Transcribers Note: Title and Table of contents Added.
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THE IDLER MAGAZINE.
AN ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY.
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THE IDLER. AN INGENUE OF THE SIERRAS. BY BRETT HART.
THE MODERN BABYLON. BY CYNICUS.
MY FIRST BOOKS. "UNDERTONES" AND "IDYLLS AND LEGENDS OF INVERBURN."
BALDER'S BALL. BY P. VON SCHÖNTHAN.
LIONS IN THEIR DENS. V.--THE LORD LIEUTENANT AT DUBLIN CASTLE. BY RAYMOND BLATHWAYT.
THE FEAR OF IT. BY ROBERT BARR.
MEMOIRS OF A FEMALE NILIHILIST. BY SOPHIE WASSILIEFF.
MEMOIRS OF A FEMALE NILIHILIST. BY SOPHIE WASSILIEFF.
PEOPLE I HAVE NEVER MET. BY SCOTT RANKIN.
MY SERVANT JOHN. BY ARCHIBALD FORBES.
THE IDLER'S CLUB. THE ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT.
* * * * * [Illustration: "THE SIMPLE QUESTION I'VE GOT TO ASK YE IS _this_--DID YOU SIGNAL TO ANYBODY FROM THE COACH WHEN WE PASSED GALLOPER'S?"]
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_AN INGENUE OF THE SIERRAS._
BY BRET HARTE.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY A. S. BOYD.
We all held our breath as the coach rushed through the semi-darkness of Galloper's Ridge. The vehicle itself was only a huge lumbering shadow; its side-lights were carefully extinguished, and Yuba Bill had just politely removed from the lips of an outside passenger even the cigar with which he had been ostentatiously exhibiting his coolness. For it had been rumoured that the Ramon Martinez gang of "road agents" were "laying" for us on the second grade, and would time the passage of our lights across Galloper's in order to intercept us in the "brush" beyond. If we could cross the ridge without being seen, and so get through the brush before they reached it, we were safe. If they followed, it would only be a stern chase with the odds in our favour.
The huge vehicle swayed from side to side, rolled, dipped, and plunged, but Bill kept the track, as if, in the whispered words of the Expressman, he could "feel and smell" the road he could no longer see. We knew that at times we hung perilously over the edge of slopes that eventually dropped a thousand feet sheer to the tops of the sugar-pines below, but we knew that Bill knew it also. The half visible heads of the horses, drawn wedge-wise together by the tightened reins, appeared to cleave the darkness like a ploughshare, held between his rigid hands. Even the hoof-beats of the six horses had fallen into a vague, monotonous, distant roll. Then the ridge was crossed, and we plunged into the still blacker obscurity of the brush. Rather we no longer seemed to move--it was only the phantom night that rushed by us. The horses might have been submerged in some swift Lethean stream; nothing but the top of the coach and the rigid bulk of Yuba Bill arose above them. Yet even in that awful moment our speed was unslackened; it was as if Bill cared no longer to _guide_ but only to drive, or as if the direction of his huge machine was determined by other hands than his. An incautious whisperer hazarded the paralysing suggestion of our "meeting another team." To our great astonishment Bill overheard it; to our greater astonishment he replied. "It 'ud be only a neck and neck race which would get to h--ll first," he said quietly. But we were relieved--for he had _spoken!_ Almost simultaneously the wider turnpike began to glimmer faintly as a visible track before us; the wayside trees fell out of line, opened up and dropped off one after another; we were on the broader tableland, out of danger, and apparently unperceived and unpursued.
[Illustration: "STRUCK A MATCH AND HELD IT FOR HER."]
Nevertheless in the conversation that broke out again with the relighting of the lamps and the comments, congratulations and reminiscences that were freely exchanged, Yuba Bill preserved a dissatisfied and even resentful silence. The most generous praise of his skill and courage awoke no response. "I reckon the old man waz just spilin' for a fight, and is feelin' disappointed," said a passenger. But those who knew that Bill had the true fighter's scorn for any purely purposeless conflict were more or less concerned and watchful of him. He would drive steadily for four or five minutes with thoughtfully knitted brows, but eyes still keenly observant under his slouched hat, and then, relaxing his strained attitude, would give way to a movement of impatience. "You aint uneasy about anything, Bill, are you?" asked the Expressman confidentially. Bill lifted his eyes with a slightly contemptuous surprise. "Not about anything ter _come_. It's what _hez_ happened that I don't exackly sabe. I don't see no signs of Ramon's gang ever havin' been out at all, and ef they were out I don't see why they didn't go for us."
"The simple fact is that our _ruse_ was successful," said an outside passenger. "They waited to see our lights on the ridge, and, not seeing them, missed us until we had passed. That's my opinion."
"You aint puttin' any price on that opinion, air ye?" enquired Bill, politely.
"'Cos thar's a comic paper in 'Frisco pays for them things, and I've seen worse things in it."
"Come off! Bill," retorted the passenger, slightly nettled by the tittering of his companions. "Then what did you put out the lights for?"
"Well," returned Bill, grimly, "it mout have been because I didn't keer to hev you chaps blazin' away at the first bush you _thought_ you saw move in your skeer, and bringin' down their fire on us."
The explanation, though unsatisfactory, was by no means an improbable one, and we thought it better to accept it with a laugh. Bill, however, resumed his abstracted manner.
"Who got in at the Summit?" he at last asked abruptly of the Expressman.
"Derrick and Simpson of Cold Spring, and one of the 'Excelsior' boys," responded the Expressman.
"And that Pike County girl from Dow's Flat, with her bundles. Don't forget her," added the outside passenger, ironically.
"Does anybody here know her?" continued Bill, ignoring the irony.
"You'd better ask Judge Thompson; he was mighty attentive to her; gettin' her a seat by the off window, and lookin' after her bundles and things."
"Gettin' her a seat by the _window_?" repeated Bill.
"Yes, she wanted to see everything, and wasn't afraid of the shooting."
"Yes," broke in a third passenger, "and he was so d----d civil that when she dropped her ring in the straw, he struck a match agin all your rules, you know, and held it for her to find it. And it was just as we were crossin' through the brush, too. I saw the hull thing through the window, for I was hanging over the wheels with my gun ready for action. And it wasn't no fault of Judge Thompson's if his d----d foolishness hadn't shown us up, and got us a shot from the gang."
Bill gave a short grunt--but drove steadily on without further comment or even turning his eyes to the speaker.
We were now not more than a mile from the station at the cross roads where we were to change horses. The lights already glimmered in the distance, and there was a faint suggestion of the coming dawn on the summits of the ridge to the West. We had plunged into a belt of timber, when suddenly a horseman emerged at a sharp canter from a trail that seemed to be parallel with our own. We were all slightly startled; Yuba Bill alone preserving his moody calm.
"Hullo!" he said.
The stranger wheeled to our side as Bill slackened his speed. He seemed to be a "packer" or freight muleteer.
"Ye didn't get 'held up' on the Divide?" continued Bill, cheerfully.
"No," returned the packer, with a laugh; "_I_ don't carry treasure. But I see you're all right, too. I saw you crossin' over Galloper's."
"_Saw_ us?" said Bill, sharply. "We had our lights out."
"Yes, but there was suthin' white--a handkerchief or woman's veil, I reckon--hangin' from the window. It was only a movin' spot agin the hillside, but ez I was lookin' out for ye I knew it was you by that. Good night!"
He cantered away. We tried to look at each other's faces, and at Bill's expression in the darkness, but he neither spoke nor stirred until he threw down the reins when we stopped before the station. The passengers quickly descended from the roof; the Expressman was about to follow, but Bill plucked his sleeve.
"I'm goin' to take a look over this yer stage and these yer passengers with ye, afore we start."
"Why, what's up?"
"Well," said Bill, slowly disengaging himself from one of his enormous gloves, "when we waltzed down into the brush up there I saw a man, ez plain ez I see you, rise up from it. I thought our time had come and the band was goin' to play, when he sorter drew back, made a sign, and we just scooted past him."
"Well," said Bill, "it means that this yer coach was _passed through free_ to-night."
"You don't object to _that_--surely? I think we were deucedly lucky."
Bill slowly drew off his other glove. "I've been riskin' my everlastin' life on this d----d line three times a week," he said with mock humility, "and I'm allus thankful for small mercies. _But_," he added grimly, "when it comes down to being passed free by some pal of a hoss thief and thet called a speshal Providence, _I aint in it_! No, sir, I aint in it!"
It was with mixed emotions that the passengers heard that a delay of fifteen minutes to tighten certain screw-bolts had been ordered by the autocratic Bill. Some were anxious to get their breakfast at Sugar Pine, but others were not averse to linger for the daylight that promised greater safety on the road. The Expressman, knowing the real cause of Bill's delay, was nevertheless at a loss to understand the object of it. The passengers were all well known; any idea of complicity with the road agents was wild and impossible, and, even if there was a confederate of the gang among them, he would have been more likely to precipitate a robbery than to check it. Again, the discovery of such a confederate--to whom they clearly owed their safety--and his arrest would have been quite against the Californian sense of justice, if not actually illegal. It seemed evident that Bill's Quixotic sense of honour was leading him astray.
[Illustration: "'THERE WAS SUTHIN' WHITE HANGIN' FROM THE WINDOW.'"]
The station consisted of a stable, a waggon shed, and a building containing three rooms. The first was fitted up with "bunks" or sleeping berths for the _employés_, the second was the kitchen, and the third and larger apartment was dining-room or sitting-room, and was used as general waiting-room for the passengers. It was not a refreshment station, and there was no "bar." But a mysterious command from the omnipotent Bill produced a demi-john of whiskey, with which he hospitably treated the company. The seductive influence of the liquor loosened the tongue of the gallant Judge Thompson. He admitted to having struck a match to enable the fair Pike Countian to find her ring, which, however, proved to have fallen in her lap. She was "a fine, healthy young woman--a type of the Far West, sir; in fact, quite a prairie blossom! yet simple and guileless as a child." She was on her way to Marysville, he believed, "although she expected to meet friends--a friend--in fact, later on." It was her first visit to a large town--in fact, any civilised centre--since she crossed the plains three years ago. Her girlish curiosity was quite touching, and her innocence irresistible. In fact, in a country whose tendency was to produce "frivolity and forwardness in young girls, he found her a most interesting young person." She was even then out in the stable-yard watching the horses being harnessed, "preferring to indulge a pardonable healthy young curiosity than to listen to the empty compliments of the younger passengers."
[Illustration: "SHE WAS WATCHING THE REPLACING OF LUGGAGE IN THE BOOT."]
The figure which Bill saw thus engaged, without being otherwise distinguished, certainly seemed to justify the Judge's opinion. She appeared to be a well-matured country girl, whose frank grey eyes and large laughing mouth expressed a wholesome and abiding gratification in her life and surroundings. She was watching the replacing of luggage in the boot. A little feminine start, as one of her own parcels was thrown somewhat roughly on the roof, gave Bill his opportunity. "Now there," he growled to the helper, "ye aint carting stone! Look out, will yer! Some of your things, miss?" he added, with gruff courtesy, turning to her. "These yer trunks, for instance?"
She smiled a pleasant assent, and Bill, pushing aside the helper, seized a large square trunk in his arms. But from excess of zeal, or some other mischance, his foot slipped, and he came down heavily, striking the corner of the trunk on the ground and loosening its hinges and fastenings. It was a cheap, common-looking affair, but the accident discovered in its yawning lid a quantity of white, lace-edged feminine apparel of an apparently superior quality. The young lady uttered another cry and came quickly forward, but Bill was profuse in his apologies, himself girded the broken box with a strap, and declared his intention of having the company "make it good" to her with a new one. Then he casually accompanied her to the door of the waiting-room, entered, made a place for her before the fire by simply lifting the nearest and most youthful passenger by the coat-collar from the stool that he was occupying, and, having installed the lady in it, displaced another man who was standing before the chimney, and, drawing himself up to his full six feet of height in front of her, glanced down upon his fair passenger as he took his waybill from his pocket.
"Your name is down here as Miss Mullins?" he said.
She looked up, became suddenly aware that she and her questioner were the centre of interest to the whole circle of passengers, and, with a slight rise of colour, returned "Yes."
"Well, Miss Mullins, I've got a question or two to ask ye. I ask it straight out afore this crowd. It's in my rights to take ye aside and ask it--but that aint my style; I'm no detective. I needn't ask it at all, but act as ef I knowed the answer, or I might leave it to be asked by others. Ye needn't answer it ef ye don't like; ye've got a friend over ther--Judge Thompson--who is a friend to ye, right or wrong, jest as any other man here is--as though ye'd packed your own jury. Well, the simple question I've got to ask ye is _this_--Did you signal to anybody from the coach when we passed Galloper's an hour ago?"
We all thought that Bill's courage and audacity had reached its climax here. To openly and publicly accuse a "lady" before a group of chivalrous Californians, and that lady possessing the further attractions of youth, good looks and innocence, was little short of desperation. There was an evident movement of adhesion towards the fair stranger, a slight muttering broke out on the right, but the very boldness of the act held them in stupefied surprise. Judge Thompson, with a bland propitiatory smile, began: "Really, Bill, I must protest on behalf of this young lady--" when the fair accused, raising her eyes to her accuser, to the consternation of everybody answered with the slight but convincing hesitation of conscientious truthfulness:
"Ahem!" interposed the Judge, hastily, "er--that is--er--you allowed your handkerchief to flutter from the window. I noticed it myself, casually--one might say even playfully--but without any particular significance."
The girl, regarding her apologist with a singular mingling of pride and impatience, returned briefly:
"Who did you signal to?" asked Bill, gravely.
"The young gentleman I'm going to marry."
A start, followed by a slight titter from the younger passengers, was instantly suppressed by a savage glance from Bill.
"What did you signal to him for?" he continued.
"To tell him I was here, and that it was all right," returned the young girl, with a steadily rising pride and colour.
"Wot was all right?" demanded Bill.
"That I wasn't followed, and that he could meet me on the road beyond Cass's Ridge Station." She hesitated a moment, and then, with a still greater pride, in which a youthful defiance was still mingled, said: "I've run away from home to marry him. And I mean to! No one can stop me. Dad didn't like him just because he was poor, and dad's got money. Dad wanted me to marry a man I hate, and got a lot of dresses and things to bribe me."
"And you're taking them in your trunk to the other feller?" said Bill, grimly.
"Yes, he's poor," returned the girl, defiantly.
"Then your father's name is Mullins?" asked Bill.
"It's not Mullins. I--I--took that name," she hesitated, with her first exhibition of self-consciousness.
"Wot _is_ his name?"
A smile of relief and significance went round the circle. The fame of Eli or "Skinner" Hemmings, as a notorious miser and usurer, had passed even beyond Galloper's Ridge.
"The step that you're taking, Miss Mullins, I need not tell you, is one of great gravity," said Judge Thompson, with a certain paternal seriousness of manner, in which, however, we were glad to detect a glaring affectation, "and I trust that you and your affianced have fully weighed it. Far be it from me to interfere with or question the natural affections of two young people, but may I ask you what you know of the--er--young gentleman for whom you are sacrificing so much, and, perhaps, imperilling your whole future? For instance, have you known him long?"
The slightly troubled air of trying to understand--not unlike the vague wonderment of childhood--with which Miss Mullins had received the beginning of this exordium, changed to a relieved smile of comprehension as she said quickly, "Oh, yes, nearly a whole year."
"And," said the Judge, smiling, "has he a vocation--is he in business?"
"Oh, yes," she returned, "he's a collector."
"Yes; he collects bills, you know, money," she went on, with childish eagerness, "not for himself--_he_ never has any money, poor Charley--but for his firm. It's dreadful hard work, too, keeps him out for days and nights, over bad roads and baddest weather. Sometimes, when he's stole over to the ranch just to see me, he's been so bad he could scarcely keep his seat in the saddle, much less stand. And he's got to take mighty big risks, too. Times the folks are cross with him and won't pay; once they shot him in the arm, and he came to me, and I helped do it up for him. But he don't mind. He's real brave, jest as brave as he's good." There was such a wholesome ring of truth in this pretty praise that we were touched in sympathy with the speaker.
"What firm does he collect for?" asked the Judge, gently.
"I don't know exactly--he won't tell me--but I think it's a Spanish firm. You see"--she took us all into her confidence with a sweeping smile of innocent yet half-mischievous artfulness--"I only know because I peeped over a letter he once got from his firm, telling him he must hustle up and be ready for the road the next day--but I think the name was Martinez--yes, Ramon Martinez."
In the dead silence that ensued--a silence so profound that we could hear the horses in the distant stable-yard rattling their harness--one of the younger "Excelsior" boys burst into a hysteric laugh, but the fierce eye of Yuba Bill was down upon him, and seemed to instantly stiffen him into a silent, grinning mask. The young girl, however, took no note of it; following out, with lover-like diffusiveness, the reminiscences thus awakened, she went on:
[Illustration: "AND--THEN CAME THE RAIN!"]
"Yes, it's mighty hard work, but he says it's all for me, and as soon as we're married he'll quit it. He might have quit it before, but he won't take no money of me, nor what I told him I could get out of dad! That aint his style. He's mighty proud--if he is poor--is Charley. Why thar's all ma's money which she left me in the Savin's Bank that I wanted to draw out--for I had the right--and give it to him, but he wouldn't hear of it! Why, he wouldn't take one of the things I've got with me, if he knew it. And so he goes on ridin' and ridin', here and there and everywhere, and gettin' more and more played out and sad, and thin and pale as a spirit, and always so uneasy about his business, and startin' up at times when we're meetin' out in the South Woods or in the far clearin', and sayin': 'I must be goin' now, Polly,' and yet always tryin' to be chiffle and chipper afore me. Why he must have rid miles and miles to have watched for me thar in the brush at the foot of Galloper's to-night, jest to see if all was safe, and Lordy! I'd have given him the signal and showed a light if I'd died for it the next minit. There! That's what I know of Charley--that's what I'm running away from home for--that's what I'm running to him for, and I don't care who knows it! And I only wish I'd done it afore--and I would--if--if--if--he'd only _asked me!_ There now!" She stopped, panted, and choked. Then one of the sudden transitions of youthful emotion overtook the eager, laughing face; it clouded up with the swift change of childhood, a lightning quiver of expression broke over it--and--then came the rain!
I think this simple act completed our utter demoralisation! We smiled feebly at each other with that assumption of masculine superiority which is miserably conscious of its own helplessness at such moments. We looked out of the window, blew our noses, said: "Eh--what?" and "I say," vaguely to each other, and were greatly relieved and yet apparently astonished when Yuba Bill, who had turned his back upon the fair speaker, and was kicking the logs in the fireplace, suddenly swept down upon us and bundled us all into the road, leaving Miss Mullins alone. Then he walked aside with Judge Thompson for a few moments; returned to us, autocratically demanded of the party a complete reticence towards Miss Mullins on the subject matter under discussion, re-entered the station, re-appeared with the young lady, suppressed a faint idiotic cheer which broke from us at the spectacle of her innocent face once more cleared and rosy, climbed the box, and in another moment we were under way.
"Then she don't know what her lover is yet?" asked the Expressman, eagerly.
"Are _you_ certain it's one of the gang?"
"Can't say _for sure_. It mout be a young chap from Yolo who bucked agin the tiger  at Sacramento, got regularly cleaned out and busted, and joined the gang for a flier. They say thar was a new hand in that job over at Keeley's--and a mighty game one, too--and ez there was some buckshot onloaded that trip, he might hev got his share, and that would tally with what the girl said about his arm. See! Ef that's the man, I've heered he was the son of some big preacher in the States, and a college sharp to boot, who ran wild in 'Frisco, and played himself for all he was worth. They're the wust kind to kick when they once get a foot over the traces. For stiddy, comf'ble kempany," added Bill reflectively, "give _me_ the son of a man that was _hanged!_"
"But what are you going to do about this?"
"That depends upon the feller who comes to meet her."
"But you aint going to try to take him? That would be playing it pretty low down on them both."
"Keep your hair on, Jimmy! The Judge and me are only going to rastle with the sperrit of that gay young galoot, when he drops down for his girl--and exhort him pow'ful! Ef he allows he's convicted of sin and will find the Lord, we'll marry him and the gal offhand at the next station, and the Judge will officiate himself for nothin'. We're goin' to have this yer elopement done on the square--and our waybill clean--you bet!"
"But you don't suppose he'll trust himself in your hands?"
"Polly will signal to him that it's all square."
"Ah!" said the Expressman. Nevertheless in those few moments the men seemed to have exchanged dispositions. The Expressman looked doubtfully, critically, and even cynically before him. Bill's face had relaxed, and something like a bland smile beamed across it, as he drove confidently and unhesitatingly forward.
Day, meantime, although full blown and radiant on the mountain summits around us, was yet nebulous and uncertain in the valleys into which we were plunging. Lights still glimmered in the cabins and few ranch buildings which began to indicate the thicker settlements. And the shadows were heaviest in a little copse, where a note from Judge Thompson in the coach was handed up to Yuba Bill, who at once slowly began to draw up his horses. The coach stopped finally near the junction of a small cross road. At the same moment Miss Mullins slipped down from the vehicle, and, with a parting wave of her hand to the Judge who had assisted her from the steps, tripped down the cross road, and disappeared in its semi-obscurity. To our surprise the stage waited, Bill holding the reins listlessly in his hands. Five minutes passed--an eternity of expectation, and--as there was that in Yuba Bill's face which forbade idle questioning--an aching void of silence also! This was at last broken by a strange voice from the road:
"Go on--we'll follow."
[Illustration: "A PARTING WAVE OF HER HAND."]
The coach started forward. Presently we heard the sound of other wheels behind us. We all craned our necks backward to get a view of the unknown, but by the growing light we could only see that we were followed at a distance by a buggy with two figures in it. Evidently Polly Mullins and her lover! We hoped that they would pass us. But the vehicle, although drawn by a fast horse, preserved its distance always, and it was plain that its driver had no desire to satisfy our curiosity. The Expressman had recourse to Bill.
"Is it the man you thought of?" he asked, eagerly.
"I reckon," said Bill, briefly.
"But," continued the Expressman, returning to his former scepticism, "what's to keep them both from levanting together now?"
Bill jerked his hand towards the boot with a grim smile.
"Oh!" said the Expressman.
"Yes," continued Bill. "We'll hang on to that gal's little frills and fixin's until this yer job's settled, and the ceremony's over, jest as ef we waz her own father. And, what's more, young man," he added, suddenly turning to the Expressman, "_you'll_ express them trunks of hers _through to Sacramento_ with your kempany's labels, and hand her the receipts and cheques for them, so she _can get 'em there_. That'll keep _him_ outer temptation and the reach o' the gang, until they get away among white men and civilisation again. When your hoary-headed ole grandfather--or, to speak plainer, that partikler old whiskey-soaker known as Yuba Bill, wot sits on this box," he continued, with a diabolical wink at the Expressman--"waltzes in to pervide for a young couple jest startin' in life, thar's nothin' mean about his style, you bet. He fills the bill every time! Speshul Providences take a back seat when he's around."
When the station hotel and straggling settlement of Sugar Pine, now distinct and clear in the growing light, at last rose within rifleshot on the plateau, the buggy suddenly darted swiftly by us--so swiftly that the faces of the two occupants were barely distinguishable as they passed--and, keeping the lead by a dozen lengths, reached the door of the hotel. The young girl and her companion leaped down and vanished within as we drew up. They had evidently determined to elude our curiosity, and were successful.
But the material appetites of the passengers, sharpened by the keen mountain air, were more potent than their curiosity, and, as the breakfast-bell rang out at the moment the stage stopped, a majority of them rushed into the dining-room and scrambled for places without giving much heed to the vanished couple or to the Judge and Yuba Bill, who had disappeared also. The through coach to Marysville and Sacramento was likewise waiting, for Sugar Pine was the limit of Bill's ministration, and the coach which we had just left went no further. In the course of twenty minutes, however, there was a slight and somewhat ceremonious bustling in the hall and on the verandah, and Yuba Bill and the Judge re-appeared. The latter was leading, with some elaboration of manner and detail, the shapely figure of Miss Mullins, and Yuba Bill was accompanying her companion to the buggy. We all rushed to the windows to get a good view of the mysterious stranger and probable ex-brigand whose life was now linked with our fair fellow-passenger. I am afraid, however, that we all participated in a certain impression of disappointment and doubt. Handsome and even cultivated-looking, he assuredly was--young and vigorous in appearance. But there was a certain half-shamed, half-defiant suggestion in his expression, yet coupled with a watchful lurking uneasiness which was not pleasant and hardly becoming in a bridegroom--and the possessor of such a bride. But the frank, joyous, innocent face of Polly Mullins, resplendent with a simple, happy confidence, melted our hearts again, and condoned the fellow's shortcomings. We waved our hands; I think we would have given three rousing cheers as they drove away if the omnipotent eye of Yuba Bill had not been upon us. It was well, for the next moment we were summoned to the presence of that soft-hearted autocrat.
We found him alone with the Judge in a private sitting-room, standing before a table on which there was a decanter and glasses. As we filed expectantly into the room and the door closed behind us, he cast a glance of hesitating tolerance over the group.
"Gentlemen," he said slowly, "you was all present at the beginnin' of a little game this mornin', and the Judge thar thinks that you oughter be let in at the finish. _I_ don't see that it's any of _your_ d----d business--so to speak--but ez the Judge here allows you're all in the secret, I've called you in to take a partin' drink to the health of Mr. and Mrs. Charley Byng--ez is now comf'ably off on their bridal tower. What _you_ know or what _you_ suspects of the young galoot that's married the gal aint worth shucks to anybody, and I wouldn't give it to a yaller pup to play with, but the Judge thinks you ought all to promise right here that you'll keep it dark. That's his opinion. Ez far as my opinion goes, gen'lmen," continued Bill, with greater blandness and apparent cordiality, "I wanter simply remark, in a keerless, offhand gin'ral way, that ef I ketch any God-forsaken, lop-eared, chuckle-headed blatherin' idjet airin' _his_ opinion----"
"One moment, Bill," interposed Judge Thompson with a grave smile--"let me explain. You understand, gentlemen," he said, turning to us, "the singular, and I may say affecting, situation which our good-hearted friend here has done so much to bring to what we hope will be a happy termination. I want to give here, as my professional opinion, that there is nothing in his request which, in your capacity as good citizens and law-abiding men, you may not grant. I want to tell you, also, that you are condoning no offence against the statutes; that there is not a particle of legal evidence before us of the criminal antecedents of Mr. Charles Byng, except that which has been told you by the innocent lips of his betrothed, which the law of the land has now sealed for ever in the mouth of his wife, and that our own actual experience of his acts have been in the main exculpatory of any previous irregularity--if not incompatible with it. Briefly, no judge would charge, no jury convict, on such evidence. When I add that the young girl is of legal age, that there is no evidence of any previous undue influence, but rather of the reverse, on the part of the bridegroom, and that I was content, as a magistrate, to perform the ceremony, I think you will be satisfied to give your promise, for the sake of the bride, and drink a happy life to them both."
[Illustration: THE JUDGE AND MISS MULLINS.]
I need not say that we did this cheerfully, and even extorted from Bill a grunt of satisfaction. The majority of the company, however, who were going with the through coach to Sacramento, then took their leave, and, as we accompanied them to the verandah, we could see that Miss Polly Mullins's trunks were already transferred to the other vehicle under the protecting seals and labels of the all-potent Express Company. Then the whip cracked, the coach rolled away, and the last traces of the adventurous young couple disappeared in the hanging red dust of its wheels.
But Yuba Bill's grim satisfaction at the happy issue of the episode seemed to suffer no abatement. He even exceeded his usual deliberately regulated potations, and, standing comfortably with his back to the centre of the now deserted bar-room, was more than usually loquacious with the Expressman. "You see," he said, in bland reminiscence, "when your old Uncle Bill takes hold of a job like this, he puts it straight through without changin' hosses. Yet thar was a moment, young feller, when I thought I was stompt! It was when we'd made up our mind to make that chap tell the gal fust all what he was! Ef she'd rared or kicked in the traces, or hung back only ez much ez that, we'd hev given him jest five minits' law to get up and get and leave her, and we'd hev toted that gal and her fixin's back to her dad again! But she jest gave a little scream and start, and then went off inter hysterics, right on his buzzum, laughing and cryin' and sayin' that nothin' should part 'em. Gosh! if I didn't think _he_ woz more cut up than she about it--a minit it looked as ef _he_ didn't allow to marry her arter all, but that passed, and they was married hard and fast--you bet! I reckon he's had enough of stayin' out o' nights to last him, and ef the valley settlements hevn't got hold of a very shining member, at least the foothills hev got shut of one more of the Ramon Martinez gang."
"What's that about the Ramon Martinez gang?" said a quiet potential voice.
Bill turned quickly. It was the voice of the Divisional Superintendent of the Express Company--a man of eccentric determination of character, and one of the few whom the autocratic Bill recognised as an equal--who had just entered the bar-room. His dusty pongee cloak and soft hat indicated that he had that morning arrived on a round of inspection.
"Don't care if I do, Bill," he continued, in response to Bill's invitatory gesture, walking to the bar. "It's a little raw out on the road. Well, what were you saying about Ramon Martinez gang? You haven't come across one of 'em, have you?"
"No," said Bill, with a slight blinking of his eye, as he ostentatiously lifted his glass to the light.
"And you _won't_," added the Superintendent, leisurely sipping his liquor. "For the fact is, the gang is about played out. Not from want of a job now and then, but from the difficulty of disposing of the results of their work. Since the new instructions to the agents to identify and trace all dust and bullion offered to them went into force, you see, they can't get rid of their swag. All the gang are spotted at the offices, and it costs too much for them to pay a fence or a middleman of any standing. Why, all that flaky river gold they took from the Excelsior Company can be identified as easy as if it was stamped with the company's mark. They can't melt it down themselves; they can't get others to do it for them; they can't ship it to the Mint or Assay Offices in Marysville and 'Frisco, for they won't take it without our certificate and seals, and _we_ don't take any undeclared freight _within_ the lines that we've drawn around their beat, except from people and agents known. Why, _you_ know that well enough, Jim," he said, suddenly appealing to the Expressman, "don't you?"
Possibly the suddenness of the appeal caused the Expressman to swallow his liquor the wrong way, for he was overtaken with a fit of coughing, and stammered hastily as he laid down his glass, "Yes--of course--certainly."
"No, sir," resumed the Superintendent cheerfully, "they're pretty well played out. And the best proof of it is that they've lately been robbing ordinary passengers' trunks. There was a freight waggon 'held up' near Dow's Flat the other day, and a lot of baggage gone through. I had to go down there to look into it. Darned if they hadn't lifted a lot o' woman's wedding things from that rich couple who got married the other day out at Marysville. Looks as if they were playing it rather low down, don't it? Coming down to hard pan and the bed rock--eh?"
The Expressman's face was turned anxiously towards Bill, who, after a hurried gulp of his remaining liquor, still stood staring at the window. Then he slowly drew on one of his large gloves. "Ye didn't," he said, with a slow, drawling, but perfectly distinct, articulation, "happen to know old 'Skinner' Hemmings when you were over there?"
"And his daughter?"
"He hasn't got any."
"A sort o' mild, innocent, guileless child of nature?" persisted Bill, with a yellow face, a deadly calm and Satanic deliberation.
"No. I tell you he _hasn't_ any daughter. Old man Hemmings is a confirmed old bachelor. He's too mean to support more than one."
"And you didn't happen to know any o' that gang, did ye?" continued Bill, with infinite protraction.
"Yes. Knew 'em all. There was French Pete, Cherokee Bob, Kanaka Joe, One-eyed Stillson, Softy Brown, Spanish Jack, and two or three Greasers."
"And ye didn't know a man by the name of Charley Byng?"
[Illustration: "'YE DIDN'T KNOW A MAN BY THE NAME OF CHARLEY BYNG?'"]
"No," returned the Superintendent, with a slight suggestion of weariness and a distraught glance towards the door.
"A dark, stylish chap, with shifty black eyes and a curled up merstache?" continued Bill, with dry, colourless persistence.
"No. Look here, Bill, I'm in a little bit of a hurry--but I suppose you must have your little joke before we part. Now, what _is_ your little game?"
"Wot you mean?" demanded Bill, with sudden brusqueness.
"Mean? Well, old man, you know as well as I do. You're giving me the very description of Ramon Martinez himself, ha! ha! No--Bill! you didn't play me this time. You're mighty spry and clever, but you didn't catch on just then."
He nodded and moved away with a light laugh. Bill turned a stony face to the Expressman. Suddenly a gleam of mirth came into his gloomy eyes. He bent over the young man, and said in a hoarse, chuckling whisper:
"But I got even after all!"
"He's tied up to that lying little she-devil, hard and fast!"
THE MODERN BABYLON.
[Illustration: THE MODERN PHAETON]
The day is done for honest thriving Through Speculation's reckless driving.
[Illustration: THE SCAPEGOAT]
[Illustration: LAW & JUSTICE]
Your distance Madam, for you see You dare not, unless I agree
[Illustration: SAMSON AGONISTES]
[Illustration: MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.]
MY FIRST BOOKS.
"UNDERTONES" AND "IDYLS AND LEGENDS OF INVERBURN."
BY ROBERT BUCHANAN.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY GEORGE HUTCHINSON.
(PHOTOGRAPHS BY MESSRS. FRADELLE AND YOUNG.)
My first serious effort in Literature was what I may call a double-barrelled one; in other words, I was seriously engaged upon Two Books at the same time, and it was by the merest accident that they did not appear simultaneously. As it was, only a few months divided one from the other, and they are always, in my own mind, inseparable, or Siamese, twins. The book of poems called _Undertones_ was the one; the book of poems called _Idyls and Legends of Inverburn_ was the other. They were published nearly thirty years ago, when I was still a boy, and as they happened to bring me into connection, more or less intimately, with some of the leading spirits of the age, a few notes concerning them may be of interest.
[Illustration: MR. BUCHANAN'S HOUSE.]
A word, first, as to my literary beginnings. I can scarcely remember the time when the idea of winning fame as an author had not occurred to me, and so I determined very early to adopt the literary profession, a determination which I unfortunately carried out, to my own life-long discomfort, and the annoyance of a large portion of the reading public. When a boy in Glasgow, I made the acquaintance of David Gray, who was fired with a similar ambition to fly incontinently to London--
The terrible City whose neglect is Death, Whose smile is Fame!
and to take it by storm. It seemed so easy! "Westminster Abbey," wrote my friend to a correspondent; "if I live, I shall be buried there--so help me God!" "I mean, after Tennyson's death," I myself wrote to Philip Hamerton, "to be Poet-laureate!" From these samples of our callow speech, the modesty of our ambition may be inferred. Well, it all happened just as we planned, only otherwise! Through some blunder of arrangement we two started for London on the same day, but from different railway stations, and, until some weeks afterwards, one knew nothing of the other's exodus. I arrived at King's Cross Railway Station with the conventional half-crown in my pocket; literally and absolutely, half-a-crown; I wandered about the Great City till I was weary, fell in with a Thief and Good Samaritan who sheltered me, starved and struggled with abundant happiness, and finally found myself located at 66, Stamford Street, Waterloo Bridge, in a top room, for which I paid, when I had the money, seven shillings a week. Here I lived royally, with Duke Humphrey, for many a day; and hither, one sad morning, I brought my poor friend Gray, whom I had discovered languishing somewhere in the Borough, and who was already death-struck through "sleeping out" one night in Hyde Park. "Westminster Abbey--if I live, I shall be buried there!" Poor country singing-bird, the great Dismal Cage of the Dead was not for _him_, thank God! He lies under the open Heaven, close to the little river which he immortalised in song. After a brief sojourn in the "dear old ghastly bankrupt garret at No. 66," he fluttered home to die.
To that old garret, in these days, came living men of letters who were of large and important interest to us poor cheepers from the North: Richard Monckton Milnes, Laurence Oliphant, Sydney Dobell, among others, who took a kindly interest in my dying comrade. But afterwards, when I was left to fight the battle alone, the place was solitary. Ever reserved and independent, not to say "dour" and opinionated, I made no friends, and cared for none. I had found a little work on the newspapers and magazines, just enough to keep body and soul alive, and while occupied with this I was busy on the literary Twins to which I referred at the opening of this paper. What did my isolation matter, when I had all the gods of Greece for company, to say nothing of the fays and trolls of Scottish Fairyland? Pallas and Aphrodite haunted that old garret; out on Waterloo Bridge, night after night, I saw Selene and all her nymphs; and when my heart sank low, the Fairies of Scotland sang me lullabies! It was a happy time. Sometimes, for a fortnight together, I never had a dinner--save, perhaps, on Sunday, when a good-natured Hebe would bring me covertly a slice from the landlord's joint. My favourite place of refreshment was the Caledonian Coffee House in Covent Garden. Here, for a few coppers, I could feast on coffee and muffins--muffins saturated with butter, and worthy of the gods! Then, issuing forth, full-fed, glowing, oleaginous, I would light my pipe, and wander out into the lighted streets.
[Illustration: THE ENTRANCE HALL.]
Criticisms for the _Athenæum_, then edited by Hepworth Dixon, brought me ten-and-sixpence a column. I used to go to the old office in Wellington Street and have my contributions measured off on the current number with a foot-rule, by good old John Francis, the publisher. I wrote, too, for the _Literary Gazette_, where the pay was less princely--seven-and-sixpence a column, I think, but with all extracts deducted! The _Gazette_ was then edited by John Morley, who came to the office daily with a big dog. "I well remember the time when you, a boy, came to me, a boy, in Catherine Street," wrote honest John to me years afterwards. But the neighbourhood of Covent Garden had greater wonders! Two or three times a week, walking, black bag in hand, from Charing Cross Station to the office of _All the Year Round_ in Wellington Street, came the good, the only Dickens! From that good Genie the poor straggler from Fairyland got solid help and sympathy. Few can realise now what Dickens was then to London. His humour filled its literature like broad sunlight; the Gospel of Plum-pudding warmed every poor devil in Bohemia.
At this time, I was (save the mark!) terribly in earnest, with a dogged determination to bow down to no graven literary Idol, but to judge men of all ranks on their personal merits. I never had much reverence for Gods of any sort; if the Superior Persons could not win me by love, I remained heretical. So it was a long time before I came close to any living souls, and all that time I was working away at my poems. Then, a little later, I used to go o' Sundays to the open house of Westland Marston, which was then a great haunt of literary Bohemians. Here I first met Dinah Muloch, the author of _John Halifax_, who took a great fancy to me, used to carry me off to her little nest on Hampstead Heath, and lend me all her books. At Hampstead, too, I foregathered with Sydney Dobell, a strangely beautiful soul, with (what seemed to me then) very effeminate manners. Dobell's mouth was ever full of very pretty Latinity, for the most part Virgilian. He was fond of quoting, as an example of perfect expression, sound conveying absolute sense of the thing described, the doggrel lines--
"Down the stairs the young missises ran To have a look at Miss Kate's young man!"
The sibilants in the first line, he thought, admirably suggested the idea of the young ladies slipping along the banisters and peeping into the hall!
But I had other friends, more helpful to me in preparing my first twin-offering to the Muses: the faces under the gas, the painted women on the Bridge (how many a night have I walked up and down by their sides, and talked to them for hours together), the actors in the theatres, the ragged groups at the stage doors, London to me, then, was still Fairyland! Even in the Haymarket, with its babbles of Nymph and Satyr, there was wonderful life from midnight to dawn--deep sympathy with which told me that I was a born Pagan, and could never be really comfortable in any modern Temple of the Proprieties. On other points connected with that old life on the borders of Bohemia, I need not touch; it has all been so well done already by Murger, in the _Vie de Bohème_, and it will not bear translation into contemporary English. There were cakes and ale, pipes and beer, and ginger was hot in the mouth too! _Et ego fui in Bohemiâ_! There were inky fellows and bouncing girls, _then_; _now_ there are only fine ladies, and respectable, God-fearing men of letters.
[Illustration: THE DINING ROOM.]
It was while the Twins were fashioning, that I went down in summer time to live at Chertsey on the Thames, chiefly in order to be near to one I had long admired, Thomas Love Peacock, the friend of Shelley and the author of _Headling Hall_--"Greekey Peekey," as they called him, on account of his prodigious knowledge of things and books Hellenic. I soon grew to love the dear old man, and sat at his feet, like an obedient pupil, in his green old-fashioned garden at Lower Halliford. To him I first read some of my _Undertones_, getting many a rap over the knuckles for my sacrilegious tampering with Divine Myths. What mercy could _I_ expect from one who had never forgiven "Johnny" Keats for his frightful perversion of the sacred mystery of Endymion and Selene? and who was horrified at the base "modernism" of Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound?" But to think of it! He had known Shelley, and all the rest of the demigods, and his speech was golden with memories of them all! Dear old Pagan, wonderful in his death as in his life. When, shortly before he died, his house caught fire, and the mild curate of the parish begged him to withdraw from the library of books he loved so well, he flatly refused to listen, and cried roundly, in a line of vehement blank verse, "By the immortal gods, I will not stir!" 
Under such auspices, and with all the ardour of youth to help, my Book, or Books, progressed. Meantime, I was breaking out into poetry in the magazines, and writing "criticism" by the yard. At last the time came when I remembered another friend with whom I had corresponded, and whose advice I thought I might now ask with some confidence. This was George Henry Lewes, to whom, when I was a boy in Glasgow, I had sent a bundle of manuscript, with the blunt question, "Am I, or am I not, a Poet?" To my delight he had replied to me with a qualified affirmative, saying that in the productions he had "discerned a real faculty, and _perhaps_ a future poet. I say perhaps," he added, "because I do not know your age, and because there are so many poetical blossoms which never come to fruit." He had, furthermore, advised me "to write as much as I felt impelled to write, but to publish nothing"--at any rate, for a couple of years. Three years had passed, and I had neither published anything--that is to say, in book form--nor had I had any further communication with my kind correspondent. To Lewes, then, I wrote, reminding him of our correspondence, telling him that I _had_ waited, not two years, but three, and that I now felt inclined to face the public. I soon received an answer, the result of which was that I went, on Lewes's invitation, to the Priory, North Bank, Regent's Park, and met my friend and his partner, better known as "George Eliot."
But, as the novelists say, I am anticipating. Sick to death, David Gray had returned to the cottage of his father, the hand-loom weaver, at Kirkintilloch, and there had peacefully passed away, leaving as his legacy to the world the volume of beautiful poems published under the auspices of Lord Houghton. I knew of his death the hour he died; awaking in my bed, I was certain of my loss, and spoke of it (long before the formal news reached me) to a temporary companion. This by the way; but what is more to the purpose is that my first grief for a beloved comrade had expressed itself in the words which were to form the "proem" of my first book--
Poet gentle hearted, Are you then departed, And have you ceased to dream the dream we loved of old so well? Has the deeply-cherish'd Aspiration perished, And are you happy, David, in that heaven where you dwell? Have you found the secret We, so wildly, sought for, And is your soul enswath'd at last in the singing robes you fought for?
[Illustration: THE DRAWING ROOM.]
Full of my dead friend, I spoke of him to Lewes and George Eliot, telling them the piteous story of his life and death. Both were deeply touched, and Lewes cried, "Tell that story to the public"; which I did, immediately afterwards, in the _Cornhill Magazine_. By this time I had my Twins ready, and had discovered a publisher for one of them, _Undertones_. The other, _Idyls and Legends of Inverburn_, was a ruggeder bantling, containing almost the first _blank verse_ poems ever written in Scottish dialect. I selected one of the poems, "Willie Baird," and showed it to Lewes. He expressed himself delighted, and asked for more. I then showed him the "Two Babes." "Better and better!" he wrote; "publish a volume of such poems and your position is assured." More than this, he at once found me a publisher, Mr. George Smith, of Messrs. Smith and Elder, who offered me a good round sum (such it seemed to me then) for the copyright. Eventually, however, after "Willie Baird" had been published in the _Cornhill_, I withdrew the manuscript from Messrs. Smith and Elder, and transferred it to Mr. Alexander Strahan, who offered me both more liberal terms and more enthusiastic appreciation.
It was just after the appearance of my story of David Gray in the _Cornhill_ that I first met, at the Priory, North Bank, with Robert Browning. It was an odd and representative gathering of men, only one lady being present, the hostess, George Eliot. I was never much of a hero-worshipper; but I had long been a sympathetic Browningite, and I well remember George Eliot taking me aside after my first _tête-à-tête_ with the poet, and saying, "Well, what do you think of him? Does he come up to your ideal?" He _didn't_ quite, I must confess, but I afterwards learned to know him well and to understand him better. He was delighted with my statement that one of Gray's wild ideas was to rush over to Florence and "throw himself on the sympathy of Robert Browning."
Phantoms of these first books of mine, how they begin to rise around me! Faces of friends and counsellors that have flown for ever; the sibylline Marian Evans with her long, weird, dreamy face; Lewes, with his big brow and keen thoughtful eyes; Browning, pale and spruce, his eye like a skipper's cocked-up at the weather; Peacock, with his round, mellifluous speech of the old Greeks; David Gray, great-eyed and beautiful, like Shelley's ghost; Lord Houghton, with his warm worldly smile and easy-fitting enthusiasm. Where are they all now? Where are the roses of last summer, the snows of yester year? I passed by the Priory to-day, and it looked like a great lonely Tomb. In those days, the house where I live now was not built; all up here Hampstead-ways was grass and fields. It was over these fields that Herbert Spencer and George Eliot used to walk on their way to Hampstead Heath. The Sibyl has gone, but the great Philosopher still remains, to brighten the sunshine. It was not my luck to know him _then_--would it had been!--but he is my friend and neighbour in these latter days, and, thanks to him, I still get glimpses of the manners of the old gods.
[Illustration: THE STUDY.]
With the publication of my two first books, I was fairly launched, I may say, on the stormy waters of literature. When the _Athenæum_ told its readers that "this was _poetry_, and of a noble kind," and when Lewes vowed in the _Fortnightly Review_ that even if I "never wrote another line, my place among the pastoral poets would be undisputed," I suppose I felt happy enough--far more happy than any praise could make me now. Poor little pigmy in a cockle-boat, I thought Creation was ringing with my name! I think I must have seemed rather conceited and "bounceable," for I have a vivid remembrance of a _Fortnightly_ dinner at the Star and Garter, Richmond, when Anthony Trollope, angry with me for expressing a doubt about the poetical greatness of Horace, wanted to fling a decanter at my head! It was about this time that an omniscient publisher, after an interview with me, exclaimed (the circumstance is historical), "I don't like that young man; he talked to me as if he was God Almighty, or _Lord Byron!_" But in sober truth, I never had the sort of conceit with which men credited me; I merely lacked gullibility, and saw, at the first glance, the whole unmistakable humbug and insincerity of the Literary Life. I think still that, as a rule, the profession of letters narrows the sympathy and warps the intelligence. When I saw the importance which a great man or woman could attach to a piece of perfunctory criticism, when I saw the care with which this Eminent Person "humoured his reputation," and the anxiety with which that Eminent Person concealed his true character, I found my young illusions very rapidly fading. On one occasion, when George Eliot was very much pestered by an unknown lady, an insignificant individual, who had thrust herself somewhat pertinaciously upon her, she turned to me and asked, with a smile, for my opinion? I gave it, rudely enough, to the effect that it was good for "distinguished people" to be reminded occasionally of how very small consequence they really were, in the mighty life of the World!
From that time until the present I have pursued the vocation into which fatal Fortune, during boyhood, incontinently thrust me, and have subsisted, ill sometimes, well sometimes, by a busy pen. I may, therefore, with a certain experience, if with little authority, imitate those who have preceded me in giving reminiscences of their first literary beginnings, and offer a few words of advice to my younger brethren--to those persons, I mean, who are entering the profession of Literature. To begin with, I entirely agree with Mr. Grant Allen in his recent avowal that Literature is the poorest and least satisfactory of all professions; I will go even further, and affirm that it is one of the least ennobling. With a fairly extensive knowledge of the writers of my own period, I can honestly say that I have scarcely met one individual who has not deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary Fame. For complete literary success among contemporaries, it is imperative that a man should either have no real opinions, or be able to conceal such as he possesses, that he should have one eye on the market and the other on the public journals, that he should humbug himself into the delusion that book-writing is the highest work in the Universe, and that he should regulate his likes and dislikes by one law, that of expediency. If his nature is in arms against anything that is rotten in Society or in Literature itself, he must be silent. Above all, he must lay this solemn truth to heart, that when the World speaks well of him the World will demand the _price_ of praise, and that price will possibly be his living Soul. He may tinker, he may trim, he may succeed, he may be buried in Westminster Abbey, he may hear before he dies all the people saying, "How good and great he is! how perfect is his art! how gloriously he embodies the Tendencies of his Time!" but he will know all the same that the price has been paid, and that his living Soul has gone, to furnish that whitewashed Sepulchre, a Blameless Reputation.
[Illustration: MR ROBERT BUCHANAN AND HIS FAVOURITE DOG.]
For one other thing, also, the Neophyte in Literature had better be prepared. He will never be able to subsist by creative writing unless it so happens that the form of expression he chooses is popular in form (fiction, for example), and even in that case, the work he does, if he is to live by it, must be in harmony with the social and artistic _status quo_. Revolt of any kind is always disagreeable. Three-fourths of the success of Lord Tennyson (to take an example) was due to the fact that this fine poet regarded Life and all its phenomena from the standpoint of the English public school, that he ethically and artistically embodied the sentiments of our excellent middle-class education. His great American contemporary, Whitman, in some respects the most commanding spirit of this generation, gained only a few disciples, and was entirely misunderstood and neglected by contemporary criticism. Another prosperous writer, to whom I have already alluded, George Eliot, enjoyed enormous popularity in her lifetime, while the most strenuous and passionate novelist of her period, Charles Reade, was entirely distanced by her in the immediate race for Fame. In Literature, as in all things, manners and costume are most important; the hall-mark of contemporary success is perfect Respectability. It is not respectable to be too candid on any subject, religious, moral, or political. It is very respectable to say, or imply, that this country is the best of all possible countries, that War is a noble institution, that the Protestant Religion is grandly liberal, and that social evils are only diversified forms of social good. Above all, to be respectable, one must have "beautiful ideas." "Beautiful ideas" are the very best stock-in-trade a young writer can begin with. They are indispensable to every complete literary outfit. Without them, the short cut to Parnassus will never be discovered, even though one starts from Rugby.
BY P. VON SCHÖNTHAN.
ILLUSTRATED BY J. GÜLICH.
Balder had begged me to give him a bed for the night. He was going to a ball that evening, and had business early the following morning in Berlin. He lived in such an out-of-the-way suburb that it would be quite impossible for him to go home to sleep. I was only too delighted to be of service to him. Although I could not offer him a bed, it would be easy to improvise a shakedown on which he could have a few hours' rest. I set to work at once, and did the best I could for him, using a bundle of rags for the pillows, and my old dressing-gown for the mattress. When Balder saw it, he declared that nothing could be more to his taste.
[Illustration: "WALKED INTO MY ROOM."]
It was long past midnight, when I was awakened from a refreshing sleep by somebody fumbling with a key at the lock of my door. Several bungling attempts were made before the key was fitted into the lock successfully. At last, Balder walked into my room. He presented rather a comical appearance, with his crush-hat on one side of his head like the leaning tower of Pisa, and a short overcoat, with his long tail-coat peeping beneath. His face was flushed, partly with excitement, and he appeared possessed of a burning desire to relate his adventures to somebody. I had been looking at him with one eye; the other, nearest him, I kept tight shut, and did not move, for I had no desire to enter into conversation with him. But my friend was not so easily shaken in his purpose; he came close to my bedside, stepping on my boot-jack, so that it fell over with a terrible noise, and held the lighted candle within a few inches of my nose. It was impossible for even the most shameless shammer of sleep to hold out any longer. I opened my eyes, and said in the sleepiest tone I could assume:
[Illustration: "ON THE SIDE OF MY BED."]
"Famously, my dear fellow," answered Balder, seating himself on the side of my bed, although I forestalled his intention, and left hardly an inch for him to sit on. Then he entered into a long and not very lucid rigmarole on souls which are destined to come together. The story was rendered all the more difficult to understand from the fact that I kept falling asleep, and dreaming between his rhapsodies; but I gathered that Balder had met with a young Spanish lady at the mask ball, who apparently possessed the soul which he was fated to meet, and that she was the only person on earth who could make him happy. He had spent the whole evening with her, and she had promised to meet him at the next ball. At his request she had lifted her veil for one instant, revealing a face of Madonna-like beauty. It was a simple story, but when a man's brain is fired with love he lingers over it. The words grace, Southern colouring, eyes like a gazelle, etc., must have been repeated very often, for I dreamed later on that I was repeating them to myself.
I bore it all patiently, for hospitality is a sacred duty, and, besides, the state which Balder's mind was in demanded and deserved consideration.
As he went on with his story, he raised his voice, perhaps to rouse my flagging attention. Suddenly, somebody coughed in the next room. It was not a natural cough, but an artificial one, evidently intended by my landlady to serve as a gentle reminder that at two o'clock in the morning all respectable people should be in bed and quiet. My room was only separated from the apartment in which my landlady and her daughter slept by a door, which was hidden on either side by a high wardrobe, through which, in spite of this precaution, voices could be heard very distinctly. I informed Balder of this fact, but, unfortunately, he utterly refused to take my advice and go quietly to bed. He said he could not sleep, and, unhappily, catching sight of my coffee-machine, he added that he would like some coffee.
"Sleep if you can," he said; "I can manage it all for myself." He then removed his coat, dressed himself in the dressing-gown which acted as his mattress, and started to get some water from the kitchen, knocking things down on the way, and opening and shutting all the wrong doors. I became resigned, and made up my mind not to waste my breath on any fresh warnings. Somebody else coughed. It was Fräulein Lieschen this time, my landlady's daughter. At any other time, Balder himself would have shown more consideration.
[Illustration: "STARTED TO GET SOME WATER."]
Most extraordinary noises proceeded from the water-tap in the kitchen. At last the kitchen door banged, and Balder re-appeared again. I expressed my regret that I had no methylated spirit, but he said it did not matter, and catching hold of a bottle of my expensive brandy, poured a lot into the lamp. Then he sat gazing into the blue flame without blinking.
Crash! went the glass globe, and the boiling water poured all over the table and put out the fire. I sprang out of my bed. "Good gracious!" I exclaimed, "the whole thing will explode." He said nothing, but began to pick up the hot pieces of glass patiently. The coughing in the next room became louder than ever.
"For heaven's sake!" I went on, "try to be quiet if you can. The people in the next room want to go to sleep. _Don't_ you hear them coughing?"
"Well! I never heard of such impudence! That coughing has disturbed me for some time. Anybody would think you'd got into an almshouse for old women--Where is the sugar?"
"Up there, in the cigar-box. But don't knock that rapier down."
Balder climbed up on a cane chair. It gave way. Klirr! The rapier fell on the floor, and Balder with it.
"Confound you, do take care. Didn't I warn you?" An energetic knocking at the door of communication interrupted me.
"Herr Reif, I must really beg you to be quiet," called my landlady's daughter, not by any means in her sweetest tones. "We've been kept awake for the last hour."
"That's nothing to us," said Balder from the floor, where he was groping for the rapier that had rolled under the wardrobe.
"Do be quiet! That is my landlady's daughter, a very respectable girl--"
"Well, is nobody respectable except her? What do you pay rent for?" His face grew red with rage, and, placing his mouth close to the door, he called out, "What do you want with Reif? He's in bed. I only wanted to reach down the sugar, and the old rapier fell on my head--a thing that might happen to anybody! Just lie down quietly and go to sleep. Such a fuss about nothing! Are we in a hospital?"
[Illustration: "IT GAVE WAY!"]
"Do be quiet, Balder!" I begged, and my pleading at least had the effect of silencing whatever else was on his tongue. He thought no more of the sugar, but sat at the table and drank his self-brewed coffee without it. When he had finished it he lighted a cigarette, at which he puffed away till the room was full of smoke. As I lay and looked at him, I fell into that peaceful state in which dreaming and reality are so much mixed that it is hard to distinguish between them. And then Balder disappeared in clouds of smoke, and I heard and saw no more. I was awakened again by a light being held near my face. Balder was standing at my bedside with the candle in his hand. "Ah! I'm glad you've been asleep again!" he said, as I half-opened my eyes and looked at him. "I want to make a poem to my Spaniard. Have you got a rhyming dictionary anywhere about?"
"There, on the lowest shelf of the bookcase, but _do_ be quiet."
He got the book without knocking anything down; refilled his coffee-cup, and leant back in his chair, and murmured--
"Where shall I meet thee? On the Guadelquiver? "On the Sequara? On the fair Zucar? "Or any other far-off Spanish river....."
Sleep again overpowered me, and I knew nothing till I was awakened by a noisy discussion taking place close to me. Balder stood with his face to the door, engaged in a hot dispute with my neighbours.
"The devil himself couldn't collect his thoughts with that coughing going on," he was saying as I woke up.
"I was coughing to make you quiet, that endless murmuring made me so nervous!" cried Fräulein Lieschen, her voice trembling with annoyance.
[Illustration: "I'M GLAD YOU'VE BEEN ASLEEP."]
"I'm writing a poem, I tell you, and when one is composing a poem one must murmur. If you can't sleep through it, you can't be healthy. You must have eaten too much supper, or something. You can congratulate yourself that you've got such a lodger as Reif. Do you understand me? If you had me I'd teach you----"
Again and again, in as persuasive a voice as I could assume, I begged the orator at the wardrobe to put an end to the speech he was delivering on his views of a landlady's duties towards her tenants. At length my patience gave way, and, sitting up in bed, I commanded him in a voice of authority to give, over his poetry and recitation, and to blow out the light and get into bed. Balder at length seemed to realise that he was trespassing on my hospitality, and that a certain amount of respect was due to my wishes as his host. He became silent; put his manuscript carefully into my dressing-gown pocket; cast one last fiery glance at the door, and retired to bed.
I do not know if he saw the daughter of sunny Spain, with her gazelle-like eyes in his dreams, but I do know that he snored as if he were dreaming of a saw-mill.
About three hours later, the winter daylight struggled into the room. Balder got up and dressed himself as quietly as a mouse. He seemed as though he was trying to make up for the disturbance he had made in the night, or, rather, in the morning. He excused himself most politely for waking me up, but said that he felt that he could not leave without saying good-bye, and thanking me for my kind hospitality. Then he left the room, closing the door softly behind him. At the same moment, I heard the door of my landlady's room open. Half a minute's dead silence followed, and then Balder fell back into my room like one stunned.
[Illustration: "IN A HOT DISPUTE."]
"Who is that girl that came out of the next room?" he asked breathlessly.
"Fräulein Lieschen, of course, the daughter of my landlady, to whom you were kind enough to deliver a lecture in the middle of the night----"
"She is my Spanish girl!" he gasped, grinding his teeth, and shaking his head disconsolately. He took a long time to recover himself. He sat down again on the side of my bed, as he had done on his return from the ball. But in what a different mood! He made me swear to him that I would never reveal his name to Fräulein Lieschen, but that I would excuse him without giving any clue to his identity, for the disturbance he had caused in the night. This duty I willingly undertook.
Fräulein Lieschen, who was a good-natured girl, looked at the matter from the comical side, and readily accepted my unknown friend's apology; and whenever we met on the stairs after that, she would say jokingly, "Please remember me to your funny friend!"
[Illustration: "REMEMBER ME TO YOUR FUNNY FRIEND!"]
"LIONS IN THEIR DENS."
V.--THE LORD LIEUTENANT AT DUBLIN CASTLE.
BY RAYMOND BLATHWAYT.
(_PHOTOGRAPHS AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY LAFAYETTE, OF DUBLIN, AND BYRNE, OF RICHMOND._)
[Illustration: THE HON. MRS ARTHUR HENNIKER.]
The Lord Lieutenant's sister, Mrs. Arthur Henniker, who is helping him to do the honours of the Castle, and whom I had known in London, Mr. Fulke Greville, and I, were wandering round the curious old-fashioned buildings and courtyards that constitute the domain of Dublin Castle one bright breezy day in early spring. A military band was playing opposite the principal entrance, whilst the guard was being mounted in precisely the same manner as at the guard mounting at St. James's. The scene was brilliant and inspiriting in the extreme. As we passed through an archway we came somewhat suddenly upon the massive Round Tower, from the top of which floated the Union Jack, and which dates back to a period not later than that of King John. Close to the Round Tower, which bears so curious a resemblance to the still more magnificent tower of the same name at Windsor, is the Chapel Royal. Here we found the guardian, a quaint, and garrulous and most obliging old person, waiting to show us over the handsome, albeit somewhat gloomy, building. Very exact and particular was our _cicerone_ in pointing out to us the old fourteenth century painted windows, the special pews reserved for His Excellency, and the ladies and gentlemen of the court; the coats of arms belonging to the various Governors of Ireland, extending over a period of many hundreds of years--all these, I say, he carefully pointed out, drawing especial attention to one over which, at the moment, a thin ray of golden sunlight was falling, and which, he informed me, was the coat of arms of the Earl of Rochester--poor Rochester, the gay, the witty, the wicked, and the repentant. On quitting the chapel we began to ascend, under the auspices of another guide, a tremendously steep staircase, which is cut inside the fifteen-feet stone wall which leads to the chamber in the Round Tower wherein the Ulster King-at-Arms preserves the ancient records of the Castle. On our pilgrimage up this weary flight of stairs the guide drew our attention to a gloomy little dungeon, cut out of the thickness of the wall, in which there is but little light, and wherein the musty smell of ages is plainly discernible. "This," whispered Mr. Greville in my ear, "reminds me of Mark Twain's 'Innocents Abroad.'" After a glance at the record chamber, which was crammed with documents, we passed, with a sense of relief, into the bright sunny air and the large courtyard, round which are built the handsome lofty stables in which the Castle horses--of which there are an immense number--are kept, and which stables, Colonel Forster, the Master of the Horse, told me, are upwards of two hundred years old.
[Illustration: THE CASTLE.]
[Illustration: CASTLE YARD. BAND PLAYING.]
"And now, Mr. Blathwayt," said Mrs. Henniker, as we passed the two sentries on guard at the entrance to the great hall, and proceeded up a staircase lined with rifles and through long sunlit corridors, "you must come with me to my own special sanctum, and rest yourself, after the object lessons in history which we have been giving you this morning." Here, in a lofty, white-panelled room, with long windows looking down upon the private gardens of the Castle in which His Excellency and Captain Streatfield, one of the A.D.C.'s, were walking up and down, Mrs. Henniker and I sat talking of the past almost more than we did of the actual present. For, though my hostess is quite a young woman, yet as a daughter of the celebrated Richard Monckton Milnes, the first Lord Houghton, she cannot fail to have the most delightful reminiscences of the many celebrities with whom her father was so fond of filling his house.
[Illustration: GRAND STAIRCASE, DUBLIN CASTLE.]
"But," said she, "proud as I am of my father, I am quite as proud of my grandfather, Richard Pemberton Milnes, for he was only twenty-two years of age when he refused the choice of a seat in the Cabinet, either as Chancellor of the Exchequer or Secretary at War. My grandmother, Mrs. Pemberton Milnes, in her diary for 1809, says that one morning, while we were at breakfast, a king's messenger drove up in a post-chaise and four with a despatch from Mr. Perceval, offering my husband the choice of a seat in the Cabinet. Mr. Milnes immediately said, 'Oh, no, I will not accept either; with my temperament I should be dead in a year.' And nothing could induce him to do so either," continued Mrs. Henniker, "nor could he be induced to accept the Peerage which was offered him by Lord Palmerston in 1856."
"But your father was not so rigid in his views as your grandfather, was he, Mrs. Henniker?" said I.
[Illustration: HIS EXCELLENCY LORD HOUGHTON IN HIS STUDY.]
"No," she replied, "certainly he was not, although I don't think that he quitted the House of Commons, which he always loved, without a pang of real regret. Amongst the many kind congratulations he received--for no man ever had more friends--was a very pretty one from his old friend, Mrs. Proctor, in which she said:
"'He enters from the common air Into that temple dim; He learns among those ermined Peers The diplomatic hymn. His Peers? Alas! when will they learn To grow up Peers to him?'"
"You must have met many interesting people at your father's house?" I observed, during the course of our conversation.
[Illustration: THE HON. MRS. HENNIKER IN HER BOUDOIR.]
"Why, yes," replied she, with an amused smile, "don't you know the ridiculous story that Mr. Wemyss Reid, in his charming biography of my father, tells, and which, indeed, I believe was first told by Sir Henry Taylor, in his autobiography? I will tell it you. You know my father was acquainted with everybody, and his greatest pleasure in life was to introduce the notoriety of the moment to the leading members of English Society. On the particular occasion on which this story was told, it is alleged that somebody asked whether a certain murderer--it was Courvoisier, I think, the valet who killed his master--had been hanged that morning, and my aunt immediately answered, 'I hope so, or Richard will have him to his breakfast party next Thursday.' But this story, Mr. Blathwayt, is really absolutely without foundation. I have here," continued Mrs. Henniker, "a very interesting book of autographs, which I have kept for as far back as I can remember, and in which everybody who came to our house had to write their names," and as she spoke she placed in my hands a large volume, on every page of which was a photograph and an autograph. There was Lecky, the historian; and Trench, the late Archbishop of Dublin; Sir Richard Burton, the traveller; and Owen Meredith, the poet. There was a portrait of Swinburne when quite a young man, together with his autograph. "I have known Mr. Swinburne all my life," remarked Mrs. Henniker. "I used to play croquet with him when I was quite a little girl, and laugh at him because he used to get in such a passion when I won the game." There was John Bright's signature, there was that of Philippe d'Orléans and General Chanzy, and last, but not least, there was that of Charles Dickens.
[Illustration: THE DRAWING ROOM, DUBLIN CASTLE.]
"My father," explained Mrs. Henniker, "was a very old friend of Dickens, and, curiously enough, his grandmother was a housekeeper at Crewe Hall, where my mother was born, and I have often heard her say that the greatest treat that could be given her and her brother and sister was an afternoon in the housekeeper's room at Crewe, for Mrs. Dickens was a splendid story-teller, and used to love to gather the children round her and tell them fairy stories. And so it was only natural that my mother should feel a special interest in Charles Dickens, when she came to know him in after life. I believe that the very last time that he ever dined out was at my father's house, when a dinner was specially arranged to enable the Prince of Wales and the King of the Belgians to make his acquaintance. Even at that time, poor man, he was suffering so much from rheumatic gout that he had to remain in the dining room until the guests had assembled, so that he was introduced to the Prince at the dinner table. I might mention that Dean Stanley wrote to my father, asking him to be one of those who should place before him the proposal that Charles Dickens should be buried in the Abbey."
[Illustration: THRONE ROOM, DUBLIN CASTLE.]
Amongst the many interesting letters and papers that Mrs. Henniker showed me was one from Mr. Gladstone to herself congratulating her on her first novel "Sir George," for Mrs. Henniker, notwithstanding the rather unfortunate fact that she has many social duties to attend to, which must necessarily hinder her in what would otherwise be a brilliant literary career, is a remarkably fine writer of a certain class of fiction, and notably of what may be termed the Society novel. But almost better than her novels, of which she has produced some two or three within the last few years, are her short stories, of which she published one, a singularly able study of lower middle-class life, in an early number of the "Speaker," and which many of the readers of that journal will remember under the title of a "Bank Holiday." With reference to "Sir George," Mr. Gladstone, who is a very old friend of her family, wrote: "My dear Mrs. Henniker,--It is, I admit, with fear and trembling that I commonly open a novel which is presented to me." He then goes on to speak in strong terms of eulogy of the book which she had sent to him. The letter was not without a special interest as giving one a glimpse into the mind of the G.O.M. on what must be one of the most arduous duties of his hardworking life. Referring to the publication of her most recent novel, "Foiled," which is a depiction of Society life as it actually is, and not, as is so frequently the case, of the writer's imagination as to what Society is or should be, I asked Mrs. Henniker if she wrote her stories from life.
[Illustration: THE PICTURE GALLERY.]
"Well," she replied, "of course there is a general idea in my stories which is taken from the life I see around me, but, as a rule, I draw from my own imagination. I am a very quick writer, and I wrote 'Sir George' in one summer holiday. Mr. T. P. O'Connor wanted me to write a novel to start the new edition of his Sunday paper with, but, unfortunately, I had none ready. I find myself that, for character sketching, next to studying people from life, the best thing is to carefully go through the writings of such people as Alfred de Musset, whose little _caprices_ are so delicate. I think that the best Society novelists at present, who write with a real knowledge of the people they are describing, are W. E. Norris, Julian Sturgis, and Rhoda Broughton." We continued in conversation for some time longer, until the time came for afternoon tea, when Mrs. Henniker suggested that we should join the rest of the party in the drawing room.
Here we found a number of the A.D.C.'s engaged in merry conversation; most of them are quite young men, immensely popular in the Dublin Society and on the hunting field, where even in that great sporting country they are usually to be found well in the first flight. We sat talking for a few minutes, when the door suddenly opened, and a tall, singularly handsome, well-groomed young man, in morning dress, entered the room. Upon his appearance, Mrs. Henniker and her sister, Lady Fitzgerald, and the remaining ladies and gentlemen present, rose to their feet, for this was His Excellency the Viceroy of Ireland. It will interest my American readers to learn that, not only do Mrs. Henniker and Lady Fitzgerald always rise upon their brother's entrance into the room, but it is further their custom, as it is the bounden duty of every lady, to curtsey to him profoundly on leaving the luncheon or dinner table. His Excellency at once joined in our conversation. We were discussing parodies at the moment, and somebody had stated--indeed I think it was myself--that a certain parody which had been quoted, and over which we had been laughing very heartily, was by the well-known Cambridge lyrist, C. C. Calverley.
[Illustration: LADY FITZGERALD.]
"No," said Lord Houghton, "it is not by Calverley, it is by----. But," said he, "the funniest thing I ever heard was this," and he repeated, with immense humour, and with wonderful vivacity, a set of lines which threw us all into fits of laughter. I regret I am unable to recall them. The conversation drifting to memories of some of his father's celebrated friends, His Excellency told me a delightful story of Carlyle. It appeared that the grim old Chelsea hermit had once, when a child, saved in a teacup three bright halfpence. But a poor old Shetland beggar with a bad arm came to the door one day. Carlyle gave him all his treasure at once. In after life, in referring to the incident, he used to say: "The feeling of happiness was most intense; I would give £100 now to have that feeling for one moment back again."
Mrs. Henniker and the Lord Lieutenant and myself drifted into quiet conversation, whilst the general talk buzzed around us. She had told me that her brother had written a prize poem at Harrow, and that his recent publications, "Stray Verses," had all been done in a year.
"His verses are curiously unlike those of my father," she said. "He is very catholic in his tastes; my father's were more poems of reflection--they were full of the sentiment of his day. He was much influenced by Mathew Arnold and his school. My brother's are much more lyrical.
[Illustration: ST. PATRICK'S HALL.]
"It is a curious thing," continued Mrs. Henniker, "that one or two of my father's poems, which were thought least of at the time, have really become the most popular and the best known. There is a story concerning one of them which he often used to tell. He was visiting some friends here in Ireland, and the beat of the horses' feet upon the road as he drove to the house seemed to hammer out in his head certain rhythmical ideas which quickly formed themselves into rhyme. As soon as he got to the house he went to his room and wrote the words straight out. It was the well-known song beginning--
"'I wandered by the brookside,'
And having the refrain--
"'But the beating of my own heart Was all the sound I heard.'
"When he came down to dinner he showed these verses to his friends. They all declared that they were unworthy of him, and advised him to throw them into the fire. However, he did not take their advice; the moment they were published, they caught the ear of the public, they were set to music, and they were to be heard wherever one went. Indeed, a friend of his who was sailing down a river in the Southern States of North America, about a year afterwards, heard the slaves, as they hoed in the plantations, keeping time by singing a parody of the lines which had by then become universally familiar. And one day, in later years, my father was walking in London with a friend; they were passing the end of a street when they heard a man singing--he stopped and listened, and then rushed after the man. He came back a few moments afterwards, bearing a roughly printed paper in his hands."
[Illustration: RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES, FIRST LORD HOUGHTON.]
"'I knew it was my song that he was singing,' he said, and he was perfectly right. He was much delighted.
"'It's a curious fact,' observed the Lord Lieutenant to me, 'and one which Wemyss Reid specially notes in his biography, that my father produced the greater part of his poetry between 1830 and 1840, just when he was going most into Society.'"
"And you've gone in a good deal for writing verses yourself, following in your father's footsteps, have you not, Mrs. Henniker?" said I. "Oh," she replied, "I began writing verses very early in my life, and the most amusing part of it is that, though I was a perfect little imp, I began with writing hymns. In fact," said she, as she showed me a letter which her father had written to a friend when she was seven years of age, "my father had to check my early attempts in that direction." I read with some amusement what Lord Houghton had written about his little daughter, and I transcribe his words the more readily that they appear to me to give a glimpse into the mind of the poet and of his ideas on the origin and making of poetry. He writes:
[Illustration: GROUP OF A.D.C.'S.]
"The second little girl has developed into a verse writer of a very curious ability. She began theologically and wrote hymns, which I soon checked on observing that she put together words and sentences out of the sacred verse she knew, and set her to write about things she saw and observed. What she now produces is very like the verse of William Blake, and containing many images that she could never have read of. She cannot write, but she dictates them to her elder sister, who is astonished at the phenomenon. We, of course, do not let her see that it is anything surprising, and the chances are that it goes off as she gets older and knows more. The lyrical faculty in many nations seems to belong to a childish condition of mind, and to disappear with experience and knowledge."
[Illustration: DEBUTANTES ARRIVING.]
The conversation drifted into a discussion on the present system of interviewing, and Mrs. Henniker told me, with much amusement, of a reporter of the _St. Louis Republic_ who called upon her father when he visited America, who, indeed, would not be denied, but forced his way into Lord Houghton's bedroom, where he found him actually in bed, and who, in relating what had passed between them, expressed his pleasure at having seen "a real live lord," and recorded his opinion that he was "as easy and plain as an old shoe!"
[Illustration: ASCENDING THE STAIRCASE.]
Lord Houghton must have been a welcome guest in a country where humour and the capacity for after-dinner speeches are so warmly appreciated as in America. No more brilliant after-dinner speaker ever existed than Richard Monckton Milnes, and the capacity for public speech, which was such a characteristic of the first Lord Houghton, exists no less gracefully in his poetic and now Vice-Regal son; but it was, perhaps, as a humorist that the father specially excelled, and in glancing through the many letters and papers which his daughter showed me I soon discovered this. Writing to his wife many years ago, he said: "Have you heard the last argument in favour of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill? It is unanswerable--if you marry two sisters, you've only one mother-in-law." And again, on another occasion, in writing to his sister, he quaintly remarks: "I left Alfred Tennyson in our rooms at the hotel; he is strictly _incognito_, and known by everybody except T., who asked him if he was a Southerner, assuming that he was an American."
[Illustration: "TO BE PRESENTED."]
We sat talking long, revolving many memories, until the shades of evening darkened down upon the beautiful room, and broke up the party. I joined the A.D.C.'s in their own special sanctum. There are nine on the Staff, of whom two are always on duty. Their names are as follows:--Capt. H. Streatfield, Capt. A. B. Ridley, Capt. M. O. Little, Capt. C. W. M. Fielden, Capt. Hon. H. F. White, Lieut. F. Douglas-Pennant, Lieut. A. P. M. Burke, Lieut. S. J. Meyrick, Lieut. C. P. Foley, and the Hon. C. B. Fulke-Greville. From what they told me I judged that the life at the Castle must be singularly pleasant and interesting. Capt. Streatfield, who is a very _doyen_ among A.D.C.'s, has in that capacity led a life full of interest and variety, for he told me that for some years he was A.D.C. to the Governor-General of Canada, and that later on in life he accompanied the late Duke of Clarence as his A.D.C. in India.
The evening drifted on until it was time to dress for dinner, and we assembled, a large party of men and women, many of whom were in uniform, and some of whom displayed the pale Vice-Regal blue of the household facings in the long drawing room next to that room in which we had had afternoon tea. As His Excellency appeared, preceded by the State Steward, Capt. the Hon. H. White, and followed by Lord Charlemont, the Comptroller, we all passed through the rooms to St. Patrick's Hall, while the band played some well-known tunes. Capt. Streatfield had cleverly sketched for me in the afternoon the curious device formed by the tables, which was originally designed by Lord Charlemont himself, the whole giving the exact effect of a St. Andrew's Cross. Two huge spreading palms, placed in the hollows of the cross, overshadowed the Vice-Regal party, which, together with the beautiful music, the grouped banners upon the lofty walls, and the subdued lights, and the excellent dinner, all went towards the making of a very delightful evening indeed.
[Illustration: THE ORDEAL.]
A little later on that night--and dinner upon this occasion was specially early--His Excellency held a "Drawing room." The scene upon this occasion was particularly brilliant; the long perspectives, the subdued lighting of the rooms, and the artistic grouping of rare exotics and most exquisite plants and flowers constituting a _tout ensemble_, the beauty of which will never fade from my memory. The ceremony itself was a singularly stately and graceful one. His Excellency, clad in Court dress, stood in the middle of the throne room, surrounded by the great officers of State in their robes of office. The _aides-de-camp_ stood in a semicircle between the doorway and the dais. The first ladies to be presented were His Excellency's own sisters. It was specially interesting to notice the entry of the _débutantes_, many of whom were very beautiful, and almost all of whom were very graceful. Each young girl carried her train, properly arranged, upon her left arm during her progress through the corridor, drawing-room, and ante-room, until she passed the barrier and reached the entrance to the presence chamber; there a slight touch from the first A.D.C. in waiting released it from her arm, and two ushers, who were standing opposite, spread it carefully upon the floor. I noticed that the A.D.C. was careful not to let the ladies follow one another too quickly, which was evidently a trial to some of them. At the right moment he would take the card which each lady bore in her hand, pass it on to the semicircle of _aides_ who stood within the room, who in their turn passed it on to the Chamberlain, who stood at the Lord Lieutenant's right hand. He having received it, then read it aloud, and presented her to the Viceroy. The Viceroy took her by the right hand, which was always ungloved, kissed her lightly on the cheek, whilst the lady curtsied low to him; then, gracefully backing, she retired, always with her face to the dais, from the Vice-Regal presence. The gentlemen attending the drawing room were not, of course, presented. They simply passed through the throne room, several at a time, bowing two or three times to the Viceroy, and so joined their party waiting for them in the long gallery.
At the end of the "Drawing room," the Lord Lieutenant and the ladies and gentlemen of the household, and some of the State officials, formed a procession, and marched with no little grace and stateliness round the magnificent hall of St. Patrick, whilst the strains of the National Anthem re-echoed down the long corridors and out into the star-lit windy night.
[Illustration: CREWE HALL.]
THE FEAR OF IT.
BY ROBERT BARR.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY A. S. BOYD.
The sea was done with him. He had struggled manfully for his life, but exhaustion came at last, and, realising the futility of further fighting, he gave up the battle. The tallest wave, the king of that roaring tumultuous procession racing from the wreck to the shore, took him in its relentless grasp, held him towering for a moment against the sky, whirled his heels in the air, dashed him senseless on the sand, and, finally, rolled him over and over, a helpless bundle, high up upon the sandy beach.
Human life seems of little account when we think of the trifles that make towards the extinction or the extension of it. If the wave that bore Stanford had been a little less tall, he would have been drawn back into the sea by one that followed. If, as a helpless bundle, he had been turned over one time more or one less, his mouth would have pressed into the sand, and he would have died. As it was, he lay on his back with arms outstretched on either side, and a handful of dissolving sand in one clinched fist. Succeeding waves sometimes touched him, but he lay there unmolested by the sea with his white face turned to the sky.
Oblivion has no calendar. A moment or an eternity are the same to it. When consciousness slowly returned, he neither knew nor cared how time had fled. He was not quite sure that he was alive, but weakness rather than fear kept him from opening his eyes to find out whether the world they would look upon was the world they had last gazed at. His interest, however, was speedily stimulated by the sound of the English tongue. He was still too much dazed to wonder at it, and to remember that he was cast away on some unknown island in the Southern Seas. But the purport of the words startled him.
"Let us be thankful. He is undoubtedly dead." This was said in a tone of infinite satisfaction.
There seemed to be a murmur of pleasure at the announcement from those who were with the speaker. Stanford slowly opened his eyes, wondering what these savages were who rejoiced in the death of an inoffensive stranger cast upon their shores. He saw a group standing around him, but his attention speedily became concentrated on one face. The owner of it, he judged, was not more than nineteen years of age, and the face--at least so it seemed to Stanford at the time--was the most beautiful he had ever beheld. There was an expression of sweet gladness upon it until her eyes met his, then the joy faded from the face, and a look of dismay took its place. The girl seemed to catch her breath in fear, and tears filled her eyes.
[Illustration: "HE IS UNDOUBTEDLY DEAD."]
"Oh," she cried, "he is going to live." She covered her face with her hands, and sobbed.
Stanford closed his eyes wearily. "I am evidently insane," he said to himself. Then, losing faith in the reality of things, he lost consciousness as well, and when his senses came to him again he found himself lying on a bed in a clean but scantily furnished room. Through an open window came the roar of the sea, and the thunderous boom of the falling waves brought to his mind the experiences through which he had passed. The wreck and the struggle with the waves he knew to be real, but the episode on the beach he now believed to have been but a vision resulting from his condition.
[Illustration: "A PLACID-FACED NURSE STOOD BY HIS BED."]
A door opened noiselessly, and, before he knew of anyone's entrance, a placid-faced nurse stood by his bed and asked him how he was.
"I don't know. I am at least alive."
The nurse sighed, and cast down her eyes. Her lips moved, but she said nothing. Stanford looked at her curiously. A fear crept over him that perhaps he was hopelessly crippled for life, and that death was considered preferable to a maimed existence. He felt wearied, though not in pain, but he knew that sometimes the more desperate the hurt, the less the victim feels it at first.
"Are--are any of my--my bones broken, do you know?" he asked.
"No. You are bruised, but not badly hurt. You will soon recover."
"Ah!" said Stanford, with a sigh of relief. "By the way," he added, with sudden interest, "who was that girl who stood near me as I lay on the beach?"
"There were several."
"No, there was but one. I mean the girl with the beautiful eyes and a halo of hair like a glorified golden crown on her head."
"We speak not of our women in words like those," said the nurse, severely; "you mean Ruth, perhaps, whose hair is plentiful and yellow."
Stanford smiled. "Words matter little," he said.
"We must be temperate in speech," replied the nurse.
"We may be temperate without being teetotal. Plentiful and yellow, indeed! I have had a bad dream concerning those who found me. I thought that they--but it does not matter. She at least is not a myth. Do you happen to know if any others were saved?"
"I am thankful to be able to say that every one was drowned."
Stanford started up with horror in his eyes. The demure nurse, with sympathetic tones, bade him not excite himself. He sank back on his pillow.
"Leave the room," he cried feebly. "Leave me--leave me." He turned his face toward the wall, while the woman left silently as she had entered.
[Illustration: "HE NOTICED THAT THE DOOR HAD NO FASTENING."]
When she was gone Stanford slid from the bed, intending to make his way to the door and fasten it. He feared that these savages, who wished him dead, would take measures to kill him when they saw that he was going to recover. As he leaned against the bed, he noticed that the door had no fastening. There was a rude latch, but neither lock nor bolt. The furniture of the room was of the most meagre description, clumsily made. He staggered to the open window, and looked out. The remnants of the disastrous gale blew in upon him and gave him new life, as it had formerly threatened him with death. He saw that he was in a village of small houses, each cottage standing in its own plot of ground. It was apparently a village of one street, and over the roofs of the houses opposite he saw in the distance the white waves of the sea. What astonished him most was a church with its tapering spire at the end of the street--a wooden church such as he had seen in remote American settlements. The street was deserted, and there were no signs of life in the houses.
"I must have fallen in upon some colony of lunatics," he said to himself. "I wonder to what country these people belong--either to England or the United States, I imagine--yet in all my travels I never heard of such a colony."
There was no mirror in the room, and it was impossible for him to know how he looked. His clothes were dry and powdered with salt. He arranged them as well as he could, and slipped out of the house unnoticed. When he reached the outskirts of the village he saw that the inhabitants, both men and women, were working in the fields some distance away. Coming towards the village was a girl with a water-can in either hand. She was singing as blithely as a lark until she saw Stanford, whereupon she paused both in her walk and in her song. Stanford, never a backward man, advanced, and was about to greet her when she forestalled him by saying:
"I am grieved, indeed, to see that you have recovered."
The young man's speech was frozen on his lip, and a frown settled on his brow. Seeing that he was annoyed, though why she could not guess, Ruth hastened to amend matters by adding:
"Believe me, what I say is true. I am indeed sorry."
"Sorry that I live?"
"Most heartily am I."
"It is hard to credit such a statement from one so--from you."
"Do not say so. Miriam has already charged me with being glad that you were not drowned. It would pain me deeply if you also believed as she does."
The girl looked at him with swimming eyes, and the young man knew not what to answer. Finally he said:
"There is some horrible mistake. I cannot make it out. Perhaps our words, though apparently the same, have a different meaning. Sit down, Ruth, I want to ask you some questions."
Ruth cast a timorous glance towards the workers, and murmured something about not having much time to spare, but she placed the water-cans on the ground and sank down on the grass. Stanford throwing himself on the sward at her feet, but, seeing that she shrank back, he drew himself further from her, resting where he might gaze upon her face.
Ruth's eyes were downcast, which was necessary, for she occupied herself in pulling blade after blade of grass, sometimes weaving them together. Stanford had said he wished to question her, but he apparently forgot his intention, for he seemed wholly satisfied with merely looking at her. After the silence had lasted for some time, she lifted her eyes for one brief moment, and then asked the first question herself.
"From what land do you come?"
"Ah! that also is an island, is it not?"
He laughed at the "also," and remembered that he had some questions to ask.
[Illustration: "SHE LIFTED HER EYES FOR ONE BRIEF MOMENT."]
"Yes, it is an island--also. The sea dashes wrecks on all four sides of it, but there is no village on its shores so heathenish that if a man is cast upon the beach the inhabitants do not rejoice because he has escaped death."
Ruth looked at him with amazement in her eyes.
"Is there, then, no religion in England?"
"Religion? England is the most religious country on the face of the earth. There are more cathedrals, more churches, more places of worship in England than in any other State that I know of. We send missionaries to all heathenish lands. The Government, itself, supports the Church."
"I fear, then, I mistook your meaning. I thought from what you said that the people of England feared death, and did not welcome it or rejoice when one of their number died."
"They do fear death, and they do not rejoice when it comes. Far from it. From the peer to the beggar, everyone fights death as long as he can; the oldest cling to life as eagerly as the youngest. Not a man but will spend his last gold piece to ward off the inevitable even for an hour."
"Gold piece--what is that?"
Stanford plunged his hand into his pocket.
"Ah!" he said, "there are some coins left. Here is a gold piece."
The girl took it, and looked at it with keen interest.
"Isn't it pretty?" she said, holding the yellow coin on her pink palm, and glancing up at him.
"That is the general opinion. To accumulate coins like that, men will lie, and cheat, and steal--yes, and work. Although they will give their last sovereign to prolong their lives, yet will they risk life itself to accumulate gold. Every business in England is formed merely for the gathering together of bits of metal like that in your hand; huge companies of men are formed so that it may be piled up in greater quantities. The man who has most gold has most power, and is generally the most respected; the company which makes most money is the one people are most anxious to belong to."
Ruth listened to him with wonder and dismay in her eyes. As he talked she shuddered, and allowed the yellow coin to slip from her hand to the ground.
"No wonder such a people fears death."
"Do you not fear death?"
"How can we, when we believe in heaven?"
"But would you not be sorry if someone died whom you loved?"
"How could we be so selfish? Would you be sorry if your brother, or someone you loved, became possessed of whatever you value in England--a large quantity of this gold, for instance?"
"Certainly not. But then you see--well, it isn't exactly the same thing. If one you care for dies you are separated from him, and----"
"But only for a short time, and that gives but another reason for welcoming death. It seems impossible that Christian people should fear to enter Heaven. Now I begin to understand why our forefathers left England, and why our teachers will never tell us anything about the people there. I wonder why missionaries are not sent to England to teach them the truth, and try to civilise the people?"
"That would, indeed, be coals to Newcastle. But here comes one of the workers."
"It is my father," cried the girl, rising. "I fear I have been loitering. I never did such a thing before."
The man who approached was stern of countenance.
"Ruth," he said, "the workers are athirst."
The girl, without reply, picked up her pails and departed.
"I have been receiving," said the young man, colouring slightly, "some instruction regarding your belief. I had been puzzled by several remarks I heard, and wished to make inquiries regarding them."
"It is more fitting," said the man, coldly, "that you should receive instruction from me or from some of the elders than from one of the youngest in the community. When you are so far recovered as to be able to listen to an exposition of our views, I hope to be able to put forth such arguments as will convince you that they are the true views. If it should so happen that my arguments are not convincing, then I must request that you will hold no communication with our younger members. They must not be contaminated by the heresies of the outside world."
[Illustration: "RUTH AT THE WELL."]
Stanford looked at Ruth standing beside the village well.
"Sir," he said, "you underrate the argumentative powers of the younger members. There is a text bearing upon the subject which I need not recall to you. I am already convinced."
[Illustration: POLITICAL EXILES EN ROUTE FOR SIBERIA]
MEMOIRS OF A FEMALE NIHILIST.
BY SOPHIE WASSILIEFF.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. ST. M. FITZ-GERALD.
BY MRS. MONA CAIRD.
In giving to the world her exciting and terrible story, "Mademoiselle Sophie" has also conveyed incidentally some idea of her remarkable character. As I had the privilege of hearing from her own lips all that she relates in this series of papers, I can supplement her unintentional self-portraiture by recording the impression that she made upon me at our first meeting.
I had always taken a strong interest in the political movements of Russia and in the Slavonic races whose character and temperament have something more or less mysterious to the Western mind. The Russian novel presents rather than explains this mystery. It is perhaps to the Tartar blood that we must attribute the incomprehensible element. Between the East and the West, there is, psychologically speaking, a great gulf fixed.
There are times when the reader of Russian fiction begins to wonder whether he or the author is not a little off his mental balance, so fantastic, so inconsequent, yet so insanely logical (so to put it) are the beings with whom he finds himself surrounded--beings, however, evidently and bewilderingly human, so that though they may appear scarcely in their right minds (as we should judge our compatriots), they can never be mistaken for mere figures of sawdust and plaster such as people extensive realms of Western fiction. It is the reality of the characters, coupled with their eccentric demeanour (the most humdrum Slav appears wildly original to the inexperienced Anglo-Saxon), that stirs anxiety.
Would "Mademoiselle Sophie" be like one of these erratic creations, or would she resemble the heroines of Russian political history whose marvellous courage and endurance excite the wonder of all who can even dimly realise what it must be to live from moment to moment in imminent peril of life and limb, and in ceaseless anxiety as to the fate of relatives and friends? Of all the trials that "Mademoiselle Sophie" went through, this last, she told me, was the worst. The absolute silence, the absolute ignorance in which she had to pass her days, seemed to have broken her wonderful spirit more than any other hardship.
It is not every day in the Nineteenth century that one comes in contact with a human being who has had to submit to the "ordeal by fire" in this literal mediæval fashion; who has endured perils, insults, physical privations and torments, coupled with intense and ceaseless anxiety for years; and this in extreme youth before the troubles and difficulties of life have more gradually and gently taught the lessons of endurance and silent courage that probably have to be learnt by all who are destined to develop and gather force as they go, and not to dwindle and weaken, as seems to be the lot of those less fortunate in circumstance or less well-equipped at birth for the struggles that in one form or another present themselves in every career.
Russia is a nation that may almost be said to have preserved to this day the conditions of the Middle Ages. It affords, therefore, to the curious an opportunity for the study of the effect upon human character of these conditions. Here are still retained, to all intents and purposes, the thumbscrew and the rack; indeed, this is the case in a literal sense, for "Mademoiselle Sophie" told me that it was certain that prisoners were sometimes tortured in secret, after the good old-fashioned methods, not exactly officially (since the matter was kept more or less dark), but nevertheless by men in the employment of the Government who were able to take advantage of the powers bestowed by their office to practise despotism even to this extreme.
Many of the so-called Nihilists or Revolutionists (as "Mademoiselle Sophie" insisted on styling the more moderate party to which she belongs) seem to stand in the position of the early Protestants, when they protested against the abuses of the Catholic Church while retaining their reverence for the institution itself.
It is not against the Government, so much as against the illegal and tyrannous cruelty practised by many of its officials, that a certain section of the "Revolutionists" raise a remonstrance. It is astonishing how conservative some of these terrible "Revolutionists" appear to be. Many of them still look to the Tzar with a pathetic conviction that all would be well, if only the cry of his distressed children could reach his paternal ears. They ask so little; they would be thankful for such small mercies; yet there is apparently slight hope that the Tzar will be allowed to hear or would listen to the appeal of his much-enduring people!
"Mademoiselle Sophie" had promised to take tea with me on a particular afternoon, and to give me an account of her imprisonment. I had heard the general outlines before, but was anxious to hear her tell the tale in her own words. I may mention here that "Mademoiselle Sophie's" acquaintance had been _sought_, and that the idea of writing her story for publication in England did not emanate from her. Of her veracity there is not the faintest question; moreover, there was, evidently, no motive for deception.
Though I had heard that "Mademoiselle Sophie" had been a mere girl when she was first sent to face the rigours of a Russian prison, I was scarcely prepared to see anyone so young and fragile-looking as the lady in black who entered the room, with a quiet, reserved manner, courteous and dignified. I felt something like a thrill of dismay when I realised that it was an extremely sensitive woman who had gone through the scenes that she describes in these pages. She had been the more ill-prepared for the hardships of prison-life from having passed her childhood amidst every care and comfort.
[Illustration: MRS. MONA CAIRD.]
She was singularly reticent and self-possessed. In speaking, there was no emotional emphasis, whatever she might be saying. The only comment on her narrative that one could detect was an occasional touch of cold scorn or irony. The more terrible the incident that she related, the more quiet became her tones.
It seemed as if the flame of indignation had burnt itself out in the years of suffering that she had passed through. The traces of those years were in her face. Its very stillness and pallor seemed to tell the tale of pain endured silently and in solitude for so long. It was written, too, in the steadfast quality that expressed itself in her whole bearing, and in the entire absence of any petty self-consciousness. In spite of the awful nervous strain that she had endured she had no little restless habits or movements of any kind.
One felt in her a vast reserve force and a dauntless courage. It was courage of a kind that is almost terrible, for it accompanied a highly organised and imaginative temperament, a nervous temperament, be it observed, which implies _controlled_ and _ordered_, not _uncontrolled_ and _disordered_ nervous power. The half-hysterical persons who class themselves among the possessors of this temperament are apt to overlook that important distinction.
"Mademoiselle Sophie" gained none of her courage from insensitiveness. Her whole life was dedicated to the cause of her country, and the personal elements had been sacrificed to this object beyond herself: the forlorn hope which has already claimed so many of the noblest and bravest spirits in all the Tzar's dominions.
After "Mademoiselle Sophie" left that afternoon, I could not help placing her in imagination beside the average woman that our own civilisation has produced (not a fair comparison doubtless); and the latter seemed painfully small in aim and motive, pitifully petty and fussy and lacking in repose and dignity when compared with the calm heroine of this Russian romance.
But human beings are the creations of their circumstances, and the circumstances of a Western woman's life are not favourable to the development of the grander qualities, though, indeed, they are often harassing and bewildering, and cruel enough to demand heroism as great even as that of "Mademoiselle Sophie." I think it would be salutary for all of us--men as well as women of the West--to come more often within the influence of such natures as this; natures that command the tribute of admiration and the reverence that one must instantly yield to great moral strength and nobility.
MEMOIRS OF A FEMALE NIHILIST.
BY SOPHIE WASSILIEFF.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. ST. M. FITZ-GERALD.
You have asked me for a few reminiscences of the time when I took a more or less active part in the Revolutionary Movement in Russia--a sort of autobiographical sketch, to be published in English. As I never had the good fortune to render any really important service to my country, I have no right to draw public attention upon myself, and no wish to do so. But my experiences, of which I have told you a good deal by word of mouth, have been, save for sundry personal details, very like those of thousands of other young Russians, who, unwilling and unable to accept quietly the order of things that weighs so heavily upon their country, have devoted all their strength and all their faculties to the great struggle for freedom, which you of Western Europe call the Nihilistic Movement. In your opinion, it is just because of its simplicity and its likeness to many others, that the story of my life may possess some value; and perhaps you are right. At any rate, since to interest if but a small number of people in the lot of those who serve "the cause," will be to serve the cause still further--and it is, for the rest, the cause of common humanity and justice--I herewith put at your disposition such of my souvenirs as I am at liberty to make public, at the same time reminding you of your promise to preserve my incognito intact.
And now for my facts:
It was the year 188-. My brother had been arrested during the winter. At the beginning of the spring I went to X----, to the house of my uncle and aunt, to pass the summer, and to rest after the emotional strain I had been under. At least, such was the explanation of my leaving St. Petersburg which I gave to the police of that city, when I asked them for a passport for the interior of the Empire. As a matter of fact, I was anxious to see certain of my brother's friends at X----, with the object of trying, with their assistance, to destroy the traces of his last visit there--traces which, if discovered by the police, might be extremely detrimental to Serge's interests. On my arrival in the town--where, by the way, it was my habit to pass all my holidays--I found the Nihilist community, many of whose members were old friends of mine, in serious trouble. The police had just been making a terrible raid among them. Many had been arrested. The others, under strict surveillance, were daily expecting to be arrested in their turn.
[Illustration: "SERGE WAS ARRESTED."]
[Illustration: "TEACHING THEM TO READ AND WRITE."]
This circumstance, apart from the regret it caused me, had a considerable influence upon my relations with the local revolutionary organisation. The centre of this organisation was a group of young men and women, who, besides the revolutionary agitation that they were carrying on, were in correspondence with other groups of the same sort, for the purpose of exchanging books, helping comrades to escape from prison and fly the country, and so forth. X---- is a big town, chiefly given up to manufactures; and at the time of which I speak there was gathered around this central group a sort of duplex association, composed, on the one hand, of well-educated young folks, and, on the other, of working men. As a precautionary measure, the association as a whole was split up into a number of small circles, or clubs, that met separately, and knew nothing of one another. It was especially in these smaller clubs that the members of the central group carried on their propaganda, the aim of which was then, as it is to-day, to alter the present method of government, to rid the country of the despotism that bears so heavily upon it, and stops its development, and thus to make possible at once an improvement in the condition of the labouring classes, and a reconstruction of Russian society upon a more rational and a more humane basis. With the working people, however, the revolutionists were often forced to begin by teaching them to read and write. Outside of all these clubs, there were in the town a good many people who, while taking no direct part in the movement, sympathised with it, and did what they could to aid and abet it by gifts of money, and by providing refuge for such of the active members as were hiding from the police. With these very useful friends the revolutionists kept up more or less continuous relations.
The programme of the group at X---- needed for its accomplishment a large force of devoted and trustworthy workers; and the arrests that had been made just before my arrival had considerably thinned their ranks. This circumstance, as I have said, changed the nature of my own relations with the revolutionary organisation. Hitherto my visits to the town had been short, only to spend my school holidays in fact. Very young, moreover, I had never belonged to any of the clubs; and my friendships with their members had been purely personal. Now, however, I was older, and I had come to stop at X---- for several months. In the face of the gaps the late arrests had made in the little army of revolutionists, I felt that I must enlist. I offered my services, and they were accepted.
Towards the middle of the summer, my uncle and aunt went to Moroznoië, a little village near the town where their property lay. Leaving St. Petersburg before the end of the University year, I, a student of medicine, had been obliged to put off my examinations until the autumn. These examinations, or rather, my necessity to work and prepare for them, coupled with the presence of a fine public library at X----, gave me the pretext I needed to stay behind during the family villegiatura. After some opposition, and a good deal of talk about the superiority of country air, my uncle and aunt consented--the more easily, perhaps, because, after all, I was not to be alone; my Aunt Vera and two servants were to remain in the town house. Besides, my uncle and his wife were often coming back for a day or two at a time, and I promised to pass all my Sundays with them. This arrangement suited me perfectly. My Aunt Vera, my dead father's sister, was the sweetest and gentlest of women, an invalid, with an infinite tenderness for Serge and myself, the orphans of her favourite brother. The servants also, an old nurse and a gardener, were entirely devoted to my family and to me. I was therefore free, mistress of the house, of my time, of myself. Divided between my studies, a few visits paid and received, and my weekly trip to Moroznoië, my life flowed peacefully, monotonously enough--on the surface.
[Illustration: "WE ARE BETRAYED!"]
Down deep, alas! it was not the same. Our revolutionary group was being harried by the police, and their arrests and domiciliary visits were conducted with so much skill and certainty, we were forced to believe at last that we were betrayed by a traitor or a spy among our own numbers. Strictly watched by the police, who kept us "moving on," avoided on that account by some of our friends, and knowing perfectly well that a single false step might bring ruin not only upon ourselves, but upon many others, we were obliged to be extremely cautious, and not to meet too often. A few furtive interviews now and again for the interchange of news, a few sparsely attended rendezvous for the purpose of keeping the threads of our organisation together, were pretty nearly all that we thought safe to permit ourselves. This mode of life--so tranquil to outward appearance, but in reality so full of anxiety for each and all; a life without a to-morrow, so that when we parted we did not know whether we should ever meet again, and it became our habit to say _Adieu_ instead of _Au revoir_--lasted for me about five months. Melancholy enough, indeed, it had notwithstanding a charm of its own, a charm that sprang partly, perhaps, from the consciousness of dangers incurred for a noble object, and from the feeling of grave moral responsibility that we all had. A few episodes of that time are deeply fixed in my memory. A meeting we held one evening at twilight in a rich park near the town, a park that belonged to a high personage at the Imperial Court, whose son was one of us. There we met and whispered, and the murmur of the leaves overhead and the deepening shadows of the nightfall lent an intense colour of poetry to the situation. And then another meeting, in the poor little lodging of a factory-operative--a special meeting, called because our suspicions of treason within our own ranks had centred now upon a certain individual, a student, a college friend of my cousins, a constant visitor at our house. At this meeting a plan was adopted to test our suspect, and prove whether or not he was the guilty man. I, the next time he called, was to put him on a false scent; I was to tell him that a reunion of Nihilists would be held at a given place and a given time; and then we would await developments. I was also to draw him out, if possible, and make him convict himself from his own mouth. But this I could not do. I put him on the false scent; but I couldn't draw him out. It is terrible to hold the life of a human being between your hands, even though that human being be the basest of cowards and traitors.
Well, at the time and place that I told him of, surely enough, the police turned up, and naturally they found nobody there. But during the two following nights twenty fresh arrests took place; and I was one of those arrested. My cousins' friend, feeling himself discovered and menaced, had made haste to deliver us into the hands of our enemies!
[Illustration: "I WAITED A MOMENT TO TAKE BREATH."]
That evening I had come home rather late, and had then sat and chatted for a long while with aunt Vera, so that it was well towards midnight before I started to go to bed. Half-way upstairs, I was stopped by a noise; footsteps and stifled voices, mingled with the clang of spurs and sabres. I waited a moment, to take breath, which had failed me suddenly; then I went back downstairs. A violent pull at the bell, an imperative pull, sounded at the garden gate; and in a moment was followed by another at the door of the house. It woke the old nurse, and brought my aunt Vera from her room. Having been a little forewarned by me of the possibility of such a visit as this, she questioned me with a frightened glance. I answered "Yes," by a sign of the head, and begged her under my breath to delay "them" as long as possible before letting "them" come in. The idea of being able to render me a service, perhaps the last, gave her strength and courage; and while slowly, very slowly, she moved towards the door, where the nocturnal visitors were getting impatient and trying to force the lock, I went into the dining-room. A moment later I heard her sweet trembling voice assuring Monsieur le Colonel de Gendarmerie that there was no one in the house; all the family were at Moroznoië; my uncle had been in town on Monday, but had left again on Tuesday, and wouldn't return till the end of next week; and there was no one here but herself, the speaker, and a young lady visiting her. In this little respite, which I had arranged for myself without too well knowing why, I remained inert in the room, lighted feebly by a single candle, and tried to gather my thoughts together: they were slow enough to respond to my efforts. My first notion was that of flight, and, automatically, I opened a window. Close at hand, behind some shrubbery, I perceived the glitter of a gendarme's uniform. There would surely be others in the garden and in the courtyard; and for the rest, fly--? How, and whither? I shut the window, and coming back to the middle of the room, I caught a glimpse of myself in the chimney-glass. I was very pale. Was I going to be a coward? This question, and that pale face in the mirror, awoke in me other thoughts, brought back to my memory other faces: that of my brother, who, a few months before, had gone so bravely from his home, to which he would never return, to the prison that he would perhaps never leave; those of friends lately arrested; those of so many, many noble men and women. Was I going to be a coward? So the examples set by these others turned my attention from myself, calmed me, gave me strength. I could hear the voice of Colonel P----, who, impatient of my aunt's parleying, briefly bade her hold her tongue, and conduct him to the presence of her niece, Mademoiselle Sophie. That voice, rude and gross, had the effect of changing the moral depression which I had felt a moment ago into a sort of intense nervous excitement; and at the moment when the Colonel, followed by his men, appeared upon the threshold of the dining-room, honouring me with the very least respectful of bows, I, instead of saluting him in return, met him with a gaze as fixed and haughty as his own.
[Illustration: "MET HIM WITH A GAZE AS FIXED AND HAUGHTY AS HIS OWN."]
A minute later the Colonel was installed at the dinner-table, with the whole household arraigned before him, and everybody forbidden to leave the room. He asked my aunt Vera for the keys of the house, and the search began. The gendarmes scattered themselves through all the rooms, through the garden, the courtyard, the offices, and turned everything upside down, emptying wardrobes and cupboards, unmaking the beds, moving the articles of furniture to see that nothing was hidden behind them, and trying the screws to discover if there were any secret drawers. In my bedroom, which was of course the object of a very particular attention, a spy dressed in civilian's costume got up on the tables and chairs, and tapped on the walls. Another drew the ashes, still hot, from the stove, and examined them by the light of a lamp, held by a big gendarme. From time to time these men would come back to the dining-room, bringing armfuls of books, and school papers belonging to my cousins, which they would deposit upon the table before Colonel P----. After looking them over, he would throw them aside with such manifest ill humour, that I, who by this time had myself completely under control, couldn't let the occasion pass to condole with him on the sad nature of his trade. The whole search was a useless and odious farce, for I knew that there was nothing in the house of the kind they were looking for. Still I wasn't sorry to let them prolong it, for that gave me more time to stay there at home, beside my aunt Vera, who, smaller and feebler and paler than ever, turned her dear eyes, full of fear and tenderness, upon my face, and kept stroking my hand with her two trembling ones.
[Illustration: "A LAMP HELD BY A BIG GENDARME."]
The search was nearly over, when a gendarme came in from the stable with a great parcel of books, done up in green cloth, which he laid before the Colonel. Opened, the parcel proved to contain not books only, but _forbidden_ books--books by Herbert Spencer, by Mr. Ruskin, by Monsieur Renan! I was astonished at seeing them, and my first thought was that they belonged to my brother, who might have forgotten them there in the stable, or to my cousins, who, without being revolutionists, were interested in forbidden literature just because it was forbidden. So when the Colonel, having finished his inspection of them, asked me whom they belonged to, I answered quietly, "To me." My aunt Vera, to whom I had always promised never to bring "forbidden" things into the house, looked at me sadly, reproachfully. Ah! my dear aunt, I lied in saying they were mine; but in my situation a few forbidden books couldn't matter much; whereas for the others, for my innocent cousins--who knows what serious trouble they might have got them into?
The Colonel demanded, "Where do these books come from?"
"From the people who had them last."
"What, Colonel! You, the chief of the secret police of X----, you don't know!"
This answer kindled a light of anger in his little Chinese eyes. For my part, I had spoken very slowly, looking steadily at him, and smiling as if it were a jest; but it wasn't exactly a jest. While the Colonel had been questioning me, I had reflected. It was impossible that my cousins should have had books of this sort in their possession without speaking to me about them; and it was most unlikely that they could have belonged to Serge, who, always very careful, made it a strict rule never to bring anything of a compromising nature to our uncle's house. But I had often heard that the political police, to create evidence against people whom they strongly suspected, but who were too prudent for their taste, and also to make their arrests appear less arbitrary in the eyes of the public, had a pleasant habit of bringing "forbidden" things with them to the houses where they made their perquisitions, for the sake of supplying what they might not be able to find. Was this what had happened now? Had I been caught in such a trap?
That was what I asked the Colonel in the form of a little jest.
Did he understand? He answered with a piece of advice: that I should be less gay. For the rest, he was in a hurry; he looked at his watch; announced that all was over, and that I was under arrest; and called for witnesses to sign the _procès-verbal_. Our gardener ran out to find somebody. He came back with two people who had been attracted to our house by the lights and the noise. One was a cabman, the other was Dr. A----, a neighbour who had recently come to live at X----, and whom we knew only by sight. These men stared at me with surprise and curiosity. I scarcely saw them. The words "Under arrest" had completely upset my Aunt Vera, who, till then so calm, was now crying bitterly, covering me with kisses, and repeating, "My child! My child!" The old nurse also was crying, sobbing, and muttering to herself. Just when I feel that I myself am about to give way, and cry too--that which I am anxious, most anxious, not to do--she, the old nurse, throws herself at the Colonel's feet, and begs grace for me, telling him that I am too young, too frail, to go to prison, that I have been coughing these many days, that I may die there! This makes the Colonel smile. For me, I tell the old nurse to get up. I scold her. Stupefied, trembling, she sinks to the floor in a corner of the room, and weeps for me as the Russian peasants weep for their dead, mingling with her sobs memories of our common past, praises of my good qualities, and so forth. All this, uttered in a low sing-song, is like a sort of funeral dirge.
[Illustration: "THROWS HERSELF AT THE COLONEL'S FEET."]
I hear it still at the moment when the Colonel shuts me into a cab, with two gendarmes facing me, and another on the box beside the driver, to whom the order is given, "The fortress!"
(_To be continued._)
PEOPLE I HAVE NEVER MET.
BY SCOTT RANKIN.
"'When a man is interviewed he, consciously or unconsciously, prepares himself for it and isn't at all natural. Suppose, for instance, you found your man in a railway car, and entered casually into conversation with him. Then you would probably get his real thoughts--the man as he is. But, of course, when a man is asked questions, and sees the answers taken down in shorthand, it is a very different thing.'"--Bret Harte.
MY SERVANT JOHN.
BY ARCHIBALD FORBES.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY FREDERIC VILLIERS.
Goa is a forlorn and decayed settlement on the west coast of Hindustan, the last remaining relic of the once wide dominions of the Portuguese in India. Its inhabitants are of the Roman Catholic faith, ever since in the 16th century St. Francis Xavier, the colleague of Loyola in the foundation of the Society of Jesus, baptised the Goanese in a mass. Its once splendid capital is now a miasmatic wreck, its cathedrals and churches are ruined and roofless, and only a few black nuns remain to keep alight the sacred fire before a crumbling altar. Of all European nations the Portuguese have intermingled most freely with the dusky races over which they held dominion, with the curious result that the offspring of the cross is darker in hue than the original coloured population. To-day, the adult males of Goa, such of them as have any enterprise, emigrate into less dull and dead regions of India, and are found everywhere as cooks, ship-stewards, messengers, and in similar menial capacities. They all call themselves Portuguese, and own high-sounding Portuguese surnames. Domingo de Gonsalvez de Soto will cook your curry, and Pedro de Guiterraz is content to act as dry nurse to your wife's babies. The vice of those dusky noblemen is their addiction to drink.
The better sort of these self-expatriated Goanese are eager to serve as travelling servants, and when you have the luck to chance on a reasonably sober fellow, no better servant can be found anywhere. Being a Christian, he has no caste, and has no religious scruples preventing him from wiping your razor after you have shaved, or from eating his dinner after your shadow has happened to fall across the table. In Bombay there is a regular club or society of these Goanese travelling servants, and when the transient wayfarer lands in that city from the Peninsular and Oriental mail boat, one of the first things he is advised to do is to send round to the "Goa Club" and desire the secretary to send him a travelling servant. The result is a lottery. The man arrives, mostly a good-looking fellow, tall and slight, of very dark olive complexion, with smooth glossy hair, large soft eyes, and well-cut features. He produces a packet of chafed and dingy testimonials of character from previous employers, all full of commendation, and not one of which is worth the paper it is written on, because the good-natured previous employer was too soft of heart to speak his mind on paper. If by chance a stern and ruthless person has characterised Bartolomeo de Braganza as drunken, lazy, and dishonest, Bartolomeo, who has learnt to read English, promptly destroys the "chit," and the stern man's object is thus frustrated. But you must take the Goa man as he comes, for it is a law of the society that its members are offered in strict succession as available, and that no picking and choosing is to be allowed. When with the Prince of Wales during his tour in India, the man who fell to me, good, steady, honest Francis, was simply a dusky jewel. My comrade, Mr. Henty, the well-known author of so many boys' books, rather crowed over me because Domingo, his man, seemed more spry and smart than did my Francis. But Francis had often to attend on Henty as well as myself, when Domingo the quick-witted was lying blind drunk at the back of the tent, and once and again I have seen Henty carrying down on his back to the departing train the unconscious servant on whom at the beginning he had congratulated himself.
[Illustration: "THE OLD AMEER."]
In the summer of 1876, Shere Ali, the old Ameer of Afghanistan, took it into his head to pick a quarrel with the Viceroy of British India. Lord Lytton was always spoiling for a fight himself, and thus there was every prospect of a lively little war. If war should occur, it was my duty to be in the thick of it, and I reached Bombay well in time to see the opening of the campaign. Knowing the ropes, within an hour of landing I sent to the "Goa Club" for a servant, begging that, if possible, I might have worthy Francis, who had fully satisfied me during the tour of the Prince. Francis was not available, and there was sent me a tall, prepossessing-looking young man, who presented himself as "John Assissis de Compostella de Crucis," but was quite content to answer to the name of "John."
John seemed a capable man, but was occasionally muzzy. After visiting Simla, the headquarters of the Viceroy, I started for the frontier, where the army was mustering. On the way down I spent a couple of days at Umballa, to buy kit and saddlery. The train by which I was going to travel up-country was due at Umballa about midnight. I instructed John to have everything at the depôt in good time, and went to dine at the mess of the Carbineers. In due time I reached the station, accompanied by several officers of that fine regiment. The train was at the platform; my belongings I found in a chaotic heap, crowned by John fast asleep, who, when awakened, proved to be extremely drunk. I could not dispense with the man; I had to cure him. There was but one chance of doing this. I gave him then and there a severe beating. A fatigue party of Carbineers pitched my kit into the baggage car, and threw John in after it. Next day he was sore, but penitent. There was no need to send him to Dwight, even if that establishment had been in the Punjaub instead of in Illinois. John was redeemed without resorting to the chloride of gold cure, and in his case at least, I was quite as successful a practitioner as any Dr. Keeley could have been. John de Compostella, &c., was a dead sober man during my subsequent experience of him, at least till close on the time we parted.
[Illustration: "EXTREMELY DRUNK."]
And, once cured of fuddling, he turned out a most worthy and efficient fellow. He lacked the dash of Andreas, but he was as true as steel. In the attack on Ali Musjid, in the throat of the Khyber Pass, the native groom, who was leading my horse behind me, became demoralised by the rather heavy fire of big cannon balls from the fort, and skulked to the rear with the horse. John had no call to come under fire, since the groom was specially paid for doing so; but abusing the latter for a coward in the expressive vernacular of India, he laid hold of the reins, and was up right at my back just as the close musketry fighting began. He took his chances through it manfully, had my pack pony up within half an hour after the fighting was over, and before the darkness fell had cooked a capital little dinner for myself and a comrade, whose commissariat had gone astray. Next morning the fort was found evacuated. I determined to ride back down the pass to the field telegraph post at its mouth. The General wrote in my notebook a telegram announcing the good news to the Commander-in-Chief; and poor Cavagnari, the political officer, who was afterwards massacred at Cabul, wrote another message to the same effect to the Viceroy. I expected to have to walk some distance to our bivouac of the night; but lo! as I turned to go, there was John with my horse, close up.
[Illustration: "JUST AS THE CLOSE MUSKETRY FIGHTING BEGAN."]
In one of the hill expeditions, the advanced section of the force I accompanied had to penetrate a narrow and gloomy pass which was beset on either side by swarms of Afghans, who slated us severely with their long-range jezails. With this leading detachment there somehow was no surgeon, and as men were going down and something had to be done, it devolved upon me, as having some experience in this kind of work in previous campaigns, to undertake a spell of amateur surgery. John behaved magnificently as my assistant. With his light touch and long lissom hands, the fellow seemed to have a natural instinct for successful bandaging. I was glad that we could do no more than bandage, and that we had no instruments, else I believe that John would not have hesitated to undertake a capital operation. As for the Afghan bullets, he did not shrink as they splashed on the stones around him; he did not treat them with disdain; he simply ignored them. The soldiers swore that he ought to have the war medal for the good and plucky work he was doing; and a Major protested that if his full titles, which John always gave in full when his name was asked, had not been so confoundedly long, he would have asked the General to mention the Goa man in despatches.
[Illustration: "THERE WAS JOHN WITH MY HORSE."]
John liked war, but he was not fond of the rapid changes of temperature up on the "roof of the world" in Afghanistan. During one twenty-four hours at Jellalabad, we had one man killed by a sunstroke, and another frozen to death on sentry duty in the night. On Christmas morning, when I rose at sunrise, the thermometer was far below freezing point; the water in the brass basin in my tent was frozen solid, and I was glad to wrap myself in furs. At noon the thermometer was over a hundred in the shade, and we were all so hot as to wish with Sydney Smith that we could take off our flesh and sit in our bones. John was delighted when, as there seemed no immediate prospect of further hostilities in Afghanistan, I departed therefrom to pay a visit to King Thebaw, of Burmah, who has since been disestablished. When in his capital of Mandalay, there came to me a telegram from England informing me of the massacre by the Zulus of a thousand British soldiers at Isandlwana, in South Africa, and instructing me to hurry thither with all possible speed. John had none of the Hindoo dislike to cross the "dark water," and he accompanied me to Aden, where we made connection with a potty little steamer, which called into every paltry and fever-smelling Portuguese port all along the east coast of Africa, and at length dropped us at Durban, the seaport of the British colony of Natal, in South Africa, and the base of the warlike operations against the Zulus.
[Illustration: "POOR CAVAGNARI."]
There are many Hindoos engaged on the Natal sugar plantations, and in that particularly one-horse Colony, every native of India is known indiscriminately by the term of "coolie." John, it is true, was a native of India, but he was no "coolie"; he could read, write, and speak English, and was altogether a superior person. I would not take him up country to be bullied and demeaned as a "coolie," and I made for him an arrangement with the proprietor of my hotel that during my absence John should help to wait in his restaurant. During the Zulu campaign I was abominably served by a lazy Africander and a lazier St. Helena boy. When Ulundi was fought, and Cetewayo's kraal was burned, I was glad to return to Durban, and take passage for India. John, I found, had during my absence become one of the prominent inhabitants of Durban. He had now the full charge of the hotel restaurant--he was the centurion of the dinner-table, with men under him, to whom he said "do this," and they did it. His skill in dishes new to Natal, especially in curries, had crowded the restaurant, and the landlord had taken the opportunity of raising his tariff. He came to me privily, and said frankly that John was making his fortune for him, that he was willing to give him a share in his business in a year's time if he would but stay, and meantime was ready to pay him a stipend of twenty dollars a week. The wages at which John served me, and I had been told I was paying him extravagantly, was eleven dollars a month. I told the landlord that I should not think of standing in the way of my man's prosperity, but would rather influence him in favour of an opportunity so promising. Then I sent for John, explained to him the hotel-keeper's proposal, and suggested that he should take time to think the matter over. John wept. "I no stay here, master, not if it was hundred rupees a day! I go with master; I no stop in Durban!" Nothing would shake his resolve, and so John and I came to England together.
[Illustration: "JOHN BEHAVED MAGNIFICENTLY."]
The only thing John did not like in England was that the street boys insisted on regarding him as a Zulu, and treating him contumeliously accordingly. His great delight was when I went on a round of visits to country houses, and took him with me as valet. Then he was the hero of the servants' hall. I will not say that he lied, but from anecdotes of him that occasionally came to my ears, it would seem he created the impression that he habitually waded in knee-deep gore, and that he was in the habit of contemplating with equanimity battle-fields littered with the slaughtered combatants. John was quite the small lion of the hour. He had very graceful ways, and great skill in making tasteful bouquets. These he would present to the ladies of the household when they came downstairs of a morning, with a graceful salaam, and the expression of a hope that they had slept well. The spectacle of John, seen from the drawing-room windows of Chevening, Lord Stanhope's seat in Kent, as he swaggered across the park to church one Sunday morning in frock coat and silk hat, with a buxom cook on one arm and a tall and lean lady's maid on the other, will never be effaced from the recollection of those who witnessed it with shrieks of laughter.
[Illustration: "A BUXOM COOK ON ONE ARM AND LEAN LADY'S MAID ON THE OTHER."]
In those days I lived in a flat, my modest establishment consisting of an old female housekeeper and John. For the most part my two domestics were good friends, but there were periods of estrangement during which they were not on speaking terms; and then they sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table, and communicated with each other exclusively by written notes of an excessively formal character, passed across the table. This stiffness of etiquette had its amusing side, but was occasionally embarrassing, since neither was uniformly intelligible with the pen. The result was that sometimes I got no dinner at all, and at other times, when I was dining alone, the board groaned with the profusion, and when I had company there would not be enough to go round; these awkwardnesses arising from the absence of a good understanding between my two domestics. I could not part with the old female servant, and I began rather to tire of John, whose head had become considerably swollen because of the notice which had been taken of him. It was all very well to be in a position to gratify ladies who were giving dinner parties, and who wrote me little notes asking for the loan for a few hours of John, to make that wonderful prawn curry of which he had the sole recipe. But John used to return from that culinary operation very late, and with indications that his beverage during his exertions had not been wholly confined to water. To my knowledge he had a wife in Goa, yet I feared he had his flirtations here in London. Once I charged him with inconstancy to the lady in Goa, but he repudiated the aspersion with the quaint denial: "No, master, many ladies are loving me, but I don't love no ladies!"
However, I had in view to spend a winter in the States, and resolved to send John home. He wept copiously when I told him of this resolve, and professed his anxiety to die in my service. But I remained firm, and reminded him that he had not seen his wife in Goa for nearly three years. That argument appeared to carry little weight with him; but he tearfully submitted to the inevitable. I made him a good present, and obtained for him from the Peninsular and Oriental people a free passage to Bombay, and wages besides in the capacity of a saloon steward. I saw him off from Southampton; at the moment of parting he emitted lugubrious howls. He never fulfilled his promise of writing to me, and I gave up the expectation of hearing of him any more.
Some two years later, I went to Australia by way of San Francisco and New Zealand. At Auckland I found letters and newspapers awaiting me from Sydney and Melbourne. Among the papers was a Melbourne illustrated journal, on a page of which I found a full-length portrait of the redoubtable John, his many-syllabled name given at full length, with a memoir of his military experiences, affixed to which was a fac-simile of the certificate of character which I had given him when we parted. It was further stated that "Mr. Compostella de Crucis" was for the present serving in the capacity of butler to a financial magnate in one of the suburbs of Melbourne, but that it was his intention to purchase the goodwill of a thriving restaurant named. Among the first to greet me on the Melbourne jetty was John, radiant with delight, and eager to accompany me throughout my projected lecture tour. I dissuaded him in his own interest from doing so; and when I finally quitted the pleasant city by the shore of Hobson's Bay, John was running with success the "Maison Doré" in Burke Street. I fear, if she is alive, that his wife in Goa is a "grass widow" to this day.
[Illustration: The Idler's Club Subject for Discussion The Artistic Temperament.]
[Sidenote: Dr. Parker says It depends upon the health of the artist.]
Is the artistic temperament a blessing or a curse? We should first decide what the artistic temperament means. Artistic is a large word. It includes painting, acting, poetry, music, literature, preaching. Whether the temperament is a blessing or a curse largely depends upon the health of the artist. If De Quincey was an artist, the artistic temperament was a curse. So also with Thomas Carlyle. So also with Charles Lamb. The artistic temperament is creative, sympathetic, responsive; it sees everything, feels everything, realises everything, on a scale of exaggeration. It is in quest of ideals, and all ideals are more or less in the clouds, and not seldom at the tip-top of the rainbow. Those who undertake such long journeys are subject to disappointment and fatigue by the way; if ever they do come to the end of their journey it is probably in a temper of fretfulness and exasperation. A sudden knock at the door may drive an artist into hysterics. He is always working at the end of his tether. There is nothing more tantalising than an eternal quest after the ideal; like the horizon, it recedes from the traveller; like the mirage, it vanishes before the claims of hunger and thirst. On the other hand, it has enjoyments all its own. The idealist is always face to face with a great expectation. Perhaps to-night he may realise it; certainly in the morning it will be much nearer; and as for the third day, it will be realised in some great festival of delight. There is, too, a subtle selfishness in this quest after the ideal--the Holy Grail of the imagination. The artist keeps the secret from his brother artists until he can startle them with some gracious surprise. He almost pities them, as he thinks of the revelation that is about to dawn upon unsuspecting and slumberous minds. Postponement of this surprise is a torment to the mind which had planned its dazzling disclosure. The greatest pain of all to the artistic temperament is that it lives in the world of the Impossible and the Unattainable. That arm must be very weary which for a lifetime has been stretched out towards the horizon. Then think of the cross-lights, the mingled colours, the uncalculated relations which enter into the composition of the dreamer's life, and say whether that life is not more of a chaos than a cosmos. If the artistic temperament came within the range of our own choice and will, possibly we could do something with it; but inasmuch as it is ours by heredity, and not by adoption, we must do the best we can with the stubborn fatality.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Mrs. Lynn Linton thinks it depends upon ourselves.]
If to feel keenly be a nobler state than to drone with blunt edges through that thicket of myrtle and nightshade we call life, then is the artistic temperament a blessing. If the oyster be more enviable than the nightingale, then is it a curse. It all depends on our angle, and the colours we most prefer in the prism. He who has the artistic temperament knows depths and heights such as Those Others cannot even imagine. The feet that spring into the courts of heaven by a look or a word--by the glory of the starry night or the radiance of the dawn--stray down into the deepest abysses of hell, when Love has died or Nature forgets to smile. To the artistic temperament there is but little of the mean of things. The "Mezzo Cammin" is a line too narrow for their eager steps. Proportion is the one quality in emotional geometry which is left out of their lesson of life. Their grammar deals only with superlatives; and the positive seems to them inelastic, dead and common-place. Imaginative sympathy colours and transforms the whole picture of existence. By this sympathy the artistic of temperament knows the secrets of souls, and understands all where Those Others see nothing. And herein lies one source of those waters of bitterness which so often flood his heart. Feeling for and with his kind, as accurately as the mirror reflects the object held before it, he finds none to share the pain, the joy, the indignation he endures by this sympathy, which is reflection. He visits the Grundyite, who says "Shocking," "Not nice," when human nature writhes in its agony and cries aloud for that drop of water which he, the virtuous conformist, refuses. He goes to the flat-footed and broad-waisted; those who plod along the beaten highway, and turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, neither to the hills nor the hollows. But he speaks a foreign language, and they heed him not. The iron-bound care nought. Does that cry of suffering raise the price of stocks or lower that of grain? Tush! let it pass. To each back its own burden. So he carries the piteous tale whereby his heart is aching for sympathy, and Those Others give him stones for bread and a serpent for a fish. Then he looks up to heaven, and asks if there be indeed a God to suffer all this wrong; or if there be, How long, O Lord, how long! The artistic temperament is not merely artistic perception, with which it is so often confounded. You may be steeped to the lips in that temperament, and yet not be able to arrange flowers with deftness, draw a volute, or strike a true chord. And you may be able to do all these, and yet be dead in heart and cold in brain--a mere curly-wigged poodle doing its clever tricks with dexterity, and obedient to the hand that feeds it. The artistic temperament is not this, but something far different. Would you know what it is, and what it brings? It is the Key of Life, without which no one can understand the mysteries nor hear the secret music; and it plants a dagger in the flesh, with the handle outward. And at this handle, the careless, the brutal, the malicious, and the dense witted--all Those Others--lunge, pull, and twist by turns. But they do not see the blood trickling from the wound; and they would neither care nor yet desist if they did.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Rutland Barrington regards it as a mixed blessing.]
The artistic temperament is a most decidedly "mixed" blessing, and the more artistic the more mixed! This is strongly demonstrated to me personally in the person of a _friend_ of my school days who has become in later years an _acquaintance_ only; a falling away, due entirely to the abnormal development of his artistic temperament, which will not allow him to see any good in anything or anybody that does not come up to his ideal, the artistic temperament in _his_ case taking the form of a kind of mental yellow jaundice! Of course, I consider that I myself possess this temperament, and am willing to admit that the natural friction caused by the meeting with a less highly developed temperament (?) than his own may have led to the feeling of mental and artistic superiority which has convinced _one_ of us that association with the _other_ is undesirable! I fancy that the two classes most strongly influenced by this temperament are the painters and the actors, who display characteristics of remarkable resemblance, as, for instance, all painters (I use the word "painters" because "artists" is applied equally to both classes) are fully alive to the beauties of Nature in all her varied moods, but, when those beauties are depicted on the canvasses of _others_, are somewhat prone to discover a comprehension of those beauties inferior to their own! So, too, with actors, the majority of whom possess the feeling, though they may not always express it, that, although Mr. Garrick Siddons's efforts were distinctly _good_, there _are_ people, not a hundred miles off, who _might_ have shone to more advantage in the part! There is no doubt that the artistic temperament magnifies all the pleasures of one's life by the infusion of a keener zest for enjoyment, the natural outcome of such temperament, but the reverse of the medal is equally well cut, and the misfortunes and disappointments of life are the more keenly felt in consequence of the possession of this temperament! Whether the balance is equally maintained or not is a question only to be answered by the individual, but I incline to the belief that life is smoother to the phlegmatic than the artistic temperament!--though I should not believe it would be possible to find any person possessing the latter who would be willing to renounce it, in spite of its disadvantages, so I must perforce conclude it to be a blessing! _Q.E.D._
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Miss Helen Mathers looks upon it as a curse.]
If the artistic temperament will enable a man to be rendered profoundly happy by one of those trifles that Nature strews each day in our path--say a salmon-pink sunset seen through the lacing of tall black boles of leafless trees, or a flower, happed upon unexpectedly, that reads you a half-forgotten lesson in "country art"--that same man will be reduced to abject misery and real suffering by a dirty tablecloth, a vulgar, uncongenial companion, or even the presence of a bright blue gown in a chamber subdued to utmost harmonies in gold and yellow. The curse with him follows all too swiftly on the blessing of enjoyment--and lasts longer. And in matters of love, the artistic temperament is a doubtful blessing. The shape of a man's nose will turn a woman's eyes away from the goodness of his character, and a badly-fitting coat so outrage her beauty-loving propensities, that she is provoked into mistaking her mind's approval for real heart affection, and she chooses the artistic man, only to find, probably, that, like the O'Flaherty, one cannot comfortably worship a lily, without a considerable amount of mutton chops as well--and in the end she may sigh for the tasteless man who yet had the taste to love her.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: We worship the "beautiful" too much.]
I think most of us carry this tendency to worship the beautiful too far, and our scorn for the physically unsatisfactory is one of our cruellest and most glaring latter-day faults. It is true we are equally cordially hard on ourselves, and hate our vile bodies, when their aches and pains intrude themselves between us and our soul's delight--for it is from the Pagan, not the Christian, point of view that most lovers of beauty regard life. And if a man's taste require costly gratification of it, say by pictures, by marbles, by the thousand and one sumptuous trifles that go to make the modern house beautiful, then that man is not possessed of true taste, and he will be poorer in his palace than if he dwelt ragged in Nature's lap, with all her riches, and those of his own mind, at his disposal. For the true artistic sense impels one to work always--and always to better and not worsen, what it touches. The artistic sense that lazes, and lets other people work to gratify it, is a bastard one, more, it is immoral, and neither bestows, nor receives, grace. It cannot be fashioned, it may not be bought, this strange sense of the inward beauty of things; nor a man's wife, nor his own soul, nor his beautiful house shall teach it him, and he will never be one with the Universe, with God, understanding all indeed, but not by written word or speech, but by what was born in him. And though he may suffer through it too, though to the ugly, the deaf, and the afflicted, such a gift may seem bestowed in cruellest irony, still when all is said and done I can think of no better summary of the whole than that given by Philip Sydney's immortal lines on love. You all know them--
"He who for love hath undergone The worst that can befall Is happier thousandfold than he Who ne'er hath loved at all ... For in his soul a grace hath reigned That nothing else could bring."
[Sidenote: Alfred C. Calmour is doubtful.]
The artistic temperament is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when it lifts a man's soul out of the slough of vulgar commonplace, and turns his thoughts to the contemplation of noble things, while at the same time it enables him to give something to the world which it would not willingly lose, and for which he can obtain adequate remuneration. But it (the artistic temperament) is a curse when it tempts a man from that honest employment which provides him with bread and butter, and leaves him a defeated, disappointed, and heartbroken wretch, unable to return to that humble course of life which had happily supplied his daily wants.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Mrs. Panton considers it a fantastic demon.]
Personally speaking, I consider the possession of the artistic temperament a distinct curse to those unfortunate folk who have to live with the owner of this fantastic demon; while if the possessor knows how to deal with his old Man of the Sea he has a most powerful engine at his command: for once let the world at large know that the "artistic temperament" has entered into him, his strangest freaks become more than put-up-able with, and the brighter he is in company, and the more irritable and offensive he is at home, the more law is given him, and the less work, and, may I add, decency, is expected of him, until he appears to agree with his compeers or followers, and begins to be as eccentric as he likes. Commencing with long hair touching his shoulders, and with an absence of the use of Someone's soap, he passes on through mystic moonlight glances to a still more artistic appreciation of the charms of Nature at her simplest, until Mrs. Grundy looks askance, and duchesses and other leaders of Society squabble over him, and try one against the other for the honour and pleasure of his society. So far, then, the artistic temperament is for its possessor a fine thing, for it cannot put up with indifferent fare and lodging: it can only prove its existence by the manner in which it annexes all that is richest, most beautiful, and, to use a byegone slang word, most Precious. For it is reserved the luxurious Chesterfield or Divan, heaped with rainbow-like cushions, and placed in the most becoming light, until the quick, unhappy day dawns when another "artistic temperament" comes to the fore, and the first retires perforce, if not a better, certainly a sadder, man, for all that has been happening unto him. Now comes the time when one sees the slow-witted creature sinking gradually into the mere haunter of the Gaiety bar: when the sacred lamp burns brightly, and causes him to recollect, sadly indeed, the days that are no more. Or we find the man who has learned his bitter lesson, and recognising that _he_ still exists--albeit the beast is dead--turns to the work he was meant to do, and does that nobly, though the mad and beautiful days of his youth have done, and all that caused life to be lovely has faded slowly into the _ewigkeit_.
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[Sidenote: But that, if true, it must often be a delight.]
If the "artistic temperament" is true and not a sham, to the owner at least it must often be a sheer delight, for the elf or "troll" which goes by this name takes such possession of the owner that under his guidance he sees "What man may never see, the star that travels far." "The light" that the poet declares shone on sea or shore, shines for him always, if for no one else: he walks with Beatrice in Paradise, not in the "other place;" and his delight in the mere rapture of existence is such that he hardly cares to speak for joy, and for the certainty that not one living creature on earth would understand him if he did. For even if he recognised another elf or troll, peeping out of the eyes of a friend, it would not be his own familiar spirit, and, in consequence, he would not understand the other, because no two of these fantastic creatures ever speak entirely alike. But if we mention those who have to exist with the owner of this fantastic Will-o'-the-wisp--for he is as often absent as present--this makes the whole thing a matter of speculation. I feel as if I could not do justice to the idea, for I, too, have lived once on a time with these others; and I would rather not repeat the experiment.
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[Sidenote: Joseph Hatton declares it to be the choicest gift of all.]
_Punch's_ illustration of Lord Beaconsfield's announcement that he was "on the side of the angels" casts somewhat of a shadow over the sentiment; yet I feel constrained to quote it, as representing my own feelings in regard to the question whether the artistic temperament is a curse or a blessing. Shakespeare had it; Dickens had it; and Thackeray confessed that he would have been glad to black Shakespeare's boots. One may well be convinced that it is a blessing by the penalties which Heaven exacts from its possessors. It means the capacity to enjoy and appreciate the beautiful; with the great poets and novelists it means the power to express the beautiful and describe it "in thoughts that breathe and words that burn." On the other hand, it means experiencing a keener sense of pain than those are capable of who do not possess tender susceptibilities. But in the spirit of "better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathy" the miseries that belong to the poetic temperament are better than the pleasures that go with its opposite. To feel the full glory of the sun, the joy of the Western wind, to hear the aphonous whisperings of the flowers, to be fancifully cognisant of "the music of the spheres"; better this with only a garret for your environment, than to be a wealthy Peter Bell in a palace, or a lord of many acres who sees nothing beyond its intrinsic value in a Turner, and finds Shelley poor stuff and Tennyson only a rhymster. It is the artistic temperament that lives up to the glories of Nature, and understands the parables; and you need not be a writing poet to have it. There is many a poet who never wrote a line, many a romancist who never contributed to a magazine. The ploughboy whistling behind his team, the gardener lovingly pruning his vines, the angler sitting in the shade of summer trees, even the playgoer craning his neck over the gallery and failing to catch the last words of Hamlet on the stage, may be blessed with something of "the divine afflatus," to be born utterly without which is to require at the Maker's hands a compensation. Thus He gives in a lower form the trick of money-making, the rank of birthright, the cheap distinction of a high place in society; with poverty He joins the peace of humble content, a solid faith in the bliss of a future state, and the rough enjoyment of perfect health. But the poetic temperament is the choicest gift of all; it may have occasional glimpses of the bottomless pit, but it can make its own heaven, and paint its own rainbow upon "the storms of life."
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[Sidenote: Angelina wants to concentrate genius.]
The artistic temperament implies genius--and "there's the rub," for we others don't understand genius. The Almighty bestowed the blessing; we have superadded the curse of an ignorant reception. The Genius is the child of his century. _We_ persist in relegating him to his family. He asks for materials and room to create. We answer him, "Go to--thou art idle. Put money in thy purse." We bind him with cords of conventionality, and deliver him into the hands of the Philistines. We declare him to be a rational animal who could pay his bills if he chose--and we County Court him if he does not. We build and maintain stately edifices for the accommodation of paupers, criminals, and idiots; but for the Genius there is not even the smallest parish allowance made to his relatives to pay for a keeper. How _can_ he expand under present conditions? "_Es bildet ein Talent sich in der stille_," says Goethe, and I think you will admit that there is precious little of "_der stille_" to be found either in ordinary domestic life, or that refuge of the desperate, a garret in Bloomsbury. Picture to yourself Orpheus executing frenzied violin _obbligati_ to the family baby (teething)--or Apollo hastily descending the slopes of Olympus to argue with a tax collector, or irate landlady! Alas! few survive this sort of thing. What I would propose is a Grand National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Genius--including a National Asylum for its reception and maintenance. Geniuses would be fed and clothed, and have their hair cut by the State, who would adopt and cherish them during life, and bequeath them to posterity at death. In this blissful retreat they would be preserved from the chilling influences of the outer world, liberally supplied with foolscap, musical instruments, and padded cells, and protected from all that had hitherto oppressed them--including cats, organ-grinders, creditors, and matrimony. Worshippers of the opposite sex would be allowed to express their appreciation sensibly, by contributions to the box at the door. Just think of the enormous advantage which would be gained by thus concentrating our Genius as we do our other illuminating forces; the saving of brain power by avoiding outside friction. Why there need be absolutely _no_ waste! Genius could be "laid on," at a fixed rate, and "lions" supplied by annual subscription.
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[Sidenote: Florence Marryat believes it to be a blessing.]
Surely--without a manner of doubt--a Blessing--the greatest blessing ever bestowed by Heaven on Man--the best panacea for the troubles of this life--the magic wand that, for the time being, opens the door of a Paradise of our own creation. And in order to procure this enjoyment, it is not necessary that the artist should be successful. Disappointment may be the issue of his attempt, but the attempt itself--the knowledge that he _can_ attempt--is so delightful. The work may never reach the artistic ideal--it seldom does--but no artist believes in failure, whilst the child of his brain is germinating. It looks so promising--it grows so fast--the ideas which are to render it immortal press so quickly one upon the other, that he has hardly time to grasp them--whilst his breast heaves and his eye sparkles, and his whole frame quivers with the sense of power to conceive and to bring to the birth. No fear enters his mind then that his offspring will prove to be stunted, deformed, or weakly. It is his own--no man has begot it before him--and he can take no interest in anything else, until it is completed. Is this not true of the Painter, as he stands with his charcoal in hand thinking out his picture for next year's Academy?--of the Composer, seated before his piano and running his fingers with apparent want of design over the keys?--of the Author, as he walks to and fro and plans the details of his new plot?--of the Poet, as he gazes up into the skies and hears the rhythm of his lines in the "music of the stars?" True, that the finely-organised and sensitive temperament of the Artist suffers keenly when jarred by the discord of the world--that it amounts almost to a curse to be interrupted when in the throes of a new conception (just thought of and hardly grasped) by someone who has no more notion of what he is undergoing than a deal table would have, and pulls him back roughly from his Paradise to the sordid details of Life, putting all his airy fancies to flight, perhaps, by the process. But neither this materialistic world, nor all the fools that inhabit it, can ever really rob the Artist of the joy--in which "no stranger intermeddleth"--of the Realm of fancy which is his own domain, inherited by right of his genius. Though he may pass through Life unappreciated and unsuccessful, let him still thank God for the Divine power which has been given him--the power to create! It will tide him over the loss of things, which other men cut their throats for--it will stand him in stead of wife and child--in stead of friends and companionship.
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[Sidenote: And that the true artist is never alone.]
Is the true Artist ever alone? Do not the creatures of his brain walk beside him wherever he may go? Do they not lie down with him and rise up with him, and even when he is old and grey, his heart still keeps fresh, from association with the Young and Beautiful, with the blossoms of Womanhood and of Spring, that have bloomed upon his canvas--with the notes of the birds and the sounds of falling water that his fingers have conjured to life upon his instrument--with the fair maidens and noble youths that he has accompanied through so many trials and conducted to such a blissful termination in his pages. And beyond all this--beyond the joy of conception and the pride of fruition--there is an added blessing on the artistic temperament. Surely the minds which are always striving after the ideally Perfect must be, in a measure, refined and purified by the height of the summit they try to reach. "We needs must love the highest, when we see it." It is a Blessing to have the desire to reach the highest, even though we fail, and our natures are raised by the mere contemplation of it. So that the Artist may well forget the rebuffs and cold douches which he receives from those who cannot sympathise with him, and thank Heaven that he can walk out of their world into his own.
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[Sidenote: Zangwill draweth a distinction.]
There are two aspects of the artistic temperament--the active or creative side, and the passive or receptive side. It is impossible to possess the power of creation without possessing also the power of appreciation; but it is quite possible to be very susceptible to artistic influences while dowered with little or no faculty of origination. On the one hand is the artist--poet, musician, or painter--on the other, the artistic person to whom the artist appeals. Between the two, in some arts, stands the artistic interpreter--the actor who embodies the aëry conceptions of the poet, the violinist or pianist who makes audible the inspirations of the musician. But in so far as this artistic interpreter rises to greatness in his field, in so far he will be found soaring above the middle ground, away from the artistic person, and into the realm of the artist or creator. Joachim and De Reszke, Paderewski and Irving, put something of themselves into their work; apart from the fact that they could all do (in some cases have done) creative work on their own account. So that when the interpreter is worth considering at all, he may be considered in the creative category. Limiting ourselves then to these two main varieties of the artistic temperament, the active and the passive, I should say that the latter is an unmixed blessing, and the former a mixed curse.
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[Sidenote: He speaketh of ye curse.]
What, indeed, can be more delightful than to possess good æsthetic faculties--to be able to enjoy books, music, pictures, plays! This artistic sensibility is the one undoubted advantage of man over other animals, the extra octave in the gamut of life. Most enviable of mankind is the appreciative person, without a scrap of originality, who has every temptation to enjoy, and none to create. He is the idle heir to treasures greater than India's mines can yield; the bee who sucks at every flower, and is not even asked to make honey. For him poets sing, and painters paint, and composers write. "_O fortunatos nimium_," who not seldom yearn for the fatal gift of genius! For _this_ artistic temperament is a curse--a curse that lights on the noblest and best of mankind! From the day of Prometheus to the days of his English laureate it has been a curse
"To vary from the kindly race of men,"
and the eagles have not ceased to peck at the liver of men's benefactors. All great and high art is purchased by suffering--it is not the mechanical product of dexterous craftsmanship. This is one part of the meaning of that mysterious _Master Builder_ of Ibsen's. "Then I saw plainly why God had taken my little children from me. It was that I should have nothing else to attach myself to. No such thing as love and happiness, you understand. I was to be only a master builder--nothing else." And the tense strings that give the highest and sweetest notes are most in danger of being overstrung.
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[Sidenote: And its compensations.]
But there are compensations. The creative artist is higher in the scale of existence than the man, as the man is higher than the beatified oyster for whose condition, as Aristotle pointed out, few would be tempted to barter the misery of human existence. The animal has consciousness, man self-consciousness, and the artist over-consciousness. Over-consciousness may be a curse, but, like the primitive curse--labour--there are many who would welcome it!
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 _i.e._, Gambled at Faro.
 See the writer's _Life of David Gray_.
 I have given a detailed account of Peacock in my "Look Round Literature."
 O those "Tendencies of one's Time"! O those dismal Phantoms, conjured up by the blatant Book-taster and the Indolent Reviewer! How many a poor Soul, that would fain have been honest, have they bewildered into the Slough of Despond and the Bog of Beautiful Ideas!--R.B.
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