20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 428 Volume 17, New Series, March 13, 1852
Produced by Malcolm Farmer, Richard J. Shiffer and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team.









CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL

CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S
INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.


NO. 428. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MARCH 13, 1852. PRICE 1˝ _d._




THE DINNER-BELL.


In one of Webster's magnificent speeches, he remarks that so vast are
the possessions of England, that her morning drum-beat, following the
sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth daily with one
continuous and unbroken strain of its martial airs. There is another
musical sound, within the British islands themselves, which does not as
yet quite traverse the whole horary circle, but bids fair to do so in
the course of time, and to this we would direct the attention of the
American secretary, as a fitting subject for a new peroration. We allude
to the Dinner-bell. At noon, in the rural districts of England, this
charming sound is heard tinkling melodiously from farm or village
factory; at one, in the more crowded haunts of industry, the strain is
taken up ere it dies; and by the time it reaches Scotland, a full hungry
peal swells forth at two. At three till past four there is a continuous
ring from house to house of the small country gentry; and at five this
becomes more distinct and sonorous in the towns, increasing in
importance till six. From that time till seven and half-past, it waxes
more and more fashionable in the tone, till at eight it stops abruptly:
not like an air brought to a conclusion, but like one broken off
accidentally, to be by and by resumed.

The dinner hours of the labouring-class are no doubt regulated according
to business, and perhaps receive some modification from national
character. An Englishman, for instance, is said to work best after his
meal, and accordingly his dinner makes its appearance sometimes as early
as noon, but never later than one; while a Scotchman, who is fit for
anything when half-starved, is very properly kept without solid food
till two o'clock. As for the smaller gentry, who scorn to dine at
workmen's hours, and yet do not pretend to the abnegation of the great,
they may follow their own fancy without doing any harm to others; but
the case is different as regards the hours assigned to _dinner-parties_,
for these affect the health and comfort of the whole body of the gentry
together.

We are no enemy to dinner-parties; on the contrary, we think we have not
enough of them, and we never shall have enough, till some change takes
place in their constitution. We are a small gentleman ourselves, who
dine at the modest hour of four, and what is the use to us of a six or
seven o'clock invitation? We accept it, of course, being socially
disposed, and being, moreover, philosopher enough to see that such
meetings are good for men in society: but so far as the meal itself
goes, it is to us either useless or disagreeable. If we have dined
already, we do not want another dinner; and if we have not dined, our
appetite is lost from sheer want. It is vain to say, Let us all dine
habitually at six--seven--eight o'clock. Few of us will--few of us
can--none of us ought. Nature demands a solid meal at a much earlier
hour; and true refinement suggests that the object of the evening
reunion should not be the satisfaction of the day's hunger. Only half of
this fact is seen by the classes who give the law to fashion, and that
half consists of the grosser and coarser necessity. They have already,
more especially at their country seats, taken to the tiffin of the East,
and at a reasonable hour make a regular dinner of hot meats, and all the
usual accessories, under the name of lunch. So complete is this meal,
that the ladies, led away no doubt by association, meet some hours
afterwards in mysterious conclave, to drink what our ancestors called 'a
dish of tea;' and having thus diluted the juices of their stomachs for
the reception of another supply of heavy food, they descend to dinner!

The evening dinner is, therefore, a mere show-dinner, or something
worse. But it is still more objectionable on the score of taste than on
the score of health. We find no fault with the elegances of the table,
in plate, crystal, china, and so forth; but an English dinner is not an
elegant meal. The guests are supposed, by a _polite_ fiction, to have
the hunger of the whole day to satisfy, and provision is made
accordingly. Varieties of soup, fish, flesh, fowl, game, rich-made
dishes, load the board spread for a group of well-dressed men and women,
known to have already dined, and who would affect to shudder at so heavy
a meal, if it was termed supper. There is a grossness in this
arrangement which is strangely at variance with the real advancement of
the age in refinement; but it has likewise a paralysing effect both upon
the freedom and delicacy of social intercourse. These show-dinners are
too costly to be numerous. Even a comparatively wealthy man is compelled
to look closely to the number of his entertainments. He scrutinises the
claims of his acquaintance; he keeps a debtor and creditor account of
dinners with them; and if now and then he invites a guest for the sake
of his social qualities, he sets him down in the bill of cost. This does
away with all the finer social feelings which it should be the province
of such meetings to foster and gratify, and adds a tone of moral
vulgarity to the material vulgarity of the repast.

Is it impossible to bring about a reform in this important matter?
Difficult, not impossible. Dinner-giving is not an integral part of the
monarchy, and it might therefore be touched--if not too rudely--without
a political revolution. The grand obstacle would be the unsettled
claims. A has given B a show-dinner, and it is the duty of B to return
it. Invitation for invitation is the law of the game. How, then, stands
the account? Would it be necessary to institute a dinner-insolvency
court, where all defaulters might take the benefit of the act? We think
not. No creditor in his senses would refuse a handsome composition; and
if it could be shewn--as it might in the present case--that the
composition was in real, though not ostensible value, equivalent to the
debt, hesitation would vanish. Before proceeding to shew this, we shall
present what may be called the common-sense statement of the whole
case:--

Mankind in their natural state dine at noon, or at least in the middle
of the working-day. It is the middle meal of the day--the central of
three. In our artificial system of society, it has been postponed to a
late hour of the afternoon, so as either to become the second of two
meals, or, where lunch is taken, the third of three. The change is not
consistent with hygienic principle; for, if lunch be not taken, the
interval between breakfast and dinner is too great, and in that case
hunger tempts to make the meal too heavy for the exhausted powers of the
stomach: if, on the contrary, lunch be taken, dinner becomes an
absurdity, as in that case a meal so elaborate and heavy is not
required, and cannot healthfully be partaken of at so late an hour.
Nevertheless, in a plan of life which devotes the eight or nine hours
after breakfast either to business or to out-door amusements, it is
needless to think of reviving the old meridian dinner for any but ladies
and other stay-at-home people; nor even for them, seeing that they must
be mainly determined in their arrangements by those leading members of
the family who have to spend that part of the day away from home.

There is a need for some reform which would at once accommodate the
busy, and save the multitude from the disadvantages of heavy
six-and-seven-o'clock dinners. This might be effected by arranging for
only a supper at six or seven o'clock--that is, some lighter meal than
dinner--leaving every one to take such a lunch in the middle of the day
as he could find an opportunity of eating. Let this supper be the meal
of family reunions--the meal of society. Composed of a few light
tasteful dishes, accompanied by other indulgences, according to taste or
inclination, and followed by coffee, it would be a cheerful and not
necessarily unhealthful affair. As a meal to which to invite friends,
being cheaper, it would allow of more society being indulged in than is
compatible with the monstrous presentments of meat and drink which
constitute the modern company dinner. It would be practically a revival
of those nice supper-parties which our grandfathers indulged in after
the hours of business, and of the pleasantness of which we have such
glowing accounts.

That this is really the common-sense view of the question, can hardly be
doubted. By bringing the cost within reasonable limits, the plan
proposed relieves the entertainment from moral vulgarity; and by
avoiding all suggestion of a meeting for the gratification of mere
physical hunger, it relieves it from material vulgarity. We have laughed
too heartily at the dinner of the ancients in 'Peregrine Pickle,' to
wish to lead back the age to a classic model; and yet on all subjects
connected with taste, there are some things to be learned from that
people whose formative genius is still the wonder of the world. The meal
of society among the Greeks consisted of only two courses, or, to speak
more strictly, of one course and a dessert; and the first or solid
course was in all probability made up of small portions of each kind of
food. The more vulgar Romans added in all cases a third, but
occasionally a fourth, fifth, sixth, even a seventh course; and at the
fall of the empire, barbarian taste uniting with the _blasé_ luxury of
Rome, heaped viand upon viand, and course upon course, till the satire
of a later poet became mere common-place:--

'Is this a dinner, this a genial room?
No; 'tis a temple, and a hecatomb!'

This extravagance has gradually given way in the course of civilisation.
We have no more meals consisting of a score of courses; no more gilded
pigs, fish, and poultry; no more soups, each of three or four different
colours: but as yet we are only in the midst of the transition, and have
not got back even to the comparative refinement of the Greeks. At the
end of their first course, the more earthly part of the entertainment
was already over. Then the guests washed their hands; then they were
presented with perfumes and garlands of flowers; and then they drank
wine, accompanied with the singing of the pćan and the sound of flutes.
Such adjuncts, with us, would for the most part be out of place and
time; but some of them might be taken metaphorically, and others
entirely changed--such as the libation to the gods--to suit a new
religious feeling, and a new form of manners. The modern _coena_ might
thus be made to surpass that of the ancients in refinement and elegance;
and it would include, as a matter of course, some of the
amusements--varying from a song to a philosophical discussion--which
gave the charm to their symposia.

As for the symposium, we shall have nothing to do with that vexed
subject, further than just to hint--for we should be loath to exclude
from the benefit of our proposed reform a certain numerous and
respectable class of the community--that in ancient times it had no
necessary connection with the dinner at all. A little wine-and-water was
drunk during the dessert--never during the first course--and then the
meal was over. The symposium was literally a drinking-party, given, for
the sake of convenience, after the dinner-party; but so far from forming
a part of the latter, the guests were sometimes different. It was, in
fact, in this respect, like the evening company we occasionally find
assembled in the drawing-room on getting up from our show-dinners.

But such references to the customs of bygone ages are introduced merely
to shew, that among the most accomplished people of history, the social
meal was looked upon as a field for the display of taste, not of that
barbarian magnificence which consists in quantity and cost. The coena of
the moderns should far excel that of the Greeks in elegance, refinement,
and simplicity. We have all history for our teacher; we have a finer
system of morals; we have a purer and holier religion; and a
corresponding influence should be felt in our social manners. When the
object of the feast is no longer the satisfaction of mere physical
hunger, it should be something intended to minister to the appetites of
the mind. When the dinner is no longer the chief thing, some trouble
will doubtless be taken with the assortment of the company.
Simultaneously with the business of eating and drinking, we shall have
anecdote, jest, song, music, smiles, and laughter, to make us forget
the business or troubles of the day; and in the morning, instead of
arranging our debtor and creditor account of invitations, we shall throw
in the evening's gratification to strike the balance, and then make
haste to begin a new score.




TWO KINDS OF HONESTY.


Some few years ago, there resided in Long Acre an eccentric old Jew,
named Jacob Benjamin: he kept a seed shop, in which he likewise carried
on--not a common thing, we believe, in London--the sale of meal, and had
risen from the lowest dregs of poverty, by industry and self-denial,
till he grew to be an affluent tradesman. He was, indeed, a rich man;
for as he had neither wife nor child to spend his money, nor kith nor
kin to borrow it of him, he had a great deal more than he knew what to
do with. Lavish it on himself he could not, for his early habits stuck
to him, and his wants were few. He was always clean and decent in his
dress, but he had no taste for elegance or splendour in any form, nor
had even the pleasures of the table any charms for him; so that, though
he was no miser, his money kept on accumulating, whilst it occurred to
him now and then to wonder what he should do with it hereafter. One
would think he need not have wondered long, when there were so many
people suffering from the want of what he abounded in; but Mr Benjamin,
honest man, had his crotchets like other folks. In the first place, he
had less sympathy with poverty than might have been expected,
considering how poor he had once been himself; but he had a theory, just
in the main, though by no means without its exceptions--that the
indigent have generally themselves to thank for their privations.
Judging from his own experience, he believed that there was bread for
everybody that would take the trouble of earning it; and as he had had
little difficulty in resisting temptation himself, and was not
philosopher enough to allow for the varieties of human character, he had
small compassion for those who injured their prospects by yielding to
it. Then he had found, on more than one occasion, that even to the
apparently well-doing, assistance was not always serviceable. Endeavour
was relaxed, and gratuities, once received, were looked for again.
Doubtless, part of this evil result was to be sought in Mr Benjamin's
own defective mode of proceeding; but I repeat, he was no philosopher,
and in matters of this sort he did not see much farther than his nose,
which was, however, a very long one.

To public charities he sometimes subscribed liberally; but his hand was
frequently withheld by a doubt regarding the judicious expenditure of
the funds, and this doubt was especially fortified after chancing to see
one day, as he was passing the Crown and Anchor Tavern, a concourse of
gentlemen turn out, with very flushed faces, who had been dining
together for the benefit of some savages in the Southern Pacific Ocean,
accused of devouring human flesh--a practice so abhorrent to Mr
Benjamin, that he had subscribed for their conversion. But failing to
perceive the connection betwixt the dinner and that desirable
consummation, his name appeared henceforth less frequently in printed
lists, and he felt more uncertain than before as to what branch of
unknown posterity he should bequeath his fortune.

In the meantime, he kept on the even tenor of his way, standing behind
his counter, and serving his customers, assisted by a young woman called
Leah Leet, who acted as his shopwoman, and in whom, on the whole, he
felt more interest than in anybody else in the world, insomuch that it
even sometimes glanced across his mind, whether he should not make her
the heiress of all his wealth. He never, however, gave her the least
reason to expect such a thing, being himself incapable of conceiving,
that if he entertained the notion, he ought to prepare her by education
for the good-fortune that awaited her. But he neither perceived this
necessity, nor, if he had, would he have liked to lose the services of a
person he had been so long accustomed to.

At length, one day a new idea struck him. He had been reading the story
of his namesake, Benjamin, in the Old Testament, and the question
occurred to him, how many amongst his purchasers of the poorer
class--and all who came to his shop personally were of that class--would
bring back a piece of money they might find amongst their meal, and he
thought he should like to try a few of them that were his regular
customers. The experiment would amuse his mind, and the money he might
lose by it he did not care for. So he began with shillings, slipping one
in amongst the flour before he handed it to the purchaser. But the
shillings never came back--perhaps people did not think so small a sum
worth returning; so he went on to half-crowns and crowns, and now and
then, in very particular cases, he even ventured a guinea; but it was
always with the same luck, and the longer he tried, the more he
distrusted there being any honesty in the world, and the more disposed
he felt to leave all his money to Leah Leet, who had lived with him so
long, and to his belief, had never wronged him of a penny.

* * * * *

'What's this you have put into the gruel, Mary?' said a pale,
sickly-looking man one evening, taking something out of his mouth, which
he held towards the feeble gleams emitted by a farthing rush-light
standing on the mantel-piece.

'What is it, father?' inquired a young girl, approaching him. 'Isn't the
gruel good?'

'It's good enough,' replied the man; 'but here's something in it: it's a
shilling, I believe.'

'It's a guinea, I declare!' exclaimed the girl, as she took the coin
from him and examined it nearer the light.

'A guinea!' repeated the man; 'well, that's the first bit of luck I've
had these seven years or more. It never could have come when we wanted
it worse. Shew it us here, Mary.'

'But it's not ours, father,' said Mary. 'I paid away the last shilling
we had for the meal, and here's the change.'

'God has sent it us, girl! He saw our distress, and he sent it us in His
mercy!' said the man, grasping the piece of gold with his thin, bony
fingers.

'It must be Mr Benjamin's,' returned she. 'He must have dropped it into
the meal-tub that stands by the counter.'

'How do you know that?' inquired the man with an impatient tone and a
half-angry glance. 'How can you tell how it came into the gruel? Perhaps
it was lying at the bottom of the basin, or at the bottom of the
sauce-pan. Most likely it was.'

'O no, father,' said Mary: 'it is long since we had a guinea.'

'A guinea that we knew of; but I've had plenty in my time, and how do
you know this is not one we had overlooked?'

'We've wanted a guinea too much to overlook one,' answered she. 'But
never mind, father; eat your gruel, and don't think of it: your cheeks
are getting quite red with talking so, and you won't be able to sleep
when you go to bed.'

'I don't expect to sleep,' said the man peevishly; 'I never do sleep.'

'I think you will, after that nice gruel!' said Mary, throwing her arms
round his neck, and tenderly kissing his cheek.

'And a guinea in it to give it a relish too!' returned the father, with
a faint smile and an expression of archness, betokening an inner nature
very different from the exterior which sorrow and poverty had incrusted
on it.

His daughter then proposed that he should go to bed; and having assisted
him to undress, and arranged her little household matters, she retired
behind a tattered, drab-coloured curtain which shaded her own mattress,
and laid herself down to rest.

The apartment in which this little scene occurred, was on the attic
storey of a mean house, situated in one of the narrow courts or alleys
betwixt the Strand and Drury Lane. The furniture it contained was of the
poorest description; the cracked window-panes were coated with dust; and
the scanty fire in the grate, although the evening was cold enough to
make a large one desirable--all combined to testify to the poverty of
the inhabitants. It was a sorry retreat for declining years and
sickness, and a sad and cheerless home for the fresh cheek and glad
hopes of youth; and all the worse, that neither father nor daughter was
'to the manner born;' for poor John Glegg had, as he said, had plenty of
guineas in his time; at least, what should have been plenty, had they
been wisely husbanded. But John, to describe the thing as he saw it
himself, had always 'had luck against him.' It did not signify what he
undertook, his undertakings invariably turned out ill.

He was born in Scotland, and had passed a great portion of his life
there; but, unfortunately for him, he had no Scotch blood in his veins,
or he might have been blessed with some small modicum of the caution for
which that nation is said to be distinguished. His father had been a
cooper, and when quite a young man, John had succeeded to a
well-established business in Aberdeen. His principal commerce consisted
in furnishing the retail-dealers with casks, wherein to pack their dried
fish; but partly from good-nature, and partly from indolence, he allowed
them to run such long accounts, that they were apt to overlook the debt
altogether in their calculations, and to take refuge in bankruptcy when
the demand was pressed and the supply of goods withheld--his negligence
thus proving, in its results, as injurious to them as to himself. Five
hundred pounds embarked in a scheme projected by a too sanguine friend,
for establishing a local newspaper, which 'died ere it was born;' and a
fire, occurring at a time that John had omitted to renew his insurance,
had seriously damaged his resources, when some matter of business having
taken him to the Isle of Man, he was agreeably surprised to find that
his branch of trade, which had of late years been alarmingly declining
in Aberdeen, was there in the most flourishing condition. Delighted with
the prospect this state of affairs opened, and eager to quit the spot
where misfortune had so unrelentingly pursued him, John, having first
secured a house at Ramsay, returned to fetch his wife, children, and
merchandise, to this new home. Having freighted a small vessel for their
conveyance, he expected to be deposited at his own door; but he had
unhappily forgotten to ascertain the character of the captain, who,
under pretence that, if he entered the harbour, he should probably be
wind-bound for several weeks, persuaded them to go ashore in a small
boat, promising to lie to till they had landed their goods; but the boat
had no sooner returned to the ship, than, spreading his sails to the
wind, he was soon out of sight, leaving John and his family on the
beach, with--to recur to his own phraseology--'nothing but what they
stood up in.'

Having with some difficulty found shelter for the night, they proceeded
on the following morning in a boat to Ramsay; but here it was found
that, owing to some informality, the people who had possession of the
house refused to give it up, and the wanderers were obliged to take
refuge in an inn. The next thing was to pursue, and recover the lost
goods; but some weeks elapsed before an opportunity of doing so could be
found; and at length, when John did reach Liverpool, the captain had
left it, carrying away with him a considerable share of the property.
With the remainder, John, after many expenses and delays, returned to
the island, and resumed his business. But he soon discovered to his
cost, that the calculations he had made were quite fallacious, owing to
his having neglected to inquire whether the late prosperous season had
been a normal or an exceptional one. Unfortunately, it was the latter;
and several very unfavourable ones that succeeded, reduced the family to
great distress, and finally to utter ruin.

Relinquishing his shop and his goods to his creditors, John Glegg,
heart-sick and weary, sought a refuge in London--a proceeding to which
he was urged by no prudential motives, but rather by the desire to fly
as far as possible from the scenes of his vexations and disappointments,
and because he had heard that the metropolis was a place in which a man
might conceal his poverty, and suffer and starve at his ease, untroubled
by impertinent curiosity or officious benevolence; and, above all,
believing it to be the spot where he was least likely to fall in with
any of his former acquaintance.

But here a new calamity awaited him, worse than all the rest. A fever
broke out in the closely-populated neighbourhood in which they had fixed
their abode, and first two of his three children took it, and died; and
then himself and his wife--rendered meet subjects for infection by
anxiety of mind and poor living--were attacked with the disease. He
recovered; at least he survived, though with an enfeebled constitution,
but he lost his wife, a wise and patient woman, who had been his
comforter and sustainer through all his misfortunes--misfortunes which,
after vainly endeavouring to avert, she supported with heroic and
uncomplaining fortitude; but dying, she left him a precious legacy in
Mary, who, with a fine nature, and the benefit of her mother's precept
and example, had been to him ever since a treasure of filial duty and
tenderness.

A faint light dawned through the dirty window on the morning succeeding
the little event with which we opened our story, when Mary rose softly
from her humble couch, and stepping lightly to where her father's
clothes lay on a chair, at the foot of his bed, she put her hand into
his waistcoat-pocket, and, extracting therefrom the guinea which had
been found in the gruel the preceding evening, she transferred it to her
own. She then dressed herself, and having ascertained that her father
still slept, she quietly left the room. The hour was yet so early, and
the streets so deserted, that Mary almost trembled to find herself in
them alone; but she was anxious to do what she considered her duty
without the pain of contention. John Glegg was naturally an honest and
well-intentioned man, but the weakness that had blasted his life adhered
to him still. They were doubtless in terrible need of the guinea, and
since it was not by any means certain that the real owner would be
found, he saw no great harm in appropriating it; but Mary wasted no
casuistry on the matter. That the money was not legitimately theirs, and
that they had no right to retain it, was all she saw; and so seeing, she
acted unhesitatingly on her convictions.

She had bought the meal at Mr Benjamin's, because her father complained
of the quality of that she procured in the smaller shops, and on this
occasion he had served her himself. From the earliness of the hour,
however, though the shop was open, he was not in it when she arrived on
her errand of restitution; but addressing Leah Leet, who was dusting the
counter, she mentioned the circumstance, and tendered the guinea; which
the other took and dropped into the till, without acknowledgment or
remark. Now Mary had not restored the money with any view to praise or
reward: the thought of either had not occurred to her; but she was,
nevertheless, pained by the dry, cold, thankless manner with which the
restitution was accepted, and she felt that a little civility would not
have been out of place on such an occasion.

She was thinking of this on her way back, when she observed Mr Benjamin
on the opposite side of the street. The fact was, that he did not sleep
at the shop, but in one of the suburbs of the metropolis, and he was now
proceeding from his residence to Long Acre. When he caught her eye, he
was standing still on the pavement, and looking, as it appeared, at her,
so she dropped him a courtesy, and walked forwards; while the old man
said to himself: "That's the girl that got the guinea in her meal
yesterday. I wonder if she has been to return it!"

It was Mary's pure, innocent, but dejected countenance, that had induced
him to make her the subject of one of his most costly experiments. He
thought if there was such a thing as honesty in the world, that it would
find a fit refuge in that young bosom; and the early hour, and the
direction in which she was coming, led him to hope that he might sing
_Eureka_ at last. When he entered the shop, Leah stood behind the
counter, as usual, looking very staid and demure; but all she said
was,'Good-morning;' and when he inquired if anybody had been there, she
quietly answered: 'No; nobody.'

Mr Benjamin was confirmed in his axiom; but he consoled himself with the
idea, that as the girl was doubtless very poor, the guinea might be of
some use to her. In the meantime, Mary was boiling the gruel for her
father's breakfast, the only food she could afford him, till she got a
few shillings that were owing to her for needle-work.

'Well, father, dear, how are you this morning?'

'I scarce know, Mary. I've been dreaming; and it was so like reality,
that I can hardly believe yet it was a dream;' and his eyes wandered
over the room, as if looking for something.

'What is it, father? Do you want your breakfast? It will be ready in
five minutes.'

'I've been dreaming of a roast fowl and a glass of Scotch ale. Mary, I
thought you came in with the fowl, and a bottle in your hand, and said:
"See, father, this is what I've bought with the guinea we found in the
meal!"'

'But I couldn't do that, father, you know. It wouldn't have been honest
to spend other people's money.'

'Nonsense!' answered John. 'Whose money is it, I should like to know?
What belongs to no one, we may as well claim as anybody else.'

'But it must belong to somebody; and, as I knew it was not ours, I've
carried it back to Mr Benjamin.'

'You have?' said Glegg, sitting up in bed.

'Yes, I have, father. Don't be angry. I'm sure you won't when you think
better of it.'

But John _was_ very angry indeed. He was dreadfully disappointed at
losing the delicacies that his sick appetite hungered for, and which, he
fancied, would do more to restore him than all the _doctors' stuff_ in
London; and, so far, he was perhaps right. He bitterly reproached Mary
for want of sympathy with his sufferings, and was peevish and cross all
day. At night, however, his better nature regained the ascendant; and
when he saw the poor girl wipe the tears from her eyes, as her nimble
needle flew through the seams of a shirt she was making for a cheap
warehouse in the Strand, his heart relented, and, holding out his hand,
he drew her fondly towards him.

'You're right, Mary,' he said, 'and I'm wrong; but I'm not myself with
this long illness, and I often think if I had good food I should get
well, and be able to do something for myself. It falls hard upon you, my
girl; and often when I see you slaving to support my useless life, I
wish I was dead and out of the way; and then you could do very well for
yourself, and I think that pretty face of yours would get you a husband
perhaps.' And Mary flung her arms about his neck, and told him how
willing she was to work for him, and how forlorn she should be without
him, and desired she might never hear any more of such wicked wishes.
Still, she had an ardent desire to give him the fowl and the ale he had
longed for, for his next Sunday's dinner; but, alas! she could not
compass it. But on that very Sunday, the one that succeeded these little
events, Leah Leet appeared with a smart new bonnet and gown, at a
tea-party given by Mr Benjamin to three or four of his intimate friends.
He was in the habit of giving such small inexpensive entertainments, and
he made it a point to invite Leah; partly because she made the tea for
him, and partly because he wished to keep her out of other society, lest
she should get married and leave him--a thing he much deprecated on all
accounts. She was accustomed to his business, he was accustomed to her,
and, above all, she was so honest!

But there are various kinds of honesty. Mary Glegg's was of the pure
sort; it was such as nature and her mother had instilled into her: it
was the honesty of high principle. But Leah was honest, because she had
been taught that honesty is the best policy; and as she had her living
to earn, it was extremely necessary that she should be guided by the
axiom, or she might come to poverty and want bread, like others she saw,
who lost good situations from failing in this particular.

Now, after all, this is but a sandy foundation for honesty; because a
person who is not actuated by a higher motive, will naturally have no
objection to a little peculation in a safe way--that is, when they think
there is no possible chance of being found out. In short, such honesty
is but a counterfeit, and, like all counterfeits, it will not stand the
wear and tear of the genuine article. Such, however, was Leah's, who had
been bred up by worldly-wise teachers, who neither taught nor knew any
better. Entirely ignorant of Mr Benjamin's eccentric method of seeking,
what two thousand years ago Diogenes thought it worth while to look for
with a lantern, she considered that the guinea brought back by Mary was
a waif, which might be appropriated without the smallest danger of being
called to account for it. It had probably, she thought, been dropped
into the meal-tub by some careless customer, who would not know how he
had lost it; and, even if it were her master's, he must also be quite
ignorant of the accident that had placed it where it was found. The girl
was a stranger in the shop; she had never been there till the day
before, and might never be there again; and, if she were, it was not
likely she would speak to Mr Benjamin. So there could be no risk, as far
as she could see; and the money came just apropos to purchase some new
attire that the change of season rendered desirable.

Many of us now alive can remember the beginning of what is called the
sanitary movement, previous to which era, as nothing was said about the
wretched dwellings of the poor, nobody thought of them, nor were the ill
consequences of their dirty, crowded rooms, and bad ventilation at all
appreciated. At length the idea struck somebody, who wrote a pamphlet
about it, which the public did not read; but as the author sent it to
the newspaper editors, they borrowed the hint, and took up the subject,
the importance of which, by slow degrees, penetrated the London mind.
Now, amongst the sources of wealth possessed by Mr Benjamin were a great
many houses, which, by having money at his command, he had bought cheap
from those who could not afford to wait; and many of these were situated
in squalid neighbourhoods, and were inhabited by miserably poor people;
but as these people did not fall under his eye, he had never thought of
them--he had only thought of their rents, which he received with more
or less regularity through the hands of his agent. The sums due,
however, were often deficient, for sometimes the tenants were unable to
pay them, because they were so sick they could not work; and sometimes
they died, leaving nothing behind them to seize for their debts. Mr
Benjamin had looked upon this evil as irremediable; but when he heard of
the sanitary movement, it occurred to him, that if he did something
towards rendering his property more eligible and wholesome, he might let
his rooms to a better class of tenants, and that greater certainty of
payment, together with a little higher rent, would remunerate him for
the expense of the cleaning and repairs. The idea being agreeable both
to his love of gain and his benevolence, he summoned his builder, and
proposed that he should accompany him over these tenements, in order
that they might agree as to what should be done, and calculate the
outlay; and the house inhabited by Glegg and his daughter happening to
be one of them, the old gentleman, in the natural course of events,
found himself paying an unexpected visit to the unconscious subject of
his last experiment; for the last it was, and so it was likely to
remain, though three months had elapsed since he made it; but its ill
success had discouraged him. There was something about Mary that so
evidently distinguished her from his usual customers; she looked so
innocent, so modest, and withal so pretty, that he thought if he failed
with her, he was not likely to succeed with anybody else.

'Who lives in the attics?' he inquired of Mr Harker, the builder, as
they were ascending the stairs.

'There's a widow and her daughter and son-in-law, with three children,
in the back-room,' answered Mr Harker. 'I believe the women go out
charring, and the man's a bricklayer. In the front, there's a man called
Glegg and his daughter. I fancy they're people that have been better off
at some time of their lives. He has been a tradesman--a cooper, he tells
me; but things went badly with him; and since he came here, his wife
died of the fever, and he's been so weakly ever since he had it, that he
can earn nothing. His daughter lives by her needle.'

Mary was out; she had gone to take home some work, in hopes of getting
immediate payment for it. A couple of shillings would purchase them coal
and food, and they were much in need of both. John was sitting by the
scanty fire, with his daughter's shawl over his shoulders, looking wan,
wasted, and desponding.

'Mr Benjamin, the landlord, Mr Glegg,' said Harker.

John knew they owed a little rent, and was afraid they had come to
demand it. 'I'm sorry my daughter's out, gentlemen,' he said. 'Will you
be pleased to take a chair.'

'Mr Benjamin is going round his property,' said Harker. 'He is proposing
to make a few repairs, and do a little painting and whitewashing, to
make the rooms more airy and comfortable.'

'That will be a good thing, sir,' answered Glegg--'a very good thing;
for I believe it is the closeness of the place that makes us country
folks ill when we come to London. I'm sure I've never had a day's health
since I've lived here.'

'You've been very unlucky, indeed, Mr Glegg,' said Harker. 'But you
know, if we lay out money, we shall look for a return. We must raise
your rent.'

'Ah, sir, I suppose so,' answered John with a sigh; 'and how we're to
pay it, I don't know. If I could only get well, I shouldn't mind; for
I'd rather break stones on the road, or sweep a crossing, than see my
poor girl slaving from morning to night for such a pittance.'

'If we were to throw down this partition, and open another window here,'
said Harker to Mr Benjamin, 'it would make a comfortable apartment of
it. There would be room, then, for a bed in the recess.'

Mr Benjamin, however, was at that moment engaged in the contemplation of
an ill-painted portrait of a girl, that was attached by a pin over the
chimney-piece. It was without a frame, for the respectable gilt one that
had formerly encircled it, had been taken off, and sold to buy bread.
Nothing could be coarser than the execution of the thing, but as is not
unfrequently the case with such productions, the likeness was striking;
and Mr Benjamin, being now in the habit of seeing Mary, who bought all
the meal they used at his shop, recognised it at once.

'That's your daughter, is it?' he said.

'Yes, sir; she's often at your place for meal; and if it wasn't too
great a liberty, I would ask you, sir, if you thought you could help her
to some sort of employment that's better than sewing; for it's a hard
life, sir, in this close place for a young creature that was brought up
in the free country air: not that Mary minds work, but the worst is,
there's so little to be got by the needle, and it's such close
confinement.'

Mr Benjamin's mind, during this address of poor Glegg's, was running on
his guinea.



Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 428 Volume 17, New Series, March 13, 1852