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. T may seem a somewhat Irish method of beginning the story
ut ' Two Years Ago " by a scene which happened but a month
since. And yet, will not the story be on that very account a
hotter type of many a man's own experiences ? How few of us
had learnt the meaning of " Two years ago," until this late quiet
aiitumn time ; and till Christmas, too, with its gaps in the old
rii' 5 of friendly faces, never to be filled up again on earth, began
tc teach us somewhat of its lesson.

Two years ago, while pestilence was hovering over us and ours ;

Lie the battle-roar was ringing in our ears ; who had time to

mk, to ask what all that meant ; to seek for the deep lesson
s> liich we knew must lie beneath 1 Two years ago was the time
f. .' work; for men to do with all their might whatsoever their
h 'uds found to do. But now, the storm has lulled once more ;
t:i3 air has cleared awhile, and we can talk calmly over all the
vrnders of that sudden, strange, and sad " Two years ago."

So felt, at least, two friends who went do^vn, just one week
before Christmas-day, to ^Yhitbury, in Berkshire. Two years
« '■> had come to one of them, as to thousands more, the crisis of
life ; and he was talking of it with his companion ; and was
VI his way, too, to learn more of that story, which tliis book
crTitains, and in which he had borne his part.

They were both of them me- who would at first sight interest
a .stranger. The shorter of the vo he might have seen before —
;it picture sales, Eoyal Academy meetings, dinnerparties, evening
.laties, anywhere and everywhere n town; for Claude Mellot
is a general favourite, and a general guest.

He is a tiny, delicate-featured man, 'ith a look of half-lazy
* ji f husiasm about his beautiful face, whi reminds you much of
^•1) illey's portrait ; only he has what Shelley had not, clustering

; )urn curls, and a rich brown beard, soft as silk. You set him

vn at once as a man of delicate susceptibility, sweetness,

'Ughtfulness '. nrohahly (as hc actually is) an artist.

* B "^


His companion is a man of statelier stamp, tall, dark, and
handsome, with a very large forehead : if the face has a iixnlt, it
is that tlie month is too small ; that, and the expression of face
too, and the tone of voice, seem to indicate over-refinement,
possibly a too aristocratic exclusiveness. He is dressed like a
very fine gentleman indeed, and looks and talks like one. Aris-
tocrat, however, in the common sense of tlie word, he is not ,
for he is a native of the ]\rodel Eepublic, and sleeping-partner in
a great i^ew York merchant firm.

He is chatting away to Claude jMellot, the artist, about Fr6-
mont's election ; and on that point seems to be earnest enough,
though patient and moderate.

" My dear Claude, our loss is gain. Tlic delay of the next four
years was really necessary, that we might consolidate our party.
And I leave you to judge, if it has grown to its present size in
but a few months, what dimensions it will have attained before
the next election. We require the delay, too, to discover wlio
are our really best men ; not merely as orators, but as Avorkers ;
and you English ought to know, better than any nation, that the
latter class of men are those whom the world most needs — that
though Aaron may be an altogether insj)ired preacher, yet it is
only slow-ton gued practical Moses, whose spokesman he is, "who
can deliver Israel from their taskmasters. Besides, my dear
fellow, we really want the next four years — 'tell it not in Gath'
— to look about us, and see what is to be done. Your wisest
Englishmen justly complain of us, that our ' platform ' is as yet
a merely negative one ; that we define what the South shall not
do, but not what the jS'orth shall. Ere four years be over, we
will have a ' positive platform,' at whicli j'ou shall have no cause
to griunble."

" I still think with Marie, that your ' positive platform' is
already made for you, plain as the sun in heaven, as the light-
nings of Sinai. Eree those slaves at once and utterly ! "

" Impatient idealist ! By what means '? By law, or by force 1
Leave us to draw a coj^don sanitaire round the tainted states, and
leave the system to die a natural death, as it rapidly will if it bo
prevented from enlarging its field. Don't fancy that a dream of
mine. None know it better than the Southerners themselves.
What makes them ready just now to risk honour, justice, even
the common law of nations and humanity, in the struggle for
new slave territory ? What but the consciousness that mthout
virgin soil, which will yield rapid and enormous profit to slave
labour, they and their institution must be ruined ! "

" The more reason for accelerating so desirable a consumma-
tion, by freeing the slaves at once."

" Humph ! " said Stangrave, with a smile. *' Who so cruel at


times as your too-benevolent pliilantbTopist ? Did you ever count
the meaning of those words ? Disruption of the Union, an inva-
sion of the South by the North ; and an internecine war, aggra-
vated by the horrors of a general rising of the slaves, and sucli
scenes as Hayti beheld sixty years ago. If you have ever read
them, you will pause ere you determine to repeat them on a vaster

" It is dreadful, Heaven knows, even in thought ! But, Stan-
grave, can any moderation on your part ward it off? Wliere
there is crime, there iL vengeance; and without shedding of blood
is no remission of sin/'

" God knows ! It may be true : but God forbid that I should
ever do aught to hasten what may come. Oh Claude, do you
fancy that I, of all men, do not feel at moments the thirst for
Ijrute vengeance 1 "

Claude was silent.

" Judge for yourself, you who laiow all — what man among us
Northerners can feel, as I do, Avhat those hapless men may have
deserved 1 — I who have day and night before me the brand of
their cruelty, filling my heart with fire ? I need all my strength,
all my reason, at times to say to myself, as I say to others — ' Are
not these slaveholders men of like passions with yourself? Wliat
liave they done which you would not have done in their place ? '
I have never read that Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. I will not
even read this Dred, admirable as I believe it to be."

'* Why should you 1 " said Claude. " Have you not a key to
Uncle Tom's Cabin, more pathetic than any word of man's or
woman's ? "

" But I do not mean that ! I will not read them, because I
have the key to them in my own heart, Claude : because con-
science has taught me to feel for the Southerner as a brother,
Avho is but what I might have been ; and to sigh over his mis-
directed courage and energy, not with hatred, not with contempt :
but with pity, all the more intense the more he scorns that pity ;
to long, not merely for the slaves' sake, but for the masters' sake,
to see them — the once cliivalrous gentlemen of the South —
delivered from the meshes of a net which they did not spread
ioT themselves, but which was round their feet, and round their
fithers', from the day that they were born. You ask me to destroy
tliese men. I long to save them from their certain doom ! "_

" You are right, and a better Christian than I am, I believe.
Certainly they do need pity, if any sinners do ; for slavery seems
to be— to judge from Mr. Brooks's triumph— a great moral curse,
and a heavier degradation to the slaveholder himself, than it can
over be to the slave.

" Then I would free them from that curse, that degradation.



J i' the negro asks, * Am I not a man and a brother 1 ' have tliey
no right to ask it also ? Shall I, pretending to love my country,
venture on any rash step which may shut out the whole Southern
white population from their share in my country's future glory 1
Ko ; have but patience with us, you comfortable liberals of the
Old World, who find freedom ready made to your hands, and we
will pay you all. Remember, we are but cliildren yet ; our sins
are the sins of youth, — greediness, intemperance, petulance, self-
conceit. ^Yhen we are purged from our youthful sins, England
will not be ashamed of her child."

'* Ashamed of you? I often wish I could make Americans
understand the feeling of England to you — the honest pride, as
of a mother who has brought into the world the biggest baby
that ever tliis earth beheld, and is rather proud of its stamping
about and beating her in its pretty pets. Only the old lady
does get a little cross when she hears you talk of the -wTongs
which you have endured from her, and teaching your children to
hate us as their ancient oppressors, on the ground of a foolish
war, of wliich every Englishman is utterly ashamed, and in tlie
result of which he glories really as much as you do."

" Don't talk of ' you,' Claude ! You know well what I think
on that point. I^^ever did one nation make the amende honorable
to another more fully and nobly than you have to us ; and those
who try to keep up the quarrel are— I won't say what. But the
truth is, Claude, we have had no real sorrows ; and therefore we
can afford to play with imaginary ones. God grant that we may
not have our real ones — that we may not have to drink of the
cup of which our great mother drank two years ago ! "

" It was a wholesome bitter for us ; and it may be so for you
likemse : but we will have no sad forebodings on the eve of the
blessed Christmas-tide. He lives. He loves, He reigns ; and aU
is well, for we are His, and He is ours."

" Ah," said Stangrave, " when Emerson sneered at you English
for believing your Old Testament, he little thought that that was
the lesson which it had taught you ; and that that same lesson
was the root of all your greatness. That that belief in God's
being, in some mysterious way, the living King of England and
of Christendom, has been the very idea which has kept you in
peace and safety, now for many a hundred years, moving slowly
on from good to better, not without many backslidings and many
shortcomings, but still finding out, quickly enough, when you
were on the wrong road, and not ashamed to retrace your steps,
and to reform, as brave strong men should dare to do ; a people
who have been for many an age in the vanguard of all the nations,
and the champions of sure and solid progress throughout the
world ; because what is new among you is not patched artificially


on to tlie old, but grows organically out of it, with a growth liko
that of your own English oak, whose every new-year's leaf-crop
is fed by roots which burrow deep in many a buried generation,
and tlie rich soil of full a thousand years."

" Stay ! " said the little artist. " We are quite conceited enough
already, without your eloquent adulation, Sir I But there is a
truth in your words. There is a better spirit roused among us,
and that not merely of two years ago. I Imew this part of the
country well in 1846-7-8, and since then, I can bear witness, a
spirit of seK-reform has been awakened round here, in many a
heart which I thought once utterly frivolous. I find, in every
circle of every class, men and women asking to be taught their
duty, that they may go and do it; I find everywhere schools,
libraries, and mechanics' institutes springing up : and rich and
poor meeting together more and more in the faith that God has
made them all. As for the outward and material improvements
— you know as well as I, that since free trade and emigi'ation,
the laboui'ers confess themselves better off than they have been
for fifty years ; and though you will not see in the chalk counties
that rapid and enormous agricultural improvement which you will
in Lincolnshire, Yorksliire, or the Lothians, yet you shall see
enough to-day to settle for you the question whether we old-
country folk are in a state of decadence and decay. Par
exemple "

And Claude pointed to the clean large fields, with their neat
close-clipt hedge-rows, among which here and there stood cottages,
more than three-fourths of them new.

" Those well-drained fallow fields, ten years ago, were poor clay
pastures, fetlock deep in mire six months in the year, and accursed
in the eyes of my poor dear old friend. Squire Lavington; becaus*^
they were so full of old moles'-nests, that they threw all horses
down. I am no farmer: but they seem surely to be somewhat
altered since then."

As he spoke, they turned off the main line of the rolling clays
loAvard the foot of the chalk hills, and began to brush through short
cuttings of blue gault and "green sand," so called by geologists, be-
cause its usual colours are bright brown, snow-white, and crimson.

Soon they get glimpses of broad silver ^\niit, as she slides,
Avith divided streams, through bright water-meadows, and statel;^
groves of poplar, and abele, and pine ; while, far aloft upon thf
left, the doAvns rise steep, crowned with black fir spinnies, and
dotted ^Wth dark box and juniper.

Soon they pass old Whitford Priory, with its numberless gablefi
nestling amid mighty elms, and the Nunpool Hashing and roariri«
fis of old, and the broad shallow below sparkling and laughing in
the low, but bridit December sun.


'• So slides on tlio noblo river, for ever cliaiiging, and yet for
ever the same — always fuUilling its errand, wliicli yet is never
fullilled," said Stangrave, — he was given to half-mystic utterances,
and hankerings after Pagan mythology, learnt in the days when
he worsliipped Emerson, and tried (but unsuccessfully) to worship
^Margaret Fuller Ossoli, — " Those old Greeks had a deep insight
into nature, when they gave to each river not merely a name, but
a semi-human personality, a river-god of its own. It may be bUr
a collection of ever-changing atoms of water ; — what is your body
but a shnilar collection of atoms, decaying and renewing every
moment ? Yet you are a person ; and is not the river, too, a
person — a live tiling ? It ha.s an individual countenance which
you love, which you would recognise again, meet it where you
will ; it marks the whole landscape ; it determines probably the
geography and the society of a whole district. It draws you, too,
to itself by an indefinable mesmeric attraction. If you stop in a
strange place, the first instinct of your idle half-hour is, to lounge
by the river. It is a person to you ; you call it — Scotchmen do,
at least — she, and not it. How do you know that you are not
philosophically correct, and that the river has a spirit as well as
you ] "

" Humph ! " said Claude, who talks mysticism himself by the
hour, but snubs it in every one else. " It has trout, at least ;
and they stand, I suppose, for its soul, as the raisins did for those
of Jean Paul's gingerbread bride and bridegroom and perad-
vcnture baby."

" Oh you materialist English ! sporting-mad all of you, from
the duke who shooteth stags to the clod who poacheth rabbits ! "

" And who therefore can fight Eussians at Inkermann, duke
and clod alike, and side by side; never better (says the chronicler
of old) than in their first battle. I can neither fight nor fish, and
on the whole agree with you : but I think it proper to be as
English as I can in the presence of an American."

A whistle — a creak— a jar; and they stop at the little Whit-
ford station, where a cicerone for the vale, far better than Claude
was, made his appearance, in the person of Mark Armsworth,
banker, railway director, and de facto king of Whitbury town,
long siace elected by universal suffrage (his own vote included)
aK permanent locum tenens of her gracious Majesty.

He hails Claude cheerfully from the platform, as he waddles
about, with a face as of the rising sun, radiant with good fun,
good humour, good deeds, good news, and good living. His coat
was scarlet once ; but purple now. His leathers and boots w^ero
doubtless clean this morning; but are now afflicted with elephan-
tiasis, being three inches deep in solid mud, which his old groom
is scraping off as fast as he can. His cap is duntled in ; his bacli


bears fresh stains of peat ; a gentle rain distils from the few angles
of his person, and bedews the platform; for Mavk Armsworth
has " been in AAHiit " to-day.

All porters and gaards touch their hats to him ; the station-
iD aster rushes up and do^vn frantically, shouting, ""WTiere are
those horse-boxes ? Now then, look alive ! " for Mark is chairman
of the line, and everybody's friend beside ; and as he stands there
being scraped, he finds time to inquire after every one of tho
officials by turns, and after their wives, children, and sweethearts

" '\^Tiat a fine speemicn of your English squire I " says Stangrave.

" He is no squire ; he is the Whitbuiy banker, of whom I told

" Armsworth ! " said Stangrave, looking at the old man with

" ^lark Aims worth himself. He is acting as squu-e, though,
now ; for he has hunted the AVliitford Priors ever since poor old
Lavington's death."

" !N"ow then — those horse-boxes ! " . . .

" Very sorry, Su' ; I telegraphed up, but we coidd get but one

" Put the horses into that, then ; and there's an empty carriage !
Jack, put the hounds into it, and they shall all go second class,
as sure as I'm chairman ! "

The grinning porters hand the strange passengers in, while
Mark counts the couj)les mth his whip-point, —

" Eavager — Eoysterer; Melody — Gay-lass; all right. 'V\Tiy,
Where's that old thief of a Goodman 1 "

" Went over a gate as soon as he saw the couples; and wouldn't
come in at any price, Sir," says the huntsman. " Gone home by
himself, I expect."

" Goodman, Goodman, boy ! " And forthwith out of the
station-room slips the noble old hound, grey-nosed, grej^-eyc-
browed, who has hidden, for purposes of his own, till he sees all
the rest safe locked in.

Up he goes to ]\Iark, and begins wriggling against liis knees,
and looking up as only dogs can. " Oh, want to go first-class
witli me, eh ? Jump in, then ! " And in jumps the hound, and
Mark struggles after him.

" Hillo, Sir ! Come out ! Here aro your betters here before
you," as he sees Stangrave, and a fat old lady in the opposite corner

" Oh, no ; let the dog stay ! " says Stangrave.

" I shall wet you, Sir, I'm afraid."

" Oh, no."

And Mark settles liimself, pufling, with the hound's head on
his knees, and begins talking fast and loud.


" Well, !Mr. iMellot, you're a stranger >iere. Haven't seen you
F-ince poor Miss Honoiu' died. All, sweet angel she was ! Thought
ray Mary would never get over it. She's j ust such another, though
I say it, barring the beauty, Goodman, boy ! You recollect old
(Joodman, son of Galloper, that the old squire gave our old
squire ?"

Claude, of course, knows — as all do who know those parts —
who The Old Squire is ; long n>ay he live, 2')atriarch of the chase J
The genealogy he does not.

" Ah, well — Miss Honour took to the pup, and used to M^alk
liini out ; and a jDrince of a hound he is ; so now he's old we let
him have his own Avay, for her sake ; and nobody '11 ever bully
you, will they, Goodman, my boy 1 "

" I want to introduce you to a friend of mine."

" Proud to laiow any friend of yoiu'S, Sir."

"]\Ir. Stangrave — Mr. Ai'msworth. J\Ir. Stangravo is an
American gentleman, who is anxious to see Whitbury and the

" AVell, I shall be happy to show it him, then — can't have a
better guide, though I say it — know everything by this time,
and everybody, man, woman, and child, as I hope Mr. Stan-
grave '11 find when he gets to laiow old Mark."

" You must not s-peak of getting to know you, my dear Sir ; I
know you intimately abeady, I assure you ; and more, am under
very deep obligations to you, which, I regret to say, I can only
repay by thanks."

" Obligation to me, my dear Su' 1 "

" Indeed I am : I will tell you all when we are alone." And
Stangrave glanced at the fat old woman, who seemed to be
listening intently.

" Oh, never mind her," says Armsworth ; " deaf as a post :
very good woman, but so deaf — ought to speak to her, though "
— and, reaching across, to the infinite amusement of his com-
panions, he roared in the fat woman's face, with a voice as of a
epeaking-trumpet — " Glad to see you, Mrs. Grove ! Got those
di-vidends ready for you next time you come into town."

" Yah ! " screamed the hapless woman, who (as the rest saw)
heard perfectly well. " What do you mean, frightening a lady
in that way 1 Deaf, indeed ! "

*' Why," roared Mark again, " ain't you 'Mxs. Grove, of Dry-
town DirtyAvater 1 "

"1^0, nor no acquaintance! "VNTiat business is it of your'n,
Sir, to go hollering in ladies' faces at your age 1 "

" Well : — ^but I'll swear if you ain't her, you're somebody else.
1 know you as well as the to-vvn clock."

** Me ] If you must know, Sir, I'm Mrs. Pettigrew's mother,


the Linendraper's establishment, Sir; a-going down for Christmas,
Sir ! "

" Humph ! " says Mark ; " you see — was sure I knew her —
know everybody here. As I said, if she wasn't Mrs. Grove, she
was somebody else. Ever in these parts before ? "

" Xever : but I have heard a good deal of them ; and very
much charmed with them I am. I have seldom seen a more
distinctive specimen of English scenery."

*' And how you are improving round here ! " said Claude, who
knew Mark's weak points, and wanted to draAV liim out. " Your
homesteads seem all new ; three fields have been tlu-own into
one, I fancy, over half the farms."

Mark broke out at once on his favourite topic, — " I believe
you ! I'm making the mare go here in Whitford. without the
money too, sometimes. I'm steward now, bailiff — ha ! ha ! these
four years past — to Mrs. Lavington's Irish husband; I wanted
Mm to have a regular agent, a canny Scot, or Yorkshixeman.
Faith, the poor man couldn't afford it, and so fell back on old
Mark. Paddy loves a job, you know. So I've the votes and
the fishing, and send him his rents, and manage all the rest
pretty much my o^atl way."

"Wlien the name of Lavington was mentioned, Mark observed
Stangrave start ; and an expression passed over his face difficult
to be defined — it seemed to Mark mingled pride and shame.
He turned to Claude, and said, in a low voice, but loud enough
for Mark to hear, —

" Lavington 1 Is this their country also 1 As I am going to
visit the graves of my ancestors, I suppose I ought to visit those
of hers."

Mark caught the words which he was not intended to.

*' Eh ? Sir, do you belong to these parts 1 "

" My family, I believe. Lived in the neighbourhood of Whit-
bury, at a place called Stangrave-end."

"To be sure I Old farm-house now ; fine old oak (H'ryiu^ in
it, though; fine old family it must have hoc ; diurch full oi
their monuments. Hum, — ha ! "Well ' iiiat s pleasant, now !
I've often heard there were good old families away there in iN'ew
England ; never thought that there were Whitbury people among
them. Hum — well ! the world's not so big as people think,
after all. And you spoke of the Lavingtons ? Tliey are great
folks herft — or were " — He was going to rattle on : but he saw
a pained expression on both the travellers' faces, and Stangrave
stopped liim, somewhat drily —

" I know nothing of them, I assure you, or they of me. Your
country hero is certainly charming, and sho^vs little of tliose
signs of decay which some j)eople in America impute to it."


"Decay!" Mark weut off at score. "Decay be hanged!
There's life in the old dog yet, Sir ! and dead pigs are looking
up since free trade and emigration. Cheap bread and high

) wages now ; and instead of lands going out of cultivation, a!j
they tlu'catened — bosh ! there's a greater breadth down in Avheat
in the vale now than there ever was ; and look at the roots.
/rFarmers must farm now, or sink ; and, by George ! they are
\ farming, lil^e sensible fellows ; and a fig for tliat old turnip
I ghost of Protection ! There was a fellow came down from tlie
'Carlton — 3»ou know what that is?" Stangrave bowed, and smiled
assent. " From the Carlton, Sir, two years since, and tried it
on, tiU he fell in with old Mai-k. I told him a thing or two ;
among the rest, told him to liis face that he was a liar ; for he
wanted to make farmers believe they were ruined, when he
knew they were not; and that he'd get 'em back Protection,
when he knew that he couldn't — and, what's more, he didn't
mean to. So he cut up rough, and wanted to call me

Online LibraryCharles KingsleyTwo years ago → online text (page 1 of 52)