Sybil/Book 2/Chapter 10

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In the meantime Gerard and Stephen stopped before a tall, thin, stuccoed house, ballustraded and friezed, very much lighted both within and without, and, from the sounds that issued from it, and the persons who retired and entered, evidently a locality of great resort and bustle. A sign, bearing the title of the Cat and Fiddle, indicated that it was a place of public entertainment, and kept by one who owned the legal name of John Trottman, though that was but a vulgar appellation, lost in his well-earned and far-famed title of Chaffing Jack.

The companions entered the spacious premises; and making their way to the crowded bar, Stephen, with a glance serious but which indicated intimacy, caught the eye of a comely lady, who presided over the mysteries, and said in a low voice, "Is he here?"

"In the Temple, Mr Morley, asking for you and your friend more than once. I think you had better go up. I know he wishes to see you."

Stephen whispered to Gerard and after a moment's pause, he asked the fair president for a couple of tickets for each of which he paid threepence; a sum however, according to the printed declaration of the voucher, convertible into potential liquid refreshments, no great compensation to a very strict member of the Temperance Society of Mowbray.

A handsome staircase with bright brass bannisters led them to an ample landing-place, on which opened a door, now closed and by which sate a boy who collected the tickets of those who would enter it. The portal was of considerable dimensions and of architectural pretension; it was painted of a bright green colour, the panels gilt. Within the pediment, described in letters of flaming gas, you read, "THE TEMPLE OF THE MUSES."

Gerard and Morley entered an apartment very long and sufficiently lofty, though rather narrow for such proportions. The ceiling was even richly decorated; the walls were painted, and by a brush of considerable power. Each panel represented some well-known scene from Shakespeare, Byron, or Scott: King Richard, Mazeppa, the Lady of the Lake were easily recognized: in one panel, Hubert menaced Arthur; here Haidee rescued Juan; and there Jeanie Deans curtsied before the Queen. The room was very full; some three or four hundred persons were seated in different groups at different tables, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and even smoking, for notwithstanding the pictures and the gilding it was found impossible to forbid, though there were efforts to discourage, this practice, in the Temple of the Muses. Nothing however could be more decorous than the general conduct of the company, though they consisted principally of factory people. The waiters flew about with as much agility as if they were serving nobles. In general the noise was great, though not disagreeable; sometimes a bell rang and there was comparative silence, while a curtain drew up at the further end of the room, opposite to the entrance, and where there was a theatre, the stage raised at a due elevation, and adorned with side scenes from which issued a lady in a fancy dress who sang a favourite ballad; or a gentleman elaborately habited in a farmer's costume of the old comedy, a bob-wig, silver buttons and buckles, and blue stockings, and who favoured the company with that melancholy effusion called a comic song. Some nights there was music on the stage; a young lady in a white robe with a golden harp, and attended by a gentleman in black mustachios. This was when the principal harpiste of the King of Saxony and his first fiddler happened to be passing through Mowbray, merely by accident, or on a tour of pleasure and instruction, to witness the famous scenes of British industry. Otherwise the audience of the Cat and Fiddle, we mean the Temple of the Muses, were fain to be content with four Bohemian brothers, or an equal number of Swiss sisters. The most popular amusements however were the "Thespian recitations:" by amateurs, or novices who wished to become professional. They tried their metal on an audience which could be critical.

A sharp waiter, with a keen eye on the entering guests, immediately saluted Gerard and his friend, with profuse offers of hospitality: insisting that they wanted much refreshment; that they were both very hungry and very thirsty: that, if not hungry, they should order something to drink that would give them an appetite: if not inclined to quaff, something to eat that would make them athirst. In the midst of these embarrassing attentions, he was pushed aside by his master with, "There, go; hands wanted at the upper end; two American gentlemen from Lowell singing out for Sherry Cobler; don't know what it is; give them our bar mixture; if they complain, say it's the Mowbray slap-bang, and no mistake. Must have a name, Mr Morley; name's everything; made the fortune of the Temple: if I had called it the Saloon, it never would have filled, and perhaps the magistrates never have granted a licence."

The speaker was a very portly man who had passed the maturity of manhood, but active as Harlequin. He had a well-favoured countenance; fair, good-humoured, but very sly. He was dressed like the head butler of the London Tavern, and was particular as to his white waistcoats and black silk stockings, punctilious as to his knee-buckles, proud of his diamond pin; that is to say when he officiated at the Temple.

"Your mistress told us we should find you here," said Stephen, "and that you wished to see us.

"Plenty to tell you," said their host putting his finger to his nose. "If information is wanted in this part of the world, I flatter myself—Come, Master Gerard, here's a table; what shall I call for? glass of the Mowbray slap-bang? No better; the receipt has been in our family these fifty years. Mr Morley I know won't join us. Did you say a cup of tea, Mr Morley? Water, only water; well, that's strange. Boy alive there, do you hear me call? Water wanted, glass of water for the Secretary of the Mowbray Temperance and Teatotal. Sing it out. I like titled company. Brush!"

"And so you can give us some information about this—"

"Be back directly." exclaimed their host: and darting off with a swift precision, that carried him through a labyrinth of tables without the slightest inconvenience to their occupiers. "Beg pardon, Mr Morley," he said, sliding again into his chair; "but saw one of the American gentlemen brandishing his bowie-knife against one of my waiters; called him Colonel; quieted him directly; a man of his rank brawling with a help; oh! no; not to be thought of; no squabbling here; licence in danger."

"You were saying—" resumed Morley.

"Ah! yes, about that man Hatton; remember him perfectly well; a matter of twenty or it may be nineteen years since he bolted. Queer fellow; lived upon nothing; only drank water; no temperance and teetotal then, so no excuse. Beg pardon, Mr Morley; no offence I hope; can't bear whims; but respectable societies, if they don't drink, they make speeches, hire your rooms, leads to business."

"And this Hatton—" said Gerard.

"Ah! a queer fellow; lent him a one-pound note—never saw it again—always remember it—last one-pound note I had. He offered me an old book instead; not in my way; took a china jar for my wife. He kept a curiosity shop; always prowling about the country, picking up old books and hunting after old monuments; called himself an antiquarian; queer fellow, that Hatton."

"And you have heard of him since?" said Gerard rather impatiently.

"Not a word," said their host; "never knew any one who had."

"I thought you had something to tell us about him," said Stephen.

"So I have; I can put you in the way of getting hold of him and anything else. I havn't lived in Mowbray man and boy for fifty years; seen it a village, and now a great town full of first-rate institutions and establishments like this," added their host surveying the Temple with a glance of admiring complacency; "I say I havn't lived here all this time and talked to the people for nothing."

"Well, we are all attention," said Gerard with a smile.

"Hush!" said their host as a bell sounded, and he jumped up. "Now ladies, now gentlemen, if you please; silence if you please for a song from a Polish lady. The Signora sings English like a new-born babe;" and the curtain drew up amid the hushed voices of the company and the restrained clatter of their knives and forks and glasses.

The Polish lady sang "Cherry Ripe" to the infinite satisfaction of her audience. Young Mowbray indeed, in the shape of Dandy Mick and some of his followers and admirers, insisted on an encore. The lady as she retired curtseyed like a Prima Donna; but the host continued on his legs for some time, throwing open his coat and bowing to his guests, who expressed by their applause how much they approved his enterprise. At length he resumed his seat; "It's almost too much." he exclaimed; "the enthusiasm of these people. I believe they look upon me as a father."

"And you think you have some clue to this Hatton?" resumed Stephen.

"They say he has no relations," said their host.

"I have heard as much."

"Another glass of the bar mixture, Master Gerard. What did we call it? Oh! the bricks and beans—the Mowbray bricks and beans; known by that name in the time of my grandfather. No more! No use asking Mr Morley I know. Water! well, I must say—and yet, in an official capacity, drinking water is not so unnatural."

"And Hatton." said Gerard; "they say he has no relations, eh?"

"They do, and they say wrong. He has a relation; he has a brother; and I can put you in the way of finding him."

"Well, that looks like business," said Gerard; "and where may he be?"

"Not here," said their host; "he never put his foot in the Temple to my knowledge; and lives in a place where they have as much idea of popular institutions as any Turks or heathen you ever heard of."

"And where might we find him?" said Stephen.

"What's that?" said their host jumping up and looking around him. "Here boys, brush about. The American gentleman is a whittling his name on that new mahogany table. Take him the printed list of rules, stuck up in a public place, under a great coat, and fine him five shillings for damaging the furniture. If he resists (he has paid for his liquor), call in the police; X. Z. No. 5 is in the bar, taking tea with your mistress. Now brush."

"And this place is—"

"In the land of mines and minerals," said their host; "about ten miles from —-. He works in metals on his own account. You have heard of a place called Hell-house Yard; well, he lives there; and his name is Simon."

"And does he keep up any communication with his brother, think you?" said Gerard.

"Nay, I know no more; at least at present," said their host. "The secretary asked me about a person absent without leave for twenty years and who was said to have no relations, I found you one and a very near one. You are at the station and you have got your ticket. The American gentleman's wiolent. Here's the police. I must take a high tone." And with these words Chaffing Jack quitted them.

In the meantime, we must not forget Dandy Mick and his two young friends whom he had so generously offered to treat to the Temple.

"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Caroline of Harriet in a whisper as they entered the splendid apartment.

"It's just what I thought the Queen lived in," said Harriet; "but indeed I'm all of a flutter."

"Well, don't look as if you were," said her friend.

"Come along gals," said Mick; "who's afraid? Here, we'll sit down at this table. Now, what shall we have? Here waiter; I say waiter!"

"Yes, sir, yes, sir."

"Well, why don't you come when I call," said Mick with a consequential air. "I have been hallooing these ten minutes. Couple of glasses of bar mixture for these ladies and go of gin for myself. And I say waiter, stop, stop, don't be in such a deuced hurry; do you think folks can drink without eating;—sausages for three; and damme, take care they are not burnt."

"Yes, sir, directly, directly."

"That's the way to talk to these fellows," said Mick with a self-satisfied air, and perfectly repaid by the admiring gaze of his companions.

"It's pretty Miss Harriet," said Mick looking up at the ceiling with a careless nil admirari glance.

"Oh! it is beautiful," said Harriet.

"You never were here before; it's the only place. That's the Lady of the Lake," he added, pointing to a picture; "I've seen her at the Circus, with real water."

The hissing sausages crowning a pile of mashed potatoes were placed before them; the delicate rummers of the Mowbray slap-bang, for the girls; the more masculine pewter measure for their friend.

"Are the plates very hot?" said Mick;

"Very sir."

"Hot plates half the battle," said Mick.

"Now, Caroline; here, Miss Harriet; don't take away your plate, wait for the mash; they mash their taters here very elegant."

It was a very happy and very merry party. Mick delighted to help his guests, and to drink their healths.

"Well," said he when the waiter had cleared away their plates, and left them to their less substantial luxuries. "Well," said Mick, sipping a renewed glass of gin twist and leaning back in his chair, "say what they please, there's nothing like life."

"At the Traffords'," said Caroline, "the greatest fun we ever had was a singing class."

"I pity them poor devils in the country," said Mick; "we got some of them at Collinson's—come from Suffolk they say; what they call hagricultural labourers, a very queer lot, indeed."

"Ah! them's the himmigrants," said Caroline; "they're sold out of slavery, and sent down by Pickford's van into the labour market to bring down our wages."

"We'll teach them a trick or two before they do that," urged Mick. "Where are you, Miss Harriet?"

"I'm at Wiggins and Webster's, sir."

"Where they clean machinery during meal-time; that won't do," said Mick. "I see one of your partners coming in," said Mick, making many signals to a person who very soon joined them. "Well, Devilsdust, how are you?"

This was the familiar appellation of a young gentleman, who really had no other, baptismal or patrimonial. About a fortnight after his mother had introduced him into the world, she returned to her factory and put her infant out to nurse, that is to say, paid threepence a week to an old woman who takes charge of these new-born babes for the day, and gives them back at night to their mothers as they hurriedly return from the scene of their labour to the dungeon or the den, which is still by courtesy called "home." The expense is not great: laudanum and treacle, administered in the shape of some popular elixir, affords these innocents a brief taste of the sweets of existence, and keeping them quiet, prepares them for the silence of their impending grave. Infanticide is practised as extensively and as legally in England, as it is on the banks of the Ganges; a circumstance which apparently has not yet engaged the attention of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. But the vital principle is an impulse from an immortal artist, and sometimes baffles, even in its tenderest phasis, the machinations of society for its extinction. There are infants that will defy even starvation and poison, unnatural mothers and demon nurses. Such was the nameless one of whom we speak. We cannot say he thrived; but he would not die. So at two years of age, his mother being lost sight of, and the weekly payment having ceased, he was sent out in the street to "play," in order to be run over. Even this expedient failed. The youngest and the feeblest of the band of victims, Juggernaut spared him to Moloch. All his companions were disposed of. Three months' "play" in the streets got rid of this tender company,—shoeless, half-naked, and uncombed,—whose age varied from two to five years. Some were crushed, some were lost, some caught cold and fevers, crept back to their garret or their cellars, were dosed with Godfrey's cordial, and died in peace. The nameless one would not disappear. He always got out of the way of the carts and horses, and never lost his own. They gave him no food: he foraged for himself, and shared with the dogs the garbage of the streets. But still he lived; stunted and pale, he defied even the fatal fever which was the only habitant of his cellar that never quitted it. And slumbering at night on a bed of mouldering straw, his only protection against the plashy surface of his den, with a dungheap at his head and a cesspool at his feet, he still clung to the only roof which shielded him from the tempest.

At length when the nameless one had completed his fifth year, the pest which never quitted the nest of cellars of which he was a citizen, raged in the quarter with such intensity, that the extinction of its swarming population was menaced. The haunt of this child was peculiarly visited. All the children gradually sickened except himself; and one night when he returned home he found the old woman herself dead, and surrounded only by corpses. The child before this had slept on the same bed of straw with a corpse, but then there were also breathing beings for his companions. A night passed only with corpses seemed to him in itself a kind of death. He stole out of the cellar, quitted the quarter of pestilence, and after much wandering laid down near the door of a factory. Fortune had guided him. Soon after break of day, he was woke by the sound of the factory bell, and found assembled a crowd of men, women, and children. The door opened, they entered, the child accompanied them. The roll was called; his unauthorized appearance noticed; he was questioned; his acuteness excited attention. A child was wanted in the Wadding Hole, a place for the manufacture of waste and damaged cotton, the refuse of the mills, which is here worked up into counterpanes and coverlids. The nameless one was prefered to the vacant post, received even a salary, more than that, a name; for as he had none, he was christened on the spot— DEVILSDUST.

Devilsdust had entered life so early that at seventeen he combined the experience of manhood with the divine energy of youth. He was a first-rate workman and received high wages; he had availed himself of the advantages of the factory school; he soon learnt to read and write with facility, and at the moment of our history, was the leading spirit of the Shoddy-Court Literary and Scientific Institute. His great friend, his only intimate, was Dandy Mick. The apparent contrariety of their qualities and structure perhaps led to this. It is indeed the most assured basis of friendship. Devilsdust was dark and melancholy; ambitious and discontented; full of thought, and with powers of patience and perseverance that alone amounted to genius. Mick was as brilliant as his complexion; gay, irritable, evanescent, and unstable. Mick enjoyed life; his friend only endured it; yet Mick was always complaining of the lowness of his wages and the greatness of his toil; while Devilsdust never murmured, but read and pondered on the rights of labour, and sighed to vindicate his order.

"I have some thoughts of joining the Total Abstinence," said Devilsdust; "ever since I read Stephen Morley's address it has been in my mind. We shall never get our rights till we leave off consuming exciseable articles; and the best thing to begin with is liquors."

"Well, I could do without liquors myself," said Caroline. "If I was a lady, I would never drink anything except fresh milk from the cow."

"Tea for my money," said Harriet; "I must say there's nothing I grudge for good tea. Now I keep house, I mean always to drink the best."

"Well, you have not yet taken the pledge, Dusty," said Mick: "and so suppose we order a go of gin and talk this matter of temperance over."

Devilsdust was manageable in little things, especially by Mick; he acceded, and seated himself at their table.

"I suppose you have heard this last dodge of Shuffle and Screw, Dusty," said Mick.

"What's that?"

"Every man had his key given him this evening—half-a-crown a week round deducted from wages for rent. Jim Plastow told them he lodged with his father and didn't want a house; upon which they said he must let it."

"Their day will come," said Devilsdust, thoughtfully. "I really think that those Shuffle and Screws are worse even than Truck and Trett. You knew where you were with those fellows; it was five-and-twenty per cent, off wages and very bad stuff for your money. But as for Shuffle and Screw, what with their fines and their keys, a man never knows what he has to spend. Come," he added filling his glass, "let's have a toast— Confusion to Capital."

"That's your sort," said Mick. "Come, Caroline; drink to your partner's toast, Miss Harriet. Money's the root of all evil, which nobody can deny. We'll have the rights of labour yet; the ten-hour bill, no fines, and no individuals admitted to any work who have not completed their sixteenth year."

"No, fifteen," said Caroline eagerly.

"The people won't bear their grievances much longer," said Devilsdust.

"I think one of the greatest grievances the people have," said Caroline, "is the beaks serving notice on Chaffing Jack to shut up the Temple on Sunday nights."

"It is infamous," said Mick; "aynt we to have no recreation? One might as well live in Suffolk, where the immigrants come from, and where they are obliged to burn ricks to pass the time."

"As for the rights of labour," said Harriet, "the people goes for nothing with this machinery."

"And you have opened your mouth to say a very sensible thing Miss Harriet," said Mick; "but if I were Lord Paramount for eight-and-forty hours, I'd soon settle that question. Wouldn't I fire a broadside into their 'double deckers?' The battle of Navarino at Mowbray fair with fourteen squibs from the admiral's ship going off at the same time, should be nothing to it."

"Labour may be weak, but Capital is weaker," said Devilsdust. "Their capital is all paper."

"I tell you what," said Mick, with a knowing look, and in a lowered tone, "The only thing, my hearties, that can save this here nation, is—a—good strike."