Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
A YOUNG viscount with income and person cannot lie perdu three miles from Edinburgh.
First one discovers him, then another, then twenty, then all the world, as the whole clique is modestly called.
Before, however, Lord Ipsden was caught, he had acquired a browner tint, a more elastic step, and a stouter heart.
The Aberford prescription had done wonders for him.
He caught himself passing one whole day without thinking of Lady Barbara Sinclair.
But even Aberford had misled him; there were no adventures to be found in the Firth of Forth; most of the days there was no wind to speak of; twice it blew great guns, and the men were surprised at his lordship going out, but nobody was in any danger except himself; the fishermen had all slipped into port before matters were serious.
He found the merchantmen that could sail creeping on with three reefs in their mainsail; and the Dutchmen lying to and breasting it, like ducks in a pond, and with no more chance of harm.
On one of these occasions he did observe a little steam-tug, going about a knot an hour, and rolling like a washing-tub. He ran down to her, and asked if he could assist her; she answered, through the medium of a sooty animal at her helm, that she was (like our universities) "satisfied with her own progress"; she added, being under intoxication, "that, if any danger existed, her scheme was to drown it in the bo-o-owl;" and two days afterward he saw her puffing and panting, and fiercely dragging a gigantic three-decker out into deep water, like an industrious flea pulling his phaeton.
And now it is my office to relate how Mr. Flucker Johnstone comported himself on one occasion.
As the yacht worked alongside Granton Pier, before running out, the said Flucker calmly and scientifically drew his lordship's attention to three points:
The direction of the wind — the force of the wind — and his opinion, as a person experienced in the Firth, that it was going to be worse instead of better; in reply, he received an order to step forward to his place in the cutter — the immediate vicinity of the jib-boom. On this, Mr. Flucker instantly burst into tears.
His lordship, or, as Flucker called him ever since the yacht came down, "the skipper," deeming that the higher appellation, inquired, with some surprise, what was the matter with the boy.
One of the crew, who, by the by, squinted, suggested, "It was a slight illustration of the passion of fear."
Flucker confirmed the theory by gulping out: "We'll never see Newhaven again."
On this the skipper smiled, and ordered him ashore, somewhat peremptorily.
Straightway he began to howl, and, saying, "It was better to be drowned than be the laughing-stock of the place," went forward to his place; on his safe return to port, this young gentleman was very severe on open boats, which, he said "bred womanish notions in hearts naturally dauntless. Give me a lid to the pot," added he, "and I'll sail with Old Nick, let the wind blow high or low."
The Aberford was wrong when he called love a cutaneous disorder.
There are cutaneous disorders that take that name, but they are no more love than verse is poetry;
Than patriotism is love of country;
Than theology is religion;
Than science is philosophy;
Than paintings are pictures;
Than reciting on the boards is acting;
Than physic is medicine
Than bread is bread, or gold gold — in shops.
Love is a state of being; the beloved object is our center; and our thoughts, affections, schemes and selves move but round it.
We may diverge hither or thither, but the golden thread still holds us.
Is fair or dark beauty the fairest? The world cannot decide; but love shall decide in a moment.
A halo surrounds her we love, and makes beautiful to us her movements, her looks, her virtues, her faults, her nonsense, her affectation and herself; and that's love, doctor!
Lord Ipsden was capable of loving like this; but, to do Lady Barbara justice, she had done much to freeze the germ of noble passion; she had not killed, but she had benumbed it.
"Saunders," said Lord Ipsden, one morning after breakfast, "have you entered everything in your diary?"
"Yes, my lord."
"All these good people's misfortunes?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Do you think you have spelled their names right?"
"Where it was impossible, my lord, I substituted an English appellation, hidentical in meaning."
"Have you entered and described my first interview with Christie Johnstone, and somebody something?"
"Most minutely, my lord."
"How I turned Mr. Burke into poetry — how she listened with her eyes all glistening — how they made me talk — how she dropped a tear, he! he! he! at the death of the first baron — how shocked she was at the king striking him when he was dying, to make a knight-banneret of the poor old fellow?"
"Your lordship will find all the particulars exactly related," said Saunders, with dry pomp.
"How she found out that titles are but breath — how I answered — some nonsense?"
"Your lordship will find all the topics included."
"How she took me for a madman? And you for a prig?"
"The latter circumstance eluded my memory, my lord."
"But when I told her I must relieve only one poor person by day, she took my hand."
"Your lordship will find all the items realized in this book, my lord."
"What a beautiful book!"
"Alba are considerably ameliorated, my lord."
"Plural of album, my lord," explained the refined factotum, "more delicate, I conceive, than the vulgar reading."
Viscount Ipsden read from
"MR. SAUNDERS'S ALBUM.
"To illustrate the inelegance of the inferior classes, two juvenile venders of the piscatory tribe were this day ushered in, and instantaneously, without the accustomed preliminaries, plunged into a familiar conversation with Lord Viscount Ipsden.
"Their vulgarity, shocking and repulsive to myself, appeared to afford his lordship a satisfaction greater than he derives from the graceful amenities of fashionable association — "
~ "Saunders, I suspect you of something."
"Me, my lord!"
"Yes. Writing in an annual."
"I do, my lord," said he, with benignant hauteur. "It appears every month — The Polytechnic."
"I thought so! you are polysyllabic, Saunders; en route!"
~ "In this hallucination I find it difficult to participate; associated from infancy with the aristocracy, I shrink, like the sensitive plant, from contact with anything vulgar."
~ "I see! I begin to understand you, Saunders. Order the dog-cart, and Wordsworth's mare for leader; we'll give her a trial. You are an ass, Saunders."
"Yes, my lord; I will order Robert to tell James to come for your lordship's commands about your lordship's vehicles. (What could he intend by a recent observation of a discourteous character?)"
His lordship soliloquized.
"I never observed it before, but Saunders is an ass! La Johnstone is one of Nature's duchesses, and she has made me know some poor people that will be richer than the rich one day; and she has taught me that honey is to be got from bank-notes — by merely giving them away."
Among the objects of charity Lord Ipsden discovered was one Thomas Harvey, a maker and player of the violin. This man was a person of great intellect; he mastered every subject he attacked. By a careful examination of all the points that various fine-toned instruments had in common, he had arrived at a theory of sound; he made violins to correspond, and was remarkably successful in insuring that which had been too hastily ascribed to accident — a fine tone.
This man, who was in needy circumstances, demonstrated to his lordship that ten pounds would make his fortune; because with ten pounds he could set up a shop, instead of working out of the world's sight in a room.
Lord Ipsden gave him ten pounds!
A week after, he met Harvey, more ragged and dirty than before.
Harvey had been robbed by a friend whom he had assisted. Poor Harvey! Lord Ipsden gave him ten pounds more!
Next week, Saunders, entering Harvey's house, found him in bed at noon, because he had no clothes to wear.
Saunders suggested that it would be better to give his wife the next money, with strict orders to apply it usefully.
This was done!
The next day, Harvey, finding his clothes upon a chair, his tools redeemed from pawn, and a beefsteak ready for his dinner, accused his wife of having money, and meanly refusing him the benefit of it. She acknowledged she had a little, and appealed to the improved state of things as a proof that she knew better than he the use of money. He demanded the said money. She refused — he leathered her — she put him in prison.
This was the best place for him. The man was a drunkard, and all the riches of Egypt would never have made him better off.
And here, gentlemen of the lower classes, a word with you. How can you, with your small incomes, hope to be well off, if you are more extravagant than those who have large ones?
"Us extravagant?" you reply.
Yes! your income is ten shillings a week; out of that you spend three shillings in drink; ay! you, the sober ones. You can't afford it, my boys. Find me a man whose income is a thousand a year; well, if he imitates you, and spends three hundred upon sensuality, I bet you the odd seven hundred he does not make both ends meet; the proportion is too great. And two-thirds of the distress of the lower orders is owing to this — that they are more madly prodigal than the rich; in the worst, lowest and most dangerous item of all human prodigality!
Lord Ipsden went to see Mrs. Harvey; it cost him much to go; she lived in the Old Town, and he hated disagreeable smells; he also knew from Saunders that she had two black eyes, and he hated women with black eyes of that sort. But this good creature did go; did relieve Mrs. Harvey; and, bare-headed, suffered himself to be bedewed ten minutes by her tearful twaddle.
For once Virtue was rewarded. Returning over the North Bridge, he met somebody whom but for his charity he would not have met.
He came in one bright moment plump upon — Lady Barbara Sinclair. She flushed, he trembled, and in two minutes he had forgotten every human event that had passed since he was by her side.
She seemed pleased to see him, too; she ignored entirely his obnoxious proposal; he wisely took her cue, and so, on this secret understanding, they were friends. He made his arrangements, and dined with her family. It was a family party. In the evening Lady Barbara allowed it to transpire that she had made inquiries about him.
(He was highly flattered.) And she had discovered he was lying hid somewhere in the neighborhood.
"Studying the guitar?" inquired she.
"No," said he, "studying a new class of the community. Do you know any of what they call the 'lower classes'?"
"Monstrous agreeable people, are they not?"
"No, very stupid! I only know two old women — except the servants, who have no characters. They imitate us, I suspect, which does not say much for their taste."
"But some of my friends are young women; that makes all the difference."
"It does! and you ought to be ashamed. If you want a low order of mind, why desert our own circle?"
"My friends are only low in station; they have rather lofty minds, some of them."
"Well, amuse yourself with these lofty minds. Amusement is the end of being, you know, and the aim of all the men of this day."
"We imitate the ladies," said he, slyly.
"You do," answered she, very dryly; and so the dialogue went on, and Lord Ipsden found the pleasure of being with his cousin compensate him fully for the difference of their opinions; in fact, he found it simply amusing that so keen a wit as his cousins s could be entrapped into the humor of decrying the time one happens to live in, and admiring any epoch one knows next to nothing about, and entrapped by the notion of its originality, above all things; the idea being the stale commonplace of asses in every age, and the manner of conveying the idea being a mere imitation of the German writers, not the good ones, bien entendu, but the quill-drivers, the snobs of the Teutonic pen.
But he was to learn that follies are not always laughable, that eadem sentire is a bond, and that, when a clever and pretty woman chooses to be a fool, her lover, if he is wise, will be a greater — if he can.
The next time they met, Lord Ipsden found Lady Barbara occupied with a gentleman whose first sentence proclaimed him a pupil of Mr. Thomas Carlyle, and he had the mortification to find that she had neither an ear nor an eye for him.
Human opinion has so many shades that it is rare to find two people agree.
But two people may agree wonderfully, if they will but let a third think for them both.
Thus it was that these two ran so smoothly in couples.
Antiquity, they agreed, was the time when the world was old, its hair gray, its head wise. Every one that said, "Lord, Lord!" two hundred years ago was a Christian. There were no earnest men now; Williams, the missionary, who lived and died for the Gospel, was not earnest in religion; but Cromwell, who packed a jury, and so murdered his prisoner — Cromwell, in whose mouth was heaven, and in his heart temporal sovereignty — was the pattern of earnest religion, or, at all events, second in sincerity to Mahomet alone, in the absence of details respecting Satan, of whom we know only that his mouth is a Scripture concordance, and his hands the hands of Mr. Carlyle's saints.
Then they went back a century or two, and were eloquent about the great antique heart, and the beauty of an age whose samples were Abbot Sampson and Joan of Arc.
Lord Ipsden hated argument; but jealousy is a brass spur, it made even this man fluent for once.
He suggested "that five hundred years added to a world's life made it just five hundred years older, not younger — and if older, grayer — and if grayer, wiser.
"Of Abbot Sampson," said he, "whom I confess both a great and a good man, his author, who with all his talent belongs to the class muddle-head, tells us that when he had been two years in authority his red hair had turned gray, fighting against the spirit of his age; how the deuce, then, could he be a sample of the spirit of his age?
"Joan of Arc was burned by acclamation of her age, and is admired by our age. Which fact identifies an age most with a heroine, to give her your heart, or to give her a blazing fagot and death?"
"Abbot Sampson and Joan of Arc," concluded he, "prove no more in favor of their age, and no less against it, than Lot does for or against Sodom. Lot was in Sodom, but not of it; and so were Sampson and Joan in, but not of, the villainous times they lived in.
"The very best text-book of true religion is the New Testament, and I gather from it, that the man who forgives his enemies while their ax descends on his head, however poor a creature he may be in other respects, is a better Christian than the man who has the God of Mercy forever on his lips, and whose hands are swift to shed blood.
"The earnest men of former ages are not extinct in this," added he. "Whenever a scaffold is erected outside a prison-door, if you are earnest in pursuit of truth, and can put up with disgusting objects, you shall see a relic of ancient manners hanged.
"There still exist, in parts of America, rivers on whose banks are earnest men who shall take your scalp, the wife's of your bosom, and the innocent child's of her bosom.
"In England we are as earnest as ever in pursuit of heaven, and of innocent worldly advantages. If, when the consideration of life and death interposes, we appear less earnest in pursuit of comparative trifles such as kingdoms or dogmas, it is because cooler in action we are more earnest in thought — because reason, experience, and conscience are things that check the unscrupulousness or beastly earnestness of man.
"Moreover, he who has the sense to see that questions have three sides is no longer so intellectually as well as morally degraded as to be able to cut every throat that utters an opinion contrary to his own.
"If the phrase 'earnest man' means man imitating the beasts that are deaf to reason, it is to be hoped that civilization and Christianity will really extinguish the whole race for the benefit of the earth."
Lord Ipsden succeeded in annoying the fair theorist, but not in convincing her.
The mediaeval enthusiasts looked on him as some rough animal that had burst into sacred grounds unconsciously, and gradually edged away from him.