"In what I have said already," replied Sainsbury, resuming his seat, "I have told you all, or very nearly all, that I, or I believe any body else, knows of them. My little information is chiefly acquired from hearing the servants gossip about them; but I very well remember that, on the first appearance of the Pair in this vicinity, they excited a good deal of speculation and enquiry amongst every class in Walworth. It is now more than eight years ago since this man's predecessor—the purveyor, as he grandiloquently was wont to call himself, of milk to this large district—died. His dairies, which I fancy were lucrative things enough, were immediately sold, and taken by a person who, we were informed, would not only continue to supply Walworth with their produce, but, from motives of caprice or economy, would deliver it himself. Accordingly, the man you have seen pass this evening appeared; and all was uniform and punctual as before. In a few days, however, he came, attended by that mysterious female, dogged precisely as you have seen him an hour ago, and at once the heart of every cook and kitchen-maid in the parish was on fire with curiosity and suspicion. From the kitchen the contagion spread to the drawing-room, and commissions of enquiry, in the shape of tea-parties, were held in every house relative to the strange milk-vender and his stranger shadow. To those who asked him any questions on the matter, and very few ventured to do so—for his manner, though civil, had reserve and sullenness, and there was in his deportment a decent propriety, that repulsed, or rather prevented, enquiry—he usually answered that he 'knew nothing of the woman who followed him;' 'that he dared to say it was from some whim;' 'that she was welcome to do so if she pleased;' 'she had the same right of highway as any other person,' and suchlike evasive replies."
"But his companion—I should rather say, his attendant—from her sex, she would, at least, be something more communicative?"
"Not at all. She was very seldom spoken to upon any subject. She kept aloof from all who seemed disposed to be inquisitive; and if she ever came within range, as the sailors say, of a question, she never gave an intelligible, or at least satisfactory, answer. Besides, as she was never seen save in the track of him whom she lives but to pursue, her own sex have had no opportunity of conciliating her into an acquaintanceship, and their patience and curiosity have long consumed themselves away."
"Then, after all, it may be only the whim of an eccentric woman that leads her thus to persecute an inoffensive, industrious person?"
"I cannot think so. I am persuaded there is some peculiar occurrence in their past lives that has thus mysteriously associated them—some conscious secret that, by its influence, draws them forcibly into contact. What the nature of this strange sympathy may be, I cannot form the least idea."
"Has no one attempted to unriddle it before now?"
"Not with any prospect of success. Of course there have been a thousand conjectures. Among the lower orders of people, the prevalent opinion is, that the woman once possessed a large sum of money, out of which this Maunsell (for such is his name) contrived to cheat her; and that she has ever since haunted him, as they very appropriately term it. But this offence I am inclined to think infinitely too light a one to draw upon him the grievous punishment which has been so many years inflicted on him. One of our neighbours, Rochfort, a very matter-of-fact sort of man, not at all given to the marvellous, asserts, that he witnessed by accident what he is sure was the first meeting of the Pair after the man's arrival in this quarter. It was late in the evening; Rochfort was standing, he says, in the shadow of a gateway that breaks up the long blank wall of a large timber-yard that belongs to him, at some distance from this, and which skirts a lonely and unfrequented road leading to Kennington. He is positive there was not a human being but himself within sight or hearing, when he perceived the milkman coming along by the wall, his footsteps echoing loudly up the dusty path. Not choosing to encounter a stranger at the moment in such a spot, my friend withdrew further into the shadow of the gateway. The man, in passing it, happening to drop some pieces of money from his hand, stooped to recover then; and while so engaged, a female, who, Rochfort asserts, must have risen out of the earth on the instant, suddenly appeared standing at the searcher's side, perfectly motionless, and muffled in those dark funereal garments that have since been so familiar to our eyes. On lifting his head the man perceived her, started, but, my informant says, it was more the subdued start of one accustomed to face horror, than the overwhelming dismay of a person terrified for the first time: he folded his arms, as if endeavouring to collect himself, but his whole frame shook convulsively. He was about to speak, when a noise of workmen approaching up the archway stopped him, and, turning away, he hastened on—that dark spectral woman gliding noiselessly after him."
"Perhaps," I said, with a forced laugh—for, despite of myself, the story was exciting my imagination as well as curiosity—"she really is a visitant from another world."
"There are not wanting those who say so," replied my friend; "but however ghost-like her mission and appearance may be, I believe there is no doubt that as yet she is a denizen in the flesh."
"And this Pair—where and how do they reside?"
"The man lives at his dairies, a considerable way from here, and although he has, I am told, an extensive establishment, never goes out but on his daily business. He is of a serious, methodistical disposition, and, I understand, affects devotional reading a good deal; yet he is never seen at a place of worship. He is unmarried, nor does any relative or companion reside with him. The woman—it is hardly known where she lives; in some miserable lonely room far away, buried in the heart of one of those dismal courts that lurk in the outlets of London, her way of life and means of support equally unknown, the one object of her existence palpable to all—to come forth at the grey of daybreak in winter and summer, in storm or shine, and seat herself at a little distance from that man's abode, until he makes his appearance: when he was passed her, to rise, to follow, to track him through the livelong day with that unflagging constancy poets are fond of ascribing to unquenchable love, which the early Greeks attributed to their impersonations of immortal Hate."
"Surely the wild and doubtful surmises that those circumstances have raised in people's minds must have had an injurious effect on Maunsell's business?"
"Not at all; on the contrary, I think it has assisted it. Every neighbourhood loves to have a mystery of its own, and we, you must confess, have got a superlative one. The man has been found scrupulously honest, regular, and exact in his dealings; and were we to lose him now, and get a mere common-place person to succeed him, half the housewives of Walworth would perish of inanition. And now," said Sainsbury, rising, "That I have imparted to you all I know respecting the milkman and his familiar, let us to the drawing-room and seek some coffee."
The night that followed this conversation was to me a most uncomfortable one. The episode in the day's occurrences had made so deep an impression on me, that it excluded all other thoughts from my mind, which it occupied so intently, that, upon retiring to my chamber, several hours elapsed before I sought repose. I did so at last, but in vain. Between the fever attendant upon my indisposition, and the irksomeness of frame caused by mental inquietude, sleep was completely banished from my eyelids, or visited them only in short and broken slumbers, peopled by the distorted images of my waking thoughts. The mysterious Pair were again before me. I saw them gliding through the long street, the man hastening on in that attitude, so strikingly described by Coleridge, like one
"Who walks in fear and dread; And having once turn'd round, walks on, And turns no more his head, Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread"—
the woman keeping on his track with the constancy of Doom. Or I was standing a witness to their first meeting in the grim Dark on that lonely road, their eyes of hate and fear staring wildly into each other. Sometimes I found myself spellbound between the two, the centre upon which their fearful sympathies revolved, the object upon which their long pent-up passions were about to burst. Starting from those visions, my waking fancies were hardly less tormenting. I was just at that season of youth, before the calmer and nobler faculties have acquired maturity and tone; when incidents that vary but little from the ordinary economy of life, seen through the medium of the imagination, assume a magnitude of distinctness not properly their own. On the present occasion, however, my friend's recital was well calculated to arouse the speculations of a romantic fancy; and mine was now fully employed in forming a thousand conjectures in elucidation of the curious circumstances he had repeated to me. What could be the relation between those strange parties? Was it attachment in the one and aversion in the other? Or had one, as was commonly supposed, been the plundered victim—the other the Despoiler? Neither of these cases could be so. A petty office of police would have relieved the persecuted—a court of law would have redressed the robbery. Monomania had been known to instigate persons to a line of conduct as perseveringly painful as this woman pursued; but then there could be no motive why the object of her attention should, for years, resign himself to a system of annoyance that drew upon him so much of remark and obloquy. Or could the female be the hired instrument of persecution in the hands of others? The poverty, the utter joylessness of her solitary life, precluded the supposition. No! crime, I felt convinced—crime was at the bottom of it all! and crime, too, of no ordinary quality. Was the man intent upon committing some deadly offence against society? and was it to prevent its commission that he was so assiduously watched by his companion? Perhaps he meditated breaking that instinctive canon which the Most High has so wisely fixed against "self-slaughter." Or had some hideous deed already been perpetrated? Was it by one, or both? or was one a soul black with guilt—the other a spirit of innocence? The more I indulged in those heated fancies, the wilder they became. Was the woman, after all, a Being endowed with vitality? The suddenness of her first appearance before the man watching at the gate—the fearful hour—the lonely spot—her noiseless tread—her silent demeanour—her sepulchral dress—almost warranted the contrary opinion. Had she fallen by the hand of this Maunsell? and was the apparition, which we are told ever lives by the side of the murderer, thus permitted to haunt him, embodied before the eyes of men? Such were the troubled thoughts that disturbed me throughout the night. Long before sunrise I was up, endeavouring to calm the fever into which I had wrought myself, by pacing my apartment in the cool of morning. A brilliant sunshine ushered in the day, and under its enlivening influence my perturbed spirits gradually subsided to their usual tone. At breakfast, I confess, I was disposed again to enter on the topic, if an opportunity occurred; but Sainsbury, occupied in some letters of importance that had arrived, talked but little, and did not recur to the subject of the previous evening. This did not assist to allay the interest which had been so powerfully excited in my bosom. The continuance of my cold once more served me as a plea for remaining within doors; and, upon our parting for the day, I did not hesitate to retire to the dining-parlour, whose windows looked directly on the street, and there, shutting myself up, I awaited the arrival of the hour at which the extraordinary pair generally appeared, determined to satisfy myself by a closer observation than I had hitherto made.
Exactly as noon sounded, I saw him stop at an opposite door, and—did I see rightly? Yes—alone. No; I had not approached sufficiently close to the window; when I did, she, too, was there, at the same slight distance behind, in the same silent, patient, motionless attitude. He went on, and, steady as his shadow, she pursued. I now resolved to see them still closer, and for that purpose proceeded to the hall-door, where I remained carelessly standing until the man approached it. I could observe that he walked at an even deliberate pace; and as he carried none of the cumbrous machinery distinctive of his craft, his step was steady and unimpeded. He was a low-sized, well-made man, probably somewhat more than forty years of age. He was neatly dressed; his attire being a suit of some of those grave colours and primitive patterns which find so much favour in the eyes of staid Dissenters, and persons of that class. Indeed, I could see by his whole deportment, that the occupation he pursued was one of choice, not of necessity. His features were regular, nor was there in his countenance any thing remarkable, except that it was pale and subdued, with a look of endurance which peculiar circumstances perhaps imparted to it. What I chiefly noticed, was an evident consciousness about the man that some disagreeable object lurked behind him; and when I caught his eye, which I did once or twice, I could see in its glance that he quite understood why my attention was directed to him. He did not utter a word in my hearing, and there was altogether in his appearance an air of depression and reserve which still further aided the impression Sainsbury's story had made on my imagination. When he next paused, his short progress brought his attendant close to me—in every way a more striking and interesting person. She was a woman tall in stature, of an erect figure, finely proportioned, as well as the coarse mourning garments and large dark cloak in which she was muffled allowed me to judge. She must have been, in youth, very handsome; but on her thin ashen cheek premature age had already made unusual ravage. She could not, from the unbroken and graceful outline of her form, be much more than thirty; but her face was marked with the passionate traces of nearly double that period. Nothing of life I ever beheld exhibited the paleness—the monumental paleness of that face. On the brow, on the cheek, all was the aspect of the grave. Yet life—intenser life than thrills the soul of Beauty in her bridal bower, dwelt in the working of those thin compressed lips—lurked beneath those heavy downcast lids, burned in those dark wild eyes, whose flashes I more than once arrested ere she passed from before me. Writing at the interval of time I now do, and disposed as I am to deal severely with the fantastic imaginations of my youth, I have not in any way exaggerated the appearance this singular female exhibited. Should the reader suspect me of such an error, a moment's reflection will convince him that she who could—from whatever motive it might be—adopt the strange purpose to which she had devoted her solitary life, must have been characterized by energies of mind that would of necessity have filled and informed her frame, and imparted to her an air that altogether distinguished her from ordinary persons. I observed that she seemed wholly regardless of what was passing around her, appearing to be entirely absorbed in one great duty—the business of her existence—that of attending on the individual whose steps she so closely followed. He made no movement that, I thought, escaped her. Insensible, apparently, to every thing else, her glance showed that never for a moment did she cease to watch him, eager, my fancy suggested, to catch the slightest indication of his turning round and encountering her gaze. If so, her vigilance, as long as I beheld the Pair, was in vain. The man never ventured to look behind him. In half an hour they had vanished from the street.
They re-appeared in the evening again as usual, and then, and for several subsequent days, (for I did not feel well enough to undergo some twenty or thirty hours' sea-sickness in the packet that offered the Saturday after my arrival,) I took a morbid and eager pleasure in awaiting the visits and observing the motions of those inscrutable beings. Sainsbury and his son were amused, but not surprised, at the anxiety I evinced to obtain a nearer insight into Maunsell's history. My curiosity and vigilance were, however, fruitless. The Pair performed their revolutions with a cold uniformity, a silent perseverance, that I found sufficiently monotonous; and at length, after one or two baffled attempts to engage the man in conversation, and which never proceeded beyond a few common-place words, (about his companion there was a something indefinable that prevented me from ever addressing her,) I relinquished any further hope of penetrating the mystery. Towards the close of my stay, and as my indisposition wore away, the Sainsburys complimented me by giving one or two dinner-parties, and these, with some morning visits and rambles with the men I met at the house, served to draw my attention from the matter; so that by the time I had fairly embarked on board the Blitzen, bound for Helvoetsluys, the circumstances which had occupied me so intently for the last fortnight were beginning to take their place among the remembrances of the past.
The passage to the Dutch coast, and my journey onward to Heidelberg, were performed without interruption, and were unenlivened by any incident that deserves relating. As it is not my intention to dwell upon the vicissitudes of my career at the high school and university, I shall merely say that, attending very little to the conventional and arbitrary distinctions by which the students of Germany choose to classify themselves—caring still less for chores, brand-foxes, and Burschenschafft, and nothing at all for noisy suppers and their drunken refrain—
"Toujours fidele et sans souci C'est l'ordre du Crambambuli!"—
I very earnestly bent myself to second the intentions of my father. For three years, diligently and indefatigably, I pursued a course of severe application to long-neglected studies, which enabled me fairly to redeem the time I had squandered in early youth. Nor is it unworthy of remark, that, as is often the case with imaginative people, the temptations which had appeared so inviting when beheld from a distance, failed in their powers of allurement on a nearer approach. The Spirit of the Brocken and I made no advances in intimacy, and I rode through the Black Forest without a desire to enroll myself amongst its freebooters.
The fourth year of my stay at Heidelberg was drawing to a close, when, in pursuance of arrangements entered into with my father, I returned to England. Upon reaching London, I drove to my kind friends at Walworth, where I experienced the same ready welcome as before, accompanied by many congratulations upon my academical success, of which they had heard from time to time from my family. It was the middle of winter—the second or third week in December—when London exhibits all that joyous bustle of plenteousness and good cheer, amidst which its citizens celebrate the festival of Christmas. As Mrs Sainsbury and her daughters were now at home, I was easily prevailed on to prolong my visit for a few days before I departed for Lincolnshire. The moment I entered the house, the rooms and their associations recalled to me forcibly the mysterious Pair, whose proceedings had filled my mind with so much of curiosity and interest when I was last a sojourner in the abode. During my residence in Germany I had not forgotten them; and although the austerity of my pursuits in that country had schooled my fancy to a soberer pace, I could not forbear from enquiring, in one or two letters which I had occasion to write to the younger Sainsbury, whether the milkman of Walworth and his Shadow still pursued their rounds uninterrupted, or if any thing had transpired that could enlighten our conjectures on their history. My correspondent always neglected, or forgot, to satisfy me in this particular; and it was therefore with something, I am ashamed to say, nearly approaching to anxiety, that on the morning after my arrival—for the gay variety of the social circle had monopolized my attention until then—I once more, after so long an interval, seated myself in the library window, under pretence of seeking a passage in Herder, which I had quoted for Julia Sainsbury the preceding evening, and awaited the hour of noon.
And there, before the clock of the neighbouring church had ceased striking, with the selfsame step, in the same subdued attire in which I saw him four years ago, came gliding up the street the dark, sullen milkman; and there, too, close behind him as ever, followed his shadowy companion! It is in vain to deny it. I could feel my heart beating audibly when I beheld them, as if they were unsubstantial visitants, whose appearance I expected the grave would have interdicted from my eyes for ever. It was a dim, bitter, wintry day, and showers of sleet were drifting heavily on the fierce and angry wind, soaking the man's garments through and through, and sweeping aside the thin habiliments of the female, as though they would tear them from her slender form, and leave it a prey to the keen wrath of the elements. Yet the Pair passed upon their way, seemingly regardless of weather that had banished all other creatures from the streets. As they stopped beneath the window where I sat, I scrutinized them eagerly, to see whether time, or toil, or the terrors of such winters as that now raging, had wrought the work of ruin I would have expected in their frames. In that of the woman there was but little alteration. She was thinner and paler perhaps, and the poorness of her dress betokened no doubt an increase in her sufferings and privations; but her glance, when I could catch it, had more of fiery blackness: her mouth more of compressed determination than when I formerly beheld her. But in Maunsell there was a striking change: his figure was stooped, his cheek hollow, his eye sunk; in a word, his aspect now bore the signs of that mental misery which, on an earlier occasion, I had looked for in one subjected like him to such long, and steady, and undying persecution. Mournful beings! I internally exclaimed, as they proceeded from my sight, whatever sinful sorrow thus serves to link together your discordant existences, it must indeed be of a damning nature, if such a career as yours does not go far to expiate it!
That day, on the re-assembling of the family, I did not fail to allude to the subject of the milkman, and to express my surprise at his tenacity to life, as well as at the fixedness of purpose that enabled him to pursue his occupation through a long series of years, under such remarkable circumstances. I found, however, that the ladies only smiled at the interest which my manner exhibited; some of them assuring me, at the same time, that the neighbourhood was now so accustomed to the matter, that, although calculated to arrest the attention of a stranger, to them it had ceased to be either a source of curiosity or enquiry. I believe they added, that of late the man's health had begun to fail, and that once or twice, when he happened to be confined from indisposition, his companion's visits were interrupted by the occurrence, although she still kept her vigilance in exercise by watching unremittingly for his re-appearance.
After a few pleasant days passed in London, I proceeded to Lincolnshire, and had the happiness of finding my family well when I arrived at home. My father was quite satisfied with the letters I conveyed from Professor Von Slammerbogen; my mother delighted to receive me in any character, whether that of pedant or prodigal. Nicholas, my elder brother, I found as much attached, as when I left him, to practising "Dull Care", upon the violin. In Tom, however, there was a considerable modification, he having left his sinister arm at Hougomont, in exchange for a three months' campaign in country quarters and a Waterloo medal. In the following term I entered at Cambridge, as my father had originally planned; and in due time, upon obtaining my degree, was admitted into holy orders. My first curacy, it is singular enough, was obtained through the influence of our friend the Walworth banker, and was that of St ——'s, in his neighbourhood, but nearer to town, and the centre of a poor but densely peopled district. The scene of life I now entered upon was truly laborious and painful. Resolved to perform its duties diligently to the best of my ability, I found every moment I could spare from refreshment and sleep hardly sufficient for the claims which the Comfortless, whom I had to console, the Sick, whom I had to succour, the Profligate, to reclaim, the Sceptic, to convince, made upon my time. Wholesome and profitable to my spirit, I trust, was this discipline! It seems to me a thing inexplicable, how a man can advocate the interests, the benefits of religion—can impress upon others the divine precepts of Christianity, and be himself not a partaker in the blessings he imparts. Such a one, I hope, I have long ceased to be; and although I do not profess to have attained that degree of zealous fervour and devotion, which sees, in the light and graceful relaxations of life nothing but the darkness and allurements of sin, I humbly believe I have endeavoured to make my course, as much as in me was possible, conformable to the doctrines I have taught.
Upon settling in London, I gladly renewed my acquaintance with the Sainsburys; yet so arduous were the duties of my profession, that, for the first two years in which I resided in St ——'s parish, I saw but little of this amiable family. Towards the close of that period, the aid of an additional curate, appointed to assist in the district, afforded me a little more leisure time, and I was enabled occasionally to spend an evening at Walworth. In passing to and from my friend's house, I now and then met, and ever with renewed interest and surprise, the dark PAIR still plodding their melancholy, interminable rounds. The last time I beheld them, I remember calculating, as they passed me, the number of years they had been thus incomprehensibly associated, and speculating on how many more should elapse before age and death terminated that melancholy partnership. In about two months after, I dined at the banker's, and the first intelligence with which John Sainsbury greeted me, was the news that the milkman of Walworth and his companion had at length disappeared. Maunsell, he said, had died some weeks before, after a couple of days' illness. No one seemed to know of what disorder—general debility, it was thought; no doctor had been called in; and not having left a will, his property went to some distant relative. With respect to the woman, she was last noticed, the evening of his death, sitting in the usual spot—within sight of the gateway leading to his house—where she generally awaited his appearance. She was not there the following morning; nor was she seen again. As the deceased had made no disclosure respecting her, nor left any papers that could tend to explain their connexion, all chance, it was concluded, of clearing up the mystery was at an end for ever. I confess this disappointed me not a little. I found I had, whenever the strange Pair occurred to my recollection, unconsciously entertained a conviction that I should, at some period or other, learn their history; and now that all opportunity of so doing had vanished, the fancies of my early youth again returned, and occupied me with their wild suggestions for a longer time than was either pleasing or justifiable. The coincidence, however, which had brought me so often into contact with those singular persons, was not fated as yet to discontinue.
It was, I think, about half a year from this period, that, in returning late one evening from the neighbourhood of Russell Square, where my father, during a short visit he was compelled to make to town, had taken lodgings, I missed my way, and got entangled in the intricacies of the numerous narrow streets and alleys that lie between that quarter of London and the eastern end of Holborn. Intending to avail myself of some of the public conveyances homewards, I had attempted to shorten my passage to the great thoroughfares, and in doing so had thus gone astray. As it was past ten o'clock I was necessarily hurried, and yet the heat and heaviness of the night—it was July—prevented me freeing myself as rapidly as I should otherwise have done from the squalid and disagreeable avenues in which I had got entangled. I was just pausing to enquire my way of a slatternly-looking woman, who stood considerably in front of the door of a dirty-looking house in one of the dirtiest lanes I had yet explored, and who, with an apron thrown round her shoulders, to supply, it seemed to me, the absence of their appropriate garments, appeared, from the direction of her looks, to be awaiting some one's arrival, when a lad hastened up the opposite side of the alley, and breathlessly announced to her, that "the docther wouldn't come 'thout he first got his fee."
"Holy Mary, mother of ——! Oh, wisha, what am I to do!" exclaimed the woman in a strong Irish accent, with that elision of apostrophe into complaint peculiar to her country.
"If she goes on this way till mornin', two men wouldn't hould her, let alone one colleen. Run, Micky, to the 'seer, an' let him get her to the hospiddle, or my heart 'll be broke from her."
"How dove I know where the 'seer lives at this hour o' the night?" expostulated the boy.
"There's a wake in Tim Reilly's second floor—can't you go there, and they'll tell you—can't you?"
The messenger disappeared, and I now, before putting the question for which I had stopped, asked the woman soothingly the cause of her perturbation.
"Is it what's the matther, sir? Matther enough thin—a poor crethur of a woman lodgin' with me is took very bad with the fever. She wasn't to say so bad entirely till this evenin', when she begin to rave, and 'sist upon gettin' up; an' goin' on with terrible talk, that it would frighten the heart o' you to hear her."
"How long," I said, "has she been ill?"
"Wisha, sir, she was never well since the day she darkened my dure; but I think 'tis the heat o' the weather, an' her never stirrin' out, an' the weakness entirely, an' the impression on her heart, that is killin' her now."
"And has she had no advice?"
"Sorrow the 'vice—you'd think she'd go into fits when I mentioned a docther to her; and as to a priest or a ministher—my dear life, I might as well mention a blunderbush."
Well accustomed to hear of, and witness, such suffering as the woman described, I was about to proceed in quest of a physician myself, if she had paused in the first part of the sentence just finished. The concluding remarks arrested me.
"I am a clergyman," I said; "will you let me see this poor person?"
"An' a thousand welcomes, sir. I know you're not the Revern' Misthur Falvey, that I goes to a' Christmas an' Easther—nor the ministher convenient here. Maybe you're"——
"I'm quite unknown here; but by allowing me to see your patient, I shall be able to judge if she is in a fit state to be removed to an hospital; or, if instantly necessary, I shall myself procure medical advice for her."
The woman entered the house and I followed her, waiting, as she requested me, in the dark entry, until she procured from the sick chamber the only light that I presume was burning in the dwelling. She then re-appeared at the head of the stairs, and requested me to ascend.
Lighting me up four ruinous flights of steps, leading to rooms that appeared to be tenanted by beings as miserable as herself, she ushered me into an apartment of such large dimensions that the weak rushlight she carried left its extremity in absolute darkness. It was wretchedly furnished. At the farthest end from the door was a bed, by the side of which stood a coarse-looking girl about fifteen, engaged in preventing—now by soothing, now by forcible restraint—the invalid who occupied it from attempting to rise.
"Not another moment—not one moment longer! I must get up—he is waiting for me! See! I am late already, for 'tis daybreak—though you cannot see the dawn through that dismal rain. Let me go—wretch, wretch!—let me go; he shall not stir one step that I won't be near him to remind him of"——
Leaving the candle near the door, my guide approached the bed, and beckoned me to follow. I advanced, and even through the misty shadows that enveloped the place, I recognised, in the emaciated Form struggling on the couch, her wild flashing eyes now wilder with fever and insanity, the well-remembered wanderer who had so often excited my interest in Walworth.
"Ha!" she continued, after stopping suddenly, as lunatics will do when a stranger unexpectedly appears, and intently observing me for some minutes. "Ha! I knew I was late—see there. He has come to seek me, for the first time, too, for seventeen—eighteen-oh! so many long years. Ha, ha! all in black, too—Barnard—and you've brought your wealthy bride"—and she glanced at the woman, who stood beside me; "but, faugh, how her limbs rattle—not a whole bone," she said, with a hysterical laugh, "in her beautiful body!"
In this way she continued to rave, during the short time I remained in the apartment. I attempted to ask her a few questions, to ascertain, if possible, how far the distraction of her mind was consequent upon her disorder; but her only replies were mad and incoherent allusions to past scenes and occurrences, that seemed entirely to engross her attention. Finding my presence of no avail, I quitted the place, and was about to deposit a small sum with the hostess for the sufferer's use, when she very ingenuously informed me it was not at the moment necessary, that person herself having always, in the payment of her weekly rent, entrusted to her hands money sufficient to supply the wants of several ensuing days.
"An' though we're sometimes bad enough off, sir, when the boys don't get the work at Mr Cubitt's, still, shure, if I was to wrong a poor sickly crethur like that of her thrifle of change, 'twould melt away the weight o' myself in goold if I had it."
I could not help smiling at this unwonted display of honesty in so unexpected a quarter, and promising her that such care and attention to her sick tenant should not go unrewarded, I departed, escorted by "Micky," who had returned to say that no intelligence of the 'seer was to be obtained at Tim Reilly's. On making our way into Holborn, I called at the nearest surgeon's, and, giving him my address, I dispatched him back with the boy, directing him, at the same time, not to allow the woman to be removed unless her disorder was a contagious one, (which, I was persuaded, it was not,) and requesting, should the aid of a physician be necessary, he would at once procure it, for which, with all other expenses, I would be answerable. Touching this latter point, the lad had informed me as we came along, that he did not think their lodger was at all at a loss for money, as she procured it about once a-month, he thought, (the only time she ever went abroad,) from some "gentleman's office in the coorts."
Although living at such a distance, I contrived to see the unfortunate invalid several times in the following week. I found I was right as to the nature of her disorder. An eminent physician had been called in once or twice during its most violent paroxysms, and stated, that it was likely her malady was not the cause, but the consequence, of some extraordinary mental excitement. Under the judicious treatment he pointed out, the fever gradually subsided, and for a short time there was an appearance in the patient of returning convalescence. But her physical energies were exhausted, and it was evident that a very short period would terminate her existence. Reason, too, never wholly resumed its functions, if indeed it had ever of late years exercised them in that wearied brain. Her ideas assumed a certain degree of coherency. She was able to converse occasionally with calmness, to recognise faces familiar to her, and appeared sensible of and even grateful for my visits, and the assiduity with which I sought to awaken her to some preparation for the great approaching change; but
"the delicate chain Of thought, once tangled, never clear'd again:"
never wholly cleared. The lightning of insanity flashed continually from the heavy cloud that hung upon her soul. The allusions, too, she was in the habit of making to some transactions of bygone years, were of so startling a nature, that I was fully confirmed in my early impression she had been at one time of her life implicated in some wonderful, nay, heinous occurrence. Upon this point it was my intention, if possible, to win her gradually to confide to me the secret of her guilt or wrongs, hoping by this means to relieve her spirit by seeming to share in its burdens and distress.
With the quick perception of persons labouring like her under mental aberration, she seemed to anticipate my purpose. I was one morning sitting by her bedside, when she suddenly began—
"You asked me yesterday if I remembered having ever seen you before this illness—this late attack—and I said no. It was false. I spoke as I thought at the time; but, in looking at you now, I recollect you were one of those people I often met at Walworth. I even think you once attempted to get into his confidence—(now, do not interrupt me.) You likewise desired to know why one like me, who appears superior in mind and language to the wretched class amongst whom you find her, should have led the life——Stay! send for a sheriff's officer, and I will tell you."
I assured her I saw no necessity at that moment for the presence of such a person; and, as she appeared somewhat more excited than I had seen her for several days, I endeavoured to lead her away from the subject that occupied her, by turning the conversation to some indifferent topic. But it would not do. She still reverted to the point at which she had broken off; and I was at length obliged to let her pursue the course of her own thoughts as she pleased.
"Did you ever think me handsome? Many once thought me so; but that is long ago. My father was still handsomer. He was the younger of two brothers, both wealthy. They were plain Devonshire farmers—each, too, was a widower, with each a daughter. So far for their likeness to one another. Now for the contrast. My father spent his wealth, died, and left me a beggar. Her's (my pretty cousin Martha's) saved it, and left his child an heiress—a Temptation—a prize for all the bumpkins and graziers about us. I was glad to live with her. We kept house together. We were both of an age—young, handsome, lively, and for our station, or rather for a higher one, well educated. Here again ceased the resemblance. Like my father, I was open, guileless, unsuspecting—and it destroyed me. She was mean, cunning, treacherous, and would—but HELL was too strong for her—have triumphed. My cousin had numerous offers of marriage. I had none. Among several young men who frequented our society, was a substantial farmer named Barnard. You have seen him. When you first beheld him he was little altered. He had ever that cursed look of Cain upon his forehead, though I branded it a little deeper. Do not thus stop me!—breath!—I have breath enough. Barnard was gay, smooth, agreeable—what was more, he was my suitor—the only one amid throngs that was attentive, kind, obliging to me. I felt first grateful, and next loved him—you shall hear HOW WELL.
"Our match began to be talked of. Martha from some whim disapproved of it. He ceased to visit at the house—but I would not give him up; and while he contemplated, as I thought, arrangements for our marriage, we often met alone. Judgment is over with him now—mine is at hand, and I will not load him with guilt that, after all, may not be his. He was the only being that cared for me on earth, and I clung to him with a tenfold affection. How do I know but it was this mad confidence that first awoke the villain in his soul? That wine"—
I held the glass to her lips; and, while I wiped the damp drops of agony from her brow, I besought her to defer the sequel of her story until she was more capable of pursuing it.
"No," she said; "it must be now, or not at all. I am stronger than I have been for months to-day. Where was I?—Stealing back day after day to Martha's, a trampled, but not an unhoping spirit; for I still looked forward to his fulfilling his promise. He once more was a visitor at our house. I did not know why—I did not care—he was there, and I was satisfied: I had no eyes for any thing else. But the blow was coming. It fell—it smote us all to dust.
"I was one morning occupied alone in some domestic duty, when I heard Barnard's name pronounced by two female servants of our farm, who were employed in the next apartment. I listened—poor souls! they were merely agreeing 'how natural it was for Mr Barnard to have jilted Miss—(but let my very name be unpronounced)—and taken up with Miss Martha, who had all the fortune.' Was it not a natural remark? So natural, that every being in the country had already made it but her whose heart it broke to hear it. I rushed from the spot, a mist spreading before my eyes as I hastened on. I sought out Barnard; I found him, and alone. I told him of the report I had overheard. He said it was not new to him. I charged him with perfidy—he avowed it. Half-dreaming, I attempted to catch his hand. He coolly withdrew it. I knelt before him—I clasped his knees—I wept, and prayed he would bless me by treading me to death beneath his feet. He extricated himself with a laugh, bid me not be a fool, and left me.
"Before I rose from the spot where I had fallen, a dreadful shadow passed, as it were, suddenly across me, and some black passion I had never known till then took possession of my spirit. It was JEALOUSY. I returned home, and hastened to have an interview with Martha. Hitherto I had been of a quiet, timid disposition—I was now bold from frenzy and betrayed affection. I upbraided my cousin with duplicity, with meanness in receiving the addresses of the man betrothed to her relative. She retorted by drawing comparisons between our attractions, personal as well as pecuniary. At these I smiled—bitterly perhaps, but still I smiled. She scoffed at my pleas that Barnard was my affianced husband, declared her intention of marrying him, and ended by insinuating that I had lost him by the very unguardedness of my affection. I never smiled again.
"I was mad from that day forward. My whole existence changed. I was a dissembler—a liar—for my life was a long lie—and, come near—I am a murderer. I lived blindly on—a day was fixed for their marriage—but, though I knew not how it was to be—I knew another would never stand at the altar as his bride.
"She and I had apparently been reconciled—I saw Barnard no more, save in her presence—I lulled them both into a belief that I was a poor, trodden, and stingless thing.
"The Sunday preceding the wedding-day arrived. It was a lovely evening in summer, and Martha and he and I wandered far away into the fields—they to taste the freshness of nature, I, to wonder the flowers did not wither beneath our tread; for we were all alike evil and abandoned. In our way, we visited a mill that was soon to become the property of Barnard in right of his bride. In passing through the different lofts into which it was divided, we paused in one to admire the immense and complicated machinery connected with the great wheel that worked the manufactory. Martha, ever capricious and perverse, wished to see the engine set in motion. But there was not a servant—not a creature, save ourselves—within a mile of the spot at the moment. Barnard, however, volunteered to go to the mill-dam outside, and, on a signal from us, to undo the wicket that kept back the waters from the wheel. I watched him from the window till he took his station at the spot. Just then Martha, who, with perverse inquisitiveness, had been standing caged within the iron framework of the engines, in hastening to leave it missed her footing, and stumbled backward again within its circle. A streak as of fire flashed through the place. I waved my hand; there was the sudden rush of tumbling water, a faint shriek, and then the roar and thunder of the enormous wheels hurrying on, grinding and tearing her to pieces. And then came the horrorstruck look of Him, crying out to Heaven in his vain impotency, and my own mad laughter, ringing high over it all!
"His consternation and despair—his wild attempts to stay the progress of the crashing machinery—his wrath at my exultation—only raised me to a higher state of frenzy—that frenzy of heart and brain that never went from me more. I hollowed in his ear how I had done it—and when he flung himself on the ground in a passion of remorse and grief, I danced round him, proclaiming my hate and guilt, and summoning him to give me up to justice. It was now his turn to quiver under the lash of conscience. He accused himself of the ruin I had wrought—acknowledged his falsehood—cried aloud for mercy—and still I exulted with a fiercer laughter, with a louder demand that he would give me to the gibbet. He endeavored to fly from the spot. I pursued him. I NEVER LEFT HIM AGAIN. There was a long illness—a blot upon my memory. I cannot tell you any thing of its duration. Her remains were found—there was an enquiry—he was the only witness—he kept our secret. On my recovery, I found he had sold his property, and departed to some distant quarter in the north of England. I tracked him there. I had vowed to haunt his soul with the memory of my crime, until he surrendered me to justice. He sought to shun me, by changing his name and removing from one place of residence to another; but in vain. My revenge was as hard and cruel as his own look on the morning, in his orchard, when he spurned me fainting from his feet. Go where he would, I pursued. At last he settled near London—in that place where you first beheld us. You know the rest of our career. If guilt can be atoned for by human suffering—the wrath of years—the raging wind—the scorching sun—ruined youth—premature age—privation, misery, madness, and hate, have well atoned for ours. You shake your head. It is not so? Well, you were the first to teach me to vent my burning thoughts in prayer. Pray with me now. I seem to have lived all my evil passions over again in this last hour. Do not leave me yet, but—pray!"
* * * * *
Such was the disastrous tale imparted to me in almost the last interview I had with its hapless narrator. Either the recollections she had lived through, as she said, in so short a space, or the exertions caused by its recital, were too much for her enfeebled intellect. Delirium shortly after returned, and continued to within a few hours of her dissolution, which occurred on the evening of the following day. I was present when she expired. She instructed me where to find the agent, who paid her a small stipend derived from a distant relative, (to whom, by her uncle's will, his property descended,) that I might apprise him of her death. She was quite sensible at the awful moment; and there is still a hope mingled with the melancholy remembrance that her last entreaty to me was—to "PRAY!"
The miseries of the Irish people, and the oppressions under which they groan, form the topics of conversation in every quarter of the globe—you hear of them at Rome and at Constantinople—they are discussed on the prairies of Texas and in the wilds of the Oregon—in Paris and at Vienna you are bored by their constant repetition. The "smart" American contributes his dollars, and the "pious Belgian" his prayers, to effect their redress; and they have fairly driven from the field of compassion all sympathy for the plundered Jews and persecuted Poles. The restless Frenchman speculates on them as the certain means by which England may be humiliated; and impatiently awaits the moment when, under the guidance of the young De Joinville, fifty thousand of "les braves" may be thrown on the coast of Ireland, and take advantage of the national disaffection, for the double purpose of mortally wounding his ancient enemy, and of giving, as a boon to its oppressed inhabitants, that liberty of which he talks so much and knows so little. Doubtless the sufferings of this patient people have, before now, drawn tears from the sensitive eyes of "the brother of the sun;" and the "sagacious and enlightened Lin" has already suggested to his celestial master the propriety of dispatching some of his invincible war-junks to effect the liberation of the degraded slaves of the "red and blue devils" who have so cruelly annoyed him. Every one has heard, and every one talks, of Irish grievances; but no one seems to know exactly what those grievances are: their existence appears to be so unquestionable, that to dispute it is not only useless but almost disreputable; and yet if one venture to enquire of those who declaim most loudly against them wherein they consist, they limit themselves to generalities, and quote the admitted state of the country as proof positive of English injustice and Saxon misrule.
That the inhabitants of distant countries should believe what they hear so constantly asserted, cannot be a matter of much surprise; nor that the enemies of England and of order should credit what it suits their inclinations to believe; but that those who live close to the scene of such grievous inflictions—that those who are the fellow-subjects of the oppressed, and who may be said to be the instruments whereby those enormities are perpetrated—should take for granted all they hear stated, without endeavouring to discover the truth of those assertions or the extent of their own culpability, does seem to us almost incredible. Yet so it is. Irish grievances are now in fashion. The most glaring fabrications are swallowed with anxiety if they only profess to be recitals of Irish sufferings; and the British people seem ready to yield to the clamours of mendacious and designing demagogues, measures not only detrimental to the interests of the country for whose welfare they profess so much anxiety, but absolutely ruinous to the glory and the power of their own.
We will not stop here to discuss the benefits which we are told would accrue to the Irish nation from the success of a measure which never can be carried while Ireland holds loyal subjects, or Britain has an arm to wield; but we shall at once proceed to ascertain if those glaring injustices, which make us the world's table-talk, really exist, and if the admitted misery of the Irish people can, with truth, be attributed to the unjust or partial legislation of the British Parliament.
We do not seek to deny, that the interests of Ireland have not been neglected or unfairly dealt by, in former times. With that we have nothing now to do; we take the existing state of things, and we maintain, and will, we trust, convince our readers, that instead of being oppressed or wronged by legislative enactments, Ireland is (as matters are at present managed) greatly favoured, and that instead of complaining of injustice, her inhabitants should be most grateful for the exemptions which are granted them, and for the fostering care which a Conservative government has extended, and is still anxious to extend to them.
In supporting our view of the case, we shall appeal to facts—facts which, if untrue, can easily be refuted; and first, we shall apply ourselves to the amount of taxation imposed on Ireland by the Imperial Parliament. The Irish people are exempt from every species of direct taxation! and their indirect taxes are not more than those to which the inhabitants of England and Scotland are subject. Thus, while the English and Scotch gentleman is taxed for his servants, his carriages, his horses, his dogs, and his armorial bearings—and, in addition, pays, in common with the trading and operative classes, his window-tax—the Irish gentleman and tradesman are totally free from all such imposts. And though, at first sight, this exemption would seem to benefit only the wealthier classes, still when we find, as is certainly the case, that it enables the Irish gentry to keep much larger establishments than men of similar fortune could attempt to do in this country; that consequently more persons are employed as servants; that it enhances the value of horses by increasing the demand for them; that it also greatly adds to the number of carriages used, and, of course, to the employment of the artisan—we must admit that it has no slight influence on the condition both of the tradesman and the agriculturist.
Ireland pays no income-tax! (at least no Irishman need pay it if he choose to reside at home;) for the Minister and the Parliament, so hostile to Irish interests, have only subjected the absentees to its operation; and we find, that in the year ending the 10th October 1844—
England and Scotland paid by assessed taxes, L4,204,855 By income-tax, 5,158,470 ————— Total, L9,363,325
While under those two heads, "injured, persecuted Ireland" paid not one shilling!
Thus we see, that a sum of over nine millions is annually levied from off the inhabitants of the "favoured" portions of the British empire, towards which "oppressed Ireland" is not called upon to contribute sixpence!
It may be said, those taxes only affect the wealthy, and it is not their grievances which call so loudly for redress; it is the burdens imposed on the poor landholders which demand our attention.
We have, in a former Number of this Magazine, see Vol. lv. p. 638, shown that the rents paid for land in Ireland are at least one-third less than the rents paid in England; (but were it even otherwise, the right to dispose of property to the best advantage could not be by law interfered with.) In that article we stated, that in addition to his rent, the English occupier is subject by law to the payment of tithes, which in many instances amount to more than the entire rent imposed on the Irish tenant; and that by recent enactments, the payment of the Protestant church has been transferred from the Irish tenantry to the landlords, nine-tenths of whom are Protestants; that the English tenant pays all the poor-rates, while the Irish tenant is only called on to pay the half; and that while the former is subject to county and parochial rates, in addition to turnpikes, which are a heavy burden, the latter pays only the county cess, the amount of which depends very much on his own conduct. We cannot, then, discover that the Irish peasantry are subject to any pecuniary grievances which legislation has inflicted, or could remove; neither can we perceive any neglect of their interests evinced by the British Minister or the Saxon Parliament; but, on the contrary, we see that they have been specially protected by particular enactments against the payment of charges to which the occupiers of the other portions of the United Kingdom are still subject. If the Irish farmers set their faces against the commission of crime, instead of tacitly, if not openly, affording protection to the greatest delinquents, it is clear that the amount of the county cess, the only tax the tenant pays, might be greatly diminished; the constabulary force might be, under more favourable circumstances, reduced from nine thousand men (its present strength) to half that number; and if the people abstained from houghing the cattle or burning the houses of those who are obnoxious to them, the county rates would not amount to more than one-third of the sum at present levied. Thus, then, the amount of the only direct tax the peasantry have to pay, is mainly dependent on the peaceable condition of the country: if the people be orderly and obedient to the laws, its amount is reduced; if otherwise, and they have heavy assessments to pay, to reimburse those they have injured, no one is to blame for it but themselves. We would, then, ask any candid man, if it would be possible for any government to act more leniently towards Ireland as regards taxation? She is exempt from her proportion of the nine millions levied from the other portions of the United Kingdom; and many of the local assessments to which her inhabitants are subject, were, by special enactments, removed from the shoulders of the occupiers of the soil, and placed on those of the proprietors.
Thus, then, under the head of taxation, no injustice can be said to be committed.
The extent of the Irish representation, and the laws regulating the elective franchise, both in the cities and counties, form a prominent portion of Irish grievances; yet if the efficiency of the representation is to be judged by the influence which it exercises on the councils of the empire, or the registration laws be tested by the results which they have produced, the Irish have little reason to complain of either. The very exemption from taxation to the amount we have already stated, proves one of two things—either that the British minister and British representation are peculiarly partial to the interests of Ireland, (which would destroy the favourite doctrine of "English hatred and Saxon oppression;") or that the Irish representation is powerful enough not only to protect their constituents from injustice, but to secure them peculiar advantages. That the amount of representation already enjoyed by Ireland is at least sufficient for all constitutional purposes, cannot be doubted; for every one knows that by the Radical portion of it alone, an administration odious to the people of Great Britain, and rejected by their representatives, was for years kept in office, and that through its instrumentality both Whig and Tory ministers have been compelled to abandon measures which they believed to be beneficial, and which they brought forward in a spirit of good feeling, and with a desire to promote the best interests of the country.
In the first Parliament elected under the Reform Bill, and after the system of registration now complained of came into operation, the Irish representation consisted of
Liberals, 74 Conservatives, 31
Now, when it is borne in mind, that beyond all question at least nine-tenths of the landed property of Ireland is possessed by the Conservative party, and that that party was able to secure to itself little more than a fourth of the representation, it must be admitted that numbers told, and that the mass was represented in a ratio beyond what the constitution contemplates. So far, then, as relates to the laws regulating the elective franchise, if they are to be judged of by the results which they produced, the Liberal party have nothing to complain of, and the Roman Catholics still less; of the Radical majority, they numbered thirty-five, or nearly one-half; and if eligible men could be had of their body, or if their leaders wished it, undoubtedly persons of their profession might have been returned in every instance in which liberal Protestants were seated. They had the power to effect this: if they abstained from using it, influenced either by good taste or motives of prudence, they still have no reason to complain of the law—it placed the power in their hands; their own discretion alone restrained its exercise.
The agitators proclaim that their number in Parliament has diminished, and that they have lost cities and counties, because the constituency has decreased under the "emaciating influence of the registration law." It is true the Irish constituency has diminished, and that the Destructives have lost many places; but the diminution in the constituency has not been caused by the state of the law—and this they know full well—but by the disinclination of the respectable portion of the people to make themselves any longer their tools! Under the law when first called into operation, the Radicals had an overwhelming majority. The same men who registered and voted in 1832 and in 1837, are generally still in existence—the same tenures under which they registered still continue—the same assistant barristers before whom they registered (or ones more favourable to their interests) still preside; it is clear, therefore, that if the people were inclined to claim the franchise, they have only to take the necessary steps to secure it—but they won't. They were persecuted between the priests and their landlords—they see the hollowness of the agitators, who used them for their own purposes, and then left them to ruin; and, as the surest way to avoid trouble, they don't register at all; the landlords not having any influence over their votes, and not wishing to quarrel with them, don't induce them to do so—and they have hitherto resisted the efforts of the country agents of the Corn Exchange. What man of sense would put himself upon the register, when he well knows that any deviation from the path pointed out to him by the priest, would not only entail curses and persecutions on himself, but insult and outrage on the innocent members of his family? Who would establish his right to vote, when he would be called on to exercise that right with his grave dug before his dwelling, and the DEATH'S HEAD AND CROSS-BONES AFFIXED TO HIS DOOR!!
The assertions of the agitators, that they have lost ground because the constituencies have been diminished by the operation of the laws regulating the possession of the elective franchise, is of a piece with all their other reckless falsehoods; but fortunately it is more easy of disproof. It does appear by parliamentary returns, that the Irish constituency has decreased, on the whole, in small degree; but it is rather curious and unfortunate for those truth-loving gentlemen, that, in every instance in which they have been beaten, the constituencies have greatly increased, and that they have only diminished in those counties in which their interest is all-powerful. For instance, Antrim, in 1832, (when a Liberal was returned,) had on the register 3487 electors; and, in 1837, when a Conservative was seated, 4079.
Belfast, in 1832, when two Liberals were returned, had 1650; in 1841, when two Conservatives were elected, 4334.
Carlow, in 1832, when two Liberals were returned, had 1246; and in 1841, when the Tories beat O'Connell's own son, 1757.
Down had in 1832, when a Liberal was returned, 3130; and in 1837, when a Tory was substituted, 3305.
Dublin County had in 1832, when two Liberals were returned, 2025; and in 1841, when two Tories displaced them, 2820.
Dublin City had in 1832, when O'Connell was triumphantly returned, 7008; and in 1841, when he was beaten, 12,290.
Longford had in 1832, when two Liberals were returned, 1294; and in 1841, when one of them was displaced by a Tory, 1388.
Queen's County had in 1832, when one Liberal was returned, 1471; and in 1835, when two Conservatives were elected, 1673.
Thus we see, by unquestionable proof, that instead of being benefited by an increase of the constituencies, the cause of the Destructives has invariably suffered by their enlargement; and yet sure we are, that most persons on this side the water believe in the truth of the Liberator's lamentations, and suppose that those patriots who have been rejected by the votes of the most independent electors and largest constituencies in Ireland, have lost their seats solely because the names on the register had been greatly diminished, and the Liberal portion of the people deprived of their rights, by the "emaciating influence" of a bad law.
But if there be defects in the registry laws, who are to blame for their continuance? The "great grievance" connected with them of which Mr O'Connell complained, was, "that from the ambiguous wording of the act, some assistant barristers adopted the solvent tenant test," instead of "the beneficial interest test," which he and those who acted with him thought to be its legitimate construction. This unquestionably would make a vast difference to the claimant; and so thought Sir Robert Peel. He brought in a bill clearly establishing "the beneficial interest test." And to remedy another objection founded on the fact of tenants at will in England having the right to vote, while the Irish law debarred persons similarly circumstanced, he proposed to give the franchise to all occupiers of certain quantities of land, merely from the fact of possession; and yet Mr O'Connell was the first to denounce the measure! The agitators complain of defects in the law, and the minister agrees to amend them; the patriots claim for the Irish a full equality in the registration law granted to England, and more is conceded. When headed by their "august leader," they denounce the redress of those injustices of which they complained as "An additional insult," and they raise such a clamour because what they formerly asked for was about to be granted, that the minister was compelled to succumb, and the bill was withdrawn.
The next item in the catalogue of grievances is the municipal law. None has been more frequently or more forcibly dwelt on; its injustice, and tendency to exclude the "Liberal" inhabitants of the towns and cities of Ireland from local influence and political power, form prominent topics in the speeches of every patriot orator. Let us see with what justice.
It must be admitted that there is considerable Conservative property and respectability in the Irish corporate towns; and yet what has been the result of the elections under this municipal law so loudly declaimed against?—There are thirty-three corporations in Ireland, all of which, with one solitary exception, (that of Belfast,) are not only Liberal but downright Revolutionary. The number of the friends of order in the town-councils is so small, that they can accomplish nothing. Overwhelming majorities have voted addresses to the "convicted conspirators," and their mayors formed a deputation to present them, and proceeded in state to the "dungeon of the martyrs;" and yet this law, which lays the corporations of Ireland at the feet of O'Connell, forms "one of the greatest oppressions under which his devoted country groans." He has unlimited influence in all. What more would he have? what more could any law give him?
Men ought to have a little modesty; but the "Liberator" has gained so much by reckless assertion that he is justified in persevering in its practice. He has often said, that "he never knew any statement tell, or any argument, however powerful, attain the desired end, if only once repeated;" and on this principle he acts. He repeats and repeats again, in the teeth of contradiction and disproof, what he wishes to have believed; and the result shows the wisdom of his proceeding. Those who contradict soon get tired, while, by perseverance, he is left in full possession of the field.
It has been said that the Irish Roman Catholics have been debarred, by the unfair exercise of political patronage, from the attainment of those offices at the bar and in the administration to which they were rendered eligible by the Emancipation Act. The Whigs promoted three Roman Catholics—Mr Shiel, Mr Wyse, and Mr O'Ferrall; these gentlemen retired with their party, and if Sir Robert Peel offered them place to-morrow, they would, as a matter of course, refuse it. These are the only persons of their religion unpledged to "Repeal of the Union" at present in the House, who would have any claim on the score of abilities to official station; it surely cannot be expected that a Conservative minister would give power to men pledged to the dismemberment of the British empire, and the supporters of a measure which he has so unequivocally denounced; neither can it be supposed that any man would be such a fool as to place red-hot Repealers in the important office of stipendiary magistrate, when the wishes of the government might be thwarted and the safety of the country compromised by their partisanship.
The Repealers admit their determination to accomplish the destruction of "Saxon rule" in Ireland, and at the same time modestly declaim against the Saxon government, because they will not give them power or confidential employment, by means of which they might more securely carry out their intentions. Sir Robert Peel has taken every occasion, to the great detriment and dissatisfaction of his steadfast supporters, to give place to such of the Roman Catholic party as were at all eligible; if the number of such persons be limited, the Roman Catholics themselves, and not the minister, are to blame.
As to the bar, the list of Roman Catholics was run out before he came to power. There was no one amongst them whose standing in his profession would have at all justified the minister in placing him on the bench; and he had men of his own party, distinguished for their acquirements, whose interests he could not overlook, whose claims were recognised even by Mr O'Connell himself, and whose conduct, since their promotion, has been unimpeachable.
The agitators cannot, in justice, blame him for having recourse to the Conservative bar, for when in trouble they sought protection from its ranks themselves. Except Mr Shiel, who was merely employed to make a speech, and whose legal knowledge was never insisted on by his friends; and Mr Precursor Pigott, who was retained lest a slur should be thrown on the Whigs—all the leading lawyers who conducted the defence in the "monster trial" were Protestants and Conservatives of the highest order.
But what has this much-abused minister done to conciliate Ireland since he came to office? He has nearly trebled the grant for national education, and still continues the system adopted by the Whigs and patronised by the priests, in opposition to a powerful and influential portion of his own supporters;—he found a board of charitable bequests composed altogether of Protestants, and seeing, as he stated, "that two-thirds of the property they had to administer was Roman Catholic," he dissolved that board and constituted another, in which the Roman Catholics have an equality, and may under certain circumstances have a majority;—he found the mortmain laws in existence, and he repealed them; now any man who wishes may endow the Roman Catholic church to any extent he pleases. Yet these last concessions have been denounced by priests and bishops as an additional insult, as an unjustifiable and tyrannical interference with their rights. And why? Because Sir Robert Peel clogged the measure with the condition, that any testator so leaving property should have his will made and registered three months before his death. Because he wishes to protect the interests of the Roman Catholic laity, by securing them against the interference of the clergy when their relatives are at the point of death, he stirs the bile and rouses the indignation of ravenous and pelf-seeking ecclesiastics. He brought in a bill to remedy what was said to be the great defect in the registration laws, and it was not his fault that it was not carried; he proposed to extend the franchise, and he was denounced for doing so by the advocates of universal suffrage; he has promoted the formation of railways; he has issued a commission to enquire into the oppressions said to be perpetrated on their tenantry by the Irish landlords; and he has subjected Irish absentees to the payment of the property tax.
Whig promises "in favour of Ireland" were used by Mr O'Connell as arguments to procure the abatement of the Repeal agitation; although no man knew better than he did, that if his "base, brutal, and bloody" friends had even the inclination, they had not the power, to carry out their intentions. Tory promises of a still more conciliatory nature are used as a stimulus to its extension; although Mr O'Connell equally well knows that what Sir Robert Peel promises, his influence with the English people may probably enable him to accomplish. Ay, but that is just what the sagacious demagogue wishes to prevent. If his grievances were removed, the pretence for agitation would be destroyed. If there be real grievances, and if Mr O'Connell wished to have then redressed, why not attempt to do so? The ministry are willing to assist him—the public feeling and the opinion of Parliament are decidedly in his favour; yet what measures have he or his followers proposed for the adoption of the legislature? The truth is, nothing annoys him more than the desire manifested by the premier and the Parliament to remove all just grounds of complaint, and therefore it is that he has fixed on "repeal of the union," which he knows to be impracticable. A man's own interest must be considered, and "the Liberator" is well aware that, if agitation ceased, the twenty thousand a-year paid him by the "starving people" as a recompense for having patriotically rejected an office worth but five, would cease also.
We have alluded to the amount of taxation imposed on Ireland, to prove that injustice is not perpetrated upon her under that most touching head;—we have exposed the fictitious grievances, and recounted the measures passed and promised by Sir Robert Peel, to show how groundless the complaints of the agitators are, and that if there be wrongs, there is, on his part, a sincere desire to redress them;—and we have adverted to the manner in which those beneficent acts and promises, so favourable to their views and injurious to his administration, have been received by those who profess to be the friends, and are the leaders, of the people for whose welfare they are intended—to convince the British minister and the British people of the absolute impossibility of satisfying men, whose own selfish interest lies at the bottom of all their actions, and who fabricate grievances that, under the pretence of seeking their redress, they may be afforded opportunities of inculcating treason.
What more is there which can be effected by Parliament which would better the state of the Irish peasantry, while they suffer themselves to be made the dupes of every headless demagogue, and while they, by their own atrocities, drive from amongst them every person who is willing or able to afford them employment? The existing laws cannot repress the cruel outrages which they commit. Can an act of Parliament humanize their minds, or impart mercy to their hearts? The law cannot fix a maximum for rent; and if it could, it would be only to increase their turbulence, without any mitigating comforts. Extend the franchise, it will only enable them to accomplish more political mischief—for they reject as nothing all measures, however beneficial, which do not tend to the dismemberment of the empire; endow their church, and they accuse you of corrupting it; truckle to them, and you but make them more exacting; coerce them, and you benefit themselves and save the country.
That Ireland does labour under evils, no man can doubt; but they are evils which have grown up under an exploded system, which all modern legislation has tended to remedy, but which no legislation can at once remove. The education of the people, heretofore altogether neglected, is now being attended to; but years will have passed before any favourable change can be effected through its instrumentality; and if things be suffered to progress as they have lately done, evil instead of good must result from the enlightenment of the people by means of a system which imparts knowledge without inculcating religion. If you extend their information, and still leave them under the political sway of those who induce the more ignorant by the most monstrous promises, and compel the more instructed and better disposed by unchecked intimidation, to follow in their wake, it is clear that you but endow the demagogues with more power, and render the enemies of order more capable of effecting their designs. The memorable expressions of one who was the champion of a people's privileges and the victim of their ferocity, are most true, that "to inform a people of their rights before instructing them and making them familiar with their duties, leads naturally to the abuse of liberty and the usurpation of individuals; it is like opening a passage for the torrent before a channel has been prepared to receive, or banks to direct it."
Yes, Ireland is afflicted by evils, but those evils are created not so much by the defects of the law, or by the neglect and tyranny of the better classes, as by the total demoralization of the lower. The Irish peasant, naturally brave, generous, and faithful, is, by the system under which he is brought up, rendered cruel, merciless, and deceitful. There may be, and probably are, hardships inflicted by some of the landlords; but they are produced in most instances by criminal and precedent acts on the part of the people. In no country in the world are the rights of property so ill understood or so recklessly violated: the industrious man fears to surround his cottage with a garden, because his fruit and vegetables would be carried off by his lazy and dishonest neighbours; and he is deterred from growing turnips, which would add to his wealth, from the certain knowledge that his utmost care cannot preserve them. Amongst no people on the face of the earth are the obligations of an oath or the discharge of the moral duties so utterly disregarded: any man, the greatest culprit, can find persons to prove an alibi; the most atrocious assassin has but to seek protection to obtain it. Where in the civilized world, but in Ireland, can you find a "sliding-scale" of fees for the perpetration of murder?
And why is this so? Because the religious instruction of the people has been totally neglected; because their priests have become politicians, and stopping at nothing to accomplish their objects, they teach the peasantry by private precept and example to disrespect and disregard those doctrines which they publicly inculcate; because their bishops, pitchforked from the potatoe-basket to the palace, become drunk with the incense offered to their vulgar vanity, and the patronage granted in return for their unprincipled political support, instead of checking the misconduct of the subordinates, stimulate them to still further violence, and stop at nothing which can forward their objects; because the opinions of the people are formed on the statements and advice of mendicant agitators who have but one object in view, their own pecuniary aggrandizement; because a rabid and revolutionary press, concealing its ultimate designs under the praiseworthy and proper motive of affording protection to the weak, seeks to overturn all law and order, and pandering to the worst passions of an ignorant and ferocious populace, goads them, by the most unfounded and mischievous statements, to the commission of crime, and then adduces the atrocity of their acts as a proof of the injustice of their treatment. Every murder is palliated, because it arises from "the occupation of land." Every brutal assassination is paraded as "a fact" for Lord Devon, and is recommended to that nobleman's attention; not that the helpless and unoffending family of the victim may be afforded redress, but that the executioner of their parent may obtain commiseration. No matter what the conduct of the tenant may have been—no matter what arrears of rent he may have owed—to evict him is a crime, which, in the eyes of those unprincipled journalists, seems to justify an immediate recourse to "the wild justice of revenge." The rights of property are said to be guaranteed by the law—while the exercise of those rights is rendered impossible by the combination of unprincipled men, and the force of a morbid public opinion. He who would think it "monstrous" that a merchant should be debarred from the right of issuing execution against his creditor, shudders with horror at the idea of a landlord distraining for his unpaid rent. And the individual who delights in the metropolitan improvements, and glories in the opening of St Giles's, though it drive thousands of "the suffering poor" at once and unrecompensed from their miserable abodes, considers the improvement of an Irish estate as too dearly purchased, if effected by the expulsion of one ill-conditioned and remunerated ruffian.
But this morbid public opinion only feels for the lawless, the idle, and overholding tenant; for the landlord it has no sympathy—he may be robbed of his rights, he may be unable to educate or support his family, because he cannot obtain his rents, but his sufferings create no feeling in his favour; his case forms no fact for Lord Devon. The accomplished, the well-born, and the good, may be driven from the homes of their ancestors, and reduced to beggary, because the dishonest occupiers will neither pay their engagements nor surrender their lands, and no one laments their fate. The gentleman may be forced to emigrate, and be sent into exile by his necessities, without any notice being taken of such an event. But let a tenant who has been profligate, dishonest, and reduced to poverty by his own misconduct, be dispossessed of the smallest portion of ground on which he eked out a wretched existence, and which, if he had it in fee, would not be sufficient to support his family—let such an one be but dispossessed, and, even though he be afforded the means of emigrating to countries where land is plenty and wages remunerative, the "Liberal press" will teem with "the horrors and the cruelties" of "the Irish system!" Doubtless it would be most desirable that every man should be possessed of a sufficiency of land, and that he should (if you will) have it in fee; but how is this to be accomplished? The Irish population is too dense to be comfortably supported on the extent of soil which the country possesses, without the assistance of manufactures; and the conduct of the people, under the guidance of their leaders, effectually prevents their establishment. There is but one way, under existing circumstances, by means of which this happy state could be produced, and that is by following the example of the French revolutionists, by cutting the throats or otherwise disposing of the present proprietors, and then selling to the peasantry at the moderate prices which were formerly fixed on by the Convention.
The Irish gentleman is held up to public disapprobation because he has a lawless and pauper tenantry; and if he attempt to improve their moral and social condition, by removing the worst conducted, and enlarging the holdings of the others, so as to enable them to live in comfort, his conduct is considered still more odious, even though he send the dispossessed at his own expense to those colonies to which thousands of the best disposed of the people voluntarily emigrate. What, in God's name, is he to do? While all remain, it is an absolute impossibility that good can be effected for any. The evil is sedulously pointed out, and the only practicable remedy is resisted by the same persons—the friends, "par excellence," of the people!
This moral disorganization, and the total disrespect for the rights of property by which it is accompanied, creates other evils as its necessary consequences; it produces hostility and ill feeling between the higher and the lower classes, augments absenteeism, and deprives the peasantry of the personal superintendence of those who would really have their interests at heart, and by whose example they would be benefited. Nor can we be surprised that any person whose circumstances enables him to do so should reside out of Ireland; when we see every man of rank and fortune who relinquishes the pleasures of the capital, and the enjoyments of society, for the purpose of settling on his estates, and performing his duties, subjected to the abuse of every scurrilous priest, and the insults of every penniless agitator. Landlords naturally wish to reside at home where their possessions, in a wholesome state of society, would secure them local influence and respect; but unless the Irish gentleman bows to the dictates of every local representative of the "august leader," he is deprived of both, and risks his personal safety into the bargain. No men profess to lament absenteeism more than the priests and agitators. But how do they act? They declare against the non-residence of the proprietors; but their sole object in doing so is to rouse the feelings of their auditors, and thus prepare them for the performance of what they wish them to effect. What encouragement do they or their creatures afford to such as do return? We like facts. The Marquis of Waterford, a bold and daring sportsman, boundless in his charities, frank and cordial in his manners, not obnoxious on account of his politics, and admitted on all hands to be one of the very best landlords in Ireland—in fact, just such a character as the Irish would admire—he comes to reside and spend his eighty thousand a-year in the country, and how is he treated? He gets up a splendid sporting establishment in Tipperary; his hounds and horses were twice poisoned; and this not being found sufficient to drive him from the neighbourhood, in which he was affording amusement and spending money, his offices were fired, and his servants with difficulty saved their lives. Compelled to abandon Tipperary, he betakes himself to his family mansion in Waterford; and how is he received there? Why, in his own town and within his hearing, we find the "meek and Christian priest" addressing his tenants and labourers, the men whom he employs and supports, after the following fashion:—"Men of Portlan! you were the leading men who put down the Beresford in '26, (the marquis's father.) I call on you now, having put down one set of tyrants, to put down another set of tyrants," (the marquis himself.) Does such conduct (and this is but one instance of many which we could adduce) evince a desire, on the part of the "pastors of the people," to encourage the residence of the gentry, or a wish to procure for the peasantry those blessings which they paint in such glowing terms as sure to ensue from their landlords living and spending their incomes amongst them? Much as the priests and agitators declaim against absenteeism, nothing would be more contrary to their wishes than that the absentees should return. They have no desire to share their influence with others; and hence it is that an excuse is always made for quarrelling with every resident who cannot be made subservient to their wishes; and while they steadily persevere in their system of annoyance and offence, they as lustily reiterate their lamentations on a state of things which their own conduct tends to produce.
That we are justified in attributing the poverty, the misery, and the crimes of the Roman Catholic peasantry to the constant state of agitation and excitement in which they are kept by their leaders, and the bad example set them by their religious instructors, and not to any pecuniary burdens (legislative or local) imposed upon them, we can easily prove, by a reference to the condition of that portion of the Irish people who are not subject to their control or corrupted by their influence. It is well known that in the province of Ulster land fetches at least one-third more rent than in either of the other provinces, although the quality of the soil is by no means so good. Yet what is the condition of the people? what their habits? what the appearance of the country in this less favoured district? We shall let an authority often quoted by Mr O'Connell answer our question.
Mr Kohl tells us, that "the main root of Irish misery is to be sought in the indolence, levity, extravagance, and want of energy of the national character." And again, in passing from that portion of the country where the majority of the inhabitants profess the Roman Catholic religion, to that in which the great bulk of the population are Protestants, or Presbyterians, the same writer says—"On the other side of these miserable hills, whose inhabitants are years before they can afford to get the holes mended in their potato-kettles—the most indispensable and important article of furniture in an Irish cabin—the territory of Leinster ends, and that of Ulster begins. The coach rattled over the boundary line, and all at once we seemed to have entered a new world. I am not in the slightest degree exaggerating when I say, that every thing was as suddenly changed as if by an enchanter's wand. The dirty cabins by the road-side were succeeded by neat, pretty, cheerful-looking cottages; regular plantations, well cultivated fields, pleasant little cottage-gardens, and shady lines of trees, met the eye on every side. At first I could scarcely believe my own eyes, and thought that at all events the change must be merely local and temporary, caused by the better management of that particular estate. No counter change, however, appeared; the improvement lasted the whole way to Newry; and, from Newry to Belfast, every thing continued to show me that I had entered the country of a totally different people—namely, the district of the Scottish settlers, the active and industrious Presbyterians."
Nor can we be surprised at the condition of this unhappy country when we see the Executive looking quietly on, when the public press has become the apologist of crime, and public sympathy is enlisted on the side of the evil-doers.
Four murders have, within the last month, been perpetrated in Tipperary, which were all but justified by the local papers, because they were supposed to have been the acts of tenants dispossessed for non-payment of rent. They excited no horror. A fifth was added to the bloody catalogue, which roused the indignation of the virtuous Vindicator; and why? Solely because it was the result of a private quarrel.
"We own," says this respectable guardian of public morality, "that such a system of murderous aggression AS THIS, remote from any of those agrarian causes which may account for crime, is calculated to fill every mind with indignation." Are we not justified in demanding of the government how long this state of things is to be permitted to continue? how long the lives and properties of the respectable and loyal inhabitants of Ireland are to be left at the mercy and the disposal of a ferocious and bloodstained populace? how much further open and undisguised treason is to be allowed to proceed?
The Taleian policy will not answer. Mr O'Connell may abandon his plans, falsify his promises, and break his most solemn engagements—but there will be no relief; he will still be supported so long as his agitation is unchecked—so long as the people think that through the instrumentality of his measures their designs may be accomplished. And if, after a further period of excitement, after a still increasing belief in their own ability to attain the avowed object of their wishes, "the free possession of the land," the peasantry should be deserted or betrayed by their leaders, the best that could then be expected would be the horrors of an unsuccessful servile war. Mean time the enemies of Great Britain are openly apprised of the disaffection of the Irish people, who but bide their time and wait their opportunity.
SINGULAR PASSAGES IN THE LIFE OF A RUSSIAN OFFICER.
During a twelvemonth's residence in a continental city, I became acquainted with a Russian officer, whom I will designate by the name of Adrian. He was a man still in the prime of life, but who had endured much sorrow and calamity, which had imparted a tinge of melancholy to his character, and rendered him apparently indifferent to most of the enjoyments that men usually seek. He was no longer in the Russian service, did not appear to be rich, kept two horses, upon which he used to take long solitary rides, that constituted apparently his only pleasure. He had seen much of the world, and his life had evidently been an adventurous one; but he was not communicative on matters regarding himself, although on general subjects he would sometimes converse willingly, and when he did so, his conversation was highly interesting. He was one of those persons with whom it is difficult to become intimate beyond a certain point; and although I had reason to believe that he liked me, and for nearly a year we passed a portion of each day together, he never laid aside a degree of reserve, or approached in any way to a confidential intercourse.
I was one day reading in my room, when Adrian's servant came in all haste to summon me to his master, who had been thrown from his horse, and was not expected to survive the injuries he had received. I hurried to the hotel, and found my unfortunate friend suffering greatly, but perfectly calm and collected. Two medical men, who had been called in, had already informed him that his end was rapidly approaching. He had appeared little moved by the intelligence. I approached his bedside; he took my hand, and pressed it kindly. I was deeply grieved at the sad state in which I found him; but time was too short to be wasted in expressions of sympathy and sorrow, and I thought I should better show the regard I really felt for him, by offering to be of any service in my power with respect to the arrangement of his affairs, or the execution of such wishes as he might form.
"My affairs are all in order," he said; "my will, and the address of my nearest surviving relative, are in yonder writing-desk. I have no debts, and whatever sum is derived from the sale of my personal effects, I wish to be given to the hospitals of the town."
He drew a ring, set with an antique cameo, from his finger.
"Accept this," he said to me, "as a slight memorial of our acquaintance, which has been productive of much pleasure to me."
He paused, exhausted by the exertion he had made to speak. After a few moments, he resumed. "You have at times seemed to wish to hear something of my past life," said he, with a faint smile. "Amongst my papers is a small leathern portfolio, which I give to you, with the manuscript it contains. These gentlemen," added he, looking at the physicians, "will bear witness to the bequest."
At this moment the Roman Catholic priest, who had been sent for, entered the room, and Adrian expressed a wish to be left alone with him. That same evening he expired.
I had no difficulty in obtaining possession of the portfolio bequeathed to me. In the papers it contained were recorded a series of incidents so extraordinary, that I am still in doubt whether to consider them as having really happened, or as being the invention of a fantastical and overstrained imagination. I kept the MS. by me for some time, but have finally resolved to translate and publish it, merely substituting fictitious names for those set down in the original. The narrative is in some respects incomplete, but whether in consequence of Adrian's sudden death, or because no further circumstances connected with it came to his knowledge, I am of course unable to say. It is as follows:—
I am by birth a Russian, but my childhood and youth were passed at Hamburg. Owing to the early age at which I lost my father, my recollections of him are necessarily but imperfect. I remember him as a tall handsome man, somewhat careworn, constantly engaged in the correspondence rendered necessary by his numerous commercial speculations, and frequently absent from home upon journeys or voyages of greater or less duration. His life had been an anxious one, and his success by no means constant; but he still persevered, led on by a sanguine temperament, to hope for that fortune which had hitherto constantly eluded his grasp.