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Chapter V.: HATE AND HAND-BILLS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 6 (Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek, The Loom and the Lugger Parts 1 & 2) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 6.
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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.