Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 15

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Now look straight for'ard," said Mr. Welsh, "and distinguish. You call this affair of yours and the book—a revelation. There are revelations, my friend, that may be written with a capital R, and others that have to begin with a small cap."

Mr. Welsh was not particular about the English he spoke, but he wrote it well, at least passably.

"The sort of revelation that suits me, one with a capital R, is that at which a shorthand reporter assists. That's the sort of revelation we get in the courts—that is, as the French say, controlé. But on the other hand comes your hole-and-corner revelation, which has more given it than is its due when written with a little r. No reporter, no public present, totally uncontrolled; that sort of revelation is no use to me. I don't mean to say but that sort of thing may go down at revivals, but for the press it is no good at all."

"Am I likely to have imagined it? What should have put the thought of 'The Gilded Clique' into my head?" asked Saltren angrily. "I tell you I believe in this revelation as I believe that I see you before me."

"Gilded Clique!" repeated Welsh, "I can't say, but Gaboriau's criminal novel may have fallen under your eyes."

"What is that?"

"A French novel with that title. It has been translated."

"Now see!" exclaimed Captain Saltren, kindling, springing up, and waving his arms, "I never have set eyes on such a book, never heard of it before. But nothing that you could have said would have confirmed me in my conviction more than this. It shows that the devil is active, and that to draw away attention from, and to weaken the force of my revelation, he has caused a book to be circulated under the same name. I should not be surprised if you told me it had a blood-red cover."

"It has one."

"There!" cried Saltren, "now nothing will ever shake my faith. When the devil strives to defeat the purposes of Heaven, it is because he fears those purposes. My solemn and sincere conviction is——" He lowered his voice, but though low it shook with emotion. "My belief is that the book I saw was the Everlasting Gospel. John saw an angel flying in heaven having that book in his right hand, but it was not then communicated to man. The time was not ripe. Now, at last, towards the end of the ages, that book has been cast down, and its purport disclosed."

"You didn't happen to see the angel?" asked Welsh sneeringly.

"I—I am not sure, I saw something. Indeed, there no doubt was an angel flying, but my eyes were blinded with the extraordinary light, and my mind has not yet sufficiently recovered for me to recollect all the particulars of the vision. But this I can tell you, for I know it. Although I did not get hold of the book, its contents are written in fire in my brain. That book of the Everlasting Gospel declares that the age of privilege is at an end, the distinctions between rich and poor, noble and common, are at an end. This has been hidden from the world, because the world was not ready to receive it. Now the time is come, and I am the humble instrument chosen for announcing these good tidings to men. I care not if, like Samson, I be crushed as I take hold of the pillars, and bow myself, and bring the House of Lords down."

"Well," said Welsh, "if you can work that line in the chapel, well and good. I keep to my province, and that is the manganese. Why, Condy's fluid, I fancy, is permanganate of potash—I can lug that in somehow."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Saltren, who was becoming impatient at having been left out of the conversation, "at the park they thought a deal about Condy's fluid."

"I can manage it in this way," said her brother, rubbing his hands. "That disinfectant has manganese as a constituent. His lordship, by stopping the manganese mine, cuts off a source of health, a deodorising and disinfecting stream from entering the homes of sickness, and the haunts of fever. Who can say how many lives may be sacrificed by the stopping of Wheal Julia? I'll bring in Condy's fluid with effect. What else is manganese used for?"

"Bleaching, I believe," said Mrs. Saltren.

"Ah!" said Mr. Welsh, "that can be worked in also, and I'll pull old Isabelle of Castile in by the ears as well. She vowed she would not change her smock till a certain city she was besieging had capitulated, and as that city held out three months, judge the colour of her linen. We are all, I presume, to wear Isabelle shirts—or rather cuffs and collars—and use Isabelle sheets and towels, and eat off Isabelle tablecloths, and the ministers of the Established Church to preach in Isabelle surplices, because, forsooth, the supply of manganese is withheld wherewith to whiten them."

"Well, it does seem wrong," said Mrs. Saltren.

"And then," continued her brother, kindling with professional enthusiasm, "after that divorce case, too, when the noble lords and ladies washed their dirty linen in public. You can figure how it will all work out. Here is my Lord Lamerton knows that the titled aristocracy have so much dirty linen at home, that he is determined to prevent the British public from wearing bleached linen at all, lest they should perceive the difference. There is nothing," continued Welsh, with a chuckle, "nothing so convenient for one's purpose as well mixing one's hyperboles and analogies, and drawing just any conclusions you like out of premises well muddled up with similitudes. We know very well, my dear Marianne, that the bread we buy of the bakers is composed of some flour, and some alum, and some plaster-of-paris, and some china-clay, but we don't stop to analyse it at our breakfast; we cut ourselves a slice, butter it, and pop it into our mouths, and like it a thousand times better than home-made bread made of pure, unadulterated flour. It is just the same with political articles and political speeches. There's a lot of stuff of all sorts goes into them besides the flour of pure reason. And the British public don't analyse, they swallow. What they consume they expect to be light and to taste agreeably—they don't care a farthing what it is made up of."

Mr. Welsh took out his pocket-book, and dotted down his ideas. "Of course," said he, talking and laughing to himself, "we must touch this off with a light hand in a semi-jocose, and semi-serious manner. There are some folks who never see a joke, or rather they always see it as something grave. They are like earth-worms—all swallow."

Mr. Welsh put up his knee, interlaced his fingers round it, and began to swing his knee on a level with his chest.

"If you want to rouse the British public," he said, "you must tickle them. You can't do much with their heads, but their feelings are easily roused. Heads!—why there was no getting wisdom out of the head of Jupiter, till it was clove with an axe, and you would not have the skull of the British public more yielding than that of the king of the gods." He put down his leg that he had been hugging. "My dear sister," he went on, "I know the British public, it is my business to study it and treat it. I know its moods, and it is one of the most docile of creatures to drive. There is one thing it loves above anything, and that is a sore. Do you remember how Aunt Susan had a bad leg, and how she went on about that leg, the pride she took in it, the medicines she swallowed for it, and how she hated Betsy Tucker because she also had a bad leg, and how she contended that hers was the worst, the most inflamed, and caused her most pain? It is so with the public. It must have its sore; and show it, and discuss it, and apply to it quack plasters, and drink for it quack draughts. What would the doctors do but for the Aunt Susans and Betsy Tuckers—their fortunes stand on these old women's legs. So is it with us—we live by the bad legs of the nation. The public, in its heart of hearts, don't want those precious legs to be healed—certainly not to be taken off. What we have to do is to keep the sores angry with caustic, and poked with needles. And that is just why I want this manganese now, to rub it into the legs of the public and wake the sores up into irritation once more."

Then Welsh began to whistle between his front teeth and swing his foot again.

"The public," he continued, "are like Job on a dunghill, rubbing its sores. The public has no desire to have the dunghill removed; it rather likes the warmth. When it nods off into a nap then we stick the prongs of the fork into it, and up it starts excited and angry, and we turn the heap over under its nose, and then it settles down into it again deeper than before."

"I confess I do not know much about the public," said Mrs Saltren, resolved to have a word; "but when you come to the aristocracy, why then you are on my ground."

"On your ground," laughed Welsh, "because you were lady's maid at the Park; that is like the land surveyor claiming a property because he has walked over it with a chain."

"At all events the surveyor knows it," said Mrs. Saltren, with some spirit, "perhaps better than does the owner."

"I admit that you have me there," laughed her brother.

"And," said Mrs. Saltren, "it is pounds on pounds I might have earned by sending information about high life to the society papers; but I was above doing that sort of thing; besides, the society papers were not published at that time. Sometimes there were as many as a dozen or fourteen lady's-maids and as many valets staying in the house with their masters and mistresses, and they were full of the most interesting information and bursting to reveal it, like moist sugar in a paper-bag."

"I'll tell you what it is," said Welsh, "servantdom is becoming a power in the country, just as the press has become. There is no knowing nowadays where to look for the seat of power; it is at the other extremity from the head. In old times the serfs and slaves were not of account at all, and now their direct representatives hold the characters and happiness of the best in the land in their hands. The country may have at one time been directed by its head; it is not so now, like a fish, it is directed and propelled by its tail. The servant class at one time was despised, now it is feared; it mounts on its two wings, the divorce court and the society press. What opportunities it now has of paying off old grudges, of pushing itself into notoriety, of earning a little money. This is the age of the utilisation of refuse. We find an employment for what our forefathers, nay, our fathers, cast aside. The rummage of copper mines is now burnt for arsenic, the scum of coal-tar makes aniline dyes, and I hear they are talking of the conversion of dirty rags by means of vitriol into lump sugar. It is so in social and political life—we are using up our refuse, we invest it with preponderating political influence, we chuck it into the House of Commons, and right it should be so; give every thing a chance, and in an age of transformation we must turn up our social deposits. If it were not so, life would be a donkey-race with the prize for the last."

"When I was companion to her ladyship," began Mrs. Saltren, but was cut short by her brother—

"I beg your pardon, Marianne, when was that? I only knew you as lady's maid."

"I was more than that," said Mrs. Saltren flushing.

"Oh, of course, lady without the maid."

"I might, I daresay, have been my lady, and have kept my maid," said Mrs. Saltren, tossing her head, "so there is no point in your sneers, James. You may be a gentleman, but I am a captain's wife, and might have been more."

"Oh, indeed, and how came you not to be more?"

"Because I did not choose."

"In fact," said Welsh, "you thought you were in for a donkey-race. By George, you have got the prize!"

"You are really too bad," exclaimed Mrs. Saltren, vexed and angry; "I could tell you things that would surprise you. You think nothing of me because I am not rich or grand, and have to do the house work in my home; but I have been much considered in my day, and admired, and sought. And I have had my wrongs, which I thought to have carried with me to my grave, but as you choose to insult me, your sister, with saying I came in last at a donkey-race, I will tell you that properly I ought to have come in first."

"And I," said Saltren, standing up, "I insist on your speaking out." He had remained silent for some time, offended at his brother-in-law's incredulity, and not particularly interested in what he was saying, which seemed to him trifling.

"Let us hear," said Welsh, with a curl of his lips. He had no great respect for his sister. "You must let me observe in passing that just now you did not come in first because you wouldn't, and now, apparently, it is because you weren't allowed."

"I have no wish," said Marianne Welsh, not noticing the sneer, "to make mischief, but truth is truth."

"Truth," interposed Welsh, who had the family infirmity of loving to hear his own voice, "truth when naked is unpresentable. The public are squeamish, and turn aside from it as improper; here we step in and frizzle, paint and clothe her, and so introduce her to the public."

"If you interrupt me, how am I to go on?" asked Mrs. Saltren, testily. "I was going to say, when you interrupted with your coarse remarks, that at one time I was a great beauty, and I don't suppose I've quite lost my good looks yet; and I was then very much sought."

"And what is more," said Welsh, "to the best of my remembrance you were not like a slug in a flower-bed, that when sought digs under ground."

"I tell you," continued Mrs. Saltren, with heightened colour, "that I have been sought by some of the noblest in the land."

Welsh looked out of the corners of his eyes at his sister, and said nothing.

"I was cruelly deceived. A great nobleman whom I will not name—"

"Whose title is in abeyance," threw in Welsh.

"Whom I will not name, but might do so if I chose, obtained a licence for a private marriage, and a minister to perform the ceremony, and there were witnesses—the nuptials took place. Not till several days after did I discover that I had been basely deceived. The licence was forged, the minister was a friend of the bridegroom disguised as a parson, and not in holy orders, and the witnesses were sworn to secrecy."

"That is your revelation, is it?" asked James Welsh. "I write it with a small cap, and in pica print."

"It is truth."

"The truth dressed, of course, and not in tailor-made clothes. I dress the truth myself, but—let me see, never allow of so much margin for improvers."

Then Welsh stood up.

"I must be off, Marianne, if I am to catch the train. Saltren, keep the manganese in agitation; I will be with you and set your meeting going. Marianne, I can make no more of your revelation than I can of that disclosed by your husband. Facts, my dear sister, in my business are like the wax figures in Mrs. Jarley's show. They are to be dressed in the livery of our political colours, and it is wonderful what service they will do thus; but, Marianne, you can't make the livery stand by itself, there must be facts underneath, it matters not of what a wooden and skeleton nature, they hold up the garments. I can't say that I see in what you have told me any supporting facts at all, only a bundle of tumbled, theatrical, romantic rubbish."