Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IX.: THE MYSTERIES LAID OPEN. - 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 IX.: THE MYSTERIES LAID OPEN. - 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 MYSTERIES LAID OPEN.
While nurse was by turns dictating her letter and sighing, till the scribe caught the infection, and lost his spirits; while the wind moaned in the crevices of the ricketty dwelling, and the flame of the single candle flared and flickered in the draughts of the poor apartment, Ambrose was under a securer shelter, and Mildred under none at all. Ambrose had been assisting in swearing in new brothers who had joined his lodge. He had helped to blindfold them, and to guide them through the mummeries which were calculated to answer any purpose rather than that of adding sanctity to an oath. The jargon of the verse to be gabbled over, the dressing up, the locking in, were more like the Christmas games of very young school-boys than the actual proceedings, the serious business of grown men. Mummery has usually or always arisen from an inconvenient lack of shorter and plainer methods of explanation, and of facilities for communication. This sort of picture-writing is discarded, by common consent, wherever the press comes in to fulfil the object with more ease, speed, and exactitude. When Ambrose declared that “there is nothing like ceremony, after all,” he testified that he belonged to a nation or a class which is stinted in the best means of communication, and kept in an infantine state of knowledge and pursuit. If he had been growing up to a period of mature wisdom, like his brother, he would have told the brethren of his lodge that there is nothing so childish as ceremony, after all. To form into a lodge, or a company, or whatever it may be called, when a number of men have business to do, is the most ready and unobjectionable method of transacting that business; but if the brethren cannot be kept in order and harmony without being amused by shows, or excited by mystification, they had far better be playing cricket on the green, than pretend to assist in conducting the serious affairs of their class. Much better would it have been for Ambrose to have been playing cricket on the green this evening, than frightening people even more ignorant than himself with death’s heads, horrible threats, and oaths made up of the most alarming words that could be picked out of the vocabulary of unstamped newspapers. Much better would it have been for him to have been reading anything,—book, pamphlet, or newspaper,—than to have sent his sister on such an errand as she was transacting on the hills.
Mildred was made, without her own knowledge, a servant of the lodge, a messenger from all the discontented with whom Ambrose was connected to all the discontented in the district. This trouble was imposed upon her because the country folks were unable to read, and paper was dear, and advertisements were dearer still. The object was to bring people together to consult on their fortunes, and the measures that should be taken to mend them. Mr. Arruther would have said that it was well that so improper an object should be frustrated by the absence of all assistance from the press: but Mr. Arruther might have been told that there is no frustrating such an object; and that the only effect of the press not being concerned in it was, that the summons bore a very different character from what it would have had, if there had been perfect freedom of communication. In a newspaper, the notice would have been that people were to meet at such a spot, at such an hour, and for such and such a purpose. As it was, Mildred was scudding over the hills, shivering whenever the gust overtook her, as if it must bring something dreadful; starting if she found any one awaiting her at the appointed places, and trembling if it was herself that must wait; and faltering or gabbling in equal terror, as she delivered the circular which was to be carried forwards by those whom she met; the circular being as follows:—
The political wisdom of the district had discovered that all was going wrong within it. Farmer Mason’s live stock was dying off, and his wife had been long confined to her bed with some grievous affliction. Neighbour Green’s dog had gone mad, and had been very near biting some children that were playing in the road. The wheat on the uplands looked poorly; and the mill-stream was dry; so that many of Mr. Waugh’s workpeople were out of employ. It must be a very bad government that allowed all this to happen at once, some people said: but there were many who hinted that the blame did not all rest with the Government, and that there was one person who might some day prove to have had more to do with those disasters than everybody liked to say. This hint had gone the round, and become amplified in its course, till it was considered a settled matter by every one who entertained the subject at all, that nurse Ede was quite as pernicious to Arneside as the Government and all the gentlefolks put together; and that there should be no attempt at rebellion till nurse had been called to account for her witcheries.
The affair had been brought to a crisis by this evening, when Mildred was delivering her circular on the hills. She was expected and lain in wait for. Suddenly she fell in with a party who would not let her proceed till she had been sworn on her knees to tell all she knew of her mother’s proceedings, of the nature of her intercourse with her black cat, and of the uses of the mysterious apparatus which now filled her cupboard as well as the shelf. The girl knew nothing of what she was required to confess; but she did what she could to please her tyrants. She poured out all the nonsensical fancies, all the absurd suspicions, which had been accumulating in her ignorant mind from the days of her childhood till now. The sum total proved even more satisfactory than the party had expected.—There was now but one thing to be done. Nurse must be forced to recant, and make reparation; and that as soon as possible. The managers of the enterprise must not quit their hold of her till she had begun to restore Mrs. Mason; revive the calves and poultry that remained alive, if she could not restore those which were dead; set the mill-wheel revolving again; brought showers upon the upland corn-fields, and confessed precisely what kind and degree of influence she had exerted over poor Mrs. Arruther: for it was not to be forgotten how the lightning had split the tree beside the lady’s monument, the last thing before it fired Farmer Mason’s barn.
While all this was passing, nurse had dismissed the good-natured schoolmaster, and had looked after him from the door, shading her candle with her apron, till she could see him no longer; and had sat down, with a sigh at her loneliness, to mend one more pair of stockings for Ambrose, to take the chance of one or other of her children coming home for the night. She had nearly given the matter up when she thought she heard a little noise outside the door. As she looked up, she saw a very white face pressed close to the window, and looking in upon her.
“Come in! Who’s there? Lift up the latch and come in, whoever you are,” cried she, who, having never wished harm to any human being, had no fear of receiving harm from the hands of any. “My girl!” exclaimed she, as Mildred stood on the threshold, looking uncertain whether to set foot in the cottage, or to retreat, “My dear, ye are right enough to come home to a warm bed to-night. It will be but a chilly night for sleeping beside the fold, if that is really what ye do when ye don’t come home. I’ve been looking for ye, my dear; so, come in, and shut the door, and see what supper I’ve been keeping ready for ye. Why do ye keep standing outside in that way, Mildred?”
As nurse sat at the table, looking over her spectacles, with her candle on one side, and the cat on the other, drowsily opening and shutting its eyes, as if quite at ease, there seemed to be something which prevented Mildred from advancing a step towards the party. She only said in a shrill tone,
Who was coming,—whether Ambrose and the brethren from the lodge, or the long-dreaded Turks, or any people more to be feared still, could not be ascertained. All that could be got out of Mildred was, “They’re coming.” The door was still standing wide, the parley was still proceeding, when they came.
A night of horrors followed; horrors which were once perpetrated in the metropolitan cities of mighty empires; and then descended to inferior towns; and then were banished to the country; and now are seldom to be heard of, even in the remotest haunts of ignorance. But such horrors are not yet extinct. Since the sacrifice of nurse Ede, others, perhaps as guileless and kind of heart, have met a fate like hers.
During the whole of the dreadful scene of violence and torment, the mother called on her children. As if they had all been present, she implored them to bear witness as to what her life had been, and to save her from her persecutors. She had reared her sons with incessant watchfulness, from the time that their little hands could only grasp her finger, up to the manly strength which might have saved her now: but Owen was far away, dreaming of no evil; and as for Ambrose, his face was never seen, all that night. Mildred was present,—standing in her mother’s view during all those fearful hours; but the call on her was also in vain. She stood staring, with her arms by her sides, and her hair on end, only wincing and moving back a little when her mother’s appeals to her became particularly vehement. This was the child who had been the object of as fond parental hopes as had ever been shed over the unconsciousness of infancy. Hers was the arm which was to have been her mother’s support to church on Sabbath days. Hers were the hands which were to have relieved her parent of the more laborious of their homely tasks. She it was who should have enlivened the day with her cheerful industry, and amused the evening with the intelligence which nurse had done her best to put in the way of improvement. This was the child! And this was the contrast which flitted through her unhappy mother’s mind as she was dragged past Mrs. Arruther’s monument, and taunted with the memory of that poor lady.
Mrs. Arruther and she were both unhappy as mothers. The child of the one was as destitute (whatever might be his scholarship) of all the knowledge which is of most value in the conduct and embellishment of life, as these his despised neighbours; and the protracted torment which he caused his parent might, in its sum, equal that which nurse was enduring to-night. The crowning proof of his substantial ignorance was his desire and endeavour to keep others in that state of darkness of which the deeds of this night were some of the results. There will be no more mothers so wretched as Mrs. Arruther and her nurse when mothers themselves shall know how to give their children true knowledge; and when their children shall have access to that true knowledge without hindrance and without measure.
One thrilling sound of complaint at last penetrated the chamber of the clergyman; and, in consequence, nurse was presently in her own bed, attended upon by Kate Jeffery, while Mildred sat in a corner of the cottage, staring as before. She let Kate bring her to the bedside, when her parent’s unquenchable tenderness was kindling up once more; but the girl was pitiably at a loss what to say, and how to conduct herself.
“I never did, my dear; if you will believe the last words I shall ever speak. I never did, or thought of doing such things as they say. Tell them so, when I am gone; will you? Only tell them what I said. O Mildred, cannot you promise me even that much?”
“She is mazed,” said Kate Jeffery, in excuse of her old play-fellow. “She will come to, by-and-by.”
“I wish I was mazed, if it be not thankless to say so,” muttered nurse. “But it will all be over soon. Well: it is God’s will that my son Owen is so far from me at this time.”
She little guessed how soon her son Owen would be standing where Kate was now. But, soon as it was, it was too late for nurse.
It was indeed a withered and haggard cheek (as nurse once anticipated) that her children looked upon as they watched her rest;—not her breathing sleep, but her last long rest. Owen must have been quite overthrown by meeting such a shock on his arrival, or he could never have spoken to Mildred as he did. He upbraided her for the stupidity with which she had given ear to the ridiculous falsehoods which had been hatched against one of the most harmless women that had ever lived: falsehoods that any child in L— would have been ashamed to be asked to believe. But it was impossible that Mildred, or any one else, could have really credited such things. It could have been only a pretence—
“No; no pretence,” Kate interposed to say. “There would have been no malice, if there had not been profound ignorance. No one could have helped loving nurse, and doing nothing but good to her, up to her dying day, if it had but been known why and how she practised her art; and that no woman has really the power, by prayers and charms, of stopping mill-streams and maddening dogs.”
“How could I tell?” mournfully asked Mildred. “They all said—I’m sure I thought they would have killed me first. They all said, and they all think, that she was an awful and a wicked woman; and what else could I think? I’m sure I never durst touch her, or scarce anything that she had touched before me, after what Maude Hallowell told me.”
“You are out of your mind, I think,” said Owen, bitterly. “To talk as you do, and she lying there!”
“And if Mildred was out of her mind, Mr. Owen,” said Kate, in a low voice, “is she to be taunted with it, as if it was her fault? I should rather say that she has very little mind; for hers seems to me never to have grown since we were at the Sunday school together. Surely, Mr. Owen, it is the narrow mind that is least able to help itself under foolish fears, and any horrible fancy that may be riding it till it is weary. Surely it is not merciful to taunt a mind that is so miserable in itself already.”
“Then I will not taunt her, Kate. It will be sorrow enough to her, all her days, to have to pass my mother’s grave, and think how she was sent there. Go, poor girl, and tell the clergyman that it is all over. Nobody shall hurt you: I will take care of you. Nobody shall blame you: the blame shall rest elsewhere.”
“Where?” asked the bewildered girl, as, in a flurried manner, she tied on her bonnet to go to the clergyman. “What are you going to do now, Owen? Where—what did you say last?”
“That nobody shall blame you, as I did just now, for what has happened to our mother. It is no fault of yours, Mildred, any more than it can be called Ambrose’s fault that he now lies in prison—”
“Yes: he has been taken there (God knows whether according to law or not) for the part he has taken about swearing in the brothers at his Lodge. There he was, poor fellow, when my mother was calling upon him in a way to break a heart of stone, they say.” Owen saw the convulsion which passed over his sister’s countenance as he made this allusion; and he resolved to refer to that dreadful scene no more. “Whatever may be done with Ambrose, he has perished. His life is blasted, whether, as some suppose, he is sent abroad, or whether his punishment is to be worked out at home. How should he have known better? The only bit of law he knew, he learned by accident from a newspaper; and when he would have learned more, the only lesson-book he could get taught him wrong; and it could never have taught him so wrong, if those which would have instructed him better had not been kept out of his reach. The judge and gaoler are to be his teachers now. Those little know what they are about who take pains,—for any purpose,—to hold men ignorant. If they could keep the light of the sun from the earth with the thickest of clouds, they would do mischief enough in making the plants come up sickly, and the tall trees dwindle away, and rendering every thing fearful and dismal, wherever we turn: but all this is harmless trifling compared with the practice of keeping the mind without the light which God has provided for it. This it is that brings discontented towards God, and bad passions among men; temptation to guilt to the careless, and long heart-suffering to the kindest and best; and the fiercest of murders as the end of all. O, mother! mother!”