Some of my correspondents will not be surprised at the notice I find myself compelled to give, that I shall henceforward take in no unpaid letters, directed in an unknown handwriting, which have not the name of the writer superscribed. The tax of postage for anonymous flattery or abuse is one to which I cannot be expected to submit.
As for the other tax,—on time,—thus imposed on myself and others, it may supersede some of it to declare, once for all, that no appeals to me, whether made in print or by letter, anonymous or avowed, have or shall have any effect upon me, unless they are addressed to my reason. If my arguments are open to refutation, I shall be thankful to have them refuted. If my views are founded on a false or narrow induction, the most acceptable as well as the truest kindness will be to show me where lies the error or deficiency. As an illustrator of truth, it behaves me to listen, with the utmost respect, to applications like these; but, as a vowed servant of the people, I am not at liberty to attend to appeals to my individual interests, whether presented in the form of evil prognostications, of friendly cautions, or of flattery, gross or refined.
What I have just said is applicable to only a few individuals, to some of whom I owe gratitude for kind intentions, and towards others of whom I feel more concern than resentment. To those to whom my work has been, in my own heart, dedicated from the beginning,—the people,—I have only to say that their generous appreciation of my object is so effective a support and stimulus, that nothing troubles me but a sense of the imperfection of my service; and that the most precious of my hopes is, that I may become capable of serving them with an ability which may bear some proportion to the respect with which I regard their interests.
THE LOOM AND THE LUGGER.
THE COOPERS AT HOME.
A fine spring shower was falling one May morning, in 1826, when Mrs. Cooper, the weaver's wife, was busily engaged in dusting her husband's loom, taking advantage of the interval between the finishing of tile piece with which he was now gone to his employer, and the beginning of the new one which he expected to bring home. Many weavers are as averse to dusting and cleaning taking place in their peculiar department as the most slovenly bookworm. They appear to believe that a canopy of cobwebs sheds as important an influence on their work as the student expects from the midnight lamp. Old Short was one of these, and Mrs. Cooper, therefore, thought herself fortunate in his absence at the same time, and on the same errand with her husband. She might not only clean her husband's loom in peace, but have a touch at the old man's, in the hope that the removal of some elis of cobweb, and an ample measure of dust, might escape his notice. Having opened the windows wide to admit the air freshened by the pattering shower, she sang to her baby,—still so called, though now nearly three years old,—encouraging, from time to time, the imperfect imitations of the child as he stood pulling buttercups to pieces at a chair, and cramming the remains through holes in its rush bottom. There were hopes that the child would, at some future day, be perfect in this song, for Short sang it from morning till night; and, when he was absent, Mrs. Cooper unconsciously took it up as often as she looked towards his end of the room. She was very tired of hearing it, too; but it was such a good exchange for the grumblings of former years, that she never found fault with the melody, and made up her mind to hear it hourly for the few years old Short might have to live.
But why had he left off grumbling? For a reason which does not prevail with all grumblers,—that he had nothing to complain of. For two years Mr. Culver had given him constant employment, and paid him well; and he heard so much on all sides of the great relief to the manufacturers from the reduction of the duties on raw silk,—a reduction permitted in order to prepare the manufacturers for a fair competition with the French when the prohibition of foreign silks should cease,—that he became less confident in his predictions that the trade would be found to be ruined; that the French would carry all before them; and that the last days of Spitalfields' industry were approaching. He had so often emphatically taken his neighbours to witness that he was weaving his last piece, and been presently found weaving another, that he had now let the subject drop, and adopted the more cheerful saying, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” This served his purpose very well, though he would have found it difficult, if questioned, to point out what evil he proposed thus philosophically to endure. In summer, to be sure, it was sometimes hot; and the days went on to grow dark early in winter; but the Coopers were kind to him, and able, through their own prosperity, to take good care of him. The child was readily admitted to be any thing but a plague; and with fifteen shillings a-week wherewith to answer his own small wants, the old man was not only abundantly supplied for the present, but had been able to accomplish one or two objects which he had long had at heart. His burial money was safely laid by; and he had bought a venerable Bible, which had been discovered by a neighbour lying on a book-stall, with his grandmother's birth entered on the fly-leaf. Short could not read; but he was uneasy as long as this Bible lay on the stall, liable to be tossed about without any pretence of consideration for his grandmother's name. Here it was now, deposited on the highest shelf of the cupboard, so that there was no fear of the child getting to it before he should be sixteen, unless on a Sunday morning, when it was regularly taken down to be dusted. As it was immediately replaced, however, being far too valuable to be read out of, it was not likely to receive any harm at the hands of the baby. With all present needs amply supplied, and provision being made for his body and his Bible being disposed of as they ought to be, it was certainly much more reasonable that Short should sing than grumble.
“Look, look, Ichabod! See how the rain pours down! Look at the shining bright raindrops, my pretty one!” said Mrs. Cooper, as she threw open another lattice, and cast a glance into the morsel of garden-ground behind.—“Cock-a-doodle-do! How the cock shakes off the wet. Come, my pet, come and see the cocks and hens in the shower; and the tulips! O, the fine tulips! How soon they will blow after this rain. Come, Ichabod, come, see the tulips!”
Instead of toddling across the room in answer to his mother's call, as usual, the child set up a cry of terror, not without cause. In thrusting his green and yellow leaves into the holes of the rush-bottomed chair, he had pushed his hand through, and was a fast prisoner till his mother released him. When this was done, and it only remained to appease him, he was taken to the window to call for the gipsyman to come and mend the poor chair. Long did mother and child call, in mimickry of each other, and no gipsy-man appeared; but instead of him, old Short and the two neighbours, who also wove in this room, all seeming very angry.
“Make haste in from the wet, Mr. Short,” cried the house-wife from the window “and bring the neighbours in with you for shelter till the shower is over. 'Tis a fine pelting spring shower.”
And Mrs. Cooper set down the child at a chair which had no holes, while she hastily put out of sight her duster and brush, that Short's evident ill-humour might not be increased by the appearance of any preparation for cleaning.
“You are welcome, neighbours,” said she to one after another, as their heads emerged from the darkness of the winding staircase. “Plenty of room: room for twice as many, the looms being all empty at this time. 'Tis a curious chance that the looms should be all four quiet at once; but——”
“It will be a more curious chance when they are all going again,” observed Rogers, one of the neighbours.
“Aye, aye,” replied old Short, “I, for one, have wove my last piece.”
“Why, dear me, Mr. Short, have you got to saying that again? Only think how often you have said that, and, bless God! it has never come true.”
“'Tis true enough now, however,” he replied. “There is hardly a master that will give out a cane to-day. There's nothing doing, nor never will be, while those cursed French are on the face of the earth.”
“I thought you told me there was no more fear of them? I thought you were delighted at what the government ordered about the lengths of their pieces,—that none should come here of the lengths that we knew they had woven? I remember you rubbed your hands over that news till the child laughed again.”
“Aye, that sounded all very well; but government can't, or won't, prevent those goods coming, though they are prohibited. The French are as hard at work as ever, weaving silks of the new lengths, and the other goods are pouring in all along the coast, by means of the smugglers. There is more smuggled silk in the market now than ever was known before, and——”
“But it will soon be all sold and gone; and besides, in two months the law will let them in, so as to allow people to buy them fairly; and then there will be an end of the smuggling, they say.”
“Never tell me! By that time, the new goods that are now on their looms will be ready. No, no; it will just be as it has always been with the Spitalfields weaver. Heaven and earth try together which can spite him most.”
“Well, now, Mr. Short, I must think it is hardly right to say so. We have had our share of troubles, to be sure; but every thing that could be done seems to me to have been thought of. You should remember how long we were especially favoured as to wages.”
“And much good it did us! Can you deny that at that very time all our best orders went to Paisley and Macclesfield, while we ought to have had our hands full, as not being such mushroom folks as they? Can you deny, that people next took it into their heads to wear cottons, so that in one winter four thousand looms stood idle? You” may not remember the winter of seventy-three: it was before your time, I fancy; but there was the hand of God upon the people, if anywhere: poor starving creatures lying about on the door-sills, too weak to get home, when they had been out for the chance of an alms. But even that was nothing to the distress of fifteen and sixteen, which I suppose you do not pretend to forget.”
“Forget it! no,” replied Mrs. Cooper, with a mournful shake of the head. “That was the year my poor father died; and mother and I thought he might have lived longer (though he had worn himself out at his loom) if we could have nourished him better, and let him hear the cheerful sound of the loom. Then it was that he advised me to set to work and qualify myself for a service, instead of remaining a weaver; he repenting, as he said, that he had brought me up to an occupation that wears the spirits by its changes as much as the body by its toils. No; I do not forget that winter; but I should be sorry to say any thing about spiting the Spitalfields weavers, for I am sure every thing was done for us that charity could do.”
“Well, but I don't like charity, for my part; it is not the same thing as earning, and being beholden to no man.”
“Why, that's true; but you have been beholden to no man of late. You have earned to your heart's content for a long time past, without interruption from God or man, Mr. Short.”
“Not without spite from man, mistress. Do you forget my being forbidden to keep pigeons these last eighteen months? There was nothing in the world I cared about like my pigeons: and now, since these many new houses, with wonderful good windows, have been built, I must send away my birds, lest they should break a pane.”
“You should forgive that, in consideration of your neighbours having more air and light. Yon very houses, new and with sashed windows, should show you that times are improved, Mr. Short.”
“Lake, the builder, will hardly tell you that they are,” observed Dickens, the weaver. “You should have seen him just now, holding forth to us about how we have all been deceived. When every thing looked so bright two years ago, he began to build, thinking there could never be houses enough for all the weavers that would be wanted; and now, Culver gives out scarcely a cane, and where is Lake to get his rents?”
“Has not my husband got a cane?” asked Mrs. Cooper, with a faltering voice.
“Not he, I warrant,” replied Short; “and neither Dickens nor I want our looms; so there is six shillings a week, besides work, struck off from you at once. And now, mistress, I suppose you will leave off being thankful for nothing, as you are so ready to be.”
Mrs. Cooper made no other answer than taking up little Ichabod, who was holding up his forefinger, and saying “hark!” to a noise in the street. When it came nearer, he did not like it, and his under lip began to project, and his innocent chin to wrinkle for a cry. His mother chattered to him to send away his fears, though she did not like what she heard any better than he.”
Tramp, tramp, came many feet, and the buzz of voices rose and sank. Some hundreds must have passed, before every casement in the house was opened for the inmates to peep out. A sudden gleam of sun which came out diverted the child's attention; and when he stretched out his hand, with an impatient cry, to snatch the raindrops that trembled and glistened from the eaves, every man of the crowd below looked up as he passed. They might any where have been known for weavers by the projecting eyes and narrow shoulders which distinguish the tribe, and yet more by the shuffling step with which they slopped through the pools, with feet whose accustomed motion was on the treadles of the loom. The pallid gloom which sat on their faces was a less peculiar characteristic; it belongs equally to the sinewy miner, the stout ploughman, and the withered operative, when want is at their heels, and they believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is the word of tyrants which has set it on to dog them.
“Holla, there! where are you marching?” cried Dickens from the window. “Where is Cooper?” he inquired, perceiving that Mrs. Cooper's glance was wandering over the crowd, and that she had checked herself when about to ask for him, fearing, no doubt, that he might not like to be called out from among his companions by a woman's voice. Every man looked round him, and no Cooper came out.
“He is not there, my mistress,” said Dickens, seizing his hat, and clattering down the narrow stairs to join the mob. “I must just go and see what is doing; and you will get news from your husband before I come back, I'll be bound.”
There seemed to be a halt at the end of the street, and Short and Mrs. Cooper, who were now left to their mutual conjectures, emulated each other in leaning out of the window, to see what was to happen next.
“Dad, dad, dad,” said young Ichabod presently, kissing the palm of his hand, as was his wont when his father came in sight from abroad.
“Why, there's my husband! and I never saw him all this time,” cried Mrs. Cooper, hastening to go down to him as he stood with folded arms, leaning against the door-post below.—All he could tell was that he feared some mischief would happen. There had been discontent for some little time; the worst hands being turned off one week, and more and more by degrees, till now, when many of the best had been sent home without the expected employment. There was great anger against the masters, and, above all, against the Frenchman. Cooper fancied they were about to call him to account, from the stand the crowd seemed to be making near his house.
“But, John, what are we to do?”
“Why, we must get on without that six shillings a-week, till our neighbours have work again. I must work a little harder, that is all.”
To her surprise and delight, Mrs. Cooper now perceived that her husband had lodged just within the door the cane that she had been assured had been denied him. He, happier than his neighbours in being a better workman, had employment; and his wife could spare a good-natured smile at Short's propensity to make the worst of everything, and also some sympathy for he Frenchman.—She should be sorry if any harm came to him, far away as the young ladies, his sisters, were from their friends. It was a pity they came, to be sure, interfering with Englishmen's proper business; but they seemed to conduct themselves very well——
“Except in the point of his picking out the best weavers, and getting them from the other manufacturers,” observed Cooper. “He would fain have had me; but I told Mr. Culver he might depend upon me, as I have too much spirit to leave an English master for a foreign one.”
“Besides that, you would hardly know what to make of his new sorts of looms and patterns. They would not come easy to your hand.”
“For that matter,” replied Cooper, “I am not above learning anything new, even from a Frenchman; and I have some curiosity to find out how they manage a certain thing that I have been trying after these two years. I shall try and try again, for I don't want to come out at last a worse weaver than Cook.”
“You a worse weaver than Cook!” exclaimed the wife. “I should like to see the day when that will happen, John Cooper.”
Cooper smiled and reminded his wife how much easier it is to improve one's craft when put in the way by a knowing person, than when one has to find it out for one's self. Nevertheless, as Culver had been a good master to him, he would continue to work for him, if the Frenchman offered him the weight of his first piece in gold.
“This much,” continued Cooper, “I am willing to do for Culver: but as to anything more, I am for letting a man have fair play, be he French or be he English. I would not persecute any man for choosing to settle in one place rather than another, whatever I might think about its being better for him to remain in his own country.”
“Do you think Culver encourages the people against the Frenchman?”
“Not one of the masters likes him; and indeed he does steal their trade very fast.”
“Aye, just at present; but his secrets will soon get abroad; and others will manufacture as well as he; and then they ought to thank him for teaching them.”
“May be they will then: but they don't now. Not that Culver would lift his hand and say, ‘Burn down that man's house;' but he would ather not hear him praised as his own weavers praise him.”)
“They praise everything about him but his odd speech. What a misfortune 'tis that he cannot speak English as we do!”
M. Gaubion, the gentleman in question, daily thought so too. He could make his way, as to language, very well with educated persons; but the dialect of his weavers puzzled him perpetually. His foreman acted as interpreter; but in his absence, M. Gaubion, who at Lyons had been thought to be very accomplished in the English language, found that he could not understand one word in ten that was said to him. The case was made worse by his being a timid man, and fully alive to all the peculiarities of his situation, without being able to make light of them as some of the gayer tempered of his countrymen would have done.
On the present occasion, M. Gaubion was taken by surprise; and unintelligible as the yells of an English mob were likely to be to him at any time, there was no chance of his understanding them amidst the conflict of feelings under which he now listened to them. The word “Macclesfield” alone struck his ear as familiar, and he comprehended from it that the people disapproved of the proceedings of his firm in that place, where he believed he had been doing what must be acceptable in employing some hundreds of people in throwing and manufacturing silk. He knew that building had been going on, through the stimulus given by his demand for labour, and that which had arisen in other quarters, partly through rivalship of himself, partly from an uncontrolled spirit of speculation, and, yet more, because the silk trade was really, on the whole, in an improving condition. He wanted to explain to the crowd that one thousand new houses had been demanded by advertisement in Maccles-field, the year before, and that from four to five thousand apprentices had been wanted about the same time; and that if, after this tremendous state of activity, manufacturers found their business slack for a time, it was hard to lay the blame on him of what had resulted from their own extravagant speculations. It was wronging him to suppose that his concern, however flourishing, could swallow up all others, or that he had any more to do with the temporary distress at Macclesfield or in Spitalfields than at Coventry, where there were thousands out of employment at this very time.—M. Gaubion could find no words, however, at the critical moment; and if he had, they could scarcely have been heard while the builder, who could not get his rents, was haranguing, and the disappointed weavers were shouting, and the envious manufacturers on the outskirts of the mob were grumbling about the favour shown to Frenchmen by an unpatriotic government. There was nothing to be done but to throw down among the crowd the newspaper containing the advertisements about houses and apprentices, and to trust to the sense of the people to discover what it was that they were to make out from the proceeding.
The constables now arrived and inspired him with more confidence in their staves than he had in the good sense of the people. Stragglers fell off from the main body in all directions, till nobody chose to stay to be marked as disposed for a riot. They left the foreigner wondering in hm-self.
“What is it that these people would have? I employ hundreds of them, and they complain. 1 teach them my superior art, and they are jealous. If I were to employ but twenty where I employ a hundred, they would complain yet more. If we Frenchmen kept the secrets of our manufacture, these English would nourish a still stronger jealousy. What is it that they would have?”
This was just the question which Mrs. Cooper had ready for her husband to answer, when he returned, newspaper in hand, from M. Gaubion's house.
“They want a steady, uniform demand,” was his reply; “which neither M. Gaubion, nor any one else, can ensure them, unless they could give them masters with cool and sound heads, and find some broom that would sweep away the mischiefs that remain from old bad plans. How is M. Gaubion, or any one else, to prevent the slackness which comes of building a thousand new houses to hold five thousand new apprentices in one town?—of which you may read in this paper. And if we are so jealous of the French goods as by law to declare all of a wrong length which are made ready to be sold here as soon as they are allowed to be brought in, how is Gaubion, or any one else, to prevent the smuggling of those goods? What we want is a little prudence on the part of the government and the masters, and a little patience on that of the men.”
“Aye, patience!” cried Short. “Patience enough wanted to hear you talk! Here you have been preaching prudence and patience these ten years; and all for what? Can anything make the silk trade prosper?”
“It has prospered, for two years past, only rather too vehemently,” replied Cooper. “If the masters had let it grow a little more gradually, all would have been right: and all will be right yet, if we have but a little patience, as I said before.”
“You have no reason for saying that, in the face of all experience.”
“I have reason;—and that from experience. The demand for thrown silk is greater than ever it was; and if that is not a good sign, I don't know what is. Nearly twice as much thrown silk is imported now as there was when the trade was most protected; and our throwsters at home find a demand for a million of pounds more than was needed two years ago. Now what is this silk all wanted for but to be woven? and, depend upon it, Mr. Short, you will have your share.”
“Aye, when, I wonder? You talk as if I were a young man, instead of an old fellow who can't wait for his bread till new-fashioned schemes are tried, and the old ones found to be best. When, I say?”
“When we make trial of fair play between nation and nation; which will be after next July.”
“And here is May now,” observed Mrs. Cooper. “If no more silk is to be smuggled after July, Mr. Short, you will soon be at your loom again. I wish I could think that the French gentleman would be comfortable after that time; but I fear the feeling against him is too strong to go down so soon.”
“That is the worst of such feelings ever being allowed to grow up,” replied her husband. “However we may talk about being on free, and fair, and friendly terms of competition with the French after July, I doubt whether we shall be willing to make the experiment really a fair one, as if we belonged all to one country.”
“Why, John,” said his wife, “even you would not work for the foreigner so soon as for your old employer. You were saying so this very morning.”
John muttered something about its being a different thing countenancing Frenchmen in their proper country and in one's own neighbourhood; but he could not give a very satisfactory account of what he meant. He ended by hoping that there would be room, in the world of production for everybody; and that all would find out where it was easiest to get what all wanted, that each, whether English, French, or Chinese, might be employed to furnish what he could provide most easily and cheaply, and all help one another. If this were done, all might perhaps be well furnished with necessaries and comforts; and, if not, their privations would not be made more bitter by the jealousies which God's children now nourished against one another.
Short was sure the only way to have peace and quiet was to go on in the old way.
“What shall we make of you, my boy?” cried Cooper, catching up the child for a romp, before beginning the arduous task of putting his new piece into the loom. “What shall we make of you, child? Will you be a little weaver?”
The boy immediately began stamping with his tiny foot, and reaching out his hand for the shuttle.
“Why, look!” cried his delighted mother. “He is pretending to weave already. Aye; that is the way, my boy. Tread, tread! That is the way. Will Ichabod be a weaver, like father?”
“In steadier times than his father lived in, I hope,” said Cooper. “Hey, boy? Will you weave like a Frenchman, Ichabod, so that your loom may be as busy as a Frenchman's?”
“And carry an English heart in your breast, dear, all the time?” added old Short.
“Without hating the foreigners,” observed Mrs. Cooper. “We must teach him, John, that there is room in the wide world for all.”
MATTERS OF TASTE.
Though M. Gaubion was himself too shy to be very eager about the society of his neighbours, he had no wish to place any restraint upon the inclination of his household for intercourse, not only with the families to whom they had brought special introductions, but with those whose near residence tempted to an acquaintance. Mr. Culver and he merely exchanged bows and slight greetings when they passed; but that was no reason why Mr. Culver's daughters, who met his little sister Adele at children's parties, should not be her companions at other times; nor why Mademoiselle Gaubion, the elder sister, and his housekeeper, should not indulge her hospitable disposition, and make as many friends as she could.
It was a great mortification to this lady to see her brother looked coldly upon by those who ought, she believed, to be capable of appreciating his manifold merits: but she conceived that this coldness would only be increased by her becoming reserved also; and that the best justice and kindness to him was to endeavour to interest those whom he could not exert himself to propitiate. She made herself popular for his sake, and earnestly hoped in time to see her own popularity merge in his. Mr. Culver already pronounced her a very amiable and accomplished young person, and declared himself happy in allowing Charlotte and Lucy to visit Adèle, though nurse was somewhat lofty in her way of talking about the freedom which the foreigners were so ready to use with her young ladies.—The time had been when a sentence from nurse would have settled the matter any way she chose; but the girls were growing up now to an age when it was proper to consult them about their undertakings and pleasures; and nurse had never been what she once was since the loss of her son. She was more prejudiced and more peevish than ever, and had, therefore, lost much of her authority over her master as well as her charges. As she did not choose herself to lift the knocker of a Frenchman's door, there was nothing for it but to order Susan to go with the girls instead.
Before Charlotte and Lucy had been long seated, they were observed to be exchanging looks and whispering about something which stood on a table at one end of the room.
“My flowers! You envy me my flowers,” said Mademoiselle Gaubion. “Smell them then. Are they not sweet as they are full blown?”
Not all the politeness which Charlotte could muster enabled her to say that the smell was very sweet. Instead of white-thorn, mignionette, and carnation, the perfume was rather that of musk. She caught Mademoiselle Gaubion's hand in the midst of its flourishes to and from her nostrils, and obtained a close view of the bouquet. It was artificial.—Lucy agreed with her that neither had ever before seen such artificial flowers; and it was long before they were tired of placing them in various lights, and trying how easy it would be to deceive nurse and their youngest sister as they had themselves been deceived. Harriet Breme would hardly wear her lily of the valley any more if she could see these. She might look through her father's stock many times before she would find any so fresh looking,—so very natural.
In a little while, Mademoiselle Gaubion observed, such flowers as these might be had in every shop in London where such goods were sold. In July——
“O, that is when French silks may be had, papa says. But these flowers cannot be made of silk.”
Mademoiselle Gaubion explained that the cocoons of silk-worms were used for these flowers, and showed how they were painted and embroidered into the semblance of real flowers. She offered to teach Charlotte how to make them, if it was thought worth while. Charlotte thought it would be well worth while, as all flowers except such coarse-daubed bunches as she did not like to wear, cost a great deal of money.
Adèle also had yet to learn. She had had plenty of flowers for her doll's robe and turban at Lyons; but she had bought them, as they cost next to nothing there.
“Ah,” said Lucy, “we were wondering how some French things can be made so cheap. Nurse has a beautiful box that her son got somehow from France, and it cost only a shilling. He told her so, for fear she should think he had done an extravagant thing. There is a glass at the bottom; and the sides are of pink paper, beautifully plaited; and there is an enamelled picture of the Virgin and St. Somebody; and round the picture, the prettiest wreath of flowers;—tiny roses and forget-me-not, and yellow buds and green leaves between. It is a large box,—as large as my hand; and it cost only a shilling. The flowers alone would cost two, papa says, if “we ordered such to be made here.”
“We would show you that box,” said Charlotte, “but that we do not like to ask nurse now for anything that her poor son gave her. She can think of nothing but him all the day after, if we do.”
“Poor nurse! has her son left her?” asked Mademoiselle Gaubion.
“O, he died,—and so shockingly! It is more than two years ago now; but nurse is as grieved as ever when anything puts her in mind of it. It was so dreadful for the first few days,—before it was known exactly what had become of him! Nurse would not believe he was dead; and she was always saying that the smugglers had carried him out to sea, and sold him for a sailor, like somebody she once heard about. She was sure he would come back one day, either a rich India merchant, or begging at the door,—or somehow. And then, when the next letter came——”
“Did it tell? Was he dead?”
“O yes. Papa would not let us tell Maria, for fear of its making her afraid to go to bed; and I believe he did not mean us elder ones to know; but nurse set us to ask my brother Robert; for she never believed that papa had told her everything. Do you know, when they had shot him dead, they put his body into a cavern in the cliff, on the top of a flight of steps, and sitting us so that he looked as if he was alive, the first moment they found him.”
“But O, what do you think put it into their heads to look for him there?” interrupted Lucy. “They saw two cliff-ravens fly out when somebody went near the cavern; and then they knew that there must be a body there.”
Lucy stopped short at a sign from her sister, who thought the rest of the story too horrible to be told. Since Adèle could not make out by any mode of cross-questioning, what these further particulars were, she wanted next to know what caused Nicholas to be murdered. Her sister explained to her, with so much feeling, the nature of the service on which he had been engaged, and showed so much concern at his fate, that Lucy said, half to herself, and looking wistfully at Mademoiselle Gaubion,
“I shall tell nurse how sorry you are.”
“Tell her, if it can comfort her to have the sympathy of a stranger.”
“A stranger,—a foreigner,” repeated Lucy, still half to herself.
“I said a stranger, not a foreigner,” replied Mademoiselle, smiling. “As long as it is a stranger who sympathizes, what matters it whether she be native or foreign?”
“Nurse thinks,” replied Charlotte, “that French people are not sorry when any harm comes to those who try to prevent their smuggling. She was saying this morning——”
Another sign from Charlotte.
“Tell me what she said,” replied Mademoiselle, smiling in a way which emboldened Lucy to proceed.
“She said she did not want to have anybody in the neighbourhood that had helped to murder her son; and that every French person had helped to murder him, because it was the trying to get in French goods that made all the mischief.”
“Nurse does not know, perhaps, that the French suffer no less than the English in this kind of struggle. Frenchmen are sometimes thrown overboard into the sea, or shot on the shore. Frenchmen run the risk of losing their goods; and in such a contention, I am afraid it sometimes happens that a Frenchman hates an Englishman.”
“What! for smuggling each others' goods? If they want each others' goods, why do not they buy and sell them at once, without loss and fighting and cheating and murder?”
“Are you French really sorry about smuggling?” asked Lucy. “Because, if you are——”
“You may see in a moment that my brother is sorry. Why else should he leave his country, and come to live here? he comes to make silk here which may be sold without cheating and fighting.”
“And if papa went to Lyons, would the people there be glad or sorry to see him?”
“If he went to make silks, they would not be either particularly glad or sorry, because the people at Lyons make silks better than your papa, or any other Englishman, knows how to make them yet. But if your papa went to make cotton goods, or knives and scissors, or if he set up iron works, they would be very glad to have him; for all these things are made by the English better than by the French.”
“Then you would get artificial flowers ‘ or so cheap that you need not make them yourselves,” added Adèle: “and you would have silk frocks, like the Bremes; for the prettiest silk frocks cost twelve or fourteen shillings less there than here.”
Charlotte thought she should like to go to Lyons; it would be such a saving of money; and she thought the Lyons people must like coming to London, if they could get things made of iron, and steel, and cotton, cheaper than in France. Adèle proposed that there should be a general change; that all the Lyons people should come to London, and as many Londoners go to Lyons. As it was plain, however, that this would leave matters just where they were at first, as the French could not bring their silk-worms from the south with them, nor the English carry their iron mines on their backs, the simple expedient occurred to the young ladies of the inhabitants sending their produce freely to one another, instead of wandering from home to produce it.
“If the French would send me my silk,” observed Charlotte, “I might save my fourteen shillings here just as well as at Lyons; and if I had to pay a little for the bringing, some Lyons girl would pay papa for the sending of the cotton gowns she would buy of him. What a capital bargain it would be for us both! Do not you think so, Mademoiselle?”
“I do; but there are many who do not. When some of our French rulers wished that our people should save their money by buying your cottons where they could be had cheapest, our people were frightened. They sent and told the king that France was ready to bathe his throne with her tears in agony at the idea of buying English goods so easily: and now, you know, some of you English are just as much alarmed at being allowed to get silks cheaper than you can make them.”
“But it is so very silly!” exclaimed Charlotte. “Such people might as well prefer paying five shillings for a bad bouquet to paying half-a-crown for a pretty one, like that. I do not see why they should give away money to bad flower-makers at that rate.”
“Especially when the bad flower-makers might get more money still by doing something which they could do much better. Yet this is just the way that Buonaparte made his people waste their money, some time ago. He would not let them have sugar and coffee from the places where they could be had best and cheapest, but would try to produce them at home. He made people press out the juice of carrots and beet-root, and whatever tasted sweet, as the sugar cane will not grow in France; and, with a world of trouble, they made a little sugar; but it was far too dear for many people to buy. They tried to make tea of many kinds of herbs, and coffee of bitter and burnt roots; while, all this time, there was plenty of tea in China, and sugar and coffee in the West Indies.”
“I would have left off all those things, if I might not have had them properly,” said Charlotte.
Lucy thought it would be very hard to be so stinted by any man's caprice and jealousy; and she saw that the saving would be only in one way, after all. The French might save the money they were bidden to spend on dear sugar and bad tea, but they would still lose the opportunity of selling the goods of their own manufacture which the Chinese and the West Indians would have taken in return for their tea and sugar. It was very odd of Buonaparte not to see that his plan caused a loss in every way.—Mademoiselle thought that he did see this; but that he did not mind the loss to his own people, provided he made the English suffer. She had nothing to say for the good-nature of this; but who thought of good-nature when kings go to war, with the express purpose of ruining one another as fast as possible, while they each boast that God is on their side? She remembered that her father admired Buonaparte as much as anybody could; but even her father could not thank him for making many of the necessaries and comforts of life so dear as to prevent his getting on in the world. She remembered the day when the news came that foreign trading was to go on again. Her father found himself able then to make her brother Marc a farmer. Marc had long wished to be a farmer; but his father had not had the power to do anything for him while much of his money was swallowed up in the consumption of things which were only to be had dear and bad as long as the ports were shut.
“I suppose,” said Charlotte, “that must have been the case with many people besides your father. Everybody that kept house must have saved as soon as the ports were opened. I wonder what they did with their savings!”
“Madame Mairon began to dress her daughters in the prettiest English muslins that ever were seen. All Lyons began to admire those girls, though some complained that they spent their money on foreign goods. But I am sure they laid out a great deal on native ribbons and lace at the same time, which they could not have afforded if tea and sugar had been as high as ever. Then there were the Carillons. They set up a hundred more looms directly; and every body called them proud and speculative; but the looms are still busy, I fancy.”
“Ah, that is the worst of it,” observed Charlotte. “While their looms are going, ours are standing still.”
“Not because theirs are going. Witness my brother's. The Carillons made silks for many countries, but not for England; for they have never smuggled, I believe. When your father's weavers see the goods the Carillons will send over, after next July, they may learn to weave as well; and then your father may sell as many; for there will be more people to wear silks every year, in proportion as more countries send us goods, and want some in return. There is plenty of room in the world for your father, and my brother, and the Carillons.”
“I wish,” said Adèle, “you would show Lucy the shells M. Carillon gave you.”
“What sort of shells?” Lucy asked: and for an answer she was shown into a room at the rear of the house, which was unlike any room she had ever seen before. One side of it was occupied by cases of stuffed birds, some from all the four quarters of the world. There were other curiosities in great abundance, less captivating to young eyes than gold-dropped African partridges, and burnished American humming-birds; but the shells transcended the most brilliant of the winged creatures. Speckled, streaked, polished, they were held before the eye. Fluted, indented, ribbed in waving lines, they were examined by the touch. Murmuring, they were held to the delighted ear. There was no end of admiring the pearly hues of some, the delicate whiteness of others, and the fantastic forms of those which lay in the centre of the cabinet.
“So M. Carillon gave you these shells!”
“Some of them. Those in the compartment that Lucy is looking at. M. Carillon's sons have not quite all the world to themselves to trade in; though they do sell their father's goods on many shores. When your brothers grow up to be merchants, and sell your father's silks in many countries, they will bring you shells as beautiful as these, if you ask them.”
“I should like a parrot better,” said Lucy.
“I should like some plums and chocolate, like those that Pierre had sent him from South America,” observed Adèle.
“Well, anything you please,” replied Mademoiselle. “Only let the nations be in good humour with one another, and we may all have what we like. I know I should never have possessed this pretty museum if Jean Carillon had not been trading to India, and fallen in with these shells; and there is not a museum in Paris that will not be improved, year by year, as our ships go into new countries, and bring fresh curiosities for us to study and admire.”
“But I suppose these shells cost a great deal; and the birds, too?”
“They do at present, because it is a sort of new taste, and very little pains have been taken to gratify it. But there are shells enough in the deep and wide Indian seas to furnish the cabinets of the world; and there are birds enough in the western forests and gardens to show every child in our close cities what beautiful creatures God has made to flutter in his hottest sunshine. The taste will be sure to spread, as it is for the good of everybody that it should spread. Many natives of foreign countries who now lie dozing on the burning shores, trying to forget their hunger and not to regard the heats, will dive into the green sea for the beautiful things that are hidden there. They will be up and busy when they see European ships on the horizon, and sing as they sit polishing and preparing the curiosities which are to bring them bread for their children, and raise a roof over their own heads.”
“But we must pay for these curiosities,” objected Lucy. “We must pay very high; and I think that is not fair, when birds can be had for the catching, and shells by being just taken out of the sea.”
“When those days come, my dear, we shall pay what will be a high price to those natives, but a low one to us. People in their country will begin to wish for our curiosities, as we wish for theirs. A savage gave this noble shell, as large as my hand, and more finely veined than any marble in the world, for six nails; and when that savage's children grow a little more civilized than we are now, they will give another such shell for a square inch of your Derbyshire lead ore, or half-a-dozen dried English plants. Then the drying of plants here, and the diving for shells there, will be a business which will support a family; and both countries will be wiser and happier than they were before, by having obtained something new to study and admire.”
“I think,” said Adele, “that people will not know, till that time, all that they might and should know of what God has made for them.”
“They will certainly not know all the happiness that God has made for them, till they share as equally as possible what He has given to each; whether it be that which belongs to sea, air or earth, or the produce of man's skill. Whatever any country produces best, that let it exchange for what other countries produce best. Thus will all be best served, and in the best humour with each other.”
“If you might choose what you would have from the finest country in the world, what should it be?” asked Lucy of Mademoiselle.
“I should like a great number of things to make our museum more complete. Here are only a few stray treasures.”
“But M. Carillon is going to send you something very strange and very valuable,” observed Adele. “Something from Egypt, is not it!”
“Yes; and I shall be very glad of whatever he may send me; but he cannot give me what I should like best.”
“I know what you mean. You want some plants. Well, perhaps this may be a dried lotus, or the flowering reed of the Nile. His son has been in Egypt; and how do you know that he may not be sending you plants?”
“I should like them alive,” replied Mademoiselle. “The potato was brought alive, and it grevv and flourished; and I should like to try whether some of the American shrubs could not be made to grow here. There are some of the Madeira mountain plants which I would rather have than wine and oranges.”
“But what would you do with them? There is no room here for such a garden as we had by the river-side at Lyons; and even in a conservatory the plants would get smoked.”
“Why, that is true,” replied Mademoiselle, sighing. “We must be content with our little museum.”
“Are you very fond of plants?” enquired Charlotte. “Then I will take you to two or three of papa's weavers——”
She stopped short, and bit her lip, and Lucy frowned at her. Mademoiselle asked with a smile,
“What of the weavers? Will they show me flowers?”
Charlotte answered constrainedly that the operatives of Spitalfields were very fond of their little gardens, and succeeded in raising beautiful tulips and auriculas.
“O, let us go! It cannot be far, and it is a very fine evening,” said the eager little lady, looking up to the yellow sunshine which streamed in from between two opposite chimneys. Charlotte and Lucy glanced at each other, and neither offered to move.
“Why, my children, is it possible?” cried Mademoiselle, putting a hand on the shoulder of each, and looking them full in the face with a smile. “You are afraid, I see, to introduce me to your father's weavers. You are afraid to tell nurse that you have done so, because poor nurse is jealous of the French gentleman, and his little French sister. Is it not so?”
The girls seemed about to cry. Mademoiselle went on,
“You shall request your father to introduce ms to a florist or two. Meantime, we will ask my brother whether there are such among those whom he employs. My girls, we are of one country now,-—you and I. Why should there be any tormenting, unworthy jealousy? Tell me why.”
Charlotte only knew that some people thought,—some people feared,—it seemed so very natural that manufacturers should get the best weavers from one another.
“So very natural!” exclaimed Mademoiselle. “I tell you, my girl, that my brother, has it not in his nature to feel jealousy of a neighbour; and I tell you also that my brother will in time give good weavers to your father and to all of the same occupation in this neighbourhood. If the suspicion you speak of were natural, it would be for my brother to feel it; yet, I will take you among his men without fear, if we find that they have tulips and auriculas.”
Before Charlotte had quite ventured to look again in Mademoiselle's face, M. Gaubion came in, and gave her the address of several of his men who were as fond of flowers as herself. When she gaily asked him if he was afraid of the Miss Culvers being admitted to intercourse with persons who were working for him, he smiled and added the address of a woman who was weaving velvet of a particularly curious pattern, which he thought the young ladies might like to see. This woman might have auriculas too, for aught M. Gaubion knew; and the party set out to ascertain the point.
Mrs. Ellis was found at her loom, and over-heard to be scolding lustily till her visitors popped their heads through the pap by which, the stairs opened into the room. Her natural tone of voice was not immediately recoverable, and she spoke in something between a whine and a scream, which suited ill with the languid air with which she hung her head aside, and fumbled with the gilt locket which hung by a worn hair-chain round her neck. She had so much the appearance of an actress of the lowest grade, that Mademoiselle thought there could be no mistake in conjecturing that she had not always pursued her present occupation, nor offence in asking how the confinement suited her health. She had sat at the loom, she said, since she was the age of that boy,—pointing to a lad who had evidently been the object of her wrath. Not that she had had work all that time. O, no! She had suffered her share from want of work. Indeed, it was hard to tell which was worst for the health;—the load on the spirits of having no work, or the fatigue of weaving. If the ladies would believe her, it was a killing occupation. It sat very hard upon her stomach, and her heart turned half round; and her lungs,—O, if they knew what lungs she had!
“You let us know that before we came up to see you,” observed Mademoiselle. “If you think your lungs weak, is it not a pity that you should exert them as you did just now? And, this minute, you spoke much louder than we need trouble you to to.”
“Ah! ma'am, 'tis the way with my voice. When it once gets up, I can't, somehow, get it down again.”
The boy at the loom confirmed this by a sidelong look of great meaning. His mother sighed so as to show a fine remaining capacity of lung, and was about to proceed about her infirm head, and a weak ancle that she had had all her life, when her visitors turned the current of her complaints upon the times. Poor wages! very poor wages! and hard work. It was a bad sort of employment.
“Why, then, do you bring up your children to it? Here are five looms in this room.”
“Yes, ma'am; but only three for my own family. My eldest girl is a filler. Those two farther looms are let to neighbours.”
“And both with work in them, I see. This seems a pretty piece of black silk that your boy is about; and he seems to be doing his work well.”
“Pretty well, ma'am: pretty well, for the time. I thank the Almighty, Tom is a middling boy.”
The little lad had all the appearance of being better than a middling boy. He worked with might and main while the ladies stood by, shouting the shortest possible answers to their questions, amidst the noise of his machine. His mother gave him a smart rap on the head, and asked him where his manners were, to go on with his weaving while the ladies spoke to him. His looks conveyed his apprehension that he should have been equally found fault with if he had quitted his grasp of his shuttle without leave. He now related that he was twelve years old, had learned to weave three weeks, and had in that time woven sixteen yards, for which he was to have sixpence a-yard. The ladies thought that, in relation to him, his mother's voice ought to be made to come down again, to whatever pitch it might have risen.
“And whose work is this?” asked Charlotte, examining a piece of slight French-white silk, carelessly covered with a brown-looking cloth.
“That's Peggy's,” replied Tom. “She has left it for to-night, to make the beds.”
The girls had observed, as they mounted the stairs, that though there was a green baize on the floor of the room below, a handsome mahogany chest of drawers, a tea-tray with a tiger upon it, and above it two fine pictures,—viz., the Duke of Wellington staring mightily upon his companion, a Madonna, as if meditating war against her child—though all these things testified to the means of comfort being in the house, there existed the deplorable discomfort of unmade beds late in the evening. A curl-papered girl, with a face grimed with dust from her loom, was lazily undrawing the curtains, and about to let in the flesh air for the first time that day. Mademoiselle did not know much about how far money went in this country; but she consulted with Charlotte as to whether the times ought to be called very bad by a family who earned respectively, three, five, ten, and twenty shillings a-week, besides letting two looms at three shillings per week each. Charlotte thought they must be so well off that it would be worth while to spare the second girl from her loom, and give her time to take her hair out of the paper with which it bristled, to make the beds in the cool air of the morning, to new paper the staircase, where tatters hung to gather the dust, revealing the most snug mouse-holes possible; to brush the green baize, polish the tiger, and dust the Duke of Wellington; and, finally, to purify the atmosphere of the weaving-room, by certain appliances which seemed at present not to be dreamed of. But Mrs. Ellis appeared to think that it would be time enough to clean when days of adversity should come.
She resumed her curious velvet weaving, that the young ladies might observe the action of the machinery; in the course of which investigation Adele was sensible of a descent of dust into her mouth as she looked up, and Lucy's cheek was tickled by a floating cobweb. Seeing the one make a grimace, and the other rub her cheek indignantly, Charlotte asked Mrs. Ellis how often she whitewashed. The lady with the locket smiled at the simplicity of such a question, addressed to a weaver; and when asked whether dust did not injure her work, she reached out her hand for a brush which lay near, gave one stroke with a skilful flourish, and looked with a triumphant face through the cloud she had just raised, as if to say, “You see!” Part of the gesture was, however, lost upon her visitors; for Mademoiselle had run to the window on the first hint of what was going to happen; Charlotte was coughing; and Lucy and Adele had their hands before their faces.
Mademoiselle returned, after awhile, to suggest a modest doubt whether it was not better to be without dust, than to brush it from one place that it might fall upon another—into Mrs. Ellis's weak lungs, among other receptacles; but Mrs. Ellis seemed to agree with old Short, that a loom would be nothing without cobwebs; and all that remained, therefore, was to ask about the auriculas.
Tom brightened up at the word. The poor lad had none to show at home; for his mother had no idea of sparing him time enough to make any use of the small patch of soil behind the house, which presented a fine study of cabbage-stalks and broken crockery to any painter who might happen to be passing by the back lane. But Cooper lived at hand; and Cooper happened to like auriculas, and to think Tom something more than “a middling boy;” and he encouraged him to come at spare minutes, and watch the progress of his friend's gardening; and, moreover, allowed him a corner in which to set a root or two of his own. At the first sign of permission from his mother, Tom now pulled down his wristbands, flung on his coat, and stood, cap in hand, to show the ladies the way.
It was not till the Miss Culvers drew one another's attention to old Short, as his grizzled head was seen from the garden to be moving in his loom, that it occurred to Mademoiselle that she might be trespassing on the premises of their father's weavers, after all. Next popped up at the window the round face of Ichabod, kissing the palm of his hand as he saw his father, though Charlotte flattered herself that this act of courtesy was intended in answer to her nod.
“O dear!” said Mademoiselle, “we are in a forbidden place. Come, Charlotte, come and hear that I am not begging to know any secrets about weaving, but only about flowers: and, Lucy, do you keep beside Adèle; and if she asks any questions that nurse would not like, tell me.”
Cooper laughed, and said that he was the one to learn, instead of communicating secrets to French manufacturers; and Miss Charlotte need not fear his leaving her father's service, as he had told his wife, but a little time ago, that Mr. Culver had been a good master to him, and he was determined to work for him still, if all the foreigners in the world came to settle near. He explained that he meant no incivility by this, offering the choice of some fine roots to Mademoiselle, giving her advice as to the cultivation of them, and inviting her to come whenever she liked to consult him on this matter of mutual taste.
“How is it,” asked Mademoiselle, smiling, “that you will treat a foreigner, as to flowers, as if she was an Englishwoman? Do you forget that I am French, that you thus offer me the choice of your tulips?”
Cooper replied that God had made flowers to grow in all parts of the world as a common possession; and that for people to be jealous of one another's methods of cultivation was a meanness that he, for one, would be ashamed of. He knew that a neighbour of his had wrung off the head of a pigeon of a rare kind, that he might be master of the only pair of that kind in existence; but this was, in his opinion, making sport of God's works, and encouraging bad feelings towards men, in a way which was irreligious, if anything was. If he saw a party of his neighbours' children in the fields, one taking possession of all the violets, and another of all the primroses, and a third of all the buttercups, and preventing those to whom only daisies were left from having any benefit of what God's hand had scattered for all, he should get his bible, and show them plenty of sayings in it which should make them ashamed of themselves.
“And why not so, likewise, with that which is produced by man?” inquired the lady. “Are not the faculties of man roots from which proceed designs; and are not the fruits of those designs as clearly given for common use in the end as the blossoms which are scattered over the fields and meadows? Let him that gathers call them his; but let him be free to impart when he meets with another who also desires to impart,—free from the interference of authority—free from the envious remarks of those who look on; and if one has more skill than another, let them learn of one another.”
“To be sure, madam: just as I am willing to show you my method with my tulips.”
“And as my brother is willing to improve your silk manufacture. But you will not learn what he has to teach, because he is a foreigner.”
Cooper was willing enough to learn as much as he could find out by examining what was wrought in the Frenchman's loom; but working for him, when English masters were to be had, was altogether a different thing.
One would think, Mademoiselle observed, that God had made the flowers of the field, and that man had made himself, by the distinction thus set up between those possessions which were allowed to be given for the good of all, and those which were proposed to be kept for selfish purposes. Clothing of silk was as much furnished by Providence as the raiment of the field-lilies; and to forbid the transference of the one or the other is to oppress both those who would transfer and those who would receive: it was to condemn violet-gatherers to have nothing but violets, and primrose-lovers to grow tired of primroses; while they would have been made perfectly happy by the mixed garland, whose materials were all within their reach.
Cooper observed that his little Ichabod had grown tired of buttercups lately, and had got the habit of throwing them out of the window. It was sometimes difficult to amuse so young a child, who had no companions at home. He often thought of taking him to the infant school, where the little ones had sham gardens, which it was pretty to look at.
“Let your child carry his lap full of buttercups,” replied Mademoiselle, “and he will exchange them readily for things which he will not throw out of the window; and from this infant traffic we will go and take a lesson in mutual confidence and mutual help.”
Nurse Nicholas had met with so much sympathy and kindness from everybody about her since the day when her misfortune was made known to her, that she excited, at length, something like envy in the inferior servants of Mr. Culver's family. They had, at first, offered to make up her mourning for her, and to take the entire charge of the children for a few days, that she might have leisure to grieve alone; and they were making slops, or mixing brandy-and-water for her all day long for the first week,—thinking indulgence a very consoling thing, whether earned by illness of body or pain of mind. Moreover, they had patience with her pettishness for a longer time than could have been expected, observing to one another that it was certainly a very cutting thing to have an only son shot; and that it was enough to make any temper go astray to think of anybody that had done his best for his country being served in such a way. In time, however, when four years had elapsed, they began to feel that the call upon their good-nature and forbearance was more protracted and incessant than was necessary. Nurse had really grown so proud, that it was difficult to keep well with her; and they were tired of seeing the very same look come over her face, and of hearing the very same sigh, whenever there was mention of things which must be mentioned sometimes,—people's sons, for instance, and the sea, and tobacco, and such things. If there was any sort of dispute, in which their master or the young ladies interfered, everybody was sure to be blamed except nurse; and profit came out of her misfortune in other ways, too. They wished they might ever get into such favour with any master or mistress as to have friends to tea as often as nurse had; and all to cry over the story of poor Nicholas, though, to be sure, time was found to talk about plenty of other things before the evening was over. Then, though Nicholas had been a very good son, in respect of sending presents to his mother, out of his pay, the gifts she now had would much more than make up for anything she had lost from that quarter. They could not conceive, for their parts, what she could do with her wages; they only wished they were to expect what she must have to leave. She really could not spend anything, except for the trifles she gave the children on their birthdays. As sure as the year came round, her master presented her with a black gown; and the young ladies bought muslin handkerchiefs and mourning-caps, more than she could use; and Mademoiselle had knitted her a pair of black mits for Sundays, that were quite a curiosity for the knitting. O yes; it was very well to wear mourning from year to year,—longer than she had done for her husband. Nurse would always wear mourning now, as well she might, though they doubted whether she would have had much more comfort of her son, if he had lived, than now; for he could not have been spared often from his duty, and he was always but a poor hand at writing a letter. If a woman was to lose an only son, it could hardly happen in an easier way than it had happened to nurse.
In the midst of some such speculations as these, it happened that nurse accepted a little black shawl from one of the young ladies with unaccountable indifference. There was nothing for it but to suppose that she was now so accustomed to presents that she thought little of them. But on the next Sunday the matter was differently explained. Nurse appeared in a splendid figured brocade, which had been left her by an aunt, and never altered in the fashion, from there being no materials wherewith to make up any part of it afresh. By dint of a double quantity of muslin handkerchief, and of a long and wide muslin apron, tamboured by herself when at school, the peculiarities of the waist were in part hidden, while enough projected on all sides to show what fine, stout fabrics our fathers could weave. The apparition of nurse, thus attired, appeared on the stairs time enough to allow of all the necessary speculation being gone through before church.
“Papa, papa!” cried Lucy, flying about the house to find her father, who was reading his Sunday paper quietly in the back parlour. “Oh, papa!——”
“Well, my dear. But I wish you would not slam the door.”
“I thought nurse was behind, and I did not want her to come in. Oh, papa! have you seen nurse?”
“No, my dear. Is her nose growing out of the window, and over hill and dale, like the wonderful nose in the German story that Maria was telling me?”
“No, no! but she does look so odd in that gay gown that she used to show us for a sight; and just after Charlotte gave her a shawl, too,—a shawl with a border of pretty grey and white pattern, on a black ground. She might have worn Charlotte's shawl a little first.”
“She will wear it still, I dare say; and perhaps she thinks she has been in black long enough.”
Nurse now came in, with a prim and somewhat sentimental expression of countenance, as if thinking that she ought to change her face with her dress, and scarcely knowing how to set about it. Her master's question soon brought back one of her accustomed modes of looking and speaking.
“You are going-out for the day, I suppose, nurse?”
“Going out, sir! where should I go to? It is for those who have friends and relations to go out visiting; and I have none, except just the Taylors and the Aytons, and old Mr. Martin, and Sukey Street, and a few more. You seem to think I must be always wanting to go out visiting, sir.”
“Not at all, nurse. It was only that I saw you were dressed, and I supposed——”
“Dressed! aye, it is time to be dressed when the very nursery-maids make as fine a show as their mistresses did twenty years ago. Why, there is Mrs. Mudge's nurse-maid; I curtsied to her last week, knowing the baby, and taking the girl for Mrs. Mudge herself, as I well might do, for she had a prettier Leghorn than ever her mistress wore, and a slate-coloured silk, with leg of mutton sleeves. You may rely upon it, sir, with leg of mutton sleeves, and a band the same, buckled behind, like a young lady.”
“And so you put on something gayer than a slate-coloured silk to outdo her.”
“It puts one upon one's dignity, sir, to see such ways in bits of girls sprung up but yesterday. At this girl's age I worked hard enough, I remember, for months together, before I got a chintz, which was thought a great thing in my day.”
“And I dare say somebody scolded you for getting it; for chintzes cost as much then as some silks do now. I dare say somebody scolded you, nurse.”
“Why, my mistress made me wear black mittens and a white apron with it, to show that I was a servant: which was very proper, though I had no mind to it at the time. But as to wearing silk, except on a pincushion, I assure you, sir, I never thought of such a thing.”
“Any more than Mrs. Mudge's maid now thinks of dressing in white satin. I dare say not, indeed; for it was as much as any but rich mistresses could do to get silk dresses in your young days.”
Nurse hoped her master was not going to object to her wearing silk now, on Sundays and the young ladies' dancing days. When servant-girls took upon them to wear such things as their elders never aspired to, it was time——
“I am not going to object to your wearing silk, nurse, any more than to the nurse-maid you speak of doing the same. The more you both wear, the belter for me.”
“Aye, in the sense of your being a manufacturer; but, as the master of a family, sir, you would judge differently.”
“Not at all. If there are silk-worms enough in the world to yield silk wherewith to dress every man, woman and child, where is the harm of every man, woman, and child wearing silk, if it pleases them to do so?”
“But the look of it, sir! Think of a girl dressing like her mistress!”
“It is an unfit thing when the girl has not money enough properly to afford such a dress. But if the price falls to a point within her reach, there is no more reason why she should not possess herself of such an one than there would be if she had had money left her wherewith to buy it. Her mistress will forthwith array herself in some more expensive fabric, which, perhaps, none below duchesses had worn till it became cheaper in proportion, as silk had done; and this fabric will, in its turn, descend within the reach of servants, till Mrs. Mudge's maid may, in her old age, be as much surprised at the array of the young girls of that time as you now are at people of her rank wearing silk.”
“But, papa,” objected Lucy, “what are the ladies to do all this time? Must duchesses go on inventing expensive things to wear, or else dress like their maids?”
“There will be always plenty of people able and willing to save the duchesses the trouble of inventing,” replied her papa. “We have not yet seen half of what human ingenuity may do in the way of inventing comforts and discovering beauties. If you could pop into the world again a few hundred years hence, you might chance to find every African between the tropics dressed in clear muslin, and every Laplander comfortably muffled in superfine scarlet or blue cloth.”
“And what would our duchesses wear then, papa?”
“Something which we cannot guess at; and which to them would appear more beautiful and convenient than was ever invented before.”
Nurse wondered what her master could be thinking of. Instead of having people humble and contented with their condition, he would have them be looking up and on continually.
“Have you seen the gipsy women lately?” inquired her master. Not very lately, nurse replied; but she probably should soon, as a great annual gipsy feast was to be held within the month, somewhere near town; and no doubt the Drapers would return to their old haunts for the occasion.
“Do you bid them be contented with their condition, living in tents, on the damp ground, and eating animals that they find dead?”
Nurse thought her master more odd than ever. As if all respectable people did not like to live under a roof, and have decent clothes, and eat like Christians! She did not know that in old times, servants and labourers who dwelled somewhat in gipsy style were desired to be content with their condition; and that it was thought a piece of ineffable presumption to wish to live in abodes at which beggars would now shrug their shoulders. Mr. Culver would have people content without what could not be had otherwise than by the sacrifice of what is of more consequence than that which they wish for. He was sorry to see maid-servants dressed in lace, because it is impossible for maid-servants to buy lace without neglecting their parents and friends, or omitting to provide themselves with a hundred more necessary things, or with a fund for their own support when they must cease to earn; but if lace should ever come to be as cheap as tape, he should like to see every body wear lace that likes it.
“O, papa!” cried Lucy, “would you like to see little Ichabod Cooper with lace on his shirt-collar?”
“I should like to see the Coopers, and not only the Coopers, but the poorest of the poor, in possession of every thing that is useful and that gives pleasure. If there was enough for every body of all that is useful and beautiful, why should not every body have it? All would be the happier, would not they?”
“But there never could be enough of every thing for every body, papa.”
“How do you know that, my dear? I am far from being sure of that myself.”
Lucy stared, and began to think of all that she liked best;—blue sashes, and cages of squirrels, and ice-creams, and Rosamond—Rosamond that she hid under her pillow that she might read it before nurse was awake in the morning. Was it possible that there could ever be enough of all these for every body in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America? Her papa assured her that the experiment had never yet been tried how many of God's good gifts can be put within the reach of God's creatures. So many have been afraid of others possessing too much, that all have only got a very little way in helping one another, though they have been very clever at the work of mutual hindrance. It may be that there are pearls enough in southern oceans to deck the whole human race; and cotton enough on the American plains to clothe the species; and dyes enough in the eastern woods to diversify all the habitations in the world; and industry, and zeal, and good-will enough in men's hearts to dispose them all to learn and to communicate whatever the wise have to teach, and the benevolent to suggest, and the inventive to relate, from the remotest corners of the earth. It may be that every good book will in time be read in all countries of the globe, and then——
“And then,” interrupted Lucy, “some Lapland children may read about Rosamond's gallop down the Black Lane; and some little people in China may be pleased at finding that she was fond of gold and silver fish. Well, this does not seem very surprising when one thinks how many people in America and in the East Indies know all about Rosamond already.”
“I should like to be now sending my silks as far as our good books will travel in time,” observed Mr. Culver.
“And so you will, I suppose, papa, if so many people will wear silks as you seemed to think just now.”
“Your brothers may, after me; or their sons and grandsons, after them,” replied Mr.-Culver; “but it takes a long time for people to learn to exchange freely and fairly against each other, when they have been taught to be mutually jealous, and to fancy that if one party gains by the exchange, the other must be a loser.”
“But many more do buy silk than some time ago, papa.”
“Yes, indeed,” observed nurse; “when maidservants begin, it is a pretty good sign that silk is growing common.”
“Then you will grow rich, papa. I should like you to grow rich.”
Her father told her that a beginning was made by his having ceased to grow poor. When smuggling should have ceased, and there should have been time for the English manufacture to improve as the French had done, he hoped he might be more in the way of growing rich than he had ever yet been. Meanwhile, the more people wore silks, be they servant-maids or the dames of New Zealand, the better for him; and for them, if they felt more complacent in silk attire than in the woollen petticoats and mantles of matting which their respective ancestors wore.
“The Bremes dance beautifully in their blue Gros-de-Naples frocks,” Lucy observed.
“Better than you in your white, my dear! Well, if all the world is to wear more silk, it is time you and your sisters were beginning,—I suppose you think. Hey, Lucy?”
Nurse was in possession of the young ladies ideas on this subject, and took the present opportunity of putting her master in possession of them likewise, together with her own.
“Well, nurse, I have no wish that my children should go on being envious of the Bremes a moment longer than is necessary. So, silk frocks they shall have. I shall send you in half a piece from the warehouse, which will do very well. If you find a few blemishes in the warp, you can cut them out in the making, I dare say; and, but for them, the fabric is perfectly good.”
The girls were a little disappointed at not having the choice of a colour, and alarmed at the mention of blemishes; but it was a great thing to have gained, in any way, a point which had long been aspired to. Nurse was much vexed that she could not have the pleasure of making the purchase at Mr. Breme's shop, giving Mr. Breme himself, if he should be behind the counter, all possible trouble in suiting the tastes of her young ladies. In order not to be wholly deprived of this satisfaction, she determined that all the adjuncts of these pretty new dresses should be purchased there. This settled, she and her charge were equally anxious not to delay the business beyond the next day.
When they arrived near the shop, on the Monday morning, nurse still resplendent in her figured brocade, they were mortified at finding the house shut in by a scaffolding, and the narrow entrance between the planks almost closed up by heaps of shavings and piles of bricks. They slackened their pace to observe, and were silently afraid that it must be too dark within for the proper transaction of business. While pausing, they were saluted by a cloud of dust which rose after some heavy blows behind the screen of planks, and which did much towards convincing them that the present was hardly the time or place for discharging their errand.
“We must come some other time,” remarked Lucy to the unwilling nurse.
“We must go somewhere else,” observed Charlotte, who saw little hope of the scaffolding being clown before the next dancing-day, beyond which it was impossible to wait for the new silk frocks.
The workmen went on knocking, sawing, and standing in the way very unconcernedly; but a strange-looking personage peeped out from behind the corner of the screen of planks, saying,
“Go somewhere else, ladies? Where will you meet with such a shop as this, now being enlarged for your convenience? You will find it light and busy enough within. I know of one good customer, at least, that is there.”
The girls thought this odd, as the man was only a poor person who was mending a chair-bottom, in the corner formed by the projection of the scaffolding into the street, where he could lay his rushes beside him, and work undisturbed by the passengers, while in full view of them. He seemed to take upon himself the office of advertiser of Mr.) Breme's concern, as he directed to the establishment the attention of all who stopped and peeped over the heads of the little boys who were watching his proceedings. He let everybody know that the shop was accessible, and was now being enlarged. Several persons lingered to see whether nurse and her charge went in; and their safe and easy entrance, when they once made the attempt, encouraged one or two to follow.
Charlotte looked round for the good customer spoken of by the chair-mender, but could see no finely-dressed lady engrossing the attention of the shop-people; no dainty gentleman pronouncing upon such articles as he might be presumed to understand. There was only an old woman buying nun's lace for her mob-cap; and a young woman, with a baby in her arms, comparing remnants of common print; and a child waiting patiently, with a hot half-penny squeezed in her hand, for a skein of thread; and a party of gipsies in red cloaks at the further end of the shop, with their backs turned to the new comers. Nurse was too busy putting on her spectacles, and holding gauze ribbons in various lights, to take any notice of what other people were doing, till the man who was serving her leaned over the counter to whisper that the customers yonder (nodding towards the gipsies) were choosing a very expensive dress for their queen to wear at the next of their festivals; and that it was to be made up by one of the first dress-makers in town. A stout country girl, who had followed nurse and her party, and taken her seat beside them, heard this as well as they; and from that moment her attention seemed bent upon the wearers of the red cloaks rather than upon her own purchases. She stepped forward a pace or two, when one of them turned at an accidental noise, and an immediate recognition took place, to the surprise and amusement of the shop-people.
The gipsy strode forward, holding out her brown hand, and saying,
“Why, Miss Rebecca, I thought the sea-shore was our meeting-place. So often as I have met you there. I never dreamed of seeing you in town parts.”
“Nor I neither, Mrs. Draper: but I am not long from home.”
“Only come for a little pleasure, Miss Rebecca. Well; you know I used to tell you that there was one that would give you what pleasure you liked, if you chose to ask. I dare say now——”
And Mrs. Draper looked round, as if for some supposed companion of Rebecca's; but Rebecca answered,
“Now, I told you, Mrs. Draper, long ago, to talk no nonsense; and I'm here buying things, you see——”
“Ay, my dear; I see,” said Mrs. Draper, looking no graver for being told that she talked nonsense. “I see; but how's the father?”
“Why, but middling. Father's a wonderful hearty man for his years, to be sure, considering some things.”
“Ah! the ruin of the coast, which must have hurt his feelings. And dame,—how's the dame?”
“O, she's well, and hobbling about, as usual. And I hope she'll keep well. Dame and me are going to keep school—a boarding-school for girls.”
Mrs. Draper laughed heartily at the idea of Rebecca teaching manners, as she said, and walking out behind her young ladies, two and two.
“Ah! you may laugh,” answered Rebecca, food-humouredly; “and I know many people think I'm not a bit fit for it; but I don't care what “pains I take—I don't care what I do,’ if I could but see father smile.”
Mrs. Draper was struck dumb; for to her it seemed that Mr. Pim not smiling was not Mr. Pim at all. What could have happened to render it difficult for Rebecca to “make father smile?”
“It is not a venture, as it would be to set up a school in a town, to set one up in the country,” observed Rebecca. “'Tis such a common thing, you know, to send children to the sea-side when they are delicate; and dame always took great care of our chilblains; and, for my part, I like nursing them when they are ill better than teaching,—ever so much. And, you know, I can teach sewing, I think much of needle-work; it is so useful! They shall do a deal of that.—And then we have the maps. I can teach them those; and they shan't stick to them too long. I remember, when I used to learn, how my back ached, and I used to get the fidgets, and think, ‘ Well, now, shall we ever leave off?’ O, they shall go out and come in again; and we'll find them something to read that they will get amused with; and if anything more is wanting, why, father will help us, perhaps.”
“He will help you all to run races on the downs. He is the one to say ‘ One, two, three, and away.’ But I really hoped, Miss Rebecca, that you were buying for a house of your own.”
“And where would be the use of a house of my own, unless father was to be in it? and then it would be all one as his. No, the old house must do,—at least for a beginning. If better times should come, perhaps——”
“What! your father's school fell off, then. It was a fine one when my children went; but I suppose the ruin of the coast ruined it?”
“Tis all ruin to us. If it was only the loss of the trade to himself, that was a great amusement. But it set the people all complaining about not affording schooling for the children; for they had grown careless about the fishing. And then, several went away for a time, after the murder, for fear of the reward the government offered; and that broke up everything. Father never got over that.—You may talk about running races on the down. Father has never been to the down with any heart since; for it was there that he spoke with poor Nicholas the very day before——”
Rebecca stopped short, struck by the effect of what she was saying on the gay ancient personage who sat near. Nurse came forward, jerking an end of ribbon in one trembling hand, and fumbling for her handkerchief with the other, while her countenance resumed the expression of which her fellow-servants were tired, and which they hoped she had laid aside with her mourning.
“My son, ma'am! I beg pardon for interrupting you, ma'am, but he was my son. Nicholas, I heard you mention. If you knew him, perhaps you would tell me anything you might know.”
Rebecca and the gipsy looked at each other, which made nurse appeal to Mrs. Draper, with confessions that she should not have turned her away from the back-door so peremptorily, the last time she came to tell the maids' fortunes, if she had thought she knew anything about the Preventive Service and her poor son.
“We knew him very well indeed,” said the plain-spoken Rebecca. “He used to pass almost before our door twenty times in a day, when he was upon watch; and our children used——”
“Ah, poor fellow! he was always like a child himself. He could never say a cross word to a child,” sobbed nurse.
“Nor to anybody else,” feelingly observed Rebecca.
Charlotte saw that the scene was becoming such as little beseems a busy shop, and she thought of an expedient for gratifying nurse without exposing her feelings to observation. After a consultation with Lucy, she asked Rebecca if she could come to tea at their house, and tell nurse everything that she could recollect about Nicholas. This Rebecca promised to do, though her stay in London was to be very short. She had come only to “improve herself” for a week or two, and to provide a few necessary additional articles for her school-keeping; and her father began to want her at home.
While nurse was wiping her eyes, in preparation for finishing her shopping, Mrs. Draper called upon Rebecca for an opinion respecting the purchase the gipsies were about to make. Lucy followed, being unable to restrain her curiosity; and impatiently did she beckon for her sister to join her when she saw with how splendid an array the counter was spread. Rebecca looked no less delighted.
“Yes, that will be the one,” observed Mrs. Draper, seeing that Rebecca's eye rested on a fabric of peculiar richness and beauty. “O, yes, it is expensive; but it is worth the money; and these cheaper silks have grown so common! Half the girls we tell fortunes to have more or less silk about them. Our queen must not be taken for such as live by a yearly wage. She must have of the best, and this must be the one.”
“O no, sir,” Rebecca replied, drawing back from the gentleman behind the counter, when he pressed some of his goods upon her notice, “O, no, thank you, sir; they are all too dear for me to buy to wear down by the sea-side.”
“Yet you and these ladies have seen very pretty silks down by the sea-side,” observed Mr. Breme, for it was lie who was himself serving his best customers for the hour. “We all know that very pretty silks have been seen by the seaside; but that day is over.”
“I don't know that, indeed,” replied Rebecca. “They say that Brighton will be fuller than ever next season, and that is the place for pretty dresses. I suppose there are not many such beauties as this sold anywhere?”
“More than you would suppose, ma'am; particularly of late. There is no end now to the silks that may be lawfully had; and when that is the case, more people think of wearing.”
“And yet silks are very little cheaper than they were.”
“At present, not much, as you say, ma'am. But people are so pleased to think that they may wear what has been forbidden so long, that they make a very brisk trade, I am happy to say. This will lead to improvement and cheapness, and then people at home and abroad will wear more still. The more you can get of a thing, the more will be wanted. That is the rule, ma'am; from small beer to satin dresses. The more can be had of a thing, the more will be wanted. Could not you fancy one of these beautiful things, ma'am?”
“Very easily,” replied Rebecca, “if a fairy would come this moment and give me money to buy one, but not else. I am keeping yonder gentleman waiting with the brown holland, which is what I wanted. I must leave your silk dresses in your shop till I have earned one.”
On further consideration, Rebecca feared she could not spare a whole evening to nurse. She had so much to do, and her time was so short! Would a call do? or meeting them in their walk? A better plan than either struck Charlotte. Would not Rebecca meet them at the dancing-school on Wednesday? One who was about to keep school should see some dancing; and she and nurse might have their chat in a corner, without anybody knowing what they were talking about. This was certainly the best plan, and Rebecca agreed to it, with grand expectations of the sight she was to see.
GRIEF AND DANCING.
Rebecca was so anxious about her appointment, that she arrived at the dancing-school some time before the party she expected to meet. A family of pretty little children were just sashed and sandalled, and made ready to enter the great room, when she arrived; and she drew back, with her usual modesty, to allow them and their governess to pass. Their dancing-school curtsey filled her with admiration; and she pulled up her head, and began bending her knees in involuntary imitation, when she remembered that she had better not try anything so new before so many spectators as were assembled in the room. She went up to the dancing-master, in her usual stumping pace, and apologized for not making such a curtsey on her entrance as those young ladies, as she had not been used to it. Mr. Brown condescended to give her a grin and a nod; and, when he saw her stand as if not knowing where to turn next, did her the further favour of pointing with his fiddle-bow to a seat which she might be permitted to occupy.
There she sat, absorbed in what she saw, till nurse arrived with Miss Charlotte and Miss Lucy in their new frocks, new shoes, new gloves, and all things newer, if not handsomer, than the Miss Bremes'.
“They are not here yet,” whispered the one sister to the other.
“No, not yet: but I hope they will be sure to come. Why, look! there is Adèle, and her sister with her! Nurse, we will go and sit beside Adèle, and then you and Miss Pim can have your talk comfortably by yourselves. I am sure the Jenkinsons will make room for us on their bench.”
The Jenkinsons made room, and it was immediately discovered that Adèle came to learn to dance; upon hearing which, Lucy fell into a reverie which lasted till a twang of the fiddle called her up for her first quadrille.
Rebecca could not help breaking off her answers to nurse's questions to wonder at Lucy's dancing, and admire the height of her jumps, which, however, did not seem to please Mr. Brown quite so well.
“Gently, gently, Miss Lucy,” said he. “There may be too much activity, ma'am, as well as too little. We are not at a leaping-match, ma'am.”
Lucy blushed and smiled, and still went on, sometimes nearly losing her balance, and having already lost any grace she might have been accustomed to display. She threw out her feet, sometimes heel foremost, stuck her elbows in her sides to give herself more concentrated power for a jump, and over-reached her mark in crossing, till she nearly pulled her partner down. Mr. Brown declared, at last, that he must send for a neighbouring builder to ascertain whether the room was strong enough to bear Miss Lucy's dancing.
“Poor thing!” exclaimed Rebecca, “why should not they let her dance as merrily as she likes? I will never stint my scholars in their jumps.”
Nurse thought that on the sea-shore, or on the green, it was different from the present occasion. Miss Lucy came to learn to dance, not to practise leaping. She could not imagine what possessed the child to-day to dance as she did. Lucy was not strong, and there was trouble enough sometimes in getting her to do more than merely shuffle her feet.
“She just makes up when she is in spirits for what she can't do at other times,” was Rebecca's good-natured excuse, as she smiled at the happy-looking fluttered Lucy.
Nurse beckoned the offender across the room to receive a rebuke, as soon as the quadrille was finished; and Lucy came smiling, panting, and fanning herself, and went away again, not at all disheartened by nurse's lecture on manners. She was observed, as she took her seat, to look up at Mademoiselle and Adèle, as much as to say, “What do you think of my dancing?” Mademoiselle smiled, and Adèle looked indifferent.
“Well, ma'am,” said nurse, “so the Lieutenant's lady was very sorry for my poor son. I remember he said something of her once in a letter or a message.”
“Said something of her! Why, well he might. He seemed to think of little but pleasing or displeasing her; and she was kind to him accordingly. I used to think he would never put his hat on again, when he had taken it off to be spoken to by the ladies from the station-house.”
“Aye, there is another lady too. Was she kind to my poor son also?”
“All very well: but Miss Storey had always more partiality for our people than for the Preventive men. Poor father said,—one of the last jokes I have heard him make,—that he saw nothing for it but Miss Elizabeth taking to drinking or smoking, as she is so partial to smuggling and all that sort of thing, and as she must now get what she used to have so in other ways.”
“But gloves come over against the law still, do not they?”
“Very few, high as the duty is. They are not sought after as they were a while ago, for they say the English gloves are nearly as good and as cheap now, and there are many more made. They say at the Custom-house that near twice as many skins come into the country as there were a few years ago; and so there is no occasion to smuggle so many French.”
“So Miss Storey does not go down to the poor people's cottages as she used to do, my son told me, stealing out of sight of the guard?”
“Not she. She walks quite disconsolate along the beach to the east, instead of going in and out, above and below, among the downs, as she used to do when she had something- to go out for.”
“And the Lieutenant's lady too; does she go out as formerly?”
“As much as ever; but then she has something to do that makes it worth while. She gets one of the Preventive people to carry a little light table and her portfolio; and she paints,—never minding the wind or the sun, or anything. If it blows much, she pins her paper down at the corners, and puts her hair back, and paints away: and if the sun is hot, up goes her large umbrella, and still she paints away.”
“Dear me! What does she paint? I wonder whether she ever painted my poor son.”
“I think she hardly began after her marriage till the spring weather came on, and——”
“Ah! it was March when lie came by his end. The 3d of March, at half-past one in the morning, they tell me; ma'am.”
“The lady has painted a good many of the guard, though,” continued Rebecca, wishing to change the subject. “She has a number of pictures of them, some drawing water at the wells on the downs, or sitting polishing their arms in the martello towers, or feeding their pigs at the station-house. We used to hear strangers call those towers very ugly things; but she has made a world of pretty pictures of them, looking as different as if they were not the same places.”
“She must be a clever lady, then; for there is nothing to my mind so dull and uniform as those towers. They are worse than the houses I saw last year in the Regent's Park,—all alike, except such little differences as don't signify.”
“Mrs. Storey would make even them look different, I fancy: for, as to these towers,—some are white, standing on a yellow sand, with a dark blue sky behind, and the sea a darker blue still,—which you know it is sometimes. And then she makes a shadow from a cloud come over the tower, and the sea all streaked with different colours; and then it is the turn of the sails at sea to be white,—and a bird, perhaps, hovering over the dark parts. Once she went out when the moon was near the full, the Lieutenant himself carrying her cloak and her sketch-book that time, and she wanting nothing besides but her case of pencils. From that sketch she made a beautiful picture of a grey sea, with the foam white in the moonlight; and in that case, the tower was quite black on the side of the shadow, and so was the guard on watch, as you saw him between you and the surf.”
“I wish she had painted my poor boy, ma'am; or that he had lived to carry her table. It would have made him so proud! But you say she was sorry for what happened to him?”
“Everybody was sorry. Father, for one, has never got over it. But the lady was on the beach when—when——”
“I know what you mean, my dear. Go on.”
“Well; she looked so,—you can't think. Father was quite pale when he came out from among the crowd of children that had got about the mouth of the cavern; but he was nothing to her, in the comparison.”
“Indeed! Well—my dear——”
“O! so white, and so grieved, more than frightened. She beckoned father to her, to settle what to do till some of the guard could come; and then she called the children after her, and went away, to take them away, though she could hardly walk.”
“Dear me!” was all that escaped from nurse, who could not prevent its being seen through her emotion that she was flattered by this tale: and she did not attempt to conceal her gratification at hearing what a crowd attended the funeral, and how the people gathered to read and hear read the proclamation of reward for the detection of the murderers. And all this interest was about her son! Nothing could ever make up to her, she told Rebecca, for his body being hidden for a time, as it was. It would have been such a consolation to her to know that he made as beautiful a corpse as she had often said he would. Those who had seen how her boy looked when he was asleep might be sure that he would look better when he was dead than ever he did when he was alive.
While Rebecca was meditating what she could say by way of consolation for Nicholas not having made so beautiful a corpse as might have been expected from him, certain sounds from the other side of the room attracted her attention, and half diverted poor nurse's.
“So the Lieutenant said of him..... O! no need to start, ma'am, at Mr. Brown's rapping his fiddle. He is never really in a passion, though he pretends anger, to keep the young folks in order.”
“But they have done something to make him angry. Hark! what a rattling in the fiddle!”
“But look at the corners of Mr. Brown's mouth. He does not know how to help laughing all the time.”
“As the children find out,” observed Rehecca, seeing how the boys peeped over one another's shoulders to see the effect of the old joke of putting pease into a violin.
“And the girls are all huddled together, not a bit like young ladies,” added nurse, moving solemnly towards her charge, patting their backs, chucking their chins, and ascertaining that their feet were in the first position. Alas! they were in none of the five lawful positions.
“Let us see what Adèle will make of her positions,” whispered Lucy, as she saw the little French girl led out, to take, as was supposed, her first lesson. “She does not seem to mind it; but she will when she finds she cannot keep her balance in the curtsey at the last”.
She was surprised that Mr. Brown tuned his violin. Music was not wanted for teaching the positions. Mr. Brown must be in an absent fit; and Adèle must be very conceited to smile and look at her ease, on such an occasion. When she should have learned two years, and be able to dance the same quadrilles as Lucy, she might look at ease, and welcome: but already——
Already Adèle showed that she knew one position at least. Before the words “Point the toe, ma'am,” had passed the dancing-master's lips, the toe was pointed as if the whole foot was made of something as flexible as the thin sole of the little shoe.
“I do believe Adèle can dance,” burst from Lucy's lips, as the fiddle-bow gave its last flourish before making music. There was no further room for doubt, though much for wonder. Adèle sped away,—much as if she was winged: round and round,—hither and thither,—up and down and across, not half so much out of breath with the exertion as Lucy was with witnessing it, and with some thoughts which came into her mind. “What a silly, stupid, vain thing. I have been! I hope Adèle and Mademoiselle did not find out that I wanted to show off to them. How very bad Adèle must think my dancing, to be sure! I did hear the windows rattle once, when I had jumped very high; and Adèle comes down as light as a feather. I wish we could get back to two o'clock again. If I could make them all forget this last hour, I would never show off again; at least, not till I was sure that I could do a thing better than other people.” And Lucy held her fan to her chin to watch the rest of Adèle's performance in mute admiration.
“Look, now, at that child of mine, with her fan at her chin, of all places!” observed nurse, a-hemming to catch Lucy's attention, and then bridling, and placing her knitting-needles (for nurse carried her knitting everywhere but to church, and there fell asleep for want of it) in the position in which she thought a fan ought to be held. Lucy, vexed to be interrupted in her scrutiny, and so often chidden, tossed her fan into her sister's lap, and turned to Mademoiselle to talk, and thereby avoid the necessity of perceiving nurse's signs.
“Ay, that's the way children do,” said nurse; “that was just as my poor boy used to turn and get away from me, when I had been whipping him, all for his good, as I used to tell him, and to make a great man of him. He never liked it, nor saw what a great man he might be some day, guarding his country on the top of those cliffs, and dying, and all.”
“And all for nothing,” added the matter-of-fact Rebecca; “which must make it the more hurting to you. Nay, now, do not look so offended, as if I had said that Nicholas did not do his duty. He did what he could; but it always seems to me a great fuss about nothing.”
“About nothing, ma'am? Is smuggling nothing?”
“That Coast Guard can't prevent smuggling, after all; and if they could, is not it a much cheaper way of preventing it, to make smuggling not worth while? Here, with all their spying, and searching, and seizing, they can lay their hands on only 5000l. worth of smuggled silk in a year, while we all know that fifty times that much comes to be worn. Is not it a great fuss about nothing to risk men's lives for a little matter like that? And they get no more in proportion of tobacco or spirits, or anything else; so, as father says, they might as well put smuggling out of our thoughts at once, or let us do it in peace and quiet. Father has had no peace and quiet this long while, nor ever will have till we find him something to do; and that is hard to find. There is my brother out of the Custom-house, too, being no longer wanted now they are reducing the business and the salaries, and even talking of shutting up the Custom-house.”
“You ought to be sorry, then, that people smuggle less than they did,—as sorry as I fancy your father is, my dear.”
“Why, as for that, it is very well to be in the Custom-house, to collect the dues the government ought to have; but, for my part, I never liked my brother's having to look to the seized goods, which sometimes happened to be what he would rather have seen anywhere else. If he had at once set himself to something else——”
“You had better send him here; my master wants more hands.”
“With all my heart. If he had set himself to supply people's demands at home, instead of preventing their being supplied from abroad, it would have been all very well. But he liked better to marry, and live upon my father, (supposing father to be rich,) than to work at a new business; and now I must keep school, and do what I can for them all. Dear me! what a pretty dance that is! I do not know what I am to do. if the parents expect my girls to dance in that manner. I forgot to look at Miss Lucy this time. Oh, ma'am, what can be the matter with her? Do look how she is crying. Bless her poor heart! how the tears run down!”
Lucy did, at this moment, exhibit a somewhat extraordinary spectacle,—weeping and cutting capers, sobbing and attitudinizing, and looking dolorously in the face of her partner (one of the Master Bremes) whenever the turns of the dance obliged them to regard each other. If she would have given any rational excuse for her emotion, she would have been excused from dancing in tears; but she was mute, and must therefore take her turn with her companions. The fact was, that, while standing up and waiting for the signal to begin, Lucy had chanced to turn her eyes on a mirror that hung opposite, and to see a young gentleman behind her wriggling in imitation of her earlier exploits of this day; and, what was worse, she saw that Mr. Brown indulged in a broad grin at the joke. Not all her attempts to think of something pleasant,—of her new frock, Mademoiselle's museum, and the kitten promised by Adèle,—could enable her to keep down her tears. They only came the faster the more she struggled against them; and all hope of concealing them was over before Rebecca's kind heart became moved by her sorrow, and Adèle squeezed in sympathy the hand which she encountered in the course of the figure. This sympathy only aggravated the evil: it caused a long, crowing sob to resound through the room, moving the boys to laughter, and everybody else to pity. It was a lost case, and the credit of the day,—of Adèle's first day at the dancing-school,—was irretrievable.
Mademoiselle removed to a seat next nurse, to inquire what could have been the matter with Lucy all this day; and when told that she had been well and in high spirits up to the moment of entering the room, she was anxious to be allowed to feel her pulse, and ascertain whether there was fever in the case,—nothing short of fever being, in her opinion, sufficient to account for her alternate boisterousness and melancholy. Lucy being surrendered to Mademoiselle, presently began to grow calm. The scarlet flush which had spread over her neck faded, and the sobs subsided, as she assured her friend that she was not at all ill: it was all her own fault. This mystery was received in respectful silence, and a long pause ensued, at the end of which Lucy looked up through her tears to say,—
“How beautifully Adèle dances!”
“Yes, she dances prettily; but she wants practice, and does not take exercise enough; and that is the reason why we have brought her to learn again. Adèle is a lazy girl in some things: are you not, Adèle?”
“But where did she learn to dance? I never saw such dancing. I do not believe anybody here will ever dance so well. There's Nancy Breme: her feet go well enough, but she pokes; and her sister carries her head high enough,—mighty high,—like the proud that are going to have a fall, nurse says; but she turns in the left foot, as Mr. Brown is for ever telling her. And there is——”
“Well, well; we will not dispute Adèle's dancing better than any body here.”
“O, but I was going to say myself too. I meant to find fault with my own dancing, and Charlotte's.”
“No occasion, my dear. I have heard what Mr. Brown has to say about it, you know; and he is a better judge than either of us. Perhaps you will go with us to Lyons, some day, and see where Adèle used to dance, under the chestnuts by the river-side. Or, if you must have boards to dance on, you shall go to M. Carillon's country-house, where you may waltz in his summer saloon, with roses hanging in at the window.”
“Is that the M. Carillon who sent you those beautiful shells? And is his great new present come for your museum?”
“It is on its way, and we may hear of its arrival any day. You shall come and see it when it is unpacked and in its place. Now, do you think you can dance again? Mr. Brown looks as if he wanted a partner for that merry boy.”
“O, I cannot dance with him,” exclaimed Lucy. “Yes, I will, though he did laugh at me. I find fault with other people, I know, so I suppose it is fair that they should with me.”
And she started up, and offered herself to dance; and a sign from the good-natured Mr. Brown forbade any one from staring at her red eyes.
“Well, ma'am,” said Rebecca to nurse, “and now that I have seen Miss Lucy comfortable asyain, I must go. I'm sure if you know of any delicate children, or others that do not want a finer education than we can give them, you will think of dame and I.”
“Yes, indeed, my dear, for the sake of my poor son. Thank you, I'm sure, for all you have told me about him; and if your father should happen to come, so as to give me a call, I think he might manage to remember a little more. And give my respects to the Lieutenant's lady, and tell her that I consider my son honoured by her preference; and tell——”
“I have been thinking, Mrs. Nicholas, whether you could not come down among us. You will be sure to see Mrs. Story yourself then; and we would make you heartily welcome in our way.”
“What! to see the very place? The cliffs, and the beach, and the very cave and all! O, my dear! Well, we will see; and many thanks to you.”
Rebecca thought it right to advertise her intended school in every possible manner, and therefore made an effort to mention her plan to Mr. Brown, observing that he was probably in the way of hearing of children who wanted sea-air and nursing; and that they would be well taken care of, though she could not pretend to have them taught such dancing as she had seen that day.
Mr. Brown smirked, said something about reviving breezes, native elasticity, natural grace, and the hand of art, and bowed her out with an emphatic screech of his instrument, just at the moment that she was declaring him very kind.
The remainder of the lesson was passed in silence by the higher powers, as nurse could not bring herself to speak of the subject uppermost in her thoughts,—her poor son,—to a French woman, whom, as being French, she considered as in some sort, concerned in his murder.
HATE AND HAND-BILLS.
When Mademoiselle returned to her own drawing-room, she found her brother there,—an unexpected visitor at this time of day, when he was usually engaged in his counting-house. He was standing at the window, with his eyes fixed upon a newspaper, which he might or might not be reading, so completely was his attitude one of meditation.
“I have waited for you,” he said; “I wished to see you before I went out again. Are you ready to go back to France?”
“To France! Is there to be a war?”
“Only that war which wars of arms bring on,—war against classes and individuals, arising out of national jealousy. No, thank God! the slaughter of tens of thousands is at an end; and what matters the ruin of one insignificant Frenchman?”
“Ruin! Are they going to ruin you?” asked his sister, her eyes flashing.
“No anger, my dear,” said M. Gaubion. “Judge not these English people by the example of our happier countrymen. They have been trained for centuries to suspicions like this;”—(handing the newspaper to his sister, and pointing out a paragraph.) “I was aware of this training, and I ought not to have come. It is for the Frenchmen of two centuries hence to be the brethren of Englishmen.”
“But you can disprove this charge,” urged Mademoiselle; “or, as the duty of proof rests with your enemies, you can dare them to the proof. Let them show, if they can, that you carry on your business as a cloak to hidden practices. Let them lay a finger on a single article smuggled by you. They cannot; and this is a mere calumny,—a newspaper calumny.”
M. Gaubion pointed out that the charge was contained in a report of some significance, and was not one of the common paragraphs which no wise man thinks it worth while to be vexed at. Its appearance in such a mode indicated a hostility in persons interested in the silk trade, which would probably end in sending a peaceably-disposed man home again.
“I have been trying to make myself an English woman ever since I came,” observed Mademoiselle, “but I will cease the endeavour; it is better to be French.”
“Nay, France may blush for similar follies. How long was it before we had men wise enough to discover, that if France received cottons, it must be in return for something that France had produced! When some few perceived this, what cries issued from our work-shops! What certainty did some feel that the total disorganization of society would ensue! How others rehearsed the dirge which must presently be sung over the tomb of French industry! And who knows but that a Manchester man might then have been torn in pieces by the prejudiced operatives of France?”
“But did you not say just now that the English are peculiarly prejudiced on this matter?”
“They have been made so by their national circumstances. Their manufacturers and merchants have had a greater voice in the government than is allowed in many other countries; and this voice has for ever cried out, ‘ Protect us!’—‘ Encourage us!’ Then of course followed the cry of other classes, ‘Be impartial!’—‘Protect us also.’”
“Ah! the difficulty is to stop. Each new protection raises clamour for more; and some are left dissatisfied after all is done that can be done. It becomes a scramble which class can cost the country most; how each article can be made dearest, and therefore how the people may be soonest impoverished at home, and prevented from selling abroad on equal terms with their neighbours. So it would be if protection were universal; but surely it cannot be so in England, or any where else?”
“Not altogether; but her rulers have found themselves perplexed by her land-owners and tillers being jealous of the manufacturers; and the ship-owners, of the agricultural class; and the labourers, most justly, of all these. There will be no peace till the just plea is admitted, that the interest of those who consume is the paramount interest; and that the rule of commerce at home and abroad, therefore, is that all shall be left free to buy where they can buy cheapest. The observance of this rule would soon quench the desire for protection, as the protected would have no customers but those from whose pockets their bounties are yielded. Yet this rule is the last which the ministries of England have till now regarded.”
“Strange! since the consumers are so much more considerable a body than any class of the protected.”
“Nothing is strange when there is a want of money. Does not a minor make over his property to sharpers for his debts before he has enjoyed it? Do not the besieged in a city revel in food and wine while starvation impends? If so, why should not a government, involved in ruinous wars and other extravagance, stake the commerce of the country for an immediate supply of money? When, new taxes must be imposed, submission has been bought by new protections. The example once set, other restrictions have followed, till those who possess nothing but the fruits of their own labour bear the whole burden. They pay to the landlords, that bread may be dear; they pay to the India House, that tea may be rendered a blameable luxury to them, and that what is woven in eastern looms may be out of their reach; they paid for the wars which occasioned the restraints which they now pay to keep up.”
“But why do they thus pay? And is not all this a reason why they should welcome you, instead of desiring a continuance of their bondage?”
“Slaves often hug their chains as ornaments, and the ignorant mistake custom for right. My enemies are not aware how they have suffered from the long custom of restriction; and it was my folly to expect a welcome from the poor, who have ever been taught, that what a foreigner gains an Englishman must lose; or from masters who have been cradled in fear, not by the generous nurse,—competition, but by the jealous demon,—monopoly.”
“Truly,” exclaimed Mademoiselle, “the lark is likely to be hooted and clawed if she ventures among the owls. You are right, brother; there is nothing for it but fleeing away.”
“These owls being even now transforming into day-birds, and the lark having once been an owl herself, both should have patience with each other,” replied her brother, laughing. “But though the hooting may be borne for awhile, the tearing to pieces is hardly to be awaited in patience. I have been growing more unpopular every day, my dear; 1 see it in many faces, whenever I look beyond my own people. They like me, I believe; but they will soon be threatened out of working for me. They will also seize on this imputation, that I make use of them as a screen for practices which take work out of the hands of their brethren. After they have learned—only through my zeal overcoming their reluctance—to rival us in the niceties of our art, they will drive us away as if we had done them an injury.”
“And yet you will not let me reproach them.”
“If you must blame, blame the selfish monarchs, the temporising ministers, the barbarous aristocracies, the vain-glorious generations of the people that have passed away,—rather than the descendants on whom they have entailed the consequences of their mutual follies. The spirit of barbarism lingers about its mortal remains. Barbaric wars are hushed, the dead having buried their dead;—Barbaric shows are fading in splendour, and are as much mocked at as admired;—Barbaric usurpations are being resisted and supplanted day by day; but the infatuation which upheld them so long is not altogether dispelled; and if we rashly suppose that it is, we deserve to suffer for coming within its reach. I was wrong to settle among a people who invited us to a contraband trade, were driven by their own vicissitudes to offer us, with much reluctance, a lawful one; and now, through the hardness of their own terms, suspect us wrongfully, and make a great crime of that which they themselves have taught us.”
“They seem to forget that we are on equal terms of obligation; that we French take as much of the produce of their industry as they take of ours.”
“I shall urge this on our jealous neighbours, and will go as an equal to a brother manufacturer for counsel,” observed M. Gaubion. “Culver knows little of me, but he holds many of my principles, and to him will Fnow go. If he thinks this charge of importance, I will deal with it as he advises; if not, I will strive to think so too.”
Whether the charge was of importance was decided before Mr. Culver could be appealed to. As M. Gaubion pursued his way through the streets, hand-bills met his eye at every turn, in which was contained the newspaper paragraph that had troubled him, accompanied by unfriendly comments, and hints that the Treasury was well aware of the nature of the Frenchman's establishment, and of the means by which it was supported. He saw knots of people gathered round the windows where this hand-bill was stuck up, and showing it to one another in the alleys. He would fain have got possession of one to put into Culver's hands, but did not choose to run the risk of being discovered by making the request in a foreign accent. He could see nobody who appeared to be employed in distributing them, or who had two copies. At length ‘he passed a little shop, where a boy was leaning over the counter, apparently spelling out the contents of the bill, while another copy hung in the window. M. Gaubion marched straight in, took the bill from the window, pointing to the one on the counter, and walked out again, the boy crying after him—
“Stop, sir—stop; we can't spare it. You can get one by asking at the———”
The rest was lost upon the escaped stranger, who walked on unobserved, and meeting no one whom he knew till he arrived opposite Cooper's door.
At Cooper's door was a knife-grinder, grinding Mrs. Cooper's scissors as she stood by, and making sparks at such a rate as to delight master Ichabod, who stood, now holding by his mother's gown and winking, and now clapping his hands-in delight. As soon as Mrs. Cooper perceived M. Gaubion at some distance on the other side of the street, she pulled her gown from the child's grasp, ran in, and instantly returned, followed presently by her husband, who pretended to be talking to the knife-grinder, but was evidently watching the approach of the gentleman. When M. Gaubion was near enough to be saluted, Cooper offered him a shy, uncertain bow, but seemed very ready to speak when the gentleman crossed over to ask him if he knew how long this hand-bill had been in circulation.
“We were just wondering, sir, my wife and I, whether you had seen it. I hope you don't mind it, sir; that is, I hope you have no reason to mind it.”
“Why, Cooper, you do not believe this bill?”
Cooper believed that many people did not think what mischief they were about in smuggling. The Spitalfields men had reason enough to know this; but it had been so long the custom to drive a profitable contraband trade, without being thought the worse of, that if some people did it still, it was no great wonder; though he must think it a sin and a shame.
“But such is not my trade, Cooper; I have not smuggled a single piece.”
“Well, it is very lucky if you can say so, sir, for there is nothing the masters and men are so jealous of now. If you had profited by a contraband trade, you would not have been the only person in the present company that must take to something less profitable.”
The gipsy knife-grinder looked up saucily, and jabbered a few words of what might, by an acute discerner, be detected for French;—such French as might be picked up by means of half an hour's talk with a Guernsey person, four times a year.—On being asked how he relished the change from making moonlight trips and fighting midnight battles to tinkering and grinding among the abodes of men; he answered that if his profits were smaller than they had been, they were better than he had expected when he chose this neighbourhood for the scene of his operations. A few years before, all the knives and scissors were at the pawnbroker's; it did not signify whether pans and kettles were battered or whole, as there was nothing to put into them; and there was little employment in chair-mending, as the people sat on the floor, or ate their crust standing. Now that there was smoke in almost every chimney, and that little men,—nodding to Icha-bod,—were allowed to pull rushen seats to pieces, a gipsy's occupation was a better one than he had once known it.
“‘T would be a thousand pities you should have to change your trade, sir,” said Cooper; “and if, as you say, there is no truth in what is said about the smuggling…………But are you sure you are right in coming abroad this evening, sir? I don't like saying disagreeable things; but that is better than leaving you, without warning, to suffer them. From what I see and hear,—and my wife too,—I should be afraid you might be roughly spoken to. 'Tis the best kindness to all parties to keep out of sight when any are disposed to mischief.—Do I know how long this has been brewing? Why, no. There has been whispering, to my knowledge, for weeks; and it is four days since my child called us to see the boys acting the Frenchman under the windows; and the grown-up folks said some rough words then. But I, for one, never saw the bill till this day.”
Cooper now spoke a few words to his wife, which seemed to dismay her much. She pulled his arm, twitched his coat, and looked miserable while he proceeded to say,
“If I might take the liberty of so offering, sir, I would propose to step with you, wherever you are going. I would say ‘ behind’ you, but that it would not answer the purpose so well. I am pretty well known as a sound English master's man, and———”
“Prejudice on every side!” exclaimed the-Frenchman, in his heart. “This man evidently believes the charge, or part of it, and he offers in his protection, on the ground that he is known not to like me and my doings!”
Cooper's courtesy was coolly declined, and M. Gaubion walked on to ascertain elsewhere the origin of the calumny.
Mr. Culver recommended his keeping quiet, and, if there was no foundation for the report, it would soon blow over. “If there was no foundation!” The same doubt appeared on every hand.
“Just tell me,” asked Gaubion,” why I should drive a contraband trade, when I might legally import, if I chose?”
“The duty is high enough still, sir, to induce smuggling in certain favourable cases. I was an advocate for the trade being thrown open; and being so, I am now for such a duty as shall put us on a par with your countrymen. I think a duty of twelve or fifteen per cent, would do this, and leave no temptation to cheat us out of our market. I should have advised a higher duty some time ago; but smuggling is made easier now by so much silk being brought in legally; and I think we should be better protected by the lower duty than the higher.”
“I see,” observed the Frenchman, “that in this case, as in others, some of those who are the very parties supposed to be protected are the most willing to resign the protection. It is declared to be a difficult thing to get a protection repealed; but the difficulty does not always rest with the protected party.”
“That entirely depends on the state of his affairs,” replied Mr. Culver. “If the protection loaves him his business in a flourishing state,—which seldom happens for many years together,—or even permits it to remain in a state which barely justifies its being carried on, he may dread something worse happening by the removal of protecting duties; but if, for a length of time, his trade declines, and the faster the more government meddles with it, he will quickly learn, as I have learned, to preach from the text, ‘ Protect the people's pockets, and we shall have as fair a chance as we want.’ The difficulty, sir, arises from the number of interests mixed up in an arbitrary system like that of protections. While people and money are wasted in spying, and threatening, and punishing, when they ought to be producing, there will be many an outcry against a change which would deprive them of their office, though it would set them free for one much more profitable to the people. Then again, if persons have been bribed to pay a new tax by the promise of protection, it is difficult to oblige them to go on paying the tax, and give up the bribe, unless they have a mind so to do. They talk of injustice; and with some reason. The long and short of the matter is, that once having got into an unnatural system, it costs a world of pains and trouble to get out of it again.”
“The only way is to go back to some plain clear principle, and keep it in view while loosening the entanglements which have been twisted about it.”
“When do you find governments willing to do that?” asked Mr. Culver.
“In this case it would be very easy, there being one, and but one sure test of the advantageousness of trade in any article of commerce;—the profit that it yields. If a merchant finds it more profitable to sell his goods abroad than at home, he will send them abroad, without the help of the government. If the contrary, it is wasting just so much money to tempt him to deal abroad. If less profit is made by manufacturing silks in England than by getting them from abroad in return for cottons, whatever is spent in supporting the silk manufacture is so much pure loss.”
“But you do not think that this is actually the case with our English silk manufacture?”
“I do not; as I prove by becoming an English silk manufacturer myself. For this very reason, I see that there is no need of the protection of government. The interference of government is either hurtful or useless. Foreign goods either are or are not cheaper than home-made goods. If they are cheaper, it is an injury to the buyer to oblige him to purchase at home. If they are not, there is no occasion to oblige him to purchase at home. He will do so by choice.”
“Aye; but the buyer is the last person considered in these arrangements. It is hard to discover why, if the merchant can supply more cheaply than the manufacturer, the customer should be taxed to uphold the manufacturer. I have no wish that my customers should be so taxed; for I know that instead of upholding me, they will leave me and buy elsewhere. If they and I are left free to observe the true rule of interest,—to buy in the cheapest market we can discover, and sell in the dearest, we shall find our interests agree, be fast friends, and make commerce the advantageous thing it was designed to be.”
“That is, an indirect source of wealth to all. How can rulers help seeing that as nothing is produced by commerce, as it is an indirect source of wealth,—a mere exchange of equivalents of a lower value which become equivalents of a higher value by the exchange,—the more direct the exchange, the more valuable it is to both parties? If a portion of the value is to be paid to a third party for deranging the terms of the bargain, the briskness of exchanges will be impaired in proportion to the diminution of their profit.”
“And while my customers are prevented from buying in the cheapest market, I am, by the same interference, hindered,—aye prohibited, selling in the dearest. My customers complain that my silks are higher priced than those of your country; but give me the means of a fair competition with your countrymen, and [will engage to get a higher price,—(that is, more commodities in exchange,)—in some parts of the world than any duchess in London will give me. The price would be lower to the buyer, but higher to me.”
“I suppose the excuse for these protections in the beginning was that the infant manufacture might not be hindered by the vast growth of the same manufacture abroad. Your rulers expected that your art would be sooner perfected if fostered.”
“And has it proved so? Were we not, three years ago, far inferior to you in the goodness of our fabrics? And if we are now overtaking you, is it not owing to our protection being partly removed? Was not any immediate improvement more than counterbalanced by the waste of establishing and upholding an artificial system, of diverting capital from its natural channels, and of feeding, or half feeding the miserable thousands who were beggared and starving under the fluctuations which our impolicy had caused?—The businesses which have been the most carefully protected,—the West India trade, agriculture, and till lately, the silk trade,—may have been very profitable for a short period, but they have suffered more from fluctuations, have caused more national waste, and more misery to whole classes of people than any that have been less interfered with. The cotton trade is the one to which we owe the power of sustaining our unequalled national burdens, subsistence for 1,400,000 of our population, and incalculable advantages of exchange with countries in many latitudes; and the cotton manufacture has been left unprotected from the very beginning.”
“Your ribbon weavers of Coventry do not, however, appear disposed to take care of themselves. How loud are their complaints of distress!”
“And the distress is real: but it belongs to the old system, and it would have been not distress only, but annihilation, if the introduction of the new system had been long delayed. Coventry once believed herself destined to supply the whole world with ribbons. Then she made the sad discovery that she must be content with the home market; and now that this also fails, Coventry complains of the government, instead of bestirring herself. While our cotton men have been bright and brisk, depending on their own exertions, Coventry has been dull and lazy, depending on the prohibitive system. One of her looms prepares five times less ribbons, with an equal amount of manual labour, as your improved French loom; and she is reasonable enough to expect that the world shall buy her ribbons instead of those of her rivals, if our government can but be brought to order the world so to do.”
“Her manufacture would plainly have expired outright, if the government had not set her free to improve.”
“To be sure it would; and it is not over-gracious in Coventry to take this act of justice,—tardy though it be,—as an injury. Coventry and old governments have been in the wrong together. Let the mischief that results be made a lesson to all by referring it to its true cause; and then there may be a chance of such an increase of prosperity as may remove all disposition to recrimination.”
“This is exactly what I have long wished to behold in my own country,” observed the Frenchman. “Protection has done little less mischief there than here; but unhappily this is a case in which countries are as unwilling to take precedence as court ladies are to yield it. Each country refuses to be first. All cry, ‘ We will wait till others repeal their prohibitive systems;’ as if every new channel of exchange opened were not a good.”
“And as if commerce consisted of arbitrary gifts, and not of an exchange of equivalents,” replied Culver. “It may be a vexation and disadvantage to us, if you take no hardware and cottons from us; but that is no reason why we should not provide ourselves with your claret and brandy; as, if you cannot receive our hardware and cottons, you will take something else. If you will take nothing of ours, you can sell us nothing of yours, and the injury is as great to you as to us. But we should punish ourselves unnecessarily, if we refused your brandies because you refuse our acissors and knives. It is saying, ‘ Because we cannot sell cottons, neither will we sell woollens.’ It is being like the cross child who sobs, “You won't let me have custard, so I won't have any dinner at all.” If governments will only, as I said before, let the people's purses alone, other governments must necessarily do the same. If your French government lets your people buy cottons in the cheapest market,—that is, here,—our government cannot prevent our getting our claret in exchange in the cheapest market,—that is, at Bordeaux. A much more comfortable and profitable method to both parties than doing without cotton and claret, or paying more for making them at home than they are worth.”
“How is it,” M. Gaubion now inquired, “that holding the same doctrine with myself as to the principle of trade at large, you can yet be jealous of me because I am a foreigner? I use the word ‘ jealous’ as not too strong; for surely, Mr. Culver, your reception of me was but half-amicable.”
Mr. Culver's manner immediately cooled as he observed that there was much room left yet for unfair dealing; much encouragement to underhand schemes. He kept himself clear of accusing any man, while matters were in doubt; particularly a gentleman with whom he had the honour of only a slight acquaintance; but the duty was undeniably still high enough to tempt to a contraband trade. It was unquestionable that smuggling was still carried on, and, to however small an extent, still to the injury of the home manufacturer; and he, being a home manufacturer, must wish to have the offence brought home to the right person. No man could desire more earnestly than he did that such an offence should be precluded by good management; but, till it was so, all who hoped for his friendship must clear themselves from the charge of taking his means of subsistence from under him.
“But how am I to clear myself?” asked M. Gaubion. “This is what I came to ask of you; and but now you advised me to keep quiet. I am not to clear myself; but I am not to have your friendship till I have cleared myself.—I must, I will clear myself, Mr. Culver; and you shall tell me how. Will an oath do it?”
Mr. Culver drily replied that he required no oath.
“You! no. I would not offer my oath to a private individual who would not take my word. It must be to some official person. Tell me, Mr. Culver, will an oath do?”
Mr. Culver believed that oaths were such common things in commercial and Custom-house affairs that they were not thought much of.
“True indeed!” exclaimed the Frenchman; “and alas for those who set up oaths against the plain and acknowledged interests of nations, classes and individuals! How shall the sin of tempting to perjury be wiped from their souls? If my oath will not avail, to what species of proof shall I resort?”
“To none, till there is a distinct charge brought against you, fortified by particulars. It is your interest to keep quiet.”
“I will not stay to receive this advice of yours a third time,” replied M. Gaubion. “I will go for advice to one who is not jealous of me; and if such an one I cannot find, I will, stranger as I am, act without counsel, without aid against my enemies. I may be compelled to return whence I came, but I will not go till I have justified myself for my country's sake.”
He went out hastily, leaving Mr. Culver in no very pleasant mood, in the conflict between his liberal principles and his petty personal jealousies. He hummed a tune as he took up the obnoxious handbill, whistled as he laid it down again, and ended with frowning because it was a close evening, and flinging his pen into a corner because he made a blot on beginning to write.
M. Gaubion found nothing in the streets as he pursued his way home to make him desire Cooper's escort. They were remarkably quiet, and he supposed that the weavers had resorted to their gardens for their evening amusement, or had gone to rest in preparation for the early toil of the next day. When he was within a few hundred yards of his own house, however, a hum came upon his ear, like the murmur of a multitude of voices at a distance. After listening for a moment, and satisfying himself that the cries which mingled with the hum must proceed from some unusual cause, he ran forward, trying to resist the persuasion that all this must have some connexion with himself, and to decide that a fire had probably broken out somewhere in his neighbourhood.
It was now dusk. A few lamps showed a flame uncongenial with the prevailing light, and the lamp-lighter was seen, now flitting from post to post with his ladder on his shoulder, and now pausing for an instant, with his foot on the lowest rung, to listen. A lamp-lighter was a safe person of whom to make inquiry, M. Gaubion thought;—one who had no interest in commercial squabbles, and would not betray him on account of his foreign speech. Of him, therefore, the Frenchman inquired what was going on; but the man could offer only conjecture. He had not yet lighted the lamps in that direction, and he did not think he should carry his lantern much further till he knew whether they had not fire enough and too much already. M. Gaubion passed on for better satisfaction; and as he threaded his way among the loiterers, runners, and gazers, who began to thicken as he proceeded, he longed for an English tongue for one minute, that he might learn that which every one else seemed now to know. He was glad to perceive a woman's head emerge from a vault, and gaze slowly round, as if at a loss to account for the bustle. He took his stand for a minute within hearing of the inquiry which he hoped she would make.
“Why, I say there!” cried she presently, “is there afire?”
The runner applied to shook his head, and passed on.
“You, there! Can you tell me what it is if it's not afire?”
The boy snapped his fingers at her, and ran on.
“What, are ye all running after you don't know what? What is it, I say?”
“Come and see, if you can't ask civilly,” growled an old man, making his way on his two sticks as fast as he could.
“What care I what's the matter?” muttered the woman, turning to descend once more into the vault.
“O, ask this person!” cried M. Gaubion. “He looks as if he could and would tell us.”
“Ask him yourself, can't ye, instead of watching and listening to what I may say. If you have nothing better to do than that, you might go and see for yourself, I think.”
As he turned to go away, the lady condescended to make one more effort to satisfy her curiosity.
“It is something about the Frenchman, I don't know exactly what,” was the reply. “Something about his having smuggled goods while he pretended to weave them. They are looking for him, to give him three groans, or a ride, or a ducking, or something of the sort.”
“Perhaps they won't have to look very long if they come to the right place,” observed the woman, with an ill-natured laugh towards M. Gaubion, who did not stay to hear more. When he arrived at the end of his own street, his first impression was that all was quiet, and the place empty; but a moment convinced him that the dark mass extending up and down from his own house, which he had taken for shadow, was in reality a crowd. The occasional movement of a woman with a white cap, or an apron over her head, showed him what the picture really was; and this was the only stir seen for awhile.
“O dear! sir, O sir, is it you? Let me advise you to turn back,” said a respectable body who stood at her shop-door, and instantly knew M. Gaubion. “It is as much as your life is worth, sir, to go near. There! here comes somebody out of the crowd, I declare! Bless you, sir, do take care of yourself!” and she stepped backwards, and shut the door full in the gentleman's face.
“You take good care of yourself, at least,” thought the persecuted man to himself. “You are afraid even to ask me to shelter myself with you from this storm. But you need not have feared. I must first learn how my sisters are.”
This was done by boldly pushing through a crowded thoroughfare into the back row, stepping over a paling or two, taking the liberty of crossing two or three gardens, dispersing a few broods of chickens by the way, climbing a wall, crawling along the roof of an outhouse, where the pigeons wondered at the new companion who had come among them, and finally taking a vigorous leap just by his own back-door. No hue and cry disturbed these manœuvres. There was less danger of this than there would have been in the dead of night. All eyes were more securely absent than if they had been closed in sleep, for they were occupied with what was passing in front of the house.
“Mercy on us! here they come in from behind!” cried the terrified kitchen damsels as their master burst open the back-door. “God save us! it's my master himself, and he'll be murdered. O, sir, why did not you stay away?”
“Fasten up that door,” said the gentleman. “As one got in that way, more might. Lock and bolt it.—Where is your mistress; and Miss Adèle, where is she?”
“Upstairs, and towards the front, sir; and do you know, Mademoiselle has been to the lower windows, behaving as brave as a general; so miserable about you, sir, all the time. She went down to tell the people that you were not here; but she has been in such a terror every moment, lest you should come and thrust yourself into the midst of it. We have been thinking of all ways to get somebody out to give you warning; but there was nobody but us women. Mademoiselle wished to have gone herself; but, besides that we could not think of such a thing, she was wanted to amuse the people with observing her, as she says. So she keeps about the front windows. We think some help will be here soon, to do away with their idea of waylaying you; but my mistress is in mortal terror, though she is above showing it to the wretches without.”
“Well, tell her that I am safe in the house—”
“And upstairs, sir? You will go upstairs out of sight?”
“Willingly: into the loft, if it will make my sisters any easier. But do not go as if you had a piece of news to tell her. Let it drop quietly, that the people may not find out that she is hearing anything particular.”
The maid performed her office with some prudence, and brought back a message that Made moiselle dared not come to speak to him yet; but that if he would go into the back attic, Adèle should visit him presently with some refreshment.
With deep disgust at being compelled thus to skulk on his own premises, the gentleman ascended to the top of the house, and venturing to take a brush from his own chamber as he passed, was occupied in brushing his coat when his younger sister appeared. She nearly let fall the tray she was carrying, as she cried,
“They have had hold of you, after all, I do believe!”
“What! because I look a strange figure? No, my dear. This dust is from the wall I had to get over, and these cobwebs from the top of the outhouse.”
“How horrid! But the first thing I am to tell you is———What are you listening to? Yes, it is! It is a band. There are soldiers or somebody coming at last. We thought they never would. We thought nobody would help us.—Stay! where are you going? Into the front room? O, you must not! Indeed, indeed you must not go there!” And Adèle hung her whole weight upon her brother's arm, and screamed.
“Hush! hush! you silly child,” he said. “One scream may do more harm than anything I mean to venture. I will only peep from the corner of the blind to see what is coming; that is all.”
Adèle sobbed with terror as her brother performed the projected feat.
“Ah, there is some protection coming for us, I suppose, by the crowd making way. And yet the people do not look frightened. Nobody moves off. Music! what wretched music! It cannot possibly belong to a regiment. A drum and two fifes. What is it that they are playing, Adèle?”
Adéle sobbed out that it was the “Dead March in Saul,” she believed.
“Ah! so it is! Now, my dear, come here! Do look! It will make you laugh, instead of crying. What is all this about, do you think?”
“What a ridiculous figure!” exclaimed Adèle, laughing. “How can grown-up men play with such a thing?”
“It is meant for me. Do not you see?”
“But you do not wear powder, nor a long pigtail all down your back: and you do not stick out your elbows in that ridiculous way.”
“Some people think that all Frenchmen do so; and many in this crowd—most of them, I believe—have never seen me. But you will perceive presently how they would treat me, if they could get hold of me.”
M. Gaubion being more inclined to observe in deep silence what was going on than to proffer any further explanations, left his sister to discover for herself that there was a cord round the neck of the effigy, that the piece of wood over its head was meant for a gibbet, and that a double death was to be typified by its fate, preparations being already in progress for a fire in the midst of the crowd.
There was scarcely wood enough collected to broil the effigy thoroughly, and further contributions were speedily brought in from all quarters, as soon as the want was made known. Men from the neighbourhood brought old lumber which their wives had pointed out as being to be spared. Lads brought pales and faggots, no one knew whence. The very children seemed to catch the spirit, casting from their little hands such bits of paper and of shavings as they could pick up. One poor little fellow, however, was less patriotic than his companions. He cried bitterly at seeing his wheelbarrow sacrificed, and pulled his merciless father's coat till a box on the ear struck him dumb and tearless. It was true the barrow was without a wheel, had lost a leg, and presented only one shaft; but still it was his barrow, and had been used to the last for purposes much more congenial to the child's tastes than roasting a Frenchman.—M. Gaubion internally blessed this child,—not for an instant supposing that anything but attachment to his barrow was the cause of his resistance,—but loving him for being the only one unwilling to feed the insulting fire.
“The very children,” thought he, “that have smiled and nodded at me, when I stepped out of the way of their marbles, and come confidently to me when their kites have fallen over my wall, are at this moment taught to mock and hate me, they know not why. That boy who is pinning the effigy's name—Mounseer Go-be-hung—on its back, was taught to write by my order. There goes my green wicket!—off its hinges, and into the heap! The lads that pulled it down have often passed through it with my work under their arms, and my money in their pockets.—O, you fiend of a woman! Do you put shavings into your infant's hand, that it too may have a share in the inhospitality of your country? May that infant live to subsist upon my resources, and to make you thank heaven that the Frenchman came among you!—Ah! you are all calling for fire. By heavens, I believe you will get none! Yonder housewife shakes her head; and in the next house they are raking out the fire. There is not a candle to be seen through a window, the whole length of the street. Can it be that my neighbours feel for me? Alas! here is a lighted slip of wood procured at last! Bravo! good woman! brave woman! to empty your pot of beer upon it! Who is that they have laid hands on there? The lamp-lighter; the same that I spoke to. He should not have brought his lantern! They will take it from him. Not they! dash it goes against the wall; and what a yell as its fragments fly! I have friends, I see; but they are of those who have nothing to do with silk-weaving; of those who owe nothing to me, instead of those whom I have benefited. Well; I will not blame the people, but the discipline of jealousy in which they have been brought up.—Here is fire at last! I will not seek to know who gave it. God forgive him!”
It was enough to madden the most gentle who was interested in the case, to see how the effigy was treated in the fire;—poked with pitch-forks, made to dance upon the gibbet, to fold its hands, to turn its labelled back, and nod to the ladies who were supposed to be peeping from some corner of the windows. So searching a glance traversed the whole front of the house from a thousand upturned and gleaming faces, that M. Gaubion felt it necessary to withdraw, and forego the rest of the irritating sight. He could not go out of hearing of his new name,—Mounseer Go-be-hung,—shouted in the intervals between the groans with which the flaming of the last tatters of the effigy was hailed; but the presence of his sister made him calm. He could not agree in the conviction of the housemaid, that he would be a prodigious favourite with the people in a few days; like a master in whose family she had once lived, who was burned in effigy one week, and the next, received amidst the touching of hats wherever he went, the question about wages between him and his men having been settled in the interval. M. Gaubion did not stand so good a chance for popularity;—in the first place, because he was a foreigner; and in the next, because whatever evils the people were suffering from the speculation and overtrading of their masters, could not be remedied so speedily as a dispute about wages could be temporarily settled. As for dissociating foreigners in the minds of the people, from their hardships,—that was likely to be as much a work of time as the removal of the hardships themselves.
Before the crowd had quite ended their grim pastime, the expected interruption happened. An alarm of the approach of the authorities spread from a considerable distance, and all dispersed hither and thither, leaving it to the winds to play with the smouldering embers, and to the gazers from the surrounding windows to watch the last little puffs of smoke, as they wandered into the upper air.—A thundering rap brought down M. Gaubion, grave and stiff, followed by his sisters, grave and pale, to open the door which the servants could not be induced to unlock and unbar.
When everything had been ascertained from the inhabitants of the house which could be told by the young ladies and the trembling, loquacious servants (at length persuaded to look their protectors in the face, instead of peeping at them over the banisters) about the circumstances of the riot, and from their master about its supposed causes, the magistrate departed, with the persons he brought with him, except one constable who was left to guard the house, and a messenger who seemed to come on other business.
He shortly explained his errand. Taking a newspaper from his pocket, he pointed out that the Secretary of the Treasury, and the whole Board of Customs, were charged with being cognizant of the fact of the foreigner's smuggling transactions, and parties to his scheme for ruining the trade of his neighbours. So grave a charge rendered it necessary for his Majesty's government to sift the matter to the bottom, and to ascertain the real state of the case with regard to the Frenchman, as well as to prove their own innocence. It was possible that irregularities on the part of a mercantile firm might have been connived at by some of the inferior servants of the Customs Board; and though it was far from being the intention of the Board to impute such irregularities to M. Gaubion, it was desirable that he should, if possible, put it in their power to acquit him wholly of the charge.
“Thankfully,—most thankfully will I do so,” was his reply. “How shall we commence the proceeding?”
“By your accompanying me with the least possible delay to the Treasury, where your accusers will meet you.”
“I am ready at this instant. Let us go.—But what kind of proof will be required? Is it necessary to prepare my proofs, or will a clear head and an honest heart suffice for my defence?”
The messenger had no orders but to bring the gentleman himself. It was too late this evening; but he would wait upon him the next morning, to guide him into the presence of his accusers.
This arrangement completely restored M. Gaubion's spirits. His sister was somewhat fluttered by the idea of such an examination as he was to undergo; but assented to its being the thing of all others now to be desired. Adèle could not be talked out of the idea that her brother was going to be tried, and that something very dreadful must happen. She cried herself to sleep, to be awakened by visions of the effigy dancing in the flames. Her brother lost even the oppressive sense of being the object of popular hatred in his satisfaction at being allowed an opportunity of justifying himself, and slept undisturbed by the ghosts of the events of the bygone day.
While Mademoiselle was striving to employ herself diligently the next morning, during her brother's absence, three quarters of her acquaintance came to condole, or to enquire, or to use any pretence which might enable them to satisfy their curiosity. Of the remaining fourth part, some had the kindness to stay at home, and content themselves with a message of enquiry how the family found themselves after the alarm of the last evening; while others contented themselves with remaining at home, and not sending, dropping a hint at the breakfast-table that it would be time enough to take notice of past events when it should appear whether the Gaubions could clear themselves, and what would be thought of them henceforward. Mr. Culver left no orders, before he went out, as to what his young people were to do; and when the question was proposed by themselves, there was a difference of opinion. Nurse believed that foreigners were a bad set altogether, and that it would be better to have nothing more to do with any of them. Charlotte thought it would look rather odd to break off intercourse so suddenly; and Lucy offered to vouch for poor Adfele's having done nothing very bad about smuggling, however the case might stand with her brother. The girls agreed that it might be a kindness to take Adèle for the day; and even nurse was open to the argument that it would be very pleasant to hear the whole story of the riot from the very best authority. The debate ended in nurie and Lucy
–Lucy as being Adèle's special companion—setting off to bring her back with them;—an object less easy of accomplishment than they had imagined.
Being sent for to speak to them in the hall, Adèle appeared, to urge their proceeding to the dining-room.
“Every body is there,” said she, “and you will hear all about it, if you will come in. The room is almost full; but you know most of the people. We never thought of so many coming at once, but it would not do not to see them; it would make them think there is more the matter than there really is; and I am sure they all mean to be very kind. Do come in.”
In answer to the suggestion that they could hear every thing much more comfortably from her in Devonshire-square, the little French girl positively declined leaving home this day. She gave so many good reasons for her resolve, that there was nothing for it but following her into the parlour, if they wished to carry home any tidings.
“Such a pity, to be sure,” Mrs. Piggins was saying, “when you had painted and made all nice so lately. It is but a month, scarcely a month, I think, Betsy, since I got a daub of green paint on my cloak (all my own carelessness, ma'am; I'm sure I don't mean———) from your green wicket, and now it is pulled down and burned to ashes! and the smoke, I see, has blackened the cornice; so lately as it was painted! We just looked up before we knocked at the door, to find whether the front of the house seemed any-how different; and then Betsy pointed out to me that the cornice was blackened,”
“And so brutal it was of the people, Mademoiselle,” observed Miss Harvey, “to make you light the pile that was to burn your brother. I wonder how you ever did it,—only that I suppose you could not help yourself.”
“O, that is quite a mistake,” replied Mademoiselle, smiling. “They asked us for fire, and we told them our fires were out; that was all.”
“Well, to be sure!” cried Miss Harvey, looking at her sister, “we were told that they dragged you among them, and made you set the bonfire alight with a torch, and that you cried out loud, ‘ My hand but not my heart consents.’ So this is not true?”
Mademoiselle shook her head.
“Then it may not be true either—It is better to ask at once,” said the lady, in answer to her sister's wink and frown, “it may not be true either that M. Gaubion was handcuffed when he was fetched away to the Treasury.”
“What is that?” asked Mademoiselle, whose ear did not happen to have ever been met by the word ‘handcuffed’.”
By gesture, as well as explanation, the sense was made known to her; and then her laugh had as much of indignation as of mirth in it.
“You might have supposed that was false without asking,” said the younger Miss Harvey to her sister. “As it was not true that M. Gaubion had his right arm broken, and that Miss Adèle lay without hopes of recovery———”
“I!” exclaimed Adèle “they did nothing to me; they never thought about me at all.”
“So I find, my dear; but that is the way people will talk.”
“Now, Mademoiselle,” observed good, kind Mr. Belson, “if you are quite sure that neither my wife nor I can do any thing for you, I had better be going, instead of helping to fill your room when you cannot possibly be much disposed for entertaining company. You are very right, my dear,—quite right to open your doors, and let people see how little is to be seen; but there is no need for me to trouble you any longer. When you wish to see my wife, just send across to tell her so. and make any use you like of me. Good morning, ladies.”
More visitors came in, and Mademoiselle had again to begin the ten-times-repeated tale.
“And which window was it you first looked out of, ma'am? The first story, did you say? We were told the lower———”
“It is certainly a hackney-coach, Adèle,” cried Mademoiselle, who had started from her seat in the midst of that which was being said to her; “it is a hackney-coach with two gentlemen in it.”
And without ceremony the two young ladies ran out of the room, closing the door behind them, and leaving their visitors to look wondering and wise upon each other. Miss Harvey stepped to the window in time to see the tenants of the coach alight, whispering to her sister that Mademoiselle had not absolutely denied the story of the handcuffs, after all.
Free in respect of the hands, however, and apparently light of heart, the gentleman alighted, nodding to his sisters, but not entering the house till his slow-paced companion was ready to precede him. The coach was not discharged; the ladies did not at once re-enter the room; and the second person was certainly not a gentleman; but it was impossible to suppose that matters were going wrong, while M. Gaubion wore so cheerful a face. Thus decided the observers in the dining-room.
“Is it all over?—all well over?” whispered Mademoiselle, on meeting her brother.
“All brought to an issue which cannot fail,” he replied. “They will have my books; and my books are the best witnesses I could bring,—eloquent, silent witnesses of my innocence.”
“They do not believe you then?”
“The Board of Customs does, I am confident; but they cannot refuse to go to the bottom of the matter, now they have begun, and it is very well for me that it should be so; but I cannot stay now; I must not keep the officer waiting———”
“Yes; I asked for him. Do not look so frightened; I requested that he might come with me, that I might not be suspected of leaving some of my books behind, or destroying any papers. I did propose sending to you for the books; but I thought you might, in your hurry, omit something.”
“I am glad you came yourself.”
“So am I, as it will satisfy you that the affair must end well. Now that they have brought me to the proof, I am safe.”
Mademoiselle could not deny this; yet the thought of an officer being on the premises cast a shade over her face as she returned to her visitors.
One of the ladies proffered the consoling consideration that, if the worst came to the worst, the punishment would be nothing in comparison with what many gentlemen had undergone for treason, and such things. She supposed a fine would be all; and it could not be very difficult for M. Gaubion to pay a fine; and if there should be a short imprisonment added———
“I thought I had explained, madam, that there is no danger of any kind of punishment; there is not even a prosecution; and, if there were, my brother has clear proof to bring forward of the falsehood of the charge. My concern is only on account of its being imagined that he could be so false, so treacherous, as to come and seem to rely on the hospitality of a foreign nation, for the very purpose of injuring their trade. Let his acquittal be as honourable as possible,—as honourable as it will be,—still we can never forget that he has been suspected of this despicable offence against the society he lives in.”
As all was now known that could be known within the limits of a decent visit, one after another of the visitors dropped away; those who lingered in the street agreeing with those who overtook, that Mademoiselle was a very sweet creature, certainly, and probably perfectly delightful in her native society; but that she was rather high-flown for this sober country.
Mademoiselle had need of all her high-flown thoughts to sustain her this day. Her brother did not come home to dinner, nor appear at tea-time, nor arrive before the last moment to which Adèle was permitted to sit up, in hopes of his customary evening blessing. A little while before midnight he returned, languid,—whether only in body, or likewise depressed in spirits, his sister could not at first discover. He solemnly assured her that all was going on well; that his books had been minutely examined, and every transaction found to be regular, and every statement correct. The declaration of the amount of his stock was found to be consistent with the number of weavers whose English names stood in his books; and the work declared to be now in their hands tallied with the unfulfilled orders which were registered. Yet all was not over; it remained to send round to the houses which were set down as the abodes of his weavers, in order to discover whether those weavers really lived there, and were actually employed on the work declared to be in their looms. This was to be done to-morrow, and when it should have turned out favourably for the foreigner, it was difficult to conceive of any further pretence being found for doubting his word, or persecuting him as an enemy.
Yet Mademoiselle was certain that her brother was dejected—that his confidence was impaired; and she told him so. He admitted it, and ascribed the change in his spirits to the alteration which had taken place in the relative feelings of himself and his accusers. While it was merely that he, was not esteemed by them, his consciousness of, innocence was sufficient to bear him up. But they had, since morning, seen so much jealousy, heard so much cavilling, witnessed such unwillingness to relinquish each charge, and such extraordinary ingenuity in imagining methods of fraud which might possibly have been put in practice by him, that he felt he could no longer respect or esteem some among whom he had hoped to live in amity.
It was very painful, he observed, not to be esteemed by them; but not to be permitted to esteem them was an intolerable evil. He did not know what he could do but go away, after all.
“Wait; be patient till the more liberal policy has had time to work,” was his sister's advice. “If it be true that the former system made them subtle and jealous, the latter and better system may restore to them the attributes of that brotherhood which must some day prevail. If it is already too late for them to be thus wrought upon, there is hope from their children and successors. Let us remain to prove it.”
“It is folly,” he replied, “to expect that the blighting effects of a prohibitive system can be removed from the heart and mind, any more than from the fortunes, in the course of one generation, or of many generations; but if we can aid the work of amelioration by staying, let us stay, and convert into friends as many of our neighbours as we can.”
The next morning was rather a warm one for the work which M. Gaubion had to do. It is warm work on a freezing winter's day to have one's good faith questioned, and to listen to cross-examinations conducted with the express object of discovering discrepancies in one's statements, and under the certainty that every mistake detected is to be'accounted a lie. When to this is added the climbing the stair-cases of Spitalfields, in summer weather, the glare in the streets from long rows of burnished lattices, and the trippings and slippings on cabbage-stalks and leaves in the alleys, any degree of lassitude may be pardoned at the end of the excursion. The Frenchman had to take heed to his steps in more ways than one. He was careful not to dictate to the examiners in any way, and never to precede them in their walks and their clambering. They had with them a plan of Spitalfields, and he left it wholly to them to discover the abodes entered in his books, and to satisfy themselves that the persons named really dwelt there. He stood passive—(whether also patient was best known to himself)—while a consultation was held in the broiling sun whether they should turn this way or that, and how they should discover the right number when there was no visible sign of it. He followed up stairs merely to see that he had fair play, and then, for the first and last time in his life, could not condescend to speak to his own weavers.
Notwithstanding lungs, stomach, and head, Mrs. Ellis was still at work, and still able, by brandishing her brush, to raise clouds as instantaneously as Jupiter himself could cleave them with a motion of his armed right hand. Her locket still shone, only somewhat more coppery than before; and her hair was decidedly grown, its front ringlets now tickling her chin as they danced in the breath of her loom.
“A beautiful piece of velvet, indeed, Mrs. Ellis! Your name is Ellis, I think.”
“Alas! yes, sir; and the worse for me that I ever knew the name; much more took it. Such a life as I had with my husband———”
“Well, we did not come to hear about your husband, but about you. You are a person of much more Importance to us, Mrs. Ellis.”
The lady came out of her loom to make a more extensive curtsey than the space within its bench would allow.
“A beautiful figure that velvet has, to be sure, What house are you weaving it for?”
“Mr. Corbyn's, sir. We all weave fot Mr. Corbyn.”
The examiners looked at one another, and one of them was disposed to think she meant to say Culver, as there was no manufacturer of the name of Corbyn in the neighbourhood.
“Do you mean Mr. Culver or M. Gaubion, good woman?” asked an impartial examiner.
“Same's he they call Mounseer Go-be-hung,” Tom called out from behind.
“What, this gentleman?” and they made way for the Frenchman to show himself. At the sight of him, Tom reddened prodigiously, and poked over his work as if his life depended on his weaving half a yard an hour.
“What are you ashamed of, all in a moment?” asked one of the visitors. “I am afraid you had some hand in the riots the other night, like many an idle boy. Come, tell me; do not you like to light a bonfire?”
“Indeed I can't say that my Tom is any thing better than a middling boy,” observed Mrs. Ellis. “Would you believe it, gentlemen, he left his work a full quarter of an hour sooner than he had leave to do, the night of the riot; and when he came home, the skin was off the palm of his hand as clean as if it had been peeled, and he has never had the grace to seem sorry for it.”
“Indeed, I don't know who should be sorry for such a misfortune, if he is not,” observed a visitor, gravely. “Come, Tom, tell me how it happened. You had been pulling down shutters, or pulling up palings, I am afraid.”
“I hadn't though,” said Tom, attempting to set the treadles going, but being instantly deprived by his mother of his shuttle.
“Then I doubt you helped to carry the gibbet, and hang the effigy?”
“I didn't though,” answered Tom.
“Who hurt your hand so, then? It must have been somebody in a great passion.”
“No, ’twarnt; I got it done myself.”
“Well, I wonder at your taste. I would always keep a whole skin, if I could.”
Tom pulled his forelock respectfully, and went on with his work, his mother shaking her head, as if she thought his case desperate. Other people's leaving off speaking to him was the signal for M. Gaubion to begin.
“I think I saw you, Tom, the night of the riot.” Tom looked up.
“Was it not you that cut the rope, and tried to drag the effigy away?”
“What did you do next? I was obliged to go from the window then.”
“So you war there! I just crinkle-crankled myself up in the rope, so that they couldn't burn you without me too.”
“But they did not burn you, I hope?”
“Jist singed a bit; no more. This,” pointing to his hand, “comed of a great nail in the gibbet, that gived me a good hould as long as it lasted.”
“So you pulled it out.”
“We split the gibbet's self ’mong us; and then ’twar all over with me, and I corned home directly then.”
“Why did not you stay to see the sight, when once you found you could not help its going forward?”
“They put me in a rare passion, ‘mong ’em; and I didn't want to see nought of their sights.”
“What were you in a passion about? What had you to do with it?”
To this question no answer was to be got, but instead thereof an inquiry.
“For all they say, you won't think of going away for sich as they? They'll come round, when they see you don't go off in a huff.”
“And if I do go, you will easily get work, Tom. You weave well now, and Mr. Culver and many others will have work to give you.”
“No fear,” Tom said; but he did not seem to wish M. Gaubion to go away the more for that.
“Do ask her,” said one of the visitors to the Frenchman,—“you know her better than we do,—do ask her why, in times like these, she does not live in more comfort. The wonder is that she lets these looms at all in a room where a saucepan-full of cabbage-water stands in a corner, and her peppermint-bottle on the sill, and not a window open.”
M. Gaubion did not see that it was any business of his; but Tom overheard the remark, and gave assurance that his mother had so little appetite that she could not eat her breakfast without her little rasher and greens; and that she was so subject to sinking of her inside, that she was obliged to keep her peppermint-bottle beside her.
“And do you take any of it, boy?”
“Why, no, sir: my inside don't sink often till night; and then I go and garden.”
“That is better than taking peppermint, depend upon it. Mrs. Ellis, it seems to me a pity that you should bring up both these young folks as weavers. If you were to make this boy something else, there would be a better chance for you all when bad times come; and meanwhile, you could let his loom for half as much as he earns.”
Objections sufficient to knock down half-a-dozen such proposals were poured out on the instant, and re-urged so vehemently on the mention of bad times, that it was plain the widow did not anticipate bad times, but thought weaving the best occupation she could bring up her children to. She ended by saying, that to be pretty sure of work, at Tom's age, under such a master as M. Gaubion, was more than he could expect in any other employment; and that if there was any change, she thought she should have the benefit of it. Heaven only knew what she had gone through, from Tom's age till now—in her husband's time especially. She always thought, in her youth, that her's was a hard lot, so much at the loom as she was; but all that was nothing to the confinement afterwards. Her husband was of a jealous temper, God forgive him! and kept at home and within himself sadly; and he could not bear that her acquaintance should be so much more general than his; so that she had more trouble than enough if she moved three yards from her own door, to have a chat with a neighbour. Since she lost him, poor man! (which would have been a great relief but for her having such a family upon her hands,) she had had to work for bread, and for any little comforts which her weak health made necessary; and now, if anybody was to have rest, or any advantage, it should be herself, and not Tom, who was but just———
“But would you apprentice yourself to a gardener, or to learn any new business?” inquired M. Gaubion. “That was what I contemplated for Tom. If he could weave like you,—if this velvet were his work,—I should not propose the change.”
The widow laughed at the idea of her boy weaving as well as herself, but would not yet hear of any change. The examiners found that it was time to make a change in the scene of their inquiries; and declaring themselves satisfied that Mrs. Ellis was Mrs. Ellis, and that she lived and wove as declared, they left poor Tom to throw his shuttle amidst reveries of ranunculus, geranium, tulip, and hyacinth.
The names of Dickens and Rogers were down on the list; and it was therefore necessary to go to Cooper's, whesre their looms stood.
There was not a more cheerful house in all Spitalfields than Cooper's. Short had resumed his ancient song, and sat, with his grizzled hair hanging about his round shoulders, cheerily weaving his fiftieth last piece. Dickens and Rogers were no less busy, and, consequently, equally amiable. No dispute ever arose within these four walls, but when the comparative merits of the masters, English and French, were in question; or when, by chance, any old-world custom was brought into contrast with any new. On such occasions, Mrs. Cooper's good-humour presently charmed away strife; and she contrived, ultimately, to persuade each disputant to be content with his own opinion, as he was with his own species of work. Let him who weaves gros-de-Naples feel himself enlightened in his advocacy of what is modern; and let him who weaves velvet plume himself on his fidelity to what is ancient. Such was her philosophy, communicated in a timely smile, and a gentle word let drop here and there. Ichabod was an admirable auxiliary in restoring peace when his grown-up companions were ruffled. He could at any time be made to imitate the loom's smack and tick, or to look into Rogers's pocket to see what he could find there; or to stroke old Short's cheek, and rock upon his shoulders, regardless of the dusty coat-collar; or to stick a daisy into Dickens's button-hole; after any one of which feats he was blessed, and winked at behind his back, as the rarest child that ever was seen. If, on hot days, a pint of beer was wished for, Ichabod could bring it without spilling, provided it was in a quart pot. Surrounded by both arms, and tightly squeezed against his breast, it arrived safe, Mrs Cooper removing every stick and straw out of her child's path, that he might get credit and confidence, instead of disgrace and a panic. Cooper, meanwhile, worked away for his wife and boy, trusting to go on to do so, notwithstanding any temporary mischief caused by the speculations of throwsters, and when the discordant prophecies of those about him should have issued in acquiescence in the lasting benefits of an unrestricted commerce.
The examiners were even more tempted to forget their immediate object here than at Mrs. Ellis's. One walked straight up to the clear, bright window, to look out upon the patch of garden-ground behind; while the other took notice of a curious foreign clock (once belonging to Cooper's ancestors), which had been preserved as family property through all chances and changes of fortune. It was true that now either of the almost equally short hands might point as it happened, to six or twelve; that the machine, like other machines, sometimes went to sleep at night, and was now and then drowsy in the day; but the case was inlaid as curiously as ever, and the chimes set all the lively children who might be within hearing chiming, morning, noon, and night. Whatever might be Ichabod's destined education in other respects, he was sure to know enough of German text to read the name of the maker of this clock, and sufficient geography to be able to tell whereabouts on the earth's surface lay the Flemish town where it received its wondrous being.
“You should see my husband's other garden, out of doors, sir,” said Mrs. Cooper. “You seem to like this; but it is nothing to the one out of doors. I do not mean for size, but for the beauty of the flowers.”
“Ay,” observed Short,” he pays ten shillings a year for it; and he does not make half so much out of it as used to be made in my young days.”
“I get health and wholesome amusement out of it; and that is enough when one cannot get more. You see, gentlemen, ours is a bad occupation for the health and the nerves. You may see a sort of scared look, they say, that we weavers have, and bent backs, by the time we come to middle age; and even my hands shake so sometimes, at the end of a long day's work, that I should soon begin to feel myself growing old, if I did not turn out to breathe a little, and occupy myself in something pleasant. It is well worth while making a little less money than one might do, and to keep one's health.”
“Certainly; if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it.”
“Why, sir, our people here do mostly contrive to afford some fancy or another; either a garden like mine, or birds, or flute-playing, or drawing. Drawing for the most part requires a steadier hand than a weaver has; but we hear many a flute far and near in the summer evenings. There are few fancies that may not be found here and there among us: though there are not many men that, having but one child and a managing wife, are so free to afford them as I am.”
“The way to afford them is to make them pay,” observed old Short. “Folks understood that matter in my time. A root that Cooper here sells for eighteen-pence, used to bring five guineas. Those were the times to grow flowers in.”
“I had rather see a hundred roots of any beautiful tulip in a hundred gardens,” observed M. Gaubion, “that a hundred owners might enjoy its beauty, than have the single root from which the hundred sprang, even though it might make me envied by all my neighbours, and moreover be worth five or fifty guineas.”
“So had I, sir,” said Cooper: “for the same reason that I had rather see any useful or pretty article of manufacture growing cheap, and spreading over the world, than have it remain scarce, that I and a few others might have the sale of it to ourselves. My flowers answer their purpose better in giving pleasure to me and mine, than in being wondered at and snatched up for their rarity; and it is the same with things that are wrought by the hand of man. They must be scarce at the beginning; but that scarcity is a necessary fault, not a virtue, as far as their usefulness is concerned. But, as to making them more scarce than they need be, I would not be the man that had to answer for it!”
“Then you deserve the due and true reward of the liberal,—to have plenty while giving others plenty. I see you work for one master, and these neighbours of yours for another. You seem all to be busy enough.”
“Yes, sir. Thank God! M. Gaubion has had enough for his people to do; and we,—that is, I,”—nodding with a significant smile towards Short,—“cannot but improve by seeing what is all the same as French work going on under one's eyes. Our fabrics, sir, are quite another thing already to what they were three years ago.”
There was indeed a manifest difference between Short's piece (which might be taken as a specimen of what the English fabric had been five years before) and Cooper's, whose work was little, if at all, inferior to that which M. Gaubion's trained men were achieving with his improved apparatus.—That gentleman took no part while the comparison was being made; and when looked for, as his companions were about to leave the room, was found in a corner with Ichabod, cooking dinner in the kitchen of a baby-house which was the little lad's favourite toy. Twice had the jack been wound up, nine times had the goose revolved, and again and again had the lady inhabitant been brought down from her toilet to the kitchen fire, and led from the kitchen to her jointed table, before Ichabod would leave hold of M, Gaubion's right-hand cuff, and allow him to go about other business than his gallant cookery.
“Your little son has his fancy as well as you,” the gentleman observed with a smile. “Though far from the age of being worn and weary, Ichabod has his fancy;—the first fancy, I hope, of many.”
“It is as much Mr. Short's fancy as Ichabod's, or more,” replied Mrs. Cooper, “Mr. Short has been good enough to make the greater part of this toy with his own hands. These little chairs are cut with his own knife; and the looking-glass,—do look, sir, how nicely so small a bit of glass is framed,—this looking-glass is of his making; and so little time as he has now too!”
Short let his shuttle rest while he watched complacently how the grave men of business gathered round his baby-house, to admire one and another of its toys. He did not hear Cooper whisper that Mr. Short seemed to have more time now for the child than when he used to sit over the fire all day, moping because he had nothing to do. Now, it was a regular thing, on a Sunday morning, for the old man to take Ichabod on his knee, and turn over the big bible, that was brought down out of the cupboard, looking at the pictures, and at Short's great-grandfather's handwriting. And there was scarcely an evening that he was not about one little kind-hearted job or another, while the child was asleep, little thinking what treats were preparing for him.
“Well! long may we all be able to afford to keep a fancy!” said one of the visitors. “That is, if the fancy is of a better kind than that of accusing this gentleman here, because he is a foreigner, of practices which it is clear to me he never dreamed of.”
All present joined in the wish, and Rogers and Dickens desired no more than to be as free from care, if they lived to old age, as Short was now. He was sure, from his claim of long service, of work from a good master, as long as any work was to be had; and there was little doubt of this whenever the consequences of the first disorder, inevitable on the occasion of a change of system, should be surmounted, and speculation subside into its natural channels. This would soon happen now, and Short need not, they hoped, say any more that he had woven his last piece, till he should find his hand refuse to throw the shuttle, or his feet grow stiff upon the treadles.
M. Gaubion had a bow from the entire audience as he left the room, Short himself being propitiated by his act of winding up the jack.
Others of the gentleman's foes were not so easily won. He very simply supposed, and led his sisters to suppose, that all was well over when the haunts of his weavers had been examined, and his statements found correct. No such thing. Some one was wise enough to discern that this entire method of examination and verification might be a concerted plot;—concerted between the Treasury and the Frenchman.
What was to be done next?
Some proof must be afforded that M. Gaubion had no French goods in his possession.
“A proof easily afforded,” replied he. “Go to my warehouse; turn over every piece of silk it contains; and with the first article of foreign manufacture which you can thence produce, I will restore to you my esteem, and forfeit yours.”
One, and another, and another, declined the commission, on the plea of want of confidence in their own judgment and experience; though it was scarcely three years since any notable little girl of ten years old could tell a French from an English silk by a mere glance or touch. This new-born modesty was not allowed to be an obstacle to the experiment. M, Gaubion requested that the most acute detector of foreign fabrics on the Customs establishment should precede him to his warehouse, and try what could be found there. As it was impossible to devise a more searching trial of the foreigner's good faith than he had himself proposed, his plan was agreed upon.
Day after day, the inquiry was prosecuted; and M. Gaubion allowed the free range of his warehouse to all the parties concerned, except himself. He began to fancy, naturally enough, that he had mistaken his way on leaving home, and got set down in some country where the Inquisition still thrives, commerce being its subject instead of religion; silks its object instead of creeds; the fabrics of human hands instead of those of human heads. He could very confidently identify the working spirit.
He opposed an invincible patience to the workings of this spirit; and read with a calm eye the Report of the Custom House agent that thirty-seven pieces had been selected from among many hundred as undoubtedly French; and stood by with an unmoved countenance to witness their seizure; and followed with a steady step to the depôt, albeit greeted with insults at every turn, in the neighbourhood where he was known. Unassisted even by his own clerks, that no room might be afforded for a further charge of collusion, he made out from the books to which access was granted on his petition, a list of the weavers of these thirty-seven pieces; issued summonses to them, and went home to await the appearance of those who had to travel from Macclesfield to swear to their own work. His sisters had no more bitter jokes about handcuffs to amuse him with: but it was pretty evident to them, (though their neighbours were not so plain-spoken to the ladies as to their servants,) that it was thought not to look well that the matter was so long in hand; and that that which had been declared so easy of proof should be so tardily acknowledged. Mademoiselle was also quite of the opinion that all this did not look well. For whom it looked ill was another question.
When the Macclesfield weavers arrived to swear to their handiwork, it was remarked with some surprise that they did not appear to bear the same similitude to their Spitalfields' brethren as one race of weavers usually bears to another. Several of them measured more than five feet five; and though some were pale and thin, they did not show the peculiar conformation of shoulders and of face which marks the weaving son and grandson of a weaver. The simple reason of this was, that most of these men had but lately taken to the craft; only in consequence of the magnificent promises held out, and the large speculations entered into, on the determination of parliament to repeal the restrictions of former years. When many thousands of apprentices were advertised for, and a multitude of new hands quarrelled for by ambitious capitalists, the temptation was great to quit employments which were poorly paid, for the sake of the wages which the masters vied with each other in offering. It happened, of course, that many, both of masters and men, were disappointed. The inundation of smuggled silks, caused by the prohibition of pieces of a certain length, prepared for the opened market, was a serious misfortune to the masters; and the immediate extension of sale, in consequence of the greatness of the supply, did not equal their expectations. As their stocks accumulated, some of their men were compelled to betake themselves to other occupations, or to wait for a clearance of the market, complaining, meanwhile, the foolish of the new measures by which a competition was established with the French, the wise of the miscalculations by which the good effects of the new measures had been for a time obscured. M. Gaubion's men alone had no cause for lamentation. The superiority of his goods ensured his immediate prosperity on his settling in England; and of his many workmen, none went back disappointed to an inferior kind of labour, or sat listless, waiting for better times.
These men had something cheerful to say even of those of their brethren whose hopes had been disappointed as to the silk manufacture. It happened “luckily,” as they said,—“of course,” as M. Gaubion and Mr. Culver agreed,—that there was an increased demand for labour in some other businesses, in exact proportion as French silks sold in our markets. This was natural enough, as the French must have something in return for their goods; and they would of course take those articles which we can produce better than they. It was not the less a happy thing, however, for the poor man, because it was a matter of course, that if one of his sons had to wait for the clearing of the silk market, another who was a cutler, and a third who was a cotton spinner, were in a state of increased prosperity. The fact was, that the distress of the weavers had been greater in 1816 than at any time since, while it was occasioned by causes much more likely to be lasting in their operation, and was in no degree compensated by increased briskness in other departments of British manufacture. The sum and substance of the news from Macclesfield was that some scores of slightly-built cottages were certainly tumbling into ruins, but that many dozens were inhabited which had not been in existence five years before;—that there had undoubtedly been a transference of some hundreds of apprentices from the various branches of the silk manufacture to other departments of labour, but that a much greater number had been added to the silk throwing and weaving population;— and that, if many were still waiting for employment, they were not so many by half as those who had been taken on by other classes of masters.
It could not be otherwise, an officer of the Customs declared, as the imports of raw and thrown silk were already nearly double what they had been in the busiest year under the old system, and as our exports of manufactured silks had increased 300 per cent, since the trade had been thrown open.
“You left your own country just at the right time, sir,” observed another officer to M. Gaubion. “The French exports have been declining,—not so fast as ours have risen,—but enough to show that the English need not fear competition with their foreign neighbours.”
“But who could have guessed,” asked the first, “how amazingly the manufacture would improve in this short time? The heavier sort of fabrics have improved more in three years than in any quarter of a century before. As to gauzes, and ribbons, and other light kinds of goods, the French still surpass us there, and will do so, probably, for a long time to come; but in the substantial and more important fabrics of our looms, we can undersell our neighbours in many countries abroad.”
“For which we are partly indebted to this gentleman, whom some of you have taken upon you to persecute,” observed a plain-spoken Macclesfield man. “Poor man as I am, I had rather be myself, working under him, than them that have been working against him. And how it came into their heads to suspect him is more than I can guess. Come, gentlemen, I am ready to swear to my piece. That's the piece I wove: I can swear to it, by certain marks, as confidently as my wife could to our eldest by the mole on his arm.”
One of the Customs officers could give an account of one circumstance which had aggravated the suspicions against M. Gaubion. A mysterious-looking package had arrived at the Custom-house, addressed to Mademoiselle, and declared to contain a mummy for her museum. This package had been detained for some time, on pretence of its being difficult to assign the duties on an article which it did not appear had been in the contemplation of the framers of the Customs regulations at the period of their origin. A mummy could scarcely be specified as raw produce; and if considered as a manufactured article, it would be difficult to find a parallel by which to judge of the rate of duty for which it was liable. Under this pretence, the package had been detained; but there were suspicions that it enclosed some other stuffing than the linen swathing-bands of Egyptian production, and it was reserved for examination, in case of the whole train of evidence against the gentleman miscarrying. The more it was examined, the more the package looked as if it must conceal prohibited goods in some of its recesses; but the proof was kept for a grand explosion, as the catastrophe of poor M. Gaubion's trials. The gentlemen pf the Custom-house had begun now to think that there might be possibly no more dishonesty in this package than in those of M. Gaubion's proceedings which had been already investigated; and the box had therefore been opened and examined this morning, when they found the mummy, the whole mummy, (which was well for Mademoiselle's museum,) and nothing but the mummy, (which was equally well on her brother's account.)
Nothing now remained but to verify the authorship of the thirty-seven pieces. Three men swore to two each as their own; and every one of the others was claimed by a maker. These thirty-seven pieces of unquestionable French goods were all woven in Macclesfield and Spitalfields!
Culver examined the men, and the marks they pointed out, and did not glance towards the Frenchman while the investigation was going on. Just so was it with the persevering accusers of the stranger. The difference between them and Mr. Culver was, that neither did they look in M. Gaubion's face finally, but slunk away, after the wont of false accusers; while Mr. Culver went up to the acquitted to say—
“I never gave worse advice, sir, than when I recommended you to keep quiet, and let matters take their course. Innocent as you are proved to have been all this time, I hope you would have disregarded my advice, if our riotous neighbours had not compelled you to throw it behind you. I thought I was giving you the most friendly counsel, sir; for, to say the truth, I thought,—without having a bad opinion of you, either,—that you had most probably been involved as these gentlemen said you were.”
“Without having a bad opinion of me! How could that be?”
“Why, sir, when one considers how long our prohibitive laws have been evaded by all classes of people in turn,—so that the bad were not held to be the worse for such practices, and they were considered no stain upon the good,—it seemed natural enough that, if your interest tempted you particularly, you should continue the contraband trade when other people were thinking to have done with it.”
“In declaring that I might violate public loyalty and private faith in one set of circumstances, without being a bad man,” said M. Gaubion, “it seems to me that you pass the severest of censures on the power which framed those circumstances.”
“I have no objection, sir, to having my words considered in that light. The business of governments is to guard the freedom of commerce, and not to interfere with it. If they choose to show partiality, and to meddle with affairs which they cannot properly control, they become answerable for the sin of disobedience which is sure to arise, and for all the mischiefs that follow in its train. If, moreover, governments take up any wrong notion,—such as that which has caused us a world of woe,—that the benefits of commerce arise from what is exported rather than from what is imported,—if such a notion is taken up, and obstinately acted upon, long after the bulk of the people know better, the ruling powers are responsible for all the consequences that visit themselves and the subjects whom they have afflicted, either by commercial misfortunes or by legal punishments.”
“Then you consider your ancient governments (less liberal and enlightened than the present) answerable alike for my guilt, if I had smuggled, and for my troubles under the suspicion of having smuggled?”
“Just so; and for more within my little circle of observation than I should like to have to bear my share of.”
“For the late prosperity of Breme and his brother,—prosperity of which the neighbours were jealous because it arose from amidst the destitution of a host of native weavers?.”
“I could soon bring myself to bear the thought of that, seeing that Breme is more prosperous still, now that there is not destitution among his neighbours. The Brighton concern may have gone down in some degree; but the London one has flourished in greater proportion. I could much sooner forgive myself for Breme's former prosperity, let it come whence it might, than for breaking the heart of a fine fellow,—a friend of Breme's,—on the coast. I mention him because he is a specimen of a large class who were induced by the temptations of a flourishing contraband trade to quit their proper business, and set their hearts upon a cast which must disappoint them, sooner or later. Poor Pim was made for as hale and cheerful an old age as man need have: but he and his neighbours flourished too much under a bad system, and now they flourish too little under a better; and there sits the poor man, grey before his time, moping and moaning by his fireside, while his daughter, who should have gone on to be the best of housekeepers to a father she looked up to, is now striving to keep the house in another sense, and toiling in vain to preserve the appearances on which their scanty bread depends. Pim would never have been tempted to be anything but what he was fit for, if he had not unhappily fallen under an artificial system. Poor fellow! I hoped there had been comfort in store for him in the shape of a companion to gossip with. Our poor nurse———”
“My ancient enemy,” observed M. Gaubion, smiling. “I fear she will hardly be glad to hear the news of me that you will carry home. To your daughters, at least, I trust it will be welcome.”
“There is little intelligence that will be welcome to them to-day, even though it concerns yourself. They are mourning their old friend, who died this morning.”
“What, nurse! I shall be more grieved than ever that I caused her so much pain as I believe I did, by making myself, as far I could, an Englishman. But I could not help it. She left us no message of peace, I fear.”
“Not exactly a message, for she left no messages except one for my son, and one for Rebecca Pim; but I heard her speaking more pleasantly of your family yesterday than I should have expected. She kept her own opinions to the last; but she seemed to grow tired of the enmities which sprang from them. She felt kindly towards everybody latterly, as far as I know, except Mrs. Mudge's nurse-maid. Why, I can tell you no more of Mrs. Mudge's nurse-maid (nor could poor nurse herself, I fancy) than that she wears, and has for some time worn, a silk gown. It was this which occasioned the message to my son; viz, that, as our firm is now prospering, she hoped we might do very well without tempting people to wear silks who never wore them before; and that, dying, she could not countenance what she had been so little used to, even if it was to benefit her master's trade and family. The message to Rebecca Pim related to those of Rebecca's neighbours who had been kind to nurse's poor son.”
“Ah! I remember your daughters told my sisters that sad story. Can we be of any service to your family? Shall I send Adèle, or———”
“My dear sir! why do you stand here, letting me talk about a hundred things, while your ladies are in suspense about your affair? I deserve———”
“Not so. I have sent to relieve them, and shall now follow. Tell me if I can serve you.”
“Yes, if you can make your sisters forgive the part I have acted towards you. For those who have done worse, I will offer no defence.”
“None is needed beyond that which is before our eyes in the struggles of an expiring system of monopoly. But a few days ago, I thought I could hardly forgive my opponents; but now I am disposed to wait and see the effects of a natural co-operation of interests. Let your Coopers have hearts open for ‘ fancies,’ and a purse wherewith to indulge them;—let your old friend Short leave an unfinished piece upon his loom when his hour shall come;—let your daughters purchase French or English dresses as they list;—let our neighbours and ourselves be free to sell where we find customers most eager to buy;—let the government trust us to prosper after our own manner,—and there will be no antipathies mixed up with our bargains; no loss of time and temper in suspiciously watching one another's proceedings; no mutual injury in apprehension, any more than in reality.”
“Do you really expect to see the day when all will go so smoothly with us?”
“That the day will fully come I believe, because I already see the dawn. But a few hours ago it seemed to me all clouded, and I fretfully declared I would not abide the uncertainty.”
“And now? You cannot now think of leaving us,—to our everlasting shame? You will allow us to repair our disgrace?”
“We will repent our mutual offences;—I my precipitancy, and you your misapprehension. Yes; I will stay, and in our brotherhood as individuals discern the future brotherhood of our respective nations.
Summary of Principles illustrated in this and the preceding Volume.
The countries of the world differ in their facilities for producing the comforts and luxuries of life.
The inhabitants of the world agree in wanting or desiring all the comforts and luxuries which the world produces.
These wants and desires can be in no degree gratified but by means of mutual exchanges. They can be fully satisfied only by means of absolutely universal and free exchanges.
By universal and free exchange,—that is, by each person being permitted to exchange what he wants least for what he wants most,—an absolutely perfect system of economy of resources is established, the whole world being included in the arrangement.
The present want of agreement in the whole world to adopt this system does not invalidate its principle when applied to a single nation. It must ever be the interest of a nation to exchange what it wants little at home for what it wants more from abroad. If denied what it wants most, it will be wise to take what is next best; and so on, as long as anything is left which is produced better abroad than at home.
In the above case, the blame of the deprivation rests with the prohibiting power; but the suffering affects both the trading nations,—the one being prevented getting what it wants most—the other being prevented parting with what it wants least.
As the general interest of each nation requires that there should be perfect liberty in the exchange of commodities, any restriction on such liberty, for the sake of benefiting any particular class or classes, is a sacrifice of a larger interest to a smaller,—that is, a sin in government.
This sin is committed when,—
First,—Any protection is granted powerful enough to tempt to evasion, producing disloyalty, fraud, and jealousy: when,
Secondly,—Capital is unproductively consumed in the maintenance of an apparatus of restriction: when,
Thirdly,—Capital is unproductively bestowed in enabling those who produce at home dearer than foreigners to sell abroad as cheap as foreigners,—that is, in bounties, on exportation: and when,
Fourthly,—Capital is diverted from its natural course to be employed in producing at home that which is expensive and inferior, instead of in preparing that which will purchase the same article cheap and superior abroad,—that is, when restrictions are imposed on importation.
But though the general interest is sacrificed, no particular interest is permanently benefited, by special protections, since
Restrictive regulations in favour of the few are violated, when such violation is the interest of the many; and
Every diminution of the consumer's fund causes a loss of custom to the producer. Again.
The absence of competition and deprivation of custom combine to make his article inferior and dear; which inferiority and dearness cause his trade still further to decline.
Such are the evils which attend the protection of a class of producers who cannot compete with foreign producers of the same article.
If home producers can compete with foreign producers, they need no protection, as, cœleris paribus, buying at hand is preferable to buying at a distance.
Free competition cannot fail to benefit all parties:—
Consumers, by securing the greatest practicable improvement and cheapness of the article;
Producers, by the consequent perpetual extension of demand;—and
Society at large, by determining capital to its natural channels.
W. Clowks, Stamford-street.