Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: THE DARKENING HOUR. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
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Chapter V.: THE DARKENING HOUR. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
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THE DARKENING HOUR.
How strange it is that the inanimate objects with which people surround themselves appear, even to strangers, to put on a different aspect according to the mood of those whom they surround. It is quite as much the case with the scenery of a house as with that which is not filled and arranged by the hand of man. The natural landscape varies in its aspects from other causes than the vicissitudes of clouds and sunshine. There may be a human being sitting in the midst, through sympathy with whose moods the observer may find the noon sunshine oppressive, or may feel his spirit dance with the brook, or carol with the birds under the murkiest sky. An infant’s glee at the lightning may almost make the thunderstorm a sport; and the full moon may shed no light into the soul of one who is watching with the mourner. So it is with the artificial scenery of our houses. There are ague-fits of the spirit when the crackling fire imparts no glow of mirth: and the coldest and dingiest of apartments may, when illuminated with happy faces, put on something of the light and warmth of a palace. Durell’s dwelling had always appeared to Anna a very cheerful one,—with the employments of an active mistress and a willing maid; Mary’s work-bag on the table, or its contents scattered under a chair, as it might be: Jack’s toys heaped up in one corner; drawings by the hands of many fair friends hung round the room; and Durell’s flute lying with his music books and a few of the poets on the book shelves. Thus were they arranged this evening; and there was a small clear fire, and a sufficiency of light; and yet the aspect of the apartment struck as deep a sense of gloom on Anna’s heart as the scene of her father’s imprisonment had ever done. The children were not there; Mary keeping by Betty’s side in the kitchen, officiously helping, in order to escape being called to her work in the parlour; and Jack slinking away as soon as his errand was discharged, to look for Stephen, he said. There were only Mrs. Durell, hovering about her husband, with a countenance in which there was as much terror as grief; and Durell himself, in his easy chair, looking so wasted, and even decrepit, as to make the Le Brocqs doubt, for a moment, whether he was the man they came to see. Anna did not attempt to conceal that she was shocked, and asked Mrs. Durell why she had not sent to their house for aid.
Her husband’s illness had come on so rapidly, she said, that she had scarcely known what to do: and he had been so unwilling to see any person whatever! Besides, it was only within a few hours that he had sunk to what they saw him now. Every ten minutes lowered him; and, notwithstanding what the doctor said, she did not know how to disbelieve her husband when he declared himself that he was dying.
“His eye is not the eye of a dying man,” said Anna,—the only consolation she could give. “Unless it has lighted up with our coming in—”
“It is not so,” replied her friend. “His eyes have been as bright as diamonds all to-day; and, I think, quite unnatural. O, my dear, if you could help me to find out what should be done for him—His heart is quite broken—”
She could not go on.
“I was afraid, by the message he sent—”
“O, my dear, that was nothing to what I have seen him go through. If you had been here when he threw himself on the floor because they told him he would never be allowed to serve the king or his country in any way again; if you had heard his prayer for those he must not serve, you would not wonder at his being as you see him now.”
“I am sorry to find you looking poorly, sir,” said Le Brocq, feeling that he was making a stretch of complaisance, but having in his mind something about not trampling on a fallen enemy. “I suppose these excise devils have been plaguing you as—as—”
“As I used to plague others, you were going to say, sir. Yes: I have had a few messages from the Board—a few gentle messages. They sent me word—”
He seemed scarcely able to speak, and Anna interrupted him with
“Perhaps, as you are so hoarse, Mr. Durell, you had better leave telling us that till another time.”
“No!” cried he, forcing his voice. “I can tell you, and I will, what their messages were. The first was that my business was to act and not to think; and that, whatever may happen, my part is to be silent and obedient. There’s a pretty message to a free-born man! That came out of what I said at the election where I could not vote; and of my defending it afterwards at your house.”
“O, dear! that is a great pity.”
“Not at all a pity, sir, I don’t repent a syllable I said there. I am only sorry (as sorry as they are), that they did not hear of that election affair before three months were over.—Why?—Because then they could have done worse with me than sending me a reprimand. They could have thrown me into prison for a fine of 500l., and declared—But they kept that for their next message. They could then have made a martyr of me, sir; such a system must have martyrs: and I had rather have died in jail, so that a few people would have asked why, than just be carried from my own door to my grave without having my revenge on those devils in power,—without any body supposing any thing but that I died, as other people die, in their beds.”
“But you will not die yet. You are almost a young man. You must not think of dying yet.”
“Only with a hope to live,” interposed Anna, to whom it was painful to hear people told that they must not think of dying.
“Hope to live!” exclaimed Durell, contemptuously. “What should I hope for? The only prospect that could ever have tempted me to make myself one of their vile crew, they have blighted and blasted. They took care I should know, after that election business, that I should never rise any higher,—that the best I had to expect was to be graciously allowed,—in return for promising not to think, but to be silent and obedient,—to go on being a king’s spy and a trader’s tormentor for life,—to keep my wife and children alive with scanty bread soaked in the tears of my degraded and broken manhood. This is what they offered in return for my promising not to think, but to be silent and obedient.”
“They little knew whom they were speaking to, indeed,” observed Anna.
“Did not they know they were speaking to a man? There are some men that would sooner watch an ant-hill than a hidden distillery, and that think of a lark’s nest when they wake in the morning, and are apt to be looking out after the stars when they should be asleep: and there are others that are never so happy as when they are smelling out soap, and sending a panic before them. The rulers have nothing to do with these men’s different tastes, as long as the poet and the meddler both do their work. But both these, and all between them, are men: and it is a foul crime to strip them of their sight and their strength,—of their reason and their will: and if it be true that the service they are on requires such outrage, it only follows that the service itself is foul. If it would but please God to restore me my strength for a little while, I would find a way yet to pull down their despotism upon their own heads.”
He made an effort to rise, but the ground seemed unsteady beneath his feet, and he sank down again.
“They have struck me a deeper blow still,” said he, “or you would not see me as I am now. They have believed in my dishonour, on the information of a scoundrel. They believe that you have bribed me.”
“That was the reason why my husband could not think of seeing you before: the only reason,” Mrs. Durell was in haste to explain. “But it is over now. They have turned him off, on what Mr. Studley said; and now they want him to be thankful that he is not fined 500l. Thank God we have done with them, I say. We shall be able—”
“We have not done with them. We shall not be able,” cried Durell. “The hounds can hunt me out of my rest wherever I may choose to seek it. They boast that they can. They give me notice that if ever I make an attempt to serve my country, they shall bring out their evidence to prove me incapable of ever holding any office or place of trust under the king.”
“But if they cannot do it, Mr. Durell?” suggested Anna.
“They can. Ay: you look surprised: but they can. I never forgot my honour. I never took a bribe; for you know that your Jersey pie and ale were no bribe. But they can prove against me some things which they can no more pardon than I can pardon certain of their practices. If a base wretch joins a better man in evading the law, and then turns traitor, he is excused and rewarded: but if a man with a heart in his bosom gives a friendly warning to the careless, or passes over the first offence of the widow that toils for her little ones, he is under ban, and can never again serve his king. Such things they may prove against me.”
“I doubt whether you may not still serve the king better than you have done yet,” observed Anna. “I cannot call it doing the king any service to make the people hate their duty to him, and to teach them to defraud him. People should love their king very strongly, for instance, to wish to yield him their cheerful duty through all that my father has undergone in paying his taxes. If you do not collect the king’s money any more, there are other ways of doing him service, which must be open to such a man as you are. Whatever makes his kingdom a more honourable and a happier place; whatever makes his subjects a better or more contented people, is, in my mind, a true and faithful service of the king.”
“That is what I have been saying,” observed Mrs. Durell.
“And what was my answer?” said her husband: “that not all that the wisest and the most true-hearted of the people can do to promote science, and public and private morality, can make any stand against what these—”
“Pray do not call them names,” entreated Anna. “They are men,—men said to be of honour and principle, whose lot it is to administer a bad system which they did not make. Do not let us blame them till we see that they take no pains to alter that which they cannot approve.”
“Well: call them men or devils, or what you will. They administer a system which is enough of itself to keep us back in knowledge and art till all the world besides has passed us, and to do worse for our morals than all our clergy can cure. I can prove it. As for knowledge, only look at the paper tax, keeping books and newspapers out of the reach of those who want them most, and stinting the class above them of their fair share of that which God has given every man as free a right to as to the air of heaven. As for art,—when was there a nobler triumph of it than when man fixed a yellow star out above the sea, to gleam on the souls of thousands of tempest-tost wretches, like the gospel they trusted in, and to give the wanderer his first welcome home?”
“Indeed we can say that,” said Anna. “Such a light through the fog was the best sight we saw in all the sea, in coming; and I never shut my eyes to sleep now but I could fancy I see that light, hoping to pass under it before long.”
“Well: there might now be a light far better than that, or any light that yet hangs above the sea; a light that would shine through the thickest fog, like a morsel of the copper sun that rises on an October morning,—a light that would save thousands of poor wretches that must now go down into the deeps with the moans of their orphaned little ones in their ears: and this light we may not use.”
“Because of the excise?”
“For no other reason. Glasses of a new construction would be required for the light-houses: and this new construction is not such as is set down in the excise laws. No glass-maker dares venture it, and the only hope is that we may get some foreign nation to do it for us.”
Anna thought it was a poor way of serving the king to drown his subjects, and employ foreigners to work upon discoveries made at home,—and all under pretence of taking care of the money of the state.
“This is only one instance out of many,” Durell declared. “As for what I said about morality, I know of cheats enough to fill a jest book.”
“A jest-book!” said his wife, in a tone of remonstrance.
“Nay, my dear, it is their fault, not mine, if, when they have sharpened wits to cheat, the witty cheats are laughed at as good jokes. Last year, a very good joke was spoiled. The wits who made it laughed in their sleeves as long as it went on; and when it came out, every body else laughed, the excise and all, though the crime is really as great as robbing the widow of her mite, since the widow’s mite must go to make up for the fraud. There is no duty on soap in Ireland; and some cunning Englishmen, who had made soap without paying the duty, packed it up for Ireland, got the drawback of 28l. a ton, just as if they had paid the duty, and sent it off, smuggled it back again, packed it afresh, got the drawback again, and sent it off, and again smuggled it back; and so on, four times over. Now, for the idea of this cheat, for the lies that were told, for the false oaths that were taken in carrying it on, and for the making a sordid crime into a joke, the excise is answerable. And this is what the excise does for morality.”
“And this is the way the money of the people is managed,” observed Le Brocq; “wrenched from the honest working man with one hand, that it may be given away to the fraudulent great trader with the other!”
Mrs. Durell had been well pleased at the turn the conversation had taken, seeing that, while her husband’s attention was occupied with matters of detail, he resumed more and more of his usual countenance, voice and manner. There was less fierceness in his eye, less effort in his speech, and he sat almost upright. But Le Brocq spoiled all.
“I cannot but wonder at you, Durell, especially as you are a Jerseyman, that you, knowing the system so well, should have left it to the gentlemen to turn you out.”
“Wonder at me!” said Durell, after a pause, during which he could not speak. “Wonder at me! Why don’t you curse me and loathe me for being an abject wretch, for the sake of my children’s bread? I thank God for taking their bread from them before my eyes, if it teaches them to despise their father and their father’s business.”
“O, husband!” cried Mrs. Durell.
“I mean what I say,” he continued, with a forced calmness of voice and manner. “I am going to leave them—to leave them in your charge; and I command you to bring them up in horror of everything that is dishonest, and vile, and cruel; and if you bring them up to abhor everything that is dishonest, and vile, and cruel, you must bring them up either to forget their father and his employments, or to despise him for being so employed. I give you your choice, and only pray God that I may hide myself in my grave before either comes to pass.”
“Don’t listen to him. Don’t believe him,” cried the wife, turning first to Le Brocq, and then to Anna. “You see he is not himself; you see he is talking like—”
“Like a man who is waking from a morning dream,” said her husband, whose excited senses caught looks and words which were not intended for him. “I am not drunk, Le Brocq, though I have no right to complain if you fancy me so; and I am not mad.”
“But angry,—very angry,” Anna ventured to interpose.
“Well; if I have been angry, it has nothing to do with what I am going to say, which is about you and yours, Le Brocq, with whom I have no cause to be angry. I am like a man waking from a dream; and I see many things that I wish it had pleased God that I should see long ago.”
“You cannot say you have no cause to be angry with us,” cried Le Brocq, moved by a sudden impulse of sensibility; “that is, with me. Anna has always been your friend; and if my wife has not, it is only because she has copied me. I have doubted you all along till now; and I am very sorry for it.”
“Doubted my honour?” asked Durell, bitterly.
“Doubted your being the friend you professed yourself. I thought that you might, with the power of your office, have prevented some of the misfortunes that have befallen us. But now I find—”
“Now you find that I have been a slave, obliged to stand by, and see those punished that I would fain have saved. Now you find that an exciseman must choose his friends by their trades, if there be any trades that the curse of his employment does not light upon. We used to think that God has shown how friendships should arise,—shown it by the meeting of the eyes that glance sympathy; and the grasp of the hands when men find that they had the same birth-place. But the power that has stepped in between us has set aside God’s arrangements altogether. You and I gathered nuts, as children, in the same deep lanes, and played about the same poquelaye; but as soon as I would have grasped hands upon this, what happened? You believed it the grasp of a traitor, and our enemies said we were giving and taking a bribe; and between you both, I am sunk to perdition, body and soul.”
“But that is all over now. Nobody will think any more—”
“It will never be over. The stain will be as lasting as the record of my name in the creation. When people shall see me carried to my grave, a few days hence, they will remember how they saw me last carried through the streets,—a brute, lower than the lowest of all other brutes. When they meet my wife in her weeds, they will look into her face to see if there is not joy hidden under it, because her torment of a husband is gone.”
“Do stop him. I cannot bear it,” said Mrs. Durell, putting her hands before her face.
“You will bear it very well, my dear. It is true, you will have no bread to give your children; and when you beg it, people will stop to consider whether they ought to help the children of the dissolute exciseman; but all this will not set against the relief of having got rid of the wretch himself. Ah! you don’t think so now, because you pity me, as you would pity a sickly child;—you pity me for sitting drooping here, with a perishing carcase and a worn-out spirit. But I don’t want your pity. I won’t be treated like a child—I say—”
He rose from his chair, and took a few strides towards his wife, evidently in a state of delirium. The urgency of the occasion seemed to inspire Le Brocq with the very sentiment which suited the moment.
“I say, Mr. Durell,” said he, “no man likes being made a child of; and I like it no better than other men; so I am going back,—come, you had better sit down again; take my arm;—I am going back to Jersey. Have you any messages for your old friends there?”
“To Jersey: ay; you are right there, Le Brocq. That was what I was going to say. Don’t stay here, where there is more misery caused by mere paying taxes than there is in Jersey by all God’s dark providences together. Go and tell them, whatever they do,” he continued, settling himself in his chair again,—“tell them, whatever they do, not to dare, for the sake of raising money for the state, to crush the simple and high-minded, and exalt the mean and crafty—”
“Ay; Studley! How that fellow is flourishing at the expense of us all!” cried Le Brocq.
Anna marked the flashing of Durell’s eyes at the name, and interposed.
“We shall soon be settled in our farm again, Mr. Durell; and perhaps you will be well enough to come and see us by the time we begin shaking the trees in the orchard.”
“Shaking the trees in the orchard,” repeated Durell slowly, as if the words revived some intensely pleasurable recollections.
“Your old friends were very sorry when you went away, and they will be heartily glad to hear you are coming back. You will come and see us, Mr. Durell.”
“Come, my dear! ay; that I will,—in body or in spirit. I will be at your apple-cropping. I will pelt you with apples; and if you cannot see where they come from, remember who promised you this. I will echo you when you go to call home your cows. I will rustle in the ivy when you pass the Holy Oak;—(that old oak is the first place I shall go to.) I will walk round and round you as you sit on the poquelaye; and if you feel a sudden breath of air upon your face, remember who it was that said he would haunt you. God will hear my prayer, and let me see Jersey again, whether I die first or not.—Jack! Come here, Jack!”
His feeble voice could not make itself heard further than half across the room; but Jack came in from the kitchen, in answer to Le Brocq’s effectual call. His father desired him to bring down the flute from the book-shelves; and his manner of obeying,—as if he was by no means sure whether he had to do with his father or with a ghost,—did not help to recover Anna from the chilly fit into which she had been thrown by Durell’s promises. She did not think she could ever go out to call home the cows, or pass the Holy Oak or the poquelaye. She had never feared Durell till this night; but he was strangely altered; and she thought that the impression of this night would be stronger than that of all her previous acquaintance with him.
“Stand here, boy; don’t go away,” said Durell to Jack, who was most unwillingly pinned between his father’s knees to hear the flute. Durell began an air which is sung by the common people in Jersey every day of the year; but his breath failed him directly; and he allowed the instrument to be taken from him.
“Then I may go,” said Jack, gently struggling to escape.
“Yes, my dear,” said his mother. “Your father is tired now; he has done enough for this evening.”
“No, no,” said Durell. “I must tell him what he is to see at home. I must tell him what little boys do in Jersey. When I was your age, Jack—”
“To-morrow, love,” said his wife. “You can tell him to morrow.”
“I should like to hear what boys do in Jersey,” declared Jack, his confidence returning.
“And so you shall, my boy. Sit still, Le Brocq. I shall want you to help me. When I was your age, Jack—”
And then he proceeded to tell how in his childhood he went out through thickets of the blue hydrangea to the dells where he spent the whole day in birds’ nesting; and of the hatfull of wild flowers that he treated himself with before he began to climb the trees whose ivy was his ladder. Not two minutes after he had soothed himself into a state of calmness by these recollections, he began to speak indistinctly, and to appear drowsy. Jack was admonished by gesture not to ask for any thing over again; not to be impatient for what was to come next. This was a hard admonition; and when his father sank back asleep, and he was gently withdrawn from between the knees which no longer held him, the poor boy was quietly weeping at having to wait for the rest of the story. Not even his mother suspected how long he would have to wait.
The Le Brocqs stole away. Jack was put quietly out of the room. Mrs. Durell hung a shade upon the lamp, fed the fire with the least possible noise, and sat down with her work opposite her husband, trusting that he was dreaming of the meads and coves of his native island, and that he would thus sleep on till morning. Long before morning, she had discovered that he would wake no more. The Le Brocqs were called up early by Stephen to be told that they had heard the very last words of him who had died of a broken heart.
It was a great blessing that his last words were words of peace. There was no need for Anna to implore little Jack to treasure up what his father was saying when he fell asleep. When Jack was grown up into a man, it was still a matter of mourning to him that he had not heard the whole of what his father had to tell about birds’ nesting in the dells of Jersey.