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Oh, sweet content!

Work apace, apace, apace, apace ;
Honest labour bears a lovely face.
Probably Thomas Duxxsa,— Comedy of Patient GrisseU,


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Heigh ho I sing heigh ho I unto the green holly:
Most fHendahipis feigning, most loving mere foUy :

Then, heigh ho I the holly 1

This life is most jolly.

Song in As You Liki It.

Hugh felt rather dreary as, through Bermondsey,
he drew nigh to the London Bridge Station. Fog, and
drizzle, and smoke, and stench composed the at-
mosphere. He got out in a drift of human atoms.
Leaving his luggage at the office, he set out on foot
to explore — in fact, to go and look for his future,
which, even when he met it, he would not be able to
recognise with any certainty. The first form in which
he was interested to find it embodied, was that of
lodgings; but where even to look, he did not know.
He had been in London for a few days in the spring
on his way to Arnstead, so he was not utterly igno-
rant of the anatomy of the monster city; but his little
knowledge could not be of much service to him now.
And how different it was from the London of spring,
which bad lingered in his memory and imagination;
when, transformed by the "heavenly alchemy" of the
piercing sunbeams that slanted across the streets from
chimney-tops to opposite basements, the dust and
smoke showed great inclined planes of light, up whose
steep slopes one longed to climb to the fountain glory
whence they flowed! Now the streets, from garret to
ceUar, seemed like huge kennels of muddy, moist,

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filthy air, down through which settled the heavier par-
ticles of smoke and rain upon the miserable human
beings who crawled below in the deposit, like shrimps
in the tide, or whitebait at the bottom of the muddy
Thames. He had to wade through deep thin mud
even on the pavements. Everybody looked depressed,
and hurried by with a cowed look; as if conscious
that the rain and general misery were a plague drawn
down on the city by his own individual crime. Nobody
seemed to care for anybody or anything. "Good
heavens!" thought Hugh; "what a place this must be
for one without money!" It looked Uke a chaos of
human monads. And yet, in reality, the whole mass
was so bound together, interwoven, and matted, by
the crossing and intertwisting threads of interest, mutual
help, and relationship of every kind, that Hugh soon
found how hard it was to get within the mass at all,
so as to be in any degree partaker of the benefits it
shared within itself.

He did not wish to get lodgings in the outskirts,
for he thought that would remove him from every
centre of action or employment. But he saw no lodg-
ings anywhere. Growing tired and hungry, he went
at length into an eating-house, which he thought
looked cheap; and proceeded to dine upon a cinder,
which had been a steak. ' He tried to delude himself
into the idea that it was a steak still, by withdrawing
his attention from it, and fixing it upon a newspaper
two days old. Finding nothing of interest, he dallied
with the advertisements. He soon came upon a column
from which single gentlemen appeared to be in re-
quest as lodgers. Looking over these advertisements,
which had more interest for him at the moment than

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all home and foreign news, battles and murders in-
cluded, he drew a map from his pocket, and began to
try to find out some of the localities indicated. Most
of them were in or towards the suburbs. At last he
spied one in a certain square, which, after long and
diligent search, and with the assistance of the girl who
waited on him, he found on his map. It was, in the
neighbourhood of Holborn, and, from the place it oc-
cupied in the map, seemed central enough for his
vague purposes. Above all, the terms were said to be
moderate. But no description of the character of the
lodgings was given, else Hugh would not have ventured
to look at them. What he wanted was something of
the same sort as he had had in Aberdeen — a single
room, or a room and bed-room, for which he should
have to pay only a few shillings a week.

Refreshed by his dinner, wretched as it was, he
set out again. To his great joy, the rain was over,
and an afternoon sun was trying, with some slight
measure of success , to pierce the clouds of the Lon-
don atmosphere: it had already succeeded with the
clouds of the terrene. He soon found his way into
Holborn, and thence into the square in question. It
looked to him very attractive; for it was quietness it-
self, and had no thoroughfare, except across one of its
comers. True, it was invaded by the universal roar —
for what place in London is not? — but it contributed
little or nothing of its own, manufacture to the general
production of sound in the metropolis. The centre
was occupied by grass and trees, inclosed 5Vithin an
iron railing. All the leaves were withered, and many
had dropped already on the pavement below. In the
middle stood the statue of a queen, of days gone by.

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The tide of fashion had rolled away far to the west,
and yielded a free passage to the inroads of com-
merce, and of the general struggle for ignoble exist-
ence, upon this once favoured island in its fluctuating
waters. Old windows, flush with the external walls,
whence had glanced fair eyes to which fashion was
even dearer than beauty, now displayed Lodgings to
Let between knitted curtains, from which all idea of
drapery had been expelled by severe starching. Amongst
these he soon found the house he sought, and shrunk
from its important size and bright equipments; but,
summoning courage, thought it better to ring the bell.
A withered old lady, in just the same stage of decay
as the square, and adorned after the same fashion as
the house, came to the door, cast a doubtful look at
Hugh, and when he had stated hi3 object, asked him,
in a hard, keen, unmodulated voice, to walk in. He
followed her, and found himself in a dining-room,
which to him, judging by his purse, and not by what
he had been used to of late, seemed sumptuous. He
said at once:

"It is needless for me to trouble you further. I
see your rooms will not suit me."

The old lady looked annoyed.

"Will you see the drawing-room apartments, then?"
she said, crustily.

"No, thank you. It would be giving you quite un-
necessary trouble."

"My apartments have always given satisfaction, I
assure you, sir."

"Indeed, I have no reason to doubt it. I wish I
could afibrd to take them," said Hugh, thinking it

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better to be open than to hurt her feelings. "I am
sure I should be very comfortable. But a poor "

He did not know what to call himself.

"0-oh!" said the landlady. Then, after a pause
—"Well?" interrogatively.

"Well, I was a tutor last, but I don't know what I
may be next."

She kept looking at him. Once or twice she looked
at him from head to foot. "

"You are respectable?"

"I hope so," said Hugh, laughing.

"Well!" — this time not interrogatively.
"How many rooms would you like?"

"The fewer the better. Half a one, if there were
nobody in the other half."

"Well! — and you wouldn't give much trouble, I

"Only for coals and water to wash and drink."

"And you wouldn't dine at home?"

"No — nor anywhere else," said Hugh; but the
second and larger clause was sotto voce,

"And you wouldn't smoke in-doors?"


"And you would wipe your boots clean before you
went up-stairs?"

"Yes, certainly." Hugh was beginning to be ex-
ceedingly amused, but he kept his gravity wonder-

"Have you any money?

"Yes; plenty for the meantime. But when I shall
get more, I don't know, you see."

"Well, I've a room at the top of the house, which

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I'll make comfortable for you; and you may stay as
long as you like to behave yourself."

"But what is the rent?"

"Four shillings a week — to you. Would you like
to see it?"

"Yes, if you please."

She conducted him up to the third floor, and
showed him a good-sized room, rather bare, but clean.

"This will do delightfully," said Hugh.

"I will make it a little more comfortable for you,
you know."

"Thank you very much. Shall I pay you a month
in advance?"

"No, no," she answered, with a grim smile. "I
might want to get rid of you, you know. It must be
a week's warning, no more."

"Very well. I have no objection. I will go and
fetch my luggage. I suppose I may come in at once?"

"The sooner the better, young man, in a place
like London. The sooner you come home the better
pleased I shall be. There now I"

So saying, she walked solemnly down-stairs before
him, and let him out. Hugh hurried away to fetch
his luggage, delighted that he had so soon succeeded
in finding just what he wanted. As he went, he
speculated on the nature of his Isindlady, trying to ac-
count for her odd rough manner, and the real kind-
ness of her rude words. He came to the conclusion
that she was naturally kind to profusion, sind that this
kindness had, some time or other, perhaps repeatedly,
been taken shameful advantage of; that at last she had
come to the resolution to defend herself by means of
a general misanthropy, and supposed that she had sue-

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ceeded, when she had got no further than to have so
often imitated the tone of her own behaviour when at
its Grossest, as to have made it habitual by repetition.

In all probability some unknown sympathy had
drawn her to Hugh. She might have had a son about
his age, who had run away thirty years ago. Or rather,
for she seemed an old maid, she had been jilted some
time by a youth about the same size as Hugh; and
therefore she loved him the moment she saw him. Or,
in short, a thousand things. Certainly seldom have
lodgings been let so oddly or so cheaply. But some
impulse or other of the whimsical old human heart,
which will have its way, was satisfied therein.

When he returned in a couple of hours, with his
boxes on the top of a cab, the door was opened, be-
fore he knocked, by a tidy maid, who, without being
the least like her mistress, yet resembled her exces-
sively. She helped him to carry his boxes up-stairs;
and when he reached his room, he found a fire burn-
ing cheerily, I a muffin down before it, a tea-kettle sing-
ing on the hob, and the tea-tray set upon a nice
white cl^th on a table right in front of the fire, with
an old-fashioned high-backed easy-chair by its side —
the very chair to go to sleep in over a novel. The old
lady soon made her appearance, with the teapot in one
hand, and a plate of butter in the other.

"Oh! thank you," said Hugh. "This is com-

She answered only by compressing her lips till her
mouth vanished altogether, and nodding her head as
ihuch as to say: "I know it is. I intended it should
be." She then poured water into the teapot, set it
down by the fire, and vanished.

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Hugh sat down ^n the easy-chair, and resolved to
be comfortable, at least till he had had his tea; after
which he would think what he was to do next. A
knock at the door — and his landlay entered, laid a
penny newspaper on the table, and went away. This
was just what he wanted to complete his comfort. He
took it up, and read while he consumed his bread
and butter. When he had had enough of tea and
newspaper, he said to himself:

"Now, what am I to do next?"

It is a happy thing for us that this is really all we
have to concern ourselves about — what to do next.
No main can do the second thing. He can do the
first K he-^mits it, the wheels of the social Jug-
gernaut roll over him, and leave him more or less
crushed behind. If he does it, he keeps in front, and
finds room to do the next again; and so he is sure to
arrive at something, for the onward march will carry
him with it. There is no saying to what perfection of
success a man may come, who begins with what he
can do, and uses the means at his hand. He makes
a vortex of action, however slight, towards which all
the means instantly begin to gravitate. Let a man but
lay hold of something — anything, and he is in the
high road to success — ^though it may be very long be-
fore he can walk comfortably in it. — It is true the suc-
cess may be measured out according to a standard very
different from his.

But in Hugh's case, the difficulty was to grasp
anything — to make a beginning anywhere. He knew
nobody"; and the globe of society seemed like a mass
of adamant, on which he could not gain the slightest
hold, or make the slightest impression. Who would

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introduce him to pupils? Nobody. He had the testi-
monials of his professors; but who would ask to see
them? — His eye fell on the paper. He would advertise.


; Nothing bat drought and dearth, bat bush and brake,

Which way soever I look, I see.
Some maj dream merrily, but when they wake,
They dress themselves, and come to thee.

Gbokob Hbbbebt.— ^om^.

He got his writing materials, and wrote to the
eflfect, that a graduate of a Scotch university was pre-
pared to give private lessons in the classics and mathe-
matics, or even in any of the inferior branches of
education,, &c., &c. This he would take to the Times
next day.

As soon as he had done this. Duty lifted up her
head, and called him. He obeyed, and wrote to his
mother. Duty called again; and he wrote, though
with much trepidation and humiliation, to David Elgin-

It was a good beginning. He had commenced his
London life in doing what he knew he ought to do.
His trepidation in writing to David, arose in part, it
must be confessed, from the strange result of one of
the experiments at Arnstead.

This was his letter. But he sat and meditated a
long time before he began it.

"My dear Friend, — If I did not think yotr would
forgive me, I should feel, now that I have once al-


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lowed my mind to rest upon my conduct to you, as if
I could never hold up my head again. After much
occupation of thought and feeling with other things, a
season of silence has come, and my sins look me in
the face. First of them all is my neglect of youj to
whom I owe more than to any man else, except, per-
haps, my father. Forgive me, for forgiveness' sake.
You know it takes a long time for a child to know its
mother. It takes everything as a matter of course, till
suddenly one day it lifts up its eyes, and knows that
a face is looking at it. I have been like the child to-
wards you; but I am beginning to feel what you have
been to me. I want to be good. I am very lonely
now in great noisy London. Write to me, if you
please, and comfort me. I wish I were as good as
you. Then everything would go right with me. Do
not suppose that I am in great trouble of any kind.
As yet I am very comfortable, as far as external cir-
cumstances go. But I have a kind of aching inside
me. Something is not right, and I want your help.
You will know what I mean. What am I to do?
Please to remember me in the kindest, most grateful
manner to Mrs. Elginbrod and Margaret. It is more
than I deserve, but I hope they have not forgotten me
as I have seemed to forget them.

"I am, my dear Mr. Elginbrod,

"Your old friend,
"Hugh Sutherland."

I may as well insert here another letter, which ar-
rived at Turriepuffit, likewise addressed to David, some
six weoks after the foregoing. They were both taken
to Janet, of course:

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"Sm, — I have heard from one who knows you,
that you believe — really believe in God. That is why
I write to you. It may seem very strange in me to do
so, but how can I help it? I am a very unhappy
woman, for I am in the power of a bad man. I can-
not explain it all to you, and I will not attempt it; for
sometimes I almost think I am out of my mind, and
that it is all a delusion. But, alas! delusion or not,
it is a dreadful reality to me in all its consequences.
It is of such a nature that no one can help me — but
God, if there be a God; and if you can make me be-
lieve that there is a God, I shall not need to be per-
suaded that he will help me; for I will besiege him
with prayers night and day to set me free. And
even if I am put of my mind, who can help me but
him? Ah! is it not when we are driven to despair,
when there is no more help anywhere, that we look
around for some power of good that can put right all
that is wrong? Tell me, dear sir, what to do. Tell
me that there certainly is a God; else I shall die raving.
He said you knew about him better than smybody else.
"I am, honoured Sir,

"Your obedient servant,

"Euphrasia Cameron.

"Amfitead, Surrey, &c., &c."

David's answer to this letter, would have been
something worth having. But I think it would have
been all summed up in one word: Try and see: call
and listen.

But what could Janet do with such letters? She
did the only thing she could: she sent them to Margaret.

Hugh found it no great hardship to go to bed in

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the same room in which he sat. The bed looked
peculiarly inviting; for, strange to tell, it was actually
hung with the same pattern of old-fashioned chintz, as
the bed which had been his from his earliest recollec-
tion, till he left his father's house. How could he
mistake the trees, growing with tufts to the ground,
or the great birds' which he used to think were crows,
notwithstanding their red and yellow plumage? It was
all over red, brown, and yellow. He could remember,
and reconstruct the very faces, distorted and awful,
which, in the delirium of childish sicknesses, he used
to discover in the foliage and stems of the trees. It
made the whole place seem to him homely and kind.
When he got tired, he knelt by his bedside, which he
had not done for a long time, and then went to bed.
Hardship ! No. It was very pleasant to see the dying
fire, and his books about and his papers; and to
dream, half-asleep and half-awake, that the house-
fairies were stealing out to gambol for a little in the
fire-lighted silence of the room as he slept, and to
vanish as the embers turned black. He had not been
so happy for a long time as now. The writing of
that letter had removed a load from his heart. True,
we can never be at peace till we have performed the
highest duty of all — till we have arisen, and gone to
our Father; but th6 performance of smaller duties, yes,
even of the smallest, will do more to give us tempo-
rary repose, will act more as healthful anodynes, than
the greatest joys that can come to us from any other
quarter. .He soon fell asleep, and dreamed that he
was a little child lost in a snow-storm; and that just
as the snow had reached above his head, and he was
beginning to be smothered, a great hand caught hold

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of him by the arm and lifted him out; and, lol the
storm had ceased, and the stars were sparkling over-
head like diamonds that had been drinking the light
of the sun all day; and he saw that it was David, as
strong as ever, who had rescued him, the little child,
and was leading him home to Janet. But he got
sleepy and faint upon the way, which was long and
cold; and then David lifted him up and carried him
in his bosom, and he fell asleep. When he woke,
and, opening his eyes, looked up to him who bore
him, it was David no longer. The face was that
which was marred more than any man's, because the
soul within had loved more; it was the face of the
Son of Man, and he was carrying him like a lamb in
his bosom. He gazed more and more as they travelled
through tha cold^ight; and the joy of lying in the
embrace of that man, grew and grew, till it became
too strong for the bonds of sleep; and he awoke in
the fog of a London morning.


And, eyen should misfortmies come,
—I, here nrha sit, hae met wV some,

An's thankfti^ for them yet.
Thej gie the wit of age to joath ;

They let us ken onrser ;
They mak* ns see the naked truth,
The real gaid and ill.

Tho' losses, and crosses.
Be lessons right severe,
There's wit there, ye'll get there,
Ye'll find nae other where. Bubvs.

Hugh took his advertisement to the Times office,
and paid what seemed to him an awful amount for its

David Elginhrod. IT. B

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insertion. Then he wandered about London till the
middle of the day, when he went into a baker's shop,
and bought two penny loaves, which he put in his
pocket. Having found his way to the British Museum,
he devoured them at his leisure as he walked through
the Grecian and Roman saloons. "What is the use
of good^ health," he said to himself, "if a man canno
live upon bread?" Porridge and oatmeal cakes would
have pleased him as well; but that food for horses is
not so easily procured in London, and. costs more
than the other. *A cousin of his had lived in Edin-
burgh for six months upon eighteen-pence a week in
that way, and had slept the greater part of the time
upon the floor, training himself for the hardships of a
soldier's life. And he could not forget the college
youth whom his comrades had considered mean, till
they learned that, out of his poor bursary of fourteen
pounds a session, and what he could make besides by
private teaching at the rate previously mentioned or
even less, he helped his parents to educate a younger
brother; and, in order to do so, lived himself upon
oatmeal and potatoes. But they did not find this out
till after he was dead, poor fellow! He could not
stand it.

I ought at the same time to mention, that Hugh
rarely made use of a crossing on a muddy day, with-
out finding a half-penny somewhere about him for the
sweeper. He would rather walk through oceans of
mud, than cross at the natural place when he had no
coppers — especially if he had patent leather boots on.

After he had eaten his bread, he went home to get
some water. Then, as he had nothing else to do, he
sat down in his room, and began to manufacture a




Story, thinking it just possible it might be accepted by
one or other of the pseudo-literary publications with
which London is inundated in hebdomadal floods.
He found spinning almost as easy as if he had been a
spider, for he had a ready invention, and a natural
gift of speech; so that, in a few days, he had finished
a story, quite as good as most of those that appear in
the better sort of weekly publicatio^s. This, in his
modesty, he sent to one of the inferior sort, and heard
nothing more of it than if he had flung it into the
sea. Possibly he flew too low. He tried again, but
with no better success. His ambition grew with his
disappointments, or perhaps rather with the exercise
of his faculties. Before many days had passed he
made up his mind to try a novel. For three months
he worked at this six hours a day regularly. When
material failed him, from the exhaustion consequent
upon uninterrupted production, he would recreate him-
self by lying fallow for an hour or two, or walking out
in a mood for merely passive observation. But this

His advertisement did not produce a single inquiry,
and he shrunk from spending more money in such an
apparently unprofitable appliance. Day after day went
V» and no voice reached him from the unknown world
of labour. He went at last to several stationers' shops
in the neighbourhood, bought some necessary articles,
and took these opportunities of asking iSf they knew of
any one in Want of such assistance as he could give.
But unpleasant as he felt it to make such inquiries, he
soon found that to most people it was equally un-
pleasant to reply to them. There seemed to be some-
thing disreputable in having to answer such questions,

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to judge from the constrained, indifferent, and some-
times, though not often, surly answers which he re-
ceived. "Can it be," thought Hugh, "as disgraceful
to ask for work as to ask for bread?" If he had had
a thousand a year, and had wanted a situation of an-
other thousand, it would have been quite conmiend-
able; but to try to elude cold and hunger by inquiring
after paltry shillings' worths of hard labour, was des-

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldDavid Elginbrod, Volume 2 → online text (page 7 of 20)