randal, you're right!" cried several voices in the crowd; and the advocate of the bugbear, "physical force," said not another word on the subject.

    "No, no, lads!" continued the "moral force" man, "let us go on, telling 'em our minds, without whispering,—and let us throw off their cursed priestcraft,—and the system will come to an end,—and before long.  But fighting tricks would be sure to fail; because they're the strongest,—and they know it."

    "Yes, it must end,—and very soon," observed another working-man; "the shopkeepers won't be long before they join us; for they begin to squeak most woefully."

    "The shopkeepers, lad!" said the dark-looking man, who had confronted the soldier; "never let us look for their help: there is not a spark of independence in any of 'em: they have had it in their power, by their votes, to have ended misrule, before now, if they had had the will."

    "Poor devils! they're all fast at their bankers', and dare no more vote against their tyrants than they dare attempt to fly," said another.

    "There is no dependence on any of the middle-class," said the dark-looking man; "they're as bad as the aristocrats.  You see this last winter has passed over, entirely, without any subscription for the poor, again,—as severe a winter as it has been."

    "Ay, and work scarcer and scarcer, every day," said another.

    "They say there are eight hundred out of work now, in Leicester," said the elderly, sedate man, who had spoken before; "and I heard a manufacturer say there would be twice as many before the summer went over: but he added, that the people deserved to be pinched, since they would not join the Corn Law Repealers."

    A burst of, indignation, and some curses and imprecations, followed.

    "Does he go to chapel?" asked one.

    "Yes; and he's a member of the Charles Street meeting," said the elderly man.

    "There's your religion again!"—"There's your saintship!"—"There's your Christianity!"—"There's their Providence and their Goddle Mitey!"—were the varied indignant exclamations among the starved crowd, as soon as the answer was heard.

    "I should think they invented the Bastile Mill while they were at chapel!" said one.

    "Is it smashed again?" asked another.

    "No; but it soon will be," answered the man who confronted the soldier.

    These, and similar observations, were uttered aloud, in the open street, at broad day, by hundreds of starved, oppressed, and insulted frame-work knitters, who thus gave vent to their despair.  Such conversations were customary sounds in John's ears, and, having recovered his son, he took him by the arm, after this brief delay, and, walking slowly back towards the Roman milestone, the two bent their steps down the narrow street called Barkby Lane.

    After threading an alley, they reached a small wretchedly furnished habitation; and the lad burst into tears, as his mother sprung from her laborious employ at the wash-tub, and threw her arms round his neck and kissed him.  Two or three neighbours came in, in another minute, and congratulating the father and mother on their having found their son, a conversation followed on the hatefulness of becoming "a paid cutthroat for tyrants," the substance of which would have been as unpleasing to "the powers that be" as the conversation in the street, had they heard the two.  The entry, into the squalid looking house, of another neighbour, pale and dejected beyond description, gave a new turn to the homely discourse.

    "Your son has come back, I see, John," said the new-comer, in a very faint voice: "I wish my husband would come home."

    "Thy husband, Mary!" said John; "why, where's he gone?  Bless me, woman, how ill you look!—What's the matter?"

    The woman's infant had begun to cry while she spoke; and she had bared her breast, and given it to the child: but—Nature was exhausted! there was no milk;—and, while the infant struggled and screamed, the woman fainted.

    She recovered, under the kindly and sympathetic attention of the neighbours; and the scanty resources of the group were laid under contribution for restoring some degree of strength, by means of food, to the woman and her child.  One furnished a cup of milk, another a few spoonfuls of oatmeal, another brought a little bread; and when the child was quieted, and the mother was able, she commenced her sad narrative.  She had not, she said, tasted food of any kind for a day and two nights: she had pawned or sold every article of clothing, except what she had on, and she was without a bonnet entirely: nor had her husband any other clothes than the rags in which he had gone out, two hours before, with the intent to try the relieving officer, once more, for a loaf, or a trifle of money: to complete their misery, they owed six weeks' rent for the room in which lay the bag of shavings that formed their bed; and, if they could not pay the next week's rent, they must turn out into the street, or go into the Bastile.

    Her recital was scarcely concluded, when the sorrowful husband returned.  He had been driven away by the relieving officer, and threatened with the gaol, if he came again, unless it was to bring his wife and child with him to enter the Union Bastile!—and the man sat down and wept.

    And then the children of misery mingled their consolations,—if reflections drawn from despair could be so called,—and endeavoured to fortify the heart of the yielding man, by reminding him that they would not have to starve long, for life, with all its miseries, would soon be over.

    "I wonder why it ever begun!" exclaimed the man who had been yielding to tears, but now suddenly burst out into bitter language: "I think it's a pity but that God had found something better to do than to make such poor miserable wretches as we are!"

    "Lord!  What queer thoughts thou hast, Jim!" said the woman who had previously fainted, and she burst into a half-convulsive laugh.

    "Indeed, it's altogether a mystery to me," said the man who had so recently found his son; "we seem to be born for nothing but trouble.  And then the queerest thing is that we are to go to hell, at last, if we don't do everything exactly square.  My poor father always taught me to reverence religion; and I don't like to say anything against it, but I'm hard put to it, at times, Jim, I'll assure ye.  It sounds strange, that we are to be burnt for ever, after pining and starving here; for how can a man keep his temper, and be thankful, as they say we ought to be, when he would work and can't get it, and, while he starves, sees oppressors ride in their gigs, and build their great warehouses ?"

    "It's mere humbug, John, to keep us down: that's what it is!" said Jim: "one of these piety-mongers left us a tract last week; and what should it contain but that old tale of Bishop Burnet, about the widow that somebody who peeped through the chinks of the window-shutters saw kneeling by a table with a crust of bread before her, and crying out in rapture, 'All this and Christ!'  I tell thee what, John, if old Burnet had been brought down from his gold and fat living, and had tried it himself, I could better have believed him.  It's a tale told like many others to make fools and slaves of us: that's what I think.  Ay, and I told the long-faced fellow so that fetched the tract.  He looked very sourly at me, and said the poor did not use to trouble themselves about politics in his father's time, and everybody was more comfortable then than they are now.  'The more fools were they,' said I:  'if the poor had begun to think of their rights sooner, instead of listening to religious cant, we should not have been so badly off now:' and away he went, and never said another word."

    "But I don't like to give way to bad thoughts about religion, after all, Jim," said John: "it's very mysterious—the present state of things: but we may find it all explained in the next life."

    "Pr'ythee, John," exclaimed the other, interrupting him, impatiently, "don't talk so weakly.  That's the way they all wrap it up; and if a guess in the dark and a 'maybe' will do for an argument, why, anything will do.  Until somebody can prove to me that there is another life after this, I shall think it my duty to think about this only.  Now just look at this, John!  If there be another life after this, why, the present is worth nothing: every moment here ought to be spent in caring for eternity; and every man who really believes in such a life would not care how he passed this, so that he could but be making preparation for the next: isn't that true, John?"

    "To be sure it is, Jim ; and what o' that?"

    "Why, then, tell me which of 'em believes in such a life.  Do you see any of the canting tribe less eager than others to get better houses, finer chairs and tables, larger shops, and more trade?  Is old Sour-Godliness in the north, there, more easily brought to give up a penny in the dozen to save a starving stockinger than the grinders that don't profess religion?  I tell thee, John, it's all fudge: they don't believe it themselves, or else they would imitate Christ before they tell us to be like Him!"

    Reader! the conversation shall not be prolonged, lest the object of this sketch should be mistaken.  These conversations are real: they are no coinages.  Go to Leicester, or any other of the suffering towns of depressed manufacture, where men compete with each other in machinery till human hands are of little use, and rival each other in wicked zeal to reduce man to the merest minimum of subsistence.  If the missionary people—and this is not said with a view to question the true greatness and utility of their efforts—if they would be consistent, let them send their heralds into the manufacturing districts, and first convert the "infidels" there, ere they send their expensive messengers to India.  But let it be understood that the heralds must be furnished with brains, as well as tongues; for whoever enters Leicester, or any other of the populous starving hives of England, must expect to find the deepest subjects of theology, and government, and political economy, taken up with a subtlety that would often puzzle a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge.  Whoever supposes the starving "manufacturing masses" know no more, and can use no better language, than the peasantry in the agricultural counties, will find himself egregiously mistaken.  'Tis ten to one but he will learn more of a profound subject in one hour's conversation of starving stockingers than he would do in ten lectures of a university professor.  Let the missionary people try these quarters, then; but let their heralds "know their business" ere they go, or they will make as slow progress as Egede and the Moravians among the Greenlanders.  One hint may be given.  Let them begin with the manufacturers; and if they succeed in making real converts to Christianity in that quarter, their success will be tolerably certain among the working-men, and tolerably easy in its achievement.

    There is no "tale" to finish about John or his lad, or Jim and his wife.  They went on starving,—begging,—receiving threats of imprisonment,—tried the "Bastile " for a few weeks,—came out and had a little work,—starved again; and they are still going the same miserable round, like thousands in "merrie England,"—1842.


POSTSCRIPTUM.—The foregoing sketch may be read with unpleasant feelings, by some who open these pages.  And the author has no wish to hurt the feelings of any one.  But he dare not omit this sketch.  He feels that Truth demands its insertion.  History—when it is duly written—will have to tell of these miseries of working-men in the Past, and of the dread unbelief to which misery and despair drove them.  "Free Trade," and prosperity of trade, have brought about a beneficial change.  Heaven grant it may continue!—1874.

_______________________________

 
SETH THOMPSON, THE STOCKINGER;
OR,
"WHEN THINGS ARE AT THE WORST THEY
BEGIN TO MEND."

_________


LEICESTERSHIRE stockingers call that a false proverb.  "People have said so all our lives," say they; "but, although we have each and all agreed, every day, that things were at the worst, they never begun to mend yet!"  This was not their language fourscore years ago, but it was their daily language, but two-and-thirty years ago; and the sketch that follows will show it.

    Seth Thompson was the only child of a widow, by the time that he was six years old, and became a "winding boy," in a shop of half-starved framework-knitters at Hinckley,—a kindred lot with hundreds of children of the same age, in Leicestershire.  Seth's mother was a tender mother to her child; but he met tenderness in no other quarter.  He was weakly, and since that rendered him unable to get on with his winding of the yarn as fast as stronger children, he was abused and beaten by the journeymen, while the master stockinger, for every slight flaw in his work,—though it always resulted from a failure of strength rather than carelessness,—unfeelingly took the opportunity to "dock" his paltry wages.

    Since her child could seldom add more than a shilling or fifteen-pence to the three, or, at most, four shillings, she was able to earn herself,—and she had to pay a heavy weekly rent for their humble home,—it will readily be understood that neither widow Thompson nor Seth were acquainted with the meaning of the word "luxury," either in food or habits.  A scanty allowance of oatmeal and water formed their breakfast, potatoes and salt their dinner, and a limited portion of bread, with a wretchedly diluted something called "tea" as an accompaniment, constituted their late afternoon or evening meal; and they knew no variety for years, winter or summer.  The widow's child went shoeless in the warm season, and the cast-off substitutes he wore in winter, together with lack of warmth in his poor mother's home, and repulses from the shop fire by the master and men while at work, subjected him, through nearly the whole of every winter, to chilblains and other diseases of the feet.  Rags were his familiar acquaintances, and, boy-like, he felt none of the aching shame and sorrow experienced by his mother when she beheld his destitute covering, and reflected that her regrets would not enable her to amend his tattered condition.

    Seth's mother died when he reached fifteen, and expressed thankfulness, on her death-bed, that she was about to quit a world of misery, after being permitted to live till her child was in some measure able to struggle for himself.  In spite of hard usage and starvation, Seth grew up a strong lad, compared with the puny youngsters that form the majority of the junior population in manufacturing districts.  He was quick-witted, too, and had gathered a knowledge of letters and syllables, amidst the references to cheap newspapers and hourly conversation on politics by starving and naturally discontented stockingers.  From a winding-boy, Seth was advanced to the frame, and, by the time he had reached seventeen, was not only able to earn as much as any other stockinger in Hinckley, when he could get work, but, with the usually improvident haste of the miserable and degraded, married a poor "seamer," who was two years younger than himself.

    Seth Thompson at twenty-one, with a wife who was but nineteen, had become the parent of four children; and since he had never been able to bring home to his family more than seven shillings in one week, when the usual villainous deductions were made by master and manufacturer, in the shape of "frame-rent" and other "charges,"—since he had often had but half-work, with the usual deduction of whole charges, and had been utterly without work for six several periods, of from five to nine weeks each, during the four years of his married life,—the following hasty sketch of the picture which this "home of an Englishman" presented one noon, when a stranger knocked at the door, and it was opened by Seth himself, will scarcely be thought overdrawn:—

    Except a grey deal table, there was not a single article within the walls which could be called "furniture," by the least propriety of language.  This stood at the farther side of the room, and held a few soiled books and papers, Seth's torn and embrowned hat, and the mother's tattered straw bonnet.  The mother sat on a three-legged stool, beside an osier cradle, and was suckling her youngest child while she was eating potatoes and salt from an earthen dish upon her knee.  Seth's dish of the same food stood on a seat formed of a board nailed roughly across the frame of a broken chair; while, in the centre of the floor, where the broken bricks had disappeared and left the earth bare, the three elder babes sat squatted round a board whereon boiled potatoes in their skins were piled,—a meal they were devouring greedily, squeezing the inside of the root into their mouths with their tiny hands, after the mode said to be practised in an Irish cabin.  An empty iron pot stood near the low expiring fire, and three rude logs of wood lay near it,—the children's usual seats when they had partaken their meal.  A description of the children's filthy and bedaubed appearance with the potato starch, and of the "looped and windowed raggedness" that formed their covering, could only give pain to the reader.  Seth's clothing was not much superior to that of his offspring; but the clean cap and cotton handkerchief of the mother, with her own really beautiful but delicate face and form, gave some relief to the melancholy picture.

    Seth blushed, as he took up his dish of potatoes, and offered the stranger his fragment of a seat.  And the stranger blushed, too, but refused the seat with a look of so much benevolence that Seth's heart glowed to behold it; and his wife set down her porringer, and hushed the children that the stranger might deliver his errand with the greater ease.

    "Your name is Thompson, I understand," said the stranger; "pray, do you know what was your mother's maiden name?"

    "Greenwood,—Martha Greenwood was my poor mother's maiden name, sir," replied Seth, with the tears starting to his eyes.

    The stranger seemed to have some difficulty in restraining similar feelings; and gazed, sadly, round upon the room and its squalid appearance, for a few moments, in silence.

    Seth looked hard at his visitor, and thought of one whom his mother had often talked of; but did not like to put an abrupt question, though he imagined the stranger's features strongly resembled his parent's.

    "Are working people in Leicestershire usually so uncomfortably situated as you appear to be?" asked the stranger, in a tone of deep commiseration which he appeared to be unable to control.

    Seth Thompson and his wife looked uneasily at each other, and then fixed their gaze on the floor.

    "Why, sir," replied Seth, blushing more deeply than before, "we married very betime, and our family, you see, has grown very fast; we hope things will mend a little with us when some o' the children are old enough to earn a little.  We've only been badly off as yet, but you'd find a many not much better off, sir, I assure you, in Hinckley and elsewhere."

    The stranger paused again, and the working of his features manifested strong inward feeling.

    "I see nothing but potatoes," he resumed; "I hope your meal is unusually poor to-day, and that you and your family generally have a little meat at dinner."

    "Meat, sir!" exclaimed Seth; "we have not known what it is to set a bit of meat before our children more than three times since the first was born; we usually had a little for our Sunday dinner when we were first married, but we can't afford it now!"

    "Good God!" cried the stranger, with a look that demonstrated his agony of grief and indignation, "is this England,—the happy England, that I have heard the blacks in the West Indies talk of as a Paradise?"

    "Are you my mother's brother?  Is your name Elijah Greenwood?" asked Seth Thompson, unable longer to restrain the question.

    "Yes," replied the visitor, and sat down upon Seth's rude seat, to recover his self-possession.

    That was a happy visit for poor Seth Thompson and his wife and children.  His mother had often talked of her only brother who went for a sailor when a boy, and was reported to be settled in some respectable situation in the West Indies, but concerning whom she never received any certain information.  Elijah Greenwood had suddenly become rich, by the death of a childless old planter, whom he had faithfully served, and who had left him his entire estate.  England was Elijah's first thought, when this event happened; and, as soon as he could settle his new possession under some careful and trusty superintendence till his return, he had taken ship, and come to his native country and shire.  By inquiry at the inn, he had learnt the afflictive fact of his sister's death, but had been guided to the poverty-stricken habitation of her son.

    That was the last night that Seth Thompson and his children slept on their hard straw sacks on the floor,—the last day that they wore rags and tatters, and dined upon potatoes and salt.  Seth's uncle placed him in a comfortable cottage, bought him suitable furniture, gave him a purse of £50 for ready money, and promised him a half-yearly remittance from Jamaica, for the remainder of his, the uncle's, life, with a certainty of a considerable sum at his death.

    Seth and his wife could not listen, for a moment, to a proposal for leaving England, although they had experienced little but misery in it, their whole lives.  The uncle, however, obtained from them a promise that they would not restrain any of their children from going out to Jamaica; and did not leave them till he had seen them fairly and comfortably settled, and beheld what he thought a prospect of comfort for them in the future.  Indeed, on the very morning succeeding that in which Seth's new fortune became known, the hitherto despised stockinger was sent for by the principal manufacturer of hosen, in Hinckley, and offered "a shop of frames," in the language of the working men; that is, he was invited to become a "master," or one who receives the "stuff" from the capitalist or manufacturer, and holds of him, likewise, a given number of frames,—varying from half-a-dozen to a score or thirty, or even more; and thus becomes a profit-sharing middleman between the manufacturer and the labouring framework-knitters.  Seth accepted the offer, for it seemed most natural to him to continue in the line of manufacture to which he had been brought up; and his uncle, with pleasurable hopes for his prosperity, bade him farewell !

    "Well, my dear," said Seth to his wife, as they sat down to a plentiful dinner, surrounded with their neatly-dressed and happy children, the day after the uncle's departure, "we used to say we should never prove the truth of the old proverb, but we have proved it at last: times came to the worst with us, and began to mend."

    "Thank God! we have proved it, my love," replied the wife; "and I wish our poor neighbours could prove it as well."

    Seth sighed,—and was silent.

    Some years rolled over, and Seth Thompson had become a well-informed and deep-thinking man, but one in whom was no longer to be found that passionate attachment to his native country which he once felt.  The manufacturer under whom he exercised the office of "master" had borrowed the greater part of Seth's uncle's remittances, as regularly as they arrived; and as Seth received due interest for these loans, and confided that the manufacturer's wealth was real, he believed he was taking a prudent way of laying up enough for the maintenance of his old age, or for meeting the misfortunes of sickness, should they come.  But the manufacturer broke; and away went all that Seth had placed in his hands.  Every week failures became more frequent,—employ grew more scarce daily, for trade was said to decrease, though machinery increased,—discontent lowered on every brow,—and the following sketch of what was said at a meeting of starving framework-knitters held in Seth Thompson's shop but a month before he quitted England for ever, may serve to show what were his own reflections, and those of the suffering beings around him.

    About twenty working men had assembled, and stood in three or four groups,—no "chairman" having been, as yet, chosen, since a greater number of attendants was expected.

    "I wish thou would throw that ugly thing away, Timothy!" said a pale, intellectual looking workman, to one whose appearance was rendered filthy, in addition to his ragged destitution, by a dirty pipe stuck in his teeth, and so short, that the head scarcely projected beyond his nose.

    "I know it's ugly, Robert," replied the other in a tone between self-accusation and despair,—"but it helps to pass away time.  I've thrown it away twice,—but I couldn't help taking to it again last week, when I had nought to do.  I think I should have hanged myself if I had not smoked a bit o' 'bacco."

    "Well, I'm resolute that I'll neither smoke nor drink any more," said a third; "the tyrants can do what they like with us, as long as we feed their vices by paying taxes.  If all men would be o' my mind there would soon be an end of their extravagance,—for they would have nothing to support it."

    "Indeed, James," replied the smoker, "I don't feel so sure about your plan as you seem to be, yourself: you'll never persuade all working-men to give up a sup of ale or a pipe, if they can get hold of either; but, not to talk of that, what's to hinder the great rascals from inventing other taxes if these fail?"

    "They couldn't easily be hindered, unless we had all votes," said the first speaker, "we're well aware of that; but it would put 'em about, and render the party more unpopular that wanted to put on a new tax."

    "I don't think that's so certain, either," replied the smoker; "depend on't, neither Whigs nor Tories will run back from the support of taxes.  D'ye ever read of either party agreeing to 'stop the supplies,' as they call it, or join in any measure to prevent taxes from being collected till grievances are redressed?"

    "No, indeed, not we," chimed another, lighting his short pipe by the help of his neighbour's, and folding his arms, with a look of something like mock bravery; "and, for my part, I don't think they ever will be redressed till we redress 'em ourselves!"

    "Ah, Joseph!" said the pale-looking man, shaking his head, "depend upon it that's all a dream!  How are poor starvelings like us, who have neither the means of buying a musket, nor strength to march and use it, if we had it,—how are we to overthrow thousands of disciplined troops with all their endless resources of ammunition?—It's all a dream, Joseph! depend on't."

    "Then what are we to do, lie down and die?" asked the other: but looked as if he were aware he had spoken foolishly, under the impulse of despair.

    "I'm sure I often wish to die," said another, joining the conversation in a doleful tone; "I've buried my two youngest, and the oldest lad's going fast after his poor mother; one can't get bread enough to keep body and soul together!"

    "Well, if it hadn't been for Seth Thompson's kindness," said another, "I believe I should have been dead by this time.  I never felt so near putting an end to my life as I did last Sunday morning.  I've been out o' work now, nine weeks; and last Saturday I never put a crumb in my mouth, for I couldn't get it, and I caught up a raw potato in the street last Sunday morning, and ate it for sheer hunger.  Seth Thompson saw me, and—God bless his heart!—he called me in and gave me a cup of warm coffee and some toast, and slipped a shilling into my hand."  And the man turned aside to dash away his tears.

    "Ay, depend upon it, we shall miss Seth, when he leaves us," said several voices together.

    "It's many a year since there was a master in Hinckley like him," said the man with the short black pipe, "and, I fear when he is gone, the whole grinding crew will be more barefaced than ever with their extortions and oppressions of poor men.  Seth knew what it was to be nipped himself when he was younger; that's the reason that he can feel for others that suffer."

    "It isn't always the case, though," said another; "look at skin-flint Jimps, the glove-master; I remember him when he was as ragged as an ass's colt; and where is there such another grinding villain as Jimps, now he is so well off?"

    "The more's the shame for a man that preaches and professes to be religious," said the smoker.

    "It was but last Saturday forenoon," resumed the man who had mentioned Jimps, the glove-master, "that he docked us two-pence a dozen, again: and when I asked him if his conscience wouldn't reproach him when he went to chapel, he looked like a fiend, and said, 'Bob!  I knew what it was to be ground once; but it's my turn to grind now!"'

    "And they call that religion, do they?" said the smoker, with an imprecation.

    "It won't mend it to swear, my lad," said the intellectual-looking man; "we know one thing,—that whatever such a fellow as this does that professes religion, he doesn't imitate the conduct of his Master."

    "I believe religion's all a bag of moonshine," said the smoker, "or else they that profess it would not act as they do."

    "Don't talk so rashly, Tim," replied the other; "we always repent when we speak in ill-temper.  Religion can't cure hypocrites, man, though it turns drunkards and thieves into sober and honest men; it does not prove that religion is all a bag of moonshine, because some scoundrels make a handle of it.  Truth's truth, in spite of all the scandal that falsehood and deceit brings upon it."

    "Isn't it time we got to business?" said one of the group.

    "I don't think it will be of any use to wait longer," said another; "there will not be more with us, if we wait another hour; the truth is, that men dare not attend a meeting like this, for fear of being turned off, and so being starved outright;—there's scarcely any spirit left in Hinckley."

    "I propose that Seth Thompson takes the chair," said another, taking off his ragged hat, and speaking aloud.

    A faint clapping of hands followed, and Seth took a seat upon a raised part of one of the frames at the end of the shop, and opened the meeting according to the simple but businesslike form, which working-men are wont to observe in similar meetings in the manufacturing districts.

    "I feel it would scarcely become me to say much, my friends," he said, "since I am about to leave you.  I thought, at one time, that nothing could ever have driven me to leave Old England; but it seems like folly to me, now, to harbour an attachment to a country where one sees nothing but misery, nor any chance of improvement.  I would not wish to damp your spirits; but if I were to tell you how much uneasiness I have endured for some years past, even while you have seen me apparently well off and comfortable, you would not wonder that I am resolved to quit this country, since I have the offer of ease and plenty, though in a foreign clime.  I tell you, working men, that I had power over Mr. ——, by the moneys I had lent him, or I should have been turned out of this shop years ago.  Week by week have we quarrelled, because I would not practise the tyrannies and extortions upon working men that he recommended and urged.  It is but a hateful employ to a man of any feeling,—is that of a master-stockinger under an avaricious and inhuman hosier.  But, if the master's situation be so far from being a happy one, I need not tell you that I know full well, by experience, how much more miserable is that of the starved and degraded working-man.  Indeed, indeed,—I see no hope for you, my friends,—yet I repeat, I would not wish to damp your spirits.  Perhaps things may mend yet; but I confess I see no likelihood of it, till the poor are represented as well as the rich."

    It might produce weariness to go through all the topics that were touched upon by Seth and others.  They were such as are familiarly handled, daily, in the manufacturing districts; ay, and with a degree of mental force and sound reasoning,—if not with polish of words,—that would make some gentlefolk stare, if they were to hear the sounds proceeding from the haggard figures in rags who often utter them.  The "deceit" of the Reform Bill, as it is usually termed by manufacturing "operatives"; the trickery of the Whigs; the corruption and tyranny of the Tories; the heartlessness of the manufacturers and "the League"; and the right of every sane Englishman of one and twenty years of age to a vote in the election of those who have to govern him, were each and all broadly, and unshrinkingly, and yet not intemperately, asserted.

    One or two, in an under-tone, ventured to suggest that it might be advantageous to try, once more, to act with the AntiCorn Law men, since many of the members of the League professed democracy; and, if that were done, working-men would not fear to attend a meeting such as that they were then holding.  But this was scouted by the majority; and a proposal was at length made in a written form, and seconded,"—That a branch of an association of working-men, similar to one that was stated to have been just established at Leicester, should be formed."  The motion was put and carried,—a committee, and secretary, and treasurer, were chosen,—and the men seemed to put off their dejection, and grow energetic in their resolution to attempt their own deliverance from misery, in the only way that they conceived it could ever be substantially effected: but their purpose came to the ears of the manufacturers on the following day, threats of loss of work were issued, and no association was established!

    Seth Thompson took his family to the West Indies, pursuant to the many and urgent requests contained in his uncle's letters, and soon entered upon the enjoyment of the plenty in store for him.  Hinckley stockingers remain in their misery still; and, perhaps, there is scarcely a place in England where starving working-men have so little hope,—although "things," they say, "have come to the worst,"—that "they" will ever "begin to mend."—1842.

POSTSCRIPTUM.—I am glad, indeed, that I am able to say, now, "things have begun to mend"—even at Hinckley.  The poor stockingers have a share in the prosperity which has, at length, visited Leicestershire.—1874.

_______________________________

 
SAM SIMKINS, THE RUN-AWAY;
OR,
VILLAINY AS A REFUGE FROM THE TORTURES
 OF SOUR-GODLINESS.

_________


SAM SIMKINS was a wild lad, but whose fault was it that he became so?  That was the significant question which uniformly followed the commemoration of his history among the old women of the village where he was born, and where, after the early death of his father and mother, he was apprenticed, by the parish, to Mr. Jonas Straitlace, the saddler and collar-maker.  The village was not more than half-a-dozen miles from Birmingham; and to that town Sam usually trudged once or twice in the working part of the week on his master's business errands, and, invariably, accompanied his master thither twice on the Sunday, to attend the ministry of a Calvinistic teacher.

    With the exception of a very restricted number of hours for sleep, these were the only portions of Sam's existence that could come within the name of relaxation.  Some people gave Sam's master the title of a "money-grub"; but Mr. Jonas Straitlace himself modestly laid claim to the character of one who was "diligent in business, fervent in spirit, and—" the reader knows the rest.  In brief, he was one of the too numerous description of folk who cast their sour into the sweets of innocent enjoyment on every occasion within their compass, and strive to throw a universal pall over the world by keeping their fellow-creatures in mind that the next life alone is worth a moment's thought,—and yet, daily and hourly illustrate their own gloomy lesson by grasping at the dirt called money as eagerly as if they believed they could carry it with them over the ford of the grave, and that it would be still more current coin in the next life than in this.  Strict rates of charge to his customers in an age of competition prevented Straitlace from extending his business; but the consequence was, that he grew more pinching towards himself, and still more towards his apprentice, in allowing the body its proper amount of sustenance, or the general constitution its necessary share of healthful unbending.  Sam was pinched in his measure of food, and watched while he ate it, lest the spoon should travel so slowly to his mouth as to prevent his return to labour after the lapse of an appointed number of minutes; he was "alarumed" up at five in winter, and at four in summer, and kept at the bench till eight; and what went down more hardly with Sam than either scant food or sleep, or unceasingly painful toil, was the fact that his master's vinegared piety overflowed with such zeal for Sam's spiritual welfare as to compel him to spend the remaining time till ten, every working-day evening, in reading one book.  Nay, the lad, in spite of the remembrance that every other apprentice in the village was allowed, at least, an hour's holiday-time, each day, would have felt it to be some amelioration of his captive lot, had he been allowed to derive such amusement from the book as it might afford; but Straitlace's zeal for Sam's happiness in the next life, taught him that he must use even this extreme resort to mortify the lad in the present state of existence, and, therefore, Sam must read nothing but the Prophets, in one division of the book, and the Epistles in the other.

    Such was the discipline to which Mr. Jonas Straitlace subjected Sam Simkins from the age of nine, when the parish placed the lad under his care, to fifteen.  Straitlace had one invariable answer to all who remonstrated with him on the undue severity, the imprisoning strictness, he exercised towards his apprentice:—"Train up a child in the way he should go," he would say, quoting the whole text, "that's a Bible reason for what I do: it doesn't allow me to parley with flesh and blood: I must obey it."

    Mr. Jonas Straitlace had found that fine moral pearl in the great Oriental treasure-house of the wisdom-jewels of ages, and he was too sordidly ignorant to know that the originator of the maxim never intended the "should go" to be left to the judicature either of brain-sick zealots and morbid pietists, or of rash experimenters and fanciful speculatists.  But what cared Straitlace about the legitimate and fair interpretation of the text ?  His ready quotation of it served his purpose: it kept "meddlers," as he called them, at arm's length, and secured the links of that grinding slavery which held Sam to his task, and brought money into the till.

    It would be a heart-sickening detail, that of the incidental miseries Sam experienced in these six years: suffice it to say, his chain was tightened till it snapped.  He contrived to form an acquaintance in Birmingham who advised him to "cut" his tyrant-master, and "cut " him he did.  Yet, Mr. Jonas Straitlace knew the value of Sam's earnings too well to be inclined to give up his bird without trying to catch it again.  He set out for Birmingham, made enquiry, and learned that Sam, in spite of being minuted by his master's watch, had contrived almost uniformly, on his errands, to spend a quarter of an hour in a certain low public-house, and that he had done this habitually for more than a twelvemonth past.  Straitlace bent his steps to this resort, and, by his crafty mode of questioning, ascertained from the landlord that Sam had that very morning been in his house with one "Jinks,"—yet that was not the man's right name, the landlord added, but only a name he went by.

    "And pray who is this Jinks?" asked Straitlace.

    "He was once a man in great trust, sir," answered the landlord with some solemnity: "he was head clerk in a first-rate lawyer's office in this town.  But it was found out at last, that J inks had 'bezzled a good deal o' money belonging to the firm; and so he was sent to gaol for a couple o' year; nay, he was very near being hanged.  And so when he came out o' limbo, you understand, why nobody would trust, or hardly look on him; and he's now got from bad to worse."

    "What mean you by that?" asked Jonas.

    "The least said is the soonest mended," replied the landlord.

    "I wish you could tell me where I could see this man," said Straitlace : "the lad is my apprentice, and this man will do him no good: besides, I am losing money by his absence."

    The landlord stared, bit his lip, with a look that told he wished he had not talked so fast, and then made answer that he was busy that morning, and, besides, it was ten thousand to one whether Jinks could be found in his hiding-hole, if they were to go to it:—"and, more than all," he added, "there is no believing him, he is such a fellow to thump: he tells so many lies, poking his eyes into every corner, and never looking in your face all the while, that I often think Jinks must find it hard to invent new ones."

    Straitlace was versed sufficiently in human character to discern that the prattling landlord was made of squeezable materials, and so he urged his questions and entreaties until he had won his point, and the landlord undertook to conduct him to "Jinks's hiding hole."

    Threading an alley in one of the dingiest streets in the town, they wound through several crooked passages, and arrived at a paltry-looking small square.  From a corner of this dirty and half-ruined quadrangle, the landlord advanced along a path that could scarcely be supposed to lead to a human dwelling.  It was what is designated a "twitchel" in the midland counties, being barely wide enough to admit one person at a time,—and was the boundary line of two rows of buildings, the eaves of which overhung it, and rendered the passage as gloomy as if it were scarcely yet twilight.  Straitlace scrambled with difficulty after his conductor, and over the heaps of cinders, broken pots, and oyster and mussel shells which lay along this dark track; and when they came to the end of it, and had descended half-a-dozen stone steps, they arrived at what looked like the door of a cellar.  Here the landlord shook his fist at Straitlace, and compressed his features, as a signal for his companion to keep strict silence.  He then tapped, very gently, at the door; but though he repeated his timid knock, no one answered.

    "Jinks!  Jinks! I say," he whispered through the key-hole, after he had knocked the third time.

    "Who's there?" said a sharp, angry voice.

    "It's only me, Jinks:—I want to speak t' ye," answered the landlord.

    "You lie, Jemmy Jolter:—there's more than you only," retorted Jinks, with a snarl so sudden and crabbed that it flung the other entirely off his guard.

    "Well—but—but," Jemmy stammered; "this person wants to see you about that youth that was with you this morning, Jinks, and——"

    "Whew!  Jemmy Jolter, you've let it out again," replied the strange voice within: "get home, ye long-tongued fool, get home! what fool is that beside ye to employ such a sieve to carry water?"

    "Oh, very well, Jinks," said the weak landlord, turning round in dudgeon: "a time may come when you may want a good turn doing, you know."

    "I'll let you in, by yourself, Jemmy, if you like," said the keeper of this questionable garrison, fearful of losing the good offices of the landlord; "or I'll admit that verjuice-faced fellow who stands beside you, with the white apron round him."

    The outer party here looked at each other with some alarm, on finding they were each seen so plainly by one who was to them invisible.

    "You don't think I shall advise a respectable man and a stranger to come into such a den as yours, alone,—do ye, Jinks?" said the other, in a voice of displeasure.

    "Then you may both keep out," retorted the concealed speaker; "at any rate, you'll both be safe there.  Twist my withers, if ever I admit two clients into chambers at once!  No, no! it wouldn't do, Jemmy!  What I say here goes into only one pair of ears besides my own."

    "I'll venture alone, if he'll only admit me," said Straitlace, his eagerness to learn something of Sam, and, if possible, to recover the possession of him, subduing the repugnance he felt against trusting himself alone in such suspicious company.

    The door was slightly opened in a moment; and before the landlord could remonstrate, Straitlace was admitted, and the bolts were again closed within.  Jinks seized his visitor by the hand, and rapidly pulled him up a dark stair.  Straitlace's mind misgave him, as he reached the top of the ascent: it conducted to a narrow apartment in which there was no furniture but a broken chair, and a strong wooden bench; while a bottle, and an earthen pot, with some discoloured papers, covered the end of a barrel which appeared to serve the wretched habitant of the room for a table.  There was no fire in the dirty grate, and viewed through the murky light admitted by the small window which was half-obscured with papers, patching the broken panes, the appearance of the squalid chamber sent a shuddering feeling over Straitlace's skin.

    "Well, and so now you are admitted to my sanctum sanctorum,—what's your will?" asked Jinks, with a grin of derision, and seating himself on the broken chair.

    Straitlace was not a timid man; but the dark skin, projecting teeth, and overhanging brows of the figure before him, and, more than all, the diabolical fire of his eyes, really affrighted him, and he remained speechless.

    "Don't stare at me in that way, you fool," said the grim figure, savagely; "I'm not a wizard, though I do deal with the devil sometimes.  What d'ye want to know about Sam Simkins?"

    Straitlace was amazed at the effrontery of the fellow, in turn: "I insist upon it, that you tell me where he is, since you seem to know," he said, his displeasure giving him a little spirit.

    "Whew!" was the only answer made by the grim figure, who turned the empty pot towards the light, and then looked into it, and then looked at Straitlace, who was 'born sooner than yesterday,' as they say in the midlands; but who was not disposed to show that he penetrated the meaning of the spunger's masonic sort of hint.

    "I insist upon knowing where you have concealed my apprentice," said Straitlace, trying to put on a bold look.

    "I've neither concealed him, nor shall I snitch, and tell you where he is, if you ape the bully," replied Jinks, with cold mockery.

    "Then, as sure as you sit there, you villain," answered Straitlace, thinking he should lose the end of his errand entirely, if he did not keep up the appearance of determination, "I'll have you before a magistrate, and imprison you till the boy is produced."

    "I advise you to be cool," answered Jinks, with a look of such peculiar devilry that it made Straitlace feel chill with fear: "you wouldn't get me before a magistrate if you were to try.  And, besides, there's more than one can light a match; and your cottage will burn, you know,—ay, and your collars and old saddle traps too."

    Straitlace dared not threaten now; he found that the fellow knew him; and he felt the peril of the ground he stood on.  He sank on the bench, and gazed timidly and silently at the broken-down lawyer's clerk, who evidently enjoyed his triumph.

    "You're cooler, I see," resumed Jinks, and then looked into the earthen pot again.

    "I don't mind a trifle, by way of recompense," said Straitlace, torturing his tongue to frame the words, "if you'll only assist me in recovering my apprentice."

    "Rayther sensible that," answered Jinks tauntingly; but still looked into the empty pot.

    Straitlace overcame his own master-passion for the instant, and placed a half-crown beside the empty drinking cup; but Jinks instantly pushed it off the barrel, into the floor, in contempt.  Straitlace felt the blood rush to his neck and face, but once more struggled with his own reluctance, took up the half-crown, and laid down a half-sovereign in its stead.

    "Sensible,—very!" observed Jinks, slowly; and then suddenly starting up, said, "Now, Mister Jonas Straitlace, what will you give to have this stray dog of yours put quietly into your hands, muzzled and collared, so that you may take him home safely?"

    "Isn't that enough?" said the other leeringly.

    "Two whole sovereigns into my hands to-morrow morning at seven,—here,—at the bottom of the steps,—and you have him.  Otherwise, there's your road, Mr. Jonas Straitlace," returned Jinks, and pointed to the stairs.

    The saddler saw he was in a most disadvantageous position for making a choice, and hesitated.

    "I've other clients, and have no time to fool away upon you," rejoined Jinks: "speak the word! yes or no," and moved towards the steps.

    "Then I'll be here at that time," answered Straitlace, with a mental reservation; and he had scarcely uttered the words when three knocks were distinctly given under his feet; but Jinks seized his hand, hurried him down the steps, and thrust him out, and bolted the door behind him, with a strength and speed that caused him to turn round and stare at the closed door with wonder, when he stood once more in the twitchel.

    The landlord seized his arm, and recalled him to the remembrance of where he was.  Straitlace evaded the landlord's inquiries as to the result of his errand, persuaded that he could best carry into effect the scheme which had suggested itself to him, with other aid than that of a person who appeared to have some connection with Jinks.  He marked the way to the door, and paid particular observance to the passages, and to the exact locality of the street, and thanking the landlord for his trouble, took his way home, somewhat to the surprise of the landlord himself, who had expected he would return to the public-house.

    On the night succeeding the morning in which Straitlace had been admitted to that squalid chamber, the narrow space itself was changed into a hold of guilty riot and thievish conspiracy.  The fumes of tobacco which filled the room would have rendered respiration impossible to any but the actual participators in that scene of infamy; the fag of smoke being so dense that the human beings there assembled seemed to be kneaded into the thick vapour rather than surrounded by it.  The struggling flames of a fire which had just been kindled, and was covered by a huge iron vessel, nearly choked up the draught of the narrow chimney, and threw an uncertain light upon the figures which nearly filled the narrow room.  The singular being who was the habitual tenant of the chamber sat in his broken chair close by the fire, augmenting the gross sociality of his associates by the vehemence with which he consumed tobacco in a wooden pipe; but adding not a word to their busy conversation.  A strong coarse-looking woman, crouched immediately before the fire, was alternately attempting to clear a passage for its progress, and slicing onions from her apron to put into the caldron.  Her short clay pipe, with the filthy black cup scarcely protruding beyond her nose, showed her attachment to the favourite excitement of her depraved companions.  Behind her stood the barrel, before described as the only substitute for a table in Jinks's room, and upon the end of it was placed a large metal jug of spirits, which the various members of the group lifted to their lips, by turns, as inclination moved them.

    The confused conversation was suspended in a moment by three distinct and measured raps being given at the door below; and Jinks jumped up, exclaiming, "That's the young'un I told you of: I'll let him in."  And he darted down the steps, unbolted the door, pulled in Sam Simkins, and, in the lapse of scarcely three minutes, introduced him to the villainous company.  The fellows gazed at Sam, and one swore that he only looked like a starved rat, and another said he was more like a stunted badger; but all agreed that he looked likely to be useful, for he had a hawk's eye in his head.  Sam felt somewhat loutish at the unrestrained gaze of the thieves; but Jinks placed him on the bench next to his own chair, chucked him under the chin, and holding the metal jug to his mouth, told him to drink.  Sam did drink a little, and thought the draught scorched his throat; yet in a few minutes he felt a flow of spirits that completely banished his bashfulness.

    "And so you've cut the starve-gut rascal, eh, young'un?" said an impudent-looking fellow who sat on the farther end of the bench, and who was, at once, the most frequent visitor to the jug, and the most eager talker in the villainous conclave.

    "What the devil was he to do else?" said Jinks, seeming to wish to keep off from the lad the assailment of questions by the gang: "was he to stay and be pined outright ?—Bess," he continued, addressing the woman, "isn't the stuff ready?"

    "The can's empty," said the fellow who had just spoken, interrupting Jinks: "we'll have it filled again."

    "Not to night," said Jinks, with an oath.

    "Not to-night!—why not, old hang-dog; why not, I say?" asked the other, dropping his pipe, and looking as if he would fell his opposer.

    "Because there's a job on hand that requires cool brains, ye guzzling ape!" answered Jinks, in a tone which showed he was not to be frightened by the bully, his brother in roguery.  "Wide-mouthed Bob will be here directly, and we must then prepare for business."

    "What can he be about to be so late, I wonder?" cried the woman, who was still squatting before the fire: "the broth's ready, and I shall pour it out if he doesn't come in a crack.  Hark!" she said,—and the quarrelsome crew were silent: there there he is!"

    Jinks started from his broken chair at the sound of a whistle, hurried down the steps, and was speedily in his old position again, while the new comer was welcomed with shouts of "Give us your hand, captain!—success to ye!"

    "Silence, you fools!" said he who was thus saluted: "d'ye mean to bring the bull-dogs upon us?"  And he took up the jug, but finding it empty, he looked discontented.  Jinks, however, seized the jug, removed the barrel from the spot on which it stood, pulled up a trap-door, and descended, and then returned with the jug refilled, with the usual rapidity that characterised his movements.

    "Ay, ay, you know who's come now, old juggler," said the bully, tauntingly, to Jinks, as he again appeared from the subterraneous room, with the vessel full of brandy.

    "Yes, and I know that they have a right to the sugar-candy that are the first to put their fingers into the fire to get it," said Jinks, showing his ugly teeth very forbiddingly; "and not every skinking coward that ties his neck to his heels to save it when there's work to be done."

    The bully returned no answer, seeming conscious that his cowardice deserved the rebuke.

    "Get the supper-tools out, Jinks," said the woman, and took the boiling caldron from the fire.

    Jinks climbed upon his chair, and reaching down a large wooden bowl, from its concealment in the ceiling of the room, placed it upon the end of the barrel, and sat down again.

    "Why, you old brute, do ye think we are going to pig it all out of one trough, on a night like this?" exclaimed the woman, pouring out the stew into the bowl:—"reach every man his pap-spoon and dish, or I'll spoil your grinding before you begin!" and she aimed a blow, with a brazen ladle, at Jinks's scalp, which he evaded, and reached forth a set of basins and spoons from the same strange repository.

    The steamy flavour of Bess's cookery speedily attracted the appetites of her companions.  Limbs of fowl and game, mingled with the soup, showed the illicit source from which such a company had obtained the raw provisions for the meal.  Bess poured out half a basin of the stew first, for the individual who was called "captain," and filling up the vessel with brandy from the jug, handed it to the leader, with a coarse coaxing smile.  She then served the rest, in the order they sat, beginning with Jinks, and not forgetting the lad.  Sam smacked his lips at such a treat, and congratulated himself on having taken the advice of Jinks, and run away from his master.  He soon disposed of the contents of his basin; and then felt strongly attracted to notice the appearance and behaviour of him whom the thieves acknowledged as their principal.

    The personal appearance of Wide-mouthed Bob rendered the dependence of the crew upon his presence and enterprise, Sam thought, a matter of no wonder.  His stature was full six feet, and the great breadth of his chest and shoulders, and extreme length of his arms, terminated by hands of monstrous size, gave demonstrations of unusual physical power.  The width of his mouth was the most striking feature in his face, and had procured for him the common nickname by which Jinks had first mentioned him during the evening.  The forbidding glance of his large eyes, from under a low forehead, and brows as shaggy as if they pertained to an ass's colt, with the bull-dog shape of his head, at the sides, causing his ears to stand forward after a form scarcely human, were also peculiarities in the features of the captain-burglar.

    His third basin being despatched by this powerful animal, for such his peculiarity of frame seemed to warrant his being termed, the conversation took a turn for business.  Robberies of a cheese warehouse, a flour shop, a liquor vault, and even of the subterranean workshop of a "smasher," or maker and vendor of false coin, were planned.  The only debate was, which was to be undertaken first; and as there was some difficulty in settling this point, the captain called for the jug to be replenished.  Jinks descended once more, but returned with only half the vessel full, and, setting it down, declared the barrel below was empty.

    "Then that determines the point," observed Wide-mouthed Bob: "we must make our way direct to the brandy cellar."  The gang immediately assented,—the liquor was shared; and in a few minutes, all, save Jinks, and the woman and the lad, descended by the stairs, and departed on their lawless enterprise.

    Sam Simkins had fallen asleep some time before the departure of the gang, but was awakened by Jinks, as soon as he had bolted the door and re-ascended the steps, to receive his first wholesale lesson in villainy.  The lad felt the lesson very unwelcome to his nature, at the beginning; but the remembrance of the horrors from which he had escaped, and the promise and prospect of a wild freedom, and a continuance of the good fare he had met among the thieves, soon subdued the inward whisper that he was going wrong.  Jinks and the woman were most successful in their schooling of Sam, while they dwelt upon his master's conduct towards him:—

    "But did the nigger-driver never let you play a bit, Sam?" asked the woman: "you say you always dropped work at eight, and went to bed at ten:—what did ye in the two hours, my lad?"

    "I used to read Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophet-books in the Bible, and Romans, and Corinthians, and them ere parts of the Testament," answered Sam: "mester would na let me read owt else, unless I managed to do it slily."

    "And what did ye think to what you read, Sam?" asked Jinks, suddenly dropping his pipe, and looking at the lad with an air of new interest.

    "He, he!" snivelled the lad, and twisted his thumbs 'with a loutish look,—"I could na make owt on 'em!"

    "How the deuce were ye likely?" said Jinks: "that Paul would puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer, for he was a devilish longheaded fellow, and no mistake; as for Jeremiah, and the rest of 'em, I know little about 'em! but it was an ugly slavish way of using you, my lad:—you'll find the difference now.  All that you have to do is to mind your P's and Q's, and I'll warrant ye, it'll be a merry life for ye."

    The lad snivelled again, and felt wonderfully pleased.

    "Now hark ye, Sam," continued Jinks, "who had your master in the house, besides himself and you?"

    "The missus," answered Sam; "but hur never taks no notice o' nowt, hur's ower deeaf."

    "Capital!" exclaimed Jinks, cracking his thumb and finger; and then the lad received instruction as to his first grand act of villainy, and while he was receiving it, Bess prepared the caldron, once more.

    Three hours elapsed, and the whistle of Wide-mouthed Bob was heard again.  Jinks performed his porter's office as before, and the captain and three others of the gang speedily tugged up the stairs a couple of kegs of liquor, which were as speedily concealed in the subterranean room.

    "Where's the rest of the birds?" asked the woman.

    "Sent 'em home to roost," replied the captain; "and now you and all of us must cut, old girl, and leave Jinks to his cage."

    "But not before we've tasted the new broach," said the woman.

    "No more tasting of it, this morning," answered Bob; "we shall soon be blown, if we carry on that game; we'll have breakfast and go."

    The word of the leader was law.  The stew was again poured up; and when it was devoured, Sam having his share as before, the chief burglar, and the other three thieves, with the woman, departed; and Sam Simkins also set out on the errand for which Jinks had lately bestowed instruction upon him.

    At eight the following morning, Mr. Jonas Straitlace appeared in the twitchel, as before, and summoned the attention of Jinks by a bold rap.  Jinks was speedily at the door, and Straitlace was again admitted into the thievish head-quarters.

    "Now for the chink!" said the broken-down lawyer.

    "But where's the lad?" asked Straitlace.

    "The moment you down with the dust, that moment I tell you where he is, safe and sound, and nearer home than you think of; so that you'll have very little trouble to seek him," answered Jinks.

    "When I find the lad I'll pay you," said the saddler; "you may be deceiving me."

    "Why, goose!" said Jinks, "what d'ye take me for?—let that sneaking fellow, who stands squeezed up in the corner there below, be witness between us."

    Straitlace turned pale; but Jinks was at the bottom of the stair in a moment, and again ascended, bringing up a man dressed in a thick top coat that covered his under dress.

    "Now, let this constable be witness between us," said Jinks : "he's a respectable man, and you could not have brought a better man with you."

    Straitlace was amazed; but he summoned resolution, and said, "Constable, I insist upon your taking this man into custody, for having either decoyed away from me, or concealed, or harboured, my runaway 'prentice."

    The constable put on a very stupid look, and answered,"Why, as to that, I've no proof of any part of it, you know, and I decline to interfere."

    Straitlace felt confounded at the fact of his own man, as he had deemed the constable, deserting him, and stood staring in amazement.

    "Now, Mister Jonas Straitlace," said Jinks, "I'd have you to remember that I don't give professional advice for nought, any more than other lawyers.  You came here to ask my help and instruction, and I engaged to give it you for two sovereigns: pay me that down, and I undertake that you shall find your apprentice at home when you return."

    The saddler felt enraged at the villain's impudence, but the constable was against him: "If you made that bargain you had better keep it," said the functionary, "and if this man breaks it, then I shall be witness to it."  And Straitlace felt he was so awkwardly fixed in that suspicious place, and between the two, that he gave Jinks the two sovereigns.  Had he kept a strict watch upon the motions of the constable and Jinks he would have seen them share the booty, ere they hurried down; the stair.

    Straitlace reached home, and found that Sam had returned, but was again departed.  His deaf wife could only tell that she had scolded him, and made him get to work in the shop without his breakfast; but she did not know when he went off again.  The condition of the "till," in the shop, fully proclaimed the way in which Sam had employed himself during his brief stay.  It had been forcibly wrested from its place, though strongly fixed, and robbed of its contents, which were not great, but were sufficient to destroy, by their loss, the peace of Mr. Straitlace's spiritual mind for many a day after.

    Straitlace sat down to his work instead of going again in search of Sam Simkins.  Of what value would a thief be to me? was one question he asked himself; and—shall I spend in law, to prosecute him, more money than I have thrown away already? was another.  A few days after, he met the constable in Birmingham, and related his disaster.  "You act wisest to keep quiet," said the constable: "it seems the man kept his word in sending the lad home,—so that I don't see how you could have the law of him, there; and as for the young scoundrel, he would do you no good:—good-day, sir."

    Straitlace did not know whether there was any soundness in the man's observation about law; but he was loath to spend more money or lose his time,—so he gave Sam up.

    The lad returned to Jinks's "hiding-hole," and received great commendations for the clever way in which he had used the "jemmy," or small steel crowbar, which Jinks had entrusted to him.  The robbery of his master's till was his first performance with this crack tool that old gaol-birds chirp so much of; but it was not his last, by many a score.  He progressed in skill till he became the favourite comrade of Wide-mouthed Bob, and the two were the terror of the neighbourhood for years.

    It could serve no virtuous purpose to detail his thieveries; and as for the character of the company he kept, the sketch foregoing may suffice to show what it was.  He was, at length, sent over-sea for life, in company with the leader and two others of the gang; while Jinks escaped, only to decoy more lads into vice, and train them for the hulks or the gallows; but Mr. Jonas Straitlace, through the grinding of his customers, lost them,—so that he took no more apprentices to train up, in his own peculiar way, for Jinks's second training and perfecting process.

_______________________________

 
THE OLD CORPORATION.
_________


THOSE words "odd," and "singular," and "eccentric," what odd, singular, eccentric sort of words they are, reader!  How often they mean nothing—being thrown out, as descriptions of character, by drivelling Ignorance, who scrapes them up as the dregs,—the mere siftings left at the bottom of his vocabulary, when he has expended his scant collection of more definite images-in-syllables.  And how much more often are they affixed to the memories of the living or dead, who have been real brothers among men, and have thus earned these epithets from jaundiced envy, or guilty selfishness, or heartless pride and tyranny.  How little it commends to us, either our common nature, or such corrupt fashioning as ages of wrong have given it, that, if we would become acquainted with a truly good man,—a being to love and to knit the heart unto,—we must seek for him among the class of character which the world—woe worth it!—calls " odd," or " singular," or " eccentric!"

    Yet so it is, the best of mankind, those, most veritably, "of whom the world was not worthy," have been, in their day, either the butt for the sneers of silliness, or the object of envy's relentless hate, or they have toiled and toiled, perhaps unto martyrdom, beneath the withering, blasting frown of pride and oppression.  Ay, and let us be honest with ourselves, and confess, that though years or hard experience may have bettered our own natures,—for we are all too much like that kind of fruit which takes long days and many weathers to ripen it, so as to bring forth its most wholesome flavour,—let us be honest, I say, with ourselves, and confess, that we were as foolishly willing as others, in our youth, to laugh at what the varlet world calls oddness, and singularity, and eccentricity.  Some of us, however, now see matters in a somewhat different light.  We have discovered that there is some marrow of meaning in many of those old saws we once thought so tiresome and dry,—such as, "All is not gold that glitters," and, "Judge not a nut by the shell," and the like; and we say within ourselves, when we are in a moralising mood (as you and I are now, reader), that, if we were young again, we would not join the world in laughing as we used to laugh with it, at certain queer folk who dwell in our memories,—for we begin to have a shrewd suspicion that they were among the true "diamonds in the rough" of human character.

    And, to be truly candid with ourselves, reader, have not you and I found out, by this time, that we are, to all intents and purposes, as "odd," and as "singular," and as "eccentric" as other folk?  Is not the jewel of the truth this,—as pointless as the saying may look at first sight,—that—All men are singular?  Hath not every man his likes and his dislikes, his whims and his caprices, his fancies and his hobbies, his faults and his failings?  And are not these found so strangely interwoven in our daily thinkings, and sayings, and doings, that they may well make observers ponder upon them, if they had not enough of similar employment at home.  Nay, if some one unnatural sort of thought, or impression, or habit, which each of us have, could be seen, at all times, by everybody, in its true dimensions, would it not look as uncouth as one of those huge boulders of primary rock tumbled down from the mass, and left sticking out from some late-formed strata of marl, quite at a distance from its proper place, that the geologists talk of?  Would not the thought, or impression, or habit, if our most attached friends could see it in its proper moral bulk, dwarf many of our "excellencies," as then partiality phrases it, and really render us poor deformed things, in their judgment?

    "What, then, do ye mean to preach us into the belief that it is a crime for us ever to have a hearty, harmless laugh, at a queer fellow when we chance to see him?"  Not exactly so, my lads; but we ought never to forget that we are queer fellows ourselves.  Nor ought we to fail in the reflection that, if we were fully acquainted with that queer fellow, it might happen we should discover him to be of infinitely more moral value than ten thousand of the smooth-trimmed estimables in the eye of the world, who conform to all its precepts so obediently that they never anger it.  And, much more, if we know enough of the "queer fellow" to be aware that a true, warm, glowing, fraternal heart for his fellow-creatures beats in his bosom, notwithstanding a few outward traits of somewhat striking difference from the crowd, why, then, it becomes our bounden duty,—I will not say, never to smile at his peculiarities, for that sort of puritanism will not make us better men,—but to dwell upon his virtues and excellencies,—to extol them, yea, to enthrone them, whenever he is seen or heard, or talked of, by those with whom we company.

    Perhaps political party is more universal than any other bad influence without, in misguiding Englishmen into ill-natured, or contemptuous, or depreciatory judgments of their neighbours and fellow-townsmen.  The last thirty or forty years, especially, have engendered a superabundance of this foul canker; so many new rivalries have sprung up with the great changes in political and municipal institutions; and men, from the mightiest to the meanest, have been caught up, and whirled along, in many instances so involuntarily, into the rush and torrent of change.  And yet, how the lapse of these dozen or fifteen years hath altered the judgment of many of us, with regard to some men and their party-cries.  What a wide-spread "liberal" laudation, for instance, there was about the famous definition of a Tory, in the Times,—and yet how soon it became its own "duck-legged drummerboy," and all that!  Nay, how soon did some of the very chiefs of the potential reforming party,—from idols of the multitude,—by their refusal to complete what they had begun, and, indeed, in some instances, by their open manifestation of a will to undo what they had done,—become its scoff and scorn, nay, even its detestation!

    And then the old "Guilds," or "Corporations," to which the new "Town-Councils" have succeeded,—what a general tendency to exaggeration there was in the mode of judging of them, and in the tone of talking and writing about them, especially in the public prints.  How witty were the newspaper people in their conceits of conserving, or pickling, or embalming an alderman, and having him placed in the British Museum as a curiosity for antiquaries to form profound speculations upon, some ten or twelve centuries into futurity!  Ay, and how eloquently abusive was the prevailing Whig strain about "nests of corruption," and "rotten lumber," and "fine pickings," and "impositions, and frauds, and dark rogueries of the self-elect!"  And how the scale has turned, since, in the greater share of boroughs, where the poor and labouring classes threw up their hats for joy at "municipal reform,"—and now mutter discontent at the pride of upstarts who, they say, have become insolent oppressors,—or openly, as in the manufacturing districts, denounce what they term the relentless and grinding tyrannies of the recreant middle-classes whom municipal honours have drawn off, they assert, from their hot-blooded radicalism, and converted into cold, unfeeling, merciless wielders of magisterial or other local power.

    There was, it cannot be denied, in the droll trappings and antiquated mummeries of the old guilds,—in their ermined scarlet cloaks, and funny cocked hats, and in their maces and staves,—and above all, in the starch, and march, and swelling, and strut, and pomposity, with which these were worn or borne,—much that was calculated to tickle the spectator into mirth; but, really, when one thinks of it, are the horse-hair wig of a bishop, a judge, or a barrister, the robe and coronet of a peer, or the crown and sceptre of a king or queen, less like playthings for upgrown children than were the "regalia" and antique habits of the old corporation-men?  Was Cromwell so far beside the mark when he called the Speaker's mace a "fool's bauble"? and might not the expression be applied with as much fitness to many other "ensigns of office," as they are called?

    And again: though it is true that a grand uncurtaining of robbery,—for that is the plain English of it,—was made in some, at least, of the old boroughs, by the inquest of that parliamentary commission which preceded the sweeping away of the old corporations,—yet are we not, now, become conscious, that amid the party heat and animosity of the period, much private excellence was over-shaded or forgotten in the rage of public censure,—nay, that much virtue was denied, even where it was known to exist, lest the recognition of it should mar the scheme for overthrowing the party to which that virtue was attached?

    This is a long exordium for a fugitive sketch, and it is time to say it has sprung from reflections created in the mind of an imprisoned "conspirator" and "mover of sedition," by the flitting across his cell, in his imagination, of sundry bygone shapes with whom he was, more or less, familiar at one period of his changeful life.  It is the "Old Corporation" of the ancient and time-honoured city of Lincoln, of which the writer speaks—and though wit might discover among its members many a foible that would form a picture to "make those laugh whose lungs are tickled o' the sere," yet generosity, and justice, no less, must confess, that after the most searching inquiry and exposure, they were neither individually nor collectively stained with the acts of peculation and embezzlement, nor application of public funds to political party purposes, which were so heavily, and, no doubt, truly charged on some of the old guilds in other parts of the country.

    Yet they were, as a body, supporters of the ancien régime, as was natural: they had been inured, the greater part of them, through nearly the whole of their lives, to look upon the established state of things as the best and fittest;—and, no doubt, the majority of them conscientiously believed it to be so,—failing, through the confined and stinted nature of their social training, to reflect that what was productive to themselves, the few, of pleasure or comfort, might confer no benefits on the many,—but rather be a source, to these, of deep and increasing suffering.  Passing by many a picture that starts to memory of "mayoralty," and its ludicrous airs of greatness, and many a reminiscence of grave joke and lighter whimsicality, —of burlesque importance, and mirth-moving earnestness about trifles,—recollection dwells with consolated interest on more durable limnings of simple, uncorrupted manners, and warm hearts, and really expansive natures, that belonged to some of that "Old Corporation."

    There is one comes before me, vividly, at this moment,—while that sweet robin-red-breast hops into my day-room [Ed.—in Stafford Goal], and bends his neck to look at me so knowingly and friendlily in my loneliness, as he doth, almost daily;—and the loved bird's image consorts delightfully with him I was thinking of,—for, above all things, the fine, noble-hearted, yet meek and gentle old alderman, loved to be thought and esteemed an ornithologist!  That was his pride, his loftiest aim, his highest ambition,—as far as reputation or a name was the subject of his thought.  As for his charities, and enlarged acts of sympathy for his suffering fellow-creatures, his deeds of mercy and goodness, he strove to hide them, performing them often by stealth, and half denying the performance of them, when admiration of his beneficence kindled praise of it in his hearing.  Ah! it is too true: he relieved wretchedness till his purse was scanty, and his circumstances were straitened; and then,—and then,—in spite of his aldermanic dignity, in spite of his "respectable" family connections, and even the respectability of his own practice and profession, as a surgeon,—he was mentioned as the "odd,"—the "singular,"—the "eccentric" Mr. Hett!

    That is the world.  Who would have dreamt that Alderman Hett was odd, or singular, or eccentric, had he kept his money, instead of giving it to the distressed?

    But the kind-hearted old man thirsted for reputation as an ornithologist.  Well, and in good sooth, he had some solid claim to it.  Birds were his passion; and you seldom met any one who knew so much about them.  I know not whether his relatives keep the book of drawings which the good man showed to me, as he had showed it to hundreds, with so much innocent pride;—taking care to relate how it had been begun when he was a young apprentice, and had taken him years to complete; above all, that it was the product of early hours stolen from sleep, and had never robbed his professional duties of their proper share of attention.  They ought to keep it, however, and to value it too.  Not for the sake of any surpassing excellence in the portraitures of birds with which it was filled; for, although the good old man was so proud of the "real birds," which he used to observe it contained, yet they were embodied to the eye somewhat in Chinese taste, as clearly as I can remember: rather with exactitude of pencillings and shades, than with skill in the "drawing" or attitude of the bird, or observance of rules of perspective, or "fore-shortening," or any of the intricacies of art.  But the heart—the heart of the good man whose hand performed these curious and laborious limnings—should stamp a precious value on the book that contained them.

    Nor was it a mere unmeaning hobby, this love of the feathered tribe which was so strong in the benevolent alderman.  He was another Gilbert White in diligence of observation on their habits in the woods and fields, and on the heath and the moor.  In his rural rides as a surgeon, he was ever learning some fact relative to their economy, and he most diligently chronicled it.  And at the return of the season, he was as punctually periodical as the fall of the leaf in acquainting his friendly circle with his impressions relative to the severity or the openness of the ensuing winter, from his observations on the feathered tribe.  Many of these "prognostications," as some people called them, although he never assumed the character of a prophet himself, were registered in the Stamford Mercury, the long-established and ably-conducted medium of information for the extensive though thinly-peopled district of Lincolnshire; and they so seldom failed to be realised, that the ornithological surgeon was often complimented on his prophecies.  "Nay," he would reply, "I am no prophet: I only go by Nature's books: you may do the same, if you'll read them."

    Was it his diligent and loving perusal of these books which imbued him with that never-failing zeal to relieve the miserable? was it by his continued drinking of the lessons of bounty and care discoverable in those books, that kept open, to his latest day, the sluices of his beneficent heart,—so that the icy influences of the world never froze them up,—but they were left to well out goodness, and tenderness, and pity, for the poor, and hungry, and sick, and miserable, to the end of his life ?

    One cannot suppress a persuasion of this kind; and it seems next to impossible but that Gilbert White must have gladdened the poor of his "Selborne," to the very extent of his means, and, perhaps, sometimes beyond it,—secretly, humbly, and unobtrusively,—while his amiable mind was displaying so simply and charmingly, in that correspondence with Tennant and Barrington, its devoted love and admiration of the characters in "Nature's books."  This thought maybe but a prejudice of the imagination; but such prejudices are less criminal than the prejudices of the judgment or understanding, and one feels unwilling to have them removed in a case like this: we have, alas! too many examples of evil contradictions in the characters we thirst to love,—and our worship even of the noblest intelligences,—such as Bacon,—is too often checked by them.

    In the devoted reader of "Nature's books," however, of whom we are immediately speaking, there was a delightful harmony of character.  "I cannot pay you yet, Mr. Hett,"—said a poor woman to him, as I walked by his side, along the High Street of St. Botolph's parish, listening to his autumnal chronicle,—"I cannot pay you yet, sir, for my husband is out of work."—"Pr'ythee, never mind, woman," replied the good man.  "Make thyself easy, and get that poor boy a pair of shoes, before thou pays me!"—"God bless you, sir!" replied the poor woman, with her ragged and shoeless lad, and dropped a curtsy, while the grateful tear rolled down her cheek.  I looked, with an impulse of admiration, at the face of the good alderman, as we passed along, and the tears were coursing each other adown his face likewise !

    And how often have I heard,—what, indeed, well-nigh' every citizen of old Lincoln had either heard, or witnessed,—of his bounteous relief of famishing and clotheless families he was called to attend during the sickness of a child or father, or the mother's agony of Nature.  One thought presents itself painfully: it is, that while he manifested so true a fraternity with man, and lived a life of so much private, unobtrusive blessing,—he was so frequently the victim of encroaching and designing knaves.  His ready loans of money, in his wealthiest days, to needy tradesmen, were often punctually and honestly returned; but he was too often victimised.  And there is one image now crosses me, very legibly,—that used to haunt and pester the good-hearted man, even up to the period of his straitness,—ever goading him with some plea of difficulty, and essaying to squeeze out of him another sum, under the unprincipled name of a loan.  He was a "limb of the law," who had been "done up" in his profession, for his want of honesty.  And yet I have some misgivings whether that human being were so morally culpable as his life of shuffle, and deceit, and meanness, would lead one to think; for I remember how often I noticed the large indentation across his bald head, caused by some accident, in which the bone of the skull had been bent or broken, and consequently, the brain injured.  His career is at an end, however; and whatever might be the true solution of the problem of his idiosyncrasy, one cannot help feeling a regret that the best and finest natures should so often, in this world, become a prey to the worst,—as in the case of this vile practiser, who often boasted over his brandy, in the presence of some base associate, that he had gulled the alderman again!—

    Memory calls up another form less distinctly, since it belonged to one who was much nearer the end of his course: and the impression of his identity depends more on what others said of him than on anything like personal or intimate acquaintance with his character.  From some unskilfulness of speech, or want of grace in outward demeanour, or some other mark that the world thought "odd," or "singular," or "eccentric," he had gained the odd, singular, and eccentric, but very distinctive sobriquet of Alderman Lob.  He was a bulky sort of man externally, talked thick, yet talked a great deal; was laid up with the gout often, and passed his closing years totally within doors as an invalid: but many a poverty-stricken habitant of Lincoln found weekly relief at his door; and more than one aged and infirm creature prayed for the lengthening out of his life, in the fear they would be left destitute, or be compelled to go into the workhouse, when they could no longer depend on the weekly charity of Alderman Cotton.

    The master-spirit of that old guild, Alderman Charles Hayward, though too acute, and too successful in the acquirement of wealth to leave room for the world to term him eccentric, possessed some high qualities that rise in kindly answer to the record memory gives of the bitter things spoken of him by party.  He had been the "town-clerk" of the guild, and even then wielded the principal power in it, being really its master, though nominally its servant; and only laid aside the black gown and quill to don an alderman's ermined cloak, because he had become too wealthy either to desire longer to reap the salary, or undergo the fatigue and labour of his first office.

    His attention to every man in whom he discerned superior ability, without regard to conventional grade, and often in defiance of its rules; his real liberality in giving aid to honest industry wherever he found it; his munificence in assisting either the "charities" which are the just pride of old Lincoln, or any plan for presenting its citizens with amusement that combined usefulness: these were among his life-long acts.  And, in spite of the keen raillery with which his shrewd penetration of character often led him to visit the vulgar conceit or affectation of some with whom his office brought him into frequent contact, all bore testimony to his intelligence and honour.  Nay, although he was one who never professed any fervid sympathy with popular progress, and therefore was not likely to become a favourite with a people so strongly political as the Lincoln cits had now become, yet so deeply did they regard him as a man who, by the excellence of his understanding, had done honour to their city in bearing one of its chief offices, that a general and reverential sorrow was expressed when his end approached, for it was seen, in his wasted frame and fading eye, many months before the fatal moment came.

    Perhaps their knowledge of the one bitter draught that was mingled with his life's chalice, during the concluding years of his course, served greatly to soften their thoughts towards the intellectual chief of the old municipal institution, even while many of them rejoiced at the overthrow of the institution itself.  His tenderly beloved and highly accomplished daughter, his only child,—faded and died; and, therewith, the charm of life seemed broken for him.  How often was this a subject of kindly-spirited converse among citizens as he passed; and how reflectingly did they note what they learned to be his own poignant observations on that heart-rending bereavement!—his pithy and thrilling confessions that he had toiled for nothing! that life was only a scene of disappointment!—that he had used unceasing exertion to attain wealth; but he had, now, neither "chick nor child" to leave it to!  So fertile is life in affording moral nurture and correction to all hearts!—creating sympathy with the sorrowful brother, with him to whom the bitter cup is appointed; but infusing a salutary admonition, meanwhile, not to set our hearts too passionately on things of clay lest we doom ourselves also to drink of that bitterness!

    He who was esteemed the most "odd," the most "singular," the most "eccentric" member of that Old Corporation, lingered long after its demise; and by the popularity of his character, as the only radical alderman of the Old, became a town councillor, and eventually a mayor, under the New municipal institution.  How rife were the stories of his furious attacks upon the "self-elect" of the olden time!—and what a rich hue of the burlesque was thrown around the pictures that were given of him in daily conversation!  Yet, who did not, in spite of his slenderness of intellect, love him for his incorruptible honesty, and, above all, for his unfailing benevolence?  Oh! there was not a human being,—beggar, pauper, distressed stranger, or townsman,—who ever went from his door unrelieved; nor could he pass, in the street, a fellow-creature whose appearance led him to suppose he had found a real sufferer, but he must inquire into it, even unsolicited.  The abhorrent enactments of the New Poor Law,—how he hated them!—and how staggered he felt in his reforming faith, when the "liberal" administration urged the passing of the strange Malthusian measure!  "I cannot understand it!" he would exclaim, in the hearing of the numerous participants in his English hospitality; "I never thought that Reform was to make the poor more miserable, and the poorest of the poor most miserable: it is a mystery to me!  Surely it is a mistake in Lord Grey and Lord Brougham!"  So good old Alderman Wriglesworth thought and said; but he did not live to see the "liberal" lawmakers either correct their mistake, or acknowledge that they had made one,—though agonised thousands pealed that sad truth in their ears!

_______________________________

 
NED WILCOM;
A STORY OF
A FATHER'S SACRIFICE OF HIS CHILD AT THE
SHRINE OF MAMMON.
_________


"SIRRAH! you have nothing to do but to get on in the world.  You may do that, if you will.  The way is open for you, as it was for me; so get up to London, and try.  There's twenty pounds for you: I'll give you twenty thousand, as soon as you show me one thousand of your own; but I won't give you another farthing till you prove to me that you know the value of money, and can get it yourself.  And mark me, sir! if you haven't the nouse to make something out in the world, you shall live and die a beggar, for me; for I'll leave all I have to your sisters, and cut you off with a shilling.  There, sir! there's your road!  Good morning!"

    And so saying, Mr. Ned Wilcom, senior, pushed Mr. Ned Wilcom, junior, his only son, out of his counting-house, and shut the door upon him.  That was an awkward way for a rich Leeds merchant to receive a son on the completion of his apprenticeship as a draper, and at the early age of twenty.  Yet it was no worse than young Ned expected.  Nor did it break his heart as it would have broken the heart of a lad who had been more tenderly nurtured.  Ned Wilcom never saw his father occupied with any other thought, act, employ, or pleasure, but what pertained to money-getting; nor ever heard his father pass an encomium on any human character in his life, save on such as succeeded in piling together large fortunes from small beginnings, or enriched themselves by outwitting their neighbours.  From the age of nine to sixteen, he had only seen his father twice a year—Midsummer and Christmas; and having lost his mother when a mere infant, he never knew or felt the softening influences of maternal affection.  The artificial life of a boarding-school, during those seven years, infused a good deal of craft, and nearly as large a measure of heartlessness, into Ned's nature—for it was not originally of such tendencies.  The master and ushers were hypocrites and tyrants, only differing in grade; and if there were a lad with a little more gentleness, humanity, and openness about him than the rest, Ned observed that he soon "went to the wall" among his school fellows.  And so, with one influence or other, Ned Wilcom left school with the firm persuasion that the world was a general battle-field, where the weak and the virtuous were destined to become the prey of the strong and the crafty; and, all things considered, Ned resolved to take sides with the winning party.

    Such were Ned's resolves at sixteen; and they were by no means changed in their direction, or weakened in their vigour, by an apprenticeship in a dashing and aspiring draper's shop in Liverpool during the succeeding four years.  To that seaport he was accompanied, per coach, by his father; whose parting words then were, that he was to remember that "he was going to be taught how to make money, the only thing worth learning;" and, until he received the summary benediction already rehearsed, Ned did not see his father again.  It is true, he received from home a half-yearly letter, but it never harped on more than one string, and that was the old one; so that, drawing his inferences from these premises, Ned Wilcom was not surprised to be dismissed in five minutes, with twenty pounds, and to have the counting-house door shut in his face by his own father.

    Within a week after his arrival in London, Ned Wilcom found a situation; and it was one to his heart's content—as he told his father in a letter of five lines, for he knew his parent too well to trouble him with a longer epistle.  The lad's ambition could only have been more highly gratified by a reception into the establishment of Swan and Edgar, in the Quadrant, or the superb "Waterloo House" in Cockspur Street, for he had obtained a place in that immensest of show-shops which attracts the stranger crowds in St. Paul's Churchyard, where the business was of a less select nature than in the two rival first-rate shops at the West End, and was therefore a more fitting field for the exercise of such knowledge and tact as Ned had acquired in Liverpool.  And all went on exceedingly well with Ned for several weeks.  It is true, the discipline of the establishment was somewhat more rigorous than in the house he had quitted: but he was prepared to expect it.  He was compelled to "look sharp about him"; but he had heard in the country that that would be the case.  The matter of vianding, the exact minute of remaining out in the evening, the amount of exertion and energy in discharging his duties, all was so exactly defined, measured, and timed, that to a mere raw apprentice from the country, or to one whose mind was less determinately girt up to make his way, the situation would have seemed any thing but pleasant.  Ned, however, felt quite at home, for he had yoked his will to his necessities; and in lieu of indulging the slightest disposition to grumble at his lot, set success before himself, and determined to achieve it.  With a mind so fully made up, a handsome figure, a winning address, and a fair portion of natural shrewdness, Ned was sure to conduct himself in such a way as to please his employers.  In fact, in the course of a dozen or fifteen weeks, he became the decided favourite with the manager of the concern, and, of course, experienced proportionate pecuniary advancement.

    But a woeful change awaited Ned Wilcom, despite these fair prospects.  His eagerness to succeed had urged him to stretch his powers beyond their strength, and his resolve to economise, so as to win the means of early independence, induced him to deny himself too rigidly of under-clothing, and the consequence was, that a nervous lassitude and a severe cold at once attacked him.  He bore up some days; but was a little shocked to observe a change of look in the manager, and to overhear a little whispering by way of comment on his lack of energy.  Five days had passed; but on the morning of the sixth, it was with extreme difficulty he rose from bed, and so lethargic were his faculties, that he felt it utterly impossible to put on appearances of excessive complaisance, or to display the customary grimaces of civility.  Towards noon, excessive pains in the head and chest drove him from the shop; and without saying a word to any one, he sought his sleeping-room, and threw him self on his bed.  Here he was found in a state of insensibility, in the course of half an hour was undressed, and put into bed.  Ned refused the cool offers of extra diet made him, when he came to his senses, and when visited by the manager, said he had no doubt he would be quite well by the next morning.  The manager elevated his brows, said he hoped so, and walked away immediately.

    When the morning came, however, the youth was so weak that he felt he would be utterly incapable of exertion if he went downstairs; yet he would have attempted it, had not one who had been much longer in the establishment than himself—though Ned had passed him by, in preferment—stepped into his bedroom, and most pressingly persuaded him not to think of going down.  So Ned put off his half resolve to go down, and threw himself again on the bed.  But what was his surprise, grief, and disgust, on seeing this very individual step again into his room in the course of five minutes, to announce with the most marble coldness of look, that the manager desired Mr. Wilcom would get up and make out his account—for it was against rule for any one to remain on the establishment who was unable to attend to business.  "Immediately," was the only word the messenger added, turning back as he was about to quit the room, and then departing with a wicked sneer upon his face.  Poor Ned! he felt he was in a hard case; but his native pride was too great to permit him to weep, or give way.  Indignation strung his nerves for the nonce; he bounced up—dressed himself- though he trembled like one in the palsy—made out his account—went downstairs, and presented it—was paid, by the manager's order—and quitted the premises, in the lapse of fifteen minutes.

    Occupied with the vengeful feeling that was natural after such cruel treatment—though it was but an every-day fact, with drapers' assistants, in London—the youth had arrived in Fleet Street ere he bethought him that he had left his clothes behind him, and had not made up his mind as to where he was going.  Faintness began to come over him, and he was compelled to cling to a window for support.  Two passengers on the causeway stopped, and began to address him sympathetically; the rest of the living stream swept on, without staying to notice him.  A cabman, however, less from sympathy than from the hope of employ, speedily brought his vehicle to the edge of the slabs, and jumping from his seat with the reins in his hand, asked if he could be of any service to the gentleman.  Ned felt it was not a time for prolonged consideration, and earnestly, though feebly, desired the cabman to convey him to some decent boarding-house.  One of the persons supporting him saw that his state did not permit questioning, and prevented the cabman's asking where he would be driven to, by telling the man to proceed at once to a number he mentioned in Bolt Court.  The same individual walked by the side of the cab for the little way that it was to the entry of the court, and then helped to support Ned to the house.  A sick man, however, was not likely to meet with a very hearty welcome in a London boarding-house; and, in spite of the entreaties of the person who accompanied him, the youth would have had the door shut upon him, had he not roused all his remaining vigour, and assured the keeper of the establishment, not only that he would soon be well, but that he was able to pay for what he might need.  With such assurances he was reluctantly received, and supported upstairs to a bed-room.  Presence of mind served him to give order for fetching his portmanteau from the establishment he had just quitted; and it was well that it was so, for he became insensible almost immediately.  A fever ensued of some weeks' continuance; and, at the end of it, when Ned regained his consciousness, he found himself reduced to a state of emaciation, and under medical attendance, with a deeply reduced purse.

    These were concomitants of a nature to bring great pain to the mind of one like Ned Wilcom; and it was with a severe struggle that he shut out despair, and encouraged himself to believe that, though so grievously frustrated in his commencing hopes of independence, the prospect of success would again bud, and finally blossom.  After ascertaining from his physician that his state would bear a removal to a less expensive lodging, Ned wrote home to his father, and informed him of his unfortunate condition, and of what had led to it.  Mr. Wilcom, senior, was a little surprised to receive a second letter from his son so soon, for "he had no notion," as he used to say, "of lads perpetually writing home, like unweaned babies that wanted pap;" and he, therefore, broke the seal of poor Ned's letter with no remarkable degree of good humour.  The length of the letter, when opened, caused the money-getting father to throw it aside with an indescribable curl of the lip and nose and a loud "Pshaw!"—and that was all the attention the poor youth's epistle received for the five next succeeding days, that is to say, until Sunday came, and the merchant thought he had time to look at it.  The next morning Ned Wilcom received his father's answer : it was simply—

"SIR,
    "Yours came to hand last Monday.  If your illness was brought on by want of caution, it ought to teach, you prudence.  If you have been unlucky, you are only like many more; and, as your grandfather used to say, the best way and the manliest, with troubles, is to grin and abide by them.  Wish you better.
                                                      Your humble servant,
                                                                           "EDWARD WILCOM, senior.

    The letter dropped from Ned's hand like a lump of lead too heavy to hold.  With all his knowledge of his father's nature and habits, he had not expected this.  Indeed, Ned's uninterrupted good health, through the whole of his brief space of life, had prevented the possibility of his testing his father's tenderness before.  For some hours, the youth experienced misery he had never known till then; and was so completely paralysed with the sense of his wretched and deserted state, that the physician, who made his usual call in the afternoon, could obtain no intelligent answer to his questions; and though by no means one whose heart overflowed with the milk of human kindness, felt constrained, in a sympathising tone, to ask if anything extraordinary had occurred to his patient.  Ned pointed to the letter which lay on the floor, and in spite of the hardness of feeling into which he had trained himself, burst into a flood of tears.

    Nature was thus sufficiently relieved to enable the youth to answer the physician's inquiries as to his father's wealth, habits, and so on, with a slight but very significant additional query as to the extent of Ned's remaining stock of money.  The conclusion was not any promise of help, but cool advice to remove, forthwith, to a cheaper lodging; or, which the physician remarked, would be far more prudent, to an hospital.  The latter alternative Ned could not brook then, so he did remove to a cheaper lodging; but his feebleness disappeared so slowly, and the contents of his slender purse so rapidly, that he was compelled to enter an hospital, after discharging his medical attendant's bill, and finding himself possessed but of one sovereign, at the end of another fortnight.

    For six dreary months Ned Wilcom's feeble state compelled him to remain an inmate of this charitable establishment; and though his wants were amply provided for, and his complaints and sufferings were met with prompt and sympathising kindness and attention, yet his spirit was greatly soured.  He ventured one more letter to his father, but it received no greater welcome than the former one; and, in the bitterness of his soul, Ned cursed the parent who could thus treat his child, and resolved never to write home again, as long as he lived.

    At length, he was strong enough to leave his refuge, and without staying to be told that he must go, he went.  Once more, he took a cheap lodging, but a much cheaper one, as far as price went, than before, and in one of the purlieus of Lambeth, where he would have scorned almost to set his foot, when he first arrived in London.  Though his scanty sovereign would have recommended instant search for a situation, his great weakness, and his looking-glass, told him he must take, at least, one week's further rest.  He took it, and then commenced inquiry for a situation, not at the establishment where his misfortunes commenced, neither at any of the first-rate fashionable shops.  Sourness of spirit kept him at a distance from the cathedral churchyard; and the somewhat seedy condition, even of his best suit, debarred his admission, he believed, at any of the "tip-top" houses.  So he sought to be engaged in some more humble establishment; but, alas! his pallid face and sunken eye, his hollow voice and feeble step, were against him; and a shake of the head, or a hard stare, with a decided negative, was the invariable answer to his applications.

    To shorten the melancholy story of his deeper descent into wretchedness—at the end of the tenth week after his departure from the hospital, he was so far restored to strength as to be able to walk upright, to speak in his natural tone of firmness, and would have been competent to have discharged the duties of a draper's assistant in any shop in the metropolis; but every article of clothing he had possessed, except two shirts, two pairs of stockings, and the outer suit he constantly wore, were all in pawn, and he was, now, absolutely—penniless!

    It was when the eleventh week began, and the dreaded Monday morning returned, when his weekly lodging-rent should be paid, that Ned stealthily descended from his attic, and passed, unobserved, by his landlady, from the front door, to wander he knew not whither—except to avoid shame.  By the Marsh Gate he passed, and through the New Cut, and over Blackfriars' Bridge, and, losing the remembrance of where he was, he wandered from street to street, till, suddenly, in Old Street, he was awoke to the sense of delight—a feeling he had long been a stranger to—by seeing a half-crown at the edge of the pavement, as he sauntered along with his head dropped on his chest.  He snatched it up with inconceivable eagerness: no one was near to whom he could suppose it belonged, had his necessity permitted him to think of asking for its proper owner; and galled by a complete abstinence of two whole days, he hurried to the very first appearance of food that met his eye—a stall of coarse shell-fish.

    "How d'ye sell them?—what d'ye call them?" were the questions he put to the poor ragged man who stood by this stall of strange vendibles that Ned had seen poverty-stricken children and females stand to eat, but had never tasted them himself. ,

    "Ve calls 'em vilks, sir," answered the 'man, "six a penny: shall I open ye a penn'orth o' fresh uns, sir?"

    "Oh! these will do—let me have a dozen," said Ned Wilcom, and seized, and devoured a couple in a moment.

    "La! stop, sir!" cried the man—"you vants winegar to 'em!"—and he took the old broken bottle of earthenware, with the cork and a hole in it, and would fain have poured some of the horrible adulteration upon the shell-fish, but the very smell of it was too much for the youth's senses.  He devoured the dozen; but though the first mouthful had seemed delicious, he had some difficulty in gulping the last; and had not proceeded twenty paces from the stall, after receiving the change for his half-crown, before he felt half overcome with sickness and nausea.  He was about to pass by a dram-shop—but the thought suddenly struck him that a small glass of brandy would dispel the sickness; and he stepped in and called for one.  An elderly female was sipping a very small glass of liquor, when Ned crossed the threshold, but passed out immediately, after giving him a keen glance, as he gave his call, and laid a shilling on the dram-shop counter.  By this woman he was immediately accosted, when he quitted the dram-shop:—

    "Have you taken coffee this morning, sir?" said she, with a short courtesy; "I shall be happy to accommodate you, if you have not, sir: my house is just here, sir"—and so saying she led the way into Bath Street, at the corner of St. Luke's, and Ned, half-helplessly, followed; for though the brandy had dispelled the sickness, it seemed to have given a wolvish strength to his two days' hunger.

    A younger female, tawdrily clad, but possessing features of sufficient power to attract Ned's especial gaze; was the only apparent occupant of the low habitation into which the elderly woman led the way.  Breakfast was speedily prepared, in a somewhat humble mode, but Ned was too hungry to be delicate.  The younger woman was soon engaged so freely and familiarly in conversation with the youth, as to venture a mirthful observation on his good appetite.  Ned's heart glowed too warmly with the fitful delight of having found the half-crown and the means of a breakfast, to permit him to cultivate secrecy.  He told it outright—the fact that he had fasted two days, and found the half-crown but half an hour before on the pavement.  What will not the tongue tell, when the heart has been suddenly and unexpectedly unbondaged, though it be but temporarily, from deep-during sorrow?

    And then, of course, that confession led to others, and the whole story of Ned's life and parentage, of his sickness and harsh treatment, and of his sufferings and deprivations, till that moment, were unfolded.  And then came the formidable question—What did he now intend to do?—and it was one that brought back the full sense of his misery, for his half-crown was reduced already to a shilling; and he knew not what must become of him when that was spent—unless he stood in the streets to beg!

    The evil moment that was to seal Ned's ruin was come.  The elderly female at a glance given her by the younger, which the youth's misery prevented his observing, threw on her shawl, and went out.

    She returned—but it was after two hours had passed; and Ned Wilcom, who, when he entered London, believed himself heir to a gentleman's fortune and rank, had become the slave of a prostitute, and had pledged himself to take lessons from her in the practice of dishonesty.  That very afternoon, he entered on his guilty profession: she hung on his arm, and as they entered a crowded thoroughfare she taught him to purloin, successively, a handkerchief, a book, and a watch, from the pockets of passengers.

    The perfect security with which his first thefts were accomplished, and the galling remembrance of his past indignities, added to the new fascination above mentioned, stifled the reproaches of Ned Wilcom's conscience, when the hour of reflection came.  He advanced in the downward path, until he became a daring burglar, and a skilful adept at swindling, under the name of card-playing, in addition to his more petty practice on pockets.  Some idea of his son's fate, at length reached the brutal and sordid mind of Wilcom the elder.  He commissioned a friend, two or three times, on his London journey, to make strict inquiry as to the accuracy of the reports concerning Ned.  The youth avoided the search as much as possible, but could not prevent the truth from reaching his native town.

    The catastrophe approached in another year.  The papers contained an account of Ned's apprehension for a series of daring robberies: his father's acquaintances boldly and honestly reprehended his unparental cruelty; and though the Mammon-worshipping wretch was unmoved for some time, at length he dashed up to town to "see what all the noise was about," as he said.  He arrived soon enough to see his son at the bar as a degraded criminal; and before he had gazed upon him for more than five minutes, heard him sentenced to transportation for life!  Ned was immediately reconducted to his cell, while his father fell senseless in the Court; and though he was taken home the following week, it was to be a helpless, doating paralytic, and a proverb to the end of his life.



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