'All the same, Daddy, I've tasted Welsh rabbit before,' said David drily, putting on his hat.
'I scorn your remark, sir. It argues a poorly furnished mind. Show me anything new in this used-up world, eh? but for the name and the dishing up—Well, good-bye, Davy, and good luck to you!'
David made his way across Hanging Ditch to a little row of houses bearing the baldly appropriate name of Half Street. It ran along the eastern side of the Cathedral close. First came the houses, small, irregular, with old beams and projections here and there, then a paved footway, then the railings round the close. In full view of the windows of the street rose the sixteenth-century church which plays as best it can the part of Cathedral to Manchester. Round it stretched a black and desolate space paved with tombstones. Not a blade of grass broke the melancholy of those begrimed and time-worn slabs. The rain lay among them in pools, squalid buildings overlooked them, and the church, with its manifest inadequacy to a fine site and a great city, did but little towards overcoming the mean and harsh impression made—on such a day especially—by its surroundings.
David opened the door of a shop about halfway up the row. A bell rang sharply, and as he shut the outer door behind him, another at the back of the shop opened hastily, and a young girl came in.
'Mr. Grieve, father's gone out to Eccles to see some books a gentleman wants him to buy. If Mr. Stephens comes, you're to tell him father's found him two or three more out of the list he sent. You know where all his books are put together, if he wants to see them, father says.'
'Yes, thank you, Miss Purcell, I do. No other message?'
'No.' The speaker lingered. 'What time do we start for the music to-night? But you'll be down to tea?'
'Certainly, if you and Miss Dora don't want it to yourselves.' The speaker smiled. He was leaning on the counter, while the girl stood behind it.
'Oh dear, no!' said Miss Purcell with a half-pettish gesture. 'I don't know what to talk to Dora about now. She thinks of nothing but St. Damian's and her work. It's worse than father. And, of course, I know she hasn't much opinion of me. Indeed, she's always telling me so—well, not exactly—but she lets me guess fast enough.'
The speaker put up two small hands to straighten some of the elaborate curls and twists with which her pretty head was crowned. There was a little consciousness in the action. The thought of her cousin had evidently brought with it the thought of some of those things of which the stern Dora disapproved.
David looked at the brown hair and the slim fingers as he was meant to look at them. Yet in his smiling good humour there was not a trace of bashfulness or diffidence. He was perfectly at his ease, with something of a proud self-reliant consciousness in every movement; nothing in his manner could have reminded a spectator of the traditional apprentice making timid love to his master's daughter.
'I've seen you stand up to her though,' he said laughing. 'It's like all pious people. Doesn't it strike you as odd that they should never be content with being pious for themselves?'
He looked at her with bright sarcastic eyes.
'Oh, I know what you mean!' she said with an instant change of tone; 'I didn't mean anything of the sort. I think it's shocking of you to go to that place on Sundays—so there, Mr. Grieve.'
She threw herself back defiantly against the books which walled the shop, her arms folded before her. The attitude showed the long throat, the rounded bust, and the slender waist compressed with some evident rigour into a close-fitting brown dress. That Miss Purcell thought a great deal of the fashion of her hair, the style of her bodices, and the size of her waist was clear; that she was conscious of thinking about them to good purpose was also plain. But on the whole the impression of artificiality, of something over-studied and over-done which the first sight of her generally awakened, was soon, as a rule, lost in another more attractive—in one of light, tripping youth, perfectly satisfied with itself and with the world.
'I don't think you know much about the place,' he said quietly, still smiling.
She flushed, her foolish little sense of natural superiority to 'the assistant' outraged again, as it had been outraged already a hundred times since she and David Grieve had met.
'I know quite as much as anybody need know—any respectable person—' she maintained angrily. 'It's a low, disgraceful place—and they talk wicked nonsense. Everyone says so. It doesn't matter a bit where Uncle Lomax goes—he's mad—but it is a shame he should lead other people astray.'
She was much pleased with her own harangue, and stood there frowning on him, her sharp little chin in the air, one foot beating the ground.
'Well, yes, really,' said David in a reflective tone; 'one would think Miss Dora had her hands full at home, without—'
He looked up, significantly, smiling. Lucy Purcell was enraged with him—with his hypocritical sympathy as to her uncle's misdoings—his avoidance of his own crime.
'It's not uncle at all, it's you!' she cried, with more logic than appeared. 'I tell you, Mr. Grieve, father won't stand it.'
The young man drew himself up from the counter.
'No,' he said with great equanimity, 'I suppose not.'
And taking up a parcel of books from the counter he turned away. Lucy, flurried and pouting, called after him.
'I—I didn't mean it. I hope you won't go. I know father's hard. He's hard enough with me.'
And she raised her hands to her flushed face. David was terribly afraid she was going to cry. Several times since the orphan girl of seventeen had arrived from school three months before to take her place in her father's house, had she been on the point of confiding her domestic woes to David Grieve. But though under the terms of his agreement with her father, which included one meal in the back parlour, the assistant and she were often thrown together, he had till now instinctively held her aloof. His extraordinary good looks and masterful energetic ways had made an impression on her schoolgirl mind from the beginning. But for him she had no magnetism whatever. The little self-conceited creature knew it, or partially knew it, and smarted under it.
Now, he was just beginning an awkward sentence, when there was a sound at the outer door. With another look at him, half shy, half appealing, Lucy fled. Conscious of a distinct feeling of relief, David went to attend to the customer.
The customer was soon content and went out again into the rain. David mounted a winding iron stair which connected the downstairs shop with an upper room in which a large proportion of the books were stored. It was a long, low, rambling place made by throwing together all the little bits of rooms on the first floor of the old house. One corner of it had a special attraction for David. It was the corner where, ranged partly on the floor, partly on the shelves which ran under the windows, lay the collection of books that Purcell had been making for his customer, Mr. Stephens.
Out of that collection Purcell's assistant had extracted a very varied entertainment. In the first place it had amused him to watch the laborious pains and anxiety with which his pious employer had gathered together the very sceptical works of which Mr. Stephens was in want, showing a knowledge of contents, and editions, and out-of-the-way profanities, under the stimulus of a paying customer, which drew many a sudden laugh from David when he was left to think of it in private.
In the next place the books themselves had been a perpetual feast to him for weeks, enjoyed all the more keenly because of the secrecy in which it had to be devoured. The little gathering represented with fair completeness the chief books of the French 'philosophers,' both in the original French, and in those English translations of which so plentiful a crop made its appearance during the fifty years before and after 1800. There, for instance, lay the seventy volumes of Voltaire. Close by was an imperfect copy of the Encyclopaedia, which Mr. Stephens was getting cheap; on the other side a motley gathering of Diderot and Rousseau; while Holbach's 'System of Nature,' and Helvetius 'On the Mind,' held their rightful place among the rest.
Through these books, then, which had now been on the premises for some time—Mr. Stephens being a person of uncertain domicile, and unable as yet to find them a home—David had been freely ranging. Whenever Purcell was out of the way and customers were slack, he invariably found his way to this spot in the upper room. There, with his elbows on the top of the bookcase which ran under the window, and a book in front of him—or generally two, the original French and a translation—he had read Voltaire's tales, a great deal of the Encyclopaedia, a certain amount of Diderot, for whom he cherished a passionate admiration, and a much smaller smattering of Rousseau. At the present moment he was grappling with the 'Dictionnaire Philosophique,' and the 'Systeme de la Nature,' fortified in both cases by English versions.
The gloom of the afternoon deepened, and the increasing rain had thinned the streets so much that during a couple of hours David had but three summonses from below to attend to. For the rest of the time he was buried in the second volume of the 'Dictionnaire Philosophique,' now skipping freely, now chewing and digesting, his eyes fixed vacantly on the darkening church outside. Above all, the article on Contradictions had absorbed and delighted him. There are few tones in themselves so fascinating to the nascent literary sense as this mock humility tone of Voltaire's. And in David's case all that passionate sense of a broken bubble and a scattered dream, which had haunted him so long after he left Kinder, had entered into and helped toward his infatuation with his new masters. They brought him an indescribable sense of freedom—omniscience almost.
'We must carefully distinguish in all writings, and especially in the sacred books, between real and apparent contradictions. Venturous critics have supposed a contradiction existed in that passage of Scripture which narrates how Moses changed all the waters of Egypt into blood, and how immediately afterwards the magicians of Pharaoh did the same thing, the book of Exodus allowing no interval at all between the miracle of Moses and the magical operation of the enchanters. Certainly it seems at first sight impossible that these magicians should change into blood what was already blood; but this difficulty may be avoided by supposing that Moses had allowed the waters to reassume their proper nature, in order to give time to Pharaoh to recover himself. This supposition is all the more plausible, seeing that the text, if it does not favour it expressly, is not opposed to it.
'The same sceptics ask how when all the horses had been killed by the hail in the sixth plague Pharaoh could pursue the Jews with cavalry. But this contradiction is not even apparent, because the hail, which killed all the horses in the fields, could not fall upon those which were in the stables.'
And so on through a long series of paragraphs, leading at last to matters specially dear to the wit of Voltaire, the contradictions between St. Luke and St. Matthew—in the story of the census of Quirinus, of the Magi, of the massacre of the Innocents, and what not—and culminating in this innocent conclusion:—
'After all it is enough that God should have deigned to reveal to us the principal mysteries of the faith, and that He should have instituted a Church in the course of time to explain them. All these contradictions, so often and so bitterly brought up against the Gospels, are amply noticed by the wisest commentators; far from harming each other, one explains another; they lend each other a mutual support, both in the concordance and in the harmony of the four Gospels.'
David threw back his head with a laugh which came from the very depths of him. Then, suddenly, he was conscious of the church standing sombrely without, spectator as it seemed of his thoughts and of his mirth. Instantly his youth met the challenge by a rise of passionate scorn! What! a hundred years since Voltaire, and mankind still went on believing in all these follies and fables, in the ten plagues, in Balaam's ass, in the walls of Jericho, in miraculous births, and Magi, and prophetic stars!—in everything that the mockery of the eighteenth century had slain a thousand times over. Ah, well!—Voltaire knew as well as anybody that superstition is perennial, insatiable—a disease and weakness of the human mind which seems to be inherent and ineradicable. And there rose in the boy's memory lines he had opened upon that morning in a small Elizabethan folio he had been cataloguing with much pains as a rarity—lines which had stuck in his mind—
Vast superstition! glorious style of weakness, Sprung from the deep disquiet of man's passion To dissolution and despair of Nature!—
He flung them out at the dark mass of building opposite, as though he were his namesake flinging at Goliath. Only a few months before that great church had changed masters—had passed from the hands of an aristocratic and inaccessible bishop of the old school into those of a man rich in all modern ideas and capacities, full of energy and enthusiasm, a scholar and administrator both. And he believed all those absurdities, David wanted to know? Impossible! No honest man could, thought the lad defiantly, with the rising colour of crude and vehement feeling, when his attention had been once challenged, and he had developed mind enough to know what the challenge meant.
Except, perhaps, Uncle Reuben and Dora Lomax, and people like that. He stood thinking and staring out of window, one idea leading to another. The thought of Reuben brought with it a certain softening of mood—the softening of memory and old association. Yes, he would like to see Uncle Reuben again—explain to him, perhaps, that old story—so old, so distant!—of his running away. Well, he would see him again, as soon as he got a place of his own, which couldn't be long now, whether Purcell gave him the sack or not. Instinctively, he felt for that inner pocket, which held his purse and his savings-bank book. Yes, he was near freedom now, whatever happened!
Then it occurred to him that it was unlucky he should have stumbled across Mr. Ancrum just at this particular juncture. The minister, of course, had friends at Clough End still. And he, David, didn't want Louie down upon him just yet—not just yet—for a month or two.
Then the smile which had begun to play about the mouth suddenly broadened into a merry triumph. When Louie knew all about him and his contrivances these last four years, wouldn't she be mad! If she were to appear at this moment, he could tell her that she wore a pink dress at the 'wake' last week,—when she was at chapel last, —what young men were supposed to be courting her since the summer, and a number of other interesting particulars—
'Mr. Grieve! Tea!'
His face changed. Reluctantly shutting his book and putting it into its place, he took his way to the staircase.
As David opened the swing door leading to the Purcells' parlour at the back of the shop he heard Miss Purcell saying in a mournful voice, 'It's no good, Dora; not a haporth of good. Father won't let me. I might as well have gone to prison as come home.'
The assistant emerged into the bright gaslight of the little room as she spoke. There was another girl sitting beside Lucy, who got up with a shy manner and shook hands with him.
'Will you take your tea, Mr. Grieve?' said Lucy, with a pettish sigh, handing it to him, and then throwing herself vehemently back in her hostess's chair, behind the tea tray. She let her hands hang over the arms of it—the picture of discontent. The gaslight showed her the possessor of bright brown eyes, under fine brows slenderly but clearly marked, of a pink and white skin slightly freckled, of a small nose quite passable, but no ways remarkable, of a dainty little chin, and a thin-lipped mouth, slightly raised at one corner, and opening readily over some irregular but very white teeth. Except for the eyes and eyebrows the features could claim nothing much in the way of beauty. Yet at this moment of seventeen—thanks to her clear colours, her small thinness, and the beautiful hair so richly piled about her delicate head—Lucy Purcell was undeniably a pretty girl, and since her arrival in Manchester she had been much more blissfully certain of the fact than she had ever succeeded in being while she was still under the repressive roof of Miss Pym's boarding-school for young ladies, Pestalozzi House, Blackburn.
David sat down, perceiving that something had gone very wrong, but not caring to inquire into it. His whole interest in the Purcell household was, in fact, dying out. He would not be concerned with it much longer.
So that, instead of investigating Miss Purcell's griefs, he asked her cousin whether it had not come on to rain. The girl opposite replied in a quiet, musical voice. She was plainly dressed in a black hat and jacket; but the hat had a little bunch of cowslips to light it up, and the jacket was of an ordinary fashionable cut. There was nothing particularly noticeable about the face at first sight, except its soft fairness and the gentle steadfastness of the eyes. The movements were timid, the speech often hesitating. Yet the impression which, on a first meeting, this timidity was apt to leave on a spectator was very seldom a lasting one. David's idea of Miss Lomax, for instance, had radically changed during the three months since he had made acquaintance with her.
Rain, it appeared, had begun, and there must be umbrellas and waterproofs for the evening's excursion. As the two others were settling at what time David Grieve and Lucy should call for Dora in Market Place, Lucy woke up from a dream, and broke in upon them.
'And, Dora, you know, I could have worn that dress with the narrow ribbons I showed you last week. It's all there—upstairs—in the cupboard—not a crease in it!'
Dora could not help laughing, and the laugh sent a charming light into her grey, veiled eyes. The tone was so inexpressibly doleful, the manner so childish. David smiled too, and his eyes and Dora's met in a sort of friendly understanding—the first time, perhaps, they had so met. Then they both turned themselves to the task of consolation. The assistant inquired what was the matter.
'I wanted her to go with me to the dance at the Mechanics' Institute next week,' said Dora. 'Mrs. Alderman Head would have taken us both. It's very nice and respectable. I didn't think uncle would mind. But Lucy's sure he will.'
'Sure! Of course I'm sure,' said Lucy sharply. 'I've heard him talk about dancing in a way to make anybody sick. If he only knew all the dancing we had at Pestalozzi House!'
'Does he think all dancing wrong?' inquired David.
'Yes—unless it's David dancing before the Ark, or some such nonsense,' replied Lucy, with the same petulant gloom.
David laughed out. Then he fell into a brown study, one hand playing with his tea-cup, an irrepressable smile still curving about his mouth. Dora, observing him across the table, could not but remember other assistants of Uncle Purcell whom she has seen sitting in that same place, and the airs which Miss Purcell in her rare holidays had given herself towards those earlier young men. And now, this young man, whenever Purcell himself was out of the way, was master of the place. Anyone could see that, so long as he was there, Lucy was sensitively conscious of him in all that she said or did.
She did not long endure his half-mocking silence now.
'You see, Dora,' she began again, with an angry glance towards him, 'father's worse than ever just now. He's been so aggravated.'
'Yes,' said Dora timidly. She perfectly understood what was meant, but she shrank from pursuing the subject. But David looked up.
'I should be very sorry, I'm sure, Miss Purcell, to get in your way at all, or cause you any unpleasantness, if that's what you mean. I don't think you'll be annoyed with me long.'
He spoke with a boyish exaggerated dignity. It became him, however, for his fine and subtle physique somehow supported and endorsed it.
Both girls started. Lucy looked suddenly as miserable as she had before looked angry. But in her confused state of feeling she renewed her attack.
'I don't understand anything about it,' she said, with plaintive incoherence. 'Only I can't think why people should always be making disturbances. Dora! Doesn't everybody you know think it wicked to go to the Hall of Science?'
She drew herself up peremptorily. David resumed the half smiling, half meditative attitude which had provoked her before. Dora looked from one to the other, a pure bright color rising in her cheek.
'I don't know anything about that,' she said in a low voice. 'I don't think that would matter, Lucy. But, oh, I do wish father wouldn't go—and Mr. Grieve wouldn't go.'
Her voice and hand shook. Lucy looked triumphantly at David. Instinctively she realised that, especially of late, David had come to feel more respectfully towards Dora than she had ever succeeded in making him feel towards herself. In the beginning of their acquaintance he had often launched into argument with Dora about religious matters, especially about the Ritualistic practices in which she delighted. The lad, overflowing with his Voltaire and d'Holbach, had not been able to forbear, and had apparently taken a mischievous pleasure in shocking a bigot—as he had originally conceived Lucy Purcell's cousin to be. The discussion, indeed, had not gone very far. The girl's horror and his own sense of his position and its difficulties had checked them in the germ. Moreover, as has been said, his conception of Dora had gradually changed on further acquaintance. As for her, she had now for a long time avoided arguing with him, which made her outburst on the present occasion the more noticeable.
He looked up quickly.
'Miss Lomax, how do you suppose one makes up one's mind—either about religion or anything else? Isn't it by hearing both sides?'
'Oh, no—no!' she said, shrinking. 'Religion isn't like anything else. It's by—by growing up into it—by thinking about it—and doing what the Church tells you. You come to know it's true.'
That the Magi and Balaam's ass are true! What folly! But somehow even his youthful ardour could not say it, so full of pure and tremulous pain was the gaze fixed upon him. And, indeed, he had no time for any answer, for she had just spoken when the bell of the outer door sounded, and a step came rapidly through the shop.
'Father!' said Lucy, lifting the lid of the teapot in a great hurry. 'Oh, I wonder if the tea's good enough.'
She was stirring it anxiously with a spoon, when Purcell entered, a tall heavily built man, with black hair, a look of command, and a step which shook the little back room as he descended into it. He touched Dora's hand with a pompous politeness, and then subsided into his chair opposite Lucy, complaining about the weather, and demanding tea, which his daughter gave him with a timid haste, looking to see whether he were satisfied as he raised the first spoonful to his lips.
'Anything worth buying?' said David to his employer. He was leaning back in his chair, with his arm round the back of another. Again Dora was reminded by contrast of some of the nervous lads she had seen in that room before, scarcely daring to eat their tea under Purcell's eye, flying to cut him bread, or pass him the sugar.
'No,' said Purcell curtly.
'And a great price, I suppose?'
Purcell looked up. Apparently the ease of the young man's tone and attitude put the finishing stroke to an inward process already far advanced.
'The price, I conceive, is my business,' he said, in his most overbearing manner. 'When you have to pay, it will be yours.'
David flushed, without, however, changing his position, and Lucy made a sudden commotion among the teacups.
'Father,' she said, with a hurried agitation which hardly allowed her to pick up the cup she had thrown over, 'Dora and I want to speak to you. You mustn't talk business at tea. Oh, I know you won't let me go; but I should like it, and Dora's come to ask. I shouldn't want a new dress, and it will be most respectable, everyone says; and I did learn dancing at school, though you didn't know it. Miss Georgina said it was stuff and nonsense, and I must—'
'What is she talking about?' said Purcell to Dora, with an angry glance at Lucy.
'I want to take her to a dance,' said Dora quietly, 'if you would let her come. There's one at the Mechanics' Institute next week, given by the Unicorn benefit society. Mrs. Alderman Head said I might go with her, and Lucy too if you'll let her come. I've got a ticket.'
'I'm much obliged to Mrs. Alderman Head,' said Purcell sarcastically. 'Lucy knows very well what I think of an unchristian and immodest amusement. Other people must decide according to their conscience, I judge nobody.'
At this point David got up, and disappeared into the shop.
'Oh yes, you do judge, uncle,' cried Dora, roused at last, and colouring. 'You're always judging. You call everything unchristian you don't like, whether its dancing, or—or—early celebration, or organ music, or altar-cloths. But you can't be always right—nobody can.'
Purcell surveyed her with a grim composure.
'If you suppose I make any pretence to be infallible, you are quite mistaken,' he said, with slow solemnity—no one in disclaiming Papistry could have been more the Pope—'I leave that to your priests at St. Damian's, Dora. But there is an infallible guide, both for you and for me, and that's the Holy Scriptures. If you can show me any place where the Bible approves of promiscuous dancing between young Christian men and women, or of a woman exposing her person for admiration's sake, or of such vain and idle talking as is produced by these entertainments, I will let Lucy go. But you can't. "Whose adorning let it not be—"'
And he quoted the Petrine admonition with a harsh triumphant emphasis on every syllable, looking hard all the time at Dora, who had risen, and stood confronting him in a tremor of impatience and disagreement.
'Father Russell—' she began quickly, then changed her form of expression—'Mr. Russell says you can't settle things by just quoting a text. The Bible has to be explained, he says.'
Purcell's eyes flamed. He launched into a sarcastic harangue, delivered in a strong thick voice, on the subject of 'Sacerdotalism,' 'priestly arrogance,' 'lying traditions,' 'making the command of God of no effect,' and so forth. While his sermon rolled along, Dora stood nervously tying her bonnet strings, or buttoning her gloves. Her heart was full of a passionate scorn. Beside the bookseller's muscular figure and pugnacious head she saw with her mind's eye the spare forms and careworn faces of the young priests at St. Damian's. Outraged by this loud-voiced assurance, she called to mind the gentleness, the suavity, the delicate consideration for women which obtained among her friends.
'There's not a pin to choose,' Purcell wound up, brutally, 'between you and that young infidel in there,' and he jerked his thumb towards the shop. 'It all comes of pride. He's bursting with his own wisdom,—you will have the "Church" and won't have the Bible. What's the Church!—a pack of sinners, and a million sinners are no better than one.'
'Good-bye, Lucy,' said Dora, stooping to kiss her cousin, and not trusting herself to speak. 'Call for me at the quarter.'
Lucy hardly noticed her kiss, she sat with her elbows on the table, holding her little chin disconsolately, something very like tears in her eyes. In the first place, she was reflecting dolefully that it was all true—she was never to have any amusement like other girls—never to have any good of her life; she might as well be a nun at once. In the second, she was certain her father meant to send young Grieve away, and the prospect drew a still darker pall over a prospect dark enough in all conscience before.
Purcell opened the door for Dora more punctiliously than usual, and came back to the hearthrug still inflated as it were with his own eloquence. Meanwhile Lucy was washing up the tea things. The little servant had brought her a bowl of water and an apron, and Lucy was going gingerly through an operation she detested. Why shouldn't Mary Ann do it? What was the good of going to school and coming back with Claribel's songs and Blumenthal's Deux Anges lying on the top of your box,—with a social education, moreover, so advanced that the dancing—mistress had invariably made you waltz alone round the room for the edification and instruction of the assembled company,—if all you had to do at home was to dust and wash up, and die with envy of girls with reprobate fathers? As she pondered the question, Lucy began to handle the cups with a more and more unfriendly energy.
'You'll break some of that china, Lucy!' said Purcell, at last disturbed in his thoughts. 'What's the matter with you?'
'Nothing!' said Lucy, taking, however, a saucer from the line as she spoke so viciously that the rest of them slipped with a clatter and only just escaped destruction.
'Mind what you're about,' cried Purcell angrily, fearing for the household stuff that had been in the establishment so much longer and was so much more at home there than Lucy.
'I know what it is,' he said, looking at her severely, while his great black presence seemed to fill the little room. 'You've lost your temper because I refused to let you go to the dance.'
Lucy was silent for a moment, trying to contain herself; then she broke out like a child, throwing down her apron, and feeling for her handkerchief.
'It's too bad—it's too bad—I'd rather be Mary Ann—she's got friends, and evenings out—and—and parties sometimes; and I see nobody, and go nowhere. What did you have me home for at all?'
And she sat down and dried her eyes piteously. She was in real distress, but she liked a scene, and Purcell knew her peculiarities. He surveyed her with a sort of sombre indulgence.
'You're a vain child of this world, Lucy. If I didn't keep a look-out on you, you'd soon go rejoicing down the broad way. What do you mean about amusements? There's the missionary tea to-morrow night, and the magic-lantern at the schools on Saturday.'
Lucy gave a little hysterical laugh.
'Well,' said Purcell loudly, 'there'll be plenty of young people there. What have you got to say against them?'
'A set of frights and gawks,' said Lucy, sitting bolt upright in a state of flat mutiny, and crushing her handkerchief on her knee between a pair of trembling hands. 'The way they do their hair, and the way they tie their ties, and the way they put a chair for you—it's enough to make one faint. At the Christmas treat there was one young man asked me to trim his shirt-cuffs for him with scissors he took out of his pocket. I told him I wasn't his nurse, and people who weren't dressed ought to stay at home. You should have seen how he and his sister glared at me afterwards. I don't care! None of the chapel people like me—I know they don't, and I don't want them to, and I wouldn't marry one of them.'
The gesture of Lucy's curly head was superb.
'It seems to me,' said Purcell sarcastically, 'that what you mostly learnt at Blackburn was envy, malice, and all uncharitableness. As to marrying, child, the less you think of it for the present the better, till you get more sense.'
But the eyes which studied her were not unkindly. Purcell liked this slim red and white creature who belonged to him, whose education had cost him hard money which it gave him pleasure to reckon up, and who promised now to provide him with a fresh field for the management and the coarse moral experiment which he loved. She would be restive at first, but he would soon break her in. The idea that under her folly and childishness she might possibly inherit some of his own tenacity never occurred to him.
'I can't imagine,' said Lucy inconsequently, with eyes once more swimming, 'why you can't let me do what Dora does! She's much better than I am. She's a saint, she is. She's always going to church; she's always doing things for poor people; she never thinks about herself, or whether she's pretty, or—Why shouldn't I dance if she does?'
'Aye!' he said grimly, 'that's the Papistical way all over. So many services, so much fasting, so much money, so much knocking under to your priest, so much "church work"—and who cares a brass farthing what you do with the rest of your time? Do as I tell you, and dance away! But I tell you, Christianity wants a new heart!'
And the bookseller looked at his daughter with a frowning severity. Conversation of this kind was his recreation, his accomplishment, so to speak. He had been conducting a difficult negotiation all day of the diamond-cut-diamond order, and was tired out and disgusted by the amount of knowledge of books which even a gentleman may possess. But here was compensation. A warm hearthrug, an unwilling listener, and this sense of an incomparable soundness of view,—he wanted nothing more to revive him, unless, indeed, it were a larger audience.
As for Lucy, as she looked up at her father, even her childish intelligence rose to a sense of absurdity. As if Dora hadn't a new heart; as if Dora thought it was enough to go to church and give sixpences in the offertory!
But her father overawed her. She had been left motherless at ten years old, and brought up since away from home, except for holidays. At the bottom of her she was quite conscious that she knew nothing at all about this big contemptuous person, who ordered her about and preached to her, and never let himself be kissed and played with and coaxed as other girls' fathers did.
So she went on with her washing up in a crushed silence, very sorry for herself in a vague passionate way, the corners of her mouth drooping. Purcell too fell into a reverie, the lower jaw pushed forward, one hand playing with the watch-chain which adorned his black suit.
'Did you give Grieve that message?' he asked at last.
Lucy, still sulky, nodded in reply.
'What time did he come in from dinner?'
'On the stroke of the half-hour,' said Lucy quickly. 'I think he keeps time better than anybody you ever had, father.'
'Insolent young whelp!' said Purcell in a slow, deliberate voice. 'He was at that place again yesterday.'
'Yes, I know he was,' said Lucy, with evident agitation. 'I told him he ought to have been ashamed.'
'Oh, you talked to him, did you? What business had you to do that, I wonder? Well, what did he say?'
'He said—well, I don't know what he said. He don't seem to think it matters to anybody where he goes on Sunday!'
'Oh, indeed—don't he? I'll show him some cause to doubt the truth of that proposition,' said Purcell ponderously; 'or I'll know the reason why.'
Lucy looked unhappy, and said nothing for a minute or two. Then she began insistently, 'Well, does it matter to you?'
This deplorable question—viewed from the standpoint of a Baptist elder—passed unnoticed, for with the last words the shop-bell rang, and Purcell went off, transformed on the instant into the sharp, attentive tradesman.
Lucy sat wiping her cups mechanically for a little while. Then, when they were all done, and Mary Ann had been loftily commanded to put them away, she slipped upstairs to her own room, a little attic at the top of the house. Here she went to a deal press, which had been her mother's, opened it, and took out a dress which hung in a compartment by itself, enveloped in a holland wrapper, lest Manchester smuts should harm it. She undid the wrapper, and laid it on the bed. It was an embroidered white muslin, adorned with lace and full knots of narrow pink ribbon.
'What a trouble I had to get the ribbon just that width,' she thought to herself ruefully, 'and everybody said it was so uncommon. I might as well give it Dora. I don't believe I shall ever wear it. I don't know what'll become of me. I don't get any chances.'
And shaking her head mournfully from side to side, she sat on beside the dress, in the light of her solitary candle, her hands clasped round her knee, the picture of girlish despair, so far as anything so daintily gowned, and shoed, and curled, could achieve it. She was thinking drearily of some people who were coming to supper, one of her father's brother elders at the chapel, Mr. Baruch Barton, and his daughter. Mr. Barton had a specialty for the prophet Zephaniah, and had been several times shocked because Lucy could not help him out with his quotations from that source. His daughter, a little pinched asthmatic creature, in a dress whereof every gore and seam was an affront to the art of dressmaking, was certainly thirty, probably more. And between thirty and the Psalmist's limit of existence, there is the very smallest appreciable difference, in the opinion of seventeen. What could she have to say to Emmy Barton? Lucy asked herself. She began yawning from sheer dulness, as she thought of her. If it were only time to go to bed!
Suddenly she heard a sound of raised voices in the upper shop on the floor below. What could it be? She started up. 'Mr. Grieve and father quarrelling!' She knew it must come to that!
She crept down the stairs with every precaution possible till she came to the door behind which the loud talk which had startled her was going on. Here she listened with all her ears, but at first to very little purpose. David was speaking, but so rapidly, and apparently so near to the other end of the room, that she could bear nothing. Then her father broke in, and by dint of straining very hard, she caught most of what he said before the whole colloquy came abruptly to an end. She heard Purcell's heavy tread descending the little iron spiral staircase leading from the lower shop to the upper. She heard David moving about, as though he were gathering up books and papers, and then, with a loud childish sob which burst from her unawares, she ran upstairs again to her own room.
'Oh, he's going, he's going!' she cried under her breath, as she stood before the glass winking to keep the tears back, and biting her handkerchief hard between her little white teeth. 'Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do? It'll be always the same; just when anyone might like me, it all stops. And he won't care one little, little bit. He'll never think of me again. Oh, I do think somebody might care about me—might be sorry for me!'
And she locked her hands tight before her, and stared at the glass, while the tears forced their way. But all the time she was noticing how prettily she stood, how slim she was. And though she smarted, she would not for the world have been without her smart, her excitement, her foolish secret, which, for sheer lack of something to do and think about, had suddenly grown to such magnitude in her eyes. It was hard to cherish a hopeless passion for a handsome youth, without a halfpenny, who despised you, but it was infinitely better than to have nothing in your mind but Emmy Barton and the prophet Zephaniah. Nay, as she washed her hands and smoothed her dress and hair with trembling fingers, she became quite friendly with her pain—in a sense, even proud of it, and jealous for it. It was a sign of mature life—of something more than mere school-girlishness. Like the lover in the Elizabethan sonnet, 'She had been vexed, if vexed she had not been!'
'Come in, David,' said Mr. Ancrum, opening the door of his little sitting-room in Mortimer Street. 'You're rather late, but I don't wonder. Such a wind! I could hardly stand against it myself. But, then, I'm an atomy. What, no top-coat in such weather! What do you mean by that, sir? You're wet through. There, dry yourself.'
David, with a grin at Mr. Ancrum's unnecessary concern for him, deposited himself in the carpet chair which formed the minister's only lounge, and held out his legs and arms to the blaze. He was wet indeed, and bespattered with the blackest mud in the three kingdoms. But the battle with wind and rain had so brought into play all the physical force of him, had so brightened eye and cheek, and tossed the black hair into such a fine confusion, that, as he sat there bending over the glow of the fire, the crippled man opposite, sickly with long confinement and over-thinking, could not take his eyes from him. The storm with all its freshness, youth with all its reckless joy in itself, seemed to have come in with the lad and transformed the little dingy room.
'What do you wear trash like that for in a temperature like this?' said the minister, touching his guest's thin and much-worn coat. 'Don't you know, David, that your health is money? Suppose you get lung trouble, who's to look after you?'
'It don't do me no harm, sir. I can't get into my last year's coat, and I couldn't afford a new one this winter.'
'What wages do you earn?' asked Ancrum. His manner was a curious mixture of melancholy gentleness and of that terse sharpness in practical things which the south country resents and the north country takes for granted.
'Eighteen shillings a week, since last November, sir.'
'That ought to be enough for a top-coat, you rascal, with only yourself to feed,' said Mr. Ancrum, stretching himself in his hard armchair, so as to let his lame leg with its heavy boot rest comfortably on the fender. David had noticed at first sight of him that his old playfellow had grown to look much older than in the Clough End days. His hair was nearly white, and lay in a large smooth wave across the broad brow. And in that brow there were deep furrows, and many a new and premature line in the hollow cheeks. Something withering and blighting seemed to have passed over the whole man since those Sunday school lessons in the Christian Brethren's upper room, which David still remembered so well. But the eyes with their irresistible intensity and force were the same. In them the minister's youth—he was not yet thirty-five—still spoke, as from a last stronghold in a failing realm. They had a strange look too, the look as of a secret life, not for the passer-by.
David smiled at Ancrum's last remark, and for a moment or two looked into the fire without speaking.
'Well, if I'd bought clothes or anything else this winter, I should be in a precious worse hole than I am,' he said reflectively.
'Hole? What's wrong, Davy?'
'My master gave me the sack Monday.'
'Humph!' said Ancrum, surveying him. 'Well, you don't look much cast down about it, I must say.'
'Well, you see, I'd laid my plans,' said the young man, an irrepressible gaiety and audacity in every feature. 'It isn't as though I were taken by surprise.'
'Plans for a new place, I suppose?'
'No; I have done with that. I am going to set up for myself. I know the trade, and I've got some money.'
'How old are you, Davy?'
'Just upon twenty,' said the lad, quietly.
The minister pursed up his lips and whistled a little.
'Well, that's bold,' he said. 'Somehow I like it, though by all the laws of prudence I ought to jump down your throat for announcing such a thing. But how did you get your money? and what have you been doing these four years? Come, I'm an old friend,—though I dare say you don't think me much of a fellow. Out with it! Pay me anyway for all those ships I made you long ago.'
And he held out his blanched hand, little more now than skin and bone. David put his own into it awkwardly enough. At this period of his life he was not demonstrative.
The story he had to tell was, to Ancrum's thinking, a remarkable one. He had come into Manchester on an October evening with five shillings and threepence in his pocket. From a point on the south-western border of the city he took a 'bus for Deansgate and Victoria Street. As he was sitting on the top, feeding his eyes on the lights and the crowd of the streets, but wholly ignorant where to go and what first step to take, he fell into talk with a decent working-man and his wife sitting beside him. The result of the talk was that they offered him shelter at fourpence a night. He dismounted with them at Blackfriars Bridge, and they made their way across the river to a street in Salford, where he lodged with them for a week. During that week he lived on oatmeal and an occasional baked potato, paying his hostess eighteenpence additional for the use of her fire, and the right to sit in her kitchen when he was not tramping about in search of work. By the end of the week he had found a post as errand-boy at a large cheap bookseller's and stationer's in Deansgate, at eight shillings a week, his good looks, manner, and education evidently helping him largely, as Mr. Ancrum could perceive through the boy's very matter-of-fact account of himself. He then made an agreement for bed, use of fire, and kitchen, with his new friends at four shillings a week, and by the end of six months he was receiving a wage of fourteen shillings as salesman and had saved close on five pounds.
'Well, now, come, how did you manage that, Davy?' said Mr. Ancrum, interrupting. 'Don't run on in that fashion. Details are the only interesting things in life, and details I'll have. You must have found it a precious tight fit to save that five pounds.'
Whereupon David, his eye kindling, ran out Benjamin Franklin and the 'Vegetarian News,' his constant friends from the first day of his acquaintance with the famous autobiography till now, in spite of such occasional lapses into carnal feeding as he had confessed to Daddy. In a few minutes Ancrum found himself buried in 'details' as to 'flesh-forming' and 'bone-forming' foods, as to nitrogen and albumen, as to the saving qualities of fruit, and Heaven knows what besides. Long before the enthusiast had spent his breath or his details, the minister cried 'Enough!'
'Young materialist,' he said growling, 'what do you mean at your age by thinking so much about your body?'
'It wasn't my body, sir,' said David, simply, 'it was just business. If I had got ill, I couldn't have worked; if I had lived like other chaps, I couldn't have saved. So I had to know something about it, and it wasn't bad fun. After a bit I got the people I lodged with to eat a lot of the things I eat—and that was cheaper for me of course. The odd thing about vegetarianism is that you come not to care a rap what you eat. Your taste goes somehow. So long as you're nourished and can do your work, that's all you want.'
The minister sat studying his visitor a minute or two in silence, though the eyes under the care-worn brow were bright and restless. Any defiance of the miserable body was in itself delightful to a man who had all but slain himself many times over in the soul's service. He, too, had been living on a crust for months, denying himself first this, then that ingredient of what should have been an invalid's diet. But it had been for cause—for the poor—for self-mortification. There was something just a little jarring to the ascetic in this contact with a self-denial of the purely rationalistic type, so easy—so cheerful—put forward without the smallest suspicion of merit, as a mere business measure.
David resumed his story. By the end of another six months it appeared that he had grown tired of his original shop, with its vast masses of school stationery and cheap new books. As might have been expected from his childish antecedents, he had been soon laid hold of by the old bookstalls, had read at them on his way from work, had spent on them all that he could persuade himself to spare from his hoard, and in a year from the time he entered Manchester, thanks to wits, reading, and chance friendships, was already a budding bibliophile. Slates and primers became suddenly odious to a person aware of the existence of Aldines and Elzevirs, and bitten with the passion, then just let loose on the book-buying world, for first editions of the famous books of the century. Whenever that sum in the savings bank should have reached a certain height, he would become a second-hand bookseller with a stall. Till then he must save more and learn his trade. So at the end of his first year he left his employers, and by the help of excellent recommendations from them got the post of assistant in Purcell's shop in Half Street, at a rise of two shillings, afterwards converted into four shillings a week.
'And I've been there three years—very near,' said David, straightening himself with a little nervous gesture peculiar to him. 'If you'd been anywhere about, sir, you'd have wondered how I could have stayed so long. But I wanted to learn the trade and I've learnt it—no thanks to old Purcell.'
'What was wrong with him?'
'Mostly brains!' said the lad, with a scornful but not unattractive conceit. 'He was a hard master to live with—that don't matter. But he is a fool! I don't mean to say he don't know a lot about some things—but he thinks he knows everything—and he don't. And he'll not let anyone tell him—not he! Once, if you'll believe it, he got the Aldine Virgil of 1501, for twenty-five shillings—came from a gentleman out Eccles way—a fellow selling his father's library and didn't know bad from good,—real fine tall copy,—binding poor, —but a stunner take it altogether—worth twenty pounds to Quaritch or Ellis, any day. Well, all I could do, he let a man have it for five shillings profit next day, just to spite me, I believe, because I told him it was a good thing. Then he got sick about that, I believe, though he never let out, and the next time he found anything that looked good,—giminy!—but he put it on. Now you know, sir'—Mr. Ancrum smiled at the confidential eagerness of the expert—'you know, sir, it's not many of those Venice or Florence Dantes that are worth anything. If you get the first edition of Landino's 'Commentary,' or the other man's, Imola's, isn't it—'
The minister lifted his eyebrows—the Italian came out pat, and, so far as he knew, right—
'Well, of course, they're worth money—always fetch their price. But the later editions are no good at all—nobody but a gentleman-collector, very green, you know, sir'—the twinkle in the boy's eye showed how much his subject was setting him at his ease—'would be bothered with them. Well, if he didn't get hold of an edition of 1540 or so—worth about eight shillings, and dear at that—and send it up to one of the London men as a good thing. He makes me pack it and send it and register it—you might have thought it was the Mazarin Bible, bar size. And then, of course, next day, down comes the book again flying, double quick. I kept out of his way, post-time! But I'd have given something to see the letter he got.'
And David, rising, put his hands in his pockets, and stood before the fire chuckling with irrepressible amusement.
'Well, then you know there's the first editions of Rousseau—not a bit rare, as rare goes—lucky if you get thirty shillings for the "Contrat Social," or the "Nouvelle Heloise," even good copies—'
Again the host's eyebrows lifted. The French names ran remarkably; there was not the least boggling over them. But he said nothing, and David rattled on, describing, with a gusto which never failed, one of Purcell's book-selling enormities after another. It was evident that he despised his master with a passionate contempt. It was evident also that Purcell had shown a mean and unreasoning jealousy of his assistant. The English tradesman inherits a domineering tradition towards his subordinates, and in Purcell's case, as we know, the instincts of an egotistical piety had reinforced those of the employer. Yet Mr. Ancrum felt some sympathy with Purcell.
'Well, Davy,' he said at last, 'so you were too 'cute for your man, that's plain. But I don't suppose he put it on that ground when he gave you the sack?'
And he looked up, with a little dry smile.
'No!' cried David, abruptly. 'No! not he. If you go and ask him he'll tell you he sent me off because I would go to the Secularist meetings at the Hall of Science, and air myself as an atheist; that's his way of putting it. And it was doing him harm with his religious customers! As if I was going to let him dictate where I went on Sundays!'
'Of course not,' said Ancrum, with a twist of his oddly shaped mouth. 'Even the very youngest of us might sometimes be the better for advice; but, hang it, let's be free—free to "make fools of ourselves," as a wise man hath it. Well, Davy, no offence,' for his guest had flushed suddenly. 'So you go to the Hall of Science? Did you hear Holyoake and Bradlaugh there the other night? You like that kind of thing?'
'I like to hear it,' said the lad, stoutly, meeting his old teacher's look, half nervously, half defiantly. 'It's a great deal more lively than what you hear at most churches, sir. And why shouldn't one hear everything?'
This was not precisely the tone which the same culprit had adopted towards Dora Lomax. The Voltairean suddenly felt himself to be making excuses—shabby excuses—in the presence of somebody connected, however distantly, with l'infame. He drew himself up with an angry shake of his whole powerful frame.
'Oh, why not?' said Ancrum, with a shrug, 'if life's long enough'—and he absently lifted and let fall a book which lay on the table beside him; it was Newman's 'Dream of Gerontius'—'if life's long enough, and—happy enough! Well, so you've been learning French, I can hear. Teaching yourself?'
'No; there's an old Frenchman, old Barbier—do you know him, sir? He gives lessons at a shilling an hour. Very few people go to him now; they want younger men. And there's lot's of them about. But old Barbier knows more about books than any of them, I'll be bound.'
'Has he introduced you to French novels? I never read any; but they're bad, of course—must be. In all those things I'm a Britisher and believe what the Britishers say.'
'We're just at the end of "Manon Lescaut,"' said David, doggedly. 'And partly with him, partly by myself, I've read a bit of Rousseau—and a good lot of Diderot,—and Voltaire.'
David threw an emphasis into the last name, which was meant to atone to himself for the cowardice of a few minutes before. The old boyish feeling towards Mr. Ancrum, which had revived in him when he entered the room, had gradually disappeared again. He bore the minister no real grudge for having forgotten him, but he wished it to be clearly understood that the last fragments of the Christian Brethren yoke had dropped from his neck.
'Ah! don't know anything about them,' said Ancrum, slowly; 'but then, as you know, I'm a very ignorant person. Well, now, was it Voltaire took you to the secularists, or the secularists to Voltaire?'
David laughed, but did not give a reply immediately.
'Well, never mind,' said the minister, 'All Christians are fools, of course—that's understood.—Is that all you have been learning these four years?'
'I work at Latin every morning,' said David, very red, and on his dignity. 'I've begun Greek, and I go to the science classes, mathematics and chemistry, at the Mechanics' Institute.'
Mr. Ancrum's face softened.
'Why, I'll be bound you have to go to work pretty early, Davy?'
'Seven o'clock, sir, I take the shutters down. But I get an hour and a half first, and three hours in the evening. This winter I've got through the "Aeneid," and Horace's "Epistles" and "Ars Poetica." Do you remember, sir?'—and the lad's voice grew sharp once more, tightening as it were under the pressure of eagerness and ambition from beneath—'do you remember that Scaliger read the "Iliad" in twenty days, and was a finished Greek scholar in two years? Why can't one do that now?'
'Why shouldn't you?' said Mr. Ancrum, looking up at him. 'Who helps you in your Greek?'
'No one; I get translations.'
'Well, now, look here, Davy. I'm an ignorant person, as I told you, but I learnt some Latin and Greek at Manchester New College. Come to me in the evenings, and I'll help you with your Greek, unless you've got beyond me. Where are you?'
The budding Scaliger reported himself. He had read the 'Anabasis,' some Herodotus, three plays of Euripides, and was now making some desperate efforts on Aeschylus and Sophocles. Any Plato? David made a face. He had read two or three dialogues in English; didn't want to go on, didn't care about him. Ah! Ancrum supposed not.
'Twelve hours' shop,' said the minister reflecting, 'more or less, —two hours' work before shop,—three hours or so after shop; that's what you may call driving it hard. You couldn't do it, Richard Ancrum,' and he shook his head with a whimsical melancholy. 'But you were always a poor starveling. Youth that is youth's tough. Don't tell me, sir,' and he looked up sharply, 'that you don't amuse yourself. I wouldn't believe it. There never was a man built like you yet that didn't amuse himself.'
David smiled, but said nothing.
'No, sir. They cost money.'
'Niggardly dog! Drink?—no, I'll answer that for myself.'
The minister dropped his catechism, and sat nursing his lame leg and thinking. Suddenly he broke out with, 'How many young women are you in love with, David?'
David showed his white teeth.
'I only know two, sir. One's my master's daughter—she's rather a pretty girl, I think—'
'That'll do. You're not in love with her. Who's the other?'
'The other's Mr. Lomax's daughter,—Lomax of the Parlour, that queer restaurant, sir, in Market Place. She—well, I don't know how to describe her. She's not good-looking—at least, I don't think so,' he added dubiously. 'She's very High Church, and fasts all Lent. I think she does Church embroidery.'
'And doesn't think any the better of you for attending the Hall of Science? Sensible girl! Still, when people mean to fall in love, they don't think twice of that sort of thing. I make a note of Lomax's daughter. Ah! enter supper. David, if you let any 'ism stand between you and that veal pie, I despair of your future.'
David, however, in the course of the meal, showed himself as superior to narrowness of view in the matter of food-stuffs as in other matters. The meal went merrily. Mr. Ancrum dropped his half-sarcastic tone, and food, warmth, and talk loosened the lad's fibres, and made him more and more human, handsome, and attractive. Soon his old friend knew all that he wanted to know,—the sum David had saved—thirty pounds in the savings-bank—the sort of stock he meant to set up, the shop he had taken—with a stall, of course—no beginner need hope to prosper without a stall. Customers must be delicately angled for at a safe distance—show yourself too much, and, like trout, they flashed away. See everything, force nothing. Let a book be turned over for nineteen days, the chances were that on the twentieth you would turn over the price. As to expecting the class of cheap customers to commit themselves by walking into a shop, it was simple madness. Of course, when you were 'established,' that was another matter.
By the help of a certain wealthy Unitarian, one Mr. Doyle, with whom he had made friends in Purcell's shop, and whom he had boldly asked for the use of his name as a reference, the lad had taken—so it appeared—a small house in Potter Street, a narrow but frequented street in the neighbourhood of Deansgate and all the great banks and insurance offices in King Street. His shop took up the ground floor. The two floors above were let, and the tenants would remain. But into the attics and the parlour kitchen behind the shop, he meant, ultimately, when he could afford it, to put himself and his sister. He could only get the house on a yearly tenancy, as it and the others near it were old, and would probably be rebuilt before long. But meanwhile the rent was all the lower because of the insecurity of tenure.
At the mention of the boy's sister, Ancrum looked up with a start.
'Ah, to be sure! What became of that poor child after you left? The Clough End friends who wrote to me of your disappearance had more pity for her, Davy, than they had for you.'
A sudden repulsion and reserve darkened the black eyes opposite.
'There was no helping it,' he said with hasty defiance. There was a moment's silence. Then a wish to explain himself rose in David.
'I couldn't have stayed, sir,' he said, with a curious half-reproachful accent. 'I told you about how it was before you left. And there were other things. I should have cut my own throat or some one else's if it had gone on. But I haven't forgotten Louie. You remember Tom Mullins at the foundry. He's written me every month. I paid him for it. I know all about Louie, and they don't know anything about me. They think I'm in America.'
His eyes lit again with the joy of contrivance.
'Is that kind, Davy?'
'Yes, sir—' and for the first time the minister heard in the boy's voice the tone of a man's judgment. 'I couldn't have Louie on me just yet. I was going to ask you, sir, not to tell the people at Clough End you've seen me. It would make it very hard. You know what Louie is—and she's all right. She's learnt a trade.'
'Silk-weaving—from Margaret Dawson.'
'Poor soul—poor saint! There'd be more things than her trade to be learnt from Margaret Dawson if anyone had a mind to learn them. What of 'Lias?'
'Oh, he died, sir, a week after I left.' The lad's voice dropped. Then he added slowly, looking away, 'Tom said he was very quiet—he didn't suffer much—not at the end.'
'Aye, the clouds lift at sunset,' said Mr. Ancrum in an altered tone; 'the air clears before the night!'
His head fell forward on his breast, and he sat drumming on the table. They had finished supper, the little, bustling landlady had cleared away, and Davy was thinking of going. Suddenly the minister sprang up and stood before the fire, looking down at his guest.
'Davy, do you want to know why I didn't write to you? I was ill first—very ill; then—I was in hell!'
David started. Into the thin, crooked face, with the seeking eyes, there had flashed an expression—sinister, indescribable, a sort of dumb rage. It changed the man altogether.
'I was in hell!' he repeated slowly. 'I know no more about it. Other people may tell you, perhaps, if you come across them—I can't. There were days at Clough End—always a certain number in the year—when this earth slipped away from me, and the fiends came about me, but this was months. They say I was overdone in the cotton famine years ago just before I came to Clough End. I got pneumonia after I left you that May—it doesn't matter. When I knew there was a sun again, I wrote to ask about you. You had left Kinder and gone—no one knew where.'
David sat nervously silent, not knowing what to say, his mind gradually filling with the sense of something tragic, irreparable. Mr. Ancrum, too, stood straight before him, as though turned to stone. A t last David got up and approached him. Had Ancrum been looking he must have been touched by the change in the lad's expression. The hard self-reliant force of the face had melted into feeling.
'Are you better now, sir? I knew you must have been ill,' he stammered.
Ancrum started as though just wakened.
'Ill? Yes, I was pretty bad,' he said briskly, and in his most ordinary tone, though with a long breath.' But I'm as fit as anything now. Good night, Davy, good night. Come a walk with me some day? Sunday afternoon? Done. Here, write me your new address.'
The tall form and curly black head disappeared, the little lodging-house room, with its round rosewood table, its horsehair sofa, its chiffonnier, and its prints of 'Sport at Balmoral' and 'The Mother's Kiss,' had resumed the dingy formality of every day.
The minister sank into his seat and held his hands out over the blaze. He was in pain. All life was to him more or less a struggle with physical ill. But it was not so primarily that he conceived it. The physical ill was nothing except as representing a philosophical necessity.
That lad, with all his raw certainties—of himself, his knowledge, his Voltaire—the poor minister felt once or twice a piteous envy of him, as he sat on through the night hours. Life was ill-apportioned. The poor, the lonely, the feeble—it is they who want certainty, want hope most. And because they are lonely and feeble, because their brain tissues are diseased, and their life from no fault of their own unnatural, nature who has made them dooms them to despair and doubt. Is there any 'soul,' any 'personality' for the man who is afflicted and weakened with intermittent melancholia? Where is his identity, where his responsibility? And if there is none for him, how does the accident of health bestow them on his neighbour?
Questions of this sort had beset Richard Ancrum for years. On the little book-table to his right lay papers of Huxley's, of Clifford's, and several worn volumes of mental pathology. The brooding intellect was for ever raising the same problem, the same spectre world of universal doubt, in which God, conscience, faith, were words without a meaning.
But side by side with the restlessness of the intellect there had always gone the imperious and prevailing claim of temperament. Beside Huxley and Clifford, lay Newman's 'Sermons' and 'Apologia,' and a little High Church manual of self-examination. And on the wall above the book-table hung a memorandum-slate on which were a number of addresses and dates—the addresses of some forty boys whom the minister taught on Sunday in one of the Unitarian Sunday schools of Manchester, and visited in the week. The care and training of street arabs had been his passion when he was still a student at Manchester New College. Then had come his moment of utterance—a thirst for preaching, for religious influence; though he could not bring himself to accept any particular shibboleth or take any kind of orders. He found something congenial for a time to a deep though struggling faith in the leadership of the Christian Brethren. Now, however, something had broken in him; he could preach no more. But he could go back to his old school; he could teach his boys on Sundays and week days; he could take them out country walks in spite of his lame limb; he could deny himself even the commonest necessaries of life for their sake; he could watch over each of them with a fervour, a moral intensity which wore him out. In this, in some insignificant journalism for a religious paper, and in thinking, he spent his life.
There had been a dark page in his history. He had hardly left Manchester New College when he married suddenly a girl of some beauty, but with an undeveloped sensuous temperament. They were to live on a crust and give themselves to the service of man. His own dream was still fresh when she deserted him in the company of one of his oldest friends. He followed them, found them both in black depths of remorse, and took her back. But the strain of living together proved too much. She implored him to let her go and earn her living apart. She had been a teacher, and she proposed to return to her profession. He saw her established in Glasgow in the house of some good people who knew her history, and who got her a post in a small school. Then he returned to Manchester and threw himself with reckless ardour into the work of feeding the hungry, and nursing the dying, in the cotton famine. He emerged a broken man, physically and morally, liable thenceforward to recurrent crises of melancholia; but they were not frequent or severe enough to prevent his working. He was at the time entirely preoccupied with certain religious questions, and thankfully accepted the call to the little congregation at Clough End.
Since then he had visited his wife twice every year. He was extremely poor. His family, who had destined him for the Presbyterian ministry, were estranged from him; hardly anyone in Manchester knew him intimately; only in one house, far away in the Scotch lowlands, were there two people, who deeply loved and thoroughly understood him. There he went when his dark hours came upon him; and thence, after the terrible illness which overtook him on his leaving Clough End, he emerged again, shattered but indomitable, to take up the battle of life as he understood it.
He was not an able nor a literary man. His mind was a strange medley, and his mental sight far from clear. Of late the study of Newman had been a revelation to him. But he did not cease for that to read the books of scientific psychology which tortured him—the books which seemed to make of mind a function of matter, and man the slave of an immoral nature.
The only persistent and original gift in him—yet after all it is the gift which for ever divides the sheep from the goats—was that of a 'hunger and thirst after righteousness.'
It was towards noon on a November day, and Dora Lomax sat working at her embroidery frame in the little sitting-room overlooking Market Place. The pale wintry sun touched her bent head, her deftly moving hand, and that device of the risen Christ circled in golden flame on which she was at work. The room in which she sat was old and low; the ceiling bulged here and there, the floor had unexpected slopes and declivities. The furniture was of the cheapest, the commonest odds and ends of a broker's shop, for the most part. There was the usual horsehair suite, the usual cheap sideboard, and dingy druggeting of a large geometrical pattern. But amid these uninviting articles there were a few things which gave the room individuality—some old prints of places abroad, of different shapes and sizes, which partly disguised the blue and chocolate paper on the walls; some bits of foreign carving, Swiss and Italian; some eggs and shells and stuffed birds, some of these last from the Vosges, some from the Alps; a cageful of canaries, singing their best against the noise of Manchester; and, lastly, an old bookcase full of miscellaneous volumes, mostly large and worthless 'sets' of old magazines and encyclopaedias, which represented the relics of Daddy's bookselling days.
The room smelt strongly of cooking, a mingled odour of boiling greens and frying onions and stored apples which never deserted it, and produced a constant slight sense of nausea in Dora, who, like most persons of sedentary occupation, was in matters of eating and digestion somewhat sensitive and delicate. From below, too, there seemed to spread upwards a general sense of bustle and disquiet. Doors banged, knives and plates rattled perpetually, the great swing-door into the street was for ever opening and shutting, each time shaking the old, frail house with its roughly built additions through and through, and there was a distant skurry of voices that never paused. The restaurant indeed was in full work, and Daddy's voice could be heard at intervals, shouting and chattering. Dora had been at work since half-past seven, marketing, giving orders, making up accounts, writing bills of fare, and otherwise organising the work of the day. Now she had left the work for an hour or two to her father and the stout Lancashire cook with her various handmaidens. Daddy's irritable pride liked to get her out of the way and make a lady of her as much as she would allow, and in her secret heart she often felt that her embroidery, for which she was well paid as a skilled and inventive hand, furnished a securer basis for their lives than this restaurant, which, in spite of its apparent success, was a frequent source of dread and discomfort to her. The money obligation it involved filled her sometimes with a kind of panic. She knew her father so well!
Now, as she sat absorbed in her work, sewing her heart into it, for every stitch in it delighted not only her skilled artistic sense but her religious feeling, little waves of anxious thought swept across her one after another. She was a person of timid and brooding temperament, and her father's eccentricities and past history provided her with much just cause for worry. But to-day she was not thinking much of him.
Again and again there came between her and her silks a face, a face of careless pride and power, framed in strong waves of black hair. It had once repelled her quite as much as it attracted her. But at any rate, ever since she had first seen it, it had taken a place apart in her mind, as though in the yielding stuff of memory and feeling one impression out of the thousands of every day had, without warning, yet irrevocably, stamped itself deeper than the rest. The owner of it—David Grieve—filled her now, as always, with invincible antagonisms and dissents. But still the thought of him had in some gradual way become of late part of her habitual consciousness, associated always, and on the whole painfully associated, with the thought of Lucy Purcell.
For Lucy was such a little goose! To think of the way in which she had behaved towards young Grieve in the fortnight succeeding his notice to quit, before he finally left Purcell's service, made Dora hot all over. How could Lucy demean herself so? and show such tempers and airs towards a man who clearly did not think anything at all about her? And now she had flung herself upon Dora, imploring her cousin to help her, and threatening desperate things unless she and David were still enabled to meet. And meanwhile Purcell had flatly forbidden any communication between his household and the young reprobate he had turned out, whose threatened prosperity made at this moment the angry preoccupation of his life.
What was Dora to do? Was she to aid and abet Lucy, against her father's will, in pursuing David Grieve? And if in spite of all appearances the little self-willed creature succeeded, and Dora were the means of her marrying David, how would Dora's conscience stand? Here was a young man who believed in nothing, and openly said so, who took part in those terrible atheistical meetings and discussions, which, as Father Russell had solemnly said, were like a plague-centre in Manchester, drawing in and corrupting soul after soul. And Dora was to help in throwing her young cousin, while she was still almost a child with no 'Church principles' to aid and protect her, into the hands of this enemy of the Lord and His Church?
Then, when it came to this point, Dora would be troubled and drawn away by memories of young Grieve's talk and ways, of his dashes into Market Place to see Daddy since he had set up for himself, of his bold plans for the future which delighted Daddy and took her breath away; of the flash of his black eyes; the triumphant energy of his youth; and those indications in him, too, which had so startled her of late since they—she and he—had dropped the futile sparrings in which their acquaintance began, of an inner softness, a sensitive magnetic something—indescribable.
Dora's needle paused in mid-air. Then her hand dropped on her lap. A slight but charming smile—born of youth, sympathy, involuntary admiration—dawned on her face. She sat so for a minute or two lost in reminiscence.
The clock outside struck twelve. Dora with a start felt along the edge of her frame under her work and brought out a book. It was a little black, worn manual of prayers for various times and occasions compiled by a High Church dignitary. For Dora it had a talismanic virtue. She turned now to one of the 'Prayers for Noonday,' made the sign of the cross, and slipped on to her knees for an instant. Then she rose happily and went back to her work. It was such acts as this that made the thread on which her life of mystical emotion was strung.
But her father was a Secularist of a pronounced type, and her mother had been a rigid Baptist, old-fashioned and sincere, filled with a genuine horror of Papistry and all its ways.
Adrian O'Connor Lomax, to give Daddy his whole magnificent name, was the son of a reed-maker, of Irish extraction, at Hyde, and was brought up at first to follow his father's trade—that of making the wire 'reed,' or frame, into which the threads of the warp are fastened before weaving. But such patient drudgery, often continued, as it was in those days, for twelve and fourteen hours out of the twenty-four, was gall and wormwood to a temperament like Daddy's. He developed a taste for reading, fell in with Byron's poems, and caught the fever of them; then branched out into politics just at the time of the first Reform Bill, when all over Lancashire the memory of Peterloo was still burning, and when men like Henry Hunt and Samuel Bamford were the political heroes of every weaver's cottage. He developed a taste for itinerant lecturing and preaching, and presently left his family and tramped to Manchester.
Here after many vicissitudes—including an enthusiastic and on the whole creditable participation, as an itinerant lecturer, in the movement for the founding of Mechanics' Institutes, then spreading all over the north—Daddy, to his ill-fortune, came across his future brother-in-law, the bookseller Purcell. At the moment Daddy was in a new and unaccustomed phase of piety. After a period of revolutionary spouting, in which Byron, Tom Paine, and the various publications of Richard Carlile had formed his chief scriptures, a certain Baptist preacher laid hold of the Irishman's mercurial sense. Daddy was awakened and converted, burnt his Byron and his Tom Paine in his three-pair back with every circumstance of insult and contumely, and looked about for an employer worthy of one of the elect. Purcell at the time had a shop in one of the main streets connecting Manchester and Salford; he was already an elder at the chapel Daddy frequented; the two made acquaintance and Lomax became Purcell's assistant. At the moment the trade offered to him attracted Daddy vastly. He had considerable pretensions to literature; was a Shakespearian, a debater, and a haunter of a certain literary symposium, held for a long time at one of the old Manchester inns, and attended by most of the small wits and poets of a then small and homely town. The gathering had nothing saintly about it; free drinking went often hand in hand with free thought; Daddy's infant zeal was shocked, but Daddy's instincts were invincible, and he went.
The result of the bookselling experiment has been already told by Daddy himself. It was, of course, inevitable. Purcell was then a young man, but in his dealings with Daddy he showed precisely the same cast-iron self-importance, the same slowness of brain coupled with the same assumptions of an unbounded and righteous authority, the same unregenerate greediness in small matters of gain and loss which now in his later life had made him odious to David Grieve. Moreover, Daddy, by a happy instinct, had at once made common cause with Purcell's downtrodden sister, going on even, as his passionate sense of opposition developed, to make love to the poor humble thing mainly for the sake of annoying the brother. The crisis came; the irritated tyrant brought down a heavy hand, and Daddy and Isabella disappeared together from the establishment in Chapel Street.
By the time Daddy had set up as the husband of Purcell's sister in a little shop precisely opposite to that of his former employer, he had again thrown over all pretensions to sanctity, was, on the contrary, convinced afresh that all religion was one vast perennial imposture, dominated, we may suppose, in this as in most other matters, by the demon of hatred which now possessed him towards his brother-in-law. His wife, poor soul, was beginning to feel herself tied for good to the tail of a comet destined to some mad career or other, and quite uncontrollable by any efforts of hers. Lomax had married her for the most unpromising reasons in the world, and he soon tired of her, and of the trade, which required a sustained effort, which he was incapable of giving. As long as Purcell remained opposite, indeed, hate and rivalry kept him up to the mark. He was an attractive figure at that time, with his long fair hair and his glancing greenish eyes; and his queer discursive talk attracted many a customer, whom he would have been quite competent to keep had his character been of the same profitable stuff as his ability.
But when Purcell vanished across the river into Manchester, the zest of Daddy's bookselling enterprise departed also. He began to neglect his shop, was off here and there lecturing and debating, and when he came back again it was plain to the wife their scanty money had been squandered on other excesses than those of talk. At last the business fell to ruins, and debts pressed. Then suddenly Daddy was persuaded by a French commercial traveller to take up his old trade of reed-making, and go and seek employment across the Channel, where reed-makers were said to be in demand.
In ecstasy at the idea of travel thus presented to him, Daddy devoured what books about France he could get hold of, and tried to teach himself French. Then one morning, without a word to his wife, he stole downstairs and out of the shop, and was far on the road to London before his flight was discovered. His poor wife shed some tears, but he had ceased to care for her she believed, largely because she had brought him no children, and his habits had begun to threaten to lead her with unpleasant rapidity to the workhouse. So she took comfort, and with the help of some friends set up a little stationery and fancy business, which just kept her alive.
Meanwhile Lomax found no work in Picardy, whither he had first gone, and ultimately wandered across France to Alsace, in search of bread, a prey to all possible hardships and privations. But nothing daunted him. The glow of adventure and romance was on every landscape. Cathedrals, forests, the wide river-plains of central France, with their lights and distances,—all things on this new earth and under these new heavens 'haunted him like a passion.' He travelled in perpetual delight, making love no doubt here and there to some passing Mignon, and starving with the gayest of hearts.
At Mulhausen he found work, and being ill and utterly destitute, submitted to it for a while. But as soon as he had got back his health and saved some money, he set out again, walking this time, staff in hand, over the whole Rhine country and into the Netherlands. There in the low Dutch plains he fell ill again, and the beauty of the Rhineland was no longer there to stand like a spell between him and the pains of poverty. He seemed to come to himself, after a dream in which the world and all its forms had passed him by 'apparelled in celestial light.' And the process of self-finding was attended by some at least of those salutary pangs which eternally belong to it. He suddenly took a resolution, crept on board a coal smack going from a Dutch port to Grimsby, toiled across Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, and appeared one evening, worn to a shadow, in his wife's little shop in Salford.
He was received as foolish women in whom there is no ineradicable taint of cruelty or hate will always receive the prodigal who returns. And when Daddy had been fed and clothed, he turned out for a time to be so amiable, so grateful a Daddy, such good company, as he sat in the chair by his wife's fire and told stories of his travels to her and anybody else who might drop in, that not only the wife but the neighbourhood was appeased. His old friends came back to him, he began to receive overtures to write in some of the humbler papers, to lecture on his adventures in the Yorkshire and Lancashire towns. Daddy expanded, harangued, grew daily in good looks and charm under his wife's eyes.
At last one day the papers came in with news of Louis Philippe's overthrow. Daddy grew restless, and began to study the foreign news with avidity. Revolution spread, and what with democracy abroad and Chartism at home, there was more stimulus in the air than such brains as Daddy's could rightly stand. One May day he walked into the street, looked hesitatingly up and down it, shading his eyes against the sun. Then with a shake of his long hair, as of one throwing off a weight, he drew his hat from under his arm, put it on, felt in his pockets, and set off at a run, head downwards, while poor Isabella Lomax was sweeping her kitchen. During the next few days he was heard of, rumour said, now here, now there, but one might as well have attempted to catch and hold the Pied Piper.
He was away for rather more than twenty months. Then one day, as before, a lean, emaciated, sun-browned figure came slowly up the Salford street, looking for a familiar door. It was Daddy. He went into the shop, which was empty, stared, with a countenance in which relief and repulsion were oddly mingled, at the boxes of stationery, at the dusty counter with its string and glass cases, when suddenly the inside door, which was standing ajar, was pushed stealthily inwards, and a child stood in the doorway. It was a tottering baby of a year old, holding in one fat hand a crust of bread which it had been sucking. When it saw the stranger it looked at him gravely for a second. Then without a trace of fear or shyness it came forward, holding up its crust appealingly, its rosy chin and lips still covered with bread-crumbs.
Daddy stared at the apparition, which seemed to him the merest witchcraft. For it was himself, dwarfed to babyhood and pinafores. His eyes, his prominent brow, his colour, his trick of holding the head—they were all there, absurdly there.
He gave a cry, which was answered by another cry from behind. His wife stood in the door. The stout, foolish Isabella was white to the lips. Even she felt the awe, the poetry of the moment.
'Aye,' she said, trembling. 'Aye! it's yourn. It was born seven months after yo left us.'
Daddy, without greeting his wife, threw himself down by the babe, and burst into tears. He had come back in a still darker mood than on his first return, his egotistical belief in himself more rudely shaken than ever by the attempts, the failures, the miseries of the last eighteen months. For one illuminating moment he saw that he was a poor fool, and that his youth was squandered and gone. But in its stead, there—dropped suddenly beside him by the forgiving gods—stood this new youth sprung from his, and all his own, this child—Dora.
He took to her with a passion which the trembling Isabella thought a great deal too excessive to last. But though the natural Daddy very soon reappeared, with all the aggravating peculiarities which belonged to him, the passion did last, and the truant strayed no more. He set up a small printing business with the help of some old customers—it was always characteristic of the man that, be his failings what they might, he never lacked friends—and with lecturing and writing, and Isabella's shop, they struggled on somehow. Isabella's life was hard enough. Daddy was only good when he was happy; and at other times he dipped recklessly into vices which would have been the ruin of them all had they been persistent. But by some kind fate he always emerged, and more and more, as years went on, owing to Dora. He drank, but not hopelessly; he gambled, but not past salvation; and there was generally, as we have said, some friend at hand to pick the poor besmirched featherbrain out of the mire.