|Chapter I.||The Middleman|
|Chapter II.||Betsy Clinker|
|Chapter III.||"Mr. Jocko."|
|Chapter V.||Dixon's Circus|
|Chapter VI.||Madeley Court|
|Chapter VII||The Missing Link|
|Chapter VIII.||Ruth Weston|
|Chapter IX.||The Devil and His Works|
|Chapter X.||The Mantrap|
|Chapter XI.||Paul Ferrier|
|Chapter XII.||The "Good Angel"|
|Go to Volume II for the following chapters|
|Chapter I.||The Consultation|
|Chapter II.||The Travelling Tinker|
|Chapter III.||Satan in the Flesh|
|Chapter IV.||Christmas Eve|
|Chapter V.||Madeley Hall|
|Chapter VI.||Perkins' Opinion|
|Chapter VII.||The Ethiopian Princess|
|Chapter VIII||The Arab Doctor|
|Chapter IX.||Jem Ritson Again|
|Chapter X.||The "Gentlemen Companions."|
|Go to Volume III for the following chapters..|
|Chapter I.||"Treasure Trove"|
|Chapter III.||Kitty's Mother|
|Chapter IV.||Mrs. Ferrier|
|Chapter V.||Paul's Patients|
|Chapter VI.||"The Battle of Prague"|
|Chapter VII.||The Rescue|
|Chapter VIII.||With the Lions|
|Chapter IX.||At Rest|
"What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of last parting?"-- George Eliot
Mr Miles was a wholesale dealer in nails, or what was termed a nail-factor or "middleman."In these days he would probably be called a "sweater,"but at the period when this story opens, about thirty years ago, those who dealt with him were content merely to call him a "screw,"although he did not deal in screws, which are chiefly made at Birmingham, where his principal place of business was situated.
Tobias had branch establishments or "ware'usses,"as he termed them, in several dismal towns and villages of the nail - making districts, at one or other of which he attended on a day in each week to receive and pay for the nails he purchased, and to sell the iron rods required by the grimy nail-makers, amongst whom, at the same time, he invariably distributed religious tracts, of which he always carried a large supply on his journeys.
Miles was a tall, lanky man, about fifty years of age, with a pale face, which generally wore an expression of metallic hardness. He had straight thin lips, and a wide mouth, which he had a curious trick of expanding still wider by compressing the lips tightly together when cogitating, whilst he grasped his projecting chin with a bony left hand. His eyes were large and rather restless, of a dull grey colour, and were overshadowed with dark, wiry-looking eye-brows. He wore seedy black cloth clothes on week days, which were greasy and shining in many places from the friction engendered by his occupation and a habit he had of rubbing his trousers above the knees when he sat down to rest. On Sundays he always appeared in garments of glossy black cassimere, of rather clerical cut, and with his neck swathed in the folds of a stiff white neckcloth, tied in front with a small bow. He wore this neckcloth, with gradually darkening tint, right through the week, and was believed never to take it off until Saturday night came, when its original whiteness had totally disappeared. Tobias seemed to think his style of dress gave him an air of peculiar sanctity ; he was most anxious to be esteemed a pious man, and, as a matter of fact, he was a religious man, according to his lights, and just such an one as the teaching of a narrow sect in which he had been brought up might be expected to produce. He was ignorant of most things outside his own business, but prided himself greatly on his knowledge oœ the Bible, from which he continually made inaccurate quotations, accepting every word in a strictly literal sense as having a distinct bearing on the daily events of life, so that he could always find some satisfactory scriptural sanction for anything he did, coupled with wonderment that the morality of his dealings did not precisely strike other people in the same light as he viewed it himself.
Tobias was not a hypocrite in the ordinary sense of the word, although many people called him so, but he had practised self-deception so long that virtually he was now a transparent humbug, incapable of understanding that he was so, which is a form of mental obscurity pervading society to a greater extent than is generally imagined.
"Please the Lord,"Tobias repeated as he inserted a key in a large padlock which secured the door of his warehouse. "Drat it!"he exclaimed immediately, "some ungodly boys 'as bin stuffin' peas in the key'ole. Wot's to be done?"
"Please, Muster Miles, 'ere's a 'airpin for to poke out the peases," said a stout young girl, with a very dirty face; who formed one of a group of females of all ages assembled round the door, each one carrying a small sack full of nails. "I seed Tummy Jones a-puttin' of 'em in,"she added. "He said as 'ow it 'ud mak' you cuss wusser than a tom-cat in a sack."
"Swear not at all,"said Tobias solemnly. "Here, girl, you git 'em out if you can with your 'airpin. Tom Jones 'ull come to 'arm sooner or later when his full time is accomplished. Why didn't you tell 'im you'd tell me, and that I'd larrup 'im when next I see 'im ? 'It is as sport to a fool to do mischief, and a rod is for the back of 'im that stops his neighbours key'ole,' them's the words of King Solomon in his Proverbs. Your name, I think, is Betsy Clinker? I'll give you a ha'penny if you git out the peas."
Betsy diligently assailed the keyhole of the padlock with her hairpin on promise of this liberal reward.
"There's grit in't too,"she said presently. "Grit is worth more than a ha'penny to worrit out of a key'ole. Peases y ou can squash wi' the key, but grit 'as to be 'ooked for."
"I'll mak' it a penny, Betsy,"said Tobias. "Try what blowin' into the 'oie will do for the grit."
Betsy essayed to blow into the keyhole with a force almost equal to a smith's bellows.
"It's got in my eye,"she exclaimed, lifting a coarse and very dirty apron to her face. "A penny is no good if you git your eye blinded and can't see to count the nails."
Tobias vouchsafed no reply to this fresh demand, but again inserted the key in the padlock, and with some trouble succeeded in opening it.
"Here is your penny, Betsy,"he said. "I agreed with you for a penny. Go and wash your eye with cold water. There's a pump next door, and they'll charge you nothin' for the use on't if you tell 'em I sent you. I'm afraid you 'elped that rascal Jones to put peas and grit in the lock. You seemed to know all about it. There is a tract for you called 'Evil communications corrupts good manners.' When you've read it -- if you can read it at all -- then you can lend it to your crony Jones. It may bring 'im to repentance."
"Oh, but you be an ode screw wi' yer tracks and texes,"said Betsy, shaking her clenched fist at Tobias' back as he entered the warehouse followed by about twenty poorly clad, miserable looking women, carrying hempen nail bags on their shoulders.
Just then two men hurriedly entered the premises, and passed inside the counter at which Tobias was standing.
"You are late, you two,"he said sharply. "I've 'ad to spend 'arf-an-hour idly waitin' outside the door, and to pay for clearin' of the padlock, w'ich you might 'ave saved me if you'd a-bin in time."
"You told us to look round the smithies afore we kem in, to see 'ow they was off for rods, and we've been on the tramp all the mornin' 'untin' of 'em up," said one of the men. "Some of 'em is buyin' of Reynolds,"he added, "and they says they saves two shillin' in the 'undredweight, 'sides gettin' better iron."
"Tell 'em to tak' their nails to Reynolds to pay for his iron,"said Tobias angrily. "Now then, who comes first? It's you, Mrs Dunkey. Let's see w'ot you've got; jest empty 'em here in the scale. Brads!"he cried to his men when the little grimy sack was emptied into the hollow iron scale-bottom,"and lots of 'em crooked and split. You've been buyin' iron of Reynolds, I s'pose? Twenty-four pounds, Timmins, and four to deduct for wastrels,"he sang out, as he shook up the scale-bottom and closely scanned the contents. "Say twenty pounds net, that's fourteen-and-six, and nine-and-six owin' for iron, leaves five shillings to pay. Are you satisfied or not, Mrs Dunkey? If not, tak' 'em away and try if Reynolds 'ull buy 'em, or someone else with money to throw away."
"Please, Muster Miles, they're all med of your own iron. We've 'ad none o' Reynolds', and they oughter weigh a good quarter of a 'undred. It should really be six-and-six at the least,"said the poor woman, gazing anxiously at the heap of nails in the scale-bottom.
"Six-and-six, my good woman! 'Ow ever do you expect me to pay rent and taxes for this 'ere ware'us, and give you more than I can get for 'em by 'olesale -- not countin' on bad debts with jerry-builders always failing? Say five-and-three, or fetch 'em out o' the scale and bag 'em again yourself."
"Five-and-six at least, Mr Miles. Do'ee be a little fair; and yer ought'nter charge so much for the rods. One bundle was as bad as bad could be, so as all to burn away in the fire,"pleaded Mrs Dunkey earnestly.
"I'd not tak' 'em at all but that you owes me for the iron,"said Tobias in still sharper tones. "Tak' the money, or leave the brads as s'curity until you can pay me what you owes. That's on'y wot's fair 'tween man and man, or woman either."
Mrs Dunkey raised her thin hands in deprecation and looked up at the roof, then sighed heavily, and sadly said : "Tak' 'em; we are a'most clemm'd jest now, 'sides owin' for coals."
Tobias made a rapid signal to one of his men to empty the scale-bottom into one of a number of large bins fixed round the walls of the store, then, without wasting more words, he handed over five-and-threepence, wrapped in a tract, to Mrs Dunkey, and proceeded to call the next woman on the list, with whom he continued the same style of "haggling"until the bargain was concluded. And so he went on for two hours, varying his method now and then by refusing altogether to take some particular sack of nails of whose quality he did not approve. Long practice enabled him to judge rapidly at a glance as to the value of the parcels submitted to him by the wives of the nail-makers, whose husbands seldom appeared on the scene.
Tobias Miles drove his hard bargains by a kind of cruel instinct, giving the least he possibly could for the manufactured article, and charging the highest market price for the raw material, which the thriftless nailers were satisfied to purchase from him on credit -- ultimately to be paid for in nails -- and yet he was thoroughly satisfied with himself, and not only had a conscience at ease, but conceived that he was acting as a sort of special Providence to the wretched people who were forced by stern necessity to sell their small wares to him.
Last of all came Betsy Clinker, whose usually warm temper had undergone no cooling down at the neighbouring pump, and whose red and inflamed eye did not appear to have been benefited by the cold water cure recommended by Tobias. She had been obliged, unaided, first to labour hard at the pump handle until the water flowed in a copious stream, and then quickly to dart her head under it in the hope of washing out the grit from her eye; and in this process she had saturated her clothing, and converted the normal coat of dirt on her face into dark vertical streaks, which in no way added to her charms. Cold water was a thing she abhorred, as a rule, and in the shape of a deluge from a pump, in the fashion she had recently encountered it, it was particularly aggravating; therefore she flung down her sack of nails on the counter in a defiant manner and jerked out the word "Scuppers,"the technical name of the contents, as if it were a challenge to Tobias. This class of nails was sold by number and not by weight.
"'Ow many?"said Tobias, who was referring at the moment to an account book, and did not look up at the bedraggled Betsy.
"Six thous'nd inch and 'arfs."
"Dump 'em out,"said Tobias curtly.
Betsy seized the bottom corners of her sack and vigorously shook out the nails in a conical heap, which Miles bent down to examine.
"They're mostly short 'uns,"he said. "Lots of 'em 'ull 'ave to go as inch. W'ot for did you mix 'em like that, girl? You must tak' 'em 'ome again and sort 'em."
"You're a bloomin' liar!"said the irate Betsy. "None of 'em's lesser than inch and quarter, and only a few a' that'n."
"Ho! ho! Miss Spitfire -- I'm a liar, am I? Here, 'ook it out o' this directly. Bring a scoop, Timmins, and shove 'em all into her sack again, and then bundle her out for a wild cat."
"'Ere's that track o' your'n,"said Betsy when her sack was refilled, as she produced a wet and dirty scrap of paper. "You're an ode 'umbug, and a cantin' 'ipercrit, you are; that's w'ot folks sez o' yer. Ode 'Arry 'ull 'ave his claws in yer 'fore long, for cheatin' and lyin', and you'll 'ave red 'ot nails druv in your 'ide, and most of 'em 'ull be scuppers, as yer allus lies about. Yah!"she concluded defiantly, thrusting out her tongue, and showing her gleaming teeth, as she shouldered her sack of nails. "You'll find summat in your key'ole next time, Muster Toby, that 'ull mak' you swear a good 'un, and more in't times arter times."
"You are my witnesses, men," said Tobias solemnly, turning to his two assistants, who were grinning in amusement. "You've witnessed, both on you, that I reviled her not again, though she called me an 'ipercrit. If you comes across the father o' that young wirago, tell 'im to clip her tongue afore he sends her 'ere again. She oughter get a month on the treadmill for abusin' o' me like o' that, and her 'ull never come to no good-neither in this world nor in the world w'ot is to come. 'Her tongue biteth like a sarpint and stingeth like a nadder.'"
Betsy was by this time out of hearing or she probably would have further enlightened Tobias as to her private opinion, and the opinions of the Dudley nailers, regarding him and his dealings. As she strode sturdily away in the direction of her father's smithy she came upon a small group of rough lads engaged in playing a game of "marls," as they termed it, which seemed likely to end in a free fight from the strong language then being loudly interchanged. Betsy descried Tom Jones vociferating in the midst of the group, with his back to her and straightway clutched him by the collar of his jacket.
"'Ere, you come along wi' me, Tummas," she cried. "I'm got to 'ave a chat wi' yer that's pertickler."
"Lemme finish this game, Betsy," he replied, shaking himself loose. "Butty Tubbs 'as bin cheatin', and I've 'arf a mind to lick 'im."
Betsy deposited her sack on the grouud, and sat down on it to witness the completion of the game, which she quite understood.
"I'll lay a penny on Butty," she said.
"Butty" was a nickname attached to the lad Tubbs in reference to the nature of his employment in a neighbouring colliery.
Betsy held up the penny she had received from Tobias Miles as evidence
that she was the possessor of sufficient capital to warrant her in making
"Done wi' yer, lass," said the over-confident Jones, at the same time making a wild shot at his opponent's marble and landing his own in a bad place, of which fact Tubbs immediately took advantage.
"That's game," he cried; "now, Tummas, you shell out to Betsy."
"I 'av'n't got a blessed copper," said Jones, turning out two dilapidated pockets in a torn pair of trousers, as if he was in search of a stray coin.
"Then w'ot for did you bet wi' me, you rogue?" said Betsy, rising from her seat in wrath. "Ere gi'e me your cap to 'old till you pays me. You know where to come for't, Tummas. "Upon which the impecunious Jones added insult to injury by placing the tip of his thumb to his nose and spreading his fingers out.
This was too much for Betsy. She suddenly smote aside his outspread fingers with her left hand, and dealt him a severe blow, full on the nose, with her clenched right fist, which was as hard as iron, and brought the blood flowing freely from the assaulted feature.
Tom Jones was too much astonished by Betsy's sudden attack to retaliate at once in kind -- which we fear he would otherwise have been ungallant enough to do, -- he merely stood stock-still, with his snub nose thrust forward, bleeding copiously, and shaking his head from side to side as if to ease the stinging pain, when at this moment Tobias Miles loomed on the scene, as he wended his way to a small inn where he had ordered his dinner. He knew Jons very well by sight, as he had often suffered wrongs traceable to that practical joker, and now he stopped with evident satisfaction to hƒve a good look at him in his damaged condition.
"I guv it 'im, Muster Miles, 'cos o' that key'ole o' yourn," said the cunning Betsy, suddenly recollecting that she might take a mean advantage of the situation. "Now will yer 'ave the nails if I takes 'em back? Yer oughter, yer know, seein' as 'ow I've saved yer the trouble of larrupin' of 'im, as yer said yer would."
"You called me an 'ipercrit' and a 'liar,' Betsy; then 'ow can you expect me to buy your short scuppers? Still, I can forgive you as I 'opes to be forgiven, and I'll consider on't when I've eaten my dinner in thankfulness, because this 'ere Jones has been righteously punished. It has been truly said by the wise king of Israel that 'the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood.' It seems to me, Betsy, that you are not altogether unregenerate, seein' as 'ow you've hastened to mak' some atonement for your wicked words by lickin' of this reprobate as he deserves. You may call at the ware'us in an hour hence with your nails, and let me look at 'em again. But keep watch over that lively tongue o' yourn; 'the end of it is bitter as wormwood and sharp as a two-edged sword.'"
With this amended quotation Tobias stalked off, leaving Betsy and the lads to their own devices. And now the indignant Jones, who had recovered from the shock he had sustained, and was wiping his nose on his sleeve, seemed inclined to renew the battle, whereupon his male companions were magnanimous enough to interfere and take Betsy's side in the quarrel. She had, meanwhile, armed herself with a large stone, and stood watchfully on the defensive, and they thought that, although properly meant for their associate in wickedness, the missile might hit someone else in its flight, and cause further complications; therefore they hustled Jones into a corner, and kept him there, leaving Betsy free to depart, sturdily carrying her sack on her shoulder, and with it all the honours of war.
Well, perhaps not, but that is not the question just now. She is merely introduced as a type of a class of persons with whom Tobias Miles had to deal every day. We can only describe the people we write of as they actually were in the locality at the period of this story, excepting that we are compelled somewhat to modify their speech and dialect, lest it should be incomprehensible, or shock fair readers, who, if they were born and brought up amidst Betsy's surroundings, would probably be very like her.
Still, Betsy has her good points. She is independent in her ways, and can sturdily fight her own battle in that condition of life to which --as the catechism says -- it has pleased God to call her. She can exist and thrive under conditions in which my Lady de Montmorency would absolutely perish. If Betsy is angry, and thinks she has a just cause of quarrel, all the world in her vicinity will hear of it speedily, and if she can avenge herself on her enemy with her strong right arm, she does not hesitate to use it. She evidently has her ready wits about her, also, and can cunningly make use of them in emergencies, but when her battle is won, she can easily forget all about it, and bury the tomahawk for the time being. She will then smoke the peace pipe with her discomfited opponent 'ere his injuries have ceased smarting.
There is not much apparent affection in Betsy's nature, because she has had but little experience of kindness at home or abroad during her short life-time, but if a small sister of hers is ailing or cross, she will take the child on her lap and rock it to sleep, or merrily hoist it on her shoulder, as she hoists her nail sack, and then prance about with the little girl in the sunshine, whenever the sun can penetrate through the pall of smoke which hangs over her dingy habitation.
Smoke cannot be a very unhealthy thing when you are used to it, as since the time when Betsy had the measles in her infancy she has never had any other serious malady. Toothaches and ear-aches, and small matters of that kind, don't count with her as illnesses, and she knows nothing of heartache, though she has often been hungry and wet and cold. She has a waist like that of a small buffalo, and the arm of a young blacksmith. She can scarcely read printed letters, and dislikes reading as she dislikes cold water. She is just a hardy kind of rough animal like an armadillo, whereas that delicate slim-waisted creature Lady de M. has "nerves," and suffers from the "vapours" and a host of fancied ills, and although she will not smite you openly when she conceives she has cause for smiting, you may be sure that if you offend her you will catch it some day unawares, especially if you happen to be of her own sex; and as to making it up with her again, you will find it as difficult as trying to soothe a fretful porcupine.
Our friend Tobias Miles is not a nice person, we admit. He is certainly too much given to quoting Scripture like the arch-enemy of mankind on special occasions, and he grinds the faces of the poor, but he has heard so much about the wiles of his dark Majesty from the rostrum of a dingy chapel in the days of his youth, that he seems to have taken to Bible quotations as a kind of charm against the evil eye of a horned and cloven-footed being whom he believes to be constantly around, although invisible, seeking whom he may devour, especially those who venture to differ from Tobias Miles in matters of business or belief.
Tobias is hard in his dealings with the poor nailers, perhaps because the iron has long ago entered into his own soul, and he unjustly screws at least ten per cent more than he ought out of the earnings of men and women whom he considers to be heathens and half savage, because he has been taught that, as one of the prosperous "elect," it is his duty to hand over exactly that amount of his profits to propagate the narrow teaching which has obscured his mind and enslaved him. But, then, do we not see everywhere men, who are esteemed highly-respectable and conscientious, with precisely similar tendencies? Are there not well-known "screws" in the payment of wages to their employés, or who are "hard as nails" in their money dealings with others, who are most liberal in their public offerings to some form of fanaticism like that to support which Tobias Miles paid his tithes?
Tobias had been moved at one time in his life to commence open-air preaching, on the top of an empty beer cask pitched on a waste piece of ground close to an English church. He was well aware that his loud voice distracted the attention of the congregation, and was a special aggravation to one of the churchwardens, with whom he had had a difference, and who ultimately succeeded in putting the preacher to silence by hiring a Scotch piper to attend regularly and play upon the bagpipes in front of the cask whenever Tobias ascended it to hold forth.
Tobias consoled himself by calling the piper "a son of Belial," and other equally opprobrious names, which seemed to have the effect of inciting the player to greater efforts in the way of producing discordant music, to the delight of some rough lads, who finally upset the cask whilst wildly dancing round it, and compelled the occupant to beat an ignominious retreat.
Driven from the exhibition of his eloquence abroad, Tobias devoted his attention to indoor exhortations at his chapel, wherein lay brethren were invited to speak on some occasions; but his attempts to set up a theory that the millenium was close at hand, coupled with his assertion that it had been revealed to him in a dream that he was to convey frightful warnings to such of the brethren as were sceptical on the subject, induced the society to hold a special meeting, and to prohibit him from public exhortation in future.
Tobias was very near retiring in disgust from a community which included such perverse brethren, but just then a domestic affliction befell him in the loss of his wife, and he was publicly reminded that this must be a "chastening" sent to him for attempting to sit in judgment on folks who conceived they were as good or better than himself, and who were satisfied the dream was either a direct instigation of Satan, or a delusion connected with indigestion.
Tobias was thus for a time obliged to confine his exhortations to the domestic hearth, and to bore the few people of his household who could not use drastic measures to compel him to mitigate the infliction. It was said by persons who professed to be well informed that his deceased wife had succumbed to the everlasting flow of his eloquence; but that statement was probably an exaggeration. Still, his wife's sister, who was a widow with means of her own, and who came to keep house for him, seems to have heard this rumour, for she had stipulated that she and her daughter should have appropriated to them a separate sitting-room, into which Tobias was welcome to enter provided he refrained from preaching therein. If this rule were infringed, Mrs Weston was to be free to depart, and as she was willing to contribute to the household expenses, and to act as a mother to Tobias' two sons, it seemed good to him to accept the imposed condition on account of the collateral advantages, although his heart burned within him now and then to throw off the yoke and resume his tiresome homilies. But as time went on he saw clearly day by day that he was most fortunate in having such a woman as his sister-in-law to manage his domestic concerns. She was quiet and methodical in her ways, and had obtained great influence over his two sons, who as they grew up seemed to grow more and more attached to her. Tobias was also fond of his pretty niece, Ruth Weston, who was clever and intelligent, and who never appeared afraid of him, as his boys had been during their mother's lifetime, when he had adhered so rigidly to the precepts of King Solomon in his treatment of them, acting on the conviction that severe correction was the necessary sequence to trivial offences, and that it was contrary to Bible teaching to "let his soul spare the rod for the children's crying."
How much the youth of this generation have to be thankful for in the fact that the belief in the exceptional wisdom of the Eastern Monarch is on the wane, with the belief in miracles in general. Boys may have been very unruly in Solomon's time, but a potentate who was so foolish as to plague himself with a number of wives must often have had a hard task in keeping the peace between them, and probably discovered that the punishment of their male offspring was the most effectual method of bringing his womankind to order. The ladies of the harem must naturally have shuddered, when the chief eunuch received orders to divest young Rehoboam of his scanty attire and to select a hazel rod, because his mother had called the Queen of Sheba "a blackamoor," and thrust out her tongue at her, a bad habit that seems to have commended itself to indignant females in all ages, as recently witnessed in the conduct of Betsy Clinker.
Tobias, when he got home from Dudley that evening to his comfortable house in the outskirts of Birmingham, detailed to his sister-in-law and niece, after dinner, the special grievances of the day, which it was his custom to entertain them with whenever his self-esteem had been wounded, for although he seldom received much commiseration, it was a satisfaction to him to make it known how much forbearance he had exhibited under great provocation.
"The hussy called me an ''ipercrit,' and thrust out her tongue at me," he said, "and yet I was enabled to endure her revilings with meekness, and to repay evil with good; indeed, I dealt with her for her merchandise, lest she and her people should suffer 'unger[.]"
Now although Tobias always lapsed into something like the dialect of the nail-makers when in their neighbourhood, he did his best, with an occasional slip regarding the letter h, to adopt the language of educated people like his sister-in-law when in their society.
"The stout lass punished a reprobate who did me an injury," he continued, with a grim smile of satisfaction; "she smote him on the nose even as a prize-fighter smiteth, and caused it to bleed as an ox bleedeth in the shambles. There must be some good in her after all. I heard you say you wanted a strong girl to help in the kitchen, Mary; perhaps this rough wench might be trained to your hand, with a little trouble, so as to fill the place -- her wages would be low."
"I am afraid it would involve considerable trouble to tame such a rough creature," said Mrs Weston, smiling. "She might smite me on the nose during the process."
"She is as strong as a young elephant," he said; "the last girl you had wasn't worth her wages, and could scarcely lift a coal-scuttle. Now, this Betsy could easily lift you and the scuttle too. It would be doing an act of Christian charity to take her away from evil company."
Tobias knew well that now he was approaching his sister-in-law on the soft side of her character.
"Do send for her and see her, mother," said Ruth, "I'll give her a lesson every evening if you keep her, and teach her not to fight with people if I can."
"She would be sure to break a lot of things, Ruth," said her mother; "these rough girls who swing big hammers, and can use their hard fists in fightin[g] can't hold a plate in their hands."
"You could make her tie up her 'ands in a woollen stocking steeped in potash every night," said Tobias; "that'll soon soften 'em. I used to do it when I gave up working at the anvil; it 'ud soften the tail of a brass monkey, and make it limp in a week."
"Better to put her to do washing for a while, with plenty of soda in the water," said Mrs Weston. "We could give her coarse things at first to scrub in hot water, and perhaps she could be induced to wash her face in the water occasionally."
"Yes, that 'ud improve her appearance," said Tobias curtly. "I'm afraid, Mary, you'll be frightened of her when you see her face; it's generally as black as a nigger's."
"Where can she be seen?" said Mrs Weston in a dubious tone, on hearing of this last peculiarity of Betsy's.
"She'll be sure to come to the ware[']us in Dudley with her nails next Friday," he replied, "and I'll tell her to come here and see you, and to wash her face first. I'll give her money for her journey, and if you don't like her, you can pay her fare back again -- about a crown 'ull be the entire loss if she don't suit."
"Let me go with you to Dudley next Friday, uncle," said Ruth. "I would like to talk to Betsy, and see if it is possible to teach her anything."
Tobias ruminated a while before answering, and rubbed his chin with his hand. He had never invited his sister-in-law or niece to visit any of his places of business, and he did not desire that Ruth should be present whilst he drove his hard bargains, Mrs Weston and her daughter only knew in a general way that he dealt in iron and nails. His two sons were almost always away from home, at a good school in a northern town, and they knew still less than the women about the nature of his occupation. They had observed that his business caused him to be much absent from home, and that he always returned from his journeys rather grimy and depressed.
"Yes, perhaps it 'ud be best that you should talk to her, Ruth," said Tobias at length. "She might refuse to come if I spoke to her first. But Dudley is a smoky hole, and you 'ad better put on something as isn't worth much if it's spoiled. Please the Lord, I'll be done with it and the nail trade some day soon, and I 'ope I may find a business that won't wear out so much clothes in the working of it, or keep me so much on the run. There's a queer sort of an old place for sale out there in the west part of the next county, beyond the smoke, with something 'anging to it, I fancy, that'll pay more in a month than what I make in a year at present, though I do regularly set aside the tenth for the cause, and a blessing oughter follow in the shape of increase, which sometimes I'm doubtful of. It's because I'm in the wrong trade, I think, and am driven into unholy tempers by the women I've got to do with, as has tongues that are like the piercings of a sword. Remember, Ruth, it is written in the Proverbs that 'a soft tongue breaketh the bone.'"
As Mrs Weston had a suspicion that Tobias was likely to hold forth on this test, of which she did not see the immediate application, she rose and retired to her own apartment with her daughter.
Tobias remained behind looking over a dog-eared account book, which was the only kind of secular reading, excepting an odd newspaper, that he ever indulged in. Then, before he retired to rest, he read aloud to himself one of the Psalms containing maledictions on the enemies of King David, which he thought had a special application to a number of persons with whom he had had unsatisfactory dealings.
Ruth Weston travelled to Dudley with her uncle, and visited the warehouse with him at au early hour on the day of his next visit. She sat silently inside the counter, listening to him bargaining with the nailers' wives, and gradually her eyes became suffused with tears as she began to comprehend how hard he was in his dealings, and how wretched the poor women appeared to be. She stole outside the door, at length, to follow one woman a little way down the street, who was carrying away her sack of nails in search of another purchaser. Ruth put some money in the woman's hand, and said: "I am very sorry for you. I think my uncle is vexed to-day, or he could not have spoken so sharply."
"No miss, he's like o' that mostly; he sends some on us back ivery week wi' our sacks full, but often he'll buy the same lot o' nails next time 'ithout grumblin' overmuch. It's jest to keep us fro' bein' too uppish; but I 'adn't oughter take your money for now't. I'd like to pay it back next Friday, if you come again wi' your uncle."
"You are welcome to the money, my good woman. I heard you say you had four young children wanting food at home."
"Yes, I've four little 'uns, as is mostly 'ungry, but the neighbours 'elps a bit, when Miles won't part, jest to carry along till next pay those as is unlucky wi' your uncle. We club for't, so to speak, to get the better of 'im; you won't tell 'im so, I 'ope."
"No, I shall not speak of it. Can you tell me if a girl called Betsy Clinker will be likely to come to-day?"
"Yes, Betsy often comes late; she stops to gossip wi' lads on the way up, but there isn't any harm in her. She's young yet, though bein' so big for her years. She's a rare 'un to jaw wi' Muster Miles when 'er back's up. She guv it 'im 'ot last Friday as ever was. What d'ye want o' Betsy?"
"My uncle thinks it would be good for her to be in house service, and I have come to see her about it."
"Yes, it 'ud be good for,'er, no doubt, but not so good, p'r'aps, for them as 'ud try to manage ber. I 'ope you've got a motber as can 'old a tight 'and over a lass wi' a will of her own. She'd twist a young lady like you into garter-strings if you vexed ber. But here she is herself, comin' up the street wi' a quarter-'undredweight on her shoulder, by the look on't -- that's likely what med her late -- she's been restin' agin the lampostes to recover breath, wi' her sack planted on the collars of 'em, that must 'ave bin cast on a purpose. Here, Betsy, lass," the woman cried as the girl drew near. "'Ere's a young lady as wants to talk wi' yer. Ground your sack for a bit; you've got time enough, Toby is'n't 'arf tbrough yet. You'll excuse me, miss, for leavin' you wi' Betsy, but I mind the market 'ere is a'most over at ten o'clock, and I'd like to change your money into summat for the little 'uns, as I'll tell as ow you've bin so kind. The young lady is niece to Muster Miles, Betsy," she said ere she departed; "she's a good sort, so, lass, you mun be civil."
Betsy deposited her sack on the ground, and sat down on it, then gazed admiringly at Ruth's hat, and slowly let her eyes descend to the wearer's pleasant face, finally scanning the young lady downwards to her boots.
"Wot be yer wantin' o me?" she asked at length.
"My mother has sent me to have a talk with you, Betsy. She has heard of you from my uncle, and of what a hard life you lead, carrying heavy weights like that you are sitting on. Tell me how old you are."
"I'm risin' on twelve. Be you much more'n that?"
"I am seventeen, Betsy, and I couldn't carry half that load if I tried."
"No; it's lucky for yer not to want ter. It's 'eavy to-day 'cos father's bin workin' up fag ends o' rods for big spikes, and p'r'aps Toby won't buy 'em arter ail, then I'n got to carry 'em 'ome or elsewheres -- I'd loike to chuck 'em in a ditch."
"My uncle will surely buy them from you to-day, Betsy. I shall speak to him, He wants you to give up carrying such loads on your shoulder; it will make you to grow crooked. It will be better for you to be in service, to learn useful things, and earn wages to buy yourself good clothes, and have time to wash your face and hands regularly."
Ruth added the last observation with some diffidence, fearing it might be deemed too personal.
Betsy rose from her extemporised seat and said angrily: "W'ot's Toby got to do wi' me and moy face and 'ands, 'ceptin' to buy the nails as I lugs to his shop, and can't get him to gimme a fair price for 'em, wi' lyin' and cheatin,' and preachin' and tracks and texes more'n a parson. Ugh! Can you gimme a 'and up wi' this 'ere sack, and come along and listen to 'im yourself? But p'r'aps he preaches and tracks you at 'ome, so you'll not want to hear more on't. Did you buy that 'at o' yourn in Lunnon?"
"No, Betsy, I bought it in Birmingham; and if you come there to our house I'll buy you a nice straw bonnet, and boots, and other things. But you must wash you face and hands, you know, or you'd spoil them."
"W'ot do you want me to do for you in Brum at yer 'ouse?" inquired Betsy, still curiously gazing at the hat.
"To help in the kitchen, and to do washing. Then in the evenings I'd try to teach you to read. I suppose you can read a little?"
"I don't want no more teachin'," said Betsy sullenly, "nor tracks, nor preachin'. Would you gimme plenty o' tommy?"
"I suppose you mean food, Betsy? Yes, you would have good food, and plenty of it, and no preaching."
"Then where 'ud ode Toby be?"
"Do you mean my uncle?" said Ruth, laughing. "Oh, he is not often at home, and he doesn't preach in the house. Probably you'd seldom or never see him or hear him. You would be told what to do by my mother, and she would pay you a pound every month at first, and then more if you are good and obedient. You are not to fight with anyone, you know."
"I s'pose as Toby tell'd you I'd fought wi' Tummas Jones for cheatin' o' me?"said Betsy, smiling. "He thought it was along o' his ode padlock, as was stuffed full o' peases and grit by Tummas. I'n got to give Butty Tubbs summat by-'m-by 'cos, he promised to come and 'elp me wi' this 'ere sack, and he's never coomed. I'll clout 'im over the 'ead for't. Now, I mun git in wi't or Toby won't tak' 'em arter ten. I'll talk wi' you when I come out 'bout goin' to Brum, but I mun ask father first or p'r'aps he'd gie me an 'idin'."
With this Betsy hailed one of her female friends who was leaving the store, and received from her the necessary assistance in hoisting the sack of nails to its original position. Ruth returned to the ware-house, and waited there until Betsy's turn came; then she crept close to Tobias and said : "Please give her a good price for her nails, uncle. I think she will corne to us if you do."
Tobias first asked Betsy if she had given the reprobate Jones any further punishment. "The key'ole was al l right to-day," he said in a tone of satisfaction, and then with less bargaining than usual he paid for her nails, and told Betsy to run home and see her father as to giving his consent to her leaving Dudley, which poor Clinker, who had another daughter grown enough to take Betsy's place in working the bellows and carrying sacks of nails to the store, was glad enough to do, as it made a mouth less to be fed at home.
Parents in his condition of life in the "nail country " were very much like the birds, anxious to get the young ones out of the nest as soon as they could fly. The promise of the bonnet and boots and plenty of food weighed a good deal with Betsy, who came joyfully, later on, to Ruth at the little inn to make arrangements for departing on the Monday following, promising meanwhile to do all in her power to get the black off her face and hands, and to postpone for the present the "clouting" she had proposed to administer to the faithless Butty Tubbs.
Fortunately there was then on the premises, engaged as cook, a kind-hearted Yorkshire woman, who at Ruth's request took her protégée in hand, and commenced by cutting off the tangled masses of dark hair which were twisted into a great bunch on the back of her head. Betsy submitted quietly to this operation, whilst Ruth stood by and told her that it would be a great improvement, and in evidence pointed to her own short curling locks; but when, following on this preliminary, the cook proceeded to more serious measures of a sanitary nature in the privacy of the scullery, Betsy began first to shed tears, and then to show fight like a rough colt at the first introduction to the curry-comb.
Cook presently appeared upstairs in search of Ruth. That lass mun 'ave her 'ands tied behind her back before I can do aught more wi' her," she said. "She can fight like a mon, and I'm fearin' she's gi'en me a black eye."
"I am afraid, Ruth, we must send her back again, "said her mother ; "it was a foolish experiment to engage in, and I can't conceive what made your uncle undertake it."
"I'll go and talk to her first, before we decide to send her back," said Ruth. Then she descended to the kitchen, and heard Betsy loudly sobbing in the adjacent scullery. Ruth took out her purse and selected a bright half-crown, and with it exposed in her hand entered on the scene of recent combat.
"Betsy," she said gravely, "you must not fight with cook, who is kindly trying to make you look nice. See, if you are quiet for the next half-hour you can have this piece of silver for your own. I'll leave it on the table here for you to look at, and you can take it if cook says you have been good. Then you may come upstairs to see my mother."
"May I 'old it in my 'and when she's a-pullin' o' me about?" said Betsy, as she tried to stifle her sobs.
"Yes, you may hold it, and look at it as much as you please, if it will comfort you. It will soon be over, and then you will scarcely know yourself in the looking-glass."
"Then tell her to take off that big ring on her finger. She's 'it me wi't twice on the 'ead, and she's not to poke soap in my eyes and mouth neither, and I'm very 'ungry."
"Yes, I will tell her to take off the ring, and you shall have your supper soon. Then you can come up and see my mother before you go to bed."
As the resuit of this timely intervention Betsy presented herself at the parlour door later on looking subdued and much improved in appearance. Mrs Weston asked her many questions about her family, which she answered readily, explaining that her mother had died some years previously, and that she had three younger sisters now living at home; also that she had had a brother who had been killed by an explosion in a mine, and that her father was getting old, and could hardly earn enough to keep those who were left, and she would like to send him the half-crown Ruth had g iven her. "P'r'aps,"Betsy said, "Mr Miles would take it and give it to her sister for him in Dudley when she came with her nails next Friday?" She thought Tobias would not forget to do so if Ruth told him, otherwise she feared he might omit to hand over the coin.
Here cook appeared to carry off Betsy to her room, and it was evident that peace had been fully established, as Betsy slowly put her hand, in token of submission, into that of the kindly woman and followed her quietly.
"Poor girl," said Mrs Weston when alone with her daughter, "it was good of her to think of sending that half-crown to her father. I suppose you had to bribe her to submission, Ruth? She is not at all a bad-looking girl, now that one can see her face better. I must see about getting her some clothing to-morrow."
"I can't say, mother, whether Betsy is glad or sorry just now that she came here to have her great mane of hair cut off and get such a scrubbing from cook? I think cook deserves another half-crown for her successful efforts; it will console her if the black eye appears vividly in the daylight."
"Better to buy her something, Ruth. Those Yorkshire women are very proud, and she may be vexed if you offer her money for doing an act of kindness entirely outside of her regular work."
"Suppose, mother, you were to give cook a half-holiday to-morrow, and some money to purchase clothes for Betsy. I think she would best understand what to buy, and where to go for suitable things, and then perhaps Betsy would be grateful to her and more obedient."
"You are a wise child," said Mrs Weston as she rose and kissed her daughter. "I think, between you and cook, you may succeed in taming this rough creature; but it will not be easily done at once. You will have to persevere, and be patient, and firm also. It won't do, Ruth, to try to subdue her with half-crowns every time she gets angry."
Ruth soon found that she had undertaken a task which would tax her patience and the cook's firmness to the utmost. Wild colts are not broken in in a day even by Mr Rarey, and one can't tie up one of the legs of a female biped and use the whip, even sparingly, as we would do with a four-footed animal.
The first difficulty in the kitchen department arose out of a fracas with the butcher's boy, who had carelessly placed his muddy hoof on a door-step which Betsy had just whitened, and straight-way received the contents of a pail of dirty water in his shining countenance, quickly followed by the iron pail itself, which Betsy clapped, mouth downwards, over his head, to his utter discomfiture and amazement.
Another of Ruth's half-crowns had to be given as a "solatium" to this outraged youth, who talked loudly of haling Betsy by summons before a magistrate for the assault, but was ultimately appeased by the timely offering.
Betsy could scarcely be induced to promise that she would not repeat this summary method of treating careless butcher boys, but she had seen how the offender was compensated by Ruth, and reflected that he was thus undeservedly a gainer because of her violent attack, and could triumph over her with a new half-crown in his pocket. This was very galling, and contrary to all ideas of justice in Betsy's mind; therefore she threatened to kill the butcher boy "right out" next time he offended, and explained to him contemptuously that when he was dead and buried crying for half-crowns would do him no good with "ode 'Arry," who was supposed to be indifferent alike to tears and silver coin, and had, she averred, an insatiable craving for the carcases of butcher boys.
It was noticed that the lad became rather morose after this appalling intimation, and finally disappeared from the neighbourhood, as it was believed, to engage in a business of a less risky nature as regarded a future state, or at all events to take up some walk in life that would not lead him into Betsy's vicinity.
Tobias Miles was the next person who incurred Betsy's wrath, although the method she adopted for punishing the master of the house, because he had complained in sarcastic tones, one Sunday morning, that his boots were not properly blackened, had to be kept profoundly secret by Betsy's fellow-servants lest it should lead to her dismissal.
Betsy deposited a couple of live beetles in one of his boots, and a half-dead mouse she had captured in the other, and then danced a kind of war dance in pleasant anticipation of results, winding up by standing on her head on the kitchen table, when Tobias was heard suddenly to scream out in a hysterical fashion on the staircase, where he usually put on his boots.
Tobias strongly suspected Betsy to be the author of this indignity, but as it occurred on a Sunday he deferred investigating into the matter until next morning, when the supposed culprit readily found an excuse for the presence of the mouse and the beetles in the boots by gravely alleging that "mices" were very fond of blacking, and as for beetles, she declared that they would eat througb cast-iron to get at it.
"I'm afraid, Betsy, you are telling lies," said Tobias solemnly. "There was never a mouse nor a black beetle in my boots before you came, and if I finds 'em again, you've got to 'ook it. It might 'ave caused me to die in a fit. Remember w'ot 'appened to the wife of Ananias, and the kind o' fits unto death she and her 'usband fell into 'cause o' lies they'd bin tellin' the Apostle Peter, who, I think, oughter 'ave been more merciful to 'em, seein' as 'ow he once told a whacker himself, when the cock crowed to remind him on't.
Betsy had never heard of these alarming illustrations of the sin of lying, but concluded that Tobias was preaching or quoting texts for her benefit.
"Miss Ruth said yer wasn't to preach at me ef I com'd 'ere, or else I'd 'ave asked for more wages," she sturdily replied. "The cocks allus crows as if they wanted to split 'emselves at Dudley when you're buyin' nails and preachin' to folkses at same time[.] You'd mak' t' ode hens to crow, so you would, sayin' as 'ow I'd put mices and beetles in yer boots. I can't abear mices nor beetles nor tracks; they makes me 'oller out as you did when I sees 'em."
"Miss Ruth tells me she is trying to teach you to read, Betsy. P'r'aps some day she will give you that story of Ananias and his wife to learn off by heart."
"I'm only learnin' to spell small words yet, Muster Miles, like c-a-t, cat, w'ot 'unts mices up-stairs; b-e-t-l-s, beetles, w'ot eats blackin' and gets into boots, and causes folks to be preached at[.] Most cats eats beetles and gets sick on 'em, as if they was tracks and texes."
Tobias saw that he was no match for Betsy in theological argument, and decided to avoid such discussions in future, and to appeal to Ruth, to whom alone Betsy was very obedient, whenever he had cause to complain. He had been told by his niece that the girl was hard-working in her rough, energetic way, and that the cook had taken to her kindly; also that Betsy kept the tramps who came round begging or stealing at back doors in a wholesome state of terror, as one of her peculiarities was utter fearlessness in attacking any male creature, no matter how big, who incurred her wrath or suspicion. But as to her progress in learning to spell or read, Ruth was almost in despair at first. Betsy could get on pretty well with simple nouns referring to animais and things illustrated by marginal pictures in her book, but with the spelling and meaning of words other than these she found so much difficulty that Ruth was at a loss to discover some method of teaching which would arouse her interest sufficiently to fix the words and ideas in her memory.
At length Ruth hit upon the plan of getting Betsy to describe all she remembered of her previous life at home -- what she did during each period of the day, and what her father and sisters did in their hard struggle for existence, under conditions which were appalling for Ruth to hear graphically narrated in an uncouth dialect by the poor Cinderella, who had still left in her so much cheerfulness and animal courage after the battle for bare life she had been fighting.
Ruth endeavoured, with tears in her eyes, to make notes, of Betsy's sad story, as told in her own words, so that she could form some distinct idea of the narrow and dismal surroundings in which her stunted faculties had developed, and so by descending to Betsy's plane of vision to try to find some clue by which she could eventually lead her mind to higher things.
Ruth wrote out in block letters, in imitation of print, short sentences embodying the simple ideas with which Betsy was familiar, and then caused her slowly to spell them over one by one, and by degrees to associate the sentence with something she had recently described. Gleams of intelligence began to play over Betsy's features as she spelt out the words in which Ruth had restated the proposition, that unless her father remained soberly at home all the week, pounding at nails, there would certainly be a deficiency of food for the family as the natural consequence, ergo it was needful to keep a sharp eye on idle vagabonds who had on previous occasions led him away from his smithy to the public-house, and if needs be, Betsy would have added, it was wise to set fire to their coat-tails with a hot cinder, or to do them some other private mischief to hasten their departure, things which, she admitted to Ruth, she had frequently done and rejoiced in doing.
In about six months Ruth had overcome the chief difficulties in breaking in the rough fllly she had taken charge of. Betsy could then slowly read out some simple story, and evidently felt pleasure in making herself tidy each evening before she presented herself to receive her lesson. The efficacy of regular employment at the wash-tub in softening her rough hands was soon apparent, and she took pride in exhibiting them for inspection when Ruth began to teach her to sew properly, and was hopeful that before long she might venture on introducing Betsy to the mysteries of pen and ink when her fingers became more flexible.
Ruth discovered that Betsy was ambitious to learn to write, in order that she might communicate with her father at Dudley, who could read written characters. She had ascertained from the girl that the old man was rather rough in his treatment of his children, and had occasionally beaten her severely, but still Betsy always spoke of him with affection, and evidently considered that the blows she had received in times past were only part of the ordinary incidents of life in the familles of Dudley nailers, to be classed with thunder-storms of a passing nature.
Tobias Miles was more than usually absent from home at this period, and when at home was very absent-minded, evidently thinking of some new business project, so that he seldom saw or spoke to Betsy, whose course in life ran all the smoother in consequence.
One day he said abruptly to Mrs Weston : "I want you and Ruth to come with me to look at a property, with a queer old house on it, which I have almost made up my mind to buy. It's a ramshackle sort of place called Madeley Court, and I believe was a kind of 'monkery' at one time, with an old chapel attached to it, where the monks used to perform their idolatries. I want you, Mary, to give me your opinion as to whether a part of the place can be made habitable for us for a time by removing the furniture from here. If I buy it, I'll let or sell this house, and go to live there altogether; but l'm afraid you will find it rather lonely at first. I have a fancy for it, and I'm sick and tired of the nail trade. I can dispose of the business just now at a tolerably fair price, and wash my 'ands of it for good. Please the Lord, let us go see the place next Saturday. There is a little inn in a village not far off where I hƒve often stayed. It's a moderate place, and if you will stay over Sunday they can put us up comfortably. There is a small church, if you will go to church with Ruth -- and just a handful of the Lord's people, who meet in an upper room by themselves and keep the truth alive. I was among 'em last Sunday, and exhorted 'em a little. It was a time of refreshing."
"Why do you wish to purchase this old ruinous place?" inquired Mrs Weston, thinking it was about time to interrupt Tobias.
"Well, that I can't tell you just yet, Mary, and I haven't told anyone, but I think that it's a wise thing to do, and likely to lead to profit. I don't wish it to get abroad that I am thinking of buying it. The last owner was a lawyer, who bought the whole estate some years ago, and lives in a big house not far off with an only son of his. A branch railway was made through the property in spite of his opposition, and severed the land, so that the railway company had to pay a big sum for the sixty acres that was cut off, with the old ruin on it, and now they want to sell it again as he says 'he won't buy any part of it back, even as a bargain.' All the same I believe he would like to do so at his own price, and he thinks no one else will interfere. He is said to be a cantankerous old man, and a sort of heathen, who doesn't believe in God or Devil, and spends most of his time reading profane books written by heathens like himself, so one has to be cautious lest he should hear that I have an idea of buying the place."
"But you have not told me yet, Tobias, why you want to buy it?"
"Ah! that's my secret, Mary; -- you will know in good time. I think it's worth more than ten times what it's offered to me at by the company's agent, who has rather a spite against the old lawyer, who had led them a pretty dance during four or five years, and prevented the railway from being made all the time. If the old sinner only knew what I know he'd 'ave seen that the making of the line was the very best thing that could 'appen to him; but as Solomon says, 'a prudent man concealeth knowledge, and every fool will be meddling,' if you give him a chance."
"I am afraid you are going into a troublesome affair, Tobias, in meddling with this gentleman's land. It is not well to provoke a litigious man, especially when he is a lawyer. May I ask what the railway company want for the place?"
"It's a good sum, Mary, but not half what they had to pay for it. You might let the price slip out in someone's hearing if I was to tell you; you know that 'a jewel of gold in a swine's snout is a fair woman without discretion.' You have more discretion than most women, I'll admit, but all the same women 'ave tongues and walls 'ave ears, like little pitchers."
"I wish you wouldn't be always misquoting ridiculous proverbs, Tobias. You come to me to advise you and keep the gist of the matter to yourself. Can you afford to buy this place and to spend money on it?"
"Yes, I think I can afford it. Please the Lord, the money will return to me an 'undredfold. I'll be sorry to leave this, but keeping two 'ouses is only vanity and pride. 'Pride goeth before destruction, and an 'auty sperrit before a fall.'"
Tobias had approached an open window as he spoke, but suddenly started back with a kind of hysterical scream, like that he had emitted on discovering the mouse in the toe of his boot. "Lord save us, Mary!" he exclaimed, "w'ot's that on the window sill? Is it an emissary of Satan come to listen?"
Mrs Weston approached the window in alarm, and beheld a large ape perched on the stone sill, and apparently intending to enter the apartment.
"It's a huge monkey our neighbour has recently brought here, and keeps chained in a shed in his garden," she said; "it has made its escape, and climbed over the wall. It did so once before. whilst you were away, and was captured and taken home by Betsy ; she is not a bit afraid of him."
"Please the Lord, let her take him 'ome now," said Tobias, who had hastily retreated from the window, and was pale and trembling. "I've 'eard that the bite of a monkey is as bad as the bite of a mad dog," he added. "I thought it was the Evil One himself. Adam Clarke says it was in the shape of a monkey he appeared to Eve. I wonder as 'ow she could listen to the ugly thing, Mary, do ring the bell for Betsy. I think the beast is coming in. Ha! avaunt thee, Satan!"
Here Tobias shook his clenched fist at the animal, who responded to the threatening gesture by showing its teeth.
"You will make the creature angry, Tobias," said Mrs Weston as she rang the bell. "I am sure it is not savage or Mr Dixon would not keep it, and it went home quietly the other day. I'll give it a piece of sugar."
"Don't encourage it to come here, Mary. I'll tell Mr Dixon I'll summon him if the beast escapes again. He is always 'avin' some fad or another with ridiculous pets. Last year 'twas a badger, and the year before an 'orrid fox, that smelt like a polecat. He oughter keep 'em elsewhere in his managèry."
Here Betsy appeared on the scene, grinning with laughter. She had already had an interview with the ape, on his appearing on the garden wall, and had tempted him down with nuts, and then encouraged him to climb up to the window of the room in which she knew Tobias was seated. She now went straight to the animal, and addressed it in friendly tones as an old acquaintance, holding out her hands.
"Here, Muster Jocko," she said, "you come along wi' me. Muster Miles don't like you."
The ape straightway sprang into her arms, whilst Betsy stroked down his fur and caressed him.
"He's a good sort," she said, "but he don't like some folkses. Would you like to carry 'im 'ome, Muster Miles?"
"Take him away, Betsy; take him out 'o the 'ouse," screamed Tobias as she approached him. "Tell Mr Dixon he will hear from me if the 'orrid thing is at large again."
Just then Ruth came in, having heard of the new arrivai, who straightway held out one of his small hands to her.
"He knows honest folks, 'ee do, w'en he sees 'em," cried Betsy in triumph. "Bless 'im, I'd like to keep 'im for company, and to comb and brush his furry coat, fit to go to chapel o' Sundays. He'd soon learn to say his prayers, 'ee would, the dear old chap; but he couldn't abide preachin's nor exhorting."
To Tobias' great relief Betsy disappeared with this parting shot, bearing away the tame animal clinging to her neck as if it were a big child.
"That's a 'strordinary girl that 'ere Betsy," he said; "she seems not to be afraid of man nor beast. I'm thinkin' she 'ticed the animal over the wall to frighten me. It's just a thing as she'd delight in doing."
She found the owner of the creature seated in a kind of summer-house, in a large old-fashioned garden, engaged just then in drafting the text of an advertising poster addressed "To the nobility and gentry of Birmingham and its neighbourhood," and informing them in grandiloquent terms that Sam Dixon's unrivalled travelling circus and world-renowned collection of performing animals had returned from a tour through Great Britain, and would be open to the public that week in the "Midland Metropolis," by permission of the most worshipful Mayor and Corporation of the city, and under distinguished and exalted patronage.
Mr Dixon, who was a stout, florid faced man and looked like a well-to-do farmer, had got thus far, and was moistening the stump of a lead pencil between his lips whilst he pondered on the next paragraph, when Betsy appeared before him with her animated burden.
"God A'mighty bless us!" he exclaimed, starting to his feet on beholding the novel pair. "Blow'd if it ain't that enterprisin' Jocko as has broke loose again, though I bought a new chain and a patent padlock for the cunning crittur. Wherever did you find 'im, girl?"
"Please, Muster Dixon," said Betsy, "he com'd over our garding wall of his own self, and he's given Muster Miles a fright that's a'most turned his eyes in his 'ead, as if he'd seen ode 'Arry afore his proper time. He told me to tell you you'd 'ear from him summat pertickler when he'd recovered his senses and could write."
"'Owever did you 'ave courage to catch 'im and 'old 'im like that, girl?" said the circus owner. "He seems as fond of you as a sweetheart."
"I've see'd you feedin' him in the garding, Muster Dixon, and heerd you calling him 'Jocko.' But most beastes is fond o' me 'cause I'm not afeerd on 'em."
"What's your name, my good girl?" he inquired, "and where was you born? Seems to me you ought to be in my menagery in the lion-taming line. That there 'Jocko' once a'most bit a man's finger off who meddled with him, though he's a reformed character since he was hurt in riding a kicking pony in the ring. That's why I've had him 'ome here to nurse him a bit. You should see him flyin' through papered hoops from a hoss's back. with his scarlet jacket and gold-laced hat on. I'd not lose him for a pot o' money. He's the best-trained hanimal of his kind out o' Barbary, where they all cornes from. But tell me your name, and 'ere's a shilling for you."
"Please, sir, I'm Betsy Clinker from Dudley, and I'm in service next door with Mrs Weston; but if Jocko is worth so much, you oughter give at least an arf-crown for 'aving him brought back. Muster Miles might 'ave killed him, you know, in his fright if I 'adn't caught him, and Jocko might 'ave bit someone and costed you a lot."
"You're a sharp girl, Betsy, and if ever you want a better place than you've got next door, just you ask for Sam Dixon at the Royal Circus, or for his missus, here. I don't mind giving you a couple o' tickets that will pass you into the performance with a friend of yours any time we are open here this month. Have you ever seen our circus?"
"No, Muster Dixon, nor a wild-beastes show."
"Well, come along some evening, and p'r'aps you'll see Jocko performin' like a first-class acrobat. He may know you again when he sees you in the pit. Now give him to me to chain up. I'll fix him safer this time, but if he comes your way again, Betsy, just try to drive him back over the wall with a broomstick without touching of him. If you hit 'im he might bite you."
"May I come in to see him again, Muster Dixon?" pleaded Betsy, when the circus proprietor had gently disengaged Jocko, who was clinging to her neck.
"Yes, you may come in when you like, but you mustn't feed him and make him bad in his inside; he's a bit delicate since he's 'ad a kick from that durned Scotch pony, and he gets the spasms if he's fed on things as isn't good for him. He'll be all right next week, I think. But by-the-way, Betsy, did you give him anything to eat?"
"I giv'd him only three roasted chestnuts to coax him down off the wall," said Betsy.
"Ah! p'r'aps they won't 'arm him as they was roasted, but don't give him no more. Bread-and-milk is his proper diet just now. Our vet is 'tending on him, poor old chap, and 'tis beautiful to see him take his med'cine reg'lar like a Christian, as if he know'd 'twas to do him good. I'll 'ave to give him a tea-spoonful o' castor oil as a precaution along o' them chestnuts o' yours; monkeys in general likes castor oil, 'cause I suppose it comes from their own country, but if they won't take it out o' cussedness, I pretend to 'ide it somewhere in a bottle when they are slyly looking on, and then they steal it and swallow it."
Mr Dixon had secured "Jocko" with a strong chain by this time, but as Betsy walked away the animal made frantic efforts to break loose and follow her. "That's a most 'strordinary thing," he soliloquised as he watched Betsy slowly walking off with her head over her shoulder looking back at Jocko. "That stout lass is chuck full o' w'ot they calls hanimal magnetism. She's just the sort o' girl to train as a female lion-tamer. She's a little old, I'm fearin', to start in hoss-riding, but I'd like to try her at it. She don't know what fear is, she don't, and I dessay has nerves like cast-iron; but she's a kind-'arted girl too, and wouldn't welt the hosses into ridges out o' temper as some on 'em does. I'll just put down her name and address, She may come my way yet some fine day when she's tired of 'ouse work, unless a hidiot of a young man comes along to fill her 'ead with nonsense; that's w'ot spoils 'em for the circus. They don't properly give their minds to it, and are always looking round to see if he's in the gallery admiring of 'em, 'stead o' mindin' their jumps, until one day they comes a nasty cropper, and then they lose pluck and can't take the hoops no more."
During the next week Betsy appeared in Sam Dixon's garden on each afternoon, when her work was done, and renewed her aquaintance with Jocko, to whom she brought little packets of sugar, saved from her own meals, as nuts were tabooed. The animal, who was one of the most intelligent of its kind, seemed to look eagerly for her coming, and hailed her approach with a sort of joyous bark, which always brought out Mrs Dixon, in her husband's absence, to witness the interview, and have a talk with Betsy, to whom she expatiated on the glories of the circus, and the enviable position in life of the ladies attached to Dixon's circus in particular, who, she said, "were always treated most respeckfully, like female hartists," and travelled from town to town in gorgeous equipages drawn by four horses, heralded by drums and trumpets, and were fed like princesses on the route at Dixon's expense. Moreover, [they] had all Sunday to themselves, to lie in bed or go about improving their minds, according to the weather. Mrs Dixon informed Betsy that she herself never got up until noon, on Sunday or week-day, being in general occupied until a late hour at night in taking money at the circus doors, which was her particular vocation as Queen regent in the peripatetic establishment, and a thing that could not be safely entrusted to any of the frivolous princesses in her train. She had known proprietors of circuses, she said, who had come to signal grief by neglecting this wise arrangement and entrusting the financial department to strange deputies, whereas "Sammil," as she called her husband, had been able to purchase his house, with the large garden they were in, out of his savings; but they had unfortunately "neither chick nor child" to inherit it, which she thought made them both fond of sagacious pets like Jocko, whom she described as an orphan, born in one of the circus vans, and brought up by hand on goat's milk out of a feeding bottle, because his mother had succumbed to a fancy for picking up rusty nails and swallowing them, as was proved by the circus vet at a post-mortem on her dead body. Mrs Dixon had a private opinion that Jocko inherited this taste for old nails, just as dressmakers were given to swallowing pins until they came out at their elbows. It was true "Sammil" held that Jocko's illness was entirely due to the kick from the wicked "cuss" of a Shetland pony, who hated to have a monkey on his back, but she adhered to the nail theory, and time alone would show who was right, because when a female child of the lady artist who did Mazeppa, on a barebacked steed, took fits of screaming and turned black in the face, it was found to be all owing to a brass button, and children and monkeys were much alike in their tricks, which she supposed was the reason why philosophers thought they came from the same original stock. "Tails," she declared, were no argument to the contrary, as neither Jocko nor his hairy parents ever had any, which was a disadvantage to them when riding, as they required something to steady themselves by when standing on two legs, which didn't, she had observed, appear to come quite natural to them; but, to be sure, children went on all-fours at first, and would be likely to do so all their lives if they weren't smacked and made to stand upright, so perhaps the philosophers were right after all, as "Sammil," who was given to reading natural history books, thought they were. He believed Jocko was remote cousin to mankind, and perhaps took to Betsy because she handled him like his deceased mother used to do; anyhow, he had never been so fond of anyone before, not even of the lad Jones, whose business it was to feed him, but whom he had twice bitten, no doubt because of provocation. "But young children will bite, too, as bad as monkeys if you vex 'em, as I have reason to know, Betsy, although I have never had any of my own to bite me," Mrs Dixon sadly concluded, as if she regretted the loss of the dental infliction.
"Do you know, Mrs Dixon, where did that 'ere Jones come from?" inquired Betsy eagerly.
"We picked him up, Betsy, at Dudley, with a friend of his, about two months ago, to mind the small ponies; but I'm afraid they are a pair of idle lads, and fond of larkin' with the animais."
"Was his friend called Butty Tubbs?" Betsy asked with intense interest.
"Tubbs is one of his names, surely -- you seem to know 'em, Betsy?"
"Yes; I know'd both on 'em at 'ome in Dudley, and if Tummas Jones teases Jocko again, please tell 'im, Mrs Dixon, that I'll come and give it 'im 'ot."
Mrs Dixon laughed heartily at this, and said : "Why, he's a big lad, and more'n a head taller than you, Betsy. You'd better come to see the circus on Saturday next, when we give an early performance. Mr Dixon will let you go round into the stables under the galleries, and you'll see your two old friends. P'r'aps Jocko will be well enough to ride by that time. He's said to be the best monkey rider as ever was, and 'olds his whip like a gentleman jockey. Sammil says it ain't proper to call him a monkey at all; monkeys is smaller animais, and spends most o' their time scratchin' 'emselves, which Jocko is above doing, and you've got to strap 'em on the saddles or they'd jump off and 'ook it. You see, Betsy, I know the ways of all such creatures, 'cause the menagery was mine before I married Sammil -- it belonged to my former 'usband. We used to run it and the circus separately at one time, when there was more animais, but lions and tigers comes expensive in feedin', and in repairs to vans -- which they gnaws and claws the woodwork of -- so now we only keep a selection of tame beasts that will most of 'em walk round the ring in the great Mogul procession, with the elephant leading 'em. I used to ride on the elephant in a splendid 'howdy,' as the Queen of Sheba going on a visit to King Solomon, but Sammil says some pious people made a fuss about it, as being a story out o' the Bible, so we changed it in the bills to Cleopatra on her way to meet Mark Antony in Egypt, with the old giraffe stalking behind, and carrying a black eunuch with a big umbrella, who had to 'old on by the skin of his teeth -- giraffes being made with a lot o' slope in their backs. P'r'aps, Betsy," the good lady continued confidentially, "if you go next Saturday, Dixon may give a procession, with Miss Crespigny. as is one of our leading ladies, whose real name is Rorke, sitting in the howdy; but to my mind she don't look dignified enough, being rather skinny, and fond of showing her ankles, with bangles on 'em made out of big curtain rings, as don't appear to me quite proper in Cleopatra, though, to be sure, the Queen of Sheba may have worn such jingling things, being I'm told a black African woman, who probably had a fancy for glass beads and brass wire, as Sammil says is stated by travellers who have been in the country where she lived. Sammil reads a lot o' books before he gets up his processions, in order to have 'em correct."
Betsy listened with wonder to the voluble lady, who, having but few female acquaintances outside the radius of the travelling circus, and being on rather distant terms with the ladies attached thereto, as became the wife of the proprietor, had not many conversational opportunities in life, and made the most of those which fell in her way -- her pet subject being the splendour of the spectacles got up by "Sammil," who she believed to be a marvel of intelligence and ability in his vocation, and who was really very shrewd and clever, and consequently a successful man, with an easy temper and sufficient tact to smooth over the little squabbles amongst the members of the company, who were much attached to him and, in general, readily accepted his common-sense decisions.
"It's half the battle," Sam Dixon used to say to his wife, "to keep on good terms with the company, especially when we are on the move and the children are fractious. You just fill your pockets with lollipops, Sally, for the little 'uns before we start, and I'll take care of the mothers and see 'em properly fed, and arterwards give 'em a drop o' suffin 'ot to make 'em lively. There's nothin', my dear, like feedin' animais with your own 'ands to make 'em peaceable and fond of you, and men and women are only animais as has somebow got a long start in tbe race witb otber critturs -- sucb as Jocko tbere, who, if he has his meals reg'lar, is as lively and 'appy as the day is long, and 'ull take his 'oops as if he felt pride in earning his living and doing his duty in that state of life he was called to -- 'aving the pull over us in regard to tailor's bills and taxes."
"If Jocko could talk," Sam Dixon often said, "I'm sure he'd tell you he thought most of us fools, 'specially women, as is always worritin' about what they'll put on to outshine their neighbours. I fixed on a blue swallow-tail coat with gilt buttons, and white cord breeches and top-boots, wben I was a lad, as best suiting the profession I was follerin', and I've never seen any style o' dress I like better, so it's been ditto, ditto with me ever since, whereas I'm sure my wife lies awake o' nights thinkin' of Kitty Rorke's new fly-away bonnet and feathers, that wouldn't become her at all at her time o' life, if she only knew it, and just makes little Kitty a caution to look at, besides the 'stravagance in a young 'ooman as is thinkin' o' marryin' -- more fool she, that can earn her six pounds a week as long as she remains single, and can do her 'oops flying, with a spring a'most as good as Jocko's, who watches her out of a corner of his eye 'ithout being in the least jealous, whereas that Frenchwoman, as Kitty nursed when she fell under our black mare Vixen, turns green and clenches her teeth and 'ands when she sees Kitty go round the ring, gathering herself up on the saddle for a leap like a young panther; there's a deal of the wild-cat in a Frenchwoman when she thinks she has a rival in anything, and I often wish madame would take herself back to her own country."
"But, Sammil, you may 'ave to pay forfeit under her agreement," replied his cautious better half one day when this difficulty was under discussion.
"Better do that, Mrs D., than have a disturbance that will upset the whole apple-cart. Madame Cerigo says 'she won't ride on the same night as Kitty any longer,' and she's cut the black mare into ribbons in her bad temper. I think that's breach of contract enough; but I'd prefer getting rid of her peaceably if she won't be civil to Kitty, who is a favourite with the public, and might leave us for Astley's up in London, who, I know, 'ave been writing to her. I wish, wife, you'd invite Kitty to tea sometimes, and pay her a little attention just now to keep her in good humour."
"Sammil," said Mrs Dixon solemnly, "Sammil, you know when you bought this 'ouse it was agreed that it was to be kept apart from the circus, so that in the few months we are able to spend here we might feel ourselves to be in a higher spear. I don't object to Kitty Borke in her proper place, as is rightly on horseback, although she is as vain as a pet peacock with two tails, and wastes her money on 'ats and dresses that are neither becoming nor exactly proper for a young woman in her state of life, as calls herself a 'hartist,' and yet wears shorter petticoats than Madame Cerigo herself, who, being French, can't be expected to be over-partickler; still, as it is your wish, Sammil, I'll ask Kitty to spend next Sunday with us, and give her an 'int to come in a plain bonnet, if she has one, or if not to leave them red and blue feathers at her lodgings on account of our neighbours."
"I don't see w'ot our neighbours has got to say to it as long as I pay rates and taxes," growled Sam. "The man on our right hŠre was a travelling tinman, as once went about the country with a van full of saucepans, and is now in the lamp trade, making a fortune out o' railways, and keeping a carriage for his wife and daughters, as isn't above taking tickets as children under ten, when two of 'em's a long time out o' their teens. I don't know much about our other seedy-looking neighbour, but he has written to me to say he'll 'ave the law o' me if Jocko is loose again. He calls him an 'unclean beast,' my poor Jocko, that has fine fur like sealskin, and is as nice about his food and everything as if he was brought up on tea and dry toast in a young lady's academy."
"He shouldn't 'ave abusŠd Jocko, Sammil, as hasn't 'armed 'im," said Mrs Dixon with warmth; "but the lady on that side of us is a lady, I can see, by her quiet style of dress, a'most like a Quakeress, and her pretty daughter is a nice young creature, as wears no feathers in her 'at, and is trying to teach that girl Betsy, who says she is a angel o' sweetness. They always salute me respeckfully when we 'appen to meet, though they ain't ever called."
"Well, wife," said Sain as he rose, "it's settled that you'II ask Kitty here on Sunday, for the sake o' peace and quietness in the circus, and just remember to put on a plain gown so as not to disconcert her. If you wear that low-necked black silk of yours, which would stand up of itself, and show your plump shoulders, she'll be fidgetin' all the time, as shoulders and buzzum isn't her strong points, you know; besides, on a Sunday, we are told in Scripture, it's well to be clad like the lilies o['] the valley, or like the ladies next door you admire so much. I wonder as 'ow they ean live with that sanctimonious 'umbug, who looks like a decayed undertaker as 'ud sell you a second-hand coffin. He -- to 'ave the law o' me, indeed! -- a feller that it's likely has never been in a decent circus in his life, or in anything livelier than a chamber of 'orrors in a waxworks, and don't know 'ow to write a civil letter to the proprietor, but quotes the words o' Moses to slander an amiable animal that 'ud scorn to take a mouthful out of 'im lest it should disagree with 'im -- poor Jocko, as is ill and can't defend hisself."
"Jocko is quite lively to-day," said Mrs Dixon with evident pleasure; "that girl Betsy has been in and brushed 'im up nicely, and brought a looking-glass for 'im to admire himself in. You may put him in the bills, I think, Sammil, for next Saturday, when there's likely to be lots o' children 'ome early from school. I think they come 'specially to see 'im, and I'll beg 'em as they pass in not to feed 'im with nuts and gingerbread -- that lad Jones should 'take it out' of the pony before Jocko mounts 'im. I suppose Madame Cerigo will be jealous of Jocko, too, before long, and won't ride if he's mentioned in the same type as her ladyship. She has taken to answering me in French lately if I speak to her, though she can jabber English like a magpie when she likes, just because she knows I don't understand her lingo."
"It's said that two queens in an 'ive o' bees always tries to kill each other," said Sam sententiously. "Now, if Kitty wasn't running Madame Cerigo close in riding, besides being younger, they'd agree like turtle-doves ; but both of 'em is fond o' Jocko, as does his best to imitate 'em at the hoops, whereas if he was a human admirer of theirs, they'd pull fur about 'im, and Kitty 'ud be likely to lose her back hair, though that wouldn't hurt her much. Madame Cerigo's is all her own, I believe."
"You never can tell, Sammil," said Mrs Dixon seriously; "those Frenchwomen are up to artful ways of plaiting in 'air the same as their own as would deceive a microscope. I believe they get it fixed up in Paris, and sleep with their 'eads in a bag until they go back again to learn a new way of wearing it. The things I've seen in the way of improvers hanging up in her dressing-room beats the art o' man. At least you can't get 'em to buy in England, Kitty says, nor understand 'ow to fasten 'em on if you had 'em, being some on 'em like mousetraps covered with mohair."
"Mantraps I'd call 'em," said Sam, laughing; "but you and Kitty oughtn't to go poking into Madame Cerigo's dressing-room. I suspect that's 'ow the row began with Kitty; there are little innercent secrets in all professions, you know. The singers at the hopera 'ouses, I'm told, has often 'arf-a-dozen different noses in their kit to fit 'emselves with, according to the characters they are cast for, but 'ow they can sing with 'em on is a puzzle to me, seeing as a small cold in the 'ed will shut up any of 'em, especially females, as has often to squall loud enough to split your ears."
"Sam," said Mrs Dixon in a confidential whisper, "do you know that Kitty says she is sure that one of Madame Cerigo's eyes is made of glass. and so she can stare you out of countenance with it if you try to find out by looking closely at her? Her eyes are not both of a colour, certainly, like the eyes of that white Persian cat we had as wasn[']t thoroughbred."
"Oh, my eye!" said Sam, jumping up to go out, "I'm fearing you and Kitty will take Madame Cerigo to pieces next Sunday, and not leave her a leg to stand on. We must invite her here the Sunday after next, in her turn, and tben you'll hear that Kitty is growing a hump and has arms like crooked drumsticks. I'll go and talk to Jocko, and ask him to bite 'em both if they won't keep their tongues quiet. Why, in thc name o' wisdom, was women ever invented? or if they had to be, why aren't they all born dumb -- like Jocko's mother?"
A tall swell, who was the riding-master, and carried a long whip, came up and inquired if they had not mistaken the entrance door, but on learning that they were especially privileged persons, politely raised his glossy hat and directed them to go forward until they lighted on one or other of the "young eusses" they were in search of. And so in awe and wonder they crept along in the narrow passage behind the horses' heels. Some of the animais turned from their mangers to look curiously at the female strangers.
"Oh, ain't they just lovely, and fit for queens and princesses to ride on," exclaimed Betsy. "Here's one, cook, as is all cream colour, and I'm sure would let me kiss his pink nose."
"The hoss might bite you, Betsy. I'm fearin' we shall get kicked by some on 'em, walking so close to their 'eels."
"Not he,"said Betsy, fearlessly entering the stall and flinging her arms round, the horse's neck. "'Osses wot bites and kicks always puts their ears down and looks wicked. I've seed 'em do it."
"Why are you kissing my mare, girl?" asked a sprightly young lady who suddenly appeared on the scene, clad in a brilliant hussar jacket, having rows of gilt buttons thereon, and wearing voluminous snowy muslin skirts, which barely reached below her knees. She wore high red morocco boots, laced over flesh-coloured "tights," and held a neat little silver-mounted riding-whip, bent in her gloved hands.
Betsy gazed at her in silent wonder. She had never seen a live circus princess before, but as this one was small, like a fairy princess, and smiled pleasantly, Betsy was not afraid of her.
"Well, my lass," the princess inquired abruptly, "who are you looking for?"
"Please, miss," said the cook, intervening, "Betsy wants to see Mr Jocko, who is a friend of hers. She's been petting him all the week at Mrs Dixon's as lives nest door to us."
"Come along, then, with me. Jocko is in the menagery, being shaved and dressed and 'avin his 'air curled before he mounts his pony. I daresay he will let you kiss him if you like, though he's rather partickler, and would bite the noses off some people if they took such liberties with him. He's a modest young man, and hasn't got a sweetheart."
"Please, miss," Betsy ventured to inquire, "did Jocko ever let you kiss him?"
At this the princess burst into a peal of laughter. "Yes, in course," she said, "scores o' times. I only kissed him for his mother, you know, so you needn't be jealous. He was very small at the time, and 'adn't been put into trousers."
"He let me comb and brush him," said Betsy.
"Did he? Then you are a favourite of his. He's got a new dressing-case, with silver fittings in it, at home, and p'r'aps he'd spank himself up with bear's grease and go for a walk with you on Sunday as your young man. We've got a brown bear here that I daresay would stand a pot of grease if you was to kiss him for it. That is, when Jocko isn't looking on, you know. But you'd 'ave to be cautious."
Betsy began to see that the princess was joking, and thought it rather undignified in such a high-born lady.
"I'm very fond of Jocko," she said seriously, and Mrs Dixon is fond of 'im, and says he can ride 'most as well as any of the lady artises."
["]Does she? That's not bad for Sally Dixon. Did she tell you he ought to 'ave his wages riz, 'cause we are all going on strike soon for more pay and less work, like nailers?"
"Nailers isn't paid reg'lar wages, more's the pity," said Betsy, "and it isn't no good striking when there's so raany on 'em -- making more nails than is wanted."
"You are a queer sort of girl, you are," said the lively little lady. "Do you know that I'm one of the 'lady artises' Mother Dixon has been telling you of? My name is Kitty Rorke, though Sam will put a French name on me in the bills that he can't rightly lay his tongue to. Here's the door of the 'ole they call the menagery, which is sixpence extra to see. You'll find Jocko somewhere inside, in his dressing-room; give him my compliments, and say I'll 'ave another young man to ride out with, as I've heard of his goings on. Bye-bye. I can't abide the smell of the place or I'd go in with you, and talk to him myself so as to make his 'air curl. I'll see you again, p'r'aps, in the circus making eyes at Jocko, and causin' him to miss his 'oops. If he breaks his neck, you know, as we are all bound to do some day, you'll 'ave to go into crape mournin' a yard deep, with weepers on."
Betsy and her friend entered an enclosed apartment about sixty feet long by half the width, formed by large vans on wheels, with the iron-barred open sides turned inwards in a close row so as to form hollow walls, in which the beasts were caged. The roof was made of canvas, and the ground thickly strewn with sawdust.
From an aperture in one of the end cages projected the head and waving trunk of an elephant. To the right and left vans were appropriated to a sad-looking dromedary and a still more melancholy giraffe, both of whom seemed considerably the worse for wear, and had a faded "second hand" sort of appearance. These were the principal animals attached to the circus, and the leaders in the processions.
There were the usual minor animals in travelling wild-beast shows in the other cages, including a brown bear and two young lion cubs, but none of the larger carnivora. They were all making uncouth noises, according to the nature of each beast, as it was approaching feeding time.
Betsy glanced round in search of her "four-handed" acquaintance, and saw the portly circus proprietor, with his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, overlooking a little group of men and boys standing near a deal table, in the centre of which sat Jocko, with his lips defiantly drawn back from his white teeth. In front of him she recognised Tom Jones, now well dressed, but in his shirt sleeves, holding up a little scarlet coat, whilst Butty Tubbs, also decently clad, cautiously approached the wary animal from the rear.
"He's just a little fractious on account of his long idleness," said Sam Dixon; "slip yer 'ands gently over his shoulders, Tubbs, and 'old him steady. Jocko, old man, take it easy; we won't hurt you."
Jocko suddenly faced round, and snarled the instant he felt strange hands on his body.
"I'm afeared of 'im," whined Butty, "he'll bite me if I lay a finger on 'im."
Just then was heard the loud sound of the brass band in the circus outside.
"Jocko is down for the second act," said Sam Dixon impatiently; "the performance is begun. Here, give me that small whip."
"Oh, Mr Dixon," burst in Betsy, "don't beat Jocko. I'll put his coat on."
At the sound of her voice the ape barked loudly, and then he sprang off the table into Betsy's arms. She rubbed him down gently on the head and back, then took the little coat from Tom Jones, and quietly drew it over Jocko's shoulders, whilst the strange creature licked her hands, chattering to himself now and then in low tones.
"Blest if I ever saw the like o' that!" said Sam Dixon. "Here's his 'at, Betsy; just slip the strap tight under his chin, and you, Tubbs, cut away for the Shetland pony and fetch him to the ring."
Betsy carried Jocko to the curtained side entrance to the ring, where Tubbs was waiting with the little pony, who had been well exercised during the morning by Jones to make him quiet, but who still looked back suspiciously, out of a corner of his eye, at his intending rider. Just then the low doors of the ring were opened to allow Kitty to dash in on her white Arab. She sprang lightly out of the saddle and fearlessly seized Jocko by the ears, rubbing his furry jaws all over with her hands, whilst Sam Dixoa planted him carefully on the saddle. Then, as the doors were opened again, Kitty gave the pony a smart cut behind, and sent him off at a gallop into the ring, where he fell at once into his pace, whilst Jocko raised one of his hairy arms to his cap to salute the audience. Betsy clapped her hands as she saw her poor friend careering round silently, with a solemn face, holding on firmly to the saddle, as if mindful of his late fall. The clowns placed the wooden bars in position, and the pace was increased. Jocko took his leaps cleverly, amidst deafening applause, whilst Sam Dixon vociferated "bravos," and loudly declared that he would back the animal to ride against any other monkey in the world for a thousand pounds a-side. He produced two lumps of sugar from his pocket, and gave one to the pony and one to Jocko when they came in acain, both heated and tired. and then Sam went off to tell his wife of the complete recovery of the clever creature and to find good seats for Betsy and her friend the cook.
Everyone has probably seen and enjoyed the performance in a good circus when young. Then the princesses on horseback were to our juvenile minds real princesses, and their spangled skirts appeared to be overlaid with diamonds, but to a poor ignorant girl like Betsy, who had never had a sixpence to spend on such things in her life the spectacle was overwhelming in its grandeur. The procession was a glorious pageant exceeding the bounds of imagination, and the daring horsemanship of Kitty Rorke and Madame Cerigo, who had patched up a truce between them for a while, filled her with wonder.
When Jocko appeared again, riding on a larger steed this time, and jumped cleverly through tissue-papered hoops, in imitation of the lady artists, Betsy hid her head on cook's shoulder and sobbed, "Oh, cook," she whispered in her friend's ear, "if my old dad and sisters could only see 'im they would be 'appy. Do you think Muster Dixon would let 'em in for nothin' just once, when next the circus is in Dudley?"
Cook recommended that Mrs Dixon should be appealed to, as controlling the issue of tickets, and said she felt certain the favour would be granted for the sake of Jocko, whose waywardness had that day been overcome by Betsy.
"I used to hate the sight o' monkeys, Betsy," she said, "but after what I've seen this evening I'll never again say a word again 'em lest I should be despising creatures as God has made with feelings like ourselves, and not much more hair on 'em than was on the child of a Welshwoman I knew, who had great eye teeth, like tushes, sticking out of her mouth, longer than Jocko's. She had a temper, too, wusser than that of any monkey as ever wore a tail, and often looked as if she'd like to bite you. I had to spend nine months under her as kitchen-maid, when I was young, and I oughter know the nature of her, which wasn't human, though she knew her business and could stand the fire like cast-iron. She called herself a 'widder,' but I've heard her 'usband ran away from her 'cause she bit him, and took to keepin' a lighthouse on a desert island, where she couldn't get at him any more."
"And was the child like Jocko?" Betsy inquired with awe.
"Not half so good-looking, Betsy; it was a boy, and only chattered Welsh to his mother when he came to see her, as no one but theirselves could understand. It was very like what Jocko kept saying to himself when you was putting on his little coat, and oftentimes just as if they was cracking nuts between their teeth and spitting out the shells. The mother used to say it was the oldest language in the world, and was spoken by everyone before the flood, when all the beasts could talk it and understand. If so, Noah must 'ave 'ad a lively time of it in the ark."
Here a tall well-dressed young man, who was seated next the cook, and had evidently listened with interest to the conversation, burst into laughter.
"Do you think the Welshwoman and her son would have understood Mr Jocko?" he inquired.
"That I can't say, sir," replied cook, "but it would be just as easy for me to understand Jocko as to make out what they said, exceptin' that the mother seemed mostly to be scolding him, and he appeared always to be telling her he was hungry, from the way he looked at any victuals that lay about."
"That, it appears to me, is what monkeys generally have to say to one another in similar cases," he replied, with a merry twinkle in his eyes. I have no doubt Jocko's mother scolded him a good deal when he wanted nourishment at inconvenient times."
"Jocko was brought up with a feedin' bottle, on goat's milk," said Betsy. "His mother died when he was very small."
"Ah! So you seem to know all about him. Did you help to feed him? or did his foster-mother the goat assist whenever he broke the bottle, as he grew up and got mischievous?"
"Indeed, it's all true, sir; Mrs Dixon will tell you if you ask her, and I don't think Jocko would do any mischief if folks was good to 'im."
"I should like to see more of him in private life," he said. "Perhaps you belong to the circus, and can tell me where and when I can do so?"
"You can see him every day, I believe, sir, in the menagery close by, on paying sixpence," said cook. "We don't belong to here, but this lass knows Jocko well, and is fond of him, and he of her."
The young man looked with much interest at Betsy, who was just then absorbed in the contemplation of a fresh marvel in the performance of the elephant, who was taking supper with a clown at a rickety crossed-legged table, and did not seem to enjoy the viands provided, into which we fear sawdust largely entered as a condiment.
"You are fond of animais, I think," he said to Betsy.
"I am fond of beastes that won't bite me if I handle 'em," said Betsy; "but I never saw so many on 'em before, 'ceptin' in the pictures in a spelling book, as is all very small."
["]Our Miss Ruth at home is teaching her to read from a spelling book," said cook in explanation, "and the owner of the circus lives next door, and had Jocko there for awhile, and so the lass got to know 'im, and it's wonderful to see 'em together. I think it's because they feed him on bread-and-milk, he is so tame-like and friendly with her."
"Yes, no doubt that has something to do with it, as with the mild Hindoos, but I can see that Jocko is exceptionally intelligent. I'll go and see him closer tomorrow, and I am much obliged to you both for the information you have given me. I came here especially to see him. I am studying animals of his species; they are distant relations of ours."
"It seems impious to say such a thing, sir," said the Yorkshirewoman with pious horror.
"Yes, no doubt it does to many people, but it's true all the same. Now I must wish you good evening; the performance is nearly over."
"That's a real gentleman, that young man is, one can easily see, Betsy," said cook solemnly; "but, oh! he shouldn't say such things as are contrary to Scripture."
"Mrs Dixon said the same," Betsy replied, "and she oughter know, as 'avin' 'ad so much to do wi' beastes all her life, and knowing Jocko ever since he was born. I'd much rather 'ave 'im for a cousin than that hairy Welsh boy you knew who had such an 'orrid mother."
Tobias had virtually concluded all arrangements for purchasing the property with the agent of the railway company, and was only anxious to know if his sister-in-law would be content to take up her abode in the lonely place with her daughter before he decided on the question of repairing the half-ruined buildings, so as to render them fit for habitation.
For reasons best known to himself, Tobias had hitherto been very reticent about this purchase, which he had negotiated with the company's agent without the intervention of a solicitor. He had frequently visited the place in secret, and satisfied himself that the investment he was about to make was a good one, the only drawback being the large outlay which would have to be made before he entered into residence and began to realise his great expectations of profit.
Tobias had a special contempt for farming operations, as involving much labour for small returns, and he had no idea of turning farmer. He was destitute of all archæological taste or knowledge, and looked on the curious old pile of hewn stone, with its quaint gables and mullioned windows, as so much building material fantastically put together in monkish times to shelter people who were, in his opinion, no better than pagan idolators, who worshipped graven images, and invoked the intercession of dubious saints -- men who lived in idleness and dirt, and extorted hard-earned money from ignorant peasants under pretence of performing miracles or remitting sins.
This may have been true as regarded the inhabitants of older ecclesiastical structures than Madeley Court, which had been built by a respected abbot of simple tastes in the sixteenth century as a retreat wherein to take refuge from the troubles which the control of a large abbey by the Severn side entailed on him at a time when such institutions were in decadence both as regards their revenues and the morals of the monks.
The abbot had built a private chapel attached to the house, and surrounded
the place with a moat, now quite dry, but at one time spanned by a wooden
drawbridge, for which an earthen mound, crossing the moat, had been substituted.
The house had been located rather low down in a small but picturesque valley
called "the Dingle," so that it was almost hidden in a grove of old elm
and oak trees, tenanted by a lively colony of rooks.
The place had not been inhabited for thirty years past, and was now almost a ruin, save that the roofs had been kept in tolerable repair by the owners. The last tenant had been a farmer, who stored grain in the refectory, and hay and straw in the old chapel, and had constructed stalls for his cattle and horses in the vaulted basement storey.
Tobias and his party travelled through Dudley by railway to a station about a mile from Madeley Court, and put up at a small inn in the little village close by, from whence they journeyed on foot to the old house, which was then in charge of a caretaker with a wooden leg, who had on previous occasions gone over the premises with Tobias.
Ruth wandered through the empty rooms with her mother, and both were filled with wonder as to the reasons which could have induced Tobias Miles to entertain the purchase of so singular a ruin. They looked into the grass-grown courtyard and fancied they could see moss-covered tombstones half hidden amidst tall weeds. They entered the little chapel, which had suffered less from the ravages of time than any other part of the building, and saw that the massive oak timbers of the roof were perfeet, but had turned white from age. The stone-paved floor was level with the principal floor of the house, and consequently stood at some height above the courtyard and the moat. The chapel was roofed over with thin slabs of stone, closely jointed together. There was a small bell turret in the centre of the chapel roof, and clasping a huge beam beneath this turret was a rusty flat bar of iron, formed into a depending hook at the end.
"That's what led me to think there was something underground worth looking into," said Tobias, pointing to the iron hook.
He tapped heavily with a stout cane on the stone floor, and the sound indicated that there was a hollow space beneath.
"The monks sank a deep well just under here," he said, "and made a circular staircase of stone, projecting from the inside of the well, right down to the bottom -- over an 'undred feet -- with an iron handrail fixed to the rock all the way. I've been down in it and seen what's below. They didn't find water -- at least not much, nor any fit to drink -- but they found coal, and the old chaps worked it for fuel when they wanted any. It's the same coal as the upper beds of the Dudley collieries, and not far further down, I am certain, lies the ten-yard seam. Sixty acres of that is a big fortune, and, please the Lord, it will be mine."
"But surely you didn't venture down in an old disused shaft, uncle, without first displacing the gas by some means?" said Ruth.
"That's the most extraordinary part of it," said Tobias; "there is a small drift-way at the bottom in the sandstone rock, leading towards the river, through which the water drains off and a current of air enters. The well is nearly dry, but not big enough for the shaft of a coal mine. A proper pit or a pair of 'em will have to be sunk outside and a winding ingine put up. Now, I must live here and see my money well spent while all that is going on. I fancy it will take every penny I can spare after paying for the land and selling the nail business. It will be wearisome for me living alone, but I'm fearing you don't like moving here, Mary; still, if a part of the old place was put in tolerable repair and furnished, it wouldn't be so bad, and being all mostly on one floor, it could be made comfortable. I'd spend five 'undred pounds in repairing half-a-dozen of the rooms. I am going to put one of the boys in 'an ingine factory at Manchester, and to 'prentice the other to Perkins, the mining engineer, so there would only be three of us here, with the servants."
"I am afraid it will be hard to get any servants to live in this lonely place," said Mrs Weston dubiously; "and then there is Ruth's education to be considered."
"Send her to a good boarding school for a year," suggested Tobias, "that's what I hear is proper for young ladies nowadays. She can come here now and then for her 'olidays and see us mining for the black diamonds."
"Let us look round again and see if it can be managed," said Mrs Weston. "I am afraid it will cost more than twice five hundred pounds to make even a few of the rooms habitable. Why, there are no casements in those stone windows, and the floors are like touchwood, full of holes. Would it not be better to build a cottage close by?"
"That might take a year to do, Mary, whereas we could get in here in three months at the outside. No, it must be here or nowhere, and I won't mind spending a thousand pounds if it will do. Please the Lord, it will be well spent money. Tobias Miles, Esquire, of Madeley Court won't sound bad."
"Are you quite sure about this coal, Tobias? Have you had it examined into by an expert?"
"No, I'm no such fool. I am as sure of it as I am that I am standing over it in the body, I know the quality of each seam in the Staffordshire coalfield by sight, as 'avin' 'ad to burn tons of it in a smith's forge. If I had called in a coal viewer or a mining engineer I might 'ave said goodbye to the purchase; it would have been snapped up at once by colliery owners in a dozen places at six times the price. Did you never hear of the 'great fault,' Mary ? The coal suddenly ends dead again a rock wall, and drops down beyond any known workings. Here it tilts up again, near the surface, under the red sandstone. The Lord seemingly has reserved it for discovery by one of His servants, to make his latter days plentiful like the last days of Job."
"I should like to see this singular well," said Mrs Weston.
"Hush!" said Tobias, pointing to the caretaker, who seemed to be contemplating the iron-shod toe of his timber leg, but was really attentively listening. "The well is under the floor of this old chapel, in what I believe they call a crypt, as is a sort of dark vaulted cellar where the monks was buried," he whispered cautiously; "but the way into the cellar is my discovery I'm thinkin'. I knew it was there, because there's the remains of an old doorway, that's been built up in the wall of the moat outside, half covered with ivy; but I just stumbled by accident on a narrow stone stairs, made in the thickness of the wall, that leads down to it, and then I came on lumps of coal strewn about on the floor which the monks forgot to take away. That wooden-legged idiot has never been down there, I am certain, or he'd 'ave collected the coal instead of burning logs o' wood that he steals out o' the copses. Please the Lord, I'll give him the sack next month when the purchase is completed. He is always hanging round, dogging my footsteps, and spying out of holes and corners. I'm told he was an old poacher."
"Does the agent of the railway Company know of this coal beneath?" Mrs Weston inquired.
"I fancy if he knew, Mary, he wouldn't have let it go to me at the price he did. I wasn't such a fool as to tell him. He might 'ave happened on it if he had looked about him, and as he didn't look, he has got no one to blame but himself."
"It appears to me, Tobias, that you ought to have spoken of it. It is like a man buying a piece of furniture at an auction knowing there were valuables secreted in it."
"Then I think the law would say he had bought the valuables too, and the law is mostly right. This place was twice put up to auction, that's how I came to hear of it. I daresay it was fore-ordained that I should be in the neighbourhood buying a 'job lot' of nail rods from a bankrupt's stock, and having missed a train, I read the auctioneer's poster at the station, and strolled in here and saw the iron strap on the beam. That, I said to myself, wasn't put there for nothing, and is a'most wore through with carrying the 'ook of a pulley at some time or another. Then I saw that there was a round stone flag fitted in the pavement, where it is likely the rope went through a hole to the well, I wonder if the rope ever broke and let any of the fat monks drop to the bottom when they were sinking the well, before the stone steps was built in? Then they would be part of the way down to the kingdom of Satan, where I believe many of 'em is in permanent residence."
"Don't say such horrid things, Tobias. The monks were useful in their time, and no doubt many of them fully believed in what they taught. The world has grown wiser since then, that is all. Later on, the things you now believe in may seem to be absurdities to those who will then be in a better position to judge."
"The Word remains sure and steadfast," said Tobias, who was always ready for a theological argument. "There may come a falling away, as is prophesied, but a remnant will hold to the truth as we have it now."
"That is the whole question, Tobias. Do we yet know what is truth, or shall we ever know? But this is useless talk. I must consider about removing here, as I suppose you have made up your mind to leave Birmingham. I confess I have misgivings about this business, and if I had known that you contemplated so great a change I should not have parted with my house at Warwick. I left much that was pleasant and intellectual behind me there, and perhaps it will be better for me to return with Ruth. I can do nothing for the boys here, especially as you are sending them into new walks in life with strangers, although I see no objection to that."
"They will often come here, Mary, to see the colliery and the new works, and some day they will be here altogether. Remember your promise to their mother."
"Yes, I do remember it; but this removal was never contemplated then. Change of abode always causes me perturbation. Like the cats, I get attached to places, and feel as if one's fur was being rubbed the wrong way if I am asked to move."
On leaving the old house they wandered through the Dingle to a spot
from whence they could see the distant winding river and the extensive
ruins of a Norman abbey on the opposite bank.
"The old 'drift-way' runs in that direction," said Tobias, "and perhaps was used in troubled times as a means of communication, or for running down the coal to the river. I've been down in it for about fifty yards, but was stopped by a 'fall' in the roof. I may 'ave it cleared out some day, but it will only be of use to partly drain the water off the new pits, instead of lifting it to the surface."
"Did you find that the monks ever worked the coal to any extent?" Mrs Weston inquired.
"No, not that I could see,"said Tobias, who seemed suddenly struck with this fact, and paused to think out the bearing of it.
"Then, perhaps, the well was not used as a coal shaft at all, Tobias, but as a secret means of communicating with the abbey or the river underground. I think that is why there are steps leading down. I noticed that the huge fireplaces all seemed formed for burning wood. The monks would never have sunk a well for water under a chapel. They would naturally have made it in the courtyard."
"But the coal is there all the same," said Tobias abruptly. "I brought a piece of it out of the vault, and showed it to Perkins, who agreed with me it was the same coal as lies under Dudley. I didn't tell him where it came from, of course. It does not matter what the old shaft was sunk for. The coal is below."
"You seemed to think that the monks had accidentally fouhd coal when sinking a well," Mrs Weston ventured to remind him.
"Yes, I thought so at first, but it's of no consequence."
"I think, Tobias, you ought to have it looked into more carefully by an expert before you close the bargain," she urged with seriousness.
"I have closed it, and paid a deposit of a thousand pounds, and signed an agreement to pay the balance in a month," he answered with some temper. "It wasn't to advise about a thing you don't understand I asked you to come here, Mary, but about the old 'ouse, and the furnishing of part of it. I think I know as much about coal and iron as anyone in the Midland counties, and I know it's there. Besides, I took counsel of the Lord by opening the Book with a pin after prayer for guidance. The text I lit upon was 'Wot thy 'and findeth to do, do it with thy might.' If that wasn't a clear direction I don't know what is. I know, Mary, you don't put any faith in that sort of questioning of the spirit, but didn't brother Hamsbottom, when his boy was sick unto death, open on the words, 'They that are whole need not a physicking,' and then he dismissed the doctor, and the child began to recover."
"I think if brother Hamsbottom read the whole text correctly he would have retained the physician, Tobias; but so long as we are endowed with reason and common sense‚ I think we should use our faculties and not try such haphazard experiments. It's like having recourse to what is called the 'divining rod' to find water or minerais underground. Wise men have always denounced it as an imposture."
"Yes, such things are not for the wise and learned, Mary, but for simple believers. I'm not quite clear about the 'divining rod,' but there's a-many folks believes in it. Moses used a rod to discomfit Pharaoh's magicians. I've a notion to let a man who is said to inherit the faculty of using it give me an idea of where I should sink the pits. We oughter use all lawful means to gain knowledge. Your husband used to laugh at such things as superstitions, and I'm afraid he taught you to doubt in miracles that are as sure as the rocks which are the foundations of the world. I didn't mean to vex you, Mary," he added, seeing that his allusion to her deceased husband had brought sudden tears into Mrs Weston's eyes.
"I wish he could be here to advise you now, Tobias," she said quietly. "He knew more about the rocks and the foundations of the world than most people, although he wouldn't pin his faith on texts or divining rods. I strongly recommend you to take the opinion of some scientific man like him as to this coal question before you spend your money."
Ruth, who had walked on ahead down the Dingle during this conference, here returned with some curious ferns in her hands which she had plucked up by the roots and meant to transplant to her garden at Birmingham. She requested her mother to name them, which she readily did.
"I fear my uncle has been quoting texts, mother, you look so serious," she said, laughing.
"Yes, he has been quoting texts, Ruth, with his usual accuracy, and I fear I have been wasting words like a contentious woman."
In returning to the village they passed beneath the railway, which, for a considerable distance, ran close beside the public road to the station, excepting at one spot where the road formed a sharp bend round a small wood of fine Scotch firs, across which a footpath led for a short distance to rejoin the road again. Tobias took the short cut through the copse, and as he came out on the highway at the other side said: "All the land at that side of the road belongs to the man who formerly owned Madeley Court. That's his 'ouse over there on the hillside. I have no doubt the coal runs under his land also, but he doesn't know it yet. They say he spends most of his time reading books, so as to injure his eyesight. It would have been better for 'im to have turned his eyes up to the roof of the old chapel as I did. He is a rich man, and was a great lawyer in his time. The brethren here tell me he is an utter heathen, and never enters church or chapel, although he gives time and money to what are called secular purposes, such as 'ospitals and institutes, where young men can read every kind of book except tbat which concerns their immortal souls. I never saw any good come o' tbat kind of readin' and I'm thankful I never did much of it."
"That was your misfortune, Tobias," said Mrs Weston; "your life would have been more pleasant if you had acquired a taste for reading. It is not too late for you to begin if you come to live here, with nothing else to do in the evenings. Life is not worth living without the companionship of books."
"Then you would find it more pleasant, perhaps, to keep 'ouse for Mr Ferrier, Mary. One big room of his is walled round with books, but it's said he is a cantankerous old fellow if he is crossed in anything. Perhaps, with all your sweet temper, you might find it easy to quarrel with him. I have a notion that he and I will quarrel before long."
"I hope not, Tobias, as you will be neighbours."
"The agent of the railway company says 'he is certain to resent my buying the old place under his very nose,' although he might 'ave 'ad it for the same money if he wanted it. When he hears of the coal, I expect 'his mouth will be filled with gravel,' as is said in the Proverbs, which means, I reckon, that he will chew the cud of his disappointment as if it was gravel he had to masticate."
Tobias was occupied all next day with a builder, whom he had called in to prepare an estimate for the repairs, whilst Mrs Weston and Ruth discussed the future arrangement of the furniture in the rooms to be inhabited, and gradually became interested in the subject; they also took walks in the neighbourhood, and further explored the pretty Dingle. After three days they returned to Dudley, where Ruth at once sought out Betsy's father to tell him that his daughter was doing well. She found poor old Clinker pounding away at nails in a mean little tumbledown cottage, the front part of which was devoted to the smithy, and was open to the street: behind this was the general living-room, kitchen, and wash-house, all in one, from which ran a narrow, dilapidated stair to two low garrets under the roof above. The whole place was grimy with smoke and dirt from the forge hearth.
One pale thin child was pulling at the handle which worked the bellows, another was sorting nails into little sacks, whilst a small scantily clad girl was busy grubbing in a heap of cinders, and looked as if she had not been washed for weeks. Old Clinker was very glad to hear of Betsy's welfare, and the sisters eagerly crowded around to listen to Rutb, who produced some sweets for their delectation, and asked the old nailer to let them come with her to a baker's shop to obtain something more substantial.
Ruth was sorry to hear that Clinker's eyesight was failing, and that he could no longer make the finer classes of nails which were most profitable. Still, he looked mildly patient, with the air of a hard-worked old white- haired donkey who no longer indulges in any illusory hope of better days. "The children were good," he said, "and took care of one another, and a lady came now and then to talk to them and bring them some clothes. 'Ithout that 'elp," he added dolefully, "they couldn't get on, as 'aving no mother to fend for 'em." Betsy had sent him a little money each month out of her wages, and he had been able to buy some tobacco in consequence, which was a solace. Ruth straight-way went to a tobacconist and obtained a pound of the best that could be had there, and sent it back by the eldest girl, to whom she entrusted a sovereign to be privately expended in replenishing her father's stock of shirts, which the girl hinted were in sad condition.
On that day there was great rejoicing in the cottage of Clinker, and the sins of Tobias Miles were felt to be more than atoned for by the kindness of his niece.
It is an hour before the tiine when the doors will be opened to the public, and the gentleman, who has already made the acquaintanee of the circus proprietor, is admitted by special favour to pursue his investigation with greater ease. He has already been twice to interview our hairy friend in public, and has contrived by means of some small aromatic balls he has prepared to win his way to friendliness with the interesting animal.
The circus vet, who is responsible for the health of the beasts, has given permission to the stranger to administer a few of thŠse mysterious pills to Jocko, on being satisfied of their harmless composition. He is an intelligent man, and fond of "the animals in his charge ; but as he does not read French, he has to content himself with looking at the coloured plates in the book, over the stranger's shoulder, as the latter slowly turns them over.
"Can you tell me what Jocko's parents were like ? "asked the visitor. "Is there anything depicted here, amongst the large tailless gibbons that recalls them to you. I can find nothing precisely like Jocko, and I have never seen anything exactly like him, although I believe I have seen every collection of such animais in Europe. They had a very fine specimen of this species in the Zoological Gardens at Frankfort, but he was tierce, and had long dark hair."
"Jocko's mother was not so big as he is, and was gentle," replied the vet, "but the maie parent was larger, and had longer forearms. He was never very tame. Mr Dixon bought them when young from a dealer in Liverpool, who had them from a foreign captain. I can show you a part of the mother's skin, which I had made into a cap. It is fine short brown fur like Jocko's. She was not unlike this large picture, but with smaller ears and less projection of jaws -- more human, in fact."
The vet pointed to one of the illustrations as he spoke, which the visitor marked.
"Have you got such a thing as a large looking-glass here which you could lend me?" said the student.
The vet called Tom Jones, and directed him to bring the article required, and then he opened the cage and allowed Jocko to climb on to the table, where the animal straightway commenced to turn over the leaves of the book, as he had seen the owner do, but apparently paid no special attention to the plates.
Jocko was next allowed to view his features in the looking-glass, and to satisfy himself that no creature of his species was concealed behind it, and then the visitor set up the folio, half-open, on end, and contrived that the animal could see reflected in the mirror the large illustration he had just marked.
Jocko seemed now to recognise that the image of another of his kind was visible in the mirror. He chattered in earnest tones, and held out his arms towards the glass as if in entreaty.
"That is the effect of perspective," said the student. "I think he recognises the likeness now. The little bushmen of South Africa are not more advanced. It is said they can talk to the baboons in their neighbourhood, but this is a creature of higher intelligence than any baboon. I wish we had an interpreter hŠre who could translate Jocko's language. I suppose he can make known all his wants by changes of tone, and that you comprehend him?"
"Yes; it's not difficult to know when he is pleased or displeased, or wants his meals. He is very particular about his food and bedding, and when he gets a new coat he invariably tears up the old one, lest he should have to wear it again. He is fond of bright colours, and he has strong likings and dislikes to people. There is a young girl who was good to him when he was ill lately, and she can do almost anything with him. He is fond of one of the lads who attends to him, and hates the other.' [sic]
"You may be sure Jocko has a good reason if he hates anyone, and you should watch the individual he dislikes."
"I'd not like to be in his jacket if Sam Dixon catches him ill-using Jocko, or any other animal on the premises," said the vet; "our governor is a kind-hearted man."
"Do you think he would sell Jocko at a good price to one who would be kind to him?" inquired the student.
"He'd not part with him, sir, for a hundred pounds. Jocko draws the young folks here, with their nurses and mammys, besides Mrs Dixon is very fond of him ; but, unfortunately, all such animais are short lived in this climate, and so we are looking for another to put in training. We may never find one like Jocko. I think he knows what we are talking about, he is so quiet just now. Blest if he hasn't picked your handkerchief out of your pocket and is hiding it in the straw. I'm afraid his mother hadn't time to teach him the eighth commandment before she died; she was awfully proud and fond of him, though, and kept pointing sadly at her little son when she was dying -- that's what fetched Mrs Dixon. She is like a mother to Jocko, and comes to see him nearly every day. Here you, Tubbs!" he called out to a stout lad, with dark hair and low forehead, who was passing the cage. 'It's your turn on guard here, isn't it? Don't you see people coming in? And you'll have youngsters poking marbles and orange-peel and brass buttons into Jocko's cage if you're not standing by to prevent 'em. If he falls ill again you'll get the sack, my young cove."
The lad sat down on the three-legged stool with a sulky air, whilst Jocko eyed him with evident distrust. Then the ape commenced to wipe his muzzle with the cambric handkerchief, and to smell it with evident satisfaction.
"They all delight in the smell of lavender," said the student; "let him keep the handkerchief."
"But he may tear it and eat it," said the vet. "Here, Tubbs, put your hand in and take it from him."
Jocko instantly sprang aloft to a kind of trapeze, and waved the handkerchief defiantly at Tubbs, to the great delight of a group of children now assembled in front of the cage.
"Go inside for it, Tubbs," said the vet.
As Tubbs opened the latticed door of the cage, and mounted on the stool to creep into the aperture, Jocko descended like lightning from the swing, and having Tubbs at a disadvantage, tore his cap off his head, seized him by the hair with one hand, and by his coat collar with the other, and inflicted a sharp nip with his incisors on the back of the lad's neck. but without drawing blood, whereupon Tubbs rapidly pulled his head out of the cage, and in his haste and fright overturned the stool and measured his length in the dust.
"The Divil fly away with him," he said angrily as he rubbed his neck.
"I suppose this is the lad he dislikes," said the student, laughing. "Let us try the other one."
Hereupon Tom Jones was summoned, and after a little coaxing Jocko descended and quietly surrendered the cap and handkerchief, and then amiably shook hands with several of the children through the bars of his cage.
Just then Ruth and her mother appeared on the scene, followed by Mrs Dixon and Betsy.
As the mountain would not come to Mahomet there evidently was only one course open to the prophet, and so that morning Mrs Dixon had risen earlier than usual and called on Mrs Weston to prefer a singular request, which was, as she politely put it, to be permitted to borrow the services of Betsy at the circus for an hour that afternoon, in order to initiate a special performance in which Jocko was to play an important part.
It had occurred to "Sammil" -- "that was Mr Dixon, "she explained -- that if Jocko could be induced to perch himself aloft on the head of the elephant, after the manner of an Indian mahout, and if the elephant could be persuaded to carry Jocko quietly in that position for half-an-hour, why, then, a new feature would be added to the nightly procession of such interest that all Birmingham children who could compass sixpence would insist on being taken to see it, and would bring in their train the usual complement of mothers and nurses; and as it was believed that Betsy could persuade Jocko to do anything short of talking, Mrs Dixon felt certain that success would crown her efforts if she were allowed to make the experiment. The elephant, she said, could be relied on to carry anything on his back, excepting a tiger or other fearsome beast possessed of teeth and claws ; but although Jocko had been cautiously introduced to him on several occasions, the capricious creature had hitherto declined to assume the exalted position proposed, and had rent his clothes and cast sawdust on his head, after the manner of monkeys when perturbed in spirit.
Mrs Weston laughed at the proposai, and was at first inclined to refuse, but Buth, who had already heard much from Betsy of Jocko's prowess, persuaded her to consent, and so they were now all present to see what could be done.
The vet introduced the student to Mrs Dixon, who handed her his card, inscribed
Whilst the elephant was being caparisoned and led into the ring the young man showed the ladies the plates in his book and some water-colour sketches he had made of Jocko, who was then being warmly interviewed by Betsy, and was presently carried by her out of the menagerie to the circus, where Sam Dixon and some of his officials appeared.
Jocko clung to Betsy's neck, and was borne several times round the elephant, who stood stolid and patient, flapping his long ears. Then the great beast was rewarded with apples, which Betsy handed to him at a safe distance from the sweep of his trunk, lest he should touch Jocko, and at length a ladder was brought and she was told to ascend the elephant's flank with her burden; but now Jocko began to feel alarm, and to utter low plaintive cries.
Dr Ferrier, who was seated between Ruth and Mrs Weston, here stepped into the ring and suggested that Betsy should first ascend alone, whilst he held Jocko, to whom he gave one or two of the little aromatic balls he had brought in his pocket.
Betsy mounted into the howdah and called to Jocko below, and then the lad Jones carried him up the ladder and placed him beside her. After one or two turns round the ring Jocko seemed to enjoy the proceeding, and was finally planted on the elephant's neck, but here he would only remain so long as Betsy was close by. When she attempted to descend, he instantly followed, and so finally, on this occasion, he had to be consigned again to his cage.
Sam Dixon gave Betsy half-a-sovereign, and took Ruth and Mrs Weston round to see his horses and ponies and then back to the menagerie, where Betsy was found talking to her two former Dudley acquaintances outside Jocko's cage.
"If you could allow this lass to come for an hour a day for a week to give Jocko a few lessons, until he stays up there by himself, I'd give her a fi'pund note," Sam Dixon said to Mrs Weston.
"I am afraid it will not be wise to encourage the girl to follow such pursuits, Mr Dixon."
"I've bin in the business over thirty years, madam, and I never saw harm come to anyone in the circus line, unless they took to drink, which might 'appen to 'em if they was engaged in teaching a Sunday school. You 'ave no idea what an improving thing to the minds of children a circus is. It encourages the boys to practise gymnastics, and teaches the little girls natural history, and with processions it teaches 'em the other kind of history too in a natural way; and then as to the 'hartises,' they've got to lead decent, sober lives if they mean to keep their places and their muscles in order. Look at that pair of young scamps talking to Betsy. I picked 'em up in Dudley, with just as much clothes on 'em as 'ud make a third-class scarecrow, now they are decently clad, and I daresay each of 'em uses half a tallow candie anointing of his sidelocks every evening, so as to' look like young gentlemen when they lead in the ponies to the ring; and in time I'm thinking the tallest of 'em will blossom into a full-grown clown, and I'll 'ave to pay for transporting his wife and babbys from town to town, and let 'em sell oranges and ginger-pop in the gallery. A circus is an educational institoot, Mrs Weston, and five pounds for a poor girl like Betsy is not to be sneezed at. It might help her family at 'ome, as she's been telling my missis of."
"What do you think, Ruth?" inquired her mother.
"Yes, let her come for a week, mother," said Ruth, as the picture of the nailer's family at Dudley rose up before her mind's eye.
"You must not keep her over an hour on each day, Mr Dixon."
"No, madam; in less than six lessons of an hour each I can see that Jocko will go up the ladder by hisself, and take his place like a little brown nigger, with a short stake in his hand like the iron hook the mahouts carry. It's the first time it's ever been attempted in Europe, and I'll get out a coloured poster as big as the elephant showing 'em both in position."
"I wonder, Mr Dixon, you have not found some of your people that could teach Jocko this trick," said Mrs Weston.
"That's the marvel of it, madam," said Sam. "Jocko has always been fond of females, and let's 'em do what they like with him. He won't learn much, exceptin' mischief, from the lads, and he's got enough of that in him by nature. Our Miss Rorke could teach 'im if she'd take the trouble, but she won't, and she hasn't the patience of that lass Betsy, who I can see is a good, honest girl, that Jocko is as fond of as if she was his own sister. I might look among a thousand girls and not find half-a-dozen as 'ud take to 'im kindly at first sight; they would mostly scream and go into hysterics if he jumped on to 'em in play, although that young doctor as has been studying his ways, and drawing pictures of 'im for three days, says he is the 'andsomest and gentlest animal of his kind in the world -- that's a big thing to say for man or woman. He'd give a hundred pounds for him if I'd part with him, just to have the pleasure of his company. I shall get a notice of the gentleman's offer inserted in the Post here, saying that he is painting Jocko's portrait as he can't have the original, and although it may send up the price of monkeys all over Africa, it will send hundreds to see 'im as never cared to look at one of 'em before, unless on a chain with an Italian organ grinder; fellows that are as cruel as cannibals, and tries their level best to chuck the poor creatures in halves to make 'em dance about in the wet and mud. Now, if you look, you will see Jocko taking his dinner, and using a metal spoon like one of ourselves. He learned to do that by watching the attendants, and when he is done dinner he will wipe his muzzle and his fingers in the oat-straw, as we won't give him napkins. If a speck falls on his coat, he will pick it off as neatly as an old maid darning a silk stocking. You couldn't find a flea about Jocko if you was to give a guinea for one --"
Mrs Weston deemed it about time to retire before Sam Dixon enlarged further on the wonderful attributes of his pet, but before she left he begged her to look at the two young lion cubs, who were as playful as kittens, and tried to lick his hand through the bars of the cage.
"They were born in captivity like Jocko," he said, "and I am going to try to rear 'em for the performing line without their tasting meat."
"I hope they won't experiment on their trainer, in search of animal food, when they grow up," said Mrs Weston. "I am, afraid that is generally the end of lion-tamers."
"Mother," said Ruth, as they walked home, "do you think this theory of Mr Darwin's as to the 'Descent of Man' is correct? That young gentleman said he fully accepted it, and that Jocko was as intelligent and as capable of being taught as some of the natives of parts of Africa in which he has been. He is a physiologist, and is studying the apes in order to assist Mr Darwin."
"Do you know why he calls himself doctor?" asked Mrs Weston.
"It is a foreign degree, I believe, mother; you may have noticed he has a slightly foreign accent."
"I did not pay much attention to him, Ruth. Mr Dixon occupied me so much about Jocko. I do not know whether Mr Darwin's theory is quite correct or not, but it is evident many learned men are convinced of its truth. Your father believed it to be true, but it appears to me there is yet a great gap to be bridged over."
"Dr Ferrier said, mother, that if we saw the little bushmen of South Africa, who speak only in 'clicks,' and have very few ideas, and live in caves or burrows, like badgers, underground, eating mice and such things uncooked, then" --looking at Jocko -- "we would not think there was any gap at all. Jocko would die, I believe, before he would eat an unclean thing."
"Jocko is certainly a wonderful creature, Ruth. but surely he cannot be said to have a soul."
"Mother, why not? He is grateful and affectionate, and has a good memory, and he thinks and reasons. He knew he was safe on the elephant's neck so long as Betsy remained with him, and therefore he had faith. I think he understands that he has to perform to earn his living, and he does his very best to learn. He is careful about his clothes and his food, and he is fond of female society. What more would you have in a nice little man speaking a foreign language? It is our misfortune that we have as yet no key to it. Perhaps his ancestors were not given one of the most articulate tongues at the time of the confusion of the tower of Babel."
"Did Dr Ferrier tell you all this, Ruth?"
"Well, most of it, mother. He didn't mention the tower."
"And so he has converted you to Darwinism already. Well, he may be right; but if so, what changes it will ultimately bring about in beliefs. Your uncle would call it an invention of Satan. He thinks Jocko is one of his imps."
"And Dr Ferrier thinks, mother, that he is probably the 'missing link.'"
Ruth had a clear recollection of him, as he had died when she was about fourteen years of age, and he had personally, for years, devoted much attention to her education, He came of a Unitarian family, but late in life he gradually withdrew from association with the denomination, and never spoke more of dogma or belief. Like many wise men he kept his opinions on such subjects entirely to himself, but at his death, amongst his papers, was found a memorandum indicating that he had arrived at the conclusion, after long investigation, that all questions involving supernatural causes and a future state were outside the capacity of the human mind, and certainly could not be grasped by his intellect, although he humbly admitted that it was possible that such questions might appear clear to the minds of persons who were differently constituted, just as mathematical problems were easily solved by some men and were utterly incomprehensible to others.
Mr Weston further expressed the opinion that the world was on the eve of discoveries which would in time totally alter the views of thinking beings as to the nature of man and his history, and finally he expressed a desire that at his death his body should be taken to Germany and there cremated, and as far as possible speedily restored to its original elements. He met his death in the pursuit of a chemical experiment, through the carelessness of an assistant, who accidentally upset a large reservoir of chlorine gas in the laboratory attached to his house. Violent inflammation of the lungs ensued from the acrid fumes of the gas, and in a few weeks the scholar and scientist passed away quietly to his long rest, his chief regret being that he had not lived long enough to complete certain investigations he was pursuing as to the chemistry of food, regarding which he was known to hold a theory that the useful elements of diet could be concentrated into very portable shapes, and so cheaply transmitted from producing to consuming countries. He had studied for some years in his youth at Leipsic, and had a high opinion of German chemists and men of science, with many of whom he constantly corresponded.
Mr Weston's habits were extremely simple, and his manner gentle and refined. With his daughter Ruth he had been always like a playfellow. He had taught her German, and often amused her for an hour with simple experiments, promising that one day she should be promoted to the place of an assistant in the laboratory.
The last thing Ruth could recollect regarding her father was that when he was near death, and scarcely able to speak, he had held her hand and whispered: "My child, remember I shall be always near you if it be possible, although unseen, therefore do not grieve, but try to do what you think would please me, and so our free souls may one day be again united. Death may be merely a transition of the soul into space, through a door that opens only in one direction, so that those alone who pass through can see beyond. Think of me as having gone on a long journey, emancipated from a burden that has hitherto weighed me down."
Ruth tried always to think of him thus, as present in the spirit and absent only in the body. She had been brought up without any of the objective teaching which pictures a future state as an existence amidst a great crowd of people clad in shilling garments, sitting on clouds, and playing harps and trumpets, with the variation of occasional glimpses into a dark region beneath the crystal platform where lost souls, who were fore-doomed ere ever they were born, dwelt in ever-lasting torment.
Perhaps when she saw that under her father's hands a solid could be converted into an invisible gas, and then dispersed in the surrounding ether, to be again collected and concentrated into its original substance if desired, the meaning of his pantheistic teaching may have been made clear to her. An idea of this kind, if presented in concrete form, can be firmly grasped, even by a child, provided the brain cell which is to hold the idea is not previously filled with something diametrically opposed to it in character.
Ruth's mind had never been fed on legends of miracles from which the original spiritual meaning had evaporated. Her mother was an educated woman, the business of whose life had at one time been the education of others, and she had long ago learned to hesitate before accepting stereotyped formulæ, handed down by a succession of well-meaning fanatics, each one of whom strove to add his small contribution of error to a broadening pile, whose base was slowly settling down into the morass of worn-out superstitions; therefore Mrs Weston never spoke to her daughter of creeds or dogmas without explaining that, although learned men professed to be able to prove them to be true, such professors had been denounced as false teachers by men claiming to be better informed, and each one in turn had indicated in plain terms to the other that his doctrine involved not only the loss of his own soul but serious peril to the souls of his listeners, so that in times past the disputants had been so painfully alive to the danger of heresy that they deemed it needful to burn one another whenever an opportunity offered itself.
In consequence of this freedom of thought on her mother's part Ruth grew up with a mind singularly devoid of theological bias, content to relegate all problems which did not admit of experimental proof to the realm of the insoluble. To her such questions as that of the infallibility of an old gentleman at the head of a Roman college of priests, which was then furiously exciting the minds of learned clerics at Oxford, whose brains had run to seed, and each of whom had a large hysterical following ready to die at his feet, was not worth more consideration than the vexed question, propounded by a predecessor of his, as to how many angels could stand on the point of a needle. To Ruth's keen common sense intellect there appeared to be always an element of the grotesque in ascribing events to non-natural causes. When Tobias Miles chanced to refer to the fate of Lot's wife, as a warning to disobedient women who yielded to curiosity, Ruth could not refrain from mental reference to the value and properties of the resultant chloride of sodium. When Tobias spoke with unction of the temporary seclusion of the prophet Jonah in the interior of a great fish, it occurred to her to calculate how long respiration could be carried on under such conditions. If he referred to the levitation of Elijah, she could not refrain from remembering that there was no reliable evidence as to the suspension of the law of gravitation, and that similar statements as to witches riding on broomsticks were admittedly fabulous. If he spoke feelingly at breakfast time as to the entrance of legions of devils into the herd of swine, it occurred to her to examine microscopically into the quality of the ham on the table, as affording some clue to the unpleasant association of ideas. When he held forth as to that marvellous floating menagerie of which Mr Noah was the manager, she could not help thinking of Sam Dixon and Jocko, and wondering whether the outgoing procession of animals was headed by the elephants or the giraffes.
On one occasion when Tobias felt called upon to testify to the solidity of his belief in the corporeal existence of Beelzebub, Ruth was satisfied that the pronouncement was due to the fact that the flies were troublesome, and that it was a relief to his mind to connect their activity with the Assyrian God. At another time, when he referred to the wonderful tale of Bel and the Dragon, for he accepted the books of the Apocrypha as inspired, Ruth could not resist an inclination to laughter when she remembered that she had seen a great dragon in a pantomine, and clearly beheld the legs of the operator beneath the scales of the beast. If there was any lack of reverence in Ruth's methods of reasoning we must remember she was merry and young, and that Tobias' manner of expounding miracles did not exactly tend to establishing the idea of their probability in the minds of his hearers.
But in things of direct utility Ruth was singularly well informed. She inherited from her father the faculty of research, and delighted to investigate, as far as a girl could, the principle of every new invention which was announced. His name and reputation were a passport for her admission into many of the large factories in and around Birmingham, which she delighted in visiting. In the great glassworks of Smethwick, established by the descendants of a French Huguenot family, who were using her father's patents, she was particularly at home, and when her mother visited Leeds and Manchester to adjust questions of royalties with cloth dying firms, Ruth always went with her, and astonished the hard-headed manufacturers by her acquaintance with the details of processes which were kept as far as possible as trade secrets. It puzzled them to know how a young English girl could have acquired knowledge which was believed to be exclusively in the possession of experts.
Two of Mr Weston's most recent patents had been bequeathed to Ruth, and she had made herself well acquainted with their value, so that in an important case where an infringement had been attempted she was able to prepare a statement which enabled her agent to maintain her rights. Such practical knowledge is by no means unusual with Frenchwomen, who are often found at the head of large industries, but has always been rare in England. Ruth often told her mother that, when her capital had sufficiently accumulated, she would like to set up a small factory of her own, in which orphan girls should be exclusively employed. Her delight was to see things made by machinery, without severe manual assistance, so as to be within the compass of female labour, and she was deeply grieved to observe numbers of rough girls climbing the slopes of the waste tip-mounds of collieries to earn a few pence by grubbing with horny hands amidst the refuse.
That wonderful millenium in which the forces of nature will be brought under such control, that man will have only to exercise intelligent direction in getting his work performed, seemed to Ruth a far more reasonable thing to look forward to than that other millenium about which Tobias Miles raved when he felt ambitious to sit on one of the twelve thrones, judging his enemies and awarding them terrible punishments.
Physically Ruth was strong and robust. She could walk six miles without fatigue; she had great energy, and was fond of exercise. She had a bright cheerful face, lit up with large brown eyes; her rich brown hair was short and curling, her figure lithe and compact. Her friends spoke of her in equine phrase as "a healthy little cob, with a perfect temper and a tendency to playful tricks." She had many friends, and was much in request at their houses, but it was difficult to detach her from her mother's side, and in consequence the question of separation for a year, whilst the Madeley Court experiment was under trial, caused much perplexity to mother and daughter.
Ruth would have liked to go to a Moravian school on the Rhine, where some young girl friends of hers were located, but when she pictured to herself her mother's loneliness in the old ruin at Madeley she readily postponed the idea, and decided to take her part in the troublesome operation of removal and then to reconsider the question.
Just then her two cousins returned from school to prepare for entering on the businesses arranged for them by Tobias. To Ruth they had been always like brothers. They were shrewd, persevering lads, and rejoiced in, or rather had been afflicted, with two outlandish names, "Oreb" and "Zeeb," which must have been found for them by their father in "Judges" by the pin-sticking process previously referred to. These names were contracted to "Reb" and "Zeb" by Ruth. They were known as "the Midianites" amongst their schoolfellows, and had often suffered indignities in consequence at the hands of stronger boys emulating the prowess of Gideon.
They went with Ruth, at the end of the week, to see Sam Dixon's circus and the effect of Betsy's training on Jocko. It was a special performance, and the first on which Jocko was to appear without his instructress and take his place on the elephant's neck before the animal entered the ring. Kitty Rorke occupied the howdah, and all went well for a while, when unfortunately Oreb Miles tossed an apple into Jocko's lap as he sat on high. Now during processions the elephant was accustomed to collect tolls, in the shape of apples and oranges, from the spectators in the front rows within reach of his trunk. The sagacious animal had unfortunately seen this particular flying apple, and fancied that Jocko had wrongfully possessed himself of one of his perquisites, therefore he raised the end of his trunk over his head, in close proximity to Jocko's face, to demand its return, and trumpeted loudly, sending forth a steamy vapour at the same time, which Jocko assumed to be a declaration of war, and at once skedaddled past Kitty, through the howdah, to the hinder part of the huge beast, out of reach of the threatening trunk; there he sat up, making signais of distress and chattering loudly. This seemed to annoy the elephant, who set off, still loudly trumpeting, at a trot round the ring, to the evident discomfort of Cleopatra, who finally deemed it best to vacate her gorgeous but shaky canopied seat and to spring lightly into the arms of the riding-master. Jocko straightway followed her example, alighting on the head of an unfortunate "super," who represented a negro attendant, in a huge turban. The man fell prone on his face in the sawdust, amidst shrieks of laughter from the spectators, whilst Jocko fled away, deeming discretion the better part of valour, and was discovered later on in his cage quietly munching the apple of discord.
Oreb was threatened with summary expulsion by the riding-master, and the disorganised procession had to be speedily withdrawn; but, on the whole, Sam Dixon considered that Jocko had caused more amusement to the young folks than if he had remained in position. He always took such accidents quietly, so long as no bones were broken, and although Cleopatra was somewhat indignant because her back hair had fallen off in the mélée, "Sammil" complimented her so much on her bold leap off the elephant's back that she good-naturedly agreed to say no more of the little misfortune, which might have been worse had Madame Cerigo been present to witness it.
"Reb, you should not have caused such a disturbance by playing careless tricks," said Ruth as they walked home. "Betsy has taken great pains to train Jocko to be steady, and in a moment you have upset everything, besides endangering the young lady's neck who rode on the elephant."
"Didn't she slip off gracefully, though, and show her ankles?" said Zeeb. "That old black chap in the turban must have thought the Devil was on top of him when he fell under Jocko. I wish father had seen it; he would have said it was a righteous judgment on the mountebanks." Here Oreb made a grimace indicative of his private opinion on the subject of his father's pronouncements.
"It will be a disappointment to Betsy to hear of it," said Ruth. "She was to receive five pounds from Mr Dixon if she succeeded, and she has been planning to go to Dudley to see her father and sisters and buy them some clothing for the winter. I hope Mr Dixon will give it to her all the same, as it was not her fault that the performance was interrupted, nor Jocko's either. I think if Betsy had been in the howdah she would have held on, and induced Jocko to resume his place. Now, you must both call on Mr Dixon, and apologise to him for the unlucky piece of thoughtlessness, or tell Mrs Dixon you are sorry for it -- meanwhile, say nothing about it at home."
The two lads called on Sam Dixon next day, which was Sunday, and saw him and Mrs Dixon and Kitty Rorke, who all three made light of the offence. Sammil gave them five sovereigns for Betsy, and read to them a long article in a local journal of the previous evening, the greater part of which had evidently been written before the performance, in praise of Jocko, stating that in a fortnight he was about to proceed on a tour through the provinces, but would reappear in Birmingham in time for the Christmas pantomime.
Miss Rorke desired to be remembered to Betsy, and hoped she would not break her heart during Jocko's absence, promising to look well after him, and to see that he did not take up with a new sweetheart. It was mean of the elephant, she said, to make such a fuss over an apple when he had already had a dozen, and she intended to say a word privately in his ear about it. Elephants were selfish beasts at bottom, and by no means easy to sit on when shambling along at a trot, so that the riding-master had always to remain close at hand to catch the lady in the howdah when she indicated a desire to dismount in a hurry. It was well the black eunuch had such a big turban, as it made a soft cushion for Jocko to land on in his flight, and if the old man hadn't been shaky in the legs he wouldn't have ploughed up the tan and sawdust with his red nose, which was the only damaged feature about him. It had bled a lot, but that might improve its appearance; and on the whole the accident was a mere trifle, owing to her agility, and she thought the elephant would behave better next time, and hoped they would come to see, and bring the pretty young lady she had seen with them. Here Kitty -- to keep herself in practice -- made eyes at the two young fellows, and smiled and nodded graciously as she always did in the ring.
Oreb and Zeeb returned in triumph to Ruth as two fully pardoned Midianites. Betsy was sent for and received the reward of her labours, with Kitty Rorke's jocose messages, and was told she might go to Dudley next day to see her family, which seemed to please her most. She had already consulted with Ruth as to the judicious expenditure of the greater part of the money. She looked no longer the poor, uncouth drudge she had appeared to be when Ruth first saw her, but was now a comely, self-reliant lass, clean and neat in appearance, with a subdued manner, and although she still used the dialect of the district, she had dropped many of its rougher idioms. Betsy secretly worshipped Ruth, who had been so patient with her, and if her opinion of Tobias Miles had undergone no material change, she no longer forcibly expressed it in public -- not even under provocation.
"Muster Miles was taught no better, p'r'aps, when he was small," she said to her friend the cook. "Miss Ruth don't take no notice of his tempers nor of his texes, then wot are they to me. His father and mother are said to 'ave been both cantankerous, by those who know'd 'em, so it comes by nature, like it is in cross-bred terriers. That gentleman who was so curious about Jocko says it's along of his quiet mother and the goat's milk he is so good. Jocko's father would bite and scream, they say at the circus, if you tried to brush his fur, and as for putting on a coat, he'd just tear it to pieces when he see'd it, or tear your eyes out, as I wanted to do cook when first you laid 'ands on me. So monkeys and youngsters is much alike when they're taught no better, and are like children of a fam'ly wot 'asn't enough to eat and has to take it out in fightin' and scratchin'."
"Very wretched, indeed," said brother Ramsbottom, with a powerful sigh. "It's a living miracle to me as 'ow they are not devoured by fire like Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. Then, perhaps, they'd believe in Satan, whose name in Hebrew, we are told, was 'Abaddon,' and a bad un he is surely." Ramsbottom grinned hideously at his wretched pun, but as Tobias did not seem to see it he went on expounding.
"He is called 'Apollyon' in Greek and in the Pilgrim's Progress, where there's pictures of 'im with wings and 'orns and cloven feet, as is a horrible thing to look at."
"You have read a-many books, I believe, brother Ramsbottom," said Tobias, "and I suppose you've found 'em a weariness to the flesh. 'Of the making of books,' Solomon says, 'there is no end,' as I 'ave reason to know, 'aving to pay long bills for a lot of 'em that Oreb and Zeeb had at school, which it's likely they will never open any more, and oughter be taken back by the schoolmaster at 'arf price as between man and man. I've 'unted through 'em for something as 'ud tell me about coal, and came on a book called 'Geology,' as I imagine is a thing invented by unbelievers, who say the world is thousands and thousands of years older than is told of by Moses, and that bones of men have been found in places where I think the Devil only could have put 'em to cause a snare and a stumbling-block. Perkins says 'the geologists know better than Moses, who had something else to think of conducting them stiff-necked Jews through the wilderness, as was 'arf on 'em idolators.' He is an ungodly man, is Perkins, and I'm greatly exercised about 'prenticing my son to such a scoffer."
"But Perkins is said to know his business," said Ramsbottom. "Whenever they run into a 'fault' in the Dudley collieries they just 'jackup' until Perkins goes down and looks at it. He says, 'Drive to the right 'ere,' or 'to the left there,' and they soon strike the coal again as sure as eggs. It's like magic, and you'd better stick to him, and make the lad learn the book of Genesis by heart to keep him safe. He might skip the genealogies, as is rather tough. Moses seems to 'ave 'ad more to do with finding water than coal."
"I've often wondered," said Tobias, diverging for a moment from the coal question, "why the Devil fought with the archangel Michael for the dead body of Moses."
"That's one of the mysteries," said brother Ramsbottom, looking round cautiously. "It's just like the mystery of the big fight to turn Satan out of Heaven, with all his angels, as is mentioned by St John. It always puzzles me 'ow ever he got there. Some day I'm fearin' if they goes on sinking those deep pits they will drop into the bottomless pit itself, where we are told he is chained, and perhaps let him out again. It grows 'otter and 'otter 'as you go down. I'd like to hear the geologists trying to explain that. It's a facer for 'em; but it's best to avoid speaking or thinking of 'im. You were talking of Perkins, Tobias."
"Yes," said Tobias, with assumed carelessness. "I suppose, brother Ramsbottom, you know him well, and that he wouldn't mind answering a question if you asked him?"
"It depends, Tobias. If it's a professional matter, he'd want a fee according to the nature of it. If it was about the proximity of that place we were talking of, he'd be likely to say 'we would know when we got there,' being unregenerate, you see, and fond of his joke."
"If I wanted to know the probable depth of the thick coal in a new district, what do you think he'd charge me for going to look at the ground?"
"You had better inform him where it is, Tobias, then he will tell you like a shot, and p'r'aps want the fee in his pocket before he starts. He is a cautious man is Perkins, especially, I'm sorry to say, when he is dealing with the Lord's people, as he is fond of jibing at."
Tobias was evidently perplexed. He desired to have the benefit of a sound opinion before he definitely closed his intended purchase, and he wanted, if he could, to obtain the expert's advice for nothing, or at a very small cost, through his friend Ramsbottom, who was in the coal trade, and at same time Tobias feared to let his recent discovery leak out, lest someone should take advantage of it; and strange to say he was so ignorant and so superstitious that he actually dreaded having to sink his coal pits to a great depth lest he should accidentally let loose the "enemy of mankind," whom he believed to be confined in the bowels of the earth for an indefinite period. Persons inclined to cavil at this statement have never lived in the "Black Country," or conversed with the colliers, who will accept no other theory as to the regular increase of temperature as the pits increase in depth. To them, and to Tobias Miles, the personality of the Devil, such as he is delineated in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, was, and is, an article of faith, and his present habitation is believed to be accessible to boring tools of sufficient length. In the minds of a large number of people, especially of women, even at this day, similar ideas exist, and it is not long since they were openly propounded from pulpits. Indeed, it must be admitted that they are still doubtfully talked of now and then from thence by our spiritual pastors and masters, who are supposed to be educated. The Persian demon "Shitan "is still an important factor in religious beliefs.
As no better man could be found in the district, Tobias decided at length to run the risk of placing his son Zeeb with the unbelieving Perkins to learn the business of a colliery surveyor. He had already arranged to locate Oreb with a firm of mechanical engineers who made steam engines for collieries, and finally he completed the purchase of the property under which he expected to find coal, in the winning of which his sons were ultimately to be engaged when they had gained experience.
Tobias employed a builder to make the necessary repairs, in the cheapest way, to a part of the old house, patching dark oaken floors with deal, and filling in the stone-mullioned windows with modern sash frames. As a picturesque ruin the place had been interesting, but when the repairs were effected it only excited in the mind of the educated beholder a feeling of pitiful curiosity as to the philistine character of the new proprietor who could thus deface an ancient structure. Tobias was his own architect,as well as his own lawyer, on the same principle as he had hitherto been his own doctor, ruining an excellent constitution, when he fell ill, with large doses of patent medicines rather than pay a guinea for professional advice, which was an article he would only accept if given gratis. He was not a miser, and could speculate boldly in the iron trade with his means, which were considerable, but he was essentially mean in his desire to get the better of everyone. To "live and let live" was to him only a proverb for fools, and so he never quoted it or practised it."
Tobias could give liberally to the sect to which he belonged, and looked on such gifts as sound investments in anothor world. He always kept a mental debit and credit account with the Deity, on one side of which appeared his subscriptions to "the cause," the other side was to be posted up in a future state, when he could realise the position and the value received "per contra," then a proper balance might be struck with the Almighty. Tobias could publicly call himself a miserable sinner, unworthy of the least of God's mercies, whilst looking askance at his poorer brethren he secretly rejoiced that he could afford to pay for privileges which were beyond their reach.
There were two redeeming points in Tobias' character; he was desirous that his sons should have the advantage of a good education, of which he sadly felt the want in his own case, and he had a profound respect for Mrs Weston and Ruth, as beings who somehow thought and acted rightly by natural instinct, although they kept aloof from all association with the favoured people of the "Bethesda" he frequented. He did not venture to introduce brother Ramsbottorn in the domestic circle, although he associated with him elsewhere, because he felt that the unctuous eloquence of his friend might give offence to women who had a special abhorrence of everything savouring of cant. Tobias did not admit it was cant, but now and then he thought brother Ramsbottom had a queer way of expressing himself, and made strange internai noises when engaged in devotional exercises.
One day Miles travelled to Dudley with his son Zeeb, and entered the office of Mr Perkins, who was just then examining a spirit level, and continued his inspection whilst he conversed with Tobias, who was somewhat awe-struck at the sight of the brass instrument.
"I want to apprentice this son of mine to your business, Mr Perkins," began Tobias, as he pushed, Zeeb into the foreground.["]
"Well, Mr Miles, I may be able, to find a vacancy for a hard-working lad that's been properly educated for the profession and has brains, otherwise you'd better put him into some line where brains isn't wanted, the Church for instance, where all ideas are ready made and can't be altered, so that private thinking isn't allowed."
Perkins knew Tobias by repute, and was not particularly anxious to have a son of his as a pupil. He glanced at Zeeb, and was instantly sorry he had been so outspoken.
"Been to a good school, young chap?" he inquired in a kinder tone.
Zeeb mentioned the name of the school, and said he had been there five years.
"Are you a fair mathematician?"
"Pretty well, Mr Perkins. I got the prize in the senior class this year."
"Learned any practical surveying and levelling?"
"Yes, a little."
"Can you tell me what's wrong with this level?"
Zeeb carefully examined the instrument. "I think its had a fall," he said.
"Yes, its had a fall, and is out of adjustment. Could you put it right, do you think, if you tried?"
I think I could, sir, if I had it at home. We often got the level at school out of order, and were taught how to readjust it."
"All right, my lad. I was going to send it to the maker at Birmingham
to put right, and instead of doing so I'll let you try your hand. If you
can't manage it, take it round to Benson the optician. If you succeed,
I'll take you on my usual terms, for three years. The fee is two hundred
guineas, Mr Miles. At the end of three years I place my young fellows on
salary, until they get their money back again, or a good berth in a colliery."
"I shall want him in a colliery of my own, I think, at the end of the three years," said Tobias; "but it's a lot o' money."
"Do you think so? It used to be five years and three hundred down when I served my time. I have never taken less, and I refuse pupils every year."
"Make it pounds, Mr Perkins."
"No, I won't; but you needn't send him to me at all. I'll not take him if he can't adjust tbis level."
Tobias had evidently found his match at driving a bargain in this abrupt, decided colliery surveyor.
"I want your opinion about a property I have bought over near Madeley," said Tobias. "I think there is plenty of coal under it such as I showed you last year. You'll not charge me for looking at it, I suppose, if we come to terms about the lad?"
"That's another matter," said Mr Perkins curtly. "My fee for examining and reporting on a new colliery is fifty guineas."
"Perhaps it will be lost money in the end," said Tobias.
"Perhaps; but it may save you from losing fifty times the amount. I am very busy to-day, Mr Miles, and if you decide on having this thing properly looked into you can write to me."
"Do you use the divining rod?" inquired Tobias, who had made up his mind to have Mr Perkins' opinion even at the cost of fifty guineas.
"No, it's humbug. I use my brains and my experience."
"There's a-many folks believes in it, Mr Perkins."
"No doubt, and many folks believe the world was made in seven days, and the coal put in like the jam in a tart."
"That's in the Bible," said Tobias with severity; "the Scriptures cannot err."
Mr Perkins shrugged his shoulders and took snuff.
"Then you should get a parson to report on your coal, Mr Miles," he said contemptuously. "No doubt they know all about it. One of 'em told me the other day that he believed the Staffordshire coal-field was a special reserve of old Harry's that we were poaching on. Parsons are wonderfully clever -- only most of them were born some centuries too late to be properly appreciated except by old women. If you care to see what coal really is, just look here."
Mr Perkins removed a glass shade from a microscope, and showed Tobias a section of coal on the stand beneath, which the latter gazed at in wonder through the eye-piece.
"It's like a forest of trees," he said.
"Yes, very like; it was part of a forest buried more than a hundred thousand years ago, and there were men on the earth then who probably hunted animais in the forest with flint weapons, such as I can show you. Adam and Eve hadn't been evolved from the brain of some inventive Chaldean at that time."
"It seems to me, to be an invention of the Devil," said Tobias, pointing vaguely at the microscope.
"More probably the Devil was an invention of the Chaldean, or of some other old seer who had a quarrel with his neighbours and wished to frighten 'em with a bogey man, as we used to frighten the children to bed."
"Mr Perkins," said Tohias in a subdued whisper, "do you think if we was to sink deep enough with a pit, supposing colliers was like salamanders and could stand the heat, could they drop into hell? Brother Ramsbottom thinks it a certainty."
"Brother Ramsbottom is an ass," said Perkins, laughing. "If he thought there was any coal below that he is working just now he'd sink his pits to the centre of the earth or come out in China. He keeps his 'bogey' for Sundays, to be fetched out with his best clothes, and taken to chapel for the benefit of those who differ from him in opinion -- that's been the use of bogeys for eighteen hundred years. Parsons think they couldn't get on without 'em, and perhaps they are right."
"Zeeb," said Tobias, as he journeyed home, "I'm going to 'prentice you to Mr Perkins, who I can see is a clever man; but don't you let him persuade you that there is no such person as the Devil, and that Adam and Eve wasn't the first man and woman."
"All right, father," said Zeeb. "Mr Perkins won't talk of 'em again, I daresay. What does it matter?"
"It matters a lot," said Tobias solemnly. "If we don't believe in them things, where are we I'd like to know?"
"We are in a third-class carriage just now," said Zeeb, "and the seat feels hard, especially with the weight of this level on my knees. I am trying to remember how we were taught to adjust the old level at school -- 'twas very shaky on its legs and often out of order. We used to say it was orthodox."
"I am glad they taught you how to put such things right Zeeb. I can see it weighed a lot with Perkins when you spoke up and said you could do it. I wonder how a clever man like him can think there was men and women in the world a hundred thousand years ago, long before ever the world was made."
"How about the coal, father? That coal was growing'long before that, and there are skeletons of fishes and reptiles in the coal measures."
"I must 'ave a talk with Ramsbottom about it, Zeeb, though Perkins thinks him an ass."
"That's just what he is," said Zeeb; "no doubt lineally descended from Balaam's ass, who was a respectable but ill-used quadruped. Did it ever strike you as odd, father, that Balaam betrayed no surprise when the ass spoke to him? Perhaps it was usual for animals to talk at that time. Brother Ramsbottom can probably explain as to the capabilities of his ancestor. There is nothing in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth, that he will not attempt to explain."
Tobias had a suspicion that his son was chaffing him, and had a passing desire to box his ears for his pertness, but being in a crowded railway carriage he was obliged to defer the correction to another opportunity.
"The new generation is an unbelieving lot, with their microscopes and telescopes," he said sadly to himself; "they pay more respect to stones and fossils than to Revelation. I've no doubt that scoffing Perkins can give a sound opinion about coal, but I'd back brother Ramsbottom for the interpretation of Scripture. He has a gift from on 'igh; he knows all about the Devil and his works, and the place he inhabits, as is being prepared for those scientific gentlemen." The last reflection was evidently consoling to Tobias Miles. It is still a great consolation to people of his way of thinking.
At home that evening Zeeb suffered much mental perplexity in endeavouring to adjust the level. His father impatiently looked on, and so made the youth nervous and confused. The instrument was of a more complicated construction than the old level at school, and he had nearly forgotten how to set about the operation. The surveyor who gave lessons at the scientific academy had always been present when Zeeb dealt with the "orthodox" instrument, and had given hints when the pupils were at fault, and now Zeeb was unable to remember them. His father spoke to him harshly, reminding him how over-confident he had been in Perkins' office, and of the money which had been expended on his education, so that at length the poor lad sadly replaced the level in its case and said, with tears in his voice, that he must give it up for the present.
Ruth had been quietly looking on, and as Zeeb sadly retired she followed him out of the room.
"Have you not got a book, Zeb, that tells you how to adjust such instruments?" she inquired.
"Yes; there's a lot about it, Ruth, in Sims on Levelling, but it will take me half a day to read it up, and the other half to test the thing in the garden."
"Let me have the book, Zeb."
"I am afraid you won't be able to understand it, Ruth; but here is the book if you'd like to try -- it will give you a headache. I'm afraid the level will have to go to the makers after all, and then Mr Perkins won't have me; but I thought I could manage it."
"Get up very early, Zeb, and let us try it together in my little laboratory at the top of the house, where your father never comes."
Zeeb promised to rise before the lark, and Ruth carried away the book, which she did not flnd so very difficult to understand. In the morning, with her cousin's assistance during a couple of hours, the problem became clear to her. Then the level was taken out in the garden and mounted on its tripod. Betsy was summoned to hold the staff, so that the amount of error was ascertained and finally corrected. After breakfast Zeeb prepared to journey back to Dudley with it in triumph.
"I'll tell Mr Perkins that you helped me, Ruth," he said. "I'm afraid I'd have given it up but for you. What a jolly good girl you are. I wish I could help you with something."
"Yes, you can help me, Zeb. Here is the address of a poor nailer in Dudley, who is Betsy's father. His eyesight is failing from looking at red-hot nails all his life in an atmosphere of smoke and dust -- no doubt also because of age. I want you to call on him, and take him to a shop you will find in the High Street where they sell large tinted spectacles fit for his case, and buy him a pair for me. You will oblige me also by giving his eldest girl a parcel from Betsy. She has made some useful garments for her sisters, and made them well. At first she used her needle like a bradawl, but now she can sew properly. Mind Betsy did her part in putting the level right, although it was a small part. Reb will go with you to Dudley. I want him to see how nails are made. He is to try and invent a machine some day to make them."
"Why, that would ruin the nailers, Ruth."
"No, it won't -- no more than power-looms ruined the weavers. For one hand-loom weaver there are now a thousand engaged in tending power-loom's, and girls can earn more money than men used to do. You will see what a wretched, dirty employaient it is for women and girls to make nails by hand. If they are not made otherwise soon, I am told foreign makers will drive English-made nails out of the market. Then what will become of our poor nailers and their children, who are half-starved as it is? Reb might go to a baker's shop and buy Betsy's sisters some rolls while you are away with the old man getting the spectacles."
"Yes, Ruth, we shall give 'em a regular blow out; but I am not quite clear about those machines. There will be an awful row, you know, at first, as there was about the power-loom, and Reb may get his head broken, although it's a hard head."
Mention has been made of a small outlying piece of land severed by the railway and bordered by the highroad. Tobias was certain, and he had been inadvertently led to believe, that this piece of land was included in his purchase. It appeared to be distinctly shown on the auctioneer's plan, of which Tobias had a copy, but just before the abortive auction took place Mr Ferrier had served notice of "pre-emption" on the railway company, and consequently had the right to repurchase this particular plot. The solicitors acting for the Company had not deemed it necessary to inform Tobias, but had omitted the copse on the plans attached to the conveyance, although Mr Ferrier had not yet taken possession of it; he merely desired to preserve the tall Scotch firs on the little plot, which otherwise was of small value. The trees partly hid the objectionable railway from Mr Ferrier's house, and he particularly wished to preserve them.
Tobias imagined he was entitled to cut down the fir trees if he pleased, and in order to assert his fancied ownership went forth one night with an axe and felled one of the tallest of them. The tree fell across the road, and caused the upset of a farmer in his gig, and injury to a valuable horse, whereupon Tobias found himself involved in two fresh law-suits, one brought by Mr Ferrier for trespass, the other by the irate farmer for personal injury and damage to his horse and trap. Tobias now began to see devils in attendance on the monks in his dreams, but his wrath waxed fierce when at length he was driven to consult a lawyer, who smiled grimly at his tale of wrongs, and told him he was in evil case and likely to be cast in damages, all because he had not engaged a solicitor at the outset. Tobias then rushed off in a rage to the local agent who had sold him the property, and indignantly reminded him that he had walked with him by the footpath through this very copse, and expatiated on the value of the growing timber as part of what he had to sell. The agent had not yet heard of Mr Ferrier'a recent purchase, and rashly assured Tobias the land was his, although he advised him not to fell trees so as to cause them to fall ou the king's highway.
Returning home that evening, Tobias found a gamekeeper of Mr Ferrier's standing on the footpath in the copse, whom he ordered off, although the man informed him the footpath was a public one.
In a week after Miles caused two notice boards to be fixed on trees close to the stiles at either end of the path, warning trespassers "to beware of mantraps." Brother Ramsbottom had counselled him to adopt this course, and had actually supplied him with two powerful steel traps, such as were formerly used to catch foxes in poultry yards. To fix such dangerous engines on or near a footpath was, of course, an illegal outrage, but Tobias deemed his proprietary rights entitled him to do so, and he carefully set them on the path near the stiles, with their serrated jaws open to capture unwary trespassers.
By this time the agent had written to him explaining the error he had made, and pointing out that the auction plan was incorrect, and really had no bearing on the question, which was governed by the plans attached to his agreement and conveyance, both of which Tobias had signed without raising the point, which he had not noticed at the time. The agent threw gome blame on the company's solicitors in London, and regretted the misunderstanding, at same time informing Tobias that the copse was now certainly Mr Ferrier's property.
Tobias had then set his mantraps, and decided he would consult his lawyer again before he removed them. He was not a man to be lightly turned from fixed ideas, and was satisfied in his own mind that an attempt was being made to cheat him out of part of his purchase.
The lawyer informed him he had no legal remedy, but as he conceived the unhappy Tobias had been somewhat misled by the land agent, he recommended him to go to London and lay his case before the directors of the railway company for equitable compensation, and at same time advised him not to compromise the farmer's action and to write an apology to Mr Ferrier.
Tobias unfortunately omitted to say anything to the lawyer about the mantraps, but deemed it best, with sorrow, to pay the farmer a considerable sum, He postponed writing to Mr Ferrier until his return from London, and hoped he could evade doing so altogether. He conceived that he himself was the aggrieved person, and that apologies should be made to him. He thought that sackcloth and ashes ought to be the portion of such unbelievers as Mr Ferrier, of whom he had prophesied evil, and who, no doubt, being aided and abetted by Satan, had caused the evil to fall on the pate of the prophet. We must remember that Jonah, when smarting from the effects of solitary confinement, was deeply aggravated because the evil he had foretold did not speedily come to pass.
Tobias was very angry over his defeat, and would gladly have cut down every tree in the copse if he dared, in order to be avenged on the "old heathen," whom he hated because he had got the better of him. He had never seen or spoken to him, and although in one half of his brain the belief existed that the Devil was securely chained in the bowels of the earth, the other half was equally convinced that he was at large, and constantly advising Mr Ferrier. Dual methods of thinking have often been characteristic of strong faith. People who loudly declare that certain dogmas are incomprehensible go on in the next breath to define them precisely. How to sit with satisfaction on both sides of the fence has not seldom been a subtle problem dear to the hearts of believers in mysteries.
It never occurred to Tobias Miles that much of his trouble had arisen from the fact that he had been for a time accidentally isolated from his family, and so he had had no opportunity of talking over his grievances with Mrs Weston, who had always moderated his views and counselled peaceful measures. She would, no doubt, have persuaded him to let the fir trees alone, and advised him to wait quietly until the question of ownership was cleared up. She would have told him that setting mantraps was a barbarous custom of the feudal ages, now entirely practised in another fashion by designing females, and that such accursed things were more likely to cause injury to innocent people than to those instigated by the Devil, who would be sure to warn his disciples of concealed dangers.
Mrs Weston knew nothing of the purchase of the diabolical engines when she arrived late one evening, shortly before Christmas, at Madeley Court station, with Ruth, Betsy, and the cook, to enter into occupation of their new abode during Tobias' absence. They had gone on a visit to some friends whilst the furniture was being removed, and of late had not heard from Tobias. It was quite dark when they arrived at the station, and finding no vehicle to be had, the party set out to walk on the snow-covered road, having first borrowed two lamps from the station-master, Mrs Weston proceeded in advance, with the cook, and continued on the high-road past the copse. Ruth followed at a little distance, attended by Betsy, who carried Ruth's handbag and rug. When they came to the pathway throughthe copse Ruth remembered that the path led by a shorter way to the highroad further on, and desiring to overtake her mother, suggested that they should adopt it. There were still to be seen faint footsteps in the snow, leading up to the stile, but apparently only one person had taken that road. Betsy climbed over the stile first, and turned to assist Ruth, who held the hand-lamp.
Ruth paused for a moment and listened intently. She fancied she heard a low moan from someone in the dark wood beyond, then she proceeded cautiously, throwing the ligbt on the snow-covered footpath in front. Presently she started back and said to Betsy, "There is someone lying on the ground."
"It's a man that p'r'aps has been murdered," Betsy said, as she peered forward, and then the two girls crept up in awe to the spot, where they beheld the body of a young man extended at full length on the path, lying on his back. Ruth flashed the light of the lamp on his up-turned face, whilst Betsy bent down and looked at him closely.
"It's surely that young gentleman that thought so much of Jocko," she said. "I'm fearin', Miss Ruth, he's head."
"No, Betsy, I heard him moan. Lay down my bag, and let us lift up his head and place the rug under it."
They raised his head gently, and placed the rug, folded like a pillow, beneath it. As they did so he feebly moaned again; his eyelids were closed, and his face was white and felt icy cold as Ruth placed her hand on his forehead.
Betsy took the lamp and slowly examined his body from the head to the feet, in order to find out if possible where he had been injured.
"There is a 'orrid iron thing as has hold of him by the leg, Miss Ruth," she said; "it's wot they calls a 'gin,' wi' teeth like saws. I've seen wan like it in an ode iron shop-they closes wi' steel springs and only opens wi' a key. Whatever are we to do?".
"Run forward along the path to the road, Betsy, and fetch cook here at once. Take the lamp, and be careful to avoid any more of these horrible traps that may be about. Stay a moment and let me open the bag."
Ruth had bethought her suddenly that there was a bottle of eau-de-Cologne in her bag. She quickly found it, and kneeling down on the snow, applied a little to the unconscious man's lips and nostrils, and then sprinkled some over his face. His eyes slowly opened, he raised his head a little and pointed to the hideous trap, which held his right ankle in its deadly jaws. He evidently was too weak to speak, but Ruth understood and instantly rose to her feet to examine the mechanism of the detestable engine. She saw that the feet of his trousers had been turned up, and that the long sharp teeth of the jaws of the trap were buried in the flesh of his ankle, just above his short laced boot, which was covered with congealed blood. There was a track of blood visible on the crisp snow along the path, and it was evident the young man had dragged himself on his back for some distance toward the stile. His hat lay a little way off, and near it an umbrella, which he had broken across in his ineffectuai endeavours to prise open the jaws of the gin.
"Go for cook at once, Betsy," Ruth said when she had formed some idea of the construction of the gin.
"But you'll be left alone in the dark, Miss Ruth."
"Even so; it will be safer for you with the lamp."
Upon which Betsy sped away, cautiously throwing the light on the pathway in front, until she reached the second stile, where she found Mrs Weston and the cook waiting and wondering at the non-appearance of Ruth and Betsy.
"Oh, ma'am," said Betsy, "that young man you saw at the circus is lying on the ground in there a'most dead, and Miss Ruth says cook must corne to 'elp to get an 'orrid steel trap off his leg that's a-killin' of 'im."
Mrs Weston was about to enter the wood, when Betsy intervened. "There may be more on 'em about," she said. "If you would hold the light, so as to shine along the path, cook and I will go in and fetch him ere if he's still alive. He's not very 'eavy, I think, but he has been cruelly hurt and mun be carried."
In a few minutes Betsy, followed by the cook, arrived again on the scene of the disaster, and discovered Ruth seated on the ground, with the sufferer's head on her lap, bathing his forehead with the spirit applied with her handkerchief.
"Try, both of you together, if you can force the jaws of the horrid thing asunder," she said quietly, "but be very careful how you do it, and do not let them spring back."
The cook and Betsy knelt down, and cautionsly examined the trap.
"We must find some piŠces of wood to put against the teeth," said Betsy. "If you was to 'catch 'em wi' your 'ands, cook, they'd cut you to the bone."
She took the lamp again, and hunted round unsuccessfully. Then she suddenly flung off her stout shoes. "They'll do stunnin'," she said eagerly; "off wi' yourn, cook, and hold 'em again the teeth so, and then let us pull together a good un."
"Mind the foot, Betsy," said cook. "Lord have mercy on us, it's mangled to the bone." Then they steadily put forth all their strength to force the jaws of the trap asunder, but in some way it seemed to add to the injured man's agony. He clenched his teeth together, and convulsively caught Ruth's hands with his own.
"Can you draw him back a bit now, miss?" said the cook; "we have got the 'orrid thing open."
Ruth placed her arms beneath the young man's shoulders, raised him a little, and then cautiously drew him towards her. She heard the steel jaws of the trap snap together with a click, and she knew that the limb was released. She laid him down gently on the rug, and as she bent over him in doing so she heard him sigh and murmur something. Ruth bent closer to listen, and as she did so he placed his arms round ber neck, drew her face closer to him, and gently kissed her on the cheek.
"God bless you," he whispered; "but for you I should have died in this lonely place. I have been here several hours. Now, how can I be got home? I live about a mile from here."
"We shall try to carry you, Dr Ferrier," said Ruth, upon whom it suddenly dawned that the young man must be the son of the old gentlemen against whom her unele railed so much. "Our house is much nearer, sir, we had better go there first."
The cook and Betsy had been meanwhile examining the wounded limb by the aid of the lamp, and carefully removing the edges of the torn sock from the wound. Betsy produced a pair of scissors and dexterously cut the laces of the boot, which pressed severely on the swollen foot, and now the blood flowed freely from the ankle joint, which had been deeply lacerated. Dr Ferrier held Ruth's hands clasped tightly in his whilst this rough surgery went on, which Ruth watched closely out of the darkness where she sat on the ground.
"You will find plenty of cambric handkerchiefs in my bag, cook," she said. "They will stop the bleeding, perhaps, if tightly wrapped round the foot."
"Not too tightly," he said. "The bleeding is a relief, if there is not too much of it. Please ask them to collect a little pure snow and to place it between two of the handkerchiefs outside over all. I am afraid of inflammation. May I drink some of your eau-de-Cologne, young lady? Then, perhaps, I can assist a little. I am almost paralysed from lying so long on my back in the snow."
Ruth gave him her large scent bottle, which he nearly emptied, and then she stood up to consult with cook as to the best means of transporting the injured man to Madeley Court.
"If you will take him by the shoulders, cook, I'll take his feet," said Betsy. "We can fetch him along easily if Miss Ruth will go on in front with the light. I'll be very partickler wi' his hurt leg."
Paul Ferrier was one of the "light weights," and in the fashion above indicated he was slowly borne to the stile, where Mrs Weston was anxiously waiting. Ruth went in front of the little procession, carrying the lamp and her bag and rug, and carefully scanning the footpath lest they should be caught in another trap. There had been two placed by Miles originally at either end of the copse, but one had been discovered that morning and put aside by Mr Ferrier's game-keeper.
When the two strong women had lifted Dr Ferrier over the stile, with Mrs Weston's assistance, they laid him down on the rug by the roadside, his head resting on Ruth's bag, whilst the servants recovered breath.
"I shall run on, Ruth, and get a bedroom ready for him," said Mrs Weston. "It is not far now -- just beyond this railway bridge."
Dr Ferrier did not say anything to this proposai. He was in great pain, and was weak and passive in the hands of the women. Ruth administered the last of the eau-de-Cologne to him. She had nothing else in her bag of any use, and accidentally passing her hand over his forehead she felt the cold beads of perspiration, which indicated great physical suffering. He had been a long time without food, and had lost much blood. The eau-de-Cologne, being a volatile spirit, had flown to his brain and rather confused him. Ruth was seriously alarmed; she put down her lamp and knelt beside him to ask if she could do anything to allay his intense agony.
"Let me hold your hand when they move me again," he said in a low voice. "I am growing faint. Is it far to your house?"
"Only a little way now, sir. I am so sorry for you."
"Is that gin really off my leg?" he inquired. "I can feel it yet."
Then Ruth knew he was wandering in mind. She signed to the cook and Betsy to resume their burden, placed her bag by the roadside, and with the lamp in one hand, and holding one of his hands in the other, she walked by his side during the rest of the journey, stooping down now and then to speak some encouraging words in his ear. The night was intensely cold, and it is probable he soon relapsed into unconsciousness, but he still held Ruth's hand clasped in his, as if with it he had some hold on life.
They placed him in the room prepared for Ruth, in which a wood fire was brightly burning. The wooden-legged man was still on the premises, and was summoned to remove Dr Ferrier's clothes and get him into bed. Then Mrs Weston and Ruth came with food and stimulants. The former had a white, troubled face, for she had just read a telegram from Tobias Miles in London, which had been delivered at Madeley Court the day before their arrivai, and contained a request that Mrs Weston would send someone at once to remove two steel traps he had placed on the pathway in the copse "to catch foxes," lest someone should be accidentally hurt.
There was also a letter from Tobias explaining that the railway company in London had decided to return to him the money paid by Mr Ferrier for the copse, as a mistake had been made by their agent, so that he was at the moment in tolerably good humour, and now only fearful that his traps would catch some unwary person and bring him into contact with the law again. He repented him of his hasty adoption of brother Ramsbottom's advice, he said, and threw all the blame, as far as he could, on that long-winded counsellor, and hoped Mrs Weston would not speak of the matter, which he admitted was an error of judgment due to the many aggravations he had endured. Tobias wrote also that he would remain in London for a week longer, in order to refresh his spirit, after his recent troubles, under the ministrations of a "new light" that had sprung up in the "Society," who loudly prophesied the early destruction of the huge Babylon he was visiting.
"Mr Ferrier's son may lose his leg or his life, Ruth, on account of your uncle's prophets," Mrs Weston said with some bitterness. "In any case there will be great indignation and trouble; indeed, he may be legally punished for causing this sad catastrophe. Old Mr Ferrier is said to be vindictive, and thia young man is his only child. We must watch over him, and do all in our power to mitigate the calamity."
"The son is not vindictive, mother; he never uttered a complaint against anyone, and he was very grateful for our help."
Ruth thought of that silent kiss on her cheek, but she did not mention it lest the simple tenderness of the act should be misunderstood. She knew it was merely an expression of gratitude, and her eyes filled with tears at the recollection. She would have gladly given him his kiss back again if she thought it would comfort him, just as she would bave kissed a suffering child.
Ruth sat with her mother during the remainder of that long weary night, one at each side of the bed, doing all in their power to assuage the young man's sufferings. He was often delirious, and always restless and in pain. Mrs Weston longed for the dawn in order to obtain medical attendance at the first light. She was an intelligent woman, acquainted with the proper remedies to use in ordinary cases of accident, but this was evidently a very serious case, complicated with high fever. The one-legged man, who was the only male creature upon the premises, was instructed to find a messenger before daylight to take a note over to Mr Ferrier's residence. He set out at two in the morning to tramp the whole distance himself, and returned about six, bringing back Mrs Weston's note unopened, and informing her that Mr Ferrier was absent in the south of France, where be usually went at the end of the year for several months. The man brought Ruth's bag and the address of a local medical man, to which Betsy, who had remained up all night, was straightway despatched. She came back with the gentleman in his gig shortly after day-break. Paul Ferrier had then just fallen into a troubled sleep from actual exhaustion, holding one of Ruth's hands between his own, but he moaned in his sleep, and was evidently never free from pain.
Mrs Weston explained the nature of the accident to the surgeon, and informed him that they had applied linen bandages steeped in cold water and carbolic acid to the wounded ankle by direction of the patient himself.
"He evidently knew what was best for such a thing," said the surgeon. "Dr Ferrier spent two years in the wards of a foreign hospital, although he has never practised. He is a very clever young fellow, but has taken to some special pursuit, having plenty of money. There will be the devil to pay when his father hears of this. Let me see the ankle the instant he opens his eyes again, when he lets go this young lady's hand." Mrs Weston had not noticed previously that Paul held Ruth's hand whilst he slept.
"She found him in the wood and brought him here, doctor," she said, "otherwise they are almost strangers."
"That is curious; but don't disturb him. You say he has had no sleep all night?"
"No, none at all previously."
"I understand. Is the young lady your daughter?"
"Yes, my only child, and a very wise, tender-hearted girl. She has been deeply grieved over this accident."
"No doubt, and she wishes to console the poor fellow; it will do him good, perhaps. He is said not to be a lady's man at all, but given up altogether to his scientific pursuits." Here Paul awoke suddenly. Ruth withdrew her hand, and crept away quietly, whilst the surgeon proceeded to examine the patient's ankle, which he did with a grave face, uttering many suppressed hums and hahs as he cautiously touched the livid swollen limb and then proceeded to wrap it up again. He beckoned to Mrs Weston to corne with him into the next room.
"This is a very serious thing," he said. "I am afraid the young man will have to lose his leg or else he will lose his life. I think his father should be telegraphed for, and two operating surgeons from Birmingham. I am not just now quite able for such an operation, and there is no time to be lost."
Mrs Weston wrung her hands, but could answer nothing. Just then Ruth returned, and the surgeon repeated his opinion.
"I will go to the station and send the telegrams," Ruth said quietly, although she had turned pale and was trembling. "Can you give me Mr Ferrier's address?"
"I don't know it," he said, looking at her earnestly; "no doubt the young man knows. Suppose you go in and ask him?"
"And if he wishes to know why we want to telegraph, what am I to say, sir?"
"Tell him I think it right to inform his father; no doubt he will guess the rest, but let him have a little hope for a few hours."
"Is there no hope of saving his leg?" Ruth inquired with emotion.
"I am afraid not. If mortification sets in, the operation may be too late, also we may have tetanus, that is lock-jaw, then be would die in great agony."
Ruth quickly turned to enter the sick man's room on her painful mission, but at the same moment sbe seemed to see everything whirling round her, and then she fell fainting in her mother's arms.
It appeared that Paul had returned to Madeley by railway on the afternoon of the previous day and was strolling home by the path through the copse, admiring the effect of the snow on the fir trees, when he suddenly felt his right foot seized, as he at first imagined by some dangerous wild beast, but soon discovered to be by a thing more dangerous than any beast, inasmuch as it rigidly retained its deadly grip.
Paul had fallen on his back in the crisp snow, and although suffering great pain had made vigorous efforts to rid himself of the gin. He had broken his umbrella in so doing, and then he endeavoured to drag himself and the heavy steel trap to the stile, in the hope of attracting the attention of some passer-by, as no one came into the wood in response to his cries. He severely lacerated bis ankle in doing this, and must have fainted, as he lay there almost unconscious and benumbed with cold for nearly three hours.
When Paul recovered consciousness the first thing he saw was Ruth's large liquid-looking brown eyes, lit up by the porter's lamp, as she gazed down on him in pitying wonder. He did not remember at tbe moment that he had seen her before, but the voice of her companion struck him as that of a person whom be had previously heard speak. It never entered into his head to imagine that the gin had been concealed on the spot by Tobias Miles, whom he only knew of by hearsay as an aggressive person, who had wrongfully claimed this particular copse, and had consequently been attacked by his father's lawyers; in fact Paul had a vague suspicion that the gin had been placed there by his father's orders, to catch anyone who dared to meddle further with the trees.
Mrs Western had not yet told the local surgeon or the patient that Tobias Miles was the real author of the misfortune. The surgeon had not seen the steel trap, and at first imagined that the accident was in some way connected with the devices of poachers. He was surprised to find that Paul made no reference to the miscreant who had fixed the engine, although he fancied the young man must have his suspicions; but just then it was with the result and not with the cause of the accident the surgeon had to do, and especially with the grave question of amputation of the injured limb, if necessary to save the patient's life.
Paul questioned him closely about this, and gave him the name and address of a medical friend of his living at Shrewsbury.
"He can be here by posting as soon as your men from Birmingham," Paul said, "and I shall wait for his opinion before anything is decided on. One can't grow a new limb, like a crustacean, and I think all the conditions are against mortification. I never was in better health than I was before this accident. Let us continue the antiseptic treatment, doctor. It was fortunate that they had carbolic acid in the house, and that the thermometer is below freezing point, and perhaps, also, that you have given up operating. Men of your time were rather too fond of it," he added with a faint smile.
"Dr Ferrier, I am bound to tell you there is another dangerous complication to be feared," said the surgeon with deep gravity. "In fact I was going to ask you, but you must not be unduly alarmed at my doing so, to try and arrange any affaira of yours; you know it may not be easy to do so later on. Would you wish me to ask our vicar here to visit you?"
"There are some rare books, doctor, and a lot of specimens I would like to send to my old teacher at Leipsic, and one of my large microscopes to a man at Vienna, the other to my friend whom you have just sent for. Please to write it all down in your note-book as I shall dictate, and then I'll sign it."
The doctor readily complied, and Paul signed the page.
"I would like to give my watch "mdash; which is a very good one -- to the young lady here who found me in the wood, if she will accept of it," Paul added, "and there is some money in my purse for the two women who carried me. Everything else goes back to my father, or the law will arrange it."
"And now what about the clergyman?" said the surgeon, who was a religious man, and as anxions about the souls of his patients, when in danger, as he was about their bodies and property.
"What good can he do me? He will only addle me with mediæval nousense. I suppose you know I am an Agnostic, like my father; indeed, I scarcely think there can be any future state. I greatly wish to live, but I have no fear of death; it will be long test or a new life, probably with loss of identity. It will not be me but the active principle in me that will survive, perhaps to animate another body, or several bodies in which I can take no more interest than men do in the lives of unborn children, It is just as possible that I have unconsciously existed in a previous state as that I shall exist in a future state. We have no valid experience to guide us; no one has ever returned to life or been conscious of previous existence, therefore all ideas on the subject are but guesses. If we try to reason from analogy -- which is only a kind of guessing -- then, I think, all the arguments are against our continued existence in any form or shape, unless in the continuation of species in our children, as the Jews believed of old. They were probably right. It is all 'behind the Veil.'"
"Then, Dr Ferrier, you do not believe there has ever been an instance of resurrection from the dead?" said the anxious surgeon, as he seated himself by the bedside and took Paul's hand as if to feel his pulse, which he found rather high.
"No, Mr Taylor, I do not; there is no recorded case that will bear the test of critical examination -- not one. St Paul's argument contains an obvious fallacy. The grain which is sown perishes in the earth; the ears of corn which are produced only represent the children. The germ of life in the solitary seed is dispersed through a numerous progeny. If the seed is devoured or consumed by fire, then you can see that the illustration is worthless; the living principle has disappeared forever. If you cut off this leg of mine, you will sever an outlying part of an organism which is acted on by certain nerves in communication with the great nerve centres and the brain. You must admit that it will be then so much inert matter, but no doubt you will contend that something you call 'Soul' resides in the brain matter itself. You might remove part of the brain, and for a time, you know well, its functions would continue, although imperfectly. You must, in that case, have taken away part of the soul, according to your theory; you could nibble it all away by degrees. The word 'Mind' is but the label by which we express collectively the functions of the brain and nerves."
Paul had raised himself on his elbow to observe the effect of his argument on the elderly surgeon. The latter gently pressed him back on the pillow, and sighed deeply.
"My young friend," he said sorrowfully, "I know you have studied in a school that was not in existence in my time, but I prefer to adhere to the teaching of my youth. With your ideas I should be a very wretched man. Life would not be wortb living.
"But I have never been wretched," said Paul, "and I want to live and enjoy life as an active two-legged animal if I can. I have yet so much to see and learn. Do you know, doctor, that while we bave been discussing this interesting subject I never felt any pain in my ankle. The telegraph clerks at the nerve centres have been so interested they have neglected the signais from the outlying station. There is another curious thing I have experienced, but you must not mention it to the young girl who sat there all night long where you are sitting when I was in pain and fever. She gave me her hand to hold, or rather I took it, and I could feel the beating of her puise. I tried to count it, and I fell asleep while counting, or at least into a state of semi-consciousness, in which I fancied I could read her thoughts. For the time being, it appeared to me, we had but one brain between us, and were in perfect sympathy."
The doctor smiled and said: "I saw you asleep. What idea did you find in Miss Weston's brain?"
Paul raised himself again, and said with deep feeling: "Infinite pity.
I know no other words that will correctly describe what I felt she was
thinking. At times she seemed to me to be indignant also with the person
who set that cursed trap, as if she knew him. I suppose I dreamt all this,
but as a rule I am not a dreamer."
"I suppose, Dr Ferrier, in your waking moments you would call it 'reflex action of the nerves.' I ehould say it was communion of soul. Of her great pity for you there can be no doubt. I carelessly mentioned something in her presence just now which caused her to faint. You had met only once before, I am told at Birmingham, some months ago."
"Yes; I ought to have remembered those large brown eyes," said Paul thoughtfully. "We both assisted at an experiment with a most interesting animal, about whom I have written a monograph for the Anthropological Society. I fully intended to pursue the subject when the intelligent creature returned to the neighbourhood. You really must pull me through, doctor, so much depends on the complete investigation and development of Mr Darwin's theory. But, I forget, you are of the old school, and pin your faith on the theory of special creations."
"I certainly can't yet foliow Darwin," said the doctor gravely. "Like Disraeli, I prefer to be on the side of the angels."
"Oh, but you will in time, if you live long enough and study the subject. Disraeli was only joking for effect when he said that. By-the-way, just open your note-book again and add that I leave you my edition of Mr Darwin's published works. They are full of marginal notes. You know that sick people are generally believed to be capable of prophesying when the doctor thinks they won't recover. Now, believe me, there will not be ten scientific, thinking men in Europe twenty years hence who will not accept as true all that Mr Darwin is trying to teach, and more. It will revolutionise thought in every direction, and in time will annihilate the absurd idea of constant supernatural interference. Candidly, my friend, have you ever known an instance of miraculous recovery of a patient that you couid say positively was due to such interference?"
"I have seen a case of recovery of an almost moribund patient for whom prayer was offered," said the surgeon with some hesitation.
"That must have been an ordinary coincidence, such as often happens. I have seen ten such cases abroad, recovered by means of transfusion of blood from a thoroughly healthy subject with excessive vitality. The scientific method seems more certain than the prayer meeting. Have you read Galton's articles on that subject?"
"No, I haven't," said the doctor emphatically, "and I don't mean to. I am afraid, if we go on with this discussion, your head will get hot again, and we shall have to send for the young lady to hold your other hand."
"No, doctor, my head is cool enough. You know I am not speakiug of things I learned recent‹y, like a heated convert. I rejoice that I was brought up, like Mill, without being handicapped with a ready-made belief, and so I had a fair start. But, to change the subject, can you tell me who are these nice people, mother and daughter, who have taken such loving care of me? I shall owe my life to them if I recover."
"I understand they are relatives of the man who has receutly bought this place, and they are evidently educated ladies; but I have been told also, the man himself is not exactly a gentleman. He was a kind of master nailer who made money. He is away at present, I am thankful to say. Now I must go for an hour to attend to my patients. I shall be here to meet your friend if he comes, meanwhile, perhaps, you will try to sleep. Shall I tell these ladies they may come in again? You might try a little more 'thought reading.' I will explain to Mrs Weston how useful it has been."
"And tell them how grateful I am."
"Yes, they will see that in your eyes. Don't look the young lady out of countenance, though, just yet. Dr Ferrier, I think you are the most curious case I have ever met. I am more hopeful since I have had this discussion with you, but I ean't agree with you, all the same, and I wish you were of my way of thinking. 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'"
The poor surgeon's lips trembled with ‚motion as he ventured to whisper this final warning, but Paul Ferrier only smiled.
"Why should it be fearful?" he said gravely. "I have had no quarrel with Him. To me God and Nature mean the same thing. If what you fear as the result of this accident cornes to pass, then kindly mother earth will receive me back again to her bosom, although, as a matter of taste, I would wish very much to be cremated, and I think my father will arrange it so, as a speedier process to restore this cellular tissue to its original elements, also you know what a sanitarian he is. Fifty years hence I hope cremation will be general, as a boon to the living. For the dead it cannot matter."
"But there is a fire unquenchable," said Mr Taylor with visible effort, "and it matters very much to the soul not to be consumed in it for ever."
"How can you believe in such a monstrous absurdity, my friend -- a thing from which the untutored intellect of a Zulu Kaffir revolted when one of your bishops ventured to speak of it. None of them scarcely venture even to hint at it now, That old bogey of superstition will not bear to be brought into the light in this half-emancipated age. You believe in an omnipotent Diety, whose attributes you say are mercy and lovingkindness. He would be worse than the Devil you dread if He could create or tolerate the thing which Mr Mill justly calls 'the Christian's hell.' The more educated men in your Church prefer now to use the word 'Annihilation' instead. When dogmas are found to be untenable they ave given new names to hide their absurdity. The mere skeleton of the bogey will soon only be found in the very lowest strata of religious beliefs. I can see that you are half ashamed of it yourself."
"Yes, Dr Ferrier, I admit I never could fully believe in it, but there it is in the revealed Word."
"There you beg the whole question, doctor. To me, and to those of my way of thinking, there has been no revelation. Your Bible is a book fairly open to criticism, like any other work, and I have carefully studied it. Remove from it many legends and the absurdities called 'miracles' -- for miracles do not happen, and cannot happen -- and let me say, also, remove many objectionable narratives which are decidedly unpleasant reading, then you will have a very interesting book of Hebrew literature and poetry -- and by no means exact or truthful as Jewish history, but often sublime as poetry. There is also its lofty morality; but ethics and morality are not the sole property of any people or system of religion, and they have been largely borrowed from previous systems now extinct. Evolution is a process which has gone on in the religious world as well as in the animal kingdom, The ideal Christ is a creation of many zealous minds, and is evolved from very slight materials, so also is the ideal.character of His suffering mother, of whom we are told so little. You quoted one of Disraeli's epigrams just now. As an emancipated and educated Jew, with high intelligence, he could form a clear opinion of the Christianity to which he gave a nominal adhesion. 'One half the Christian world,' he wrote, 'worships a Jew, the other half a Jewess.' He should have added, in the first case, a 'sublime ideal' -- like the ideal of the Buddhists -- the ideal God-man. You should carefully read Dr Strauss' Life of Christ, with an open mind, doctor, then perhaps you will understand."
"I have neither time nor inclination, Dr Ferrier. Our vicar says the name of Strauss will rot."
"No doubt he and other 'feeble folk' say so, and probably he has never read a line the learned German wrote. In his own country Strauss is held in great honour, and here also by emancipated thinkers. His name will be remembered by thousands as that of one who first enabled them to know the Christ as He was upon earth, and not the 'Christ of the creeds.'"
"Then you do not believe in Christ?"
"I fully believe such a man existed -- as a great natural genius, a zealous teacher, and a good man, who was misunderstood and martyred; but the historical Christ is to me a mystical being, surrounded with fabulous narrative. Take, for instance, the cases you are able to consider best as a medical man, the 'demoniacal miracles.' All the eymptoms, as you and I know well, point clearly to ordinary cases of epilepsy and lunacy. Can you believe that out of two unhappy beings so afflicted, departed, by command of Jesus, legions of speaking devils, who entered, with His permission, into the bodies of swine, whose owners were unjustly deprived of their property? The gospels are tainted throughout with such fables, and therefore, on this and other grounds, ave utterly unreliable as evidence."
Just then came a knock at the door. Tbe surgeon had apparently forgotten all about those neglected patients of his. He started up hurriedly to admit Jem Ritson, the man with the wooden leg, who came to replenish the fire with logs of wood, and to say that two of the men-servants from the manor house, Mr Ferrier's residence, were below waiting for orders. Dr Ferrier looked somewhat anxiously at Jem Ritson's iron-shod timber leg, as he noisily stumped a cross the floor. He already knew tbe man by sight and narne.
"Tell me who cut off your leg, Jem?" he asked. "Does the stump ever trouble you now?"
"Doctor Taylor here cut it off, sir, over ten years ago," said Jem, laying down his bundle of wood on the heartb and coming closer to the bed. "I suppose it was needful," he added; "leastways he said so, but I often think he might 'ave waited a bit. Sometimes I feel as if my old corns was paining me, especially in frosty weather. I hope you won't have to lose your leg, sir, along o' that infernal gin the gamekeeper has been showing me below stairs. He's got 'em both here."
"Why did he set such cruel things?" inquired Paul.
"He didn't set 'em, sir, but he thinks he knows who did -- bad luck to him and them."
"I think the surgeons who are coming here would like to see the one that has crippled me," said Paul, "then I wish them both to be destroyed, lest they should ever be used to injure anyone else."
"They'll want 'em as evidence agin' him," said Jem.
"Against whom? Some poacber, I suppose?"
"No, sir, it isn't poachers, as is mostly blem't for everything that 'appens; but you'd better not worry yourself about the villain just now. He ought to be hung."
"That would do me no good, Jem. If it's anyone I know, you may tell him I forgive him. Probably he didn't set the gin for me. I have no enemies hereabouts."
"I can prove it agin him, sir. I saw him go out of this very house wan night wi' them two cussed things in a sack, and they was covered with leaves in the coppice the gamekeeper says. One night late I heerd him sharpening the teeth of 'em with a file in the kitchen below. Then off he goes to Lunnon to be out of the way -- like a divil's limb of a boy hiding behind a hedge when he has set a snare for a rabbit. I'll swear an alfer-davy agin him, sir, before any magistrate in the county, and convict him of manslaughter -- that's what 'twill corne to at 'sizes."
Paul reflected for a few moments, with his hand to his forehead, as it dawned on him slowly who was the real offender.
"You are to hold your tongue about this, Jem," he said decidedly; "it was an accident, and my own fault. If you promise me solemnly not to speak of what you know unless I give you leave you shall have five pounds. Have you told anyone else?"
"Only the gamekeeper, sir. I'll not tell another mortal man unless you wish me to; but I'd like to hang him, so I would -- hanging's too good for 'im."
"Mr Taylor," said Paul, "you will find some cheques in my pocket-book; please fill up one for five pounds and let me sign it. You are to retain the money for six months, and if our friend here keeps his promise you are then to give it to him, not otherwise. Now, Jem, go down and bring up the gamekeeper."
Paul extracted a similar promise, on like conditions, from the man of velveteen coat and gaiters, then he signed the two cheques and dismissed the men, "There must be no prosecution, Dr Taylor," he said, "and no suggestion made to my father as to who set these gins. I hope neither Mrs Weston nor her daughter will ever hear more of it. Tell me, if what you fear has to be done, shall I have to remain long here afterward?" He pointed sadly to his leg as he spoke.
"Yes, I am afraid so, my poor fellow."
"Then would it not be better that I should be removed home before the
operation? It will give thwse ladies a lot of trouble if I stay."
"No, you must stay here, Dr Ferrier; it would be dangerous now to move you so far in such bad weather. I have sent for two experienced nurses from the Birmingham Hospital, and my assistant is here. "We shall have to move you into the next room, for better light, when my friends come. There will be a consultation, and perhaps a favourable decision. Are you in much pain?"
"Yes, when talking of the mishap, but not so much previously. If those ladies may come in and talk to me, I think I would forget. The telegraphs would be silent for a time. You know we have only male-servants at home, no women at all. That's one of my father's peculiarities; he hates the sex. I am glad he is absent just now. Do you think that young girl has any suspicion as to who caused this?"
"Yes, I do, Dr Ferrier. I believe that is what disturbed her so much, that and pity for you. I think they both know."
"I am sorry for that. Tell them, before they come in, that I bear no malice, and that they are not to allude to the subject. When the man comes back I'll tell him so myself, if I am alive. If I am not, you can tell him for me, but do not tell my father. He would seek to punish him severely."
Taylor left the room, blowing his nose and wiping some tears from his eyes as he did so.
"And that young man calls himself an 'Agnostic'' he said. "He is about the best Christian I ever met. That scoundrel Miles ought decidedly to be hung."
Just then Betsy entered with some beef-tea, which the surgeon tasted.
"You have a good cook, Mrs Weston; that is half the battle in illness," he said. "Take it in, girl, and talk to Dr Ferrier if you like while he drinks it, but not about his mishap; he has been telling me of you and the big monkey, and of how bravely you carried him here."
"I hope, sir, you won't cut off his leg," said Betsy earnestly.
"No, my good girl, not if it can be avoided."
"Then wot for does your young man want our small kitchen table?" inquired the suspicious Betsy. "He's going to shorten the legs of it with a saw, and cook says," here Betsy began to sob, "cook says," she continued, wiping away her tears with her apron, "that it's for to lay him out on while you cut it off, and he such a fine, civil spoken young man, and so good, I can't abear to think of 'im going about wi' a wooden leg like that ode Jem Riston here, as comes clattering in and out of our kitchen every minute to see wot he can pick up, and lost his leg through his own wickedness, and not 'cause o' the wickedness of other folks."
Here poor Betsy wept copiously, and seemed altogether to forget for the moment her special errand.
Ruth, who sat by pale and trembling, with her hands clasped together during this remonstrance, ventured to remind Betsy of the business in hand, and just then Paul's servants came out of his room looking stern and sad. The surgeon whispered to Ruth, "Please to go in with her an' keep her quiet. I want to talk to your mother for a while alone."
Ruth rose quietly and took the basin from the hands of the excited Betsy, who followed her into Paul's room like a sad, faithful dog.
"That's a kind-hearted girl," said Mr Taylor when they were out of hearing. "I was afraid she would upset your daughter again. The table will not be put to the use the cook surmises unless it is absolutely necessary; but when the poor fellow is there, if the decision is unfavourable, we should not have to move him again; then the sooner it is over the better. The two surgeons who are coming by train are the most experienced men I know of, and Mr Clement, whom Dr Ferrier has sent for himself, is the best opinion to be had on such cases out of London. So thank God the decision will be out of my hands, and I can safely face his father if anything happens."
"I hope, sir, nothing serious will happen," said Mrs Weston with emotion. "I feel as distressed about it as if the young man were my own son. Those domestics of his have been telling us how good and kind to everyone and to animals he is. I am sorry to have to tell you the name of the man who has caused this calamity, but it will be known sooner or later. He repented of his cruel device when it was too late; here is a telegram he sent me, but unfortunately we came here a day later than we intended, and so did not receive it in time. I have telegrapbed to my brother-in-law begging him to keep away whilst Dr Ferrier is here; indeed, I think he will be afraid to return for a long time, lest a severe punishment should be legally inflicted on him. He richly deserves it, and be must face it."
"My dear madam there is to be no punishment meted out, much as it is deserved." Then the surgeon told her of his recent conversation on the subject with Paul. "You may write and inform Mr Miles if you like," he said.
"No, Mr Taylor, I shall not inform him; let him at least suffer from the fear of imprisonment or money penalty, which I am afraid would affect him most. Then I think he will stay away for a long period, in the hope that time will soften the feeling of indignation against him which he will no doubt suspect exists. I am deeply grateful to Dr Ferrier for his magnanimous forbearance; there are probably few men in the world who exhibit such Christian kindness. They would think it a duty to society to punish the guilty."
"But, alas, he is not a Christian, Mrs Weston," said the surgeon sadly. "If he should die on our hands just now, and indeed life and death are almost in the balance in his case, what is to becorne of his immortal soul?"
"It will be with the souls of just men made perfect, Mr Taylor."
"What, without belief in the Son of God?" said the surgeon with pious horror.
"Yes; no matter what he believes or does not believe. Men and women, as a rule, believe only as they are taught. If you happened to be brought up, for instance, with Theistic views, you would perhaps think as you say Dr Ferrier does."
"But I am afraid he does not even believe in God."
"It is possible that your ideas as to what is meant by the word are not in accord with Dr Ferrier's; very few peoplc have a distinct idea of what they mean when they glibly use it. Amongst the ancient Hebrews it was forbidden to do so at all. St Paul speaks of God as an all-pervading spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being; an idea almost incomprehensible to us, though it may be true. With people of the class of Betsy here, the idea always takes the mental shape of a large and terrible Being in the likeness of man, seated amidst clouds, as depictcd in the pictures in Bibles, but practically the uneducated classes have a more distinct idea of what is termed 'the Devil,' in whose existence I for one do not believe at all."
"Then you and Dr Ferrier will agree pretty well," said the surgeon rather coldly, as he rose to lake leave.
"I am glad to hear it, sir; then we shall be still more in sympathy. If you had to live, Mr Taylor, as I have had to do, with a so-called literal believer in every word in the Bible, and to hear his crude positive dogmas dinned into your ears whenever he gets the chance, then you would rejoice at the prospect of converse with a rational thinker. Now I am doubly interested in Dr Ferrier's recovery."
In the next room there went on between Dr Ferrier and Ruth and Betsy a much lighter and pleasanter discussion. Paul was anxious that his misfortune should be ignored for the time, and did his best to look cheerful whilst he swallowed the beef-tea, which he commended highly, desiring that his thanks should be conveyed to the careful cook. He was evidently a man who never missed an opportuuity of saying pleasant things to domestics.
"And how does Jocko get on?" he inquired of Betsy.
"Please, sir, he is away travelling with the circus. Tummas Jones sent me a letter to say he was doing well, and had bitten Butty Tubbs again 'cause he teased him. Jocko will soon be back in Birmingham for Christmas, and after that he may come to Dudley. Don't you think, sir, he is a most beautiful monkey?"
"I do, Betsy. He is the handsomest monkey I ever saw, and I have seen lots of them abroad in their wild state amongst their families. Monkeys live in pairs when at home, and the husbands are fond of their wives and children. Some careless fellows I was with once shot a female monkey and brought the dead body into the tent. A whole tribe of mournful monkeys soon appeared, and the poor husband came forward quite fearlessly to the door of the tent and begged by signs for the body of his wife. When it was given to him he carried it away in his arms, and then he and his companions disappeared into the forest, no doubt to bury her. No one ever saw a dead monkey in the woods, so they must all be buried in some way -- perhaps hidden in the branches of lofty trees, out of sight, until they dry up and blow away. The Indian tribes of the Pacific coast do something like that with their dead people. The ways of monkeys and primitive races of men are often alike. The native Australians used to fling their boomerangs at intruders. I have seen a tribe of baboons stop a survey party in South Africa by pelting them with sticks and stones, and good shots they made. A 'signalman' with two wooden legs, who is engaged on a railway in Natal, has trained a large baboon to help him with the levers. I have a photograph of him, and will show it you some day if I ever get about again."
"I believe you have travelled a great deal, Dr Ferrier?" said Ruth.
"Yes, I have travelled a good deal in Africa, because, you see, there is the best chance of seeing aboriginal races of men and tribes of monkeys that are near akin. There are little people called 'Akka' -- no bigger than apes -- who live in gloomy forests, and are more vicious aud dangerous than any apes in existence. I never saw one of them alive, although they have shot their small arrows at me from behind trees, and I have seen their leafy habitations and a few of their skeletons. I am afraid they eat their dead people, which monkeys never do, being vegetarians."
"Oh, how 'orrid!" said Betsy. "Someone threw a dead mouse into Jocko's cage one time, and he was so angry. He would not eat a bit that day, although I tried to coax him wi' things he's fond of."
"I once shot an elephant near the cave of a family of bushmen," said Dr Ferrier. "They lived on the carcase of that animal for four months, fairly eating their way into it. I think Jocko is far more advaneed in the direction of civilisation, and if I had him here -- in case I am an invalid prisoner -- I believe I could make a most useful domestic of him, that is if you would not object to such an addition to your household, Miss Weston."
"No, Dr Ferrier. I hope you will have the opportunity -- I mean," Ruth said, blushing, "that you will stay here until you are quite strong."
"Yes, I have no doubt I shall be better off than I would be over there at home, where there will be no one to talk to. Do you know I am a terrible talker when I get the chance? One can learn so much by asking questions. I once met a celebrated Scotch traveller on a camel's back in the desert. He said, 'Weel, how's a' wi' ye?' and passed on without waiting for an answer. By-and-by he came galloping back to ask if the next day would be a Sunday, because, he said, 'he never travelled on the Sawbath,' and having lost his diary he was in a fix. As I assuved him it would be a Sunday he said he would turn back and camp with me. He explained the 'Longer' and 'Shorter Catechism' to me all next day, and we discussed the question of selection and predestination. That excellent man travelled with me for a month afterward, in the hope of converting me to Calvinism, and I learned all about the queer hair-splitting tenets of the Kirks; but on that first Sunday evening we had to fight for our lives with Bedaween robbers, and if we had been attacked when travelling singly there evidently would not have been a chance for us. He laid about him like Samson with the jawbone of the ass, shoutiug to me all the time, ' Let's fancy 'tis the middle o' the week, laddie, and hew 'em in pieces as Sawmel hewed Agag.' Now, if we had not been both fond of discussion I shouldn't be here and he couldn't have written his travels in safety at home."
"I am glad you did not quarrel with the Scotch gentleman over those tough subjects,"said Ruth ; "people generally do."
"Well, you see, I kept on asking questions, and that pleased him -- it's a habit of mine, and a safe plan. Now I want to ask you a question, Miss Weston, lest I should accidently say something tliat would give offence. May I ask of what persuasion you and your mother are? When I know, then I'll steer clear of knotty points; you will find that religions beliefs affect people's ways of thinking on almost every subject."
"My mother and I are Unitarians," said Ruth; "my father was also, for a time."
"Ah! then you and I will never quarrel about beliefs, and I shall not be afraid to talk to you both freely. That dear old doctor has gone away, I am afraid, with an idea tliat I am in a bad way, bodily and spiritually -- a hopeless case altogether."
"He does not say so, Dr Ferrier. There is to be a consultation here this afternoon, and I hope it will end in the way we all wish for so earnestly, and that you will soon be able to walk again, as -- apart from our interest in you as a sufferer -- there is a sad reason for our deep anxiety."
"Well, we must not talk of that. Do you know I never imagined this old house could be made habitable; this room looks quite cosy, and I like wood fires. If I pull througb I shall tell you about my travels, if you can spare time to come and listen to me -- travellers are always loquacious, you know, and like good listeners, and no doubt we can find some interesting question to discuss. I suppose you have read many books?"
"Yes, Dr Ferrier, I read a great deal, both in English and German. My father taught me German."
"Ah! that is a fortunate thing. I lived some years in Germany. May I ask, Miss Weston, if your father was a chemist? A scientific man of your name corresponded with an old frieud of mine in Liepsic, in such a minute handwriting that I had often to help to decipher the letters."
"Yes, that was no doubt my father; his writing was almost microscopic, but I can read it easily."
Paul held ont his hand to Ruth and said eagerly: "I am so glad to learn this. Now we shall not be like strangers. I knew your father well by reputation."
"I suppose you heard how he lost his life, Dr Ferrier? His death made such a difference to me. I used to be very often with him at his work."
"In the laboratory!"
"Yes, where unhappily he met his death through the carelessness of an assistant.
"Then you know something of the secrets of Nature, Miss Weston?"
"Yes, a little; I remember what he taught me. But he believed we were on the eve of discovering greater secrets than have yet been imagined, secrets of immense value to the human race. My father had an idea that only by scientific knowledge and research could we ever succeed in improving the condition of mankind. No doubt it will not all come to pass in our time, but we must remember what great benefits were suddenly conferred on the race in this age by Jenner's discovery, and hope that similar discoveries will soon follow. My father used to say that the 'Gospel of science would yet be recognised as the only revelation.'''
"Then your father was one of the emancipated. I wish I had known him."
Ruth misunderstood the expression Paul used, and answered gravely: "I think his emancipated spirit is always near me, watching over me, and helping me indirectly. He said it would be so if it were possible; he was not a materialist, as many scientific men are. He believed in the existence of the soul as part of a great pulsating life pervading the universe."
"Why, that is Pantheism, Miss Weston; many wise men have held the same belief. I think St Paul did, now and then, amidst his shifting theories. It is an idea which has the favor of vagueuess, but is attractive. It is difficult to grasp it when one considers that the universe has no limits. We cannot conceive the idea of infinite space, therefore Pantheists should confine themselves to the solar system, which can be measured and mapped out by telescopes. Yet it may be an approximation to the truth. I wonder what sort of speculative creeds the inhabitants of our sister-planets have invented; no doubt they will be largely affected by local conditions. I believe we could easily fly if we lived in some of them. In Saturn I should expect to find a gloomy Calvinism, with the outcasts seated on the edge of tlie ring, ready to fall off into the abyss. In Mars a large proportion of fanatical dissenters, believing in every absurdity, and always quarrelling. In Venus something mild, like the religion of Buddha. In great Jupiter, with his four moons, I think we should discover the home of the advanced thinkers; it is an enlightened planct, with plenty of roorn for large ideas."
"And what is your creed, Dr Ferrier?" said Ruth, smiling at the ironically playful language of the young philosopher, whose eyes flashed brightly as he spoke.
"I have none. I never had one. I don't want one. Creeds are the cords that strangle freedom of thought. My intellect was born free, and never wrapped in swaddling clothes. Intellect I believe to be nervous sensation, which must cease with the decay of the nerve. You would no doubt call intellect 'the soul,' and believe it to be immortal. You evidently inherit some of your father's intellectual qualities, therefore it is easy for you to think in the same grooves as he did. Probably yon fancy he is present in your thonghts, as he hoped or expected to be. I think there may be a grain of truth in the idea."
"And I am certain of it," said Ruth. "Whenever I am perplexed and in doubt as to what it is best to do, I sit down with folded hands and wait for direction from my good angel, who I fancy to be always near me, and I try to think of what my father would wish should be done, surrendering my own will altogether, then my mind is gradually filled with great clearness. I know it is not my own mind that is thinking, but that it is being acted on by the mind of another who is better able to judge of what is right. The 'friends' who are called 'Quakers' have acquired something like this faculty. I have attended meetings of Friends at Warwick, and seen them filled with the unseen spirit."
"And how have you found it work in practice, Miss Weston? Does he always guide you aright."
"I think so, Dr Ferrier. Sometimes, perhaps, I have not correctly stated the difficulty to him, I have not waited patiently for the answer. I will give you an instance of his direction lately received. I was anxious some months ago to go to Dresden for a time, and did not wish to corne here at all, and yet I did not like to leave my mother alone, although she wished me to go. I was perplexed, and sought counsel in my usual way. In the result I am here, and am content; I know it is for the best."
"And I think, Miss Weston, if you had not so dccided, or been, as you imagine, so directed, I should not be here or anywhere else. I should have ceased to be. I was in the border land, and the shadows of death were closing round me, so I have much to thank the good angel for."
Paul raised Ruth's hand, which he had lightly held during the conversation, to his lips and kissed it, then let it fall, and seemed to be absorbed in thought.
I am thinking of putting the wisdom and foreknowledge of this good angel of yours to a severe test, Miss Weston," Paul presently continued, "with your permission of course, not now, but later on, if a case of great difficulty arises. It is almost too much to ask of you, it may try you severely, and if you think you cannot bear it please to consider the request as not made. I ought to have the courage to decide for myself, but I am a deeply interested person, and the flesh is weak. The decision, I am told, may involve a matter of life or death. Your 'good angel' ought to know which will happen in a certain event. Will you question him for me, if I ask you to do so? I shall not ask you if I can avoid it, but I shall abide by the decision of the angel."
"I will ask for you, Dr Ferrier," said Ruth with grave simplicity. "I have never asked before on behalf of anyone, but I think I can put the question as one deeply conceming myself, if what I think it will be is correct."
"Please, Miss Ruth," said Betsy, who finding the conversation beyond lier comprehension, had seated herself at the window and was looking out at the frost-bound country, watching with interest the robins who came to look at her from the adjacent trees in hope of crumbs from one of the new inhabitants, or speculating on the passage of a train on the railway embankment not far off, as it would indicate the arrival of the expected surgeons at the station. "Please, Miss Ruth, there's a post-chaise with four hosses and a postillion welting of 'em wusser than Madame Cerigo welts the hosses in the circus, as has just passed under the railway bridge, and is tearing up here like a fire-injin."
"That is no doubt my friend Surgeon Clement," said Paul. "I knew he would come first. Now I shall soon be delivered into the hands of the Philistines, and you must leave me for a while. You will come again, I hope, if I send for you. Whilst we talked together I have been again free from pain, and it has been very restful to me. That must be my excuse for talking so much."
"I will corne to you, Dr Ferrier, when you send for me," said Ruth in her quiet tone of voice, as a grey-haired gentleman with large brown eyes like her own entered the room and silently took the seat she vacated.
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