The Project Gutenberg eBook of Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 753, June 1, 1878

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Title: Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 753, June 1, 1878

Author: Various

Editor: Robert Chambers

William Chambers

Release date: January 9, 2021 [eBook #64243]

Language: English

Credits: Susan Skinner and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at






No. 753.




Charles Bianconi was altogether a very remarkable person, and not less for his energy and perseverance than for his public services, ought to be kept in remembrance. He was by birth an Italian—not, however, an Italian of the lethargic south, but of the northern mountainous district bordering on the Lake of Como. We might call him an Italian highlander. Belonging to a respectable though not affluent family, he was born on the 24th September 1786. At school he made so little progress as to be thought little better than a dunce. People did not quite understand his character. His impulse was to work, not to study. He wanted to have something to do, and if put on a fair track, was not afraid of being left behind in the ordinary business of life. With this adventurous disposition, and with a good physical stamina, he was bound for eighteen months to Andrea Faroni, who was to take him to London, and there learn the business of a dealer in prints, barometers, and small telescopes. Faroni did not strictly fulfil his part of the contract. Instead of proceeding to London, he took the boy to Dublin, at which he arrived in 1802; so there he was started in a business career in Ireland when sixteen years of age. Helpless, friendless, without money, and ignorant of the English language, his fate was rather hard; but his privations only served to strengthen his powers of self-reliance. Like a hero, he determined to overcome all difficulties.

Faroni, his master, seems to have made a trade of getting Italian boys into his clutches. Besides Bianconi, he had several others, whom he daily turned out to the streets to sell prints in a poor kind of frames, always making a point that they should set off on their travels without any money, and bring home to him the proceeds of their industry. At first, Bianconi was at a loss how to carry on his dealings. The only English word he was made acquainted with was ‘buy, buy;’ and when asked the price of his prints, he could only count on his fingers the number of pence he demanded. In a short time, he picked up other words; and gave so much satisfaction to his employer, that he was sent off to the country every Monday morning with two pounds worth of pictures, and a munificent allowance of fourpence in his pocket as subsistence-money until he returned on Saturday evening. How he contrived to live on less than a penny a day, is not mentioned. We daresay, he often got a warm potato as well as a night’s lodging from the kind-hearted peasantry to whom he exhibited his wares. Opening his pack was as good as a show. He carried a variety of Scripture pieces, pictures of the Royal family, and portraits of Bonaparte and his distinguished generals, all which were profoundly interesting, and found willing purchasers. On one occasion, an over-zealous magistrate, thinking there was a treasonous purpose in selling effigies of Bonaparte, arrested the young pedler, and kept him all night in a guard-room without fire or bedding, and only in the morning was he liberated, almost in a perishing condition. Every Saturday night, Bianconi returned to Dublin to deliver the money he had gathered, and this he did with an honesty which commanded that degree of confidence and respect which led to his professional advancement.

Bianconi’s rambles during three to four years took him chiefly in a south-western direction from Dublin, towards Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir, and Clonmel, in which neighbourhood he made many friends in respectable circles, who were anxious to help him with their countenance and advice, of which as a foreigner he stood in need. So encouraged, he dropped the trade of pedler, and set up as a carver and gilder in Carrick in 1806. Not long afterwards, he removed to Waterford, and issued cards intimating that he was ‘a carver and gilder of the first class.’ It was a bold announcement; but he resolved to make up for deficiencies by incessant industry; and with the exception of two hours for meals, he worked from six o’clock in the morning until past midnight. Hear that, ye false friends of the working classes—ye preachers of the gospel of idleness! Bianconi{338} remained two years in Waterford, and having improved in means and mechanical knowledge, he removed to Clonmel, in which he settled down for a permanence. Clonmel is a thriving borough of some importance, on the river Suir, chiefly in the county of Tipperary, and fourteen miles south from Cashel. We shall not go into any account of his growing trade in mirrors and gilded picture-frames; it is enough to say that Bianconi, by his suavity, integrity, and diligence in his calling, laid the foundation of his fortunes, by which he was enabled to project and carry out a very stupendous undertaking.

A grand thought burst on Bianconi. He conceived the idea of establishing a system of cheap and commodious travelling through Ireland. The only public conveyances were a few mail and day coaches on the great lines of road. Across the country there was no means of transit between market-towns, except by private or specially hired carriages. The plan fallen upon was to start public cars, each with two wheels, drawn by a single horse, and carrying six passengers—three on each side, sitting with their faces outward, in the Irish fashion, with the driver on an elevated seat in front. The attempt was made in 1815, beginning with a car from Clonmel to Cahir, and subsequently extended to Tipperary and Limerick. The thing took. A grievous public want was supplied, and supplied by a foreigner. From town to town, this way and that way over hundreds of miles, Bianconi’s cars spread, and became a great institution. On certain routes, cars with four wheels drawn by two horses, with accommodation for twelve passengers, were established; and latterly there were cars drawn by four horses, accommodating sixteen passengers. At Clonmel there was a gigantic establishment, the centre of the organisation, and at the head of the whole was Bianconi, like the general at the head of an army—his carving and gilding business, of course, being given up, and nothing thought of but cars, horses, drivers, and way-bills.

Bianconi’s head was not turned by his surprising success. He was not one of your foolish persons who, having hit upon a successful enterprise, leave it to its fate, and heedlessly take their ease. His genius for organisation was exercised now only for the first time. The smallest as well as the greatest matters occupied his attention; yet Bianconi was not a mere business monster, set on making money. He was generous in his gifts for pious objects and the support of schools; nor was he less noted for his profuse and genial hospitality. He had, however, higher claims to the character of a public benefactor. When his cars were generally established, he realised the pleasure of seeing the good they were doing. In a paper read by him at the British Association meeting in 1857, he speaks of the many advantages arising from the speedy and free communication he had set on foot. ‘As the establishment extended, I was surprised and delighted at its commercial and moral importance. I found, as soon as I had opened communication with the interior of the country, the consumption of manufactured goods greatly increased. In the remote parts of Ireland, before my cars ran from Tralee to Cahirciveen in the south, from Galway to Clifden in the west, and from Ballina to Belmullet in the north-west, purchasers were obliged to give eight or nine pence a yard for calico for shirts, which they afterwards bought for three or four pence. The poor people, therefore, who previously could ill afford to buy one shirt, were enabled to buy two for a less price than they had paid for one, and in the same ratio other commodities came into general use at reduced prices.’ The introduction of railways naturally deranged the car traffic. But in 1857, Bianconi had still nine hundred horses, working sixty-seven conveyances, and travelling daily four thousand two hundred and forty-four miles. There was in fact as much car traffic as ever, only changed in many places into cross-roads, and running short distances in connection with railway stations—a fact which verifies what is obvious to everybody; for railways, instead of diminishing the number of horses in the country, as short-sighted people prognosticated, have greatly increased them. Bianconi felt a pride in thinking how through the agency of his cars the fisheries on the west of Ireland had been largely promoted, thereby contributing to the comfort and independence of the people; and he was prouder still to say, for the sake of Ireland, that his conveyances, though travelling night and day, and many of them carrying important mails, had never once been interrupted by any social disorder, and never suffered the slightest injury.

From prudential considerations, Bianconi continued a bachelor until he was well established in the car business, and was in good circumstances. When, as he thought, the proper time had come, and he had a handsomely furnished house in Clonmel into which he might introduce a wife, he in 1827 married a young and amiable lady, Eliza Hayes, daughter of a stock-broker in Dublin. Of this marriage there was a family of a son and two daughters. The son died while still a young man, and the eldest daughter, Kate, died unmarried. The youngest daughter, Mary Ann, was married to Morgan John O’Connell, M.P. for Kerry, and nephew of the famous Dan. O’Connell. Surviving her husband, this lady has lately given to the world a memoir of her father, ‘Charles Bianconi, a Biography’ (Chapman and Hall, London, 1878), to which we have been indebted for a number of interesting particulars. Mrs O’Connell’s recollections picture her father in his early married life as a man who gave little heed to home affairs. His time was divided on his cars, electioneering, and getting into the corporation of Clonmel. He was fond of his children, but too busy to think much about them. ‘For a man of such excellent common-sense in most things,’ says his daughter, ‘he was not a judicious father. He suffered my handsome brother to grow up without a profession.’ This is not said disrespectfully, but to present a type of men in married life, who, with excellent abilities and good intentions, habitually neglect the rearing of their sons to any useful purpose. Who could not point to lamentable instances of this indiscretion, and the unhappy consequences which follow?

Bianconi had an ambition. It was to be Mayor of Clonmel. Some will think this a weakness, but it was excusable. One who had begun life as a poor alien boy struggling with poverty, and cared for by nobody, wished to shew that by the revolution of fortune he was qualified for a position of honour and dignity. His ambition was gratified. In 1844, he was unanimously elected Mayor of Clonmel for the ensuing year; and such was the satisfaction he gave as a magistrate,{339} that he was elected for a second term of office. For a position of this kind he was eminently qualified. He had learned to speak English with perfect fluency, and from observation was able to act his part in a manner equal to that of any native-born citizen. Intuitively he had caught up the fervour of the Irish character, as well as a knowledge of the legal disabilities which had hitherto exasperated the majority of the nation. A friend to justice and toleration, and on all sides desirous to promote peace and good-will, it is not surprising that he attained to popular favour.

In Mrs O’Connell’s memoir of her father we have a glimpse of a few of his eccentricities. So anxious was he to be helpful when his interference could be of any use, that while acting as Mayor of Clonmel he did not mind clambering on the top of his cars to pack the luggage of passengers; and he would give himself any amount of trouble to get situations for young men in whom he had confidence. While generous in his charities, he was scrupulous to parsimony when there was a chance of making a good bargain. This trait of character, however, is not uncommon. We have heard related the anecdote of a wealthy London banker, who one day saw his coachman taking home a pie of tempting appearance for dinner. Inquiring the price of the pie, he learned that it cost half-a-crown. ‘If you please, James, I’ll take the bargain off your hands; there is half-a-crown for you, and you can easily get another pie for yourself.’ So saying, the banker secured the pie, which would last him for dinner for a week. Bianconi was equally acute in trying to turn the penny. ‘One day, in Fleet Street, just after he had engaged a four-wheeled cab, my father saw a stout gentleman walking very quickly towards him, and who was evidently in distress at not being able to find a conveyance. The spirit of Charles Bianconi, carman, woke up too strongly to be suddenly quelled. “I have a cab, sir,” he said. “If you will give me your fare, I will set you down where you like.” The stout gentleman was profuse with thanks, and said he wanted to go to the Exchange. When they were in the cab, he begged to be allowed to know to whom he was indebted. “My name is Bianconi,” said my father. “The great Bianconi?” replied the gentleman. “And what is your name, sir?” replied my father, without half the politeness of his companion. “My name, sir, is Rothschild.” My father, in telling me the story, admitted that he was so much overawed by the presence and the affability of so famous a man, that he had not presence of mind to return the compliment and say, “The great Rothschild?” This was by no means a singular instance of my father’s eccentricities in this way; often at home, in Ireland, when he was driving in his own carriage along the high-road, he would take in a traveller who would otherwise have gone by the car, provided that he paid the car fare.’

In his broodings over change of circumstances, Bianconi had nourished another ambition than that of being some day Mayor of Clonmel. He wished to be a land-proprietor, but not being a natural-born subject, he was not, according to law, eligible for buying land until he went through certain formalities in 1831, after which he looked about for a suitable investment. His first and principal acquisition was Longfield, a property in Tipperary, extending to about a thousand English acres. On it was a large and cheerful house, overlooking the Suir, and well-wooded pleasure-grounds sloping down to the river. Here, with splendid views of distant mountains, Bianconi took up his residence—at his arrival on taking possession there being a grand flare-up of tenantry with no end of cheering, for the new landlord’s beneficence and means of disbursement were pretty well understood. Bianconi did not disappoint expectations. When famine, from the failure of the potato crops, spread over the land in 1848, he employed all who would work, and no one died from want at Longfield. His many improvements in fencing, draining, and building cottages with slated roofs gave some offence to neighbouring proprietors of the old school; but he did not mind being looked coldly upon, and by his independence of character gained general esteem and respect.

Advancing in life, Bianconi disposed of his interest in the car system which he originated, several new proprietors taking his place. In 1851, he revisited Italy with his family, but found himself out of unison with all that fell under his notice. Some family property that devolved on him, he presented to several poor relations. It was a pleasure for him to return to Ireland, with which all his feelings were identified, and where he had made numerous warmly cherished acquaintances—among others, Daniel O’Connell, with whom he was in frequent correspondence. His daughter speaks of the immense mass of letters and papers which he left behind him, and presents us with a few specimens from persons of note, all in a complimentary strain. Referring to what he had effected by his ingenious enterprise, Lady Blessington writes to him from England—‘I thank you for discovering those noble qualities in my poor countrymen which neglect and injustice may have concealed, but have not been able to destroy. While bettering their condition, you have elevated the moral character of those you employ; you have advanced civilisation while inculcating a practical code of morality that must ever prove the surest path to lead to an amelioration of Ireland. Wisdom and humanity, which ought ever to be inseparable, shine most luminously in the plan you have pursued, and its results must win for you the esteem, gratitude, and respect of all who love Ireland. The Irish are not an ungrateful people, as they have too often been represented. My own feelings satisfy me on this point. Six of the happiest years of my life have been spent in your country [Italy], where I learned to appreciate the high qualities of its natives; and consequently I am not surprised, though delighted, to find one Italian conferring so many benefits on mine.’

In 1865, when seventy-nine years of age, Bianconi suffered a serious misfortune. When driving a private car, part of the harness snapped, and he was thrown violently to the ground. His thigh-bone was broken; and rarely at his advanced age does any one recover from the effects of such accidents. In a moment of time he had been made a cripple for the remainder of his life. He now only moved about with crutches, or was wheeled about in a Bath-chair; yet he undertook journeys, of course with proper attendance, and did not lose his characteristic cheerfulness. ‘When long past eighty, when he got to be stout, lame, and helpless, he would visit the boys’ Reformatory{340} in the Wicklow Mountains,’ and encountered other risks inappropriate to his age and infirmity. By the governing authorities in Ireland he was held in much esteem for the benefits he had conferred on the country. ‘That amiable, accomplished, and deservedly popular Viceroy, Lord Carlisle, never failed to single out Mr Bianconi at the Royal Dublin shows, or at the other places of public resort, when he happened to be present in his wheeled chair, for they were great friends, and Lord Carlisle esteemed him very highly. At first it was hardly expected he would have lived long after his mishap; but by God’s grace he remained with us for nearly another ten years.’

Afflicted with paralysis and confined to bed, poor Bianconi passed peacefully away after a long and useful career. Mrs O’Connell, who was attending on him at the last, strangely omits to give the date of his decease, which was September 22, 1875, when within two days of being eighty-nine years of age. His body was interred in a mortuary chapel, which he had prepared for himself and family within the grounds at Longfield. Although he had latterly been unable to appear in public affairs, his loss was felt to be national. Looking to the manner in which he self-reliantly rose from obscurity to distinction, and to the success of his vast undertakings, his memory cannot but be endeared to his adopted country, which stands particularly in need of men with his sound common-sense and commercial enterprise. In conclusion, we might almost be warranted in saying that Charles Bianconi did more practically to advance the civilisation and the prosperity of Ireland than all its professed patriots and politicians put together.

W. C.



Gentleman—that is, person—wanted most particularly to know—please to see him, Sir Sykes!’ deferentially hinted the under-butler, sliding on noiseless feet up to the angle of his master’s library table. ‘He was very pressing—send in card,’ continued the man, slurring over the words he uttered with that inimitable slipperiness of diction of which the English, and indeed Cockney man-servant possesses the monopoly, and which seems obsequiously to suggest rather than boldly to announce. Sir Sykes looked up in some surprise.

‘Did he mention what he wanted?’ he asked.

‘No, Sir Sykes,’ replied the under-butler, edging the emblazoned tray on which lay the card, a little nearer, as an experienced angler might bring his bait within striking distance of the pike that lay among the weeds.

‘You may shew him in—here,’ said Sir Sykes, as, without taking the card, he read the name upon it, and which was legibly inscribed in a big, bold, black handwriting. With a bow the under-butler withdrew to execute his master’s orders.

Great people—and a baronet of Sir Sykes Denzil’s wealth and position may for all practical purposes be classed among the great of the earth—are proverbially difficult of access. It is the business of those about them to hedge them comfortably in from flippant or interested intrusions which might ruffle the golden calm of their existence; and suspicious-looking strangers by no means find the door of such a mansion as Carbery, as a rule, fly open at their summons.

The man who had on this occasion effected an entry was not one of those whose faces are their best letters of recommendation. The card he had given bore the name of Richard Hold, and under ordinary circumstances, such a caller as the mariner would never have succeeded in being put into communication with a higher dignitary than the house-steward or the groom of the chambers. However, by a judicious mixture of bribing and bullying, the visitor had induced the under-butler to do his errand. Under certain circumstances, half a sovereign is a sorry douceur, even to an under-butler, but when tendered in company with enigmatical threats of ‘starting with a rope’s end,’ by a seafaring personage of stalwart build and resolute air, such a coin becomes doubly efficacious as a persuader.

Richard Hold, master mariner, came in with a curious gait and mien, half-slinking, half-swaggering, like a wolf that daylight has found far from the forests and among the haunts of men. He was dressed in very new black garments, ‘shore-going clothes,’ as he would himself have described them; and the hat that he carried in his hand was new and tall and hard. He had even provided himself with a pair of gloves, so desirous was he to omit no item of the customary garb of gentlemen; but these he carried loose, instead of subjecting his strong brown fingers to such unwonted confinement.

‘I cannot say that I expected this honour, Mr Hold,’ said the baronet, stiffly motioning his unwelcome visitor to a seat.

‘’Tis likely not,’ coolly returned the adventurer, as he took a survey of the apartment. ‘This sort of place, I don’t mind admitting, is a cut, or even two cuts above me. Still, business is business, Sir Sykes Denzil, Baronet, and has got to be attended to, I reckon, even in such a gen-teel spot as this is, mister!’

There must be something in the American twang and the American forms of speech which all the world over hits the fancy of British-born rovers of Hold’s caste, for in every quarter of the globe our home-reared rovers affect the idiom, and sometimes the accent, of Sam Slick’s countrymen.

‘I am scarcely aware, Mr Hold,’ said the baronet with cold politeness, ‘what business it can be to which I am indebted for the favour of your company, to-day.’

‘Aren’t you, though, skipper?’ echoed Hold, whose natural audacity, for a moment repressed by the weight as it were of the grandeur around him, began to assert itself afresh. ‘Well, let every fellow paddle his own canoe and shoe his own mustangs. The question is, Are you dealing fairly by me or are you not, Sir Sykes Denzil, Baronet?’

‘I assure you that you are talking Greek to me,’ said the master of Carbery Chase, with a tinge of colour rising to his pale face.

‘A nod,’ persisted Hold, ‘is as good every bit as a wink—you know the rest of it, mister. But{341} since you want plain speaking, you shall have it. You can’t have forgot, no more than I can, that our bargain was just this: A certain young lady was to be married to a certain young gentleman.’

‘I apprehend that you allude to—to my ward—Miss Ruth Willis,’ said the baronet hesitatingly.

‘You’ve hit it exactly,’ exclaimed Hold, with a slap of his hard hand upon the crown of his hard hat, which sounded like a muffled drum, somewhat to the discomfiture of its proprietor, who eyed its ruffled surface ruefully. ‘When is the wedding to come off?’

Sir Sykes contemplated his ruffianly visitor with a disgust which it required all his prudence to dissemble.

‘In civilised society,’ he said coldly, ‘events of that sort do not take place with quite so expeditious a disregard of difficulties as your very apposite question suggests. In the backwoods it is perhaps otherwise.’

‘In the backwoods,’ roughly retorted Hold, ‘we don’t shilly-shally about righting a wrong, no more than about the marrying of a young couple that hev made up their minds to it. And let me tell you, Sir Sykes Denzil, Baronet, the superfine Saxony you fine gentlemen wear covers bigger rogues, often, than ever did the deerskin hunting-shirt with its Indian embroidery of wampum and coloured quills. Backwoodsmen! I’ve been in white-fisted company less to be trusted than theirs.’

Sir Sykes had imbibed too much of the spirit of that modern civilised society of which he spoke, to be readily nettled into a burst of anger by such taunts as these. Cool, save for one moment, from the first, the temperature of his calmly flowing blood seemed to grow more frigid as Hold’s warmed.

‘You have, I assure you, Mr Hold, no cause whatever for irritation,’ he said smoothly: ‘I mean—to use your own expression, which I willingly adopt—fairly by you. I neither repudiate nor ignore our tacit compact. It is my dearest wish that my son should become the husband of the exemplary young lady in whose prosperity you interest yourself.’

Hold gave a growl such as a bear, suddenly mollified by the gift of a glittering slice of toothsome honeycomb, might be expected to emit. His distrustful eye ranged over the baronet’s plausible face, as though to test the sincerity of the assurance which had just been given.

‘We’re in the same boat,’ he said, in a tone that, if dogged, was less surly than before. ‘Our pumpkins, I guess, ought to go to the same market, they ought. But fair words don’t put fresh butter into a dish of boiled batatas. I’m a British bull-dog of the game old breed,’ he added gruffly; ‘and I keep the grip, however I’m handled. Is there a likelihood of the marriage coming off soonish?’

‘I hope so,’ returned Sir Sykes. He would have given much to have avoided the slight embarrassment which he was conscious that his manner indicated, and which was not lost upon Hold’s watchful eye.

‘No day fixed? No banns put up—stop! I forgot—you swells marry by special license of the Archbishop of Canterbury—no cake ordered; no fal-lals bespoken from the milliner; no breakfast; no orange-flowers, eh? Well, I wish to be reasonable about it, Sir Sykes, but there must be an end of this. Do the young people understand one another, or do they not?’

‘It does not answer to brusquer these things,’ returned Sir Sykes apologetically.

‘It does not answer to what?’ interrupted Richard, to whose nautical ears the French word sounded odder than would have done a fragment of linguafranca or a scrap of Eboe or Mandingo.

‘To be too precipitate,’ explained the baronet. ‘I have spoken to my son. He sees, I hope, the affair in a proper light. He is often in the society of Miss Willis, but—but’——

Sir Sykes wavered miserably here. All his deportment seemed to fail him before Hold’s merciless eye, the very gaze of which probed him to the quick.

‘Aren’t you captain in your own ship?’ asked the adventurer curtly.

The baronet winced at the question. Captain in his own ship, in the sense that some men are commanders at home, he had never been. His own house, his own estate, had not from the first been managed in precise accordance with the views of him who owned them. But he had been a decorous captain, a captain who walked quarter-deck as solemnly as the greatest Tartar afloat, and who got lip-service and eye-service as a salve to his vanity, until quite recently.

Now there was a strong and not altogether an obedient hand on the helm. A new broom was making, in the person of Enoch Wilkins, attorney-at-law, a clean sweep of various time-honoured abuses such as always do grow up about a great estate, and the wails of the indignant sufferers could not always be kept from reaching the reluctant ears of Sir Sykes. People who were docked of perquisites came in respectful bitterness of soul to the baronet, and humbly prayed that he would take their part as against Wilkins the lawyer and Abrahams the steward.

Captain in his own ship! The word was a telling one, and it hit him hard. He was only captain in an ornamental sense, because Carbery was his freehold, and the baronetcy his, and he alone could sign receipts and draw cheques. He had loved his ease much; and now it was perpetually invaded. He was sorry for dismissed gamekeepers, and for tenants whose tenure was to expire on Lady-day. He gave them drafts on his banker as a plaster for the smart which he nevertheless felt sure was deserved. An unrespecting City solicitor, and the sharp London Jew whom Mr Wilkins had inducted into the stewardship, were swelling the rent-roll in despite of the feeble protests of the nominal lord of all.

‘I can’t compel Captain Denzil to take a wife of my choosing; that is beyond the power of a modern English father, at least where sons are concerned,’ said Sir Sykes with a sickly smile.

‘No; you can’t do that, skipper. To knot the ninetailed cat and give the young fellow six dozen for mutiny,’ said Hold, chuckling over the imaginary scene, ‘would be too strict discipline for mealy-mouthed days like these. But you might let him have it, Sir Sykes, though not quite so downright. Make him understand that his allowances and his liberty all depend on good behaviour, and then see what comes of it.’

What Sir Sykes suffered during the delivery of this speech, could only be inferred from the fact{342} that his lips became of a bluish white and that he drew his breath gaspingly.

‘Believe me, Mr Hold,’ he said in a thin broken voice, which gained strength somewhat as he proceeded, ‘you may intrust the care of carrying out your wishes—that is, our wishes—to me. I understand my son best, and I’——

He stopped again, gasping for breath, and the lines about his mouth, traced by pain, were visible enough to attract the notice of his unscrupulous guest.

‘You shall have time, Sir Sykes Denzil, Baronet,’ he said apologetically; ‘take a fortnight if you like. I’m to be heard of meanwhile at old Plugger’s;’ and he threw the card of that establishment on the table.

Then Sir Sykes rang the bell for wine, and the wine was brought. Hold tossed off a bumper of sherry.

‘Your health, skipper,’ he said; ‘and success to the wedding.’ And so, with an impudent leer, he picked up his tall shining hat and departed.


‘It can’t be done, sir, at the price. I’d do a good deal to meet your wishes and that, and I don’t pretend to be more sentimental than my neighbours. But marrying is a serious sort of step, you know. One can’t cry off and pay forfeit, if one changes one’s mind a bit too late. Miss Willis is’——

Thus far Captain Denzil; but now Sir Sykes interrupted his son with an irritation unusual to him: ‘Miss Willis is a great deal too good for you, I am afraid. Indeed I trust to her sound sense to keep some order in your affairs, and prevent you from driving at too headlong a pace along the road to ruin. Of course her pretensions to pedigree are very slight compared with our own, if that be the obstacle in your way.’

‘Nobody cares much about ancient blood, in a woman at least, now-a-days,’ languidly replied Jasper. ‘She is lady enough to take the head of a dinner-table, or figure creditably in a London drawing-room, after a few weeks of training, and that’s as much as need be looked for. And I admit that Miss Willis is—very clever.’

Except in the case of an authoress, no one ever applies the epithet ‘Very clever’ to a lady save as a species of covert blame. Sir Sykes felt and looked uneasy as the words reached him.

‘If you have any personal objection’—— he began.

‘Not the least in the world,’ unceremoniously interrupted Jasper. ‘I’ll even stretch a point, and say I rather like the girl than otherwise. She’d go straight, I daresay, once the course was smooth and clear before her. But I do not think, father, you are treating me quite well. Carbery ought, you know it ought, to go in the direct line, as such properties do.’

‘I apprehend your meaning,’ returned Sir Sykes in his coldest tone, ‘to be that you resent as a grievance the fact that the estate is not entailed upon yourself. You should be more reasonable, and remember the singular circumstances under which I became master here.’

‘It was a grand coup!’ exclaimed the captain, with an envious little sigh. ‘Such a stroke of luck does not come twice to the same family.’

‘I got this great gift,’ pursued Sir Sykes, ‘from the hand of one who thought less of what he gave to me than of what, by making such a will, he took away from others. The old lord’s self-tormenting mind led him to exult, in the hopes that his testament extinguished, in the injury done to kith and kin.’

‘It was a sell for the De Veres,’ muttered Jasper; ‘they didn’t on the whole take it badly.’ He looked up as he spoke at the glimmering blazonry of the great stained-glass window, and realised, for the first time perhaps, the vexation which the caprice of the late lord of Carbery had inflicted on those of his own race and name.

‘The property,’ said Sir Sykes, ‘having become my own a score of years ago, is mine to give or to withhold at my death, as in my lifetime I may judge fitting.’

‘You have told me that, sir, pretty often,’ retorted Jasper testily; ‘of course it’s yours, and you can leave it to the Foundling Hospital if you like.’

‘Common policy then would dictate,’ said Sir Sykes with deliberate emphasis, ‘the study of my wishes. And I wish very much indeed that Miss Willis should become your wife.’

‘I can’t, as I said, do it at the price; really I can’t,’ rejoined Jasper sullenly, as he thrust his hand into a side-pocket and fingered the cigar-case that lay there. He did not dare to light a cigar in the library, much as he longed to seek solace in smoke; but he grew impatient for the interview to come to an end, and to recover his freedom.

‘I offered a handsome income,’ said Sir Sykes with an offended look. ‘Had not the sum proposed proved sufficient, that was a difficulty not insuperable. You had the option of beginning married life with the revenue of an average baronet.’

‘Yes; but you see, sir, you are a trifle above the mark of an average baronet’ responded the captain; ‘and I naturally should like when my turn comes—I hope it will be a long time first—to fill the same position. A bare allowance, or a lump of settled money, won’t make me the equal of an ordinary eldest son; and I don’t see why, since by accident I’m not on a par with other fellows of my nominal rank and prospects, and I am required to marry without being allowed to choose for myself, I should not be put on a level with men of my own standing.’

Sir Sykes fidgeted restlessly in his chair, and the lines of pain about his mouth, which grew more sharply defined every day, deepened almost perceptibly.

‘Consider what you are asking of me,’ he said with an injured air; ‘to make myself a mere tenant for life where I have been for twenty years owner in fee-simple! Sons do not ask their fathers to entail an estate for their benefit.’

‘I don’t see why I should be in a worse position than other fellows,’ sullenly responded Jasper. ‘I may have been extravagant and that sort of thing; but there’s no reason why my extravagances should be totted up against me to a heavier sum-total than those of twenty I could name. Hookham, now, who let his father in for a hundred and eleven thousand the year that the French horse Plon-Plon won the Derby, is as safe of the Snivey estates as he is of the Snivey peerage.’

‘The Earl of Snivey and his prodigal heir{343} Lord Hookham,’ answered Sir Sykes with cold urbanity, ‘do not present a case, to my mind, precisely in point. You cannot in reason expect me, after the sacrifices I have already made on your behalf, to place you in the position, as you call it, of heir of entail. I am speaking to you less as a father than as a man of the world.’

‘And as a man of the world, sir,’ said the incorrigible Jasper, ‘I trust you will excuse my saying that I scarcely care to be huddled and hustled into marrying I don’t know whom, unless at a very heavy figure, as my stock-broker, when I was fool enough to go on the Exchange, and burned my fingers over time-bargains, used to say. I can’t think why you should mind my coming next, as concerns Carbery Chase here.’

This was a home question which, if arraigned before the stern tribunal of Minos and Rhadamanthus, Sir Sykes would not have found it easy to answer. He was in the habit of telling himself that Jasper was not a successor to whom the honour and welfare of a great family could with prudence be intrusted. Were he master, the old oaks in the Chase might soon be gambled down from their prescriptive loftiness, and mortgages might spring up like mushrooms. Here was a noble estate unencumbered, like some big diamond without a flaw to mar its lustre, and he was asked to let his spendthrift son inherit as of right. There were Lucy and Blanche to be provided for. They would marry, doubtless, and their husbands would probably expect that the brides’ hands should be heavy with much gold. The bulk of the property would devolve on Captain Denzil; but then it might be tied up with an ingenious testamentary rigour that should keep the future baronet in legal leading-strings through life. Sir Sykes cherished too lively a recollection of the shifts and straits of his own outlawed progenitor Sir Harbottle, to wish the reins of government to pass unreservedly into Jasper’s unsteady hands.

But Sir Sykes had an unavowed motive for rejecting his son’s proposition. He was by no means sure how Enoch Wilkins of St Nicholas Poultney would receive such a suggestion. Mr Wilkins, that over-zealous pilot, who had insisted on assuming the guidance of affairs, might be furious at hearing that Jasper was to be promoted from heir-presumptive to heir-apparent. There was no alliance between the captain and the shrewd turf lawyer, from whom so much of his lightly expended cash had been extracted. Jasper by no means relished the elevation of Mr Wilkins to be his father’s Mentor and right-hand man. Mr Wilkins might guess that Sir Jasper would send his japanned deed-boxes elsewhere than to St Nicholas Poultney. And yet Sir Sykes could not venture to offend Mr Wilkins.

The conversation was protracted for some half-hour or more, since Sir Sykes was sincerely desirous to carry his point; but it languished by degrees, and involved, as conversations on important topics are in real life apt to do, frequent repetitions of some stock phrase or threadbare argument. Sir Sykes essayed threats, veiled ones of course, and not very comprehensible even to himself. Jasper, however, was very little moved by such threats. There are things that a gentleman cannot do, and assuredly one of them is to turn his only son out of doors because he declines a wife of the parent’s choosing. And to no other menace was the captain amenable. He should probably, as a result of his father’s displeasure, get no cheques for the next few months; but this stoppage of pocket-money could not much affect the happiness of a graceless prodigal who, had he once got a sufficient sum in his possession, would have turned his back at once on Carbery and all that belonged thereto.

Jasper, then, was singularly stubborn. He was in general as morally pliable as a jelly-fish, after the fashion of most so-called men of pleasure, but now he seemed for the nonce to have developed a backbone, and to be hard to bend. There was really some lurking sense of injury at his heart, and he felt on better terms with his own conscience than was often the case, as he resisted his father’s instances that he should marry Miss Willis, commence housekeeping on five thousand a year, and be a reformed character as well as a Benedict. He felt that all was not right, and was assured that a bride worth the taking would not be urged on his acceptance with such pertinacity.

‘I do not see,’ repeated Jasper again and again, ‘why I should be in a worse position than other fellows.’

From that formula, behind which, as behind a breastwork, he strongly intrenched himself nothing could drive him. It was not, as he explained with almost unnecessary candour, that he had any undue delicacy with regard to mercenary marriages; but that what he stipulated for was to be on a level with other spendthrifts of his own degree and set, with young Lord Hookham, with Lionel Rattlebury, and wild Lord Viscount Squandercash, and the rest. Entail the estate, so that it must pass to him, Jasper, and post-obits would become practicable, and money be easily raised; and then Miss Willis was welcome to be the partner of his joys and sorrows—such was Jasper’s simple train of reasoning. It was a heavy price, but he stood out for it.

Sir Sykes was not willing to pay the price, at the cost, it might be, of a second contest with Mr Enoch Wilkins, and the negotiation with his son came to no satisfactory conclusion. What was to be done? Hold had named a fortnight as the period of grace that he was disposed to grant; but the baronet was of opinion that it would not be politic to allow the time to expire without communicating with this man—who was in some sense his master. He would inform Hold of Captain Denzil’s unexpected obstinacy, and plead for a further delay, and—yes—he would send money. Money has often a wonderfully lenitive effect upon the temper, and its softening effects should be tried upon this buccaneering fellow.

Sir Sykes penned his letter, touching as lightly as he could on Jasper’s recalcitrancy, and expressing sanguine hopes for the future. He said nothing about the entail, which had been the subject of the haggling debate between himself and the captain. It would hardly be prudent to tell Hold of that, lest Jasper should find an unexpected ally to back his demand.

‘We had better, under the circumstances, give him, as I believe whale-fishers say, a little more line,’ wrote Sir Sykes in his confidential communication to Richard Hold, and he was weak enough to pride himself on his neat use of a nautical metaphor sure to tell with a seafaring man. And he signed a cheque for two hundred and fifty{344} pounds, payable to Mr Richard Hold, or order, and inserted it in the letter, which he despatched by that night’s post. He could scarcely have done a more foolish thing.


Some persons are old enough to remember the Volunteer system which prevailed in the early years of the present century. It was an enthusiastically patriotic movement, for the country was threatened with invasion by Bonaparte, who, however, as is well known, never got beyond preparations at Boulogne, and by the victory of Nelson at Trafalgar received an effectual check. Volunteering at that time, though very hearty, was at best never anything else than playing at soldiering. The members of the various corps were only civilians in uniforms. Discipline was imperfect. At any fancied affront, a man sent in his gun and walked off.

We can mention a case in point, which occurred about 1807. The colonel in command of the Westminster Volunteers, one day lost his temper on parade, and struck a member of the corps with the flat of his sword. Such was the general indignation at the outrage, that the greater number of both officers and men at once sent in their resignation, and the regiment was broken up. This anecdote was related to us by one of the sergeants, who resigned and sent in his sword and musket. Evidently, there could have been no solid reliance on a body of Volunteers so ill governed and held together so feebly. The whole fabric was at length dissolved, and was succeeded by militia regiments strictly under the articles of war.

The volunteering system of our own day has step by step attained the character of a Landwehr, or reserve force, liable, if the occasion arises, to support the army of the line and the militia. It embraces infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and is constructed on a proper military basis. As in former times, each town or district has its own regiment of Volunteers, which may be concentrated at a short notice by telegraph. In the infancy of the present movement, the peer and the artisan, the gentleman and the shopkeeper, all ‘shouldered arms’ together and marched gaily side by side. Dukes, earls, marquises, and cabinet ministers joined the ranks—Lord Palmerston (then Prime-minister) himself donning the uniform and learning his drill as a private in the London Irish Rifle Corps; while in the London Scottish, the Marquis (now Duke) of Abercorn did the same thing. This was all well and good; but it could not last long, nor did it. Liberty is the precious possession of all classes in this country, but perfect ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’ such as the above incidents indicated are virtues which have not yet attained to any very great degree of perfection amongst us. And so it came to pass that these noble recruits, whose support at that time to the Volunteer cause cannot of course be over-estimated, were among the first who ‘fell out,’ to make way for those who really meant ‘soldiering.’

Royal reviews and Easter-Monday field-days attracted to the ranks of our citizen army all those who loved volunteering for the sake of making a show; but now that the movement has settled down into real earnest military work, the true manhood of Britain is to the fore—the spirit which looks upon hard work with as light a heart as it looks on pleasure, when there is a lesson to be learned or a great object to be gained.

The new movement was national in all its phases. The different corps adopted titles and mottoes which had some distinct connection or other with their country’s history, or with the local traditions of the counties in which they were raised. In the former category are the two national corps we have already named; and in the latter may be reckoned the ‘Robin Hoods,’ with their uniform of Lincoln green, which is the only thing about them, however, that reminds one of the days of Robin Hood and his jovial band.

Though for some cause which we have never heard properly explained, there are no ‘colours’ or ‘standards’ in our Volunteer corps, each regiment has a motto, the favourite ones being Defence, not Defiance (which is the motto of the National Rifle Association), Pro Aris et Focis (For our Hearths and Firesides), and Pro Rege et Patria (For King and Country). If ever our Volunteers are used at all it will be in battalion formation, like the regular army, for an army of two hundred thousand men cannot all act as skirmishers, and their colours would be to them as much the embodiment of their country’s honour as those of the line are to the regiments of the regular army. The Volunteers of 1804 possessed honourable emblems in the shape of banners or standards, many of which still adorn the walls of London’s historic fortress—the Tower.

In the year 1860 the Volunteer movement received the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen, in a manner as practical as it was generous and graceful. The National Rifle Association, which may be said to be the mainspring of the whole affair, and which has since become one of our most popular institutions, had decided to hold the first annual contest in rifle-shooting at Wimbledon Common, and the great ‘Tir National’ of England was successfully inaugurated by the Queen firing the first shot. The rifle was laid for her, and Her Majesty pulled the trigger. By the aid of the ‘mechanical rest’ the bullet struck the bull’s-eye, and thus with an omen of happy import was commenced the series of contests which to-day has given us an army of sharpshooters ready to ‘do or die’ for Britain. The Queen then announced that she would give a prize of two hundred and fifty pounds to be shot for annually, the winner having the choice of receiving it either in money or in a souvenir of the same value. This prize, which is called the ‘blue-ribbon’ of Wimbledon, can only be shot for by Volunteers; and to it are also attached the gold medal and badge of the National Rifle Association. The Prince Consort also gave an annual prize to be shot for, and this has been continued to the meeting by the Prince of Wales.

These royal acts at once put the seal of popularity upon the Volunteer cause, and prizes of all kinds were offered for competition. Things were at first somewhat chaotic at Wimbledon; but as time wore on, the common changed its fair-like aspect, in which refreshment booths occupied the most prominent place, to the spectacle which it now always presents on these occasions—namely that of a neat and well-ordered encampment where, while the meeting lasts, the strictest military{345} discipline is understood to prevail. Competitors from all parts of the world meet there annually, for many of the prizes are of a cosmopolitan nature. The Dominion of Canada and Australia send teams of marksmen, for whom special ‘challenge cups’ are prepared; while the Army and Navy, the two Houses of Parliament, and our great Public Schools also exhibit their skill in the use of the rifle.

Our Volunteers had a good deal to put up with in the first few years of the movement from the street arabs and other idlers, who could find no better employment than to fling all kinds of rough sarcasm and what may appropriately be termed ‘gutter criticism’ at the members of the different corps. An unfortunate Volunteer, for instance, was fined for shooting a dog on Blackheath Common as he was going to drill, and almost immediately every Volunteer was hailed in the London streets with the cry of ‘Who shot the dog?’ Again, when the Volunteers met in the public parks for drill they were closely surrounded by a critically tantalising crowd, which obstructed their movements and laughed heartily at their mistakes. The comic papers were also filled with amusing caricatures of our citizen soldiers; and a great deal was done even in high places to throw cold-water upon this patriotic and popular movement. It has now, we are glad to record, outlived all this, and has become enthroned in the hearts of Englishmen as one of our greatest institutions. It numbered at first some two hundred thousand men, but this included persons of all ages, sizes, and classes; and after the first flush of enthusiasm passed off, the motives which actuated many of them were not so much military zeal or any of the more solid military virtues, as a love of novelty and a taste for good-fellowship.

The Volunteers are now organised upon a somewhat different footing. No one is accepted as a recruit who is not physically able to undergo military work and marching; but should the Volunteer wish to quit the service, he must comply with the following rules as laid down in Regulations for the Volunteer Force. He must give to the commanding-officer of his corps fourteen days’ notice in writing of his intention to quit the corps. He must deliver in good order—fair wear and tear only excepted—all arms, clothing, and appointments that may have been issued to him. And he must pay all money due or becoming due by him, under the rules of the corps, either before or when he quits the corps. When the above regulations have been observed, the Volunteer is free to bid adieu to the ranks. His uniform is supplied to him free, but only on condition that he shall make himself an ‘efficient;’ a condition which if fulfilled, will earn for the funds of his corps the government capitation grant of thirty shillings per year. Efficiency is gained by attending a certain number of drills and parades and gaining a regulated score of marks for rifle-shooting.

Thus at a small cost to the state the different corps are made self-supporting, the Volunteer himself being put to no expense beyond the time which he gives up to the necessary drills and parades. The Volunteers have now learned what military discipline is, and have, by their attending the exercises and manœuvres of the regular army, shewn themselves willing to submit to it. Most Volunteer officers also take a pride in knowing their duty, and are no longer helplessly dependent on the adjutant and the drill-instructor. Instead of being regarded in the light of a novelty, volunteering is now looked upon as a serious business by all engaged in it, and as a task which in its perfect fulfilment will render them worthy citizens of a great and widely extended empire.

The service which the Volunteer movement has rendered to Britain is of incalculable value, for besides giving us a defending army of nearly two hundred thousand ‘efficient’ men, trained to the use of every weapon known in warfare, it has been a school in which, during the twenty years of its existence, thousands have learned those elementary principles of military life which, in the case of an invasion, would enable them again to come forward in defence of their Queen and country. The very fact of Great Britain possessing such an army would deter, and for aught we know to the contrary, may have deterred hostile nations from invading her shores.

The two largest Volunteer corps are Scotch—namely the 1st Lanarkshire Artillery with seventeen batteries, and the 1st Edinburgh (Queen’s) Rifle Brigade with twenty-five companies; these being the only two corps whose strength entitles them to two adjutants each. The militia and yeomanry trainings of 1876 were attended by seventy-six thousand, and nine thousand five hundred officers and men respectively; while the annual inspections of the Volunteers for last year resulted in an attendance of 159,378 men of all ranks.

We find by reference to the Annual Returns of the Volunteer corps, that no fewer than 16,306 officers and sergeants obtained Certificates of Proficiency in 1877. These are facts which it is consoling for the public to know, for they ought to dispel in the future any fear of the consequences of foreign invasion.

The Civil War in America shewed us what a Volunteer army could do; and it behoves this country now to see that this magnificent force which it has at its disposal should be placed on such a footing in relation to the other forces as will for ever secure its services. Our Volunteers constitute a force to which no other country can present a parallel; and as such, irrespective of its being the means of doing away with the evils of conscription, is worthy of all the support which the state can give it, for certain events within the past few years have shewn us to what straits a country is driven, and how great is the misery of its people when it has been successfully invaded. As a sign of the times too, we may note with satisfaction the patriotic feeling which has, in the present crisis of our national history, induced many Volunteer corps to offer their services to the government for garrison duty at home, in the event of our army proceeding abroad, one regiment—the London Irish—even going so far, we learn, as to place itself at the absolute disposal of the government for service either in or out of the United Kingdom.

Long may it be ere these shores are ever again approached by an enemy bent upon our destruction as a people; but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that such an enterprise would perchance ere this have been effected if it had not been for the patriotic conduct of our youth, who have enabled Britain to cover herself with an impenetrable{346} shield, and to find in the arms and hearts of her own sons that indomitable strength which is best and most appropriately expressed in the peaceful words that form the motto of our citizen army—namely Defence, not Defiance.


Badly as the streets of Paris were lighted at the close of the reign of Louis XV., the art of illuminating ballrooms was as well understood then as it is in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The guests who flocked to the receptions of M. de Bocher, after passing through streets in which a few flickering oil-lamps scarcely succeeded in making darkness visible, found themselves in the centre of floods of dazzling light, and surrounded by all that was bright, fashionable, and gay in the pleasure-loving city of Paris.

Times had much altered since the days of the Grand Monarque, and the hard and fast lines of society, then so rigidly observed, were now well-nigh obliterated. A precursor of the great Revolution which was hereafter to overthrow the state, was to be found in the invasion of the saloons of the nobility by financiers and capitalists, who were received with open arms by those who wished either to borrow money from them, or to recruit their shattered fortunes by alliances with the money-bags of the period. Nor was this all; for the poets and writers of the day, anxious to secure the support of well-known and wealthy patrons, flocked to these reunions, which they enlivened with their geniality and wit.

Monsieur de Bocher could lay but little real claim to the patrician prefix which he had for some years adhibited to his otherwise plebeian name. But he held a quasi-official appointment, which, although outside the Cabinet, gave him almost the dignity of a minister; while his well-known wealth and splendid entertainments attracted the best society in Paris. He was, moreover, a man of wit and learning, and as he possessed the somewhat rare faculty of playing the host to perfection, had an excellent cook and a cellar of first-class wine, his mansion in the Faubourg St Germain was one of the most popular in Paris. Dukes and peers, ambassadors and foreigners of distinction, the simple gentleman, the poet, the literary man, the barrister, and the capitalist, all found here a common ground for the display of their various talents. Fools were rare, for they soon found that the climate was not congenial; and the conversation was not only remarkable for its piquancy, but its intellectual character. Each guest, after paying his respects to Madame de Bocher, mixed at once in the throng, and was soon busied in discussing the last news of the day, or deep in the question which agitated Paris. Marmontel and Diderot, La Harpe and Helvetius, seldom missed a reception; but here, as indeed throughout Paris, Voltaire was the presiding genius. It was a hopeless struggle for any young author to attempt to hold his own against so powerful a clique. Voltaire denounced him before his face; Diderot caricatured him at the Café Procope; he was jeered and laughed at everywhere, and ended by submitting to his tormentors. The result of such a censorship was not difficult to foresee; and in a short time no literary effort which did not contain at least a covert attack upon religion, in accordance with the principles of the fashionable philosophy, had a chance of success. Let us now tell the story of M. de Bocher’s acquisition of wealth.

His origin indeed was of the lowliest, for his father was but a working mason in the days of the Grand Monarque. One evening, as the father was returning home with his work-basket on his shoulder and trowel in hand, a man wrapped in a long brown cloak, and closely followed by a carriage without any armorial bearings or ciphers, tapped him on the shoulder and asked him whether he would like to earn five-and-twenty louis. The mason eagerly acquiesced; and having entered the carriage, his eyes were bandaged, and the horses started off at a great rate. For several hours the carriage was driven rapidly about the streets of Paris, with the obvious intention of making the occupant lose all trace of the route he had traversed; and when the object had been accomplished, the carriage stopped suddenly in the court-yard of a large mansion. Bocher was then desired to alight; and was at once conducted, his eyes still bandaged, into a kind of cellar, where his eyesight was restored to him. Here he found two men, both armed, and with their faces concealed by masks. The poor man was in an agony of terror, believing that his last hour had come, but was somewhat reassured by the gestures of his companions, who, fearful of trusting their voices, made signs to him to make some mortar of the lime which was lying on the floor. A hole in the wall disclosed a recess; and the two men raising with difficulty a weighty strong box, placed it in the interior, and made signs to the mason to build up the wall afresh. Bocher, seeing that nothing was required of him but the legitimate exercise of his craft, quickly recovered his self-possession; and guessing that the proprietors of the treasure were obliged to quit the country, and had hit upon this device for concealing it until better times should dawn upon them, the notion of appropriating it to his own use flashed like lightning across his brain.

When he concluded his work, as if intending to give a last polish to its completion, he placed his hand, thickly covered with wet mortar, on the new wall, and thus left the distinct impression of his five fingers on the hiding-place of the treasure-deposit. The promised five-and-twenty louis were then faithfully counted out into his hand; his eyes were again bandaged, and he was re-conducted to the carriage, which after following the same course of deception for three long hours, at last deposited him in the same street as that in which the man in the brown cloak had found him.

From that day forth Bocher abandoned the use{347} of the hammer and trowel, and passed his time in wandering about Paris inspecting the houses advertised to be sold, directing his attention especially to the cellars and lower regions of the buildings; seeking everywhere, but without success, that imprint of his hand which would point the way to unlimited wealth. In the pursuit of this phantom, not only the twenty-five louis but all the little savings of his hard work rapidly melted away, and misery and hunger began to knock loudly at the mason’s door. One after another he sold the petty articles of furniture which had embellished his humble home, to procure the bread which was necessary to sustain life; and pale and in rags he wandered about Paris, reading every new announcement of vacant houses, and became a nuisance to the porters intrusted with the care of shewing them.

Two years thus passed away—two long years, occupied day by day in seeking a fortune, and night by night in dreaming that it was found. He was returning home one evening, sad and dispirited, with the proceeds of the sale of the bed upon which his mother had died, and which had been one of the very last articles of furniture he possessed, when his eye was caught by a large posting-bill announcing the sale of a magnificent mansion belonging to the Duc de Cairoux, in the immediate vicinity of his own dwelling. He recollected the story of the sudden disappearance of the Duke, and on reading the bill, found that the property was sold under a legal decree, which constituted the heirs proprietors with a power of sale. A last hope crossed poor Bocher’s mind, and he at once proceeded to the house, and knocked hastily at the door. It was almost dark, and no one paid any attention to his eager summons. After a sleepless night he again made his appearance at the portal of the Duke’s mansion; but although it was now opened, another difficulty presented itself, for the porter hesitated to admit a man so ragged and dirty as the poor mason had become. At length, however, he agreed to do so upon the understanding that a servant accompanied the strange visitor during his survey of the premises. The powdered lackey was scarcely more courteous than the porter, and scornfully exhibited the rich furniture, pictures, and priceless china which adorned the apartments, to his humble companion. But these were not what Bocher had come to see, and at last he induced the man to shew him the cellars. Whilst the footman was descanting upon the quantity and quality of the wines around them, Bocher was anxiously scrutinising all the walls, in hopes of finding that print on the mortar which was to open to him the door to untold wealth. It was all in vain; and deaf to the man’s insolence, Bocher was on the point of leaving, convinced that his last hope had vanished like its predecessors, and that this could not have been the house he had visited on that eventful evening, when he suddenly perceived a small cellar situated in an angle of the wall, which had hitherto escaped observation. He turned back and examined it closely, his technical knowledge as a mason at once shewing him that the mortar in one part of the wall was much fresher than elsewhere. He approached the spot, and there—yes, there was no doubt about it—there were the marks of the five fingers, plain and distinct!

‘At last, at last!’ he murmured to himself; and to make assurance doubly sure, he traced out each of the impressions with a trembling hand. There could be no doubt whatever about it. At last his long search was ended.

Eight days afterwards the property was to be sold by auction, and numbers of the aristocracy of Paris sent their stewards to bid for it. It was put up at fifty thousand louis d’or, and two thousand louis were at once added by the steward of the Duc de Berri.

‘Sixty thousand louis,’ said a voice from a corner; and the audience turning round to look at the man who had the audacity to outbid the richest man in Paris, discovered a poor man whom they had supposed to be a beggar.

‘Sixty thousand louis,’ said the auctioneer; ‘sixty thousand louis are bid, and this fine property is going for only sixty thousand louis!’

The steward added five thousand louis, and the offer was at once capped by the mendicant who bid seventy thousand louis. Thus the war was carried on until one hundred thousand louis were offered, and people were aghast at this extraordinary duel between the steward of the wealthy Duke and a miserable-looking beggar.

‘One—hundred—and—ten—thousand—louis,’ slowly, but with emphasis, shouted the steward with a withering look at his ragged opponent. Bocher hesitated, for although he well remembered how heavy the strong box was, it was doubtful whether it contained so large a sum as this, and he was well aware that the penalty for non-payment was the Châtelet prison for life with all its horrors. There was not much time for reflection, for already the ‘Going, going’ of the auctioneer was sounding in his ears.

‘One hundred and twenty thousand louis,’ he shouted; and ‘One hundred and twenty thousand louis are bid,’ repeated the auctioneer amidst a breathless silence. This time there was no advance on the bidding; and after waiting the stipulated time, the property was knocked down to Bocher; and the discomfited steward of the Duke quitted the field of battle, revenging himself with a bitter jest as he passed his conqueror.

Bocher, with the penalty of non-payment of the enormous purchase-money staring him in the face, handed over the required sum within twenty-four hours, receiving in return the necessary title-deeds.

The mason became a dealer in monopolies, and finished by leaving an immense fortune and a patent of nobility to his son.

Not contented with the house in Paris which had satisfied his father’s aspirations, the son built himself a splendid château at Montigny, where he had the honour of entertaining amongst other important personages, Louis XV. and M. de Voltaire. The château was built on a hill; and puffed up with the vanity of his riches, M. de Bocher had the presumption to attempt to surpass the great work of Louis XIV. at Versailles, by bringing the water from a greater distance and throwing it to a greater elevation. He had a theatre attached to the château, and lived the life of great land-proprietors in England, a state of things quite unknown in France. His museum of natural history, his collection of pictures by the old masters, his stud of horses, were all unrivalled,{348} and moreover he had the luck to enjoy his good fortune to the last, for he died on the eve of the great Revolution, leaving two sons behind him to enjoy his mysteriously acquired wealth.


From inquiries made among French hatters by Dr Delaunay, some curious facts concerning heads have come to light. In families developing towards a higher intellectual standard, heads increase from generation to generation; while families failing intellectually, shew a regular decrease in size. The men who made the Revolution of 1789 had bigger heads than their fathers; while the sons of the present ruling families in France are craniologically so deficient that hats have to be made specially for them. In Paris the largest heads are to be found in the quarter of the schools, and among the schools themselves the secular stand above the ecclesiastical.

As flies are said to eat the animalcules in impure air, thus removing the seeds of disease, leanness in a fly is primâ facie evidence of pure air in a house, while corpulency indicates foul wall-paper and bad ventilation. Talking of a foul and fresh atmosphere, there has lately been adopted in India a novel method of giving change of air to people who cannot afford to leave home. Patients go up in a balloon, which ascends to a certain height, and is there made captive. It seems that a few days passed in this atmosphere, which is quite different from that on the plains beneath, temporarily braces up the most languid of invalids. The importance to health of a free perspiration no less than of fresh air, and what dangers arise from perspiration being suddenly checked, has been proved by the fact that a person covered completely with a compound, impervious to moisture, will not live over six hours. On the occasion of some papal ceremonies, a poor child was once gilded all over with varnish and gold-leaf to represent the Golden Age. No wonder that it died in a few hours, when we consider that the amount of liquid matter which passes through the pores of the skin in twenty-four hours in an adult person of sound health, is about sixteen fluid ounces, or one pint. Besides this, a large amount of carbonic acid—a gaseous body—passes through the tubes; so we cannot fail to see the importance of keeping them in perfect working order by frequent ablutions or other means.

It has often been stated that ocular weakness and diseases in various forms appear to have been rapidly increasing in recent times. Dr Loring, in discussing before the New York County Medical Society the serious question, ‘Is the human eye gradually changing its form under the influence of modern civilisation?’ confirms the opinion, so far at least as short-sightedness is concerned. Constant study, now incidental to the lives of so many, has, he says, a tendency to engender this derangement of the eye, and it is often transmitted to descendants. In his opinion, near-sightedness is a disease of childhood, and rarely develops itself after the fifteenth or eighteenth year. On examining the eyes of over two thousand scholars in the New York public schools, Dr Loring found that the proportion of those in a healthy condition were eighty-seven per cent. among children under seven years, while between that age and twenty-one, the proportion of normal eyes was but sixty-one; which shews, he thinks, that near-sightedness increases directly with the age to which schooling is extended. In Königsberg, Germany, he found considerably more than half the population were short-sighted; and in America it is more commonly met with among the older eastern cities than the new ones of the west. Among the most prominent causes of the disease are, in his opinion, a sedentary life, poor food, bad ventilation, and general disregard of hygienic requirements—all conducing to a laxity of tissue, of which near-sightedness is an indication.

The experiments of Mr G. F. Train on himself would seem to give some corroboration to the reports of fasting girls that crop up from time to time. In an attempt to prove that eating is merely ‘an acquired habit,’ he persisted in going without food for six days, and expects in time to be able to do without nourishment for a much longer period! His experiments, he asserts, prove three things: First, that all stories of terrible agony in starvation are nonsense; second, that fasting really improved his intelligence; and third, that a person who has fasted six days has no ravenous appetite. This, however, we should think is accounted for by the sufferer feeling quite past eating at a certain stage of starvation.—The problem of how to live on sixpence a day has been elucidated by a London physician, who writing in advocacy of vegetarianism, affirms that he knows many persons who keep themselves strong and well on that sum. He further says: ‘I have myself lived and maintained my full weight and power to work on threepence a day, and I have no doubt at all that I could live very well on a penny a day.’ The ‘penny restaurant’ lately announced in New York, where a small cup of coffee, bread and butter, pork and beans, a slice of corned beef, oatmeal, and boiled rice, may be obtained at a cost of one cent for each item, offers the very means of carrying out this theory. What kind of ‘living’ could be enjoyed on that insignificant sum, is not explained by the learned experimenter; but without pushing theory to such an extreme, it is evident that a more careful and judicious outlay of small incomes would enable many unthinking persons to live well and economically, who may now deem such a thing impossible.

The use of horse-flesh as an article of food has made great progress in Paris, where about a thousand horses per week are said to be slaughtered, the animals even being imported for that purpose. It is said that during the Exhibition, the hippophagists of Paris intend giving a banquet once a month to the journalists of all nations, where horse and ass flesh prepared in every seductive form will be served up.—The snail is becoming another fashionable article of diet in France, and for some time past a particular place has been appropriated for their sale in the Paris fish-markets. Snails, says one of the French journals, were highly esteemed by the Romans, our masters in gastronomy, and are now raised in many of the{349} departments with success. In the sixteenth century the Capuchins of Fribourg possessed the art of fattening snails—an art not lost in our day, for in Lorraine and Burgundy they raise excellent snails, which find sure demand in the Paris market. There are now more than fifty restaurants and more than a thousand private tables in Paris where snails are accepted as a delicacy by upwards of ten thousand consumers; the monthly consumption of this mollusc being estimated at half a million. Frank Buckland tells us that snails are becoming scarce in the neighbourhood of London, where for some time snail-collecting has been a regular trade.

It is a curious fact that so many dwellings once the homes of poets should have been public-houses at one time or another. Burns’s native cottage was a house of this description; the house in which Moore was born was a whisky-shop; and Shelley’s house at Great Marlow, a beer-shop. Even Coleridge’s residence at Nether Stowey, the very house in which the poet composed his sweet Ode to the Nightingale, became an ordinary beer-house. A house in which James Montgomery lived for forty years at Sheffield was a beer-shop; and the birthplace of Kirke White is now a house for retailing intoxicating beverages.

Many facts relating to foreign countries, which strike Englishmen as being curious to a degree, reach us from time to time. A Spanish soldier, we are told, will fight for a week on an empty stomach, provided he can look forward to playing his guitar on the seventh day. In his country, if a bull intended for the fight falls ill, the animal is sent to an infirmary. The chief toreador Frasculeo has a fortune of two million francs; his combat costume represents one hundred thousand francs in diamonds alone; he is courted by the highest society in Madrid, is a member of the chief aristocratic club; yet his wife is a fishmonger’s daughter, and still helps her mother in the market. On days when her husband performs she sits at her balcony with her children to receive couriers, who come on horseback waving a white flag as a sign of success in the arena.—The account of how a titled lady in Russia has discovered to her cost the penalties of expressing in too emphatic a manner her disapproval of her governess’s behaviour, will, if true, convey a curious idea of some social customs in that country. The Princess Manweloff had a habit of striking her governess, a lady of noble birth, and the latter complained of her to the local justice. In this instance the law was a respecter of persons, and the Princess was ordered three days’ detention in her own house. The governess was dissatisfied, and appealed to a higher court, which sentenced the defendant to three months’ imprisonment in the common jail.—As a curious fact, it has been noted by Sir Samuel Baker that a negro has never been known to tame a wild elephant or any wild animal. The elephants employed by the ancient Carthaginians and Romans were trained by Arabs and others, never by negroes. It had often struck Sir Samuel as very distressing that the little children in Africa never had a pet animal; and though he often offered rewards for young elephants, he never succeeded in getting one alive.

A curious instance of the acquisition and rejection of fortune reaches us from New Orleans. A stableman named Pathier, belonging to an hotel in that city, suddenly found himself heir to eighty thousand francs at the death of his mother; yet strange to say refused to accept the money. The law has in vain endeavoured to induce him to avail himself of the windfall: his only ambition is to smoke his pipe and groom the horses. To such an instance of contempt of riches it would be difficult to find a parallel.

Some curious facts from the world of Nature crop up occasionally, which are well worthy of consideration. For instance, it has been proved that the bee may under certain circumstances turn out to be anything but the pattern of industry it is proverbially supposed to furnish. Australian colonists have from time to time taken out swarms of bees to their adopted land, in the hope of deriving practical benefit from the profusion of flowers with which the whole country abounds. For some little time the newly imported bees maintained their reputation for industry, storing up their food in the comfortable hives provided for them, and supplying the colonists with far superior honey to that collected by the indigenous honey-producers the ‘mellipones.’ Presently, however, the hives were discovered unstocked at the end of the autumn, notwithstanding the long summers of the northern parts of Australia, and it was found that the bees entirely neglected to lay by a stock of food, as was their wont. Though the bees increased and the hives were always regularly tenanted, no honey was brought home. It soon became evident that, finding the perennial summer of the tropical parts of Australia afforded them abundance of food, without the intervention of long winters, the bees forsook their old habits, gave themselves up to a life of happy indolence, and no longer took the trouble to convey their superabundant supplies to the hives prepared for them. In short, there being no winters to provide for, the bees gave up the practice of storing honey.

Tenacity of life in eels and cats is proverbial; but from an instance that occurred at Flinstow Farm, near Pembroke, it appears that the pig may claim to rank with other creatures in this respect. For sixteen days a pig was missed from the farmyard, and as every search failed to discover it, the conclusion was arrived at that it had been stolen. Some masons who were repairing a brick kiln on the farm one day discovered the missing animal, which had fallen into the kiln, and was unable to extricate itself. Though all that time without food, the pig when rescued was able to eat, and did not seem much the worse for its long imprisonment.

An unexpected friend to man has been discovered in a kind of animalcule engendered by sewage, which prevents the decomposing matter from becoming a dangerous nuisance. Mr Angell, the public analyst for Hampshire, having examined the sewage-polluted fluid in Southampton Water, has discovered that where the suspended matters are thickest there is going on a silent destruction of the foul matters, through the agency of millions of the minute creatures, by some held to be of animal, but by Mr Angell believed to be of vegetable origin. On examining the muddy fluid through a microscope, it was found to contain myriads of little brown organisms, surrounded with a gelatinous substance. Each specimen was found to be active in its movements and of{350} peculiar shape, being furnished with a belt of cilia round the centre of the body, and with a long transparent and very flexible tail. After death, these tiny atoms give off an odour similar to that of sea-weed, and change to a green colour. During life they evolve bubbles of oxygen gas, which serve to purify the water from the effects of the decomposing matter on which they themselves feed. It is a pity, however, that man, by polluting rivers with sewage, should stand so much in need of this self-developed scavenger.

Canada, we are told, claims to have produced the largest cheese on record. It weighed seven thousand pounds, was six feet ten inches in diameter, three feet in height, and twenty-one feet in circumference; requiring one milking of seven thousand cows, or thirty-five tuns of milk to produce it.—Of numerical curious facts, it may not be uninteresting to state that no less than sixteen different shades of green are understood to be patronised by the fashionable world; and that fifteen persons may dine together a billion times without sitting twice in the same relative position, by merely changing a chair at each dinner. So much for the combination of numbers.


Every one has doubtless read The Antiquary, and enjoyed the skill with which the keenest archæologist of the literary fraternity raised a laugh against his own favourite studies. The Kaim of Kinprunes and the ‘A.D.L.L.’ furnish the standard jest with which the Oldbucks of every future age will be assailed, and the bodle that he ‘thocht was an auld coin’ helps in the attack. Scotland being thus the scene of the most famous fictional story of this kind, it is curious to find it also the home of one of the best authenticated antiquarian hoaxes known to have been practised.

The story which we are about to narrate dates back to the reign of George the Third; and though now sixty years since, one of the parties to the hoax then perpetrated has just made the details of the story public in a letter read before the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland at an early meeting in the present year. The circumstances which led to the hoax being perpetrated were that, when the ruins of the eastern portion or choir of the old Abbey Church of Dunfermline were to be removed for the erection of what forms now the parish church, great anxiety was manifested to prove the truth of the statement, which, although found in the records, was to some extent believed to be doubtful, that Bruce the patriot king of Scotland was interred there. It may suffice for the purposes of the present sketch to state that the evidence that King Robert Bruce was really buried here is stated by the Rev. Peter Chalmers, in his History of Dunfermline, to be ‘clear, varied, and strong.’ Bruce died at Cardross in Dumbartonshire in 1329; and although he had confided to his faithful follower Sir James Douglas the task of conveying his heart to the Holy Land, Dunfermline was chosen by himself as his place of sepulture. Mr Chalmers quotes various entries in the Chartulary of Dunfermline in support of this; while in Barbour’s famous poem the king is spoken of as having been laid

In a fayr tumb, intill the quer.

In Fordun’s Scotichronicon mention is also made of Bruce being interred ‘in the middle of the choir’ of the Abbey Church.

When the excavations were being made in 1818 for the erection of the new church, the operations were watched by many with great interest; and the Barons of Exchequer in Scotland, in whose custody were the royal palaces, &c., took some pains to secure that the remains of the king, if found, should be properly treated. Fulfilling completely the expectations entertained, a body incased in lead was found by the excavators, occupying exactly the place which the king’s remains would be expected to do. It was inwrapped in a double casing of lead; and some fragments of gold-embroidered linen cloth were also found, shewing that here at least was the tomb of no common person. The skeleton was that of a kingly man, six feet in height, with a splendid head, and in every way worthy of Scotland’s hero. And when the body came to be examined, previous to its reinterment, it was found that the sternum or breast-bone had been sawn through longitudinally from top to bottom, this being the method adopted by the anatomists of the fourteenth century to reach the heart, for separate interment. This fact and the position of the body seemed to render it all but certain that the remains were those of Bruce; but still there remained a possibility of mistake.

It was at this point the hoax was perpetrated of which we now proceed to speak. On the exhumation of the body, it was at once returned to the earth, and the place where it was found was closed in, flat stones being placed over the aperture. The discovery was reported to the Barons of Exchequer, and excited great interest in the minds of all Scottish people of patriotic or antiquarian feelings. Considerable delay, however, was made in determining what should be done; and it was not till November 1819 that, with much ceremony, the skeleton was recoffined and reinterred. The tomb was filled up with pitch, carefully built over and inclosed, and an elaborate Latin epitaph was prepared to the effect that the interesting discovery had been made amongst the ruins of the old church, &c. But as we have said, there was a possibility of mistake; and it entered into the heads of two young men that it would be a capital thing to convince the good folk of Dunfermline that their town really did contain the body of the king. One of these was the younger brother of the architect engaged in the new church, and the other an artist comrade. Their design was to get an old or old-looking bronze plate, and after inscribing suitable characters upon it, to find some means of getting it put into the partially opened grave, so that it would be discovered on proceeding with the work. Assisted by the gentleman who now tells the story, a plate was accordingly prepared bearing a device.

When the discovery of the plate was made, its existence jumped so completely with the public{351} wish, that it was hailed with unquestioning and extravagant joy. So much delight was manifested and so seriously was the jest taken, that the perpetrators of it were afraid to confess what they had done.

A ludicrous incident occurred at the time. The provost of Dunfermline, a banker, sent for the artist, who joyfully waited on the chief magistrate, anticipating employment. This it was indeed, but of unexpected and unwelcome kind, for it was to make a drawing of his own plate, for the Transactions of one of the learned societies! His heart sunk, and his hand was tremulous; and he suggested to the provost that he could make the drawing better if allowed to take the plate home. The answer was startling. Amazed at the audacity of the request, the banker said: ‘I have more money in the bank just now than ever I had before; but I would rather give you the whole of it than let that plate out of my custody for an hour, until its destination is decided by the highest authorities.’ So the young artist had to sit down and make the drawing, afraid to hint at the ‘solemn mockery’ in which he was engaged. After a time suspicion fell on the plate, and it was generally believed to be a fabrication, although the details of the story were not known till now. The Rev. Mr Chalmers, whose work was published more than forty years ago, speaks of the plate as having been ‘satisfactorily ascertained not to be ancient.’ In Black’s Guide to Scotland, it is stated that the plate—of the bona fides of which no doubt is expressed—may be seen in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries at Edinburgh. But the estimation in which this relic (which would have been priceless if genuine) was held by the Society may be judged from the statement made by the Secretary at the meeting where the above story was made public, that he had had to search for the plate in the cellar in order to exhibit it to the Fellows.

The narrator of the story of which the above is an outline is Mr John Nimmo, whose name is associated with two journals of widely different repute. A printer by trade, he left Edinburgh for Paris in the year 1821, and was for many years one of the principal employés on Galignani. He is now enjoying well-earned repose after a lengthy life of labour. The cause of Mr Nimmo’s leaving Scotland recalls the history of a painful event, he having been the printer of the Beacon, a newspaper which gained unenviable notoriety by its virulent personal attacks on men obnoxious to the government of the day. The newspaper is memorable in the local history of Scotland from the tragic event in which Mr Stewart of Dunearn was engaged. Mr Stewart had endeavoured in vain to ascertain by whom the articles were written, and when the name of Mr Nimmo was given, he refused to accept him as responsible. After a while the Beacon was given up, and a successor of the same character was started in Glasgow. Mr Stewart discovered that some of the articles in the latter were in the handwriting of Sir Alexander Boswell, the eldest son of Johnson’s biographer. He challenged Sir Alexander; and in the duel which ensued the latter was mortally wounded; and Mr Stewart, who was subsequently tried for the offence, was acquitted. The fact that Mr Nimmo did not return to Scotland for many years after the perpetration of the hoax in which he was concerned, and that then he found the question, if not forgotten, certainly exciting no interest, may explain why he has only now made public, in a letter to an old friend in Edinburgh, the above curious story.


We are somewhat proud of the number of hale old people in our village, the salubrity of which outsiders are apt to question, on account of its proximity to the Fens. No doubt ague is still known amongst us in some degree; but the intending visitor who for that reason equips himself with stores of quinine, evinces just such an exaggerated dread as that which inspired Dr Johnson to provide himself with pistols on his memorable journey to the Highlands. Our death-rate is quite within the average, and longevity is one of our strong points. We must admit of course that many of our veterans are placed rather early on the list by rheumatism or asthma; but it is astonishing how long they contrive to continue there in spite of coughs and stiff joints. We keep a mental register of them one and all, know each of them personally, and take a lively interest in their condition, as becomes a parish doctor. There is an additional zest to our observations in the marked individualities amongst them, which a protracted village life has always a tendency to produce; but over and above local and professional pride in their length of years and the pleasure which mere character-study yields, there are certain general and loftier human grounds on which we might excuse a few remarks regarding our village veterans.

One sunny spot hard by the southern wall of the old bridge forms the favourite haunt of the old men in fine weather. There they muster in strength on the balmy summer mornings, and there the hardier of them forgather whenever there is a blink of sunshine.

Most of them walk by the aid of two sticks, the halest amongst them requiring the assistance of at least one, and on these they lean as they rest their backs against the warm red-brick wall. It is curious to note the heartiness of their morning greetings, and the ‘I’m bravely, thank ye,’ with which an octogenarian doubled up with suffering will answer the challenge as to his health. Their next task is to compare notes as to the past night’s experience, this mutual review of coughs and other specific ailments being often couched in phrases more quaint than elegant; as when dear old Jemmy Baxter said to his listeners the other day: ‘Dash my wig, if I didn’t think I wor agoin’ to die.’ Then follows much babbling of olden times, of strange things which happened when they were hale and hearty, of the sacks of corn they could carry, of the acres they could reap, of the hard work and big pay they had when the great drains were making, and not unseldom of the merry-makings and junketings of half a century ago. Or they talk with a keenness of interest, sadly suggestive, of the event of the day, be it the arrival of a new steam-plough or the latest twin-birth in the parish. Sometimes a scrap of news from the great world without, falls among them—a great shipwreck, a fresh battle, or a general{352} election—and sets them agog with wonder and curiosity.

Old age, like most other inevitable things, is a great leveller, and our group sometimes consists of individuals who have held very various positions in life. The chief spokesman and referee in all matters of gossip is an old man-of-war sailor. He has many a tale to tell of ’board ship, but is best known as the village Zadkiel; a title given, we fancy, in derision rather than flattery. He has been every inch a seaman, and is even yet a good type of an old salt, in spite of rheumatism and crutches. The other veterans have for the most part been farm-labourers; some have been mechanics; several innkeepers and tradesmen; and one or two have been farmers in a small way. All now meet, however, on the common ground of age and infirmity. Old Dalboys, at one time the hectoring farmer of Longley, smokes the pipe of equality with Tommy Hill, whom for thirty years he had bullied as his horse-tender; while the superannuated schoolmaster gossips amicably with his ancient enemy the now retired sexton. They have buried old grudges, feuds, and animosities under that wall with the sunny southern exposure, as thoroughly as they must in any case do ere long under the chill walls of the old churchyard. No doubt they have their little childish jealousies still, but these are of a fresh growth. Sam Payne and Bill Shipley are both fond of the easy position afforded by the obtuse angle of a bend in the wall, and grumble a little when the other contrives to secure it. Occasionally John Shore, in the pride of his practical knowledge, will make a stir in the camp by doggedly disputing such a statement as that London lies north-east of Cambridge. At times, too, Billie Wright, who we fear is the butt of these veteran schoolboys, will totter off in dudgeon, because, being no smoker himself, some of the more vivacious of his mates get on the weather-side of him with their pipes. But these tiffs are harmless and ephemeral, and one can well afford to smile at and forget them in view of the genuine friendship and good-will that prevail.

There is, by the way, a certain hour on a certain day of every week—Wednesday, we believe—which never fails to bring a number of our veterans to the old bridge, wet or dry, cloud or sunshine, westling wind or downright nor’-easter. On such occasions they have company in the shape of a limited number of widows, most of them also well up in years, who, let us remark, deserve a full share of whatever sympathy we may be disposed to grant to our cronies of the other sex. The occasion of this special weekly gathering is one which a stranger would consider eminently sad and painful. They are waiting to receive their dole from the relieving officer, who, having many districts to visit, and no sheltered stations at any of them, is compelled to perform his interesting duty in the open air. The poor old souls, especially in bad weather, look anxiously down the road for the appearance of the gig and gray pony which conveys their ‘father,’ as, with a kind of grim humour, they have styled the official. Knowing them as we do, however, and their general cheerfulness and contentment, we are not disposed to claim any undue commiseration for their lot in this respect. The distressing side of such a scene presents itself to the reflecting onlooker rather than to themselves. They have drifted gradually—in almost every case be it said by sheer stress of circumstances—into the condition of outdoor paupers, and their wants have vanished one by one with the decrease of their means. Besides, none of them is altogether dependent on the parochial allowance. One has several grandchildren who earn a little; another has a married daughter who struggles to spare a trifle; and a third has a wife, younger and stronger than himself, who goes out as nurse or charwoman; while all of them are the objects of many small kindnesses at the hands of their better-off and sympathetic neighbours. Their actual aliment indeed contrasts favourably with that of several others, whose pinched incomes, derived from their own savings, place them outside the pale of both public and private charity.

The humble annals of some veterans of the latter class are, when rightly read, the record of doughty deeds, of amazing fortitude, and unwavering self-respect. Their old age is beset with petty cares that might daunt the hearts of younger men and women. Some are entirely alone in the world, having outlived kith and kin. They have to pinch and scrape, in the sternest and least lovely sense of that phrase, to make ends meet. Their daily anxiety is to keep out of debt; a dinner here and a supper there are ceded in the struggle, but there is no thought of surrender while life lasts. One old lady (we use the title advisedly, although she is only the widow of a jobbing carpenter) is now in her eighty-second year. She has buried all her family except one son, who is the village scapegrace and a sad thorn in his mother’s side. The cottage she occupies is her own; but her entire income from several other small properties is, when cleared of charges, only some seventeen pounds a year. She has no word of complaint to make, however, and her philosophy may be summed up in the few words she said to us the other day: ‘I am hearty for my years, sir. I have been able to pay my way all along and, God willing, I shall to the end. My only trouble is about Harry, and who knows but he may alter yet?’ Brave old heart and brave old comrades, who thus stand firm and undaunted in the last assault of the world and its cares!

But whatever their lot and whatever claim some may have to special interest and regard, the mere fact that they are all veterans in the great human array, entitles them without distinction to the sympathy of a younger generation. What need to pry too closely into their careers? To what purpose the reflection, that this one or that one did not acquit himself according to the strict standards of thrift, prudence, or perseverance? Let us accept the helplessness of age, which may have been reached through failures and weaknesses, in the same tender spirit that we do the helplessness of childhood, whose inherent weaknesses are yet untried. They are all under the wall now whose shadow lengthens across their forms in the setting of the sun. May the light of human sympathy also linger with them to the end, till veteran after veteran has quitted the old bridge for his long home, and his earthly haunts know him no more.

Printed and Published by W. & R. Chambers, 47 Paternoster Row, London, and 339 High Street, Edinburgh.

All Rights Reserved.

[Transcriber’s note—the following changes have been made to this text:

Page 348: beaf to beef—“corned beef”.]