And then there followed a passage of tongue fence between Mackaye and some barrister, and great laughter at the barrister's expense; and then. I heard the old man's voice rise thin and clear:
"Let him that is without sin amang ye, cast the first stane!"
And as he went down he looked at me—a look full of despair. I never had had a ray of hope from the beginning; but now I began to think whether men suffered much when they were hung, and whether one woke at once into the next life, or had to wait till the body had returned to the dust, and watch the ugly process of one's own decay. I was not afraid of death—I never experienced that sensation. I am not physically brave. I am as thoroughly afraid of pain as any child can be; but that next world has never offered any prospect to me, save boundless food for my insatiable curiosity.
* * * * *
But at that moment my attorney thrust into my hand a little dirty scrap of paper. "Do you know this man?" I read it.
"SIR,—I wull tell all truthe. Mr. Locke is a murdered man if he be hanged. Lev me spek out, for love of the Lord.
No. I never had heard of him; and I let the paper fall.
A murdered man? I had known that all along. Had not the Queen's counsel been trying all day to murder me, as was their duty, seeing that they got their living thereby?
A few moments after, a labouring man was in the witness-box; and to my astonishment, telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I will not trouble the reader with his details, for they were simply and exactly what I have already stated. He was badgered, bullied, cross-examined, but nothing could shake him. With that dogged honesty, and laconic dignity, which is the good side of the English peasant's character, he stood manfully to his assertion—that I had done everything that words or actions could do to prevent violence, even to the danger of my own personal safety. He swore to the words which I used when trying to wrest the desk from the man who had stolen it; and when the Queen's counsel asked him, tauntingly, who had set him on bringing his new story there at the eleventh hour, he answered, equally to the astonishment of his questioner, and of me,
"Muster Locke, hisself."
"What! the prisoner?" almost screamed the counsellor, who fancied, I suppose, that he had stumbled on a confession of unblushing bribery.
"Yes, he; he there. As he went up over hill to meeting he met my two boys a shep-minding; and, because the cutter was froze, he stop and turn the handle for 'em for a matter of ten minutes; and I was coming up over field, and says I, I'll hear what that chap's got to say—there can't be no harm in going up arter the likes of he; for, says I to myself, a man can't have got any great wickedness a plotting in he's head, when he'll stop a ten minutes to help two boys as he never sot eyes on afore in his life; and I think their honours'll say the same."
Whether my reader will agree or not with the worthy fellow, my counsel, I need not say, did, and made full use of his hint. All the previous evidence was now discovered to have corroborated the last witness, except where it had been notoriously overthrown. I was extolled as a miracle of calm benevolence; and black became grey, and grey became spotless white, and the whole feeling of the court seemed changed in my favour; till the little attorney popped up his head and whispered to me:
"By George! that last witness has saved your life."
To which I answered, "Very well"—and turned stupidly back upon that nightmare thought—was Lillian in the court?
* * * * *
At last, a voice, the judge's I believe, for it was grave, gentle, almost compassionate, asked us one by one whether we had anything to say in our own defence. I recollect an indistinct murmur from one after another of the poor semi-brutes on my left; and then my attorney looking up to me, made me aware that I was expected to speak. On the moment, somehow, my whole courage returned to me. I felt that I must unburden my heart, now or never. With a sudden effort I roused myself, and looking fixedly and proudly at the reverend face opposite, began:
"The utmost offence which has been proved against me is a few bold words, producing consequences as unexpected as illogical. If the stupid ferocity with which my words were misunderstood, as by a horde of savages rather than Englishmen;—if the moral and physical condition of these prisoners at my side;—of those witnesses who have borne testimony against me, miserable white slaves, miscalled free labourers;—ay, if a single walk through the farms and cottages on which this mischief was bred, affords no excuse for one indignant sentence—"
There she was! There she had been all the time—right opposite to me, close to the judge—cold, bright, curious—smiling! And as our eyes met, she turned away, and whispered gaily something to a young man who sat beside her.
Every drop of blood in my body rushed into my forehead; the court, the windows, and the faces, whirled round and round, and I fell senseless on the floor of the dock.
* * * * *
I next recollect some room or other in the gaol, Mackaye with both my hands in his; and the rough kindly voice of the gaoler congratulating me on having "only got three years."
"But you didn't show half a good pluck," said some one. "There's two on 'em transported, took it as bold as brass, and thanked the judge for getting 'em out 'o this starving place 'free gracious for nothing," says they."
"Ah!" quoth the little attorney, rubbing his hands, "you should have seen * * * * and * * * * after the row in '42! They were the boys for the Bull Ring! Gave a barrister as good as he brought, eh, Mr. Mackaye? My small services, you remember, were of no use, really no use at all—quite ashamed to send in my little account. Managed the case themselves, like two patriotic parties as they were, with a degree of forensic acuteness, inspired by the consciousness of a noble cause—Ahem! You remember, friend M.? Grand triumphs those, eh?"
"Ay," said Sandy, "I mind them unco weel—they cost me a' my few savings, mair by token; an' mony a braw fallow paid for ither folks' sins that tide. But my puir laddie here's no made o' that stuff. He's ower thin-skinned for a patriot."
"Ah, well—this little taste of British justice will thicken his hide for him, eh?" And the attorney chuckled and winked. "He'll come out again as tough as a bull dog, and as surly too. Eh, Mr. Mackaye?—eh?"
"'Deed, then, I'm unco sair afeard that your opeenion is no a'thegither that improbable," answered Sandy with a drawl of unusual solemnity.
I was alone in my cell.
Three years' imprisonment! Thirty-six months!—one thousand and ninety-five days—and twenty-four whole hours in each of them! Well—I should sleep half the time: one-third at least. Perhaps I should not be able to sleep! To lie awake, and think—there! the thought was horrible—it was all horrible. To have three whole years cut out of my life, instead of having before me, as I had always as yet had, a mysterious Eldorado of new schemes and hopes, possible developments, possible triumphs, possible bliss—to have nothing, nothing before me but blank and stagnation, dead loss and waste: and then to go out again, and start once more where I had left off yesterday!
It should not be! I would not lose these years! I would show myself a man; they should feel my strength just when they fancied they had crushed me utterly! They might bury me, but I should rise again!—I should rise again more glorious, perhaps to be henceforth immortal, and live upon the lips of men. I would educate myself; I would read—what would I not read? These three years should be a time of sacred retirement and contemplation, as of Thebaid Anchorite, or Mahomet in his Arabian cave. I would write pamphlets that should thunder through the land, and make tyrants tremble on their thrones! All England—at least all crushed and suffering hearts—should break forth at my fiery words into one roar of indignant sympathy. No—I would write a poem; I would concentrate all my experience, my aspirations, all the hopes, and wrongs, and sorrows of the poor, into one garland of thorns—one immortal epic of suffering. What should I call it? And I set to work deliberately—such a thing is man—to think of a title.
I looked up, and my eye caught the close bars of the little window; and then came over me, for the first time, the full meaning of that word—Prison; that word which the rich use so lightly, knowing well that there is no chance, in these days, of there ever finding themselves in one; for the higher classes never break the laws—seeing that they have made them to fit themselves. Ay, I was in prison. I could not go out or come in at will. I was watched, commanded at every turn. I was a brute animal, a puppet, a doll, that children put away in a cupboard, and there it lies. And yet my whole soul was as wide, fierce, roving, struggling as ever. Horrible contradiction! The dreadful sense of helplessness, the crushing weight of necessity, seemed to choke me. The smooth white walls, the smooth white ceiling, seemed squeezing in closer and closer on me, and yet dilating into vast inane infinities, just as the merest knot of mould will transform itself, as one watches it, and nothing else, into enormous cliffs, long slopes of moor, and spurs of mountain-range. Oh, those smooth white walls and ceilings! If there had but been a print—a stain of dirt—a cobweb, to fleck their unbroken ghastliness! They stared at me, like grim, impassive, featureless formless fiends; all the more dreadful for their sleek, hypocritic cleanliness—purity as of a saint-inquisitor watching with spotless conscience the victim on the rack. They choked me—I gasped for breath, stretched out my arms, rolled shrieking on the floor—the narrow chequered glimpse of free blue sky, seen through the window, seemed to fade dimmer and dimmer, farther and farther off. I sprang up, as if to follow it—rushed to the bars, shook and wrenched at them with my thin, puny arms—and stood spell-bound, as I caught sight of the cathedral towers, standing out in grand repose against the horizontal fiery bars of sunset, like great angels at the gates of Paradise, watching in stately sorrow all the wailing and the wrong below. And beneath, beneath—the well-known roofs—Lillian's home, and all its proud and happy memories! It was but a corner of a gable, a scrap of garden, that I could see beyond intervening roofs and trees—but could I mistake them? There was the very cedar-tree; I knew its dark pyramid but too well! There I had walked by her; there, just behind that envious group of chestnuts, she was now. The light was fading; it must be six o'clock; she must be in her room now, dressing herself for dinner, looking so beautiful! And as I gazed, and gazed, all the intervening objects became transparent and vanished before the intensity of my imagination. Were my poems in her room still? Perhaps she had thrown them away—the condemned rioter's poems! Was she thinking of me? Yes—with horror and contempt. Well, at least she was thinking of me. And she would understand me at last—she must. Some day she would know all I had borne for love of her—the depth, the might, the purity of my adoration. She would see the world honouring me, in the day of my triumph, when I was appreciated at last; when I stood before the eyes of admiring men, a people's singer, a king of human spirits, great with the rank which genius gives, then she would find out what a man had loved her: then she would know the honour, the privilege of a poet's worship.
—But that trial scene.
Ay—that trial scene. That cold unmoved smile!—when she knew me, must have known me, not to be the wretch which those hired slanderers had called me. If she had cared for me—if she had a woman's heart in her at all, any pity, any justice, would she not have spoken? Would she not have called on others to speak, and clear me of the calumny? Nonsense! Impossible! She—so frail, tender, retiring—how could she speak? How did I know that she had not felt for me? It was woman's nature—duty, to conceal her feelings; perhaps that after all was the true explanation of that smile. Perhaps, too, she might have spoken—might be even now pleading for me in secret; not that I wished to be pardoned—not I—but it would be so delicious to have her, her, pleading for me! Perhaps—perhaps I might hear of her—from her! Surely she could not leave me here so close, without some token! And I actually listened, I know not how long, expecting the door to open, and a message to arrive; till, with my eyes riveted on that bit of gable, and my ears listening behind me like a hare's in her form, to catch every sound in the ward outside, I fell fast asleep, and forgot all in the heavy dreamless torpor of utter mental and bodily exhaustion.
I was awakened by the opening of my cell door and the appearance of the turnkey.
"Well, young man, all right again? You've had a long nap; and no wonder, you've had a hard time of it lately; and a good lesson, to you, too."
"How long have I slept? I do not recollect going to bed. And how came I to lie down without undressing?"
"I found you, at lock-up hours, asleep there kneeling on the chair, with your head on the window-sill; and a mercy you hadn't tumbled off and broke your back. Now, look here.—You seems a civil sort of chap; and civil gets as civil gives with me. Only don't you talk no politics. They ain't no good to nobody, except the big 'uns, wot gets their living thereby; and I should think you'd had dose enough on 'em to last for a month of Sundays. So just get yourself tidy, there's a lad, and come along with me to chapel."
I obeyed him, in that and other things; and I never received from him, or, indeed, from any one else there, aught but kindness. I have no complaint to make—but prison is prison. As for talking politics, I never, during those three years, exchanged as many sentences with any of my fellow-prisoners. What had I to say to them? Poachers and petty thieves—the scum of misery, ignorance, and rascality throughout the country. If my heart yearned toward them at times, it was generally shut close by the exclusive pride of superior intellect and knowledge. I considered it, as it was, a degradation to be classed with such; never asking myself how far I had brought that degradation on myself; and I loved to show my sense of injustice by walking, moody and silent, up and down a lonely corner of the yard; and at last contrived, under the plea of ill health (and, truly, I never was ten minutes without coughing), to confine myself entirely to my cell, and escape altogether the company of a class whom I despised, almost hated, as my betrayers, before whom I had cast away my pearls—questionable though they were according to Mackaye. Oh! there is in the intellectual workman's heart, as in all others, the root of Pharisaism—the lust after self-glorifying superiority, on the ground of "genius." We too are men; frail, selfish, proud as others. The days are past, thank God, when the "gentlemen button-makers," used to insist on a separate tap-room from the mere "button-makers," on the ground of earning a few more shillings per week. But we are not yet thorough democrats, my brothers; we do not yet utterly believe our own loud doctrine of equality; nor shall we till—But I must not anticipate the stages of my own experience.
* * * * *
I complain of no one, again I say—neither of judge, jury, gaolers, or chaplain. True, imprisonment was the worst possible remedy for my disease that could have been devised, if, as the new doctrine is, punishments are inflicted only to reform the criminal. What could prison do for me, but embitter and confirm all my prejudices? But I do not see what else they could have done with me while law is what it is, and perhaps ever will be; dealing with the overt acts of the poor, and never touching the subtler and more spiritual iniquities of the rich respectable. When shall we see a nation ruled, not by the law, by the Gospel; not in the letter which kills, but in the spirit which is love, forgiveness, life? When? God knows! And God does know.
* * * * *
But I did work, during those three years, for months at a time, steadily and severely; and with little profit, alas! to my temper of mind. I gorged my intellect, for I could do nothing else. The political questions which I longed to solve in some way or other, were tabooed by the well-meaning chaplain. He even forbid me a standard English work on political economy, which I had written to Mackaye to borrow for me; he was not so careful, it will be seen hereafter, with foreign books. He meant, of course, to keep my mind from what he considered at once useless and polluting; but the only effect of his method was, that all the doubts and questions remained, rankling and fierce, imperiously demanding my attention, and had to be solved by my own moody and soured meditations, warped and coloured by the strong sense of universal wrong.
Then he deluged me with tracts, weak and well-meaning, which informed me that "Christians," being "not of this world," had nothing to do with politics; and preached to me the divine right of kings, passive obedience to the powers—or impotences—that be, &c., &c., with such success as may be imagined. I opened them each, read a few sentences, and laid them by. "They were written by good men, no doubt; but men who had an interest in keeping up the present system;" at all events by men who knew nothing of my temptations, my creed, my unbelief; who saw all heaven and earth from a station antipodal to my own; I had simply nothing to do with them.
And yet, excellent man! pious, benignant, compassionate! God forbid that I should, in writing these words, allow myself a desire so base as that of disparaging thee! However thy words failed of their purpose, that bright, gentle, earnest face never appeared without bringing balm to the wounded spirit. Hadst thou not recalled me to humanity, those three years would have made a savage and madman of me. May God reward thee hereafter! Thou hast thy reward on earth in the gratitude of many a broken heart bound up, of drunkards sobered, thieves reclaimed, and outcasts taught to look for a paternal home denied them here on earth! While such thy deeds, what matter thine opinions?
But alas! (for the truth must be told, as a warning to those who have to face the educated working men,) his opinions did matter to himself. The good man laboured under the delusion, common enough, of choosing his favourite weapons from his weakest faculty; and the very inferiority of his intellect prevented him from seeing where his true strength lay. He would argue; he would try and convert me from scepticism by what seemed to him reasoning, the common figure of which was, what logicians, I believe, call begging the question; and the common method, what they call ignoratio elenchi—shooting at pigeons, while crows are the game desired. He always started by demanding my assent to the very question which lay at the bottom of my doubts. He would wrangle and wrestle blindly up and down, with tears of earnestness in his eyes, till he had lost his temper, as far as it was possible for one so angel-guarded as he seemed to be; and then, when he found himself confused, contradicting his own words, making concessions at which he shuddered, for the sake of gaining from me assents which he found out the next moment I understood in quite a different sense from his, he would suddenly shift his ground, and try to knock me down authoritatively with a single text of Scripture; when all the while I wanted proof that Scripture had any authority at all.
He carefully confined himself, too, throughout, to the dogmatic phraseology of the pulpit; while I either did not understand, or required justification for, the strange, far-fetched, technical meanings, which he attached to his expressions. If he would only have talked English!—if clergymen would only preach in English!—and then they wonder that their sermons have no effect! Their notion seems to be, as my good chaplain's was, that the teacher is not to condescend to the scholar, much less to become all things to all men, if by any means he may save some; but that he has a right to demand that the scholar shall ascend to him before he is taught; that he shall raise himself up of his own strength into the teacher's region of thought as well as feeling; to do for himself, in short, under penalty of being called an unbeliever, just what the preacher professes to do for him.
At last, he seemed dimly to discover that I could not acquiesce in his conclusions, while I denied his premises; and so he lent me, in an ill-starred moment, "Paley's Evidences," and some tracts of the last generation against Deism. I read them, and remained, as hundreds more have done, just where I was before.
"Was Paley," I asked, "a really good and pious man?"
The really good and pious man hemmed and hawed.
"Because, if he was not, I can't trust a page of his special pleading, let it look as clever as the whole Old Bailey in one."
Besides, I never denied the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, or his apostles. I doubted the myths and doctrines, which I believed to have been gradually built up round the true story. The fact was, he was, like most of his class, "attacking extinct Satans," fighting manfully against Voltaire, Volney, and Tom Paine; while I was fighting for Strauss, Hennell, and Emerson. And, at last, he gave me up for some weeks as a hopeless infidel, without ever having touched the points on which I disbelieved. He had never read Strauss—hardly even heard of him; and, till clergymen make up their minds to do that, and to answer Strauss also, they will, as he did, leave the heretic artisan just where they found him.
The bad effect which all this had on my mind may easily be conceived. I felt myself his intellectual superior. I tripped him up, played with him, made him expose his weaknesses, till I really began to despise him. May Heaven forgive me for it! But it was not till long afterwards that I began, on looking back, to see how worthless was any superior cleverness of mine before his superior moral and spiritual excellence. That was just what he would not let me see at the time. I was worshipping intellect, mere intellect; and thence arose my doubts; and he tried to conquer them by exciting the very faculty which had begotten them. When will the clergy learn that their strength is in action, and not in argument? If they are to reconvert the masses, it must be by noble deeds, as Carlyle says; "not by noisy theoretic laudation of a Church, but by silent practical demonstration of the Church."
* * * * *
But, the reader may ask, where was your Bible all this time?
Yes—there was a Bible in my cell—and the chaplain read to me, both privately and in chapel, such portions of it as he thought suited my case, or rather his utterly-mistaken view thereof. But, to tell the truth, I cared not to read or listen. Was it not the book of the aristocrats—of kings and priests, passive obedience, and the slavery of the intellect? Had I been thrown under the influence of the more educated Independents in former years, I might have thought differently. They, at least, have contrived, with what logical consistence I know not, to reconcile orthodox Christianity with unflinching democratic opinions. But such was not my lot. My mother, as I said in my first chapter, had become a Baptist; because she believed that sect, and as I think rightly, to be the only one which logically and consistently carries out the Calvinistic theory; and now I looked back upon her delight in Gideon and Barak, Samson and Jehu, only as the mystic application of rare exceptions to the fanaticism of a chosen few—the elect—the saints, who, as the fifth-monarchy men held, were one day to rule the world with a rod of iron. And so I fell—willingly, alas!—into the vulgar belief about the politics of Scripture, common alike—strange unanimity!—to Infidel and Churchman. The great idea that the Bible is the history of mankind's deliverance from all tyranny, outward as well as inward; of the Jews, as the one free constitutional people among a world of slaves and tyrants; of their ruin, as the righteous fruit of a voluntary return to despotism; of the New Testament, as the good news that freedom, brotherhood, and equality, once confided only to Judaea and to Greece, and dimly seen even there, was henceforth to be the right of all mankind, the law of all society—who was there to tell me that? Who is there now to go forth and tell it to the millions who have suffered, and doubted, and despaired like me, and turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come? Again I ask—who will go forth and preach that Gospel, and save his native land?
But, as I said before, I read, and steadily. In the first place, I, for the first time in my life, studied Shakspeare throughout; and found out now the treasure which I had overlooked. I assure my readers I am not going to give a lecture on him here, as I was minded to have done. Only, as I am asking questions, who will write us a "People's Commentary on Shakspeare"?
Then I waded, making copious notes and extracts, through the whole of Hume, and Hallam's "Middle Ages," and "Constitutional History," and found them barren to my soul. When (to ask a third and last question) will some man, of the spirit of Carlyle—one who is not ashamed to acknowledge the intervention of a God, a Providence, even of a devil, in the affairs of men—arise, and write a "People's History of England"?
Then I laboured long months at learning French, for the mere purpose of reading French political economy after my liberation. But at last, in my impatience, I wrote to Sandy to send me Proudhon and Louis Blanc, on the chance of their passing the good chaplain's censorship—and behold, they passed! He had never heard their names! He was, I suspect, utterly ignorant of French, and afraid of exposing his ignorance by venturing to criticise. As it was, I was allowed peaceable possession of them till within a few months of my liberation, with such consequences as may be imagined: and then, to his unfeigned terror and horror, he discovered, in some periodical, that he had been leaving in my hands books which advocated "the destruction of property," and therefore, in his eyes, of all which is moral or sacred in earth or heaven! I gave them up without a struggle, so really painful was the good soul's concern and the reproaches which he heaped, not on me—he never reproached me in his life—but on himself, for having so neglected his duty.
Then I read hard for a few months at physical science—at Zoology and Botany, and threw it aside again in bitterness of heart. It was too bitter to be tantalized with the description of Nature's wondrous forms, and I there a prisoner between those four white walls.
Then I set to work to write an autobiography—at least to commit to paper in regular order the most striking incidents and conversations which I could recollect, and which I had noted down as they occurred in my diary. From that source I have drawn nearly the whole of my history up to this point. For the rest I must trust to memory—and, indeed, the strange deeds and sufferings, and yet stranger revelations, of the last few months, have branded themselves deep enough upon my brain. I need not hope, or fear, that aught of them should slip my memory.
* * * * *
So went the weary time. Week after week, month after month, summer after summer, I scored the days off, like a lonely school boy, on the pages of a calendar; and day by day I went to my window, and knelt there, gazing at the gable and the cedar-tree. That was my only recreation. Sometimes, at first, my eyes used to wander over the wide prospect of rich lowlands, and farms, and hamlets, and I used to amuse myself with conjectures about the people who lived in them, and walked where they liked on God's earth: but soon I hated to look at the country; its perpetual change and progress mocked the dreary sameness of my dungeon. It was bitter, maddening, to see the grey boughs grow green with leaves, and the green fade to autumnal yellow, and the grey boughs reappear again, and I still there! The dark sleeping fallows bloomed with emerald blades of corn, and then the corn grew deep and crisp, and blackened before the summer breeze, in "waves of shadow," as Mr. Tennyson says in one of his most exquisite lyrics; and then the fields grew white to harvest day by day, and I saw the rows of sheaves rise one by one, and the carts crawling homeward under their load. I could almost hear the merry voices of the children round them—children that could go into the woods, and pick wild flowers, and I still there! No—I would look at nothing but the gable and the cedar-tree, and the tall cathedral towers; there was no change in them—they did not laugh at me.
But she who lived beneath them? Months and seasons crawled along, and yet no sign or hint of her! I was forgotten, forsaken! And yet I gazed, and gazed. I could not forget her; I could not forget what she had been to me. Eden was still there, though I was shut out from it for ever: and so, like a widower over the grave of her he loves, morning and evening I watched the gable and the cedar-tree.
And my cousin? Ah, that was the thought, the only thought, which made my life intolerable! What might he not be doing in the meantime? I knew his purpose, I knew his power. True, I had never seen a hint, a glance, which could have given him hope; but he had three whole years to win her in—three whole years, and I fettered, helpless, absent! "Fool! could I have won her if I had been free? At least, I would have tried: we would have fought it fairly out, on even ground; we would have seen which was the strongest, respectability and cunning, or the simplicity of genius. But now!"—And I tore at the bars of the window, and threw myself on the floor of my cell, and longed to die.
THE NEW CHURCH.
In a poor suburb of the city, which I could see well enough from my little window, a new Gothic church was building. When I first took up my abode in the cell, it was just begun—the walls had hardly risen above the neighbouring sheds and garden-fences. But month after month I had watched it growing; I had seen one window after another filled with tracery, one buttress after another finished off with its carved pinnacle; then I had watched the skeleton of the roof gradually clothed in tiling; and then the glazing of the windows—some of them painted, I could see, from the iron network which was placed outside them the same day. Then the doors were put up—were they going to finish that handsome tower? No: it was left with its wooden cap, I suppose for further funds. But the nave, and the deep chancel behind it, were all finished, and surmounted by a cross,—and beautifully enough the little sanctuary looked, in the virgin-purity of its spotless freestone. For eighteen months I watched it grow before my eyes—and I was still in my cell!
And then there was a grand procession of surplices and lawn sleeves; and among them I fancied I distinguished the old dean's stately figure, and turned my head away, and looked again, and fancied I distinguished another figure—it must have been mere imagination—the distance was far too great for me to identify any one; but I could not get out of my head the fancy—say rather, the instinct—that it was my cousin's; and that it was my cousin whom I saw daily after that, coming out and going in—when the bell rang to morning and evening prayers—for there were daily services there, and saint's day services, and Lent services, and three services on a Sunday, and six or seven on Good Friday and Easter-day. The little musical bell above the chancel-arch seemed always ringing: and still that figure haunted me like a nightmare, ever coming in and going out about its priestly calling—and I still in my cell! If it should be he!—so close to her! I shuddered at the thought; and, just because it was so intolerable, it clung to me, and tormented me, and kept me awake at nights, till I became utterly unable to study quietly, and spent hours at the narrow window, watching for the very figure I loathed to see.
And then a Gothic school-house rose at the churchyard end, and troops of children poured in and out, and women came daily for alms; and when the frosts came on, every morning I saw a crowd, and soup carried away in pitchers, and clothes and blankets given away; the giving seemed endless, boundless; and I thought of the times of the Roman Empire and the "sportula," when the poor had got to live upon the alms of the rich, more and more, year by year—till they devoured their own devourers, and the end came; and I shuddered. And yet it was a pleasant sight, as every new church is to the healthy-minded man, let his religious opinions be what they may. A fresh centre of civilization, mercy, comfort for weary hearts, relief from frost and hunger; a fresh centre of instruction, humanizing, disciplining, however meagre in my eyes, to hundreds of little savage spirits; altogether a pleasant sight, even to me there in my cell. And I used to wonder at the wasted power of the Church—her almost entire monopoly of the pulpits, the schools, the alms of England; and then thank Heaven, somewhat prematurely, that she knew and used so little her vast latent power for the destruction of liberty.
Or for its realization?
Ay, that is the question! We shall not see it solved—at least, I never shall.
But still that figure haunted me; all through that winter I saw it, chatting with old women, patting children's heads, walking to the church with ladies; sometimes with a tiny, tripping figure.—I did not dare to let myself fancy who that might be.
* * * * *
December passed, and January came. I had now only two months more before my deliverance. One day I seemed to myself to have passed a whole life in that narrow room; and the next, the years and months seemed short and blank as a night's sleep on waking; and there was no salient point in all my memory, since that last sight of Lillian's smile, and the faces and the window whirling round me as I fell.
At last a letter came from Mackaye. "Ye speired for news o' your cousin—an' I find he's a neebour o' yours; ca'd to a new kirk i' the city o' your captivity—an' na stickit minister he makes, forbye he's ane o' these new Puseyite sectarians, to judge by your uncle's report. I met the auld bailie-bodie on the street, and was gaun to pass him by, but he was sae fou o' good news he could na but stop an' ha' a crack wi' me on politics; for we ha' helpit thegither in certain municipal clamjamfries o' late. An' he told me your cousin wins honour fast, an' maun surely die a bishop—puir bairn! An' besides that he's gaun to be married the spring. I dinna mind the leddy's name; but there's tocher wi' lass o' his I'll warrant. He's na laird o' Cockpen, for a penniless lass wi' a long pedigree."
As I sat meditating over this news—which made the torment of suspicion and suspense more intolerable than ever—behold a postscript added some two days after.
"Oh! Oh! Sic news! gran news! news to make baith the ears o' him that heareth it to tingle. God is God, an' no the deevil after a'! Louis Philippe is doun!—doun, doun, like a dog, and the republic's proclaimed, an' the auld villain here in England, they say, a wanderer an' a beggar. I ha' sent ye the paper o' the day. Ps.—73, 37, 12. Oh, the Psalms are full o't! Never say the Bible's no true, mair. I've been unco faithless mysel', God forgive me! I got grieving to see the wicked in sic prosperity. I did na gang into the sanctuary eneugh, an' therefore I could na see the end of these men—how He does take them up suddenly after all, an' cast them doun: vanish they do, perish, an' come to a fearful end. Yea, like as a dream when one awaketh, so shalt thou make their image to vanish out of the city. Oh, but it's a day o' God! An' yet I'm sair afraid for they puir feckless French. I ha' na faith, ye ken, in the Celtic blude, an' its spirit o' lees. The Saxon spirit o' covetize is a grewsome house-fiend, and sae's our Norse speerit o' shifts an' dodges; but the spirit o' lees is warse. Puir lustful Reubens that they are!—unstable as water, they shall not excel. Well, well—after all, there is a God that judgeth the earth; an' when a man kens that, he's learnt eneugh to last him till he dies."
THE TOWER OF BABEL.
A glorious people vibrated again The lightning of the nations; Liberty From heart to heart, from tower to tower, o'er France, Scattering contagious fire into the sky, Gleamed. My soul spurned the chains of its dismay; And in the rapid plumes of song Clothed itself sublime and strong.
Sublime and strong? Alas! not so. An outcast, heartless, faithless, and embittered, I went forth from my prison.—But yet Louis Philippe had fallen! And as I whirled back to Babylon and want, discontent and discord, my heart was light, my breath came thick and fierce.—The incubus of France had fallen! and from land to land, like the Beacon-fire which leaped from peak to peak proclaiming Troy's downfall, passed on the glare of burning idols, the crash of falling anarchies. Was I mad, sinful? Both—and yet neither. Was I mad and sinful, if on my return to my old haunts, amid the grasp of loving hands and the caresses of those who called me in their honest flattery a martyr and a hero—what things, as Carlyle says, men will fall down and worship in their extreme need!—was I mad and sinful, if daring hopes arose, and desperate words were spoken, and wild eyes read in wild eyes the thoughts they dare not utter? "Liberty has risen from the dead, and we too will be free!"
Yes, mad and sinful; therefore are we as we are. Yet God has forgiven us—perhaps so have those men whose forgiveness is alone worth having.
Liberty? And is that word a dream, a lie, the watchword only of rebellious fiends, as bigots say even now? Our forefathers spoke not so—
The shadow of her coming fell On Saxon Alfred's olive-tinctured brow.
Had not freedom, progressive, expanding, descending, been the glory and the strength of England? Were Magna Charta and the Habeas Corpus Act, Hampden's resistance to ship-money, and the calm, righteous might of 1688—were they all futilities and fallacies? Ever downwards, for seven hundred years, welling from the heaven-watered mountain peaks of wisdom, had spread the stream of liberty. The nobles had gained their charter from John; the middle classes from William of Orange: was not the time at hand, when from a queen, more gentle, charitable, upright, spotless, than had ever sat on the throne of England, the working masses in their turn should gain their Charter?
If it was given, the gift was hers: if it was demanded to the uttermost, the demand would be made, not on her, but on those into whose hands her power had passed, the avowed representatives neither of the Crown nor of the people, but of the very commercial class which was devouring us.
Such was our dream. Insane and wicked were the passions which accompanied it; insane and wicked were the means we chose; and God in his mercy to us, rather than to Mammon, triumphant in his iniquity, fattening his heart even now for a spiritual day of slaughter more fearful than any physical slaughter which we in our folly had prepared for him—God frustrated them.
We confess our sins. Shall the Chartist alone be excluded from the promise, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness"?
And yet, were there no excuses for us? I do not say for myself—and yet three years of prison might be some excuse for a soured and harshened spirit—but I will not avail myself of the excuse; for there were men, stancher Chartists than ever I had been—men who had suffered not only imprisonment, but loss of health and loss of fortune; men whose influence with the workmen was far wider than my own, and whose temptations were therefore all the greater, who manfully and righteously kept themselves aloof from all those frantic schemes, and now reap their reward, in being acknowledged as the true leaders of the artizans, while the mere preachers of sedition are scattered to the winds.
But were there no excuses for the mass? Was there no excuse in the spirit with which the English upper classes regarded the continental revolutions? No excuse in the undisguised dislike, fear, contempt, which they expressed for that very sacred name of Liberty, which had been for ages the pride of England and her laws—
The old laws of England, they Whose reverend heads with age are grey— Children of a wiser day— And whose solemn voice must be Thine own echo, Liberty!
for which, according to the latest improvements, is now substituted a bureaucracy of despotic commissions? Shame upon those who sneered at the very name of her to whom they owed the wealth they idolize! who cry down liberty because God has given it to them in such priceless abundance, boundless as the sunshine and the air of heaven, that they are become unconscious of it as of the elements by which they live! Woe to those who despise the gift of God! Woe to those who have turned His grace into a cloak for tyranny; who, like the Jews of old, have trampled under foot His covenant at the very moment that they were asserting their exclusive right to it, and denying his all-embracing love!
And were there no excuses, too, in the very arguments which nineteen-twentieths of the public press used to deter us from following the example of the Continent? If there had been one word of sympathy with the deep wrongs of France, Germany, Italy, Hungary—one attempt to discriminate the righteous and God-inspired desire of freedom, from man's furious and self-willed perversion of it, we would have listened to them. But, instead, what was the first, last, cardinal, crowning argument?—"The cost of sedition!" "Revolutions interfered with trade!" and therefore they were damnable! Interfere with the food and labour of the millions? The millions would take the responsibility of that upon themselves. If the party of order cares so much for the millions, why had they left them what they are? No: it was with the profits of the few that revolutions interfered; with the Divine right, not so much of kings, but of money-making. They hampered Mammon, the very fiend who is devouring the masses. The one end and aim of existence was, the maintenance of order—of peace and room to make money in. And therefore Louis' spies might make France one great inquisition-hell; German princelets might sell their country piecemeal to French or Russian! the Hungarian constitution, almost the counterpart of our own, might be sacrificed at the will of an idiot or villain; Papal misgovernment might continue to render Rome a worse den of thieves than even Papal superstition could have made it without the addition of tyranny; but Order must be maintained, for how else could the few make money out of the labour of the many? These were their own arguments. Whether they were likely to conciliate the workman to the powers that be, by informing him that those powers were avowedly the priests of the very system which was crushing him, let the reader judge.
The maintenance of order—of the order of disorder—that was to be the new God before whom the working classes were to bow in spell-bound awe; an idol more despicable and empty than even that old divine right of tyrants, newly applied by some well-meaning but illogical personages, not merely as of old to hereditary sovereigns, but to Louis Philippes, usurers, upstarts—why not hereafter to demagogues? Blindfold and desperate bigots! who would actually thus, in the imbecility of terror, deify that very right of the physically strongest and cunningest, which, if anything, is antichrist itself. That argument against sedition, the workmen heard; and, recollecting 1688, went on their way, such as it was, unheeding.
One word more, even at the risk of offending many whom I should be very sorry to offend, and I leave this hateful discussion. Let it ever be remembered that the working classes considered themselves deceived, cajoled, by the passers of the Reform Bill; that they cherished—whether rightly or wrongly it is now too late to ask—a deep-rooted grudge against those who had, as they thought, made their hopes and passions a stepping-stone towards their own selfish ends. They were told to support the Reform Bill, not only on account of its intrinsic righteousness—which God forbid that I should deny—but because it was the first of a glorious line of steps towards their enfranchisement; and now the very men who told them this, talked peremptorily of "finality," showed themselves the most dogged and careless of conservatives, and pooh-poohed away every attempt at further enlargement of the suffrage. They were told to support it as the remedy for their own social miseries; and behold those miseries were year by year becoming deeper, more wide-spread, more hopeless; their entreaties for help and mercy, in 1842, and at other times, had been lazily laid by unanswered; and almost the only practical efforts for their deliverance had been made by a Tory nobleman, the honoured and beloved Lord Ashley. They found that they had, in helping to pass the Reform Bill, only helped to give power to the two very classes who crushed them—the great labour kings, and the small shopkeepers; that they had blindly armed their oppressors with the additional weapon of an ever-increasing political majority. They had been told, too (let that never be forgotten), that in order to carry the Reform Bill, sedition itself was lawful; they had seen the master-manufacturers themselves give the signal for the plug-riots by stopping their mills. Their vanity, ferocity, sense of latent and fettered power, pride of numbers, and physical strength, had been nattered and pampered by those who now only talked of grape-shot and bayonets. They had heard the Reform Bill carried by the threats of men of rank and power, that "Manchester should march upon London." Were their masters, then, to have a monopoly in sedition, as in everything else? What had been fair in order to compel the Reform Bill, must surely be fairer still to compel the fulfilment of Reform Bill pledges? And so, imitating the example of those whom they fancied had first used and then deserted them, they, in their madness, concocted a rebellion, not primarily against the laws and constitution of their land, but against Mammon—against that accursed system of competition, slavery of labour, absorption of the small capitalists by the large ones, and of the workman by all, which is, and was, and ever will be, their internecine foe. Silly and sanguinary enough were their schemes, God knows! and bootless enough had they succeeded; for nothing nourishes in the revolutionary atmosphere but that lowest embodiment of Mammon, "the black pool of Agio," and its money-gamblers. But the battle remains still to be fought; the struggle is internecine; only no more with weapons of flesh and blood, but with a mightier weapon—with that association which is the true bane of Mammon—the embodiment of brotherhood and love.
We should have known that before the tenth of April? Most true, reader—but wrath is blindness. You too surely have read more wisdom than you have practised yet; seeing that you have your Bible, and perhaps, too, Mill's "Political Economy." Have you perused therein the priceless Chapter "On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes"? If not, let me give you the reference—vol. ii, p. 315, of the Second Edition. Read it, thou self-satisfied Mammon, and perpend; for it is both a prophecy and a doom!
* * * * *
But, the reader may ask, how did you, with your experience of the reason, honesty, moderation, to be expected of mobs, join in a plan which, if it had succeeded, must have let loose on those "who had" in London, the whole flood of those "who had not"?
The reader shall hear. My story may be instructive, as a type of the feelings of thousands beside me.
It was the night after I had returned from D * * * *; sitting in Crossthwaite's little room, I had heard with mingled anxiety and delight the plans of my friends. They were about to present a monster petition in favour of the Charter; to accompany it en masse to the door of the House of Commons; and if it was refused admittance—why, then, ulterior measures were the only hope. "And they will refuse it," said Crossthwaite; "they're going, I hear, to revive some old law or other, that forbids processions within such and such a distance of the House of Commons. Let them forbid! To carry arms, to go in public procession, to present petitions openly, instead of having them made a humbug of by being laid on the table unopened by some careless member—they're our rights, and we'll have them. There's no use mincing the matter: it's just like the old fable of the farmer and his wheat—if we want it reaped, we must reap it ourselves. Public opinion, and the pressure from without, are the only things which have carried any measure in England for the last twenty years. Neither Whigs nor Tories deny it: the governed govern their governors—that's the 'ordre du jour' just now—and we'll have our turn at it! We'll give those House of Commons oligarchs—those tools of the squires and shopkeepers—we'll give them a taste of pleasure from without, as shall make the bar of the house crack again. And then to be under arms, day and night, till the Charter's granted."
"And if it is refused?"
"Fight! that's the word, and no other. There's no other hope. No Charter,—No social reforms! We must give them ourselves, for no one else will. Look there, and judge for yourself!"
He pulled a letter out from among his papers, and threw it across to me.
"That came while you were in gaol. There don't want many words about it. We sent up a memorial to government about the army and police clothing. We told 'em how it was the lowest, most tyrannous, most ill-paid of all the branches of slop-making; how men took to it only when they were starved out of everything else. We entreated them to have mercy on us—entreated them to interfere between the merciless contractors and the poor wretches on whose flesh and blood contractors, sweaters, and colonels, were all fattening: and there's the answer we got. Look at it; read it! Again and again I've been minded to placard it on the walls, that all the world might see the might and the mercies of the government. Read it! 'Sorry to say that it is utterly out of the power of her Majesty's * * * *s to interfere—as the question of wages rests entirely between the contractor and the workmen.'"
"He lies!" I said. "If it did, the workmen might put a pistol to the contractor's head, and say—'You shall not tempt the poor, needy, greedy, starving workers to their own destruction, and the destruction of their class; you shall not offer these murderous, poisonous prices. If we saw you offering our neighbour a glass of laudanum, we would stop you at all risks—and we will stop you now.' No! no! John, the question don't lie between workman and contractor, but between workman and contractor-plus-grape-and-bayonets!"
"Look again. There's worse comes after that. 'If government did interfere, it would not benefit the workman, as his rate of wages depends entirely on the amount of competition between the workmen themselves.' Yes, my dear children, you must eat each other; we are far too fond parents to interfere with so delightful an amusement! Curse them—sleek, hard-hearted, impotent do-nothings! They confess themselves powerless against competition—powerless against the very devil that is destroying us, faster and faster every year! They can't help us on a single point. They can't check population; and if they could, they can't get rid of the population which exists. They daren't give us a comprehensive emigration scheme. They daren't lift a finger to prevent gluts in the labour market. They daren't interfere between slave and slave, between slave and tyrant. They are cowards, and like cowards they shall fall!"
"Ay—like cowards they shall fall!" I answered; and from that moment I was a rebel and a conspirator.
"And will the country join us?"
"The cities will; never mind the country. They are too weak to resist their own tyrants—and they are too weak to resist us. The country's always drivelling in the background. A country-party's sure to be a party of imbecile bigots. Nobody minds them."
I laughed. "It always was so, John. When Christianity first spread, it was in the cities—till a pagan, a villager, got to mean a heathen for ever and ever."
"And so it was in the French revolution; when Popery had died out of all the rest of France, the priests and the aristocrats still found their dupes in the remote provinces."
"The sign of a dying system that, to be sure. Woe to Toryism and the Church of England, and everything else, when it gets to boasting that its stronghold is still the hearts of the agricultural poor. It is the cities, John, the cities, where the light dawns first—where man meets man, and spirit quickens spirit, and intercourse breeds knowledge, and knowledge sympathy, and sympathy enthusiasm, combination, power irresistible; while the agriculturists remain ignorant, selfish, weak, because they are isolated from each other. Let the country go. The towns shall win the Charter for England! And then for social reform, sanitary reform, aedile reform, cheap food, interchange of free labour, liberty, equality, and brotherhood for ever!"
Such was our Babel-tower, whose top should reach to heaven. To understand the allurement of that dream, you must have lain, like us, for years in darkness and the pit. You must have struggled for bread, for lodging, for cleanliness, for water, for education—all that makes life worth living for—and found them becoming, year by year, more hopelessly impossible, if not to yourself, yet still to the millions less gifted than yourself; you must have sat in darkness and the shadow of death, till you are ready to welcome any ray of light, even though it should be the glare of a volcano.
A PATRIOT'S REWARD.
I never shall forget one evening's walk, as Crossthwaite and I strode back together from the Convention. We had walked on some way arm in arm in silence, under the crushing and embittering sense of having something to conceal—something, which if those who passed us so carelessly in the street had known—! It makes a villain and a savage of a man, that consciousness of a dark, hateful secret. And it was a hateful one!—a dark and desperate necessity, which we tried to call by noble names, that faltered on our lips as we pronounced them; for the spirit of God was not in us; and instead of bright hope, and the clear fixed lodestar of duty, weltered in our imaginations a wild possible future of tumult, and flame, and blood.
"It must be done!—it shall be done!—it will be done!" burst out John, at last, in that positive, excited tone, which indicated a half disbelief of his own words. "I've been reading Macerone on street-warfare; and I see the way as clear as day."
I felt nothing but the dogged determination of despair. "It must be tried, if the worst comes to the worst—but I have no hope. I read Somerville's answer to that Colonel Macerone. Ten years ago he showed it was impossible. We cannot stand against artillery; we have no arms."
"I'll tell you where to buy plenty. There's a man, Power, or Bower, he's sold hundreds in the last few days; and he understands the matter. He tells us we're certain, safe. There are hundreds of young men in the government offices ready to join, if we do but succeed at first. It all depends on that. The first hour settles the fate of a revolution."
"If we succeed, yes—the cowardly world will always side with the conquering party; and we shall have every pickpocket and ruffian in our wake, plundering in the name of liberty and order."
"Then we'll shoot them like dogs, as the French did! 'Mort aux voleurs' shall be the word!"
"Unless they shoot us. The French had a national guard, who had property to lose, and took care of it. The shopkeepers here will be all against us; they'll all be sworn in special constables, to a man; and between them and the soldiers, we shall have three to one upon us."
"Oh! that Power assures me the soldiers will fraternize. He says there are three regiments at least have promised solemnly to shoot their officers, and give up their arms to the mob."
"Very important, if true—and very scoundrelly, too, I'd sooner be shot myself by fair fighting, than see officers shot by cowardly treason."
"Well, it's ugly. I like fair play as well as any man. But it can't be done. There must be a surprise, a coup de main, as the French say" (poor Crossthwaite was always quoting French in those days). "Once show our strength—burst upon the tyrants like a thunderclap; and then!—
"Men of England, heirs of glory, Heroes of unwritten story, Rise, shake off the chains like dew Which in sleep have fallen on you! Ye are many, they are few!"
"That's just what I am afraid they are not. Let's go and find out this man Power, and hear his authority for the soldier-story. Who knows him?"
"Why, Mike Kelly and he had been a deal together of late, Kelly's a true heart now—a true Irishman ready for anything. Those Irish are the boys, after all—though I don't deny they do bluster and have their way a little too much in the Convention. But still Ireland's wrongs are England's. We have the same oppressors. We must make common cause against the tyrants."
"I wish to Heaven they would just have stayed at home, and ranted on the other side of the water; they had their own way there, and no Mammonite middle-class to keep them down; and yet they never did an atom of good. Their eloquence is all bombast, and what's more, Crossthwaite, though there are some fine fellows among them, nine-tenths are liars—liars in grain, and you know it—"
Crossthwaite turned angrily to me. "Why, you are getting as reactionary as old Mackaye himself!"
"I am not—and he is not. I am ready to die on a barricade to-morrow, if it comes to that. I haven't six months' lease of life—I am going into consumption; and a bullet is as easy a death as spitting up my lungs piecemeal. But I despise these Irish, because I can't trust them—they can't trust each other—they can't trust themselves. You know as well as I that you can't get common justice done in Ireland, because you can depend upon no man's oath. You know as well as I, that in Parliament or out, nine out of ten of them will stick at no lie, even if it has been exposed and refuted fifty times over, provided it serves the purpose of the moment; and I often think that, after all, Mackaye's right, and what's the matter with Ireland is just that and nothing else—that from the nobleman in his castle to the beggar on his dunghill, they are a nation of liars, John Crossthwaite!"
"Sandy's a prejudiced old Scotchman."
"Sandy's a wiser man than you or I, and you know it."
"Oh, I don't deny that; but he's getting old, and I think he has been failing in his mind of late."
"I'm afraid he's failing in his health; he has never been the same man since they hooted him down in John Street. But he hasn't altered in his opinions one jot; and I'll tell you what—I believe he's right. I'll die in this matter like a man, because it's the cause of liberty; but I've fearful misgivings about it, just because Irishmen are at the head of it."
"Of course they are—they have the deepest wrongs; and that makes them most earnest in the cause of right. The sympathy of suffering, as they say themselves, has bound them to the English working man against the same oppressors."
"Then let them fight those oppressors at home, and we'll do the same: that's the true way to show sympathy. Charity begins at home. They are always crying 'Ireland for the Irish'; why can't they leave England for the English?"
"You're envious of O'Connor's power!"
"Say that again, John Crossthwaite, and we part for ever!" And I threw off his arm indignantly.
"No—but—don't let's quarrel, my dear old fellow—now, that perhaps, perhaps we may never meet again—but I can't bear to hear the Irish abused. They're noble, enthusiastic, generous fellows. If we English had half as warm hearts, we shouldn't be as we are now; and O'Connor's a glorious man, I tell you. Just think of him, the descendant of the ancient kings, throwing away his rank, his name, all he had in the world, for the cause of the suffering millions!"
"That's a most aristocratic speech, John," said I, smiling, in spite of my gloom. "So you keep a leader because he's descended from ancient kings, do you? I should prefer him just because he was not—just because he was a working man, and come of workmen's blood. We shall see whether he's stanch after all. To my mind, little Cuffy's worth a great deal more, as far as earnestness goes."
"Oh! Cuffy's a low-bred, uneducated fellow."
"Aristocrat again, John!" said I, as we went up-stairs to Kelly's room. And Crossthwaite did not answer.
There was so great a hubbub inside Kelly's room, of English, French, and Irish, all talking at once, that we knocked at intervals for full five minutes, unheard by the noisy crew; and I, in despair, was trying the handle, which was fast, when, to my astonishment, a heavy blow was struck on the panel from the inside, and the point of a sharp instrument driven right through, close to my knees, with the exclamation—
"What do you think o' that, now, in a policeman's bread-basket?"
"I think," answered I, as loud as I dare, and as near the dangerous door, "if I intended really to use it, I wouldn't make such a fool's noise about it."
There was a dead silence; the door was hastily opened, and Kelly's nose poked out; while we, in spite of the horribleness of the whole thing, could not help laughing at his face of terror. Seeing who we were he welcomed us in at once, into a miserable apartment, full of pikes and daggers, brandished by some dozen miserable, ragged, half-starved artizans. Three-fourths, I saw at once, were slop-working tailors. There was a bloused and bearded Frenchman or two; but the majority were, as was to have been expected, the oppressed, the starved, the untaught, the despairing, the insane; "the dangerous classes," which society creates, and then shrinks in horror, like Frankenstein, from the monster her own clumsy ambition has created. Thou Frankenstein Mammon! hast thou not had warnings enough, either to make thy machines like men, or stop thy bungling, and let God make them for Himself?
I will not repeat what I heard there. There is many a frantic ruffian of that night now sitting "in his right mind"—though not yet "clothed"—waiting for God's deliverance, rather than his own.
We got Kelly out of the room into the street, and began inquiring of him the whereabouts of this said Bower or Power. "He didn't know,"—the feather-headed Irishman that he was!—"Faix, by-the-by, he'd forgotten—an' he went to look for him at the place he tould him, and they didn't know sich a one there—"
"Oh, oh! Mr. Power has an alibi, then? Perhaps an alias too?"
"He didn't know his name rightly. Some said it was Brown; but he was a broth of a boy—a thrue people's man. Bedad, he gov' away arms afthen and afthen to them that couldn't buy 'em. An' he's as free-spoken—och, but he's put me into the confidence! Come down the street a bit, and I'll tell yees—I'll be Lord-Lieutenant o' Dublin Castle meself, if it succades, as shure as there's no snakes in ould Ireland, an' revenge her wrongs ankle deep in the bhlood o' the Saxon! Whirroo! for the marthyred memory o' the three hundred thousint vargens o' Wexford!"
"Hold your tongue, you ass!" said Crossthwaite, as he clapped his hand over his mouth, expecting every moment to find us all three in the Rhadamanthine grasp of a policeman; while I stood laughing, as people will, for mere disgust at the ridiculous, which almost always intermingles with the horrible.
At last, out it came—
"Bedad! we're going to do it! London's to be set o' fire in seventeen places at the same moment, an' I'm to light two of them to me own self, and make a holycrust—ay, that's the word—o' Ireland's scorpions, to sting themselves to death in circling flame—"
"You would not do such a villanous thing?" cried we, both at once.
"Bedad! but I won't harm a hair o' their heads! Shure, we'll save the women and childer alive, and run for the fire-ingins our blessed selves, and then out with the pikes, and seize the Bank and the Tower—
"An' av' I lives, I lives victhorious, An' av' I dies, my soul in glory is; Love fa—a—are—well!"
I was getting desperate: the whole thing seemed at once so horrible and so impossible. There must be some villanous trap at the bottom of it.
"If you don't tell me more about this fellow Power, Mike," said I, "I'll blow your brains out on the spot: either you or he are villains." And I valiantly pulled out my only weapon, the door key, and put it to his head.
"Och! are you mad, thin? He's a broth of a boy; and I'll tell ye. Shure he knows all about the red-coats, case he's an arthillery man himself, and that's the way he's found out his gran' combustible."
"An artilleryman?" said John. "He told me he was a writer for the press."
"Bedad, thin, he's mistaken himself intirely; for he tould me with his own mouth. And I'll show you the thing he sowld me as is to do it. Shure, it'll set fire to the stones o' the street, av' you pour a bit vitriol on it."
"Set fire to the stones? I must see that before I believe it."
"Shure an' ye shall then. Where'll I buy a bit? Sorra a shop is there open this time o' night; an' troth I forgot the name o' it intirely! Poker o' Moses, but here's a bit in my pocket!"
And out of his tattered coat-tail he lugged a flask of powder and a lump of some cheap chemical salt, whose name I have, I am ashamed to say, forgotten.
"You're a pretty fellow to keep such things in the same pocket with gunpowder!"
"Come along to Mackaye's," said Crossthwaite. "I'll see to the bottom of this. Be hanged, but I think the fellow's a cursed mouchard—some government spy!"
"Spy is he, thin? Och, the thief o' the world! I'll stab him! I'll murther him! an' burn the town afterwards, all the same."
"Unless," said I, "just as you've got your precious combustible to blaze off, up he comes from behind the corner and gives you in charge to a policeman. It's a villanous trap, you miserable fool, as sure as the moon's in heaven."
"Upon my word, I am afraid it is—and I'm trapped too."
"Blood and turf! thin, it's he that I'll trap, thin. There's two million free and inlightened Irishmen in London, to avenge my marthyrdom wi' pikes and baggonets like raving salviges, and blood for blood!"
"Like savages, indeed!" said I to Crossthwaite, "And pretty savage company we are keeping. Liberty, like poverty, makes a man acquainted with strange companions!"
"And who's made 'em savages? Who has left them savages? That the greatest nation of the earth has had Ireland in her hands three hundred years—and her people still to be savages!—if that don't justify a revolution, what does? Why, it's just because these poor brutes are what they are, that rebellion becomes a sacred duty. It's for them—for such fools, brutes, as that there, and the millions more like him, and likely to remain like him, and I've made up my mind to do or die to-morrow!"
There was a grand half-truth, distorted, miscoloured in the words, that silenced me for the time.
We entered Mackaye's door; strangely enough at that time of night, it stood wide open. What could be the matter? I heard loud voices in the inner room, and ran forward calling his name, when, to my astonishment, out past me rushed a tall man, followed by a steaming kettle, which, missing him, took full effect on Kelly's chest as he stood in the entry, filling his shoes with boiling water, and producing a roar that might have been heard at Temple Bar.
"What's the matter?"
"Have I hit him?" said the old man, in a state of unusual excitement.
"Bedad! it was the man Power! the cursed spy! An' just as I was going to slate the villain nately, came the kittle, and kilt me all over!"
"Power? He's as many names as a pickpocket, and as many callings, too, I'll warrant. He came sneaking in to tell me the sogers were a' ready to gie up their arms if I'd come forward to them to-morrow. So I tauld him, sin' he was so sure o't, he'd better gang and tak the arms himsel; an' then he let out he'd been a policeman—"
"A policeman!" said both Crossthwaite and Kelly, with strong expletives.
"A policeman doon in Manchester; I thought I kenned his face fra the first. And when the rascal saw he'd let out too much, he wanted to make out that he'd been a' along a spy for the Chartists, while he was makin' believe to be a spy o' the goovernment's. Sae when he came that far, I just up wi' the het water, and bleezed awa at him; an' noo I maun gang and het some mair for my drap toddy."
Sandy had a little vitriol in the house, so we took the combustible down into the cellar, and tried it. It blazed up: but burnt the stone as much as the reader may expect. We next tried it on a lump of wood. It just scorched the place where it lay, and then went out; leaving poor Kelly perfectly frantic with rage, terror, and disappointment. He dashed up-stairs, and out into the street, on a wild-goose chase after the rascal, and we saw no more of him that night.
I relate a simple fact. I am afraid—perhaps, for the poor workmen's sake, I should say I am glad, that it was not an unique one. Villains of this kind, both in April and in June, mixed among the working men, excited their worst passions by bloodthirsty declamations and extravagant promises of success, sold them arms; and then, like the shameless wretch on whose evidence Cuffy and Jones were principally convicted, bore witness against their own victims, unblushingly declaring themselves to have been all along the tools of the government. I entreat all those who disbelieve this apparently prodigious assertion, to read the evidence given on the trial of the John Street conspirators, and judge for themselves.
* * * * *
"The petition's filling faster than ever!" said Crossthwaite, as that evening we returned to Mackaye's little back room.
"Dirt's plenty," grumbled the old man, who had settled himself again to his pipe, with his feet on the fender, and his head half way up the chimney.
"Now, or never!" went on Crossthwaite, without minding him; "now, or never! The manufacturing districts seem more firm than ever."
"An' words cheap," commented Mackaye, sotto voce.
"Well," I said, "Heaven keep us from the necessity of ulterior measures! But what must be, must."
"The government expect it, I can tell you. They're in a pitiable funk, I hear. One regiment is ordered to Uxbridge already, because they daren't trust it. They'll find soldiers are men, I do believe, after all."
"Men they are," said Sandy; "an' therefore they'll no be fools eneugh to stan' by an' see ye pu' down a' that is, to build up ye yourselves dinna yet rightly ken what. Men? Ay, an' wi' mair common sense in them than some that had mair opportunities."
"I think I've settled everything," went on Crossthwaite, who seemed not to have heard the last speech—"settled everything—for poor Katie, I mean. If anything happens to me, she has friends at Cork—she thinks so at least—and they'd get her out to service somewhere—God knows!" And his face worked fearfully a minute.
"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!" said I.
"There are twa methods o' fulfilling that saw, I'm thinkin'. Impreemis, to shoot your neebour; in secundis, to hang yoursel."
"What do you mean by grumbling at the whole thing in this way, Mr. Mackaye? Are you, too, going to shrink back from The Cause, now that liberty is at the very doors?"
"Ou, then, I'm stanch eneuch. I ha' laid in my ain stock o' weapons for the fecht at Armageddon."
"You don't mean it? What have you got?"
"A braw new halter, an' a muckle nail. There's a gran' tough beam here ayont the ingle, will haud me a' crouse and cantie, when the time comes."
"What on earth do you mean?" asked we both together.
"Ha' ye looked into the monster-petition?"
"Of course we have, and signed it too!"
"Monster? Ay, ferlie! Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum. Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne. Leeberty, the bonnie lassie, wi' a sealgh's fud to her! I'll no sign it. I dinna consort wi' shoplifters, an' idiots, an' suckin' bairns—wi' long nose, an' short nose, an' pug nose, an' seventeen Deuks o' Wellington, let alone a baker's dizen o' Queens. It's no company, that, for a puir auld patriot!"
"Why, my dear Mackaye," said I, "you know the Reform Bill petitions were just as bad."
"And the Anti-Corn-law ones, too, for that matter," said Crossthwaite. "You know we can't help accidents; the petition will never be looked through."
"It's always been the plan with Whigs and Tories, too!"
"I ken that better than ye, I guess."
"And isn't everything fair in a good cause?" said Crossthwaite.
"Desperate men really can't be so dainty."
"How lang ha' ye learnit that deil's lee, Johnnie? Ye were no o' that mind five years agone, lad. Ha' ye been to Exeter Hall the while? A's fair in the cause o' Mammon; in the cause o' cheap bread, that means cheap wages; but in the cause o' God—wae's me, that ever I suld see this day ower again! ower again! Like the dog to his vomit—just as it was ten, twenty, fifty year agone. I'll just ha' a petition a' alane to mysel—I, an' a twa or three honest men. Besides, ye're just eight days ower time wi' it."
"What do you mean?"
"Suld ha' sent it in the 1st of April, an' no the 10th; a' fool's day wud ha' suited wi' it ferlie!"
"Mr. Mackaye," said Crossthwaite, in a passion, "I shall certainly inform the Convention of your extraordinary language!"
"Do, laddie! do, then! An' tell 'em this, too"—and, as he rose, his whole face and figure assumed a dignity, an awfulness, which I had never seen before in him—"tell them that ha' driven out * * * * and * * * *, an' every one that daur speak a word o' common sense, or common humanity—them that stone the prophets, an' quench the Spirit o' God, and love a lie, an' them that mak the same—them that think to bring about the reign o' love an' britherhood wi' pikes an' vitriol bottles, murther an' blasphemy—tell 'em that ane o' fourscore years and mair—ane that has grawn grey in the people's cause—that sat at the feet o' Cartwright, an' knelt by the death-bed o' Rabbie Burns—ane that cheerit Burdett as he went to the Touer, an' spent his wee earnings for Hunt an' Cobbett—ane that beheld the shaking o' the nations in the Ninety-three, and heard the birth-shriek o' a newborn world—ane that while he was yet a callant saw Liberty afar off, an' seeing her was glad, as for a bonny bride, an' followed her through the wilderness for threescore weary waeful years—sends them the last message that e'er he'll send on airth: tell 'em that they're the slaves o' warse than priests and kings—the slaves o' their ain lusts an' passions—the slaves o' every loud-tongued knave an' mountebank that'll pamper them in their self-conceit; and that the gude God'll smite 'em down, and bring 'em to nought, and scatter 'em abroad, till they repent, an' get clean hearts and a richt speerit within them, and learn His lesson that he's been trying to teach 'em this threescore years—that the cause o' the people is the cause o' Him that made the people; an' wae to them that tak' the deevil's tools to do his wark wi'! Gude guide us!—What was yon, Alton, laddie?"
"But I saw a spunk o' fire fa' into your bosom! I've na faith in siccan heathen omens; but auld carlins wud say it's a sign o' death within the year—save ye from it, my puir misguidit bairn! Aiblins a fire-flaught o' my een, it might be—I've had them unco often, the day—"
And he stooped down to the fire, and began to light his pipe, muttering to himself—
"Saxty years o' madness! saxty years o' madness! How lang, O Lord, before thou bring these puir daft bodies to their richt mind again?"
We stood watching him, and interchanging looks—expecting something, we knew not what.
Suddenly he sank forward on his knees, with his hands on the bars of the grate; we rushed forward, and caught him up. He turned his eyes up to me, speechless, with a ghastly expression; one side of his face was all drawn aside—and helpless as a child, he let us lift him to his bed, and there he lay staring at the ceiling.
* * * * *
Four weary days passed by—it was the night of the ninth of April. In the evening of that day his speech returned to him on a sudden—he seemed uneasy about something, and several times asked Katie the day of the month.
"Before the tenth—ay, we maun pray for that. I doubt but I'm ower hearty yet—I canna bide to see the shame o' that day—
* * * * *
"Na—I'll tak no potions nor pills—gin it were na for scruples o' conscience, I'd apocartereeze a'thegither, after the manner o' the ancient philosophers. But it's no' lawful, I misdoubt, to starve onesel."
"Here is the doctor," said Katie.
"Doctor? Wha ca'd for doctors? Canst thou administer to a mind diseased? Can ye tak long nose, an' short nose, an' snub nose, an' seventeen Deuks o' Wellington out o' my puddins? Will your castor oil, an' your calomel, an' your croton, do that? D'ye ken a medicamentum that'll put brains into workmen—? Non tribus Anti-cyrus! Tons o' hellebore—acres o' strait waistcoats—a hall police-force o' head-doctors, winna do it. Juvat insanire—this their way is their folly, as auld Benjamin o' Tudela saith of the heathen. Heigho! 'Forty years lang was he grevit wi' this generation, an' swore in his wrath that they suldna enter into his rest.' Pulse? tongue? ay, shak your lugs, an' tak your fee, an' dinna keep auld folk out o' their graves. Can ye sing?"
The doctor meekly confessed his inability.
"That's pity—or I'd gar ye sing Auld-lang-syne,—
"We twa hae paidlit in the burn—
"Aweel, aweel, aweel—"
* * * * *
Weary and solemn was that long night, as we sat there, with the crushing weight of the morrow on our mind, watching by that death-bed, listening hour after hour to the rambling soliloquies of the old man, as "he babbled of green fields"; yet I verily believe that to all of us, especially to poor little Katie, the active present interest of tending him kept us from going all but mad with anxiety and excitement. But it was weary work:—and yet, too, strangely interesting, as at times there came scraps of old Scotch love-poetry, contrasting sadly with the grim withered lips that uttered them—hints to me of some sorrow long since suffered, but never healed. I had never heard him allude to such an event before but once, on the first day of our acquaintance.
"I went to the kirk, My luve sat afore me; I trow my twa een Tauld him a sweet story.
"Aye wakin o'— Wakin aye and weary— I thocht a' the kirk Saw me and my deary.
"'Aye wakin o'!'—Do ye think, noo, we sall ha' knowledge in the next warld o' them we loved on earth? I askit that same o' Rab Burns ance; an' he said, puir chiel, he 'didna ken ower well, we maun bide and see';—bide and see—that's the gran' philosophy o' life, after a'. Aiblins folk'll ken their true freens there; an' there'll be na mair luve coft and sauld for siller—
"Gear and tocher is needit nane I' the country whaur my luve is gane.
* * * * *
"Gin I had a true freen the noo! to gang down the wynd, an' find if it war but an auld Abraham o' a blue-gown, wi' a bit crowd, or a fizzle-pipe, to play me the Bush aboon Traquair! Na, na, na; it's singing the Lord's song in a strange land, that wad be; an' I hope the application's no irreverent, for ane that was rearit amang the hills o' God, an' the trees o' the forest which he hath planted.
"Oh the broom, and the bonny yellow broom, The broom o' the Cowden-knowes.
"Hech, but she wud lilt that bonnily!
* * * * *
"Did ye ever gang listering saumons by nicht? Ou, but it's braw sport, wi' the scars an' the birks a' glowering out blude-red i' the torchlight, and the bonnie hizzies skelping an' skirling on the bank—
* * * * *
"There was a gran' leddy, a bonny leddy, came in and talked like an angel o' God to puir auld Sandy, anent the salvation o' his soul. But I tauld her no' to fash hersel. It's no my view o' human life, that a man's sent into the warld just to save his soul, an' creep out again. An' I said I wad leave the savin' o' my soul to Him that made my soul; it was in richt gude keepin' there, I'd warrant. An' then she was unco fleyed when she found I didna haud wi' the Athanasian creed. An' I tauld her, na; if He that died on cross was sic a ane as she and I teuk him to be, there was na that pride nor spite in him, be sure, to send a puir auld sinful, guideless body to eternal fire, because he didna a'thegither understand the honour due to his name."
"Who was this lady?"
He did not seem to know; and Katie had never heard of her before—"some district visitor" or other.
* * * * *
"I sair misdoubt but the auld creeds are in the right anent Him, after a'. I'd gie muckle to think it—there's na comfort as it is. Aiblins there might be a wee comfort in that, for a poor auld worn-out patriot. But it's ower late to change. I tauld her that, too, ance. It's ower late to put new wine into auld bottles. I was unco drawn to the high doctrines ance, when I was a bit laddie, an' sat in the wee kirk by my minnie an' my daddie—a richt stern auld Cameronian sort o' body he was, too; but as I grew, and grew, the bed was ower short for a man to stretch himsel thereon, an' the plaidie ower strait for a man to fauld himself therein; and so I had to gang my gate a' naked in the matter o' formulae, as Maister Tummas has it."
"Ah! do send for a priest, or a clergyman!" said Katie, who partly understood his meaning.
"Parson? He canna pit new skin on auld scars. Na bit stickit curate-laddie for me, to gang argumentin' wi' ane that's auld enough to be his gran'father. When the parsons will hear me anent God's people, then I'll hear them anent God.
"—Sae I'm wearing awa, Jean, To the land o' the leal—
"Gin I ever get thither. Katie, here, hauds wi' purgatory, ye ken! where souls are burnt clean again—like baccy pipes—
"When Bazor-brigg is ower and past, Every night and alle; To Whinny Muir thou comest at last, And God receive thy sawle.
"Gin hosen an' shoon thou gavest nane Every night and alle; The whins shall pike thee intil the bane, And God receive thy sawle.
"Amen. There's mair things aboon, as well as below, than are dreamt o' in our philosophy. At least, where'er I go, I'll meet no long nose, nor short nose, nor snub nose patriots there; nor puir gowks stealing the deil's tools to do God's wark wi'. Out among the eternities an' the realities—it's no that dreary outlook, after a', to find truth an' fact—naught but truth an' fact—e'en beside the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched!"
"God forbid!" said Katie.
"God do whatsoever shall please Him, Katie—an' that's aye gude like Himsel'. Shall no the Judge of all the earth do right—right—right?"
And murmuring that word of words to himself, over and over, more and more faintly, he turned slowly over, and seemed to slumber—
Some half hour passed before we tried to stir him. He was dead.
And the candles waned grey, and the great light streamed in through every crack and cranny, and the sun had risen on the Tenth of April. What would be done before the sun had set?
What would be done? Just what we had the might to do; and therefore, according to the formula on which we were about to act, that mights are rights, just what we had a right to do—nothing. Futility, absurdity, vanity, and vexation of spirit. I shall make my next a short chapter. It is a day to be forgotten—and forgiven.
THE TENTH OF APRIL.
And he was gone at last! Kind women, whom his unknown charities had saved from shame, laid him out duly, and closed his eyes, and bound up that face that never would beam again with genial humour, those lips that would never again speak courage and counsel to the sinful, the oppressed, the forgotten. And there he lay, the old warrior, dead upon his shield; worn out by long years of manful toil in The People's Cause; and, saddest thought of all, by disappointment in those for whom he spent his soul. True, he was aged; no one knew how old. He had said, more than eighty years; but we had shortened his life, and we knew it. He would never see that deliverance for which he had been toiling ever since the days when as a boy he had listened to Tooke and Cartwright, and the patriarchs of the people's freedom. Bitter, bitter were our thoughts, and bitter were our tears, as Crossthwaite and I stood watching that beloved face, now in death refined to a grandeur, to a youthful simplicity and delicacy, which we had never seen on it before—calm and strong—the square jaws set firm even in death—the lower lip still clenched above the upper, as if in a divine indignation and everlasting protest, even in the grave, against the devourers of the earth. Yes, he was gone—the old lion, worn out with many wounds, dead in his cage. Where could we replace him? There were gallant men amongst us, eloquent, well-read, earnest—men whose names will ring through this land ere long—men who had boon taught wisdom, even as he, by the sinfulness, the apathy, the ingratitude, as well as by the sufferings of their fellows. But where should we two find again the learning, the moderation, the long experience, above all the more than women's tenderness of him whom we had lost? And at that time, too, of all others! Alas! we had despised his counsel: wayward and fierce we would have none of his reproof; and now God has withdrawn him from us; the righteous was taken away from the evil to come. For we knew that evil was coming. We felt all along that we should not succeed. But we were desperate; and his death made us more desperate; still at the moment it drew us nearer to each other. Yes—we were rudderless upon a roaring sea, and all before us blank with lurid blinding mist: but still we were together, to live and die; and as we looked into each other's eyes, and clasped each other's hands above the dead man's face, we felt that there was love between us, as of Jonathan and David, passing the love of woman.
Few words passed. Even our passionate artizan-nature, so sensitive and voluble in general, in comparison with the cold reserve of the field-labourer and the gentleman, was hushed in silent awe between the thought of the past and the thought of the future. We felt ourselves trembling between two worlds. We felt that to-morrow must decide our destiny—and we felt rightly, though little we guessed what that destiny would be!
But it was time to go. We had to prepare for the meeting, We must be at Kennington Common within three hours at furthest; and Crossthwaite hurried away, leaving Katie and me to watch the dead.
And then came across me the thought of another deathbed—my mother's—How she had lain and lain, while I was far away—And then I wondered whether she had suffered much, or faded away at last in a peaceful sleep, as he had—And then I wondered how her corpse had looked; and pictured it to myself, lying in the little old room day after day, till they screwed the coffin down—before I came!—Cruel! Did she look as calm, as grand in death as he who lay there? And as I watched the old man's features, I seemed to trace in them the strangest likeness to my mother's. The strangest likeness! I could not shake it off. It became intense—miraculous. Was it she, or was it he, who lay there? I shook myself and rose. My loins ached, my limbs were heavy; my brain and eyes swam round. I must be over fatigued by excitement and sleeplessness. I would go down stairs into the fresh air, and shake it off.
As I came down the passage, a woman, dressed in black, was standing at the door, speaking to one of the lodgers. "And he is dead! Oh, if I had but known sooner that he was even ill!"
That voice—that figure-surely, I knew them!—them, at least, there was no mistaking! Or, was it another phantom of my disordered brain! I pushed forward to the door, and as I did so, she turned and our eyes met full. It was she—Lady Ellerton! sad, worn, transformed by widow's weeds, but that face was like no other's still. Why did I drop my eyes and draw back at the first glance like a guilty coward? She beckoned me towards her, went out into the street, and herself began the conversation, from which I shrank, I know not why.
"When did he die?"
"Just at sunrise this morning. But how came you here to visit him? Were you the lady who, as he said, came to him a few days since?"
She did not answer my question. "At sunrise this morning?—A fitting time for him to die, before he sees the ruin and disgrace of those for whom he laboured. And you, too, I hear, are taking your share in this projected madness and iniquity?"
"What right have you," I asked, bristling up at a sudden suspicion that crossed me, "to use such words about me?"
"Recollect," she answered, mildly but firmly, "your conduct, three years ago, at D * * * *."
"What," I said, "was it not proved upon my trial, that I exerted all my powers, endangered my very life, to prevent outrage in that case?"
"It was proved upon your trial," she replied, in a marked tone; "but we were informed, and alas! from authority only too good, namely, from that of an ear-witness, of the sanguinary and ferocious language which you were not afraid to use at the meeting in London, only two nights before the riot."
I turned white with rage and indignation.
"Tell me," I said—"tell me, if you have any honour, who dared to forge such an atrocious calumny! No! you need not tell me. I see well enough now. He should have told you that I exposed myself that night to insult, not by advocating, but by opposing violence, as I have always done—as I would now, were not I desperate—hopeless of any other path to liberty. And as for this coming struggle, have I not written to my cousin, humiliating as it was to me, to beg him to warn you all from me, lest—"
I could not finish the sentence.
"You wrote? He has warned us, but he never mentioned your name. He spoke of his knowledge as having been picked up by himself at personal risk to his clerical character."
"The risk, I presume, of being known to have actually received a letter from a Chartist; but I wrote—on my honour I wrote—a week ago; and received no word of answer!"
"Is this true?" she asked.
"A man is not likely to deal in useless falsehoods, who knows not whether he shall live to see the set of sun!"
"Then you are implicated in this expected insurrection?"
"I am implicated," I answered, "with the people; what they do I shall do. Those who once called themselves the patrons of the tailor-poet, left the mistaken enthusiast to languish for three years in prison, without a sign, a hint of mercy, pity, remembrance. Society has cast me off; and, in casting me off, it has sent me off to my own people, where I should have stayed from the beginning. Now I am at my post, because I am among my class. If they triumph peacefully, I triumph with them. If they need blood to gain their rights, be it so. Let the blood be upon the head of those who refuse, not those who demand. At least, I shall be with my own people. And if I die, what better thing on earth can happen to me?"
"But the law?" she said.
"Do not talk to me of law! I know it too well in practice to be moved by any theories about it. Laws are no law, but tyranny, when the few make them, in order to oppress the many by them."
"Oh!" she said, in a voice of passionate earnestness, which I had never heard from her before, "stop—for God's sake, stop! You know not what you are saying—what you are doing. Oh! that I had met you before—that I had had more time to speak to poor Mackaye! Oh! wait, wait—there is a deliverance for you! but never in this path—never. And just while I, and nobler far than I, are longing and struggling to find the means of telling you your deliverance, you, in the madness of your haste, are making it impossible!"
There was a wild sincerity in her words—an almost imploring tenderness in her tone.
"So young!" said she; "so young to be lost thus!"
I was intensely moved. I felt, I knew, that she had a message for me. I felt that hers was the only intellect in the world to which I would have submitted mine; and, for one moment, all the angel and all the devil in me wrestled for the mastery. If I could but have trusted her one moment.... No! all the pride, the spite, the suspicion, the prejudice of years, rolled back upon me. "An aristocrat! and she, too, the one who has kept me from Lillian!" And in my bitterness, not daring to speak the real thought within me, I answered with a flippant sneer—
"Yes, madam! like Cordelia, so young, yet so untender!—Thanks to the mercies of the upper classes!"
Did she turn away in indignation? No, by Heaven! there was nothing upon her face but the intensest yearning pity. If she had spoken again she would have conquered; but before those perfect lips could open, the thought of thoughts flashed across me.
"Tell me one thing! Is my cousin George to be married to ——" and I stopped.
"And yet," I said, "you wish to turn me back from dying on a barricade!" And without waiting for a reply, I hurried down the street in all the fury of despair.
* * * * *
I have promised to say little about the Tenth of April, for indeed I have no heart to do so. Every one of Mackaye's predictions came true. We had arrayed against us, by our own folly, the very physical force to which we had appealed. The dread of general plunder and outrage by the savages of London, the national hatred of that French and Irish interference of which we had boasted, armed against us thousands of special constables, who had in the abstract little or no objection to our political opinions. The practical common sense of England, whatever discontent it might feel with the existing system, refused to let it be hurled rudely down, on the mere chance of building up on its ruins something as yet untried, and even undefined. Above all, the people would not rise. Whatever sympathy they had with us, they did not care to show it. And then futility after futility exposed itself. The meeting which was to have been counted by hundreds of thousands, numbered hardly its tens of thousands; and of them a frightful proportion were of those very rascal classes, against whom we ourselves had offered to be sworn in as special constables. O'Connor's courage failed him after all. He contrived to be called away, at the critical moment, by some problematical superintendent of police. Poor Cuffy, the honestest, if not the wisest, speaker there, leapt off the waggon, exclaiming that we were all "humbugged and betrayed"; and the meeting broke up pitiably piecemeal, drenched and cowed, body and soul, by pouring rain on its way home—for the very heavens mercifully helped to quench our folly—while the monster-petition crawled ludicrously away in a hack cab, to be dragged to the floor of the House of Commons amid roars of laughter—"inextinguishable laughter," as of Tennyson's Epicurean Gods—
Careless of mankind. For they lie beside their nectar, and their bolts are hurled Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curled Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world. There they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands, Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands, Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands. But they smile, they find a music, centred in a doleful song, Steaming up, a lamentation, and an ancient tale of wrong, Like a tale of little meaning, though the words are strong Chanted by an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil, Sow the seed and reap the harvest with enduring toil, Storing little yearly dues of wheat, and wine, and oil; Till they perish, and they suffer—some, 'tis whispered, down in hell Suffer endless anguish!—
Truly—truly, great poets' words are vaster than the singers themselves suppose!
THE LOWEST DEEP.
Sullen, disappointed, desperate, I strode along the streets that evening, careless whither I went. The People's Cause was lost—the Charter a laughing-stock. That the party which monopolizes wealth, rank, and, as it is fancied, education and intelligence, should have been driven, degraded, to appeal to brute force for self-defence—that thought gave me a savage joy; but that it should have conquered by that last, lowest resource!—That the few should be still stronger than the many, or the many still too cold-hearted and coward to face the few—that sickened me. I hated the well-born young special constables whom I passed, because they would have fought. I hated the gent and shop-keeper special constables, because they would have run away. I hated my own party, because they had gone too far—because they had not gone far enough. I hated myself, because I had not produced some marvellous effect—though what that was to have been I could not tell—and hated myself all the more for that ignorance.
A group of effeminate shop-keepers passed me, shouting, "God save the Queen!" "Hypocrites!" I cried in my heart—"they mean 'God save our shops!' Liars! They keep up willingly the useful calumny, that their slaves and victims are disloyal as well as miserable!"