"Tell him the salary," interrupted the president.
"You will receive one hundred and fifty pounds per annum," continued Mr Clayton, "in addition to your travelling charges; apartments likewise, I believe"—He hesitated as if uncertain, and looked towards the president.
"Yes," replied that gentleman, "go on—coals and candles. You answer for him, Clayton—eh?"
"As I told you, sir," said my friend, "I will pledge myself for his trustiness and probity."
The remembrance of Mr Chaser's cold-hearted cruelty occured to my mind as my benefactor spoke, and tears of gratitude trembled in my eyes. The fat gentleman remarked the expression of feeling, and brought the interview to a close.
"Well, Clayton," said he, "you can talk to him. I've twenty places to go to yet. Get the paper signed, and he may begin at once. Let a lawyer draw it up. Just make yourself security for a thousand pounds—I don't suppose he'll ever have more than half that at a time in his possession—and that'll be all the society will require. He can come to me to-morrow. Now I'm off. Good-bye, my friend—'morning, young man." The last adieu was accompanied with a patronizing nod of the head, which, with the greeting on my first appearance, constituted the whole of the intercourse that passed between me and my future principal. The moment that he departed, I turned to Mr Clayton, and thanked him warmly and sincerely for all that he had accomplished for me.
"I shall leave you, sir," I added, "with mingled feelings of regret and satisfaction—regret in separating from the purest and the best of men, my friend, my counsellor, and father—but joy, because I cease to be a burden upon your charity and good nature. I carry into the world with me the example of your daily life, and my own sense of your dignified and exalted character. Both will afford me encouragement and support in the vicissitudes which yet await me. Tell me how I may better evince my gratitude, and let me gratify the one longing desire of my overflowing heart."
"Caleb," replied the minister, with solemnity, "it is true that I have been permitted to protect and serve you. It is true that, but for me, at this moment you would be beyond the reach of help and man's regard. I have brought you from the grave to life. I have led you to the waters of life, of which you may drink freely, and through which you will be made partaker with the saints, of glory everlasting. This I have done for you. Do I speak in pride? Would I rob Heaven and give the praise and honour to the creature? God forbid. I have accomplished little. I have done nothing good and praiseworthy but as the instrument of Him whose servant and whose minister I am. Not for myself, but for my Master's sake, I demand your friendship and fidelity. If I have been accounted worthy to save your soul, I am not unworthy of your loyalty and love."
"They are yours, sir. It is my happiness to offer them."
"Caleb," continued my friend, in the same tone, "you have lived with me many months. Mine is a life of privacy and retirement compared with that of other men. I strive to be useful to my fellow-creatures, and am happy if I succeed. If any one may claim immunity from slander and reproach, it is I, who have avoided diligently all appearance of offence. Yet I have not succeeded. You are about to mix again with men. You have joined the church, and you will not fail to hear me spoken of harshly and injuriously."
"Impossible!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, it would seem so, and it would be, if justice in this world accompanied men's acts. I tell you," continued Mr Clayton, flushing as he raised his voice, "there are men living now whom I have raised from beggary and want—men, indebted to me for the air they breathe, who calumniate and defame me through the world, and who will not cease to do so till I or they are sleeping in the dust. They owed me every thing, like you—their gratitude was unbounded, even as yours. What assurance have I that you will not deal as hardly by your friend as they have done, and still do?"
"Mr Clayton," I answered, eagerly, "I would lay down my life to serve you."
"I believe you to be frank and honest, Caleb. I should believe it; for I am about to pledge a heavy sum upon your integrity—and, indeed, I can but ill spare it. You ask me how I would have you show your thankfulness for what I have accomplished for you. I answer, by giving me your friendship. It is a holy word, and comprehends more than is supposed. A friend believes not ill that is spoken of him to whom he is united by mutual communion and interest; he is faithful to the end, through good report and evil, and falls, if need be, with the man to whom he has engaged his troth and given his heart."
"I am unworthy, sir," I said, "to stand in this relation with one so good, so holy as yourself. I have but a word to say—trust and confide in me. I will never deceive you."
"Let us pray," said Mr Clayton, after a long pause, sighing as he spoke, and speaking very softly—and immediately he fell upon his knees, and I, according to a practice which I had acquired at the chapel, leaned upon a chair, and turned my face to the window.
It was about a month after my installation into my new office, that business connected with the society carried me to the village of Highgate. It was late in the evening when my commission was completed, and I was enabled, after a day of excessive fatigue, to direct my steps once more homeward. The stage-coach, which set out from the village for London twice during the day, luckily for me, was appointed to make its last journey about half an hour after my engagements had set me at liberty. A mile, across fields, intervened between me and the coach-office. Short as the distance was, it was any thing but an agreeable task to get over it, with the rain spitting into my face, the boisterous wind beating me back, and the darkness of a November night confounding me at every turn. In good time, however, I reached the inn. Providence favoured me. There were but two seats unoccupied in the coach; one was already engaged by a gentleman who had requested to be taken up a mile forward; the other had just been given up by a lady who had been frightened by the storm, and had postponed her return to London to the following day. This seat I immediately secured, and in a few minutes afterwards we were on our way towards Babylon. We made but little progress. The breed of coach horses has been much improved since the period of which I write, and a journey from Highgate to London was a much more important event than a railway conductor of the present day would suppose. My companions were all men. Their conversation turned upon the topics of the day. A monetary crisis had taken place in the mercantile world, and for many days I had heard nothing spoken of but the vast losses which houses and individuals of high character and standing had incurred, and the bankruptcy with which the community had become suddenly threatened. The subject had grown stale and wearisome to me. It had little interest, in fact, for one whose humble salary of one hundred and fifty pounds per annum depended so little upon the great fluctuations of commerce, and I accordingly disposed myself for sleep as soon as the words bills, money, and bankruptcy, became the staple matter of discourse. I had scarcely established a comfortable doze before the coach stopped suddenly, and awoke me. It had halted for the last inside. A gentleman, apparently stout and well wrapped up—it was impossible to speak positively on the subject, the night was so very dark—trod his way into the vehicle over the toes of his fellow-passengers, and took his seat. The coach was once more moving towards the metropolis, and again I endeavoured to lull myself to sleep. The same expressions proceeded from the lips of the travellers, and they were growing more and more indistinct and shadowy, when I was startled all on a sudden by one of the most palpable sounds that had ever disturbed and confounded a dreamer. I sat up and listened, coughed to convince myself that I was certainly awake, and the sounds were repeated as clear and as audible as before. I would have sworn that Mr Clayton was the gentleman whom we had last picked up—that he was now in the coach with me—and was now talking, if the words which fell from the traveller had not been such as he would never have used, and the subject on which he spoke had not been one upon which Mr Clayton, I believed, was as ignorant as a child. The resemblance between the voices was so great, that I pronounced the phenomenon the most extraordinary that had ever occurred to me; and growing quite wakeful from the incident, I continued to listen to the accents of the speaker until once or twice I had almost thought it my duty to acquaint him with the remarkable fact, which he was now living to illustrate. But I held my peace, and the conversation proceeded without interruption.
"You may depend upon it," said one gentleman, "things must get worse before they'll mend. Half the mischief isn't done yet. There's a report to-day that —— cannot hold out much longer. It will be a queer thing if they smash. Many petty tradesmen bank with that house, who will be ruined if they go. Things are certainly in a very sweet state."
"You do not mean," said the voice, trembling with emotion or alarm, "that the house of —— threatens to give way? I have been in the city to-day, and did not hear a syllable of this. I think you must he mistaken. Good God, how frightful!"
Well, it was really wonderful! I could have sworn that Mr Clayton was the speaker. Had he not concluded with the ejaculation, my doubt would certainly have ceased. That exclamation, of course, removed the supposition entirely.
"You'll find I'm right, sir," was the reply of the traveller who spoke first. "At least, I fear you will. I hope I may be wrong. If you have any thing in their hands, you would find it worth your while, I think, to pay them an early visit to-morrow morning. If there's a run upon them, nothing in the world can save them."
"And is it true," asked the voice, "that —— stopped payment on Tuesday? I came to town from Warwickshire only yesterday, and this is the first news that I heard."
"Oh, there's no doubt about that," answered a third person; "but that surprized nobody. The only wonder is, how he managed to keep afloat so long. He has been up to the chin for the last twelvemonth and more. I hope you don't lose there, sir?"
"Mine has been the devil's luck this year," continued the voice, in a bitter savage tone, that never belonged to Mr Clayton. "Yes, gentlemen, I lose heavily by them both. But never mind, never mind, one shall wince for it, if he has been playing ducks and drakes with my good money. He shall feel the scourge, depend upon it. I'll never leave him till he has paid me back in groans. Heaven, what a sum!"
The voice said no more during the journey. The other gentlemen having lost nothing by the various failures, discussed matters with philosophy and praiseworthy decorum. Sometimes, indeed, "the third person" grew slightly facetious and jocose when he represented to himself what he termed "the queer cut" that some old friend would display on presenting his cheque for payment at the rickety counter of Messrs —— & Co.; but no deeper expression of feeling escaped one of those who spoke so long and volubly on what concerned themselves so very little. I was puzzled and disturbed. The stranger had returned from Warwickshire the day before. Twice during my residence with the minister, business of importance had carried him to that county. It was certainly a curious coincidence, but coincidences more curious pass by us every day unheeded. It would have been absurd to conclude from that the identity of the stranger; yet the fact, coupled with the voice, staggered and confounded me. I said nothing, but determined, as soon as we reached the public streets, to call to my aid the light—feeble as it was—of the dimly-burning lamps, which, at the time I speak of, were placed at a considerable distance from each other along the principal streets of London, scattering no light, and looking like oil lamps in the last stage of a lingering consumption. These afforded me little help. The weakest effort of illumination imaginable strayed across the coach window as we passed a burner, about as serviceable as the long interval of darkness that ensued, and far more tantalizing. We were driving through the city. I was still brooding over the singular occurrence, when the coach stopped. The stranger alighted. I endeavoured to obtain sight of him, but he was so wrapped and clothed that I did not succeed. The coach was on its way again, and I had just opportunity enough to discover that we had halted at the corner of the street in which Mr Clayton resided. I had been so intent upon scanning the figure of the traveller, that the fact had escaped me. Had I been aware of it, I would certainly have followed the man, and seen him at all events safely beyond the door of the minister. Now it was too late.
I could not repress the desire which I felt to visit Mr Clayton on the following morning. I went to him at an early hour. If he and the stranger were one and the same person, I should be made aware of it at a glance. The cause that had affected him so deeply in the stage-coach existed still, and his manner must betray him. My suspicions were, thank Heaven, instantly removed. I found my friend tranquil as ever, busy at his old occupation, and welcoming me with his usual smile of benevolence. He was paler than usual, I thought; but this impression only convinced me how difficult it is to be charitable and just, when bias and prejudice once take possession of us. My friend was, if any thing, kinder and more affectionate than ever. He spoke to me about my new employment, gave me his advice on points of difficulty, and bade me consult him always, and without hesitation, when doubt might lead me into danger. He could not tell me how happy he had been made by having secured a competency for me; and he hoped sincerely that no act of mine would ever cause him to regret the step that he had taken.
"Indeed," said he, "I have great confidence in you, Caleb. I do not know another person in the world upon whose character I would have staked so large a sum. In truth, I should not have been justified. A thousand pounds is a heavy venture for one so straitened as I am. But you are worthy of it all. You are a faithful and good boy, and will never give me reason to repent my generosity. Will you, child?"
"No, sir," I replied; "not if I am master of myself."
"It is strange," continued the good man, "how we attach ourselves to individuals! There are some men who repel you at first sight—with whom your feelings are at variance as oil with water. Others again, who win us with a look—to whom we could confide the secrets of our inmost heart, and feel satisfied of their losing nothing of their sacredness. Have you never experienced this, Caleb?"
"I could speak to you, sir," said I, in return, "as unreservedly as to myself."
"Yes, and I to you. It is a strange and beautiful arrangement. Providence has a hand in this, as in all other sublunary dispensations. We were created to be a comfort and a joy to one another, and to reciprocate confidence and love. Such instances are not confined to modern times. History tells us of glorious friendships in the ancient world. The great of old—of Greece and Rome—they who advanced to the very gate and threshold of TRUTH, and then despairingly turned back—they have honoured human nature by the intensity and permanency of their attachments. But what is a Pagan attachment in comparison with that which exists amongst believers, and unites in bonds that are indissoluble, the faithful hearts of pious Christians?"
"Ah, what indeed, sir!"
"Come to me to-morrow, Caleb," continued my friend, changing the subject. "Let me see you as often as your duties will permit you. We must not be strangers. I did not intend to give you up so easily. It is sweet and refreshing to pursue our old subjects of discourse. You are not tired of them?"
"Oh, no, sir."
"Come, then, to-morrow."
It was truly delightful to listen to the minister. I had never known him more sweetly disposed and more calm than on this occasion. He was unruffled by the presence of one anxious thought. Ah, how different would he have been if he had really proved to be my coach acquaintance! How I despised myself for the one unkind half suspicion which I had entertained so derogatory to the high character of the saint. But it was a great comfort to me, nevertheless, to be so satisfied of my delusion, and to feel so easy and so happy in my mind at the close of our long interview. According to my promise, I saw the minister on the following day. He was as peaceful and heavenly-minded as before. Another appointment was made and kept—another succeeded to that—and for one fortnight together, I spent many hours daily in the society of my respected friend.
In pursuance of an arrangement which we had made, I called one afternoon at Mr Clayton's house, and was distressed to hear that he was confined to his bed by a sudden attack of illness. He had directed his servant to acquaint all visiters with his condition, and to admit no one to him, with the exception of the medical attendant and myself. I was eager to profit by my privilege, and was in a few seconds at the bedside of my benefactor. He was reading when I approached him, and he looked flushed and agitated. He put his book away from him, and held out his hand to me. I pressed it most affectionately.
"I have been ill, Caleb," he began, "but I am better now, and I shall be quite well soon. Do not be alarmed."
"How did it happen, sir?" I asked.
"We are in the flesh now, dear boy, and are subject to the evils of the flesh. Hereafter it will be otherwise. Sorrow and distress, we are told, shall be no more. Oh, happy time for sinners! I have grievously offended. This very day I have permitted worldly thoughts to disturb and harrass me, and to shake the fleshly tabernacle. It was wrong, very wrong."
"What has happened, sir?" I enquired.
The minister looked hard and tenderly upon me, pressed my hand again, and bade me take a chair.
"Bring it near to the bed, Caleb," said Mr Clayton; "I like to have you near me. I am better since you came. To see you is always soothing to my mind. I am reminded, then, that I am not altogether so worthless and insignificant a worm as I believe myself, since I have been able to do so much for you. Tell me, do you still like the employment that I procured for you?"
"I would not resign it for any other that I know of. It is every thing to me. I feel my independence, and I have been told that I am useful to my fellow-creatures. It would be a bitter hour to me, sir, that should find me deprived of my appointment."
"And that hour is very distant, Caleb, if you are sensible of your duty, and grateful to the instruments which Heaven has raised for you. You shall always feel your independence, and always hear that you are useful and respected. Be but faithful. It is a lesson that I have repeated to you many times—it cannot be told too often."
"You are a patient and a kind instructor, sir."
"Come closer to me, Caleb, and now listen. But first—look well at me, and tell me what you see."
I looked as he required, but gave no answer.
"Tell me, do you see the lines and marks that beggary and ruin bring upon the countenance of men? Does poverty glare from any one expression? I am a lost and ruined man."
"Yes. The trifling pittance upon which I lived, and barely lived, and yet from which I could still extract enough to do a little good—to feed, perhaps, one starving throat—is wrested, torn from me, and from those who shared in what it might obtain. I am myself a beggar."
Mr Clayton became agitated as he spoke, and I implored him to compose himself.
"Yes—it is that I wish to do. I should be above the influence of dross. And for myself I am. Would that I might suffer alone! And this is not all. The man who has effected my ruin owes every thing to me. I found him penniless, and raised him to a condition that should have inspired him with regard and gratitude. I would have trusted that man with confidence unbounded. I did entrust him with my all, and he has beggared and undone me."
"Take it not to heart, sir," I said, soothing the afflicted man; "things may not be so bad as you suppose."
"They cannot be worse," was the reply; "but I will not take it to heart. The blow is hard to bear—the carnal man must feel it—yet I am not without my solace. Read to me, Caleb."
I read a chapter from the work that was lying on the bed. It was called "The Good Man's Comfort in Affliction." It was effectual in restoring my friend to composure. He spoke afterwards with his usual softness of manner.
"This bad man, Caleb," he resumed, "is a member of our church. I am sorry for it—grievously, bitterly sorry for it. The scandal must be removed. Personally, I would be as passive and forbearing as a child, but the church suffers whilst one such member is permitted to profane her ordinances. He must be cut off from her. It must be done. The church must disavow the man who has betrayed her minister and disgraced himself. I have been your friend, Caleb—you must now prove mine."
"Most willingly," said I.
"This business must be brought before a general meeting of the church. From me the accusation will come with ill grace, and yet a public charge must be preferred. You must be the champion of my cause. Your's shall be the task of conferring a lasting obligation on your friend—your's shall be the glory of ridding the sanctuary of defilement."
"How am I to act, sir?"
"Your course is very easy, child. A meeting shall be convened without delay. You shall attend it. You shall be made master of the case. You must propose an examination of his affairs on the part of the church. The man has failed—he is a bankrupt—our church is pure, and demands an investigation into the questionable conduct of her children. This you shall do. The church will do the rest."
I know not how it was—I cannot tell what led to it—but a cold shudder crept through my body, and a sudden sickness overcame me. I thought of the coach scene—the voice seemed more like than ever—the tones were the very same. I seemed unexpectedly enclosed and entangled in some dreadful mystery. I could not conceive why I should hesitate to accept the invitation of my friend with alacrity and pleasure. He was my benefactor, preserver, best and only friend.
He had been defrauded, and he called upon me now to perform a simple act of justice. A man under much less obligation to the minister would have met his wishes joyfully; but I did hesitate and hold back. A natural suggestion, one that I could not control or crush, told me as loudly as a voice could speak, not to commit myself by an immediate and rash consent. It must have been the coach; for, previously to that adventure, had the minister commanded me to accuse a hundred men, a hint would have sufficed for my obedience. But that unfortunate occurrence, now revived by the manner of my friend—by the expressions which he employed—by the charge which he adduced against the unhappy member of his church—filled me with doubt, uncertainty, and alarm. Mr Clayton was not slow to remark what was passing in my mind.
"How is this, Caleb?" he enquired. "You pause and hesitate."
"What has he done sir?" I asked, in my confusion, hardly knowing what I said.
"Done!" exclaimed the minister, with an offended air. "Caleb, he has ruined the man who has made you what you are."
It was too true. Mr Clayton had indeed made me what I was. It was a just reproof. It was ingratitude of the blackest character, to listen so coldly to his wishes. For months I had received daily and hourly the most signal benefits from his hands. He had never till now called upon me to make the shadow of a return for all his disinterested love—disinterested, ah, was it so? I hated myself for the momentary doubt—and yet the doubt returned upon me. If I had not heard his voice in the coach, such a suspicion would have been impossible. Now, any thing seemed possible—nothing was too extraordinary to happen. Well, it was little that the minister requested me to do. I had but to demand an investigation into the man's affairs. It was easily done, and without any cost or sacrifice of principle. But why could not the minister demand the same himself? "It would be unseemly," he asserted. Well, it might be—why had he not selected an elder member of the Church? Because, as he had often told me, there was none so dear to him. This was plain and reasonable, and all this passed through my brain with the rapidity of thought in an instant of time.
"You may command me, sir," I said at length.
"No, Caleb, I will not command you. To serve your friend would have been, I deemed, a labour of love. I did not command you, and I now retract the trifling request which I find I was too bold to make."
"Do not talk so to me, Mr Clayton, I entreat you. I am disturbed and unwell to-day. Your illness has unsettled me. Pray command me. Speak to me as is your wont—with the same kindliness and warmth—you know I am bound to you. Let me serve you in any way you please."
"We will speak of it some other time. Let us change the subject now. There are twenty men who will be eager to comply with the wishes of their minister. An intimation will suffice."
"But why, sir," I returned—"why should others be privileged to do your bidding, and I denied? Forgive my apparent coldness, and give me my instructions."
"Not now," said Mr Clayton, softened by my returning warmth. "Let us read again. Some other time."
In a few days the subject was again introduced, and I put in possession of the history of the unfortunate man who was so soon to be brought under the anathema of the church. According to the statement of the minister, the guilty person had received at various times from him as a loan, no less a sum than four thousand pounds, the substance of his wealth, besides an equal amount from other sources, for which Mr Clayton had made himself accountable. Mr Clayton had implicated himself so seriously, as he said, for the advantage of the man whom he had known from boyhood, and raised from beggary, simply on account of the love he bore him, and in consideration of his Christian character. Of every farthing thus advanced, the minister had been defrauded, and within a month the trader had declared himself a bankrupt. That the minister should have acted so inconsiderately and prodigally, might seem strange to any one who did not thoroughly understand the extreme unselfishness of his disposition. Towards me he had behaved with an equal liberality, and I, at least, had no right to question the truth of every word he spoke. The conduct of the man appeared odious and unpardonable, and I regretted that I should have doubted, for one moment, the propriety of assisting so manifest an act of justice. Let me acknowledge that there was much need of self-persuasion to arrive at this conclusion. I wished to believe that I felt urged to my determination; but the necessity that I experienced of working myself up to a conviction of the justice of the case, militated sadly against so pleasing a delusion.
The second church meeting in which it fell to my lot to perform a distinguished character, took place soon after the communication which I received from my respected friend. It was convened with the especial object of inquiring into the circumstances connected with the failure of Mr George Whitefield Bunyan Smith. The chapel was, if possible, fuller than on the former evening, and the majority of members was, as before, women. A movement throughout the assembly—a whispering, and a ceaseless expectoration, indicated the raciness and interest which attached to the matter in hand, and every eye and mouth seemed opened in the fulness of an anxious expectation. I sat quietly and uncomfortably, and my heart beat palpably against my clothes. I endeavoured to paint the villany of Mr Smith in the darkest colours, and by the contemplation of it, to rouse myself to self-esteem—but the effort was a failure. I could see nothing but the man in the coach, and hear nothing but the voice, which sounded in my ears louder than ever, and far more like; and I became at length perfectly satisfied that I had no business to stand in the capacity of Mr Smith's accuser. It was too late to recant. The bell had rung—the curtain was up and the performances were about to begin.
A hymn, as usual, ushered in the proceedings of the day. The fifty-second psalm was then read by the minister, in the beautiful tone which he knew so well how to assume, and reverence and awe accompanied his emphatic delivery. Ah, could I ever forget the hour when those accents first dropped with medicinal virtue on my soul—when every syllable from his lips brought unction to my bruised nature—and the dark shadows of earth were dissipated and destroyed, beneath the clear, pure light of heaven that he invoked and made apparent! Why passed the syllables now coldly and ineffectually across the heart they could not penetrate? Why glittered they before the eye with phosphorescent lustre, void of all heat and might? I could not tell. The charm was gone. It was misery to know it. The minister having concluded, "Brother Buster was requested to engage in prayer." That worthy rose instanter. First, he coughed, then he made a face—an awful face—then closed his eyes—then opened them again, looked up, and stretched forth his arms. At last he spoke. He prayed for the whole world, including the islands recently discovered, "even from the river to the oceans of ages"—then for Europe, and "more especially" for England, and London "in particular," but "chiefly" for the parish in which the chapel stood, and "principally" for the Chosen People then and there assembled, and, "above all," for the infatuated man upon whose account they had been brought together. "Oh, might the delooded sinner repent off his sin, and, having felt the rod, turn from the error off his ways. Oh might the Church have grace to purify itself; and oh might the vessel wot was chosen this night to bring the criminal to justice, be hindood with strength for the work; and oh, might the criminal be enabled to come out of it with clean hands, (which he very much doubted;) and oh, might the minister be preserved to his Church for many years to come; and oh, might he himself be a door-keeper in heaven, rather than dwell in the midst of wickedness and sinners!" This was the substance of the divine supplication, offered up by Jabez Buster, in the presence of the congregation, and listened to with devout respect and seriousness by the refined and intellectual Mr Clayton. Another hymn succeeded immediately. It must have been written for the occasion, for the sentiment of it was in accordance with the prayer. It was a wail over the backsliding of a fallen saint. To the assembly thus prejudiced—an assembly made up of men of business and their wives, mechanics, dressmakers, servant-maids, and the like, an address suitable to their capacities was spoken. Mr Clayton himself delivered it.—He trembled with emotion when he referred to the painful duty which he was now called upon to perform. "Dear brethren," said he, "you are all aware of the unhappy condition of that brother who has long been bound to us by every tie that may unite the brethren in cordial and in Christian love. Truly, he has been dear to all of us; and for myself, I can with sincerity aver, that no creature living was dearer to me in the flesh, than him upon whose conduct we are met this night in Christian charity to adjudicate. Yes, he was my equal, my guide, and my acquaintance. We took sweet council together, and we walked to the house of prayer in company. I hope, I pray—would that I might add, that I believe!—the sin that has been committed in the face of the Church, and before the world, may be found not to lie at the door of him we loved and cherished. We are not here to take cognizance of the temporal concerns of every member of our congregation. We have no right to do this, so long as the Church is kept pure, and suffers not by the delinquencies of her children. If the limb be unworthy and unsound, let it be lopped off. You have heard that the worldly affairs of our brother are crushed; it is whispered abroad that there is reason to fear the commission of discreditable acts. Is this so? If it be true, let the whisper assume a bolder form, and pronounce our brother unworthy of a place with the elect. If it be false, let every evil tongue be silenced, and let us rejoice exceedingly, yea, with the timbrel and dance, with stringed instruments and loud-sounding cymbals. For my own part, I will not believe him guilty, until proof positive has made him so. His accuser is here this night. From what I know of our young brother, I am satisfied he will proceed most cautiously. Should he suggest simply an investigation into the recent transactions of the unfortunate man, it will be our duty to act upon that suggestion. If he comes armed with evidences of guilt, they must be examined with a kind but still impartial spirit. I know not to what extent it is proposed to proceed. It is not for me to know it. I am not his prosecutor. I shall not pronounce upon him. It is for you to judge. If he be proved culpable in this most melancholy business, and, alas! I fear he must be, if reports are true—though you must be careful to discard reports and look to testimony only—our course is plain and easy. Pardon is not with us; it must be sought elsewhere. I will not detain you longer. Brother Stukely, the Church will listen to your charge."
But Brother Stukely had been for some time rendered incapable of speech. He was staggered and overwhelmed. He distrusted his eyes, his ears, and every sense that he possessed. What?—was this Mr Clayton, the meek, the pious, the good, the benevolent, the just, the truth-telling, the Christian, and the minister? What?—could he assert that he was satisfied of his victim's innocence, until I should prove him guilty—I, who knew nothing of the man and his affairs, but what I gathered from his own false lips? There was some terrible mistake here. I dreamt, or raved. What!—had the history of the last twelvemonth been a cheat—a fable?—How was it—where was I? What!—could Mr Clayton talk thus—could HE descend to falsehood and deceit—HE, the immaculate and infallible? What a moral earthquake was here! What a re-enacting of the fall of man! But every eye was upon me, and the Church was silent as death, waiting for my rising. The chapel commenced swimming round me. I grew sick, and feared that I was becoming blind, for a mist came before my eyes, and confounded all things. At length I was awakened to something like consciousness, by a rapid and universal expectoration. I rose, and became painfully distressed by a conflict of opposing feelings. I remembered, in spite of the present obliquity of the minister, his great kindness to me—I remembered it with gratitude—this urged me to speak aloud, whilst a sense of justice as strongly demanded silence, and pity for the man whom I had undertaken to accuse, but who had never offended me, cried shame upon me for the words I was about to utter. For a second, I stood irresolute, and a merciful interference was sent to rescue me.
"Why," exclaimed a voice that came pleasing to my ears,—"why are you going to accuse this here brother? Harn't twenty men failed afore, and you never thought of asking questions?"
I looked round, and my friend Thompson of happy memory nodded familiarly, and by no means disconcertedly to me. I had never seen him in the chapel before. I did not know that he was a member. Here was another mystery! His words were the signal for loud disapprobation. He had marred the general curiosity at an intensely interesting moment, and the anger that was conceived against him was by no means partial. The minister rose in the midst of it. He looked very pale and much annoyed, but his manner was still mild, and his expressions as full of charity and kind feeling as ever.
"It was a proper enquiry," he said; "one that should immediately be answered." Heaven forbid that their conduct, in one particular, should savour of injustice. In due time the explanation would have been offered. Had their brother waited for that time, he would have found that his harsh observation might have been withheld. The unfortunate man needed not the champion who had stood so irreverently forward. "I can assure our brother, that there is one who will hear of his innocence with greater joy than any other man may feel for him." But it was his duty to state, and publicly, that there were circumstances connected with this failure, that unfavourably marked it from every other that had taken place amongst them. These must be enquired into. Their brother Stukely had been interrupted in the charge which he was about to make. He repeated that he knew not how far that charge might have been brought home. He would propose now, that two messengers be appointed to wait upon the bankrupt, and to examine thoroughly his affairs, and that, previous to their report, no further proceedings should take place. The purity and disinterestedness of their conduct should be made apparent. Brothers Buster and Tomkins were the gentlemen whom he proposed for the delicate office, with the full assurance that they would execute their commission with Christian charity, tempering justice with heavenly mercy.
The assembly gave a reluctant consent to this arrangement. "Such things," it was argued, "were better settled at once; and it would have been far more satisfactory if the bankrupt's matters had been disclosed to the meeting, who had come on purpose to hear them, and had neglected important matters at home, rather than be disappointed." The meeting, however, dissolved with a hymn, sung without spirit or heart. At the close of it, the minister retired. He passed me on his way; looked at me coldly, and I thought a frown had settled on his brow almost in spite of him. I was scarcely in the open street again, before Thompson was at my side, shaking my hand with the greatest heartiness.
"Well," said he, "I should much sooner have thought of seeing the d——l in that chapel than you, any how. Why, what does it all mean? I thought you were in Brummagem."
"Ah! Thompson," I exclaimed sighing, "I wish I were! It is a long history."
"Well, do let's have it. I am astonished."
I put him in possession of my doings since we parted at the Bull's Head Inn in Holborn. I had not finished when we arrived at my lodgings. I invited my old friend to supper, and after that meal, he heard the conclusion of the narrative.
"Well," said he at last, "some people don't believe in sperits. Now I do. I believe that a sperit has brought you and me together again. You've told me a good deal. Now, I'll tell you something. Clayton's an out-and-outer."
"He's a mysterious and unintelligible being," I exclaimed.
"Yes," answered Thompson, "you were always fond of them fine words. P'raps you mean the same as me after all. What I mean is, that fellow beats all I ever came near. Talk of the Old Un! He's a babby to him."
"I can believe any thing now," I answered.
"I don't complain; because I think it serves me right. I did very well at our parish church, and had no business to leave it; and I shouldn't either, if I hadn't been a easy fool all my life. I went on right well there, and understood the clergyman very well, and I should have done to this day, if it hadn't been for my missus; she's always worriting herself about her state, and she happened to hear this Mr Clayton, and nothing would please her but we must join his congregation, the whole biling lot of us, and get elected, as they call it. She said all was cold in the church, and nothing to catch hold on there. I'm blessed if I havn't catched hold of a good deal more than I like in this here chapel. They call one another brothers—sich brothers I fancy as Cain was to Abel. They are the rummest Christians you ever seed. Just look at the head of them—that Mr Clayton, rolling in riches"——
"In what?" said I, interrupting him. "You mistake. The little that he had is lost."
"Oh, don't you be gammoned," was the reply. "What he has lost wont hurt him. He's got enough now to buy this street, out and out. He's the greediest fellow for money this world ever saw."
"I am puzzled, Thompson," said I.
"Yes, perhaps you are, and you'll be more puzzled yet when you know all. Why, what is all this about poor Smith? I knew him before Clayton ever got hold of him, when the chap hadn't a halfpenny to fly with, but was a most ordacious fellow at speculating and inventions, and was always up to something new. One day he had a plan for making moist sugar out of bricks—then soap out of nothing—and sweet oil out of stones. At last Clayton hears of him, and hooks him up, gets him to the chapel; first converts him, and then goes partners with him in the spekylations—let's him have as much money as he asks for, and because soap doesn't come from nothing, and sugar from bricks, and sweet oil from stones, he stops short, sews him up, drives him into the Gazette, and now wants to throw him into the world a beggar, without name and character, and with ten young 'uns hanging about his widowed arm for bread"
"Oh, it's dreadful, if it's true," said I; "but if he has robbed the minister, whatever Mr Clayton may be, he ought to be punished."
"But it isn't true, and there's the villany of it. Smith's a fool; you never see'd a bigger in your life, and though he thinks himself so clever in his inventions and diskiveries, he's as simple as a child in business. Why, he gave three thousand pounds for the machinery wot was to make soap out of nothing; and so all the money's gone. How sich a deep 'un as Clayton ever trusted him, I can't tell. He's wexed with himself now, and wants to have his spite upon his unfortunate tool."
"I can hardly believe it," said I.
"No; and do you think I would have believed it the first day as missus made me come to listen to that out and outer? and, do you think if I had known about it, they would ever have lugged me in to be a brother? You shall take a walk with me to-morrow, if you please, and if you don't believe it then of your own accord, why I sha'n't ask you."
"He has been so kind, so generous to me. He has behaved so unlike a mercenary man."
"Yes; that's just his way. That's what he calls, I suppose, sharpening his tools. He's made up his mind long ago to have out of you all he gave you, and a little more besides. Why, what did you get up for in the chapel? Didn't he say it was to bring a charge against Smith? Why, what do you know of Smith? Can't you see, with half an eye, he's been feeding of you to do his dirty work; and if you had turned out well, wouldn't it have been cheap to him at the price?"
"What is it," said I, "you propose to do to-morrow?"
"To take a walk; that's all. Don't ask questions. If you go with me, I'll satisfy your doubts."
"Surely," said I, "his congregation must have known this; and they would not have permitted him"——
"Ah, my dear sir, you don't know human nature. Wait till you have lived as long as I have. Now, there's my wife; she knows as much as I do about the man, and yet I'm blowed if she doesn't seem to like him all the better for it! She calls him a chosen wessel, and only wishes I was half as sure of salvation. As for the congregation, they are a complete set of chosen wessels together, and the more you blow 'em up, the better the wessels like it. If what they call the world didn't speak agin 'em, they'd be afraid they were going wrong. So you never can offend them."
Thompson continued in the same strain for the rest of the evening, bringing charge after charge against the minister, with the view of proving him to be a hypocrite of the deepest dye. As he had fostered and protected me, Thompson explained that he had previously maintained and trained up Smith, whom he never would have deserted had all his speculations issued favourably. The loss of his money had so enraged him, that his feelings had suddenly taken a different direction, and he would now not stop until he had thoroughly effected the poor man's ruin. He (Thompson) knew Smith well; he had seen his books; and the man was as innocent of fraud as a child unborn. Clayton knew it very well, and the trick of examining the books was all a fudge. "That precious pair of brothers, Bolster and Tomkins, knew very well what they were about, and would make it turn out right for the minister somehow. As for hisself, he stood up for the fellow, because he hadn't another friend in the place. He knew he should be kicked out for his pains, but that would be more agreeable than otherways." From all I gathered from Thompson, it appeared that the pitiable man—the audacious minister of God—was the slave of one of the most corroding passions that ever made shipwreck of the heart of man. The love of money absorbed or made subservient every other sentiment. To heap up riches, there was no labour too painful, no means too vicious, no conduct too unjustifiable. The graces of earth, the virtues of heaven, were made to minister to the lust, and to conceal the demon behind the brightness and the beauty of their forms. There is no limit to the moral baseness of the man of avarice. There was none with Mr Clayton. He lived to accumulate. Once let the desire fasten, anchor-like, with heavy iron to the heart, and what becomes of the world's opinion, and the tremendous menaces of heaven? Mr Clayton was a scholar—a man of refinement, eloquent—an angel not more winning—he was self-denying in his appetites, humble, patient—powerful and beautiful in expression, when the vices of men compelled the unwilling invective. Witness the burst of indignation when he spoke of Emma Harrington, and the race to which it was her misery to belong. He was, to the eyes of men, studious and holy as an anchorite. But better than his own immortal soul, he loved and doated upon gold! That love acknowledged, fed, and gratified, when are its demands appeased?—when does conscience raise a barrier against its further progress? It is a state difficult to believe. Could I have listened with an ear of credulity to the tale of Thompson—could I have borne to listen to it with patience, had I not witnessed an act of turpitude that ocular demonstration could only render credible—had I not been prepared for that act by the tone, the manner, the expressions of the minister, when we passed an hour together, ignorant of each other's presence? It was a dreadful conviction that was forced upon me, and as wonderful as terrible. Self-delusion, for such it was, so perfect and complete, who could conceive—hypocrisy so super-eminent, who could conjecture! There was something, however, to be disclosed on the succeeding day. Thompson was very mysterious about this. He would give no clue to what he designed. I should judge from what I saw of the truth of his communications. Alas! I had seen enough already to mourn over the most melancholy overthrow that had ever crushed the confidence, and bruised the feelings, of ingenuous youth.
I passed a restless and unhappy night. Miserable dreams distressed me. I dreamed that I was sentenced to death for perjury—that the gallows was erected—and that Buster and Tomkins were my executioners. The latter was cruelly polite and attentive in his demeanour. He put the rope round my neck with an air of cutting civility, and apologized for the whole proceeding. I experienced vividly the moment of being turned off. I suffered the horrors of strangulation. The noose slipped, and I was dangling in the air in excruciating agony, half-dead and half-alive. Buster rushed to the foot of the scaffold, and with Christian charity fastened himself to my legs, and hung there till I had breathed my last. Whilst he was thus suspended, he sang one of his favourite hymns with his own rich and effective nasal vigour. Then I dreamed I was murdering Bunyan Smith in his sleep. Mr Clayton was pushing me forward, and urging a dagger into my hand. Just as I had killed him, I was knocked down by Thompson, and Clayton ran off laughing. Then I woke up, thank Heaven, more frightened than hurt, with every limb in my body sore and aching. Then, instead of going to sleep again, which I could not do, I lay awake, and reflected on what had taken place, and I thought all I had heard against Mr Clayton, and all I had seen in the chapel, was a dream, like the execution and the murder. One thing seemed just as real and as likely as the other. Then I became uneasy in my bed, got up, and walked about the room, and wondered what in the world I should do, if Mr Clayton deprived me of my situation, and I was thrown out of bread again. Then I recollected his many hints concerning fidelity and friendship, and what he had said about my being in no danger, so long as I was faithful, and the rest of it; and then I wished I had thrown myself over Blackfriars' Bridge as I had intended, and so put an end to all the trials that beset my path. But this wish was scarcely felt before it was regretted and checked at once. Mr Clayton had taught me wisdom, which his own bad conduct could not sully or affect. It was not because under the garb of religion he concealed the tainted soul of the hypocrite, that religion was not still an angel of light, of purity, and loveliness. Her consolations were not less sweet—her promises not less sure. It would have been an unsound logic that should have argued, from the sinfulness of the minister, the falseness of that faith whose simple profession, and nothing more, alas! had been enough to hide foulest deformity. No! the vital spark that Mr Clayton had kindled, burned still steadily and clear. I could still see by its holy light the path of rectitude and duty, and thank God the while, that in the hour of temptation he gave me strength to resist evil, and the faculty of distinguishing aright between the unshaken testimony and the unfaithful witness. I did not, upon reflection, regret that I had not recklessly destroyed myself; but I prayed on my knees for direction and help in the season of difficulty and disappointment through which I was now passing.
Thompson came early on the following day, punctual to his appointment. He was accompanied by poor Bunyan Smith, and a voluminous statement of his affairs. I looked over them as well as I was able; for the unfortunate man was all excitement, and, faithful to the description of Thompson, sanguine in the extreme. He interrupted me twenty times, and, as every new speculation turned up, had still something to say why it had not succeeded according to his wishes. Although he had failed in every grand experiment, there was not one which would not have realized his hopes a hundredfold, but for the occurrence of some unfortunate event which it was impossible to foresee, but which could not possibly take place again, had he but money to renew his trials. His bankruptcy had not subdued him, nor in the least diminished his belief in the efficacy of his great discoveries. There was certainly no appearance of fraud in the account of his transactions, but it was not Mr Smith's innocence I was anxious to establish. It was the known guilt of Mr Clayton that I would have made any sacrifice to remove.
It was in the afternoon that Thompson and I were walking along the well-filled pavement of Cheapside, on our way to what he called "the best witness he could bring to speak in favour of all that he had said about the minister." He still persisted in keeping up a mystery in respect of this same witness. "He might be, after all," he said, "mistaken in the thing, and he didn't wish to be made a fool of. I don't expect I shall, but we shall see." We reached Cornhill, and were opposite the Exchange.
"That's a rum place, isn't?" asked Thompson, looking at the building—"Have you ever been inside?"
"Never," I replied.
"Suppose we just stroll in then? What a row they are kicking up there! And what a crowd! There's hardly room to move."
The area was, as he said, crowded. There was a loud continued murmur of human voices. Traffic was intense, and had reached what might be supposed its acme. It seemed as if business was undergoing a paroxysm, or fit, rather than pursuing her steady, healthful course. Bodies of men were standing in groups—some were darting from corner to corner, pen in mouth—a few were walking leisurely with downcast looks—others quickly, uneasy and excited. A stout and well-contented gentleman or two leaned against the high pillars of the building, and formed the centre of a human circle, that smiled as he smiled, and stopped when he stopped.
"Nice place to study in, sir," said Thompson, as we walked along.
"I mean it though," said he. "I see a man now that comes here on purpose to study—as clever a man at his books as ever I saw, and as fine a fellow to talk as you know—there, just look across the road—under that pillar—near the archway. There, just where them two men has left a open space. Tell me, who do you see there, sir?"
"Why, Mr CLAYTON!" I replied, astonished at the sight.
"Yes, and if you'll come here every day of your life, there you'll find him. I've watched him often, since Smith first put me up to his tricks, and I have never missed him. There he is making money, and wearing his soul out because he can't make half enough to satisfy his greedy maw. His covetousness is awful. There's nothing that he doesn't speckylate in; there's hardly a man of business in his congregation that he doesn't, either by himself or others, lend money out at usury. I mean such on 'em as he knows are right; for catch him, if he knows it, trusting the rotten brothers. Smith says he has got something to do with every one of the stocks. I don't know whether that is any thing to eat and drink or not, but I think they call this here bear-garden the Stock Exchange, and here the out-and-outer spends more than half his days." Whilst Thompson spoke, one of the two men, whom I have mentioned as being for many hours together closeted with the minister in his private study, and whom I set down as missionaries—came up in great haste to Mr Clayton, and communicated to him news, apparently, of importance. The latter immediately produced a pocket-book, in which he wrote a few words with a pencil, and the individual departed. The information, whatever it may have been, had deeply affected the man to whom it had been brought. He did not stand still, as before, but walked nervously about, looked pale, care-worn, and miserably anxious. He referred to his book a dozen times—restored it frequently to his pocket, and had it out again immediately for surer satisfaction, or for further calculations. In about ten minutes, "the missionary" returned. This time he was the bearer of a better tale. The minister smiled—his brow expanded, and his eye had the vivacity and fire that belonged to it in the pulpit. Another memorandum was written in the pocket book, and the two gentlemen walked quickly, and side by side, along the covered avenue. I had seen sufficient.
"Let us go," I said to Thompson.
"Why, you don't mean to say you have had enough!" returned he; "oh, wait a bit, and see the other boy. They make a precious trio."
I declined to witness the melancholy spectacle any longer. I was oppressed, grieved, sickened, at the sad presentation of humanity. What an overthrow was this! What a problem in the moral structure of man! I could not understand it. I had no power to enquire into it. Against all preconceived notions of possibility, there existed a palpable fact. What could reason do in a case in which the senses almost refused to acknowledge the evidence which they themselves had produced?
Thompson was delighted at the result of our "voyage of discovery," and continued to be facetious at the expense of the unhappy minister. I implored him to desist.
"Say no more, Thompson. This is no subject for laughter. I have suffered much since your brother carried me to Birmingham. This is the hardest blow yet. I believe now that all is a dream. This is not Mr Clayton. It is a cheat of Satan. We are deluded and made fools in the hands of the Wicked One."
"You'll excuse me, sir," said Thompson, "but if I didn't know you better, I should say, to hear you talk in that uncommonly queer way, that you were as big a wessel as any of 'em. Don't flatter yourself you are dreaming, when you never were wider awake in all your life."
It is perhaps needless to say, that I had no heart to present myself again before my friend and benefactor—the once beloved, and still deeply compassionated minister of religion. I pitied him on account of the passion which had overmastered him, and trembled for myself when I contemplated the ruins of such an edifice. But I could visit him no longer. What could I say to him? How should I address him? How could I bear to meet his eye—I did not hate him sufficiently to inflict upon him the shame and ignominy of meeting mine. I avoided the house of Mr Clayton, and absented myself from his chapel. But I was not content with the first view that had been afforded me at the Exchange. I was unwilling to decide for ever upon the character of my former friend without a complete self-justification. I went again to the house of commerce, and alone. Again I beheld Mr Clayton immersed in the doings of the place. For a week I continued my observation. Proofs of his worldliness and gross hypocrisy came fast and thick upon each other. I no longer doubted the statement of Thompson and the speculator Smith. I resolved upon seeing my preserver no more. I could not think of him without shuddering, and I endeavoured to forget him. One evening, about ten days after the chapel scene, sitting alone in my apartment, I was attracted by a slight movement on the stairs. A moment afterwards there was a knock at my door. The door opened, and Mr Clayton himself walked into the room. I trembled instantly from head to foot. The minister had a serious countenance, and was very placid. He took a chair, and I waited till he spoke.
"You have not visited me of late, Caleb," he began. "You have surely forgotten me. You have forgotten your promise—our friendship—your obligations—gratitude—every thing. How is this?"
Still I did not speak.
"Tell me," he continued, "who has taught you to become a spy? Who has taught you that it is honourable and just to track the movements and to break upon the privacy of others. I saw you in the Exchange this morning—I saw you yesterday—and the day before. Tell me, what took you there?"
I gave no answer.
"Your Bible, Caleb, gives no encouragement to the feeling which has prompted you to act thus. You have read the word of truth imperfectly. There is a holiness—a peculiar sanctity"——
"For heaven's sake, Mr Clayton," I cried out, interrupting him, "do not talk so. Do not deceive yourself. Do not attempt to bewilder me. Do not provoke the wrath of heaven. You have been kinder to me than I can express. The recollection of what you have done is ever present to me. Oh, would that I owed you nothing! Would that I could pay you back to the last farthing, and that the past could be obliterated from my mind. I would have parted with my life willingly, gladly, to serve you. Had you been poor, how delightful would it have been to labour for my benefactor! I will not deceive you. I lave learnt every thing. Such miserable knowledge never came to the ears of man, save in those regions where perdition is first made known, and suffered everlastingly. I dare not distrust the evidence of my eyes and ears. The bitterest hour that I have known, was that in which you fell, and I beheld your fall. Whom can I trust now? Whom shall I believe? To whom attach myself? Mr Clayton, it seems incredible to me that I can talk thus to you. It is indeed, and I tremble as I do so. But what is to be done? I can respect you no longer, however my poor heart throbs towards you, and pities"——
I burst into tears.
"Spare your pity, boy," said Mr Clayton, coldly; "and spare those hollow tears. You acknowledge that there exists a debt between us. Well have you attempted to repay it! Listen to me. I have been your friend. I am willing to remain so. Come to me as before, and you shall find me as I have ever been—affectionate and kind. Avoid me—place yourself in the condition of my opponent, and beware. In a moment, by one word, I can throw you back into the slough from whence I dragged you. To-morrow morning, if I so will it, you shall wander forth again, an outcast, depending for your bread upon a roadside charity. It is a dreadful thing to walk a marked and branded man through this cold world; yet it is only for me to say the word, and infamy is attached to your name for ever. And what greater crime exists than black ingratitude? It is our duty to expose and punish it. It is for you to make the choice. If you are wise, you will not hesitate. If Christianity has worked"——
"Sir, what has Christianity to do with this? Satan must witness the compact that you would have us make. I cannot sell myself?"
"Your new companions have taught you these fine phrases, Caleb. They will support you, no doubt, and you will remain faithful to them, until a fresh acquaintance shall poison your ear against them, as they have corrupted it to win you from the man whom you have sworn to serve. I have nothing more to say. You promised to be faithful through good report and evil. You have broken your plighted word. I forgive you, if you are sorry for the fault, and my arms are ready to receive you. Punishment shall follow—strict justice, and no mercy—if you persist in evil. Within a week present yourself at my abode, and every thing is forgotten and forgiven. I am your friend for ever. Do not come, be obstinate and unyielding, and prepare yourself for misery."
The minister left me. The week elapsed, and at the end of it, I had not presented myself at his residence. But, in the mean while, I had been active in taking measures for the security of the office which I held, and whose duties I had hitherto performed to the perfect satisfaction of my employers. I had been given to understand that it remained with Mr Bombasty to continue my appointment, or to dismiss me at once; that he was in the hands of Mr Clayton; and that if the latter desired my dismissal, and could bring against me the shadow of a complaint to justify Mr Bombasty in the eye of the Society, nothing could save me from ejection. It was proposed to me by a fellow-servant of the Society, to place myself as soon as possible beyond the reach and influence of Mr Clayton. He advised me to secede at once from the Church, and to attach myself to another, professing the same principles, and like that in connexion with the Society. By this means, Clayton and I would be separated, and his power over me effectually removed. Exclusion was to me starvation, and I eagerly adopted the counsel of my companion. To be, however, in a condition to join another church, it was necessary to procure, either by personal application, or at the instance of the minister of the new church, a letter of dismission, which letter should contain an assurance of the candidate's previous good conduct and present qualification. In my case, the minister himself proposed to apply for my testimonials. He did apply, and at the end of a month, no answer had been returned to his communication. He wrote a second, and the second application met with no greater respect than the first. At length I received a very formal and polite letter from Mr Tomkins, informing me that "a church-meeting had been convened for the purpose of considering the propriety of affording Brother Stukely the opportunity of joining another connexion, by granting him a letter of dismission," and that my presence was requested on that very important occasion.
If there was one thing upon earth more than another which at this particular time of my life I abominated with unmitigated and ineffable disgust, it was the frequent recurrence of these eternal church-meetings. Nothing, however trifling, could be carried forward without them; no man's affairs, however private and worldly, were too uninteresting for their investigation. My connexion with the church had hardly commenced, before two had taken place, principally on my account, and now a third was proposed in order to enable the minister to write a letter of civility, and to state the simple fact of my having conducted myself with propriety and decorum. Still it was proper that I should attend it; I did so, accompanied by Thompson, and a crowded assembly, as befitted the occasion, welcomed us amoungst them, with many short coughs, and much suppressed hissing. There was the usual routine. The hymn, the portion of Scripture, and the prayer of Brother Buster. In the latter, there were many dark hints that were intended to be appropriate to my case, and were, to all appearance, well understood by the congregation at large. They did not frighten me. I was guilty of no crime against their church. They could bring no charge against me. The prayer concluded, Mr Clayton coldly requested me to retire. I did so. I passed into the vestry, which was separated from the main building by a very thin partition, that enabled me to hear every word spoken in the chapel. Mr Clayton began. He introduced his subject by lamenting, in the most feeling terms, the unhappy state of the brother who had just departed from the congregation—(the crocodile weeping over the fate of the doomed wretch he was about to destroy!) He had hoped great things of him. He had believed him to be a child of God. It was not for him to judge their brother now; but this was a world of disappointment, and the fairest hopes were blasted, even as the rose withereth beneath the canker. They all knew—it was not for him to disguise or hide the fact—that their brother had not realized the ardent expectations that one and all had formed of him. Their brother himself carried about with him this miserable consciousness, and under such circumstances it was that he proposed to withdraw from their communion, and to receive a dismission that should entitle him to a seat elsewhere. It was for them to consider how far they were justified in complying with his request. As for himself, he was sorely distressed in spirit. His carnal heart urged him to listen to the desire of his brother in the flesh, and that heart warred with his spiritual conviction. To be charitable was one thing, to involve one's self in guilt, to encourage sinfulness, and to reward backsliding—oh, surely, this was another! He had no right in his high capacity to indulge a personal affection. It was his glory that he could sacrifice it at the call of duty. Accordingly, in the answer to the application that he had received, he had humbly attempted rather to embody the views of the church, than the suggestions of his own weak bosom. That answer he would now submit to them, and their voice must pronounce upon its justice. He did not fear for them. They were highly privileged; they had been wonderfully directed hitherto, and they would, adorned as they were with humility and faith, be directed even unto the end.
"Ha-men," responded Buster very audibly, and the minister forthwith proceeded to his letter.
It was my honour to be represented in it as a person but too likely to disturb the peace of any church; whose conduct, however exemplary on my first joining the congregation, had lately been such as to give great reason to fear that I had been suddenly deprived of all godliness and grace; who had caused the brethren great pain; and whom recent circumstances had especially rendered an object of suspicion and alarm. There was much more to the same effect. There was no distinct charge—nothing tangible, or of which I could defy them to the proof. All was dark doubt and murderous innuendo. There was nothing for which I could claim relief from the laws of my country—more than enough to complete my ruin. I burned with anger and indignation; forgot every thing but the cold-blooded designs of the minister; and, stung to action by the imminent danger in which I stood, I rushed at once from the vestry into the midst of the congregation. Thompson was already on his legs, and had ventured something on my behalf, which had been drowned in loud and universal clamour. Silence was, in measure, restored by my appearance, and I took the opportunity to demand from the minister a reperusal of the letter that had just been read.
He scowled upon me with a natural hate, and refused to comply with my request.
"What!" I asked aloud, "am I denied the privilege that is extended to the vilest of his species? Will you condemn me unheard? Accuse me in my absence—keep me in ignorance of my charge—and stab me in the dark?"
I received no answer, and then I turned to the congregation. I implored them—little knowing the men to whom I trusted my appeal—to save me from the persecution of a man who had resolved upon my downfall. "I asked nothing from them, from him, but the liberty of gaining, by daily labour, an honourable subsistence. Would they deny it me?"—
I was interrupted by groans and hisses, and loud cries of "Yes, yes," from Brother Buster.
I addressed the minister again.
"Mr Clayton," said I, "beware how you tread me down. Beware how you drive me to desperation. Cruel, heartless man! What have I done that you should follow me with this relentless spite? Can you sleep? Can you walk and live without the fear of a punishment adequate to your offence? Let me go. Be satisfied that I possess the power of exposing unheard-of turpitude and hypocrisy, and that I refrain from using it. Dismiss me; let me leave your sight for ever, and you are safe—for me."
"Viper!" exclaimed the minister rising in his seat, "whom I have warmed and nourished in my bosom; viper! whom I took to my hearth, and kept there till the returning sense of life gave vigour to your blood, and fresh venom to your sting! Is it thus you pay me back for food and raiment—thus you heap upon me the expressions of a glowing gratitude!—with threats and deadly accusations? Spit forth your malice! Pile up falsehoods to the skies!—WHO WILL BELIEVE THE TALE OF PROBABILITY? Brethren! behold the man whose cause I pleaded with you—for whom my feelings had well-nigh mastered my better judgment. Behold him, and learn how hard it is to pierce the stony heart of him whose youth has passed in dissolute living, and in adultery. Shall I approach thy ear with the voice of her who cries from the grave for justice on her seducer? Look, my beloved, on the man whom I found discarded by mankind, friendless and naked whom I clothed and fostered, and whom I brought in confidence amongst you. Look at him, and oh, be warned!"
The hissing and groaning were redoubled. Thompson rose a dozen times to speak, but a volley assailed him on each occasion, and he was obliged to resume his seat. He grew irritated and violent, and at length, when the public disapprobation had reached its height, and for the twenty and first time had cut short his address almost before he spoke, unable to contain himself any longer, he uttered at the top of his stentorian voice a fearful imprecation, and recommended to the care of a gentleman who had more to do with that society than was generally supposed—Mr Clayton, and every individual brother in the congregation.
Jabez Buster, after looking to the ceiling, and satisfying himself that it had not fallen in, rose, dreadfully distressed.
"He had lived," he said, "to see sich sights, and hear sich language as had made his nature groan within him. He could only compare their beloved minister to one of them there ancient martyrs who had died for conscience-sake before Smithfield was a cattle market; but he hoped he would have strength for the conflict, and that the congregation would help him to fight the good fight. He called upon 'em all now to do their duty, to exclude and excommunicate for ever the unrighteous brethren—and to make them over to Satan without further delay."
The shout with which the proposition was received, decided the fate of poor Thompson and myself. It was hardly submitted, before it was carried nemine contradicente; and immediately afterwards, Thompson buttoned his coat in disgust, and was hooted out of the assembly. I followed him.
* * * * *
BY WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR.
TASSO AND CORNELIA.
Tasso.—She is dead, Cornelia—she is dead!
Cornelia.—Torquato! my Torquato! after so many years of separation do I bend once more your beloved head to my embrace?
Tasso.—She is dead!
Cornelia.—Tenderest of brothers! bravest and best and most unfortunate of men! What, in the name of heaven! so bewilders you?
Tasso.—Sister! sister! sister! I could not save her.
Cornelia.—Certainly it was a sad event; and they who are out of spirits may be ready to take it for an evil omen. At this season of the year the vintagers are joyous and negligent.
Tasso.—How! what is this?
Cornelia.—The little girl was crushed, they say, by a wheel of the car laden with grapes, as she held out a handful of vine-leaves to one of the oxen. And did you happen to be there just at the moment?
Tasso.—So then the little too can suffer! the ignorant, the indigent, the unaspiring! Poor child! She was kind-hearted; else never would calamity have befallen her.
Cornelia.—I wish you had not seen the accident.
Tasso.—I see it? I? I saw it not. There is but one crushed where I am. The little girl died for her kindness!—natural death!
Cornelia.—Be calm, be composed, my brother!
Tasso.—You would not require me to be composed or calm if you comprehended a thousandth part of my sufferings.
Cornelia.—Peace! peace! we know them all.
Tasso.—Who has dared to name them? Imprisonment, derision, madness.
Cornelia.—Hush! sweet Torquato! If ever these existed, they are past.
Tasso.—You do think they are sufferings? ay?
Tasso.—No, not too surely: I will not have that answer. They would have been; but Leonora was then living. Unmanly as I am! did I complain of them? and while she was left me?
Cornelia.—My own Torquato! is there no comfort in a sister's love? Is there no happiness but under the passions? Think, O my brother, how many courts there are in Italy; are the princes more fortunate than you? Which among them all loves truly, deeply, and virtuously? Among them all is there any one, for his genius, for his generosity, for his gentleness, ay, or for his mere humanity, worthy to be beloved?
Tasso.—Princes! talk to me of princes! How much coarse-grained wood a little gypsum covers! a little carmine quite beautifies! Wet your forefinger with your spittle; stick a broken gold-leaf on the sinciput; clip off a beggar's beard to make it tresses, kiss it; fall down before it; worship it. Are you not irradiated by the light of its countenance? Princes! princes! Italian princes! Estes! What matters that costly carrion? Who thinks about it? (After a pause.) She is dead! She is dead!
Cornelia.—We have not heard it here.
Tasso.—At Sorrento you hear nothing but the light surges of the sea, and the sweet sprinkles of the guitar.
Cornelia.—Suppose the worst to be true.
Cornelia.—If she ceases, as then perhaps she must, to love and to lament you, think gratefully, contentedly, devoutly, that her arms had encircled your neck before they were crossed upon her bosom, in that long sleep which you have rendered placid, and from which your harmonious voice shall once more awaken her. Yes, Torquato! her bosom had throbbed to yours, often and often, before the organ-peel shook the fringes round the catafalc. Is not this much, from one so high, so beautiful?
Tasso.—Much? yes; for abject me. But I did so love her! so love her!
Cornelia.—Ah! let the tears flow: she sends thee that balm from heaven.
Tasso.—So loved her did poor Tasso! Else, O Cornelia, it had indeed been much. I thought in the simplicity of my heart that God was as great as an emperor, and could bestow, and had bestowed on me as much as the German had conferred, or could confer on his vassal. No part of my insanity was ever held in such ridicule as this. And yet the idea cleaves to me strangely, and is liable to stick to my shroud.
Cornelia.—Woe betide the woman who bids you to forget that woman who has loved you: she sins against her sex. Leonora was unblameable. Never think ill of her for what you have suffered.
Tasso.—Think ill of her? I? I? I? No; those we love, we love for every thing; even for the pain they have given us. But she gave me none: it was where she was not, that pain was.
Cornelia.—Surely, if love and sorrow are destined for companionship, there is no reason why the last comer of the two should supersede the first.
Tasso.—Argue with me, and you drive me into darkness. I am easily persuaded and led on while no reasons are thrown before me. With these, you have made my temples throb again. Just heaven! dost thou grant us fairer fields, and wider, for the whirlwind to lay waste? Dost thou build us up habitations above the street, above the palace, above the citadel, for the Plague to enter and carouse in? Has not my youth paid its dues, paid its penalties? Cannot our griefs come first, while we have strength to bear them? The fool! the fool! who thinks it a misfortune that his love is unrequited. Happier young man! look at the violets until thou drop asleep on them. Ah! but thou must wake!
Cornelia.—O heavens! what must you have suffered. For a man's heart is sensitive in proportion to its greatness.
Tasso.—And a woman's?
Cornelia.—Alas! I know not; but I think it can have no other. Comfort thee—comfort thee, dear Torquato!
Tasso.—Then do not rest thy face upon my arm; it so reminds me of her. And thy tears, too! they melt me into her grave.
Cornelia.—Hear you not her voice as it appeals to you: saying to you as the priests around have been saying to her, Blessed soul! rest in peace?
Tasso.—I heard it not; and yet I am sure she said it. A thousand times has she repeated it, laying her hand on my heart to quiet it—simple girl! She told it to rest in peace, and she went from me! Insatiable love! ever self-torturer, never self-destroyer! the world, with all its weight of miseries, cannot crush thee, cannot keep thee down. Generally mens' tears, like the droppings of certain springs, only harden and petrify what they fall on; but mine sank deep into a tender heart, and were its very blood. Never will I believe she has left me utterly. Oftentimes, and long before her departure, I fancied we were in heaven together. I fancied it in the fields, in the gardens, in the palace, in the prison. I fancied it in the broad daylight, when my eyes were open, when blessed spirits drew around me that golden circle which one only of earth's inhabitants could enter. Oftentimes in my sleep also I fancied it—and sometimes in the intermediate state—in that serenity which breathes about the transported soul, enjoying its pure and perfect rest, a span below the feet of the Immortal.
Cornelia.—She has not left you; do not disturb her peace by these repinings.
Tasso.—She will bear with them. Thou knowest not what she was, Cornelia; for I wrote to thee about her while she seemed but human. In my hours of sadness, not only her beautiful form, but her very voice bent over me. How girlish in the gracefulness of her lofty form! how pliable in her majesty! what composure at my petulance and reproaches! what pity in her reproofs! Like the air that angels breathe in the metropolitan temple of the Christian world, her soul at every season preserved one temperature. But it was when she could and did love me! Unchanged must ever be the blessed one who has leaned in fond security on the unchangeable. The purifying flame shoots upward, and is the glory that encircles their brows when they meet above.
Cornelia.—Indulge in these delightful thoughts, my Torquato! and believe that your love is and ought to be imperishable as your glory. Generations of men move forward in endless procession to consecrate and commemorate both. Colour-grinders and gilders, year after year, are bargained with to refresh the crumbling monuments and tarnished decorations of rude unregarded royalty, and to fasten the nails that cramp the crown upon the head. Meanwhile, in the laurels of my Torquato, there will always be one leaf, above man's reach, above time's wrath and injury, inscribed with the name of Leonora.
Tasso.—O Jerusalem! I have not then sung in vain the Holy Sepulchre.
Cornelia.—After such devotion of your genius, you have undergone too many misfortunes.
Tasso.—Congratulate the man who has had many, and may have more. I have had, I have, I can have—one only.
Cornelia.—Life runs not smoothly at all seasons, even with the happiest; but after a long course, the rocks subside, the views widen, and it flows on more equably at the end.
Tasso.—Have the stars smooth surfaces? No, no; but how they shine!
Cornelia.—Capable of thoughts so exalted, so far above the earth we dwell on, why suffer any to depress and anguish you?
Tasso.—Cornelia, Cornelia! the mind has within it temples, and porticoes, and palaces, and towers: the mind has under it, ready for the course, steeds brighter than the sun, and stronger than the storm; and beside them stand winged chariots, more in number than the Psalmist hath attributed to the Almighty. The mind, I tell thee again, hath its hundred gates, compared whereto the Theban are but willow wickets; and all those hundred gates can genius throw open. But there are some that groan heavily on their hinges, and the hand of God alone can close them.
Cornelia.—Torquato has thrown open those of his holy temple; Torquato hath stood, another angel, at his tomb; and am I the sister of Torquato? Kiss me, my brother, and let my tears run only from my pride and joy! Princes have bestowed knighthood on the worthy and unworthy; thou hast called forth those princes from their ranks, pushing back the arrogant and presumptuous of them like intrusive varlets, and conferring on the bettermost crowns and robes, imperishable and unfading.
Tasso.—I seem to live back into those days. I feel the helmet on my head; I wave the standard over it; brave men smile upon me; beautiful maidens pull them gently back by the scarf, and will not let them break my slumber, nor undraw the curtain. Corneliolina!——
Cornelia.—Well, my dear brother! Why do you stop so suddenly in the midst of them? They are the pleasantest and best company, and they make you look quite happy and joyous.
Tasso.—Corneliolina, dost thou remember Bergamo? What city was ever so celebrated for honest and valiant men, in all classes, or for beautiful girls? There is but one class of those: Beauty is above all ranks; the true Madonna, the patroness and bestower of felicity, the queen of heaven.
Cornelia.—Hush, Torquato, hush! talk not so.
Tasso.—What rivers, how sunshiny and revelling, are the Brembo and the Serio! What a country the Valtellina! I went back to our father's house, thinking to find thee again, my little sister—thinking to kick away thy ball of yellow silk as thou went stooping for it, to make thee run after me and beat me. I woke early in the morning; thou wert grown up and gone. Away to Sorrento—I knew the road—a few strides brought me back—here I am. To-morrow, my Cornelia, we will walk together, as we used to do, into the cool and quiet caves on the shore; and we will catch the little breezes as they come in and go out again on the backs of the jocund waves.
Cornelia.—We will, indeed, to-morrow; but before we set out we must take a few hours' rest, that we may enjoy our ramble the better.
Tasso.—Our Sorrentines, I see, are grown rich and avaricious. They have uprooted the old pomegranate hedges, and have built high walls to prohibit the wayfarer from their vineyards.
Cornelia.—I have a basket of grapes for you in the bookroom that overlooks our garden.
Tasso.—Does the old twisted sage-tree grow still against the window?
Cornelia.—It harboured too many insects at last, and there was always a nest of scorpions in the crevice.
Tasso.—O! what a prince of a sage-tree! And the well too, with its bucket of shining metal, large enough for the largest cocomero to cool in it for dinner!
Cornelia.—The well, I assure you, is as cool as ever.
Tasso.—Delicious! delicious! And the stone-work round it, bearing no other marks of waste than my pruning-hook and dagger left behind?
Tasso.—White in that place no longer? There has been time enough for it to become all of one colour; grey, mossy, half-decayed.
Cornelia.—No, no; not even the rope has wanted repair.
Tasso.—Who sings yonder?
Cornelia.—Enchanter! No sooner did you say the word cocomero, than here comes a boy carrying one upon his head.
Tasso.—Listen! listen! I have read in some book or other those verses long ago. They are not unlike my Aminta. The very words!
Cornelia.—Purifier of love, and humanizer of ferocity! how many, my Torquato, will your gentle thoughts make happy!
Tasso.—At this moment I almost think I am one among them.
 The miseries of Tasso arose not only from the imagination and the heart. In the metropolis of the Christian world, with many admirers and many patrons, cardinals and princes of all sizes, he was left destitute, and almost famished. These are his own words.—"Appena in questo stato ho comprato due meloni: e benche io sia stato quasi sempre infermo, molte volte mi sono contentato del' manzo e la ministra di latte o di zucca, quando ho potuto averne, mi e stata in vece di delizie." In another part he says that he was unable to pay the carriage of a parcel, (1590:) no wonder; if he had not wherewithal to buy enough of zucca for a meal. Even had he been in health and appetite, he might have satisfied his hunger with it for about five farthings, and have left half for supper. And now a word on his insanity. Having been so imprudent not only as to make it too evident in his poetry that he was the lover of Leonora, but also to signify (not very obscurely) that his love was returned, he much perplexed the Duke of Ferrara, who, with great discretion, suggested to him the necessity of feigning madness. The lady's honour required it from a brother; and a true lover, to convince the world, would embrace the project with alacrity. But there was no reason why the seclusion should be in a dungeon, or why exercise and air should be interdicted. This cruelty, and perhaps his uncertainty of Leonora's compassion, may well be imagined to have produced at last the malady he had feigned. But did Leonora love Tasso as a man would be loved? If we wish to do her honour, let us hope it: for what greater glory can there be than to have estimated at the full value so exalted a genius, so affectionate and so generous a heart!
Cornelia.—Be quite persuaded of it. Come, brother, come with me. You shall bathe your heated brow and weary limbs in the chamber of your boyhood. It is there we are always the most certain of repose. The child shall sing to you those sweet verses; and we will reward him with a slice of his own fruit.
Tasso.—He deserves it; cut it thick.
Cornelia.—Come then, my truant! Come along, my sweet smiling Torquato!
Tasso.—The passage is darker than ever. Is this the way to the little court? Surely those are not the steps that lead down toward the bath? Oh yes! we are right; I smell the lemon-blossoms. Beware of the old wilding that bears them; it may catch your veil; it may scratch your fingers! Pray, take care: it has many thorns about it. And now, Leonora! you shall hear my last verses! Lean your ear a little toward me; for I must repeat them softly under this low archway, else others may hear them too. Ah! you press my hand once more. Drop it, drop it! or the verses will sink into my breast again, and lie there silent! Good girl!
Many, well I know, there are Ready in your joys to share, And (I never blame it) you Are almost as ready too. But when comes the darker day, And those friends have dropt away; Which is there among them all You should, if you could, recall? One who wisely loves, and well, Hears and shares the griefs you tell; Him you ever call apart When the springs o'erflow the heart; For you know that he alone Wishes they were but his own. Give, while these he may divide, Smiles to all the world beside.
Cornelia.—We are now in the full light of the chamber: cannot you remember it, having looked so intently all around?
Tasso.—O sister! I could have slept another hour. You thought I wanted rest: why did you waken me so early? I could have slept another hour, or longer. What a dream! But I am calm and happy.
Cornelia.—May you never more be otherwise! Indeed, he cannot be whose last verses are such as those.
Tasso.—Have you written any since that morning?
Tasso.—When you caught the swallow in my curtains, and trod upon my knees in catching it, luckily with naked feet. The little girl of thirteen laughed at the outcry of her brother Torquatino, and sang without a blush her earliest lay.
Cornelia.—I do not recollect it.
Rondinello! rondinello! Tu sei nero, ma sei bello. Cosa f se tu sei nero? Rondinello! sei il premiero De' volanti, palpitanti (E vi sono quanti quanti!) Mai tenuto a questo petto, E percio sei il mio diletto.
 The author wrote the verses first in English, but he found it easy to write them better in Italian. They stood in the text as below:—
Swallow! swallow! though so jetty Are your pinions, you are pretty: And what matter were it though You were blacker than a crow? Of the many birds that fly (And how many pass me by!) You're the first I ever prest, Of the many, to my breast: Therefore it is very right You should be my own delight.
Cornelia.—Here is the cocomero; it cannot be more insipid. Try it.
Tasso.—Where is the boy who brought it? where is the boy who sang my Aminta? Serve him first; give him largely. Cut deeper; the knife is too short: deeper, mia brave Corneliolina! quite through all the red, and into the middle of the seeds. Well done!
* * * * *
THE WORLD OF LONDON. SECOND SERIES.
ARISTOCRACIES OF LONDON LIFE.
OF ARISTOCRACIES IN GENERAL.
The cumulative or aggregative property of wealth and power, and in a less degree of knowledge also, make up in time a consolidation of these elements in the hands of particular classes, which, for our present purposes, we choose to term an aristocracy of birth, wealth, knowledge, or power, as the case nay be. The word aristocracy, distinctive of these particular classes, we use in a conventional sense only, and beg leave to protest, in limine, against any other acceptation of the term. We use the word, because it is popularly comprehensive; the [Greek: hoi aristoi], distinguished from the [Greek: hoi polloi]: "good men," as is the value of goodness in the city; "the great," as they are understood by penners of fashionable novels; "talented," or "a genius," as we say in the coteries; but not a word, mark you, of the abstract value of these signs—their positive significations; good may be bad, great mean, talented or a genius, ignorant or a puppy. We have nothing to do with that; these are thy terms, our Public; thou art responsible for the use made of them. Thou it is who tellest us that the sun rises and sets, (which it does not,) and talkest of the good and great, without knowing whether they are great and good, or no. Our business is to borrow your recognized improprieties of speech, only so far as they will assist us in making ourselves understood.
When Archimedes, or some other gentleman, said that he could unfix the earth had he a point of resistance for his lever, he illustrated, by a hypothesis of physics, the law of the generation of aristocracies. Aristocracies begin by having a leg to stand on, or by getting a finger in the pie. The multitude, on the contrary, never have any thing, because they never had any thing, they want the point d'oppui, the springing-ground whence to jump above their condition, where, transformed by the gilded rays of wealth or power, discarding their several skins or sloughs, they sport and flutter, like lesser insects, in the sunny beams of aristocratic life.
Indeed, we have often thought that the transformation of the insect tribes was intended, by a wise Omnipotence, as an illustration (for our own benefit) of the rise and progress of the mere aristocracy of fashionable life.