AND OTHER HUMAN STUDIES
BY L. P. JACKS
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY L. LESLIE BROOKE
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1910
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO SIR ROBERT BALL LL.D., F.R.S.
1. SHOEMAKER HANKIN
2. SNARLEY BOB ON THE STARS
3. "SNARLEYCHOLOGY," I. THEORETICAL
4. "SNARLEYCHOLOGY," II. EXPERIMENTAL
5. A MIRACLE, I
6. A MIRACLE, II
7. SHEPHERD TOLLER O' CLUN DOWNS
8. SNARLEY BOB'S INVISIBLE COMPANION
9. THE DEATH OF SNARLEY BOB
OTHER HUMAN STUDIES
1. FARMER PERRYMAN'S TALL HAT
2. A GRAVEDIGGER SCENE
3. HOW I TRIED TO ACT THE GOOD SAMARITAN
4. "MACBETH" AND "BANQUO" ON THE BLASTED HEATH
* * * * *
There is nothing that so embases and enthralls the Souls of men, as the dismall and dreadfull thoughts of their own Mortality, which will not suffer them to look beyond this short span of Time, to see an houres length before them, or to look higher than these material Heavens; which though they could be stretch'd forth to infinity, yet would the space be too narrow for an enlightened mind, that will not be confined within the compass of corporeal dimensions. These black Opinions of Death and the Non-entity of Souls (darker than Hell it self) shrink up the free-born Spirit which is within us, which would otherwise be dilating and spreading it self boundlessly beyond all Finite Being: and when these sorry pinching mists are once blown away, it finds this narrow sphear of Being to give way before it; and having once seen beyond Time and Matter, it finds then no more ends nor bounds to stop its swift and restless motion. It may then fly upwards from one heaven to another, till it be beyond all orbe of Finite Being, swallowed up in the boundless Abyss of Divinity, [Greek: hyperano tes ousias], beyond all that which darker thoughts are wont to represent under the Idea of Essence. This is that [Greek: theion skotos] which the Areopagite speaks of, which the higher our Minds soare into, the more incomprehensible they find it. Those dismall apprehensions which pinion the Souls of men to mortality, churlishly check and starve that noble life thereof, which would alwaies be rising upwards, and spread it self in a free heaven: and when once the Soul hath shaken off these, when it is once able to look through a grave, and see beyond death, it finds a vast Immensity of Being opening it self more and more before it, and the ineffable light and beauty thereof shining more and more into it.
Select Discourses of John Smith, the Cambridge Platonist, 1660.
AND OTHER HUMAN STUDIES
Among the four hundred human beings who peopled our parish there were two notable men and one highly gifted woman. All three are dead, and lie buried in the churchyard of the village where they lived. Their graves form a group—unsung by any poet, but worthy to be counted among the resting-places of the mighty.
The woman was Mrs. Abel, the Rector's wife. None of us knew her origin—I doubt if she knew it herself: beyond her husband and children, assignable relatives she had none.
"Sie war nicht in dem Tal geboren, Man wusste nicht woher sie kam."
Her husband met her many years ago at a foreign watering-place, and married her there after a week's acquaintance—much to the scandal of his family, for the lady was an actress not unknown to fame. Their only consolation was that she had a considerable fortune—the fruit of her professional work.
In all relevant particulars this strange venture had proved a huge success. To leave the fever of the stage for the quiet life of the village had been to Mrs. Abel like the escape of a soul from the flames of purgatory. She had rightly discerned that the Rev. Edward Abel was a man of large heart, high character, and excellent wit—partly clergyman, but mostly man. He, on his part, valued his wife, and his judgment was backed by every humble soul in the village. But the bigwigs of the county, and every clergyman's wife within a radius of ten miles, were of another mind. She had not been "proper" to begin with—at least, they said so; and as time went on she took no pains to be more "proper" than she was at first. Her improprieties, so far as I could ever learn, arose from nothing more heinous than her possession of an intelligence more powerful and a courage more daring than that to which any of her neighbours could lay claim. Her outspokenness was a stumbling-block to many; and the offence of speaking her mind was aggravated by the circumstance, not always present at such times, that she had a mind to speak. To quote the language in which Farmer Perryman once explained the situation to me: "She'd given all on 'em a taste o' the whip, and with some on 'em she'd peppered and salted the sore place into the bargain." Moreover, she sided with many things that a clergyman's wife ought to oppose: took all sorts of undesirables under her protection, helped those whom everybody else wanted to punish, threw good discretion to the winds, and sometimes mixed in undertakings which no "lady" ought to touch. To all this she added the impertinence of regular attendance at church, where she recited the Creeds in a rich voice that almost drowned her husband's, turning punctually to the East and bowing at the Sacred Name. That she was a hypocrite trying to save her face was, of course, obvious to every Scribe and Pharisee in the county. But the poor of Deadborough preferred her hypocrisy to the virtuous simplicity of her critics.
Mrs. Abel is too great a subject for such humble portraiture as I can attempt, and she will henceforth appear in these pages only as occasion requires. It is time that we turn to the men.
The first of these was Robert Dellanow, known far and wide as "Snarley Bob," head shepherd to Sam Perryman of the Upper Farm. I say, the first; for it was he who had the pre-eminence, both as to intelligence and the tragic antagonisms of his life. The man had many singularities, singular at least in shepherds. Perhaps the chief of these was the violence of the affinities and repulsions that broke forth from him towards every personality with whom he came into any, even the slightest, contact. Snarley invariably loved or hated at first sight, or rather at first sound, for he was strangely sensitive to the tones of a human voice. If, as seldom happened, your voice and presence chanced to strike the responsive chord, Snarley became your devoted slave on the spot; the heavy, even brutal, expression that his face often wore passed off like a cloud; you were in the Mount of Transfiguration, and it seemed that Elijah or one of the prophets had come back to earth. If, as was more likely, your manner repelled him, he would show signs of immediate distress; the animality of his features would become more sinister and forbidding; and if, undaunted by the first repulse, you continued to press your attentions upon him, he would presently break out into an ungovernable paroxysm of rage, accompanied by startling language and even by threats of violence, which drove offenders headlong from his presence. In these outbursts he was unrestrained by rank, age, or sex—indeed, his antipathies to certain women were the most violent of all. Curiously enough, it was the presence of humanity of the uncongenial type which alone had power to effect his reversion to the status of the brute. His normal condition was gentle and serene: he was fond of children and certain animals, and he bore the agonies of his old rheumatic limbs without a murmur of complaint.
It was not possible, of course, that such a man, however gifted with intelligence, should "succeed in life." There were some people who held that he was mad, and proposed that he should be put under restraint; and doubtless they would have gained their end had not Snarley been able to give proofs of his sanity in certain directions such as few men could produce.
Once he had been haled before the magistrate to answer a serious charge of using threats, was fined and compelled to give security for his good behaviour; and it was on this occasion that he narrowly escaped detention as a lunatic. Indeed, I cannot prove that he was sane; but neither could I prove it, if challenged, in regard to myself—a difficulty which the courteous reader, in his own case, will hardly deny that he has to share with me. Mad or sane, it is certain that Snarley, under a kinder Fate, might have been something more splendid than he was. Mystic, star-gazer, dabbler in black or blackish arts, he seemed in his lowly occupation of shepherd to represent some strange miscarriage of Nature's designs; but Mrs. Abel, who understood the secrets of many hearts, always maintained that Snarley, the breeder of the famous Perryman rams, had found the calling to which he had been fore-ordained from the foundation of the world. Of this the reader must judge from the sequel; for we shall hear much of him anon.
The second man was Tom Hankin, shoemaker. A man of strong contrasts was Tom; an octogenarian when I first knew him, and an atheist, as he proudly boasted, "all his life." My last interview with him took place a few days before his death, when he knew that he was hovering on the brink of the grave; and it was then that Hankin offered me his complete argument for the non-existence of Deity and the mortality of the soul. Never did dying saint dilate on the raptures of Paradise with greater fervour than that displayed by the old man as he developed his theme. I will not say that Hankin was happy; but he was fierce and unconquered, and totally unafraid. I think also that he was proud—proud, that is, of his ability to hurl defiance into the very teeth of Death. He said that he had always hoped he would be able to die thus; that he had sometimes feared lest in his last illness there should be some weakening towards the end: perhaps his mind would become overclouded, and he would lose grip of his arguments; perhaps he would think that death was something instead of being nothing; perhaps he would be troubled by the thought of impending annihilation. But no, it was all as clear as before, clearer if anything. All that troubled him was "that folks was so blind; that Snarley Bob, in particular, was as obstinate as ever—a man, sir, as ought to ha' known better; never would listen to no arguments; always shut him up when he tried to reason, and sometimes swore at him; and him with the best head in the whole county, but crammed full of rubbish that was no use to himself nor nobody else, and that nobody could make head nor tail of—no, not even Mrs. Abel, as was always backing him up; and to think of him breedin' sheep all his life; why, that man, sir, if only he'd learned a bit o' commonsense reasonin', might ha' done wonders, instead o' wastin' himself wi' a lot o' tomfoolery about stars and spirits, and what all." Thus he continued to pour forth till a fit of coughing interrupted the torrent.
Hankin was the son of a Chartist, from whom he inherited a small but sufficient collection of books. Tom Paine was there, of course, bearing on every page of him the marks of two generations of Hankin thumbs. He also possessed the works of John Stuart Mill, not excepting the Logic, which he had mastered, even as to the abstruser portions, with a thoroughness such as few professors of the science could boast at the present day. Mill, indeed, was his prophet; and the principle of the Greatest Happiness was his guiding star. Hankin was well abreast of current political questions, and to every one of them he applied his principle and managed by means of it to take a definite side. As he worked at his last he would concentrate his mind on some chosen problem of social reform, and would ponder, with singular pertinacity, the ways and degrees in which alternative solutions of it would affect the happiness of men. He would sometimes spend weeks in meditating thus on a single problem, and, when a solution had been reached according to his method, he made it a regular practice to go down to the Nag's Head and announce the result, with all the prolixity of its antecedents, over a pot of beer. It was there that I heard Hankin defend "armaments" as conducive to the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number. Venturing to assail what I thought a preposterous view, I was met by a counter attack of horse, foot, and artillery, so well planned and vigorously sustained that in the end I was utterly beaten from the field. Had Snarley Bob been present, the result would have been different; indeed, there would have been no result to the controversy at all. He would have stopped the argument ab initio by affirming in language of his own, perhaps unprintable, that the whole question was of not the slightest importance to anybody; that "them as built the ships, because someone had argued 'em into doing it, were fools, and them as did the arguing were bigger fools still"; the same for those who refrained from building; that, in short, the only way to get such questions settled was "to leave 'em to them as knows what's what." This ignorant and undemocratic attitude never failed to divert Hankin from argument to recrimination, which was all the more bitter because Bob had a way of implying, mainly by the movement of his horse-like eyes, that he himself was one of those who knew precisely what "what" was. The upshot therefore was a row between shepherd and shoemaker—a thing which the shepherd enjoyed in the same degree as he hated the shoemaker's arguments.
Not the least of Mrs. Abel's improprieties was her open patronage of Hankin. The shoemaker had established what he called an Ethical Society, which held its meetings on Sunday afternoons in the barn of a sympathetic farmer. These meetings, which were regularly addressed by Hankin, Mrs. Abel used frequently to attend. The effect of this was twofold. On the one hand, it was no small stimulus to Hankin that among the handful of uneducated irreconcilables who gathered to hear him, he might have for auditor one of the keenest and most cultivated minds in England—one who, as he was well aware, had no sympathy with his opinions. I once heard him lecture on one of his favourite topics while she was present, and I must say that I have seldom heard a bad case better argued. On the other hand, Mrs. Abel's presence served to rob his lectures of much of the force which opinions, when condemned by the rich, invariably have among the poor. She was shrewd enough to perceive that active repression of Hankin, who she well knew could not be repressed, would only swell his following and strengthen his position.
This, of course, was not understood by the local guardians of morality and religion. After vainly appealing to Mr. Abel, who turned an absolutely deaf ear to the petitioners, they proceeded to lay the case before the Bishop, who happened to be, unfortunately for them, one of the most courageous and enlightened prelates of his time. The Bishop, on whom considerable pressure was brought to bear, resolved at last to come down to Deadborough and have an interview with Mrs. Abel. The result was that he and the lady became fast and lifelong friends. He returned to his palace determined to take the risk, and to all further importunities he merely returned a formal answer that he saw no reason to interfere. This was not the least daring of many actions which have distinguished, by their boldness and commonsense, the record of a singularly noble career. The case did not get into the papers; none the less, it was much talked of in clerical circles, and its effect was to give the Bishop a reputation among prelates not unlike that which Mrs. Abel had won among clergymen's wives.
The Bishop's intervention having failed, the party of repression now determined on the short and easy way. Hankin's landlord was Peter Shott, whose holding consisted of two small farms which had been joined together. In the house belonging to one of these farms lived Hankin, a sub-tenant of Shott. To Shott there came, in due course, a hint from an exalted quarter that it would be to his interests to give Hankin notice to quit. Shott was willing enough, and presently the notice was served. It was a serious thing for the shoemaker, for he had a good business, and there was no other house or cottage available in the neighbourhood.
In the interval before the notice expired announcements appeared that the estate to which Shott's holding belonged was to be sold by auction in lots. Shott himself was well-to-do, and promptly determined to become the purchaser of his farm.
There were several bidders at the sale, and Shott was pushed to the very end of his tether. He managed, however, to outbid them all, though he trembled at his own temerity; and the farm was on the point of being knocked down to him when a lawyer's clerk at the end of the room went L50 better. Shott took a gulp of whisky to steady his nerve and desperately put the price up fifty more. The lawyer's clerk immediately countered with another hundred, and looked as though he was ready to go on. That was the knock-down blow. Shott put his hands in his pockets, leaned back in his chair, and dolefully shook his head in response to all the coaxings and blandishments of the auctioneer. The hammer fell. "Name, please," was called; the lawyer's clerk passed up a slip of paper, and a thunderbolt fell on the company when the auctioneer read out, "Mr. Thomas Hankin." Hankin had bought the farms for L4700. "Cheque for deposit," said the auctioneer. A cheque for L470, previously signed by Hankin, was immediately filled in and passed up by the lawyer's clerk.
It was, of course, Mrs. Abel who had advanced the money to the shoemaker on prospective mortgage, less a sum of L1000 which he himself contributed—the savings of his life. The situation became interesting. Here was Hankin, under notice to quit, now become the rightful owner of his own house and the landlord of his landlord. Everyone read what had happened as a deep-laid scheme of vengeance on the part of Hankin and Mrs. Abel, of whose part in the transaction no secret whatever was made. It was taken for granted that the evicted man would now retaliate by turning Shott out of his highly cultivated farm and well-appointed house. The jokers of the Nag's Head were delirious, and drank gin in their beer for a week after the occurrence. Snarley Bob alone drank no gin, and merely contributed the remark that "them as laughs last, laughs best."
Meanwhile the shoemaker, seated at his last, was carefully pondering the position in the light of the principles of Bentham and Mill. He considered all the possible alternatives and weighed off against one another the various amounts of pleasure and pain involved, resolutely counting himself as "one and not more than one." He certainly estimated at a large figure the amount of pleasure he himself would derive from paying Shott in his own coin. All consideration of "quality" was strictly eliminated, for in this matter Hankin held rather with Bentham than with Mill. The sum was an extremely complicated one to work, and gave more exercise to Hankin's powers of moral arithmetic than either armaments, or women's suffrage, or the State Church. Mrs. Abel had left him free to do exactly as he liked; and he had nearly determined to expel Shott when it occurred to him that by taking the other course he would give a considerable amount of pleasure to the Rector's wife. And to this must be added the pleasure which he would derive for himself by pleasing her, and further the pleasure of his chief friend and enemy, Snarley Bob, on discovering that both of them were pleased. Then there was the question of his own reflected pleasure in the pleasure of Snarley Bob, and this was considerable also; for though Hankin denounced Bob on every possible occasion, yet secretly he valued his good opinion more than that of any living man. It is true that the figures at which he estimated these personal quantities were very small in proportion to those which he had set down to the more public aspects of the case; for his principles forbade him to reckon either Mrs. Abel or Snarley as "more than one." Nevertheless, small as these figures were, Hankin found, when he came to add up his totals and strike off the balance of pains, that they were enough to turn the scale. He determined to leave Shott undisturbed, and went to bed with that feeling of perfect mental satisfaction which did duty with him for a conscience at peace.
Notice of this resolution was conveyed next day to the parties concerned, and that night Farmer Shott, who was a pious Methodist and held family prayers, instead of imploring the Almighty "to defeat the wiles of Satan, now active in this village," put up a lengthy petition for blessings on the heads of Shoemaker Hankin and his family, mentioning each one of them by name, and adding such particulars of his or her special needs as would leave the Divine Benevolence with no excuse for mixing them up.
With all his hard-headedness Hankin combined the graces of a singularly kind and tender heart. He held, of course, that there was nothing like leather, especially for mitigating the distress of the orphan and causing the widow's heart to sing for joy. Every year he received confidentially from the school-mistress a list of the worst-shod children in the school, from whom he selected a dozen belonging to the poorest families, that he might provide each of them at Christmas with a pair of good, strong shoes. The boots of labourers out of work and of other unfortunates he mended free of cost, regularly devoting to this purpose that part of the Sabbath which was not occupied in proving the non-existence of God. There was, for instance, poor Mary Henson—a loose deserted creature with illegitimate children of various paternity, and another always on the way—rejected by every charity in the parish,—to whom Hankin never failed to send needed footwear both for herself and her brats.
Further, whenever a pair of shoes had to be condemned as "not worth mending," he endeavoured to retain them for a purpose of his own, sometimes paying a few pence for them as "old leather." When summer came round he set to work patching the derelicts as best he could, and would sometimes have thirty or forty pairs in readiness by the end of June. This was the season when the neighbourhood was annually invaded by troops of pea-pickers—a very miscellaneous collection of humanity comprising at the one extreme broken army men and university graduates, and at the other the lowest riff-raff of the towns. It was Hankin's regular custom to visit the camps where these people were quartered, with the avowed object of "studying human nature," but really for the purpose of spying out the shoeless, or worse than shoeless, feet. He was a notable performer on the concertina, and I well remember seeing him in the middle of a pea-field, surrounded by as sorry a group of human wreckage as civilisation could produce, listening, or dancing to his strains. Hankin's eyes were on their feet all the time. When the performance was over he went round to one and another, mostly women, and said something which made their eyes glisten.
And here it may be recorded that one day, towards the end of his life, he received a letter from Canada containing a remittance for fifty pounds. The writer, Major —— of the North-West Mounted Police, said that the money was payment for a certain pair of old shoes, the gift of which "had set him on his feet in more senses than one." He also stated that he had made a small fortune by speculating in town-lots, and, hearing that Hankin was alive, he was prepared to send him any further sum of money that might be necessary to secure him a comfortable old age. Major —— died last year, and left by his will the sum of L300 in Consols to the Rector and churchwardens of Deadborough, the interest to be expended annually at Christmas in providing boots and shoes for the poor of the parish.
In the matter of trade Hankin was prosperous, and fully deserved his prosperity. He has been dead four years, and I am wearing at this moment almost the last pair of boots he ever made. His materials were the best that could be procured, and his workmanship was admirable. His customers were largely the well-to-do people of the neighbourhood, and his standard price for walking-boots was thirty-three shillings. He was by no means incapable of the higher refinements of "style," so that great people like Lady Passingham or Captain Sorley were often heard to say that they preferred his goods to those of Bond Street. He did a large business in building shooting-boots for the numerous parties which gathered at Deadborough Hall; his customers recommended him in the London clubs, where such things are talked of, and he received orders from all parts of the country and at all times of the year. He might, no doubt, have made his fortune. But he would have no assistance save that of his two sons. He lived for thirty-seven years in the house from which Shott had sought to expel him, refusing all orders which exceeded the limited working forces at his command. He chartered the corns on many noble feet; he measured the gouty toe of a Duke to the fraction of a millimetre, and made a contour map of all its elevations from the main peak to the foot-hills; and it was said that a still more Exalted Personage occasionally walked on leather of his providing.
Hankin neglected nothing which might contribute to the success of his work, and applied himself to its principles with the same thoroughness which distinguished his handling of the Utilitarian Standard. One of his sons had emigrated to the United States and become, in course of time, the manager of a large boot factory in Brockton, Mass. From him Hankin received patterns and lasts and occasional consignments of American leather. This latter he was inclined, in general, to despise. Nevertheless, it had its uses. He found that an outer-sole of hemlock-tanned leather would greatly lengthen the working life of a poor man's heavy boot; though for want of suppleness it was useless for goods supplied to the "quality." The American patterns and lasts, on the other hand, he treated with great respect. He held that they embodied a far sounder knowledge of the human foot than did the English variety, and found them a great help to his trade in giving style, comfort, and accuracy of fit. At a time when the great manufacturers of Stafford and Northampton were blundering along with a range of four or five standard patterns, Hankin, in his little shop, was working on much finer intervals and producing nine regular sizes of men's boots. Indeed, his ready-made goods were so excellent, and their "fit" so certain, that some of his customers preferred them, and ordered him to abandon their lasts.
Such was Hankin's manner of life and conversation. If there is such a place as heaven, and the reader ever succeeds in getting there, let him look out for Shoemaker Hankin among the highest seats of glory. His funeral oration was pronounced, though not in public, by Snarley Bob. "Shoemaker Hankin were a great man. He'd got hold o' lots o' good things; but he'd got some on 'em by the wrong end. He talked more than a man o' his size ought to ha' done. He spent his breath in proving that God doesn't exist, and his life in proving that He does."
SNARLEY BOB ON THE STARS
Towards the end of his life there were few persons with whom Snarley would hold converse, for his contempt of the human race was immeasurable. There was Mrs. Abel at the Rectory, whom he adored; there were the Perrymans, whom he loved; and there was myself, whom he tolerated. There was also his old wife, whom he treated as part of himself, neither better nor worse. With other human beings—saving only the children—his intercourse was limited as far as possible to interjectory grunts and snarls—whence his name.
It was in an old quarry among the western hills, on a bleak January day not long before his death, that I met Snarley Bob and heard him discourse of the everlasting stars. The quarry was the place in which to find Snarley most at his ease. In the little room of his cottage he could hardly be persuaded to speak; the confined space made him restless; and, as often as not, if a question were asked him he would seem not to hear it, and would presently get up, walk out of the door, and return when it pleased him. "He do be growing terrible absent-minded," his wife would often say in these latter days. "I'm a'most afraid sometimes as he may be took in a fit." But in the old quarry he was another man. The open spaces of the sky seemed to bring him to himself.
Many a time on a summer day I have watched Mrs. Abel's horse bearing its rider up the steep slope that led to the quarry, and more than once have I gone thither myself only to find that she had forestalled my hopes of an interview. "Snarley Bob," she used to say to me, with a frank disregard for my own feelings—"Snarley Bob is the one man in the world whom I have found worth talking to."
The feature in Snarley's appearance that no one could fail to see, or, having seen, forget, was the extraordinary width between the eyes. It was commonly said that he had the power of seeing people behind his back. And so doubtless he had, but the thing was no miracle. It was a consequence of the position of his eyes, which, like those of a horse, were as much at the side of his head as they were in front.
Snarley's manner of speech was peculiar. Hoarse and hesitating at first, as though the physical act were difficult, and rising now and then into the characteristic snarl, his voice would presently sink into a deep and resonant note and flow freely onward in a tone of subdued emphasis that was exceedingly impressive. Holding, as he did, that words are among the least important things of life, Snarley was nevertheless the master of an unforced manner of utterance more convincing by its quiet indifference to effect than all the preternatural pomposities of the pulpit and the high-pitched logic of the schools. I have often thought that any Cause or Doctrine which could get itself expressed in Snarley's tones would be in a fair way to conquer the world. Fortunately for the world, however, it is not every Cause, nor every Doctrine, which would lend itself to expression in that manner.
Seated on a heap of broken road metal, with a doubled sack between his person and the stones, and with his short pipe stuck out at right angles to his profile, so that he could see what was going on in the bowl, Snarley Bob discoursed, at intervals, as follows:
"Yes, sir, there's things about the stars that fair knocks you silly to think on. And, what's more, you can't think on 'em, leastways to no good purpose, until they have knocked you silly. Why, what's the good of tellin' a man that it's ninety-three millions o' miles between the earth and the sun? There's lots o' folks as knows that; but there's not one in ten thousand as knows what it means. You gets no forrader wi' lookin' at the figures in a book. You must thin yourself out, and make your body lighter than air, and stretch and stretch at yourself until you gets the sun and planets, floatin' like, in the middle o' your mind. Then you begins to get hold on it. Or what's the good o' sayin' that Saturn has rings and nine moons? You must go to one o' them moons, and see Saturn half fillin' the sky, wi' his rings cuttin' the heavens from top to bottom, all coloured wi' crimson and gold—then you begins to stagger at it. That's why I say you can't think o' these things till they've knocked you silly. Now there's Sir Robert Ball—it's knocked him silly, I can tell you. I knowed that when I went to his lecture, by the pictures he showed us, and I sez to myself, 'Bob,' I sez, 'that's a man worth listenin' to.'
"You're right, sir. I wouldn't pay the least attention to anything you might say about the stars unless you'd told me that it knocked you silly to think on 'em. No, and I wouldn't talk to you about 'em either. You wouldn't understand.
"And, as you were sayin', it isn't easy to get them big things the right way up. When things gets beyond a certain bigness you don't know which way up they are; and as like as not they're standin' on their heads when you think they're standin' on their heels. That's the way with the stars. They all want lookin' at t'other way up from what most people looks at 'em. And perhaps it's a good thing they looks at 'em the wrong way; becos if they looked at 'em the right way it would scare 'em out o' their wits, especially the women—same as it does my missis when she hears me and Mrs. Abel talkin'. Always exceptin' Mrs. Abel; you can't scare her; and she sees most things right way up, that she does!
"But when it comes to the stars, you want to be a bit of a medium before you can get at 'em. Oh yes, I've been a medium in my time, more than I care to think of, and I could be a medium again to-morrow, if I wanted to. But them's the only sort of folks as can see things from both ends. Most folks only look at things from one end—and that as often as not the wrong un. Mediums looks from both ends; and, if they're good at it, they soon find out which end's right. You see, some on 'em—like me, for instance—can throw 'emselves out o' 'emselves, in a manner o' speaking, so that they can see their own bodies, just as if they was miles away, same as I can see that man walking on the Deadborough Road.
"Well, I've often done it, and many's the story I could tell of things I've seen by day and night; but it wasn't till I went to hear Sir Robert Ball as the grand idea came to me. 'Why not throw yerself into the stars, Bob?' I sez to myself. And, by gum, sir, I did it that very night. How I did it I don't know; I won't say as there weren't a drop o' drink in it; but the minute I'd got through, I felt as I'd stretched out wonderful and, blessed if I didn't find myself standin' wi' millions of other spirits, right in the middle o' Saturn's rings. And the things I see there I couldn't tell you, no, not if you was to give me a thousand pounds. Talk o' spirits! I tell you there was millions on 'em! And the lights and the colours—oh, but it's no good talkin'! I looked back and wanted to know where the earth was, and there I see it, dwindled to a speck o' light.
"Now you can understand why I keeps my mouth shut. Do you think I'm going to talk of them things to a lot o' folks that's got no more sense nor swine? Not me! And what else is there that's worth talking on? Who's goin' to make a fuss and go blatherin' about this and that, when you know the whole earth's no bigger nor a pea? My eyes! if some o' these 'ere talkin' politicians knowed half o' what I know, they'd stop their blowin' pretty quick.
"There's our parson—and he's a good man, though not half good enough for her—why, you might as well talk to a babby three months old! If I told him, he'd only think I was crazy; and like as not he'd send for old Doctor Kenyon to come up and feel my head, same as they did wi' Shepherd Toller, Clun Downs way, before they put him in the asylum. I sometimes says to my missis that it's a good thing I'm a poor man wi' nowt but a flock o' sheep to look after. For don't you see, sir, when once you've got hold o' the bigness o' things it's all one—flocks o' sheep and nations o' men? If I were King o' England, or Prime Minister, or any sort o' great man, knowing what I know, I'd only think I were a bigger humbug nor the rest. I couldn't keep it up. But bein' only a shepherd, I've got nothing to keep up, and I'm thankful I haven't.
"I allus knows when folks has got things wrong end up by the amount they talks. When you get 'em the right way you don't want to talk on 'em, except it may be to one or two, like Mrs. Abel, as got 'em the same way as yourself. So when you hear folks jawin', you can allus tell what's the matter wi' 'em.
"There's old Shoemaker Hankin at Deadborough. Know him? Well, did you ever hear such a blatherin' old fool? 'All these things you're mad on, Snarley,' he sez to me one day, 'are nowt but matter and force.' 'Matter and force,' I sez; 'what's them?' And then he lets on for half a' hour trying to tell me all about matter and force. When he'd done I sez, 'Tom Hankin, there's more sense in one o' them old shoes than there is in your silly 'ead. You've got things all wrong end up, and you're just baain' at 'em like a' old sheep!' 'How can you prove it?' he sez. 'I know it,' I sez, 'by the row you makes.' It's a sure sign, sir; you take my word for it.
"Then there's all these parsons preaching away Sunday after Sunday. Why, doesn't it stand to sense that if they'd got things right way up, there they'd be, and that 'ud be the end on it? And it's because they're all wrong that they've got to go on jawin' to persuade people they're right. One day I was in Parson Abel's study. 'What's all them books about?' I sez. 'Religion, most on 'em,' sez he. 'Well,' I sez, 'if the folks as wrote 'em had got things right way up they wouldn't 'a needed to 'a wrote so many books.'
"Then, agen, there's that professor as comes fishin' in summer. 'Mr. Dellanow,' he sez to me one day, 'I take a great interest in yer.' 'That's a darned sight more'n I take in you,' I sez, for if there's one thing as puts my bristles up it's bein' told as folks takes a' interest in me. 'Well,' he sez, for he wasn't easy to offend, 'I want to 'ave a talk.' 'What about?' I sez. 'I want to talk about the stars and the space as they're floatin' in.' 'Has space ever knocked yer silly?' I sez. 'Yes,' he sez, 'in a manner o' speakin' it has.' 'No,' I sez, 'it hasn't, because if it had you wouldn't want to talk about it.' Well, there was no stoppin' 'im, and at last he gets it out that space is just a way we have o' lookin' at things. I know'd well enough what he meant, though I could see as he were puttin' it wrong way up. When he'd done I sez, 'That's all right. But suppose space wasn't a way folks have o' lookin' at things, but something else, what difference would that make?' 'I don't see what you mean,' he sez. 'That's because you don't see what you mean yerself,' I sez. 'You're just like the rest on 'em—talkin' about things you've never seen, but only heard other folks talkin' about. You're in the same box wi' Shoemaker Hankin and the parsons and all the lot on 'em. What's the good o' jawin' about space when you've never been there yourself? I have. I've seen more space in one minute than you've ever heard talk on since you were born. Don't tell me! If you could see what I've seen you'd never say another word about space as long as yer lived.'
"But you was askin' what bein' a medium has got to do wi' knowin' about the stars. More than some folks think. They're two roads leadin' to the same place. Both on 'em are ways o' gettin' to the right end of things. What's wrong wi' the mediums is that they haven't got line enough. They only manage to get just outside their own skins; but what's wanted is to get right on to the edge of the world and then look back. That's what the stars teaches you to do; and when you've done it—my word! it turns yer clean inside out!
"There's lots of nonsense in mediums; but there's no nonsense in the stars. And it's the stars that's goin' to knock the nonsense out o' the mediums, you mark my word! I found that out, for, as I was tellin' you, I used to be one myself, and am one now, for the matter o' that.
"Now you listen to what I'm goin' to tell you. There's lots o' spirits about: but they don't talk, at least not as a rule, and they don't want to talk; and when the mediums make 'em talk, they're liars! Spirits has better ways o' doin' things than talkin' on 'em. That's what you finds out when you gives yourself a long line and gets out to the edge o' the world. Then you looks back, and you sees that the whole thing's alive. It looks you straight in the face; and you can see it thinkin' and smilin' and frownin' and doin' things, just as I can see you at this minute. Do you think the stars can't understand one another? They can do it a sight better than you and me can. And they do it without speakin' a word. That, I tell you, is what you sees when you lets your line out to the edge!
"And when you've seen it you don't bother any more wi' makin' the spirits rap on tables and such like. What's the sense o' tryin' to find out whether you'll be a spirit after you're dead when you know there's nothing else anywhere? But it's no good talkin'. If you're not a bit of a medium yourself you'll never understand—no, not if I was to go on talkin' till both on us are frozen to death. And I reckon you're pretty cold already—you look it. Come down the hill wi' me, and I'll get my missis to make yer a cup o' hot tea."
Farmer Perryman was rich, and it was Snarley Bob who had made him so. Now Snarley was a cunning breeder of sheep. For three-and-forty years he had applied his intuitions and his patience to the task of producing rams and ewes such as the world had never seen. His system of "observation and experiment" was peculiarly his own; it is written down in no book, but stands recorded on barn-doors, on gate-posts, on hurdles, and on the walls of a wheeled box which was Snarley's main residence during the spring months of the year. It is a literature of notches and lines—cross, parallel, perpendicular, and horizontal—of which the chief merit in Snarley's eyes was that nobody could understand it save himself. But it was enough to give his faculties all the aid they required. By such simple means he succeeded long ago in laying the practical basis of a life's work, evolving a highly complicated system controlled by a single principle, and yet capable of manifold application. The Perryman flock, now famous among sheep-breeders all over the world, was the result.
Thirty years ago this flock was the admiration and the envy of the whole countryside. Young farmers with capital were confident that they were going to make money as soon as they began to breed from the Perryman strain. To have purchased a Perryman ram was to have invested your money in a gilt-edged, but rising, stock. The early "eighties" were times of severe depression in those parts; capital was scarce, farmers were discouraged, and the flocks deteriorated. At the present moment there is no more prosperous corner in agricultural England, and the basis of that prosperity is the life-work of Snarley Bob.
The fame of that work is now world-wide, though the author of it is unknown. The Perryman rams have been exported into almost every sheep-raising country on the globe. Hundreds of thousands of their descendants are now nibbling food, and converting it into fine mutton and long-stapled wool, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Argentine. Only last summer I saw a large animal meditating procreation among the foot-hills of the Rockies, and was informed of the fabulous price of his purchase—fabulous but commercially sound, for the animal was a Perryman ram, and the owner was sublimely confident of being "up against a sure thing." Many fortunes have been made from that source; and there are perhaps millions of human beings now eating mutton or wearing cloth who, if they could trace the authorship of these good things, would stand up and bless the memory of Snarley Bob.
One day among the hills I met the old man in presence of his charge, like a general reviewing his troops. As the flock passed on before us the professional reticence of Snarley was broken, and he began to talk of the animals before him, pointing to this and to that. Little by little his remarks began to remind me of something I had read in a book. On returning home, I looked the matter up. The book was a treatise on Mendelism, and, as I read on, the link was strengthened. Meeting Snarley Bob a few days afterwards, I did my best to communicate what I had learnt about Mendelism. He listened with profound attention, though, as I thought, with a trace of annoyance. He made some deprecatory remarks, quite in character, about "learned chaps as goes 'umbuggin' about things they don't understand." But in the end he was forced to confess some interest in what he had heard. "Them fellers," he said, "is on the right road; but they don't know where they're goin', and they don't go far enough." "How much further ought they to go?" I asked. For answer Snarley pointed to rows of notches on a five-barred gate and said, "It's all there." Whether it is "all there" or not I cannot tell; for the secret of those notches was never revealed to me, and the brain which held it lies under eight feet of clay in Deadborough churchyard. Perhaps Snarley is now discussing the matter with "the tall Shepherd" in some nook of Elysium where the winds are less keen than they used to be on Quarry Hill.
[Footnote 1: See post, "The Death of Snarley Bob."]
Had Snarley received a due share of the unearned increment which his own and his rams' achievements brought into other hands he would probably have died a millionaire. But for all his toil and skill he received no more than a shepherd's wage. There were not wanting persons, of course, who regarded his condition as a crucial instance of the exceeding rottenness of our present industrial system. There was a great lady from London, named Lady Lottie Passingham, who resolved to take up the case. Lady Lottie belonged to the class who look upon the universe as a leaky old kettle and themselves as tinkers appointed by Providence to mend the holes. That Snarley's position represented a hole of the first magnitude was plain enough to Lady Lottie the moment she became acquainted with the facts. Her first step was to interest her brother, the Earl of Clodd, a noted breeder of pedigree stock, on the old man's behalf; her second, to rouse the slumbering soul of the victim to a sense of the injustice of his lot. I believe she succeeded better with her brother than with Snarley; for with him she utterly failed. Her discourse on the possibilities of bettering his position might as well have been spoken into the ears of the senior ram; and if the ram had responded, as he probably would, by pinning Lady Lottie against the wall of the barn, her overthrow would have been no more complete nor unmerited than that she actually received from Snarley Bob.
For it so happened that Providence, in equipping the lady for her world-mending mission, had forgotten to give her a pleasant voice. Now if there was one thing in the world which made Snarley "madder" than anything else could do, it was the high-pitched, strident tones of a woman engaged in argument. The consequence was that his self-restraint broke down, and before the lady had said half the things she had meant to say, or come within sight of the splendid offer she was going to make on behalf of the Earl of Clodd, Snarley had spoken words and performed actions which caused his benefactress to retreat from the farmyard with her nose in the air, declaring she "would have nothing more to do with the horrid brute." She was not the first of Snarley's would-be benefactors who had formed the same resolve.
Now this extraordinary conduct on Snarley's part was by no means due to any transcendental contempt for money. I have myself offered him many a half-crown, which has never been refused; and Mrs. Abel, unless I am much mistaken, has given him many a pound. Still less did it originate from rustic contentment with a humble lot; nor from a desire to act up to his catechism, by being satisfied with that station in life which Providence had assigned him. For there was no more restless soul within the four seas of Britain, and none less willing to govern his conduct by moral saws. And stupidity, which would probably have explained the facts in the case of any other dweller in those parts, was not to be thought of in Snarley's case. "I knew what the old gal was drivin' at before she'd finished the text," said Snarley to me.
The truth is that he was afflicted with an immense and incurable arrogance which caused him to resent the implication, by whomsoever offered, that he was worse off than other people. It was Snarley's distinction that he was able to maintain, and carry off, as much pride on eighteen shillings a week as would require in most people at least fifty thousand a year for effective sustenance. Of course, it was not the eighteen shillings a week that made him proud; it was the consciousness that he had inner resources which his would-be benefactors knew not of. He regarded them all as his inferiors, and, had he known how to do it, he would have treated them de haut en bas. Ill-bred insolence was therefore his only weapon; but his use of this was as effective as if it had been the well-bred variety in the hands of the grandest of grand seigneurs. No wonder, then, that he failed to achieve the position to which, in the view of Lady Lottie Passingham, his talents entitled him.
But the inner resources of which I have spoken were Snarley's sufficient compensation for his want of worldly success. The composition of this hidden bread, it is true, was somewhat singular and not easy to imitate. If the reader, when he has learned its ingredients, choose to call it "religion," there is certainly nothing to prevent him. But that was not the word that Snarley used, nor the one he would have approved of. In his own limited nomenclature the elements of his spiritual kingdom were two in number—"the stars" and "the spirits."
Snarley's knowledge of the heavens was extensive, if not profound. On any fair view of profundity, I am inclined to think that it was profound, though of the technique of astronomy he knew but little. He had all the constellations at his fingers' ends, and had given to many of them names of his own; he knew their seasons, their days, even their hours; he knew the comings and goings of every visible planet; by day and night the heavens were his clock. It was characteristic of him that he seldom spoke of the weather when "passing the time of day"—a thing which he never did except to his chosen friends. He spoke almost invariably of the planets or the stars. "Good morning, the sun's very low at this time o' year—did you see the lunar halo last night?—a fine lot o' shootin' stars towards four o'clock, look for 'em again to-morrow in the nor'-west—you can get your breakfast by moonlight this week—Old Tabby [Orion] looks well to-night—you'd better have a look at Sirius afore the moon arises, I never see him so clear as he is now"—these were the greetings which Snarley offered "to them as could understand" from behind the hedge or within the penfold.
But it was not from superficialities of this kind that the depth of his stellar interests was to be measured. I once told him that a great man of old had declared that the stars were gods. "So they are, but I wonder how he found that out," said Snarley; "because you can't find it out by lookin' at 'em. You may look at 'em till you're blind, and you'll never see anything but little lights." "It was just his fancy," I said, like a simpleton. "Fancy be ——!" said Snarley. "It's a plain truth—that is, it's plain enough for them as knows the way."
"What's that?" I said.
"It's a way as nobody can take unless they're born to it. And, what's more, it's a way as nobody can understand unless they're born to it. Didn't I tell you the other day that there's only one sort of folks as can tell what the stars are—and that's the folks as can get out o' their own skins? And they're not many as can do that. But that man you were just talkin' of, as said the stars were gods, he must ha' done it. It's my opinion that in the old days there was more folks as could get out o' their skins than there are now. I sometimes wish I'd been born in the old days. I should ha' had somebody to talk to then. I've got hardly anybody now. And you get tired sometimes o' keepin' yerself to yerself. If I were a learned man I'd be readin' them old books day and night."
"What about the Bible?" I asked.
"Well, that's a good old book," said Snarley; "but there's some things in it that's no good to anybody—except to talkin' men."
"Who are they?" I said.
"Why, folks as doesn't understand things, but only likes to talk about 'em: parsons—at least, more nor half on 'em—ay, and these 'ere politicians too, for the matter o' that. There's some folks as dresses up in fine clothes, and there's some as dresses up in fine words: one sort wants to be looked at, and the other wants to be listened to. Doesn't it stand to sense that it's just the same? Bless your 'eart, it's all show! Why, there's lots o' men as goes huntin' about till they finds a bit o' summat as they think 'ud look well if they dressed it up in talk. 'Ah,' they say to themselves, 'that'll just do for me; that's what I'm goin' to believe; when it's got its Sunday clothes on it'll look like a regular lord.' Well, there's plenty o' that sort about; and you can allus tell 'em by the 'oller sound as they makes. And them's the folks as spoils the old Bible.
"Not but what there's things in the Bible as is 'oller to begin wi'. But there's plenty that isn't, if these talkin' chaps 'ud only leave it alone. Now, here's a bit as I calls tip-top: 'When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers'" (here Snarley quoted several verses of the Eighth Psalm).
"Now, when you gets hold on a bit like that, you don't want to go dressin' on it up. You just puts it in your pipe and smokes it, and then it does you good! That's it!
"There's was once a Salvation Army man as come and asked me if I accepted the Gospel. 'Yes, my lad,' I sez; 'I've accepted it—but only as a thing to smoke, not as a thing to go bangin' about. Put your drum in the cup-board, my lad,' I sez; 'and put the Gospel in your pipe, and you'll be a wiser man.'
"As for all this 'ere argle-bargling about them big things, there's nowt in it, you take my word for that! The little things for argle-bargle, the big uns' for smokin', that's what I sez! Put the big 'uns in your pipe, sir; put 'em in your pipe, and smoke 'em!"
These last words were spoken in tones of great solemnity and repeated several times.
"That's good advice, Snarley," I said; "but the writer you just quoted hadn't got a pipe to put 'em in."
"Didn't need one," said Snarley; "there weren't so many talkin' men about in his time. Folks then were born right end up to begin wi', and didn't need to smoke 'emselves round.
"Ay, ay, sir, I often think about them old days—and it's the Bible as set me thinkin' on 'em. That's the only old book as I ever read. And there's some staggerers in it, I can tell you! Wonderful! If some o' them old Bible men could come back and hear the parsons talkin' about 'em—eh, my word, there would be a rumpus! I'd like to see it, that I would! I'll tell you one thing, sir—and don't you forget it—you'll never understand the old Bible, leastways not the best bits in it, so long as you only wants to talk about 'em, same as a man allus wants to do when he's stuck inside his own skin. Now, there's that bit about the heavens, as I just give you—that's a bit o' real all-right, isn't it?"
"Yes," I said, "it is."
"Well, can't you see as the man as said them words had just let himself out to the other end o' the line and was lookin' back? He'd got himself right into the middle o' the bigness o' things, and that's what you can't do as long as you keeps inside your own skin. But I tell you that when you gets outside for the first time it gives you a pretty shakin' up. You begins to think what a fool you've been all your life long."
Beyond such statements as these, repeated many times and in many forms, I could get no light on Snarley's dealings with the heavens.
To interpret his dealings with "the spirits" is a still harder task. It was one of his common sayings that this matter also could not be discussed in terms intelligible to the once-born. That he did not mean by "spirits" what the vulgar might suppose, is certain. It is true that at one time he used to attend spiritualistic seances held in a large neighbouring village, and he was commonly regarded as a "medium." This latter term was adopted by Snarley in many conversations I had with him as a true description of himself. But here again it was obvious that he used the term only for want of a better. He never employed it without some sort of caveat, uttered or implied, to the effect that the word must be taken with qualifications—unstated qualifications, but still suggestive of important distinctions.
It is noteworthy in this connection that a bitter quarrel existed between Snarley and the spiritualists with whom he had once been associated. They had cast him forth from among them as a smoking brand; and Snarley on his part never lost a chance of denouncing them as liars and rogues. One of the most violent scenes ever witnessed in the tap-room of the Nag's Head had been perpetrated by Snarley on a certain occasion when Shoemaker Hankin was defending the thesis that all forms of religion might now be considered as done for, "except spiritualism." Even Hankin, who reverenced no thing in heaven or earth, had protested against the unprintable words which with Snarley greeted his logic; while the landlord (Tom Barter of happy memory), himself the lowest black-guard in the village, had suggested that he should "draw it mild."
This reminds me that Snarley regarded strong drink as a means, and a legitimate means, for obtaining access to hidden things; nor did he scruple at times to use it for that end. "There's nowt like a drop o' drink for openin' the door," he remarked. "But only for them as is born to it. If you're not born to it, drink shuts the door on you tighter nor ever. There's not one man in ten that drink doesn't make a bigger fool of than he is already. Look at Shoemaker Hankin. Half a pint of cider'll set him hee-hawin' like the Rectory donkey. But there's some men as can't get a lift no other way. It's like that wi' me sometimes. There's weeks and weeks together when I'm fair stuck inside my own skin and can't get out on it nohow. That's when I know a drop'll do me good. I can a'most hear something go click in my head, and then I gets among 'em" (the spirits) "in no time. A pint's mostly enough to do it; but sometimes it takes a quart; and once or twice I've had to go on till somebody's had to help me home. But when once I begins I never stops till I see the door openin'—and then not a drop more!"
One day I was discussing with Mrs. Abel the oft-recurrent problem of Snarley's peculiar mental constitution, a subject to which she had given the name "Snarleychology." Her knowledge of the old man's ways was of longer date than mine, and she understood him infinitely better than I. "Suppose, now," I said "that Snarley had been able to express himself after the manner of superlative people like you and me, what would have come of it?" "Art," said Mrs. Abel, "and most probably poetry. He's just a mass of intuitions!" "What a pity they are inarticulate!" I answered, repeating the appropriate commonplace. "But they are not inarticulate," said Mrs. Abel. "Snarley has found a medium of expression which gives him perfect satisfaction." "Then the poems ought to be in existence," said I. "So they are," was the answer; "they exist in the shape of Farmer Perryman's big rams. The rams are the direct creations of genius working upon appropriate material. None but a dreamer of dreams could have brought them into being; every one of them is an embodied ideal. Don't make the blunder of thinking that Snarley's sheep-raising has nothing to do with his star-gazings and spirit-rappings. It's all one. Shakespeare writes Hamlet, and Snarley produces 'Thunderbolt.' To call Snarley inarticulate because he hasn't written a Hamlet is as absurd as it would be to call Shakespeare inarticulate because he didn't produce a 'Thunderbolt.' Both Hamlet and 'Thunderbolt' were born in the highest heaven of invention. Both are the fruit of intuitions concentrated on their object with incredible pertinacity."
[Footnote 2: I suggested to Mrs. Abel that this word wouldn't do, and proposed "Snarleyology" instead. She declined the improvement at once, remarking that 'the soul of the word was in the ch.']
[Footnote 3: The name of the greatest of the Perryman rams—a brute "with more decorations than a Field-marshal."]
I was forced into silence for a time, bewildered by a statement which seemed to alternate between levelling the big things down to the little ones, and raising the little ones to the level of the big. When I had chewed this hard saying as well as I could, I bolted it for further digestion, and continued the conversation. "Has Snarley," I asked, "ever been tried with poetry, in the ordinary sense of the term?"
"Yes," said the lady, "an experiment was once made on him by Miss ——" (naming a literary counterpart to Lady Lottie Passingham), "who visited him in his cottage and insisted on reading him some poem of Whittier's. In ten minutes she was fleeing from the cottage in terror of her life, and no one has since repeated the experiment."
"I think," I said, "that if you would consent to be the experimenter we might obtain better results."
Now in one important respect Nature had dealt more bountifully with Mrs. Abel than with Lady Lottie Passingham. Though Mrs. Abel had no desire to reform the universe, and was conscious of no mission to that end, she possessed a voice which might have produced a revolution. It was a soft contralto, vibrant and rich, and tremulous with tones which the gods would have come from Olympus to hear. She never sang, but her speech was music, rich and rare. In early life, as I have said, she had been on the stage, and Art had completed the gifts of Nature. Here lay one of the secrets of her power over the soul of Snarley Bob. Her voice was hypnotic with all men, and Snarley yielded to it as to a spell.
Another point which has its bearing on this, and also on what has to follow, is that Snarley had a passionate love for the song of the nightingale. The birds haunted the district in great numbers, and the time of their singing was the time when Snarley "let out his line" to its furthest limits. His love of the nightingale was coupled, strangely enough, with a hatred equally intense for the cuckoo. To the song of the cuckoo in early spring he was fairly tolerant; but in June, when, as everybody knows, "she changeth her tune," Snarley's rage broke forth into bitter persecution. He had invented a method of his own, which I shall not divulge, for snaring these birds; and whenever he caught them he promptly wrung their necks. For the same reason he would have been not unwilling to wring the necks of Lady Lottie Passingham and of the Literary Counterpart had they continued to pester him.
Here then were the conditions from which we drew the materials for our conspiracy. Mrs. Abel, though at first reluctant, consented at last to play the active part in a new piece of experimental Snarleychology. It was determined that we would try our subject with poetry, and also that we would try him with "something big." For a long time we discussed what this something "big" was to be. Choice nearly fell on "A Grammarian's Funeral," but I am glad this was not adopted; for, though it represented very well our own views of Snarley Bob, I doubt if it would have appealed directly to the subject himself. At length one of us suggested Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," to which the other immediately replied, "Why didn't we think of that before?" It was the very thing.
But how were we to proceed? We knew very well that a deliberately planned attempt to "read something" to Snarley was sure to fail. He would suspect that we were "interested in him" in the way he always resented, or that we wanted to improve his mind, which was also a thing he could not bear. Still, we might practice a little artful deception. We might meet him together by accident in the quarry, as we had done before; and Mrs. Abel, after due preliminaries and a little leading-on about nightingales, might produce the volume from her pocket and read the poem. So it was arranged. But I think we parted that night with a feeling that we were going to do something ridiculous, and Mr. Abel told me quite frankly that we were a pair of precious fools.
One lovely morning about the middle of April the desired meeting in the quarry was duly brought off. The lambing season was almost over, and Snarley was occupied in looking after a few belated ewes. We arrived, of course, separately; but there must have been something in our manner which put Snarley on his guard. He looked at us in turn with glances which plainly told that he suspected a planned attack on the isolation of his soul. Presently he lapsed into his most disagreeable manner, and his horse-like face began to wear a singularly brutal expression. It was one of his bad days; for some time he had evidently been "stuck in his skin," and probably intended to end his incarceration that very night by getting drunk. He was, in fact, determined to drive us away, and, though the presence of Mrs. Abel disarmed him of his worst insolence, he managed to become sufficiently unpleasant to make us both devoutly wish we were at the bottom of the hill. I shudder to think what would have happened in these circumstances to Lady Lottie Passingham or to the Literary Counterpart.
The thing, however, had cost too much trouble to be lightly abandoned, and we did not relish the prospect of being greeted by peals of laughter if we returned defeated to the Rectory. In desperation, therefore, Mrs. Abel began to force the issue. "I'm told the nightingale was heard in the Rectory grounds last night, Snarley." "Nightingales be blowed," replied the Subject. "I've no time to listen if there was a hundred singin'. I've been up with these blessed ewes three nights without a wink o' sleep, and we've lost two lambs as were got by 'Thunderbolt.'" "Well, some time, when you are not quite so busy, I want you to hear what a great man has written about the nightingale," said Mrs. Abel. She spoke in a rather forced voice, which suggested the persuasive tones of the village curate when addressing a church-full of naughty children at the afternoon service.
"I don't want to hear it," said Snarley, whose suspicions were now raised to certitude, "and, what's more, I won't hear it. What's the good? If anybody's been talkin' about nightingales, it's sure to be rubbish. Nightingales is things you can't talk about, but only listen to. No, thank you, my lady. When I wants nightingales, I'll go and hear 'em. I don't want to know what nobody had said about 'em. Besides, I've too much to think about with these 'ere ewes. There's one lyin' dead behind them stones as I've got to bury. She died last night;" and he began to ply us with disgusting details about the premature confinement of a sheep.
It was all over. Mrs. Abel remounted her horse, and presently rode down the hill. When she had gone fifty yards or so, she took a little calf-bound volume of Keats from her pocket and held it aloft. The signal was not difficult to read. "Yes," it said, "we are a pair of precious fools."
* * * * *
Five months elapsed, during which I neither saw nor much desired to see Mrs. Abel. The harvest was now gathered, and the event was to be celebrated by a "harvest home" in the Perrymans' big barn. They were kind enough to send me the usual invitation, which I accepted "with pleasure"—a phrase in which, for once in my frequent use of it, I spoke the truth. The prospect of going down to Deadborough served, of course, to revive the painful memory of our humiliating defeat. Looked at in the perspective of time, our enterprise stood out in all its essential folly. But I have frequently found that the contemplation of a past mistake has a strange tendency to cause its repetition; and it was so in this case. For it suddenly occurred to me that this "harvest home" might give us an opportunity for a flank attack on the soul of Snarley Bob, whereby we might retrieve the disaster of our frontal operations on Quarry Hill. I lost no time in divulging my plan in the proper quarters. Mrs. Abel replied exactly as Lambert did when Cromwell, "walking in the garden of Brocksmouth House," told him of that sudden bright idea for rolling up the Scottish army at Dunbar—"She had meant to say the same thing." The plan was simple enough; but had its execution rested with any other person than Mrs. Abel—with the Literary Counterpart, for example—it would have miscarried as completely as its fore-runner.
The company assembled in the Perrymans' barn consisted of the labouring population of three large farms, men and women, all dressed in their Sunday best. To these were added, as privileged outsiders, his Reverence and Mrs. Abel, the popular stationmaster of Deadborough, Tom Barter—who supplied the victuals—and myself. Good meat, of course, was in abundance, and good drink also—the understanding with regard to the latter being that, though you might go the length of getting "pretty lively," you must stop short of getting drunk.
The proceedings commenced in comparative silence, the rustics communicating with one another only by such whispers as might be perpetrated in church. But this did not last very long. From the moment the first turn was given to the tap in the cider-barrel, the attentive observer might have detected a rapid crescendo of human voices, which rose into a roar long before the end of the feast. When all had eaten their fill, songs were called for, and "Master" Perryman, of course, led off with "The Farmer's Boy."
Others followed. I was struck by the fact that nearly all the songs were of an extremely melancholy nature—the chief objects celebrated by the Muse being withered flowers, little coffins, the corpses of sweethearts, last farewells, and hopeless partings on the lonely shore. Tears flow; ladies sigh; voices choke; hearts break; children die; lovers prove untrue. It was tragic, and I confess I could have wept myself—not at the songs, for they were stupid enough,—but to think of the grey lugubrious life whose keynote was all too truly struck by this morbid, melancholy stuff.
Tom Barter, who had been in the army, and was just convalescent from a bad turn of delirium tremens, sang a song about a dying soldier, visited on his gory bed by a succession of white-robed spirits, including his little sister, his aged mother, and a young female with a babe, whom the dying hero appeared to have treated none too well.
The song was vigorously encored, and Tom at once responded with a second—and I have no doubt, genuine—barrack-room ballad. The hero of this ditty is a "Lancer bold." He is duly wetted with tears before his departure for the wars; but is cheered up at the last moment by the lady's assurance that she will meet him on his return in "a carriage gay." Arrived at the front, he performs the usual prodigies: slashes his way through the smoke, spikes the enemy's guns, and spears "Afghanistan's chieftains" right and left. He then returns to England, dreaming of wedding bells, and we next see him on the deck of a troop-ship, scanning the expectant throng on the shore and asking himself, "Where, oh where, is that carriage gay?" Of course, it isn't there, and the disconsolate Lancer at once repairs to the "smiling" village whence the lady had intended to issue in the carriage. Here he is met by "a jet-black hearse with nodding plumes," seeks information from the weeping bystanders, and has his worst suspicions confirmed. He compares the gloomy vehicle before him with the "carriage gay" of his dreams, and, having sufficiently elaborated the contrast, resolves to end his blighted existence on the lady's grave. How he spends the next interval is not told; but towards midnight we find him in the churchyard with his "trusty" weapon in his hand. This, in keeping with the unities, should have been a lance; but apparently the Lancer was armed on some mixed principle known to the War Office, and allowed to take his pick of weapons before going on leave; for presently a shot rings out, and one of England's stoutest champions is no more.
During the singing of this song I noticed a poorly clad girl, with a sweet, intelligent face, put a handkerchief to her mouth and stifle a sob. She quietly made her way towards the barn door, and presently slipped out into the night.
The thing had not escaped the notice of Snarley Bob, and I could see wrath in his eyes. Being near him, I asked what it meant. "By God!" he said, "it's a good job for Tom Barter as the rheumatiz has crippled my old hands. If I could only double my fist, I'd put a mark on his silly jaw as 'ud stop him singing that song for many a day to come. Not that there's any sense in it. But it's just because there's no sense in 'em that such songs oughtn't to be sung. See that young woman go out just now? Well, she's in a decline, and knows as she can't last very long. And she's got a young man in India—in the same battery as our Bill—as nice and straight a lad as ever you see."
Another song was called "Fallen Leaves," the singer being a son of Peter Shott, the local preacher—a young man of dissipated appearance, with a white face and an excellent tenor voice. This song, of course, was a disquisition on the evanescence of all things here below. Each verse began "I saw," and ended with the refrain:
"Fallen leaves, fallen leaves! With woe untold my bosom heaves, Fallen leaves, fallen leaves!"
"I saw," said the song, a mixed assortment of decaying glories—among them, a pair of lovers on a seat, a Christmas family party, a rosebush, a railway accident on Bank Holiday, a rake's deathbed, a battlefield, an oak tree in its pride, and the same oak in process of being converted by an undertaker into a coffin for the poet's only friend. All these and many more the poet "saw" and buried in his fallen leaves, assuring the world that his bosom heaved with woe untold for every one of them.
Tom Barter, who was the leading emotionalist in the parish, was visibly affected, his bosom heaving in a manner which the poet himself could not have excelled; while his poor anaemic wife, who had hesitated about coming to the feast because her eye was still discoloured from the blow Tom had given her last week, feebly expressed the hope "that it would do him good."
So it went on. Whatever jocund rebecks may have sounded in the England of long ago, their strains found no echo in the funeral ditties of the Perrymans' feast.
Snarley Bob, in whom the drink had kindled some hankering for eternal splendours, was well content with the singing of "The Farmer's Boy," and joined in the chorus with the remnants of a once mighty voice. After that he became restless and increasingly snappish; his face darkened at "Fallen Leaves," and he began to look positively dangerous when a young man who was a railway porter in town, now home for a holiday, made a ghastly attempt at merriment by singing a low-class music-hall catch. What he would have done or said I do not know, for at that moment the announcement was made which the reader has been expecting—that Mrs. Abel would give a recitation.
"Now," said Snarley to his neighbour, "we shall have summat like." His whole being sprang to attention. He rapidly knocked out the ashes of his pipe, refilled, and lit; and, folding his arms before him on the table, leant forward to listen. For my part, I took a convenient station where I could watch Snarley, as Hamlet watched the king in the play. He was far too intent on Mrs. Abel to notice me.
The barn was dimly lighted, and the speaker, standing far back from the end of the table, was in deep shadow and almost invisible. Has the reader ever heard a voice which trembles with emotions gathered up from countless generations of human experience—a voice in which the memories of ages, the designs of Nature, the woes and triumphs of evolving worlds become articulate; a voice that speaks a language not of words, but of things, transmuting the eternal laws to tones, and pouring into the soul by their means a stream of solicitations to the secret springs of the buried life? Such voices there are: Wordsworth heard one of them in the song of "The Solitary Reaper." In such a voice, rolling forth from the shadows, and in exquisite articulation, there came to us these words:
"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness steals my sense, As though of hemlock I had drunk, Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains, One minute past, and Lethewards had sunk."
The noisy crew were hushed: silence fell like a palpable thing. Snarley Bob shifted his position: he raised his arms from the table, grasped his chin with his right hand; with his left he took the pipe from his mouth, and pointed its stem at the speaker; his features relaxed, and then fixed into the immobility of the worshipping saint.
Observation was difficult; for I, too, was half hypnotised by the voice from the shadows; but what I remember I will tell.
The voice has now finished the second verse, and is entering the third, the note slightly raised, and with a tone like that of a wailing wind:
"That I might drink and leave the world unseen, And, with thee, fade away into the forest dim.
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget What thou among the leaves hast never known."
Snarley Bob rises erect in his place, still holding his chin with his right hand, and with the left pointing his pipe, as before, at the speaker. The rigid arm is trembling violently, and Snarley, with half-open mouth, is drawing his breath in gulps. Someone, his wife I think, tries to make him sit down. He detaches his right hand, and violently thrusts her away.
For some minutes he remains in this attitude. The verse:
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird,"
is now reached, and I can see that violent tremors are passing through Snarley's frame. His head has sunk towards his breast, and is shaking; his right arm has fallen to his side, the fingers hooked as though he would clench his fist. Thus he stands, his head jerking now and then into an upright position, and shaking more and more. He has ceased to point at the speaker; the pipe is on the table. Thus to the end.
Somebody claps; another feebly knocks his glass on the board; there is a general whisper of "Hush!" Snarley Bob has sunk on to the bench; he folds his arms on the table, rests his head upon them as a tired man would do; a tremor shakes him once or twice; then he closes his eyes, and is still. He has apparently fallen asleep.
No one, save myself, has paid much attention to Snarley, who is at the end of the room furthest from Mrs. Abel. But now his attitude is noticed, and somebody says, "Hullo, Snarley's had a drop too much this time. Give him a shake-up, missis."
The "shake-up," however, is not needed. For Snarley, after a few minutes of apparent sleep, raises his head, looks round him, and again stands upright. A flood of incoherencies, spoken in a high-pitched, whining voice, pours from his lips. Now and then comes a clear sentence, mingled with fragments of the poem—these in a startling reproduction of Mrs. Abel's tones—thus: "The gentleman's callin' for drink. Why don't they bring him drink? Here, young woman, bring him a pint o' ale, and put three-ha'porth of gin in it—the door's openin', and he's goin' through. He'll soon be there—
"'Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget What thou among the leaves hast never known.'
All right—it's bloomin' well all right—don't give him any more.
"'Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain.'
—It's the Passing Bell.—What are they ringing it for?—He's not dead—he'll come back again when he's ready.—Stop 'em ringing that bell!
"'Forlorn! the very word is like a bell To toll me back from thee to my sole self.'
All right—he's comin' back.—Nightingales!—Who wants to hear about a lot o' bloomin' nightingales. I don't. I'm all right—get me a cup o' tea.—It's Tom Barter who's drunk, not me!
"'Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new love pine at them beyond to-morrow.'
The mail goes o' Fridays—K Battery, Peshawur, Punjaub—O my God, let Bill tell him!—Shut up, you blasted old fool, or I'll knock yer silly head off! You'll never get there!—What do you know about nightingales? I heard 'em singin' for hundreds and thousands of years before you were born:
"'Thou was not born for death, immortal bird, No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I heard this passing night was heard In ancient days, by Emperor and clown: Perhaps the self-same voice that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, She stood in tears amid the alien corn, The same that ofttimes hath Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.'"
The whole of this verse was a reproduction of Mrs. Abel's rendering, spoken in a voice not unlike hers, and with scarcely the falter of a syllable. It was followed by a few seconds of incoherent babble, at the end of which tremors again broke out over Snarley's body; he swayed to and fro, and his head fell forward on his chest. "Catch hold of him, or he'll fall," cried somebody. Then a medley of voices—"Give him a drop of brandy!" "No, don't you see he's dead drunk a'ready?" "Drunk! not 'im. Do you think he could imitate Mrs. Abel like that if he was drunk?" "Take them gels out o' the barn as quick as you can!" "If she don't stop shriekin' when you get 'er home, throw a bucket o' cold water over her. It's only 'isterics." "Well, I've seed a lot o' queer things in my time, and I've knowed Snarley to do some rum tricks, but I never seed nowt like that." "Oh dear, sir, I never felt so upset in all my life. It isn't right! Somebody ought to ha' stopped 'im. I wonder Mr. Abel didn't interfere." "That there poem o' Mrs. Abel's was a'most too much for me. But to think o' him gettin' up like that! It must be Satan that's got into him." "It's a awful thing to 'ave a man like that livin' in the next cottage to your own. I'll be frightened out o' my wits when my master's not at 'ome." "They ought to do something to 'im—I've said so many a time."
And then the voice of Snarley's wife as she chafed her husband's hands: "No, sir, don't you believe 'em when they say he's drunk. He's only had two glasses of cider and half a glass o' beer. You can see the other half in his glass now. I counted 'em myself. And it takes quarts to make 'im tipsy. It's a sort of trance, sir, as he's had. I've knowed him like this two or three times before. He was just like it after he'd been to hear Sir Robert Ball on the stars, sir—worse, if anythin'. He's gettin' better now; but I'm afraid he'll be terrible upset."
Snarley had opened his eyes, and was looking vacantly and sleepily round him. "I'll go home," was all he said. He got up and walked rather shakily, but without assistance, out of the barn.
A few minutes later Mrs. Abel came up to me. "We were fools five months ago," she said; "but what are we now?"
"Criminals, most likely," I replied.
"And if you do it again, you'll be murderers," said Mr. Abel, in a tone of severity.
In early life Chandrapal had been engaged in the practice of the law, and had held a position of some honour under the Crown. But as the years wore on the ties which bound him to the world of sense were severed one by one, and he was now released. By the study of the Vedanta, by ascetic discipline, and by the daily practice of meditation undertaken at regular hours, he had attained the Great Peace; and those who knew the signs of such attainment reverenced him as a holy man. His influence was great, his fidelity was unquestioned, and his fame as a teacher and sage had been carried far beyond his native land.
Chandrapal was versed in the lore of the West. He had studied the history, the politics, the literature and philosophy of the great nations, and could quote their poets and their sages with copiousness and aptitude. He had written a commentary on Faust. He also read, and sometimes expounded, the New Testament; and he held the Christian Gospel in high esteem.
Among the philosophers of the West it was Spinoza to whom he gave the place of highest honour. Regarding the Great Peace as the ultimate object of human attainment, he held that Spinoza alone had found a clear path to the goal; since then European thought had been continually decadent.
Though far advanced in life, Chandrapal had never seen Western civilisation face to face until the year when we are about to meet him. He travelled to America by way of Japan, and Vancouver was the first Western city in which he set his foot. There he looked around him with bewildered eyes, gaining no clear impression, save in the negative sense that the city contained nothing to remind him of Spinoza or of the Nazarene. It was not that he expected to find a visible embodiment of their teaching in everything he saw; Chandrapal was too wise for that. But he hoped that somewhere and in some form the Truth, which for him these teachers symbolised in common, would show itself as a living thing. It might be that he would see it on some human face; or he might feel it in the atmosphere; or he might hear it in the voice of a man. Chandrapal knew that he had much to see and to discover; but in all his travels it was for this that he kept incessant watch.
From Vancouver he passed south to San Francisco; thence, city by city, he threaded his way across the United States and found himself in New York. All that he had seen so far gathered itself into one vast picture of a world fast bound in the chains of error and groaning for deliverance from its misery. In New York the misery seemed to deepen and the groanings to redouble. But of this he said nothing. He let the universities fete him; he let the millionaires entertain him in their great houses; he delivered lectures on the wisdom of the East, and, though a kindly criticism would now and then escape him, he gave no hint of his great pity for Western men. He was the most courteous, the most delightful of guests.
Arrived in England, he received the same impression and practised the same reserve. Wherever he went a rumour spread before him, and men waited for his coming as though the ancient mysteries were about to be unsealed. The curious cross-examined him; the bewildered appealed to him; the poor heard him gladly, and famished souls, eager for a morsel of comfort from the groaning table of the East, hovered about his steps. He preached in churches where the wandering prophet is welcomed; he broke bread with the kings of knowledge and of song; he sat in the seats of the mighty and received honour as one to whom honour is due.
To all this he responded with a gratitude which was sincere; but his deeper gratitude was for the Powers by whose ordering he had been born neither an Englishman nor a Christian, but a Hindu.
Here, as in America, he looked about him observingly and pondered the meaning of what he saw. But he understood it not, and went hither and thither like a man in a dream. In his Indian home he had studied Western civilisation from the books which tell of its mighty works and its religion; and, so studied, it had seemed to him an intelligible thing. But, seen with the naked eye, it appeared incomprehensible, nay, incredible. Its bigness oppressed him, its variety confused him, its restlessness made him numb. Values seemed to be inverted, perspectives to be distorted, good and evil to be transposed: "in" meant "out," and Death did duty for Life. Chandrapal could not take the point of view, and finally concluded there was no point of view to take. He could not frame his visions into coherence, and therefore judged that he was looking at chaos. Sometimes he would doubt the reality of what he saw, and would recollect himself and seek for evidence that he was awake. "Can such things be?" he would say to himself; "for this people has turned all things upside down. Their happiness is misery, their wisdom is bewilderment, their truth is self-deception, their speech is a disguise, their science is the parent of error, their life is a process of suicide, their god is the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched. What is believed is not professed, and what is professed is not believed. In yonder place"—he was looking at London—"there is darkness and misery enough for seven hells. Verily they have already come to judgment and been condemned."