網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

done every thing in the Bishop was heing by fictitious tales

through pride, and that this was some lucky college Don who had just exchanged his trencher-cap for a mitre, and who, having known him in the old days, was ashamed to be recognised by so very shabby (albeit, dearly beloved) a brother. Alas, how little we know of one another's motives! The Right Reverend Timothy Stephen, Lord Bishop of Rougemullet (Portsoakin Palace, Binnsborough, is the episcopal residence), was one of the most charitable prelates on the bench, and had he known Mr. Pendragon, or had he been properly recommended to him, would have done every thing in his power to assist a deserving object; but the plain truth must be told:—the Bishop was being continually made the victim of persons who imposed on his benevolence by fictitious tales of woe, and, being exceedingly short-sighted, had mistaken the shabby curate for one Chowsleton, who affected the clerical garb, but who was a notorious begging-letter impostor, and had bled the good Bishop many a time and oft.

Although he disdained to seek employment in that Church against which he had set his face, Pendragon was not too haughty to try for a situation as usher in a school. He advertised once or twice, although the shillings he had to disburse were as so many drops of his heart's blood, and he received a few answers in return. They were all worthless. One schoolmaster wanted an assistant who was perfectly conversant with Hebrew, Hindostani, and Tamil, could play on the harmonium, and take charge of the boys during school-hours, for twenty pounds per annum. Another required an awakened Christian, who could lecture upon chemistry, had some knowledge of therapeutics, and was willing to serve for a year without any salary. A third suggested that literary accomplishments were less an object than a thorough acquaintance with calisthenics and gym. nastic exercises, and a military character; from which Pendragon inferred that his correspondent wanted a drill-sergeant, and not an usher. While a fourth, writing from Broomback Scrubs, Ferulum, Yorkshire, plainly informed the advertiser that he wanted an usher who was a “cappital skollar,"—so wrote the Yorkshire preceptor,—and “was akkustumed to hoarses.” “I should not mind being a groom,” thought Pendragon; “ but if I became one, I would rather ride after Miss Salusbury in the park than fill up my leisure by teaching little boys, and rubbing my master's horse down.”

There was nothing to be got out of the scholastic profession. He called on a firm in a dingy street of the Strand who had an “Educational Registry," and professed to procure situations for ushers and tutors; but the firm, represented by a bald-headed man with a red face, who had something to do with corn and coals, and companies and matrimonial agencies, as well as with education, talked so much about the commission he expected, that Ruthyn fled from him in terror. Then he took to answering advertisements, but with an equal want of success. He applied for clerkships to employers who told him they would be glad to engage him at a rising salary if lie would advance the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds on undeniable security, and bearing interest at the rate of fifteen per cent per annum. He was tempted by announcements that he could clear a handsome income as canvasser for the sale of an article in general demand, and found that town-travellers were wanted for a powder to kill feas, and a liquid that washed linen (and burnt holes in it par dessus le marché) without soap or water. He was informed, always through the medium of the newspapers, that he could be taught (in common with other ladies and gentlemen, and in six lessons) an accomplishment by which from three to five pounds a week could be realised. He sent, as requested, half-a-crown's worth of postage-stamps to a given address, and received, by return of post, an envelope containing a dirty scrap of paper, on which some absurd recipes for painting on leather and modeling waxe flowers were written in a schoolboy hand. The dupes were to send their postage-stamps to a certain number in Coger's Inn, Strand, W.C., and it is not improbable that a party by the name of Sims may have had something to do with teaching those accomplishments by which from three to five pounds a week might be realised.

He wrote to the secretaries of one or two literary institutions, offering to deliver lectures. He was politely informed in return that the services of gentlemen unknown to the public were not available, but that the lecture-theatre of the institution could be engaged for so many pounds per night. He haunted a few law-stationers' shops about the Temple and Lincoln's Inn, in the hope of obtaining some work in copying legal documents. He wrote a bold, nervous hand, but it was loose and irregular. A friendly law-stationer in Carey Street, having glanced over his best specimens of caligraphy, was good enough to say to him, "Look here; you see these two folios, don't you? Ain't they beautifully written? Ain't the upstrokes and downstrokes nice ? Ain't they like copper-plate ? You see this indenture? it's on parchment. Ain't the engrossing first-rate? Did you ever see black letter done better than that? Well, all this writing's done by a chap that lives in a garret in Bear Yard, and oftener sleeps on a doorstep than at home. He drinks a pint and a half of spirits every day, and will die in the hospital most likely. He's the beautifullest writer and the biggest vagabond I know. When you've learnt a good law hand—it won't take you more than six months-you may come to me again, and if you want employment you shall have it, though between you and me, I think you'd better take a broom and sweep a crossing than go to law-writing.” And treasuring up this valuable advice in his heart, Mr. Pendragon bade adieu to Carey Street.

“An odd thing, wasn't it, for a clergyman to want a copying job ?” remarked the law-stationer to his wife, shortly afterwards. “He was shocking seedy, but he had the real parson-cut about him. I suppose he's taken to drinking, or gone to smash somehow, or done something bad, and the bishop has taken his gown away. Poor fellow !"

So nothing was wanting to the humiliation of Ruthyn Pendragon; not even the compassion of a commander of quill-drivers,-not even the pity of this man of pleas, and pounce, and parchment.

Wandering through Soho one day, as being the locality where he thought the cheapest lodgings might be obtained, but revolving in his mind, meanwhile, whether the displacement of so much water, covering so much of the reeds and ooze of the Thames at Twickenham, by casting himself therein, might not be about the cheapest lodging he could find, Pendragon came upon a caravanserai which suited his lean purse. It was a kind of model lodging-house,—not one of the imposing structures in redbrick with stone dressing's which the Society for improving the Dwellings of the Labouring Classes have since set up here and there in London, but an old warehouse or factory, which a few well-wishers of their kind had furnished in a rough-and-ready manner for the accommodation of men of scanty means. They had called it a model lodging-house at first; but they found the term distasteful to the tenants,-poverty has its proper, as well as its improper, side,so the name was changed to that of the Monmouth Chambers, and thenceforth its cabins filled wonderfully. They were in truth cabins; for space was of great value in the house, and its distribution a matter of cunning arrangement; and so every room on every floor had been partitioned off by boards, not reaching within some fourteen inches to the ceiling, into so many numbered nooks, a narrow passage running between. Each cabin, however, had its door and its lock. The furniture was simple, but sufficient. A little iron bedstead, a peg or two for clothes, a locker to hold small personal chattels,—and these were all. To each floor was attached a lavatory; and on the basement was a kitchen where the lodgers could cook their victuals, and clean their boots in the adjoining area. There was a room for them to eat in, and a large reading-room supplied with daily and weekly papers and periodicals, and containing a fair library of books. There the inmates sat and read or wrote, or played at chess or draughts, or brooded over their prospects and their poverty. There was even a smoking-room, from which only the introduction of spirits was prohibited. The taboo was merely for form's sake; for the Monmouthians were no topers, and a roysterer would have died there of dulness in a week. A steward, or “Econome," as the Russians call him, managed the discipline of the place; and all its advantages were to be enjoyed for three-and-sixpence a week, paid in advance.

Ruthyn Pendragon eagerly availed himself of a vacant cabin in the Monmouth Chambers. By disposing of every superfluous article in his possession, he had managed to scrape together about four pounds. This sum, he said to himself, must enable him to hold out for six weeks, and then if no succour came he must do—he knew not what; but he was certain that something must be done. A carpet-bag held now his linen and the few needments for his toilet and his studies,-his Bible, his Greek

Wortally,“ Shall not I do that eloquent treatiet Prophesying."

Testament, his favourite Horace (it was too ragged to sell), his Paley's Evidences, and his Jeremy Taylor's Liberty of Prophesying. How many times had he devoured that eloquent treatise ? how many times asked mentally, “ Shall not I too have liberty of prophesying—of preaching the Word—the Word that has flesh and blood in it, and is not merely so many shrivelled sinews and dry bones ?” The house was full, and, like every other house where many people dwelt, was split up into cliques. There was the kitchen party,- l'educed tradesmen, old worn-out clerks and commission-agents,-whose chief amusement and employment were in pottering over messes made from cheap scraps, and in squabbling over the reversions of places for their saucepans and frying pans. They. seldom ventured aboveground, but burrowed, like the farrier in Kenilworth. They seemed to have very little to eat, yet to be always breakfasting, dining, and supping.

There were two foreign parties, socially as well as politically divided, hating each other cordially. One was monarchical, the other republican. In the coffee-room all day long, and as far into the night as the rules of the house would permit (save only on occasions that will afterwards be referred to), toiled at a Dictionary a snuffy little old French gentleman, who had been a marquis. Had been, I say,--for, abating his snuff, and two weak eyes poring over the hard words, and a trembling hand that transcribed them, and a meagre little carcase swathed in a woful dressinggown of striped flannel, he belonged wholly to the past tense. Feebly, very feebly, burnt the last drops of oil in that rusted, battered lamp for which Time, the great marine-store dealer, waited with growing impatience. O Beauty, he is waiting for your diamond-head lustre! 0 brilliant youth, he is waiting for your flashing gig.lamps ! O Mammon, he is waiting for your golden candelabra ! O virgins wise and virgins foolish, he is waiting for all your lamps to burn out, that he may add them to his heap of rags, and bones, and old metal :-among which, there is but one thing keen and bright,-lis own sharp consuming sickle. But render grace for that a greater magician there is than Time—a magician who gives us new lamps for old ones—lamps that are never to burn low or wax pale, or cast lowering shadows, but shall be firmly stayed upon everlasting tripods.

Very long hours the little old Frenchman slaved at the Dictionary. Now and again he would take a bundle of manuscripts out with him (having previously donned, for walking-costume, a kind of woollen sack of olive-green, very ragged, in lieu of the flannel dressing-gown). Sometimes he would come back with a little brightness in the weak eyes. Then his companions knew that he had been receiving money, had been paid for some portion of his labour, or had been permitted to draw half-asovereign on account. Then he would feed, poorly enough, Heaven knows! on little scraps of cook-shop meat, and ha’porths of bread, and sugar, and coffee, screwed up in odd little cocked hats of paper,—but still feed and

satisfy his meagre appetite. More frequently, he would return quite penniless, and with an additional redness in the eyes. It was conjectured then that the hard bookseller in Holborn, who some day or another was to publish the Dictionary, had taken exception to the manner in which his task had been performed, bad bidden him recommence, and had refused him an advance. He never complained, and, valiantly enough, would try to gird himself to his task again, but generally went to bed, and lay there some ten hours, half-starving and crying, until the steward would batter at his door with knuckles of authority, and tell him that it was against the regulations of the chambers to lie a-bed by day,—thus routing the poor old Dictionary-maker from his lair ; but only to press some coppers into his hand, or force him to come and share his dinner in the little panelled cabin which he called his lodge. The steward was a bigboned man, full six feet high, who had been a boatswain's mate on board a man-of-war, and had, I doubt not, handled many a rope's end in his time; but he had a heart as soft as toast-and-butter, and was governed by a shrewish little wife not much bigger than a Dutch doll, who, on her part, was governed by a baby diminutive but insubordinate, a baby that, without much difficulty, might have been put into a quart pot.

It was mean and ignoble for a foreign nobleman to live in a model lodging-house, among next door to paupers, and cry when he could not get any money from a bookseller, was it not? But it was difficult to avoid pitying him. He was so old and so broken. Two-and-seventy years had passed over his head. It was very long since he was born, — years before the great Revolution,-heir to an historic name and to vast estates. Why, he was eleven years of age when his father, mother, sisters, almost every relative he had, were guillotined by Robespierre. Why, he was past thirty when at the downfall of Napoleon the old abbé who had sheltered him and brought him to England told him that it was time to return to France, and pay his court to Louis the Restored, and take possession of his long-sequestered inheritance. But he never got his broad acres back. They had been swallowed up among the Domaines Nationaux, and the new grantees stuck to them. He managed to get places, employments, was a captain in the Gardes du Corps,--this poor little shrivelled old Dictionary-maker; but at last came 1830, and down he came again, never to rise any more. His days of prosperity had been few and transient. The morning of his life was misery; the noontide was capricious and showery; the night threatened to be as miserable as the commencement. He has been dead, I should surmise, this poor old barnacle de la vieille roche, these many years; and I don't think that he ever finished the Dictionary.

Ruthyn Pendragon would have made advances to this decayed old gentleman, but he was almost too weak and nervous for conversation, and, like some animal or neglected child long accustomed to ill-treatment, winced and drew back, even when you spoke to him kindly, as though he

Nationaux. and ink. They had been swallowance. But he never got

« 上一頁繼續 »