NICHOLAS NIXON, "GENTLEMAN,"
WHO COULD NOT UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT WHO
KNEW "IT WAS SO."
DULLNESS was well nigh at the meridian of her reign
in old Lincoln. In the solemn "precincts" of the cathedral the
humble bees seemed almost afraid to disturb the solitude by a hum; and
venerable maiden ladies had no vicissitude of existence, save an
occasional scold at their servants, or a grumbling complaint of "short
measure" to the coalman as he made his weekly call. And, indeed, the
rest of the city was most autumually tame and uninteresting. The
fashionables were at the watering-places,—the throng of the working
population was in the fields,—and while one tradesman complained, with a
yawn, to his neighbour, that there was "nothing doing, and no money
stirring," the other invariably rejoined, "No, nor won't be, till after
harvest!"—and then imitated his neighbour in stretching his mouth from ear
In fact, the only interesting people you met were those who
endeavoured to keep you awake by collecting and pouring out several dull,
disagreeable, or doleful subjects in a breath; such as the relation of the
robbery of such a tradesman's shop at noon-day,—the thieves having taken
advantage of the extreme dullness of the time to effect their villanous
scheme; or, the accident of the poor-fellow, the bricklayer's assistant,
falling from the top of his ladder, with the hod on his head, and being
taken up to the hospital—coupled with the "remarkable fact" that he was
the second husband of a poor woman whose first fell from a pear-tree, and
was killed, leaving her with a large family;—with an additional half-score
of disasters, if your nerves or inclination would permit you to stay and
learn the sum-total of the catalogue.
Nicholas Nixon, "gentleman," had dwelt threescore years in
the venerable city, that is to say, the whole of his life; and had kept
decent state as a householder among the genteel people of the Minster-yard
for at least half of the term. Living "retired," on a yearly income,
and passing each successive day of his existence in an almost unvaried
routine of eating, washing, dressing, walking, and sleeping, one would
have thought that all seasons of the year would have become equally
agreeable or indifferent to him. But Mr. Nixon was too true a
Minsteryard cit either to feel or to affect indifference in a matter that
he knew drew forth so much dull comment among his fellow-citizens as did
the dullness of the autumn season.
"Really, Mr. Subdean," said he to that cathedral dignitary,
as he overtook him, by the County Hospital, at the top of the
"Steep-hill," in the forenoon of one of these drowsy days, "I think our
autumns grow duller and duller every year: I am sure you must feel it to
be a bore that you are in residence this latter end."
"I feel it to be a little dull to be among you, at this time
of the year, Mr. Nixon," replied the subdean; "but still it is an
"I am glad you can think so, sir," rejoined Gentleman
Nixon,—for that was the mode by which he was usually distinguished from
the several tradesmen Nixons who inhabited the city,—"I am glad you can
bring yourself to think so: for my own part, I feel it to be very dull,
very dull, indeed!—Are you for a walk to the Bar, sir?"
"I am, Mr. Nixon:—shall I have the pleasure of your company?"
was the rejoinder of the courteous and kind-natured clergyman.
"I shall be most happy, Mr. Subdean: I feel very highly
honoured, sir: I—"
"And what is the best news stirring, Mr. Nixon?" asked the
subdean, desirous of cutting short the retired gentleman's flourish of
"Well, sir," answered Mr. Nicholas, very quickly, "I think
the best news is that the poor freemen have had the spirit to stop this
mushroom scheme of the town-council to turn the West Common into a
botanical garden. They are a mischievous set, these Below-hill
Whig-radicals, depend upon it, Mr. Subdean: we shall have need to look
sharp after 'em."
The churchman was full well acquainted with Gentleman Nixon's
undeviating adherence to the "Pink" partisanship,—that is to say,
Sibthorpian, or "House-of-Canwick" side of politics, which was most
prevalent "Above-hill"—the division of old Lincoln comprising the
habitations situate around the ancient castle and magnificent cathedral,
and beyond which the Roman city did not extend. The subdean, I say,
knew well that Mr. Nixon was among the most unchanging of the wellnigh
changeless denizens in this elevated region: he knew that Mr. Nicholas
professed the highest, the most exclusive Toryism; and therefore he shewed
no signs of surprise at the uncharitable manner in which Mr. Nicholas
chose to express himself upon the question of the political morality
displayed by the citizens dwelling in the lower region; and yet the
clergyman, by one gentle word, excited great surprise in Mr. Nicholas
"I really don't think the new corporation are intentionally
mischievous," said he; "I have no doubt they mean well: 'tis reckoned to
be an age of improvements, you know, Mr. Nixon, and they must be in the
"'Pon my honour, sir, I don't understand the rule by which
you distinguish between mischievous deeds and intentions," sharply
observed Mr. Nicholas; "I always think that when a number of men
deliberately attempt mischief they mean it."
"I think their scheme would have been less objectionable had
they proposed that each of the poor freemen should have cultivated a
little plot of garden-ground for himself on the common," observed the
churchman, by way of parrying the citizen's strong remark.
"But the law would not permit that, in my opinion, any more
than the other," said the retired gentleman; "besides, the fact is just
this, sir: once permit these reforming gentry to begin their schemes of
improvement, and one acre after another would disappear from the corporate
tenure of the freemen,—until, the property becoming individual, it would
quickly be bought for a dog's price, by one or other of these Liberals,
who have longer purses and more knavish heads than the rest of their
"I hope none of the new corporation are such men as you are
speaking of," said the subdean. "You know, Mr. Nixon, I neither go
along with them nor their party; but I do not like to be uncharitable."
"Uncharitable! nonsense, sir!" exclaimed the exclusive cit,
forgetting his courtesy, through bigoted partisanship: "I do not hold
these fellows to be at all deserving of a charitable opinion, for I
believe them capable of any wickedness. Why; sir, as Mr. Christopher
shrewdly observed on the hustings in the castle-yard at the last county
contest, while he pointed to the venerable Minster, 'These fellows would
turn that sacred and time-hallowed building into a cotton-mill to-morrow
if they had the power.' I believe he hit the mark there, sir, for he
made the Liberals very sore, I assure you," and Mr. Nicholas Nixon
chuckled with a vindictive pleasure as he ended.
"If I did not excuse Mr. Christopher from a knowledge of the
rash speeches which excitement and opposition impel country gentlemen to
deliver on the hustings," rejoined the clergyman, looking somewhat grave,
"I could not hesitate to censure him for making so offensive a remark.
I do not see any good to be done by this fierce spirit of quarrel—but much
"Pardon me, Mr. Subdean," persisted Gentleman Nixon, "but I
really must say that I think if all of us were as tamely disposed as
yourself, the church would soon tumble over your ears."
"I think nothing can tend to build it up so securely, Mr.
Nixon," returned the dignitary, with a smile, "as shewing the world that
we, as ministers of the church, are the truest friends of mankind,—the
readiest and most cheerful toilers for human happiness. You know I
never like to talk politics, in any shape; I would much rather hear you
and other gentlemen propose some plan for making the poor more comfortable
in their circumstances,—or join you in any little scheme for amusing them.
Do you attend the concerts of these young working-men in St. Peter's
Church, Mr. Nixon?"
"Sir, I take the liberty to tell you plainly," persevered the
heated "Pink" partisan, "that the easy good-nature of such kind-hearted
people as yourself, and the indolence of our most respectable citizens
Above-hill, go far to make it nearly impossible, already, to recover any
degree of influence in city affairs. We are almost a lost party—the
Blues have it all their own way,—and, although you must be aware they are
bent on ruining the poor entirely, under the mask of helping them, yet you
will not lend a hand to oppose them—"
"But am I not telling you, my dear sir," interrupted the
subdean, "that I think all the quarrels in the world can never convince
mankind—the poor as well as the rest—that the quarrellers are the friends
of mankind? If the Blue party be so bitterly bent on ruining the
poor, as you say they are—let us carry relief into the houses of the poor
always in the spirit of benevolence, and never as an act to oppose a
party. If we look at the very persons we have to relieve, I think we
may learn to do this,—for indeed, Mr. Nixon, there is no denying but that
the poor are much more skilful in discerning the motives of those who
visit them with charitable professions than they were some years ago."
"Why, sir, what with Methodist cant on the one hand, and
demagoguism on the other, the poor are spoilt," replied Mr. Nicholas, in
the same tart spirit; "they have the impudence, nowadays, to pry into the
conduct of all ranks and conditions: your cloth does not screen you from
their envious inquisitiveness; and they make all kinds of offensive and
sneering remarks on respectable people. And then, their pride!
Why now, Mr. Subdean, here we are, nearly at St. Botolph's Bar, and not a
single poor man has paid you a mark of respect, all the way we have
walked! Take my word for it, sir,—forty years ago if I had been
honoured to walk down the street with a cathedral dignitary, I should have
seen every poor man that we met touch his hat to him! I ask you,
sir, what is to come of such a state of things?" concluded Mr. Nicholas,
in a very earnest and emphatic tone.
The churchman fairly burst into laughter; and, had it been
any other than a Minster grandee, Gentleman Nixon would have been highly
irritated by his mirth. As it was, he began to suspect himself of
folly, for having carried his opposition to such an extremity in a merely
"Come now, Mr. Nixon," resumed the subdean, in a tone of
pleasant expostulation, "does not this very circumstance, of the striking
change in manners that you have alluded to, convince you that the hostile
course is unwise? Do you expect, now, that the poor can be brought
to observe the same outwardly submissive courtesies that their fathers
practised when you and I were young?"
"Well, I must confess, I do not," tardily—but perforce of
conviction—Mr. Nicholas made answer.
"It would be foolish to expect it, Mr. Nixon," continued the
clergyman; "and as they will continue to keep the course they have
commenced outwardly, so will they grow in the habit of scrutinising the
conduct of those above them. I think the time is nearly at hand when
neither Blues nor Pinks, nor any other shade of political party, will be
able to raise excitements by attempting to persuade the poor that these
are designing to cheat them, while those are their disinterested and
sympathising friends. The times are changed, for the English people
are changed: we cannot deny it, since we have here a proof of it, Mr.
"That we have, too truly, Mr. Subdean!" echoed Mr. Nicholas,
and sighed very dolorously.
"Nay, I do not think there is any cause for regret, in all
this," observed his cheerful and more enlightened acquaintance; "whatever
severe causes may have operated to produce it, no philanthropist can
regret that there is discernible the commencement of a spirit of
self-respect on the part of the poor. We are all equal in the sight
of our Maker, you know, my friend; and for my part I assure you I do not
desire that the old usages of servility should be resumed, and the great
first law of human brotherhood be again lost sight of—for, I suspect, that
was too often the fact while the brother in superfine cloth received such
frequent obeisance from the brother in ragged linen."
"I must again say you surprise me greatly, sir," observed
Gentleman Nixon, beginning again to recover his belligerent humour.
"But do not be surprised, Mr. Nixon," answered the
churchman, instantly and persuasively; "the world has changed, though you
remain an honest Tory, and —"
"And you have become a Whig, sir, I fear," observed Mr.
Nicholas, while his face and throat began to assume the hue of a
"No, Mr. Nixon; a Conservative, if you please."
"All the same," said the retired gentleman, but with a
subsidence of his mettle; "scarcely anything but a distinction without a
"To speak the broad truth," resumed the clergyman, "there are
but very few now who boast themselves,—as you do, Mr. Nixon, most
honestly,—to be Tories. Nor are you very far from right in your
belief of the resemblance of some other parties,—for the old Whig and the
modern Conservative are nearly akin. The modern Whig would also have
been a Radical some few years ago, while the hotter advocates for change
have also considerably enlarged their demands."
"And do you pretend to tell me, Mr. Subdean," asked Mr.
Nicholas, very impatiently, "that you and others are any other than madmen
to yield to to this Jacobinical spirit of change—I say Jacobinical—the
plain word that my father used, and that I believe to be the best word?"
"But I do not believe it to be the best word, my dear sir,"
repeated the subdean, and took the hand of the retired gentleman with a
smile,—seeing they were about to separate; "I believe we should be madmen
indeed if we did not yield wisely to this spirit of change. You will
never find me among the advocates of rash and hasty changes, Mr. Nixon;
but I repeat—change has begun,—and if we do not yield to it wisely, it
will speedily proceed more rashly and hastily than any of us would wish to
see. All parties are amalgamating, for they are blending names; and
all ranks are converging to a common point, where rank will be forgotten.
Forty years ago you could not have imagined that a cathedral dignitary
would have walked from the Chequer Gate to St. Botolph's Bar, and not one
of the hundreds of poor men he met ever touch their hat to him;—and yet
you have walked with me every inch of the way this morning, and seen every
poor man pass by without shewing the subdean any more respect than he
shews to one of his ragged neighbours:—you have seen this, Mr. Nixon, and
you cannot deny that it was so. Good morning, sir!"
"Good morning, sir!" echoed Mr. Nicholas Nixon, though
somewhat vacantly. And thrice he turned to look after the clergyman
when they had separated,—stunned and confounded as he felt, at what the
dignitary had said; and then wondered how it could be! But the more
Mr. Nicholas wondered, the less he could comprehend what he wondered at.
He knew that he himself was what he was thirty years ago,—the same
old-fashioned Tory, who, even then, lived each day alike, in the same
house in the Minster-yard; but, as for the subdean and many others, though
he perceived they had changed, he could not comprehend why:—all that he
could comprehend was,—that it was so.
DAME DEBORAH THRUMPKINSON,
HER ORPHAN APPRENTICE, JOE.
JOE'S story opens in that unclassical region, the
Isle of Axholme,—a section of Lincolnshire divided from the main body of
the county by the broad and far-extending stream of the Trent.
Insular situations are invariably held to give some peculiarity of manners
to their inhabitants; and the Axholmians, or "Men of the Isle," have
always been reckoned to be an odd sort of, plain kind of people, by the
other inhabitants of Lindsey, the great northern division of the shire, of
which the Isle is accounted a part. This was more emphatically true
of them ninety years ago; and the face of the country was, at that time,
much in keeping with the unpolished character of the Axholmian people.
A journey through the Isle, in the autumnal and winter months especially,
would then have been studiously avoided by a traveller acquainted with its
excessively bad roads rendered insufferably disagreeable by the stench of
the sodden "line" or flax, with which the broad ditches on each side of
the rural ways were filled. Low, thatched abodes, built of "stud and
mud,"—or wood and clay, were the prevailing description of human dwellings
scattered over the land; and swine were the animals most commonly kept and
fattened by the farmers and peasantry.
The two considerable villages of Owston and Crowle (pronounced Crool
by the euphonious Axholmians), together with the town of Epworth, the
modern capital of the Isle, were the only localities in Axholme to which
improvements, common in the rest of the shire, had then penetrated.
Haxey, the ancient capital of the district, meanwhile remained unvisited
by the spirit of modern change, and drew its only distinction from the
historic associations connected with its decay. In remote times, and
under its Saxon appellation of "Axel," the town had been fortified with a
castle of the Mowbrays, to a chief of which chivalrous race the greater
part of "the Isle of Axelholme" was given as a manor, by the Norman
conqueror. And, amid the straggling and irregular assemblage of
buildings which now form the village, an intelligent visitor would
discover indubitable evidence of the former importance of the place.
Its large church, displaying the rich architecture prevalent during the
wars of the Roses, and supporting a lofty tower resonant at stated hours
with chimes of loud and pleasing music, looks from an eminence, in petty
cathedral state, over the greater extent of the Isle; and a few ample and
curiously built houses of some centuries old,—affording a striking
contrast to the paltry erections of the day,—denote the ancient denizens
of Haxey to have been the principal possessors of comparative wealth, and,
it may be added, of the soil in the neighbourhood.
On a fine summer's evening, at the door of one of these large
antiquated houses, sat Dame Deborah Thrumpkinson, the aged widow of
Barachiah Thrumpkinson, cordwainer, deceased. Her husband, who had
been long dead, was a thrifty man at his trade, and had, by habits of
strict industry and parsimony,—holpen therein by the like disposition of
his beloved Deborah,—contrived to store a good corner of his double-locked
oaken chest with spade-ace guineas. Deborah had acquired sufficient
skill in the "art and mystery" of her husband's employment to be able to
carry on his trade after his death; and, with the assistance of two stout
apprentices, and as many journeymen, as, at the season in which our
narrative begins, conducting the best business in that line within a
circuit of several miles.
We have hinted that Dame Deborah began to be stricken in
years; nevertheless, the labours of "the gentle craft" gave little fatigue
to her elastic mind and strong sinewy frame; and as she sat in the
old-fashioned oaken chair, enjoying rest, and inhaling the soft breeze,
after a day of healthful toil, she neither stooped through infirmity, nor
experienced dimness of vision, though sixty winters had gone over her
head. The short pipe in her mouth proved that she had discovered an
effectual, though unfeminine, solace for a weary frame; and, although,
through the flitting volumes of smoke, you saw that their frequent
visitings had left on the dame's cheek a deeper shade than years only
would have imprinted there,—yet, a nearer gaze would have convinced you
that, in youth, no contemptible degree of comeliness had been commingled
with her strength. With the calmness derived from experienced age,
and from a consciousness of honest independence,—thus, then, sat the grave
Deborah, receiving, now and then, a mark of respect from the slow, worn
labourers of either sex, as they passed homeward, with fork or rake on
shoulder, from the hay-field.
The dame had just knocked the ashes out of the head of her
pipe, and was about to retire within her dwelling for the night, when her
attention was strongly attracted by the conversation of a group which was
suddenly formed but a few yards from her threshold. A pale,
melancholy-looking woman, with a very little boy clinging to her
blue-linen apron, was met by a master chimney-sweep, followed by a couple
of wretched-looking urchins bowed beneath enormous bags of soot.
"Well, mistress," said the man, in a voice so harsh that it
grated sorely on the ears of Dame Deborah, who would have been offended
with the words of the speaker, even if they had been uttered in the
softest accents, "you may as well take the fasten-penny I offered you the
other day, and let me have this lad o' yours."
The child clung more closely to his mother, and looked
imploringly and pitifully in her face.
"Nay, I think I mustn't," replied the pale-looking woman, in
a faint and somewhat irresolute tone, catching the wistful glance of her
child, and then bending her eyes sorrowfully on the ground.
"Why, a golden guinea 'll do thee some service," resumed the
sweep; "and I'll warrant me, I'll take care o' thy little lad. He
shall get plenty to eat and drink,—and I reckon he doesn't get overmuch of
ayther with thee."
"I get as much as my mammy gets," said the child, adventuring
to speak, but looking greatly affrighted.
"Why, thou art a tight little rogue," said the chimney-sweep,
smiling grimly through his soot, "and could run briskly up a chimney, I
lay a wager. Come, give us thy hand, and say thou wilt go with us."
The man's attempt at coaxing had a repulsive effect on the
child, for he drew back, and trembled lest he should be laid hold of.
"Come, I'll make it two guineas," resumed the sweep, again
addressing the mother; "and what canst thou do with him, now his father is
dead,—as thou saidst when I met thee at Wroot, the other day? Thou
wilt be obliged to throw thyself on some parish, soon,—for they'll never
suffer thee to go sorning about in this way; and if thou art once in the
workhouse, depend on't th' overseers will soon 'prentice the poor little
fellow to somebody that may prove a hard master to him, mayhap.
Better take my offer, and let him be sure of kind usage."
The mother was silent and motionless, and tears began to fall
fast, while the sense of her present destitution and fears for the
impending future struggled like strong wrestlers with natural affection—a
fearful antagonism within, of which none but Adversity's children can
conceive the reality of the portraiture.
"Nay, pr'ythee, do not fret," said the man, with affected
pity; and then, taking out his begrimed hempen purse under the confident
expectation that he was about to gain his point at once from the
heart-broken weakness of a woman, added, "Come, come, here's that that
will get thee a new gown, and, maybe, put thee in the way of getting on in
the world besides."
The woman did not put forth her hand to take the proffered
price for her child, for her mind was now too deeply distracted to
understand the sweep's meaning; or, if she understood him, her frame was
now too weak with grief to permit her making any answer.
"Oh, mammy, mammy!—do not let the grimy man take me away!"
exclaimed the child, bursting into violent weeping, and pulling forcibly
at his mother's apron.
"What's the matter with your bairn, good woman?" cried the
benevolent old Dame Deborah at this moment, for she had heard too much to
be longer a listener, merely;—and the Axholmians were not versed in those
refinements of modern society which define a neighbourly and humane
interposition to be an act of unmanly officiousness.
"Mammy, mammy!—good old woman speaks you," said the eager
child, striving to arouse his mother's attention, and to call off her mind
from the intense conflict which seemed to have paralysed her
"Ay, ay," observed the sweep; "Dame Thrumpkinson is a
thrifty, sensible body; let us put it, now, to her, as a reasonable
matter, and see if she does not say I speak fair."
The group drew near the dame's door, and the man recounted
the terms of his proposal with a self-complacent emphasis which indicated
that he believed the dame, being a well-reputed tradeswoman, would assent
at once to the advisableness of his scheme, and assist him in its
"Now, what d'ye think, dame?" he said in conclusion; "d'ye
not think that I speak fair?"
"Think!" answered the aged woman, fixing her keen grey eyes
upon the trafficker with an expression which withered his hopes in a
moment; "think!—why I think it would be a sinful shame to soil that bairn's pratty face wi' soot; and I think, beside, that thou hast so
little of a man in thee, to wring a widowed-woman's heart by tempting her
to barter the body and soul of her own bairn for gold, that if I were
twenty years younger I would shake thy liver in thee for what thou hast
said to her."
The man's countenance fell, and he looked, for a moment, as
if about to return an answer of abuse; but the dame kept her keen eye bent
unblenchingly upon him; and it seemed as if his courage failed, for he put
up the guineas hastily into his purse, and turned from the spot, without
daring to attempt an answer, followed by the two diminutive slaves whose
hard lot it was to call him "Master."
"Ah, poor woman!" exclaimed Dame Deborah to the weeping and
speechless another; "what a sorry sight it would have been to see you take
yon hard-hearted rascal's money, while this poor faytherless innocent
trudged away with a bag o' soot on his feeble back! No, no, it isn't
come to that, nayther," she continued, vacating her arm-chair, and gently
forcing the distressed woman into it; "sit thee down, poor heart! the
bairn shall not want a friend, if aught should ail thee. I'll take
care of him myself, if God Almighty should take thee away as well as his
"God bless you, dame!" sobbed the cheered mother, clasping
her hands, and bursting anew into tears, which were now tears of joy.
"God bless good old woman!" shouted the little fellow, with
the real heaven of guileless childhood in his face.
"My poor child may soon need your goodness, kind dame,"
replied the melancholy mother, turning very deadly pale, "for I feel I am
not long for this world; my strength is nearly gone."
"Well, well, poor heart, cheer up!" said the dame, in a tone
of sincere condolence:—"remember, that there is One above, who hath said
He will be a husband to the widow, and a'—but I'll fetch thee and thy pratty bairn a bite o' bread and cheese, and a horn o' mead. Lord
bless me! how white the poor creature is turning! God Almighty save
her soul! she's going!"
The kind old woman hastened to support the sinking head of
the dying stranger, and the child clung, convulsively, to the cold and
helpless hand of his mother,—and uttered his wailing agony. All was
soon over, for the poor wanderer died almost instantaneously in Dame
Reader, if thou hast a heart to love thy mother I need not
attempt to describe to thee how deep was the grief and horror felt by the
orphan as he gazed upon his dead mother's face. And if thou hast not
such a heart, I will not give thee an occasion to slight a feeling so holy
as a child's absorbed love for its loving mother.
Suffice it to say that, after three days of almost
unmitigated grief, the child, led by Dame Deborah, followed his mother's
corpse, sobbing, to the grave; but the aged hand that conducted him to
witness the laying of his heart-broken parent in her last resting-place
led him back to a comfortable home. The sudden and striking
circumstances of his mother's death saddened the orphan's spirits for some
time; but he soon recovered the natural gaiety of childhood,
notwithstanding his transference from the care of an affectionate and
over-indulgent mother, to that of a guardian of advanced age and grave
Deborah Thrumpkinson in vain inquired after the orphan's full
name. He only knew that he had been called "Joe." She guessed
that he must be about four years old; and, fearful that a ceremony which
she conceived to be an indispensible preparative for his eternal salvation
might have been neglected, she took him to the font of the parish church,
and had him baptized "Joseph—in a Christian way," as she termed it, the
good dame, herself, becoming surety for the child's fulfilment of the vows
thus taken upon himself by proxy.
Joe's godmother and protectress taught him to read. And
no benefit she conferred upon him in after-life was more thankfully
remembered by him than this,—her humane and patient initiation of his
infantile understanding into the mystery of the alphabet, and the
formation of syllables. Here her labour ended, for her science
extended little further; but a Bible with the Apocrypha, ornamented with
plates,—a valued family possession of the Thrumpkinsons,—was within his
reach, and, at any hour of Sunday,—and sometimes on other days of the week
when he had washed his hands very clean,—he was privileged with the
growing pleasure of turning over the pages of the folio of wonders ever
The good old dame was not disposed to mar her act of genuine
charity,—the adoption of an orphan,—by imprisoning his young limbs too
early in the bonds of labour. She did not place him on the humble
stall to bend over the last, till she supposed he had reached
the age of fourteen. The ten preceding years of his orphanage passed
away in a course of happy quietude. The staid age of his venerated
protectress forbade any outbreaks of juvenile buoyancy in her sedate
presence; but in Joe's lonely wanderings through the fields and lanes, as
well as in his silent readings of the pictured Scriptures, he found
pleasures which abundantly repaid the irksomeness of occasional restraint.
His simple heart danced with joy at each return of the gladsome Spring,
when his beloved acquaintances, the wild flowers, shewed their beautiful
faces by brook and hedgerow; and he became familiar with all their
localities, and felt a glowing and mysterious rapture in the renewed
survey of their glorious tints and delicate pencillings, long before he
learnt their names.
The commencement of his apprenticeship was marked by an event
of no less importance than his introduction to Toby Lackpenny,—the most
learned tailor in the Isle of Axholme,—and a personage of such exalted
merit that we purposed to pluck a sprig of "immortal amaranth," by making
the world acquainted with his separate history; "but let that pass."
Toby,—from the rich immensity—for such it seemed to Joe—of his
"library,"—furnished the young disciple of St. Crispin with two books
which completely fascinated him: they were—the immortal fables of "The
Pilgrim's Progress" and "Robinson Crusoe,"—by the immortal toilers, John
Bunyan and Daniel Defoe. Joe was assured by his new friend that
Crusoe's adventures were no less truly true than wonderful,—while
the "Pilgrim" had a hidden and all-important meaning, which he must
endeavour to discover, and apply to his own spiritual state as he went
During the season of his intense and enamoured pursuit of
these absorbing studies, an incident occurred which produced some
uneasiness both to teacher and disciple. Joe was seated, one
evening, on a stool at the tailor's door, fervently engaged in his usual
recreation,—the tailor meanwhile plying his needle,—when the clergyman of
the village passing by, and observing the boy's studious deportment as
something unusual, stepped towards him, and desired to know what he was so
intent upon. Joe naturally felt some diffidence in returning an
answer, and turned towards his friend on the shop-board with a glance that
was meant to entreat his kind offices in the formation of a reply.
But the tailor, to Joe's utter confusion, hung down his head doggedly, and
struck his needle into a nether garment that lay upon his knees with
singular vehemence. In default of this expected help, Joe gave his
two precious volumes, silently and resignedly, into the hands of the
vicar,—a reverend gentleman held in deserved respect by his humble flock
for the rigid purity of his morals, but of small skill in the waywardness
of the human mind.
After a very few minutes' examination of the books, the
spiritual overseer crimsoned with apparent displeasure, shook his head
very expressively at the boy, and, returning the volumes into his hands,
assured him he was very sorry to see him so ill employed,—"for one of the
books," he said, "contained only a foolish tale,—and the other was as
whimsical a dream as ever ran through the brains of a fanatic." So
saying, the well-intentioned, but ill-informed, teacher turned
away,—leaving the boy to his own reflections, and the hot criticism of the
tailor on what they had just heard from the village parson. These by
no means led Joe into a coincidence with the vicar's way of thinking; and,
whenever opportunity served, he was sure, as before, to be wandering,
ideally, with the romantic and intrepid adventurer on the desert island;
or to be found absorbed in the effort to penetrate the spiritual mysteries
he had been directed to discover in the remaining volume whose enchanting
imagery had captivated his young understanding. "A foolish tale,"—he
could not conceive the narrative of the shipwrecked and eremite mariner to
be: it was too full of sober earnestness, he thought, to be fantastic; it
created before him a verisimilitude in which he himself lived all the wild
yet truthful adventures of the cast-away seaman over again. And if
he had not been told that the story of the Pilgrim was a parable, his
simple and easy phantasy would have, primarily, set it down for a literal
truth,—however after-reflection might have qualified his first conclusion.
But the accident of his evening's occupation having been
scrutinised by the clergyman had not yet expended its influence on Joe's
thoughts and feelings. On the first ensuing visit made by Dame
Deborah to pay her tithes, she was solemnly admonished to forbid her
godson's unprofitable studies, and to interdict his future association
with the tailor. The good dame's reverence for her spiritual guide
inclined her, at once, to yield obedience to his recommendation; more
especially as she had for some time noted that the boy did not, as
formerly, eagerly resort, at every leisure opportunity, to the old family
Accordingly, on her return home, she sharply reproved him for
his neglect of the sacred book, and insisted that he should discontinue
his communings at the tailor's cottage, and read no more of his books.
Joe returned not a word in answer to the reproof of his aged mistress, for
mingled gratitude, under a sense of her tender kindness, and reverence for
her authority, rendered him incapable of disobeying her orders. He
returned, dutifully, to the perusal of his first book; but, though the
rich variety of its histories, and the sublime interest of its matchless
poetry, did not fail to keep alive his attention while he bent over its
pages, yet, in the long hours of daily labour, his desire strongly
thirsted for the more exciting intellectual draught of which he had lately
partaken, and a dreary and monotonous feeling of weariness consumed his
spirit. Dame Deborah little knew the evil she was doing when she
bereaved her foster-child of his innocent pleasures. In the lapse of
a few weeks she became sensible that it was not always wise to pursue the
counsel even of a village parson too strictly.
Among the visitors to the dame's domicile there had long been
some who professed the tenets of Wesley,—the great heresiarch who drew his
first breath in the Isle of Axholme. Of the peculiar doctrines set
forth by this celebrated religious teacher Joe, like Deborah herself, knew
nought, save that the parson said they were "heresies." The sturdy
intelligence of Dame Deborah led her to turn a deaf ear to all innovations
in religion. She had been bred a strict church-woman, and never
conceived the slightest idea of the fallibility of the orthodox and
established Protestant faith. Her apprentices were not permitted to
attend meeting or conventicle; and she steadfastly repelled and
discouraged all attempts, on the part of her visitors, to introduce
religious novelties in their daily gossip. But the restlessness and
disquietude of his mind, now its faculties were once more without a fixed
object of attachment, impelled Joe to discard, imperceptibly at first, the
rules on religious matters which had been tacitly observed by every member
of the dame's household ever since he had entered it. With those who
manifested a disposition to enlarge on the merits of the new religious
system he entered eagerly into discussion; and the result was a
determination to pay a secret attendance on one of the meetings of the
sect, and thus form a judgment for himself.
A preacher of considerable rhetorical powers occupied the
meeting-house pulpit during his first stolen visits; and the skill with
which passages from the book which had been his first source of
instruction were quoted and applied, riveted his attention and inflamed
his fancy. The speaker gave illustrations of some of the patriarchal
histories, and founded on them, and upon the sacrifices under the Mosaic
law, such hypotheses as were exactly calculated to awe, and yet to lead
captive, Joe's active imagination. To tell, in one sentence, the
history of numberless hours of mental revolution, Joe brooded over these
theories and their consequences while engaged at his daily labour, and
repeated his secret visits to the meeting-house, until his young and
earnest mind was filled with the one pervading idea that the only true
happiness for the human soul was to be found in some sudden and ecstatic
change to be received by what his new teachers called "an act of faith in
From the period in which this conviction took entire hold of
his judgment, the alteration in Joe's conduct was so decided as to become
a serious cause of alarm, even to the firm commonsense of Dame Deborah.
He spurned the thought of any longer concealing his attendance at the
sectarian meetinghouse; and at every brief cessation from labour, as well
as at prolonged hours in the night, and early in the morning, he was
overheard in a weeping agony of prayer. His humble bedroom, an
out-house, or the corner of a field, served the young devotee alike for a
place of "spiritual wrestling"; and whoever gave him an opportunity was
sure to receive from Joe an earnest warning to "flee from the wrath to
come!" Days,—weeks rolled on,—and the ardour of the lad's
enthusiasm was approaching its meridian,—for he had given up himself so
completely to its power, that not only did he consume the night more fully
in prolonged acts of ascetic and almost convulsive devotion, but his mind
was so entirely wrapt up in the effort to "pray without ceasing," that he
was scarcely conscious of what passed in the dame's cottage during the
hours of work.
The visit of a " Revivalist" to the new religious community
at Haxey thus found Joe fully prepared to hail the event as one fraught
with unspeakable benefits. The narrow meeting-house was crammed with
villagers attracted by the loud and unusual noises, and affected by the
agonised looks and gestures of their neighbours. Many of these stray
visitors, in the language of the initiated, "came to scoff, but remained
to pray." The "Revivalist" crept from form to form,—for the humble
meeting-house was unhonoured with a pew,—urging the weeping and kneeling
penitents to "press into mercy"; and pouring forth successive petitions
for their salvation until the perspiration dropped from his brows like
Joe was too intensely absorbed in the burning desire to
obtain the immediate purification of his nature to be able to reflect, for
a moment, on the question,—whether, in all this boisterous procedure,
there was not an appalling violation of every principle of worship.
And when the preacher approached the form at which he was kneeling, the
workings of his spirit shook his whole frame with expectation. The
preacher, at length, addressed him:—
"Believe, my young brother," said he, in a voice naturally
musical, and rendered wonderfully influential by enthusiasm, " believe,
for the pardon of your sins!"
"Oh! I would believe in a moment, if I felt they were
pardoned!" cried Joe, in all the earnestness of excitement.
"Nay, but you must believe first!" rejoined the preacher;
only believe that your sins are pardoned, and you will feel your burden
The boy's reason, for a moment, asserted its own majesty at
the broaching of this wild doctrine; and he returned an instant answer to
the preacher which would have confounded a less practised casuist.
"That would be pardoning myself," he said; "I want the Lord
to pardon me: if believing that my sins were forgiven, while I feel they
are not, would produce a real pardon, I need never have asked the Almighty
to perform the work."
"Ah, my dear young brother," quickly replied the
preacher,—"I waited, as you have, no doubt, for weeks and weeks,
expecting some miracle to be performed for me; but I found, at last, that
there was no other refuge but believing. You must believe;
that is your only way! All the direction that the Word gives you
is, 'Believe, and thou shalt be saved!' You have nothing else
to do but to believe; and the moment you do believe—that moment you will
be happy! Try it!"—and, so saying, the "Revivalist" hastened on to
make proof of the efficacy of his wild notional catholicon upon the
comfortless spirit of some less hesitating patient or penitent.
Joe's distress when the preacher left him became greater than
ever. He felt fearful, on the one hand, of becoming a victim to
self-deceit; and was horrified, on the other, with the terrible dread of
losing his soul through the sin of unbelief. But the combat between
his imagination and his understanding was one in which the former faculty
had all the vantage-ground of his youthful age and his tendency to the
marvellous, and was immeasurably assisted by the overwhelming energy of
his desire. The attainment of the new spiritual state had become his
sole idea; and his reason succumbed beneath the combined strength of his
wishes and the prurience of his ideality.
"The preacher says he has tried believing, and it has
made him happy; therefore, I will try to believe," said Joe to
himself,—becoming mentally desperate with distracting fears.
He did try; and the experiment produced,—as it could
not fail to produce in such a mind, surrounded with such excitements,—a
thrilling and ecstatic feeling; but yet, he doubted again, a few moments
after! Thus, his intellect, all undisciplined and untutored as it
had been, still revolted at the indignity of becoming the dupe of its own
trickery. But the misery of doubt, and the pangs of spiritual
condemnation, were more insupportable than the effort to impose upon
himself the delusive assurance that he really possessed what he so
ardently sought; and he, therefore, rushed to another act of desperate
credence:—"I will believe! I do believe!" he wildly
cried, at the full pitch of his voice, while the din and confusion of
fifty persons praying aloud, at the came time, rendered his enthusiasm
unnoticeable. At every new resurrection of his reason he thus drew
afresh on the exorcism of his ideality, and allayed the troublous
misgivings of the sterner faculty; so that, by the time the meeting was
concluded, his reason had ceased to rebel,—and he went home, persuaded
that he had attained the "new birth."
For some days, Joe dwelt in a frame of greater tranquillity
than he had experienced since the commencement of his religious
"awakenings." But the calm was a deceitful one; and was but the
prelude to a more terrific tempest than had ever yet raged in the breast
of the young victim to the ideal. Joe heard descriptions from the
pulpit of the sectaries of the unspeakable ecstacy of true believers; and
reflected that his own feelings bore scarcely any resemblance to such
highly wrought pictures. Gradually, he felt it utterly impossible to
conceal from himself the tormenting conviction that he had never received
that amazing change of nature which he had been taught, so energetically
and sanguinely, to expect as the fruit of his "act of faith."
Instead of the "heavenly joy of assurance," which the preachers
described,—Joe could not conceal from himself the fact that his nearest
approaches to inward joy and calm,—fitful as they were,—resulted from the
effort to assure himself; and this seemed too strained a mental
state, he thought, to be termed "heavenly joy of assurance." Then,
again, he was conscious that he had not the mental purity that he had
heard described as one of the certain marks of regeneration. And
this soon hurried him into a whirlpool of inward distraction;—for,
instead of attributing the irritability and peevishness which now
frequently agitated him to their real source,—the exhaustion of his
nervous system by extreme asceticism,—the poor boy set them down, in his
helpless and pitiable ignorance, as guilty wilfulness that involved him,
still, in the awful sentence of Divine wrath. The tortures of
disappointment thus augmented the distraction of doubt; and, at length,
Joe was unable to quell his uneasiness for another moment by resorting to
the act of self-delusion recommended by the "Revivalist,"—and called by
him "the act of faith." Worn out and jaded, with his daily, hourly
and almost momentary attempts to palm the fiction, anew, upon his
understanding, Joe gave up the practice of "the act of faith" altogether,
with a feeling of weariness and disgust and self-degradation too bitter
The prostration of the youth's corporeal strength accompanied
this distressing mental conflict. Dame Deborah began to watch the
hectic flush on the cheek of her beloved fosterchild with an aching heart;
and, for the first time, entertained ears, that Time, so far from curing
him of his errors, would only serve to mark his early grave. She
would have interdicted his future attendance on the meetings of his
religious associates; but the drooping state of his health deterred her
from crossing his will, lest she should hasten the catastrophe which she
began, in sadness and sorrow, to anticipate.
The good old dame finally resolved to try the efficacy of a
change of scene and circumstances, as means of aiding the youth's
recovery. Joe had never yet crossed the bounds of Haxey parish since
he entered it; but the Dame being in the habit of attending the weekly
market at Gainsborough, the nearest trading town, she determined that he
should become a partner in her future journeys. Her project was as
sensible as it was benevolent. The new excitements created for the
lad by these little expeditions could not fail to produce an issue in some
degree salutary to his mind. And yet the relief he experienced might
have been but temporary, had not a medicine,—seemingly hazardous, but yet
signally well adapted for his disordered mental condition,—been
opportunely disclosed by the kindness of Providence—often the source of
new thinkings, new resolves, and new courses of action, which, in mockery
of ourselves, we so often attribute to our own "will" and "intelligence."
Mounted on a stout grey mare, with his aged mistress behind,
on an old-fashioned pillion-seat, Joe set forth on his first journey with
emotions of natural curiosity; and, in the course of his progress, began
to regain some degree of his constitutional cheerfulness. Eight
miles of country beheld for the first time, though its landscape was only
of an ordinary and monotonous character, presented a world of objects for
reflection to Joe's impressible spirit. The season was an early
spring; and, albeit the young equestrian felt some slight alarm when the
animal sank, beneath the superincumbent weight of himself and his
companion, well-nigh up to the saddle-skirts in the miry sloughs that
intervened between Haxey and the Trent,—yet the view of the face of
nature, smilingly outspread around him, fully compensated, he felt, for
these occasional drawbacks on the pleasure of the journey. The few
verdant meads which were scattered among the dull fallows looked as
lovely, Joe thought, as they could look in any other part of England;
while the cottages, in their array of creeping plants, were attired as
blushingly and beautifully, he thought, as if reared in the sunny climes
of the South.
Midway in the journey, Joe and his aged mistress dismounted
to cross the Trent,—and four more miles brought them to Gainsborough.
On arriving at the market-town, the good old dame, somewhat to the lad's
surprise, presented him with half a-crown,—a sum, he had never, till then,
possessed. After a brief preface of prudence, she informed him that
he was at liberty to spend the next three hours in looking at the rarities
in the market, in walking about the town, or in any mode that he thought
would most highly gratify his curiosity. Joe set forth, anticipating
sights which might afford a passing gratification; but in the course of
the first hour became immoveably attracted by a display of merchandise
from which the rustic traffickers of the market, too generally, turned
away with indifference,—a spacious stall of old books.
The image of a homely country lad, clad in a rustic garb, and
shod with heavy-laced boots, standing by that old bookstall, presented a
very uninteresting spectacle to the market people at Gainsborough. The
butter-women brushed rudely past him, grumbling at the awkwardness with
which he obstructed their crowded path; and the hucksters roughly cursed
him, half-overturning the absorbed youth in their haste to forestall each
other in cheapening the produce of the village dairies. Yet Joe was wont
to refer to the hour during which he looked over the tattered treasures of
the travelling bookseller, as the most important in his whole life. He
laid out the first half-crown he had ever possessed in purchasing the
translated work of a French philosopher, without knowing, for many months
after, that the author of the book bore an opprobious designation among
theologians. At successive periods of his after history, Joe attributed
this occurrence to the operation of the inevitable laws of necessity, to
accident, to permissive Providence; but, without entering into the
labyrinth of his progressive trains of thought, or solving the question of
the validity of any of his conclusions,—suffice it to say, that the
purchase of that book produced a sequel of the most intense interest to
the young and undirected inquirer.
Joe had but just paid his half-crown into the hand of the bookseller, and
buttoned the volume in the breast of his coat, when his ears were stricken
boisterous tones of a bawling pedlar. With remarkable elongation of face,
the man was proclaiming the wondrous contents of a pamphlet that he held
hand, copies of which he was offering for sale, "amazingly cheap," as
he avowed, to the staring bystanders. The stroller rapidly gleaned coppers
the wonder-stricken butter-women, who forgot their baskets in the serious
interest awakened by the pedlar's tale; and Joe could not refrain from
comments which the simple people made upon the story.
"Here is a true and faithful account," reiterated the pedlar, with all his
power of lungs, "of the awful apparition of a young woman to her
sweetheart, three weeks after her death,—warning him, in the most solemn manner, to forsake
his evil ways, and not to deceive others, as he had deceived her,—and
foretelling to him that he would die that day fortnight,—and then
vanishing in a flash of fire, leaving a smell of brimstone behind
her! And how the young man took to his bed immediately after, and died at
the time his sweetheart had foretold,—making
a godly confession of his sins on his deathbed. All which happened,"
concluded the pedlar, with a look of solemn assurance that went at once
hearts of his unsuspecting audience,—"but one month ago, in the county of
Cornwall ;and here are the names of ten creditable parishioners of the
who heard the young man's confession, and have set their names as
witnesses of the truth of the circumstance, that it might be a warning to
to repent, and not to deceive their sweethearts,—and all this you have for
the small charge of one penny."
"The Lord ha' marcy on us, Moggy," cried a young and blooming butter-woman
to her elderly neighbour, as they leant over the handles of their baskets,
aghast with wonder:—"what an awful thing it must ha' been to see that
young woman come from the dead!"
"It must, indeed, Dolly," replied the older gossip, shaking her head; "it's enough to make one tremble to think on't. Some folks say that there's
no sich thing
as a ghooast,—but I'm sewer I wouldn't be so wicked as to say so."
"And she vanished in a flash o' fire and brimstone, did she, maister?"
said Dolly to the pedlar, as she tendered her penny.
"That she did, pretty maid!" quickly answered the vender, with a look of
roguish seriousness: "take the book home, and let your sweetheart read it
if you can't read it yourself; and you'll find that what I have said is
"I hope it is, maister, for they're solemn things to joke about!"
remarked a staid-looking matron, who was taking out her spectacles to read
"True as the Gospel!" exclaimed the ready pedlar: "I was born and
brought up in the parish, and know every one of the creditable yeomen who
have signed the young man's confession."
"Yo' may ha' been born there," interjected a Sheffield huckster, with a
satirical grin; "but it's many a moile off!"
The pedlar strode rapidly away to a distant part of the market.
"Why, you dooant doot what th' man says, do you, Roger?" asked a fair
Axholmian butter-maiden of the huckster.
"Daht!" replied the Sheffielder, in his own dialect; "I al'ays daht loies,
mun! But come, lass ! tak t'other hawp'ny a pahnd, and bring t' basket
"Marcy on us!" exclaimed the butter-woman in spectacles, as the rude
huckster left the market; "yon Sheffield fellow 'll hev to see a ghooast
believes there is one! What an alarming accoont this is, to be sewer!"
"Would you be so kind," said Joe to the elderly dame who uttered this
latter exclamation, "as to let me look at the account for a few minutes?
I will return it to you again, very soon."
"Why, yes,—I'll let you look at it," answered the woman, scanning him
from head to foot; "and I hope you'll take a lesson from the book, and
never act so
wickedly as this, young man did."
It was not mere curiosity which prompted the lad to ask the loan of the
pedlar's tract. He felt certain that he had glanced at a similar
tale in a volume of old pamphlets on the book seller's stall, but a few
minutes before. After a short search, he found the volume again, and
comparing the stories saw that they were the same, to a letter, save that
the copy on the stall affirmed the apparition to have taken place in
Westmoreland, more than half-a-century before. While his thoughts
were all in a tumult at this strange discovery, the bookseller, who was
attentive to the behaviour of his customers, stepped up, and addressed him
in a whisper:—
"You look surprised, young man," he said, while Joe gazed at the sinister
expression in his countenance; "but I knew it was all an old story,
fellow was making such a noise about it. Say nothing about it,
however,—for all trades must live,—and most people would think one tale as
good and as true
as the other!"
The bookseller was only just in time with his precept of caution; for
Joe's gathering indignation at the pedlar's imposture would have impelled
him, the next
moment, to break through his boyish bashfulness, and proclaim his
discovery aloud, in the ears of the surrounding butter-women—a proceeding
lieu of thanks, would have, no doubt, drawn down upon his head a storm of
wrath from their disturbed superstition. Feeling unspeakably confused with
reflections, Joe now hastily returned the volume to its place on the
stall; and, thanking the kind butter-woman for her loan of the
Ghost-story, gave it
carefully into her hands. He then hasted away towards the little inn where
he was to meet Dame Deborah, partly under an impression that his hours of
liberty were near their expiry,—but much more with the persuasion that he
would be able, as he went along, being no longer surrounded with the
market-din, to disentangle the web of conflicting thought into which the
slight incidents just narrated had cast him.
The pedlar's falsehood and audacity,—and the whispered caution of the
bookseller, whom Joe felt strongly inclined to characterise as an abettor
imposture and knavery,—the credulity of the butter-women,—and the gaping
wonder manifested by the listening crowd,—formed a mass of striking
corroborations,—a sort of powerful running commentary on what he had
hastily read in the volume he had just purchased. The incidents in the
in fact, opened to the lad's inexperienced mind a glimpse of the
melancholy truth that man and the multitude have been prone to
superstition in all ages,
and have eagerly received frauds which have been imposed upon them,
throughout all time, by the craft of interested and organized parties; or,
these were wanting, that man has forged deceptions for himself, through
the strength of his own wondering faculty. The end to which these
reasonings would lead him was not, and could not, then, be manifest to him; or Joe, scarcely rid of his religious terrors, would
have revolted from them with horror. It was merely the dawn
of thoughts which were waiting to break in upon his mind with all the
power and effulgence of new truth. But, whatever might be the tendency of
commencing reasonings, the progress of them was speedily arrested by the
beginning of the journey homewards.
Joe, with the good old dame behind him, rode as far as the Trent Ferry, at
Stockwith, in company with sundry rustic frequenters of the weekly market. The
gossip chiefly consisted of a recapitulation of the prices of corn and
flax, and poultry and pigs, and butter,—until the re-introduction of the
ghost-story, at the
time Joe and his foster-mother, with the rest, were seated in the
ferry-boat, and were re-crossing the Trent.
"Well,—it's an awful accoont, Maister Gawky!" exclaimed Diggory Dowlson,
the rough old ferryman, after an Axholmian farmer had briefly recounted
pedlar's tale; "but I've heeard many sich i' my time,—thof I nivver seed
"And the Lord send I nivver may!" ejaculated Betty Bogglepeep, a
tottering old wife of Owston, who had, the day before, as she said, in the
her gossip, chopped off the head of her best black hen, because it crowed
like a cock;—"the Lord send I nivver may, for it maks me queer to
think a thowt o' sich things; and I'm sewer if I woz to see 'em, it would
freeten me oot o' my wits!"
"Hold thy foolish tongue, prithee!" chimed in her loving husband, whose
bravery seemed chiefly owing to his late fellowship with Sir John
the market:—"why does ta talk aboot being freeten'd at shadows?"
"Nay, nay, Davy, it's to no use puttin' it off i' that way," interjected
the old ferryman, taking up the cause of the old woman and the ghost, with
the fervour of
gallantry and faith united:—"depend on't, though deead folks may come
like shadows, yet it's a fearful seeght to see 'em!"
"No doot, no doot, Diggory!" replied the farmer, "but seeing 'em's
The farmer meant this for an arch sally, but his companions in the boat
were not in the vein to relish his humour.
"What do you think aboot sich solemn things, Dame Thrumpkinson?" asked
the old ferryman, turning to the corner of the boat where Deborah seemed
buried in reflection;—"you sit and say not a word, all this time. Give us your thowts, dame,
for ye've more sense than all of us, put together!"
"I don't give heed to every fool's tale about such things," replied Dame
Deborah, in her usual grave tone; "but I've serious reason for believing
dead often know what the living are doing."
"Why, did ye ivver see owt spirit'al, Dame Thrumpkinson?" instantly asked
half-a-dozen voices, while twice as many eyes glared upon the aged Deborah
with a gaze as wonder-stricken as that of a nest of owls suddenly awakened
"Nay, neighbours, nay!" replied the dame, drooping her head, and
speaking in a tone of melancholy tenderness; "do not ask me further. I
think we ought
to keep sacred the secrets of the dead that have been near and precious to
The manner of Dame Deborah's reply was so affecting, and its intimate
meaning, though only guessed by her rude auditors, seemed to command so
deep a respect from their simple feelings, that the subject was
immediately dropped; and the whole party remained silent until the boat
had touched the
western bank of the river.
Some of the company now took a direction for Owston and Butterwick, and
such parts of the country as lay on the banks of the Trent; while the
who were bound for the more central parts of the isle, being more strongly
mounted than Joe and his aged mistress, and many of them having a greater
distance to reach ere night-fall, sped on before, after bidding their
deeply-respected acquaintance, Dame Deborah, a hearty and kindly farewell. The
journey home was nearly ended before the dame broke silence, her mind
seeming deeply intent on thoughts which the conversation in the boat had
awakened within her; and when she addressed her foster-son, it was but
briefly, though kindly.
"I hope the ride will do thee no harm, bairn," she said, in a tone of the
gentlest affection; "and how did ta spend the half-crown?"
"I bought a book with it, dame," Joe answered.
"A book!" said she, pleasantly:—"well, well, it's like thee; but, maybe,
then could not ha' spent it better. And what sort of a book is it, bairn?"
"Quite on a new subject," Joe replied, scarcely knowing how to describe
the book to the dame's plain understanding.
"A new subject!" she repeated, with a gentle laugh:—"well, well, I hope
it will do thee more good than some of thy old subjects." And then, as if
bringing back distressful thoughts to the heart of one over whom she
yearned so tenderly, the good old dame permitted the journey to end
remark. Joe would fain have entreated an explication of the mysterious
conclusion given by his aged protectress to the conversation in the boat;
was something too sombre in her mood of mind, at that time, he thought, to
permit his hazarding any reference to such a subject.
Almost insensibly to himself Joe's opinions on religious matters began to
undergo an entire change within a short period succeeding his acquaintance
the work of the French philosopher. The arguments of the book were
conducted in too covert a mode for one so little skilled in the arts of
disguise to be
able to detect its real tendency in the outset. The blandishments of the
writer's style captivated his taste; and the boldness with which he saw
liberty asserted took strong possession of his judgment. Degraded as his
reason had felt itself to be while enslaved to the teachings of ignorance,
was no wonder that he felt the awakening of a, desire for mental
independence, and listened willingly to the voice of an advocate for the
native dignity of
man's understanding. Appended to the volume, which now began to engross
his leisure hours, was a treatise, entitled
"The Law of Nature." Joe perused its precepts and digested
its reasonings until he believed he had committed a lamentable error by
wearying his flesh and spirit with acts of ascetic devotion,—and resolved
address himself to the practice of the elevated moral virtue which the
French writer asserted to be easy and natural to man when brought within
influence of instruction.
The native activity of his intellect prevented a prolonged abidance on the
mere threshold of opinion; a few months rolled over, and Joe's
took a current which they kept for some years. In truth, the formation of
his conclusions was hastened by the very circumstance of his being compelled to pursue his doubts and inquiries in silence. No one around him
understood the questions with which his mind was grappling; and the
answers which his own judgment gradually gave them, would, he was
sensible, create a general horror if broadly proclaimed in the hearing of
people by whom he was surrounded.
His faith once shaken in the rules of practice prescribed by the sectarian
teachers—since he knew no other way of interpreting the experimental
of the Scriptures than that they pursued,—his reason became gradually
distasted with the Scriptures themselves, and he easily adopted the
against the Bible contained in his favourite volume of French philosophy. He began to suspect, and, at length, boldly concluded, that the Jehovah of
Hebrews was only the mere mythological fiction of a rude and barbarous
age,—a Deity scarcely more godlike in his character and attributes than
savage Moloch of the Ammonites. To class the garden of primeval innocence,
and the forbidden fruit, and the tempting serpent, and the lapse of the
human pair, among the allegories which, he now learned, the ancient
nations were wont to adopt in order to embody their conceptions of things
otherwise difficult of narration, was a still easier step. The Prophecies,
he thought, were evidently attributable to that prolific Oriental faculty
gave birth and authority to the pagan oracles; and the Miracles, as
events opposed to general
experience, were to be at once discarded from the catalogue of historic
facts by every true philosopher.
Amid these rapid and decided changes of sentiment, Joe sometimes wondered
that he felt none of the inward terror and the "stings of conscience,"
he had so perpetually been taught to regard as the sure avenging
vicegerents of a Deity, in the breasts of those who dared to doubt
revealed truth. That he
was tormented by none of these appalling visitings, was another proof to
his mind of the fallacy of his rejected teachers. He was conscious that,
conclusions, whether right or wrong, he was sincere: he was satisfied
that his new mental condition was far preferable to the spirit-degrading
wearisome slavery he had so recently shaken off; and he had not yet
sufficiently probed the depths of his own heart to know that his self-gratulation
also aided by the pride of
thinking diversely from the mass of his fellows. The ghost story at the
market, and its accompanying circumstances, often ran through his memory,
served, not a little, to enforce his persuasion that the mass of mankind
were the dupes of superstition; and, at the close of every similar train
he could not refrain from indulging a self-complacent feeling on his
having himself thrown off what he gradually deemed to be a blind and
implicit trust in
fables under the delusive guise of Divine inspiration.
Glowing with the conception that he had hitherto been living in a dream of
multiform illusions, but had now broken it, Joe resolved to "gird up the
loins of his
mind" for the laborious and persevering pursuit of solid knowledge; and
said within himself,—"I will henceforth converse with experience, and not
imagination; I will cleave to fact and not to phantasy." The weekly
journeys to Gainsborough with his aged mistress, which were
uninterruptedly kept up
from their commencement, afforded him what he conceived to be ample means
for carrying this resolve into successful practice. And so, in some
measure, it proved; for, by an exchange of volumes with the travelling
bookseller, and the casual assistance of a few shillings from his indulgent godmother, he reaped an
unremitting supply for his intellectual appetite,—a faculty which rapidly
"grew with what
it fed on." He eagerly devoured whatever came within his reach in the
shape of history or chronicle;—he sought industriously to acquire the
real science;—and strove to sharpen and fortify his reason by the perusal
of ancient tomes of logic and philosophy. For records of travel he craved with an incontrollable passion—a
feeling which was, in reality, but a revivification of the ardour awakened
boyish mind by the adventures of the shipwrecked Crusoe. But the fervid
desire he once cherished, to penetrate vast deserts and visit unknown
was now transmuted, by the influence of his more sober associations and
habits of reflection, into a prevalent wish to see the world of men; and
prospect of a new and wider field of observation to be entered upon at the
close of his humble servitude began thenceforth to pervade his daily
and, eventually, to take a shape in his purposes.
The secrecy which Joe was compelled to observe on religious subjects was a
restraint which he would gladly have broken; but there was not one to
whom he could communicate his sceptical views without fear of an explosion
of alarm. Observance of caution being repulsive to his feelings, it was,
therefore, natural that his real sentiments should occasionally escape. Only, however, when the gross superstitions of his daily associates
strong disgust within him, did
Joe utterly forget his rules of caution. His fellow-apprentices were in
little danger of imbibing heretical opinions, from the fact of their
being too uninformed to apprehend the real drift of his thinkings when
expressed. But Dame Deborah pondered on some of these hasty
expressions of opinion, until her aged heart often ached with the
suspicion that all was not right in the new religious state of her
foster son. Yet, when she
marked the tenour of his daily conduct,—his inviolable regard for
truth,—his steady rebuke of everything coarse and unfeeling,—when she
listened to the
in which his conceptions, even on ordinary subjects, were uttered,—and
when she contrasted his manly cheerfulness with his former gloom and
despondency, a confidence arose that dispelled her temporary doubts of the
correctness of his heart, and her bosom glowed with pride at the
remembrance that she had adopted him for her own.
During the concluding five years of his apprenticeship, Joe had piled
together in his mind, though after no prescribed rule, much knowledge of a
multifarious character. The acquirement of one of the noblest languages of
antiquity was his severest unassisted struggle during this probationary
but it was a strife from which he reaped the richest after pleasures. The
facts he gleaned from history were stored up faithfully in his memory, not
as chronological items, but as texts for fertile and profitable reflection while he assiduously strove to catch the rays of such new truths as were
perceptible in his more limited reading of ethics, and to evince their
spirit in his thoughts and actions. Thus, without written pattern or oral
instructor, the orphan apprentice endeavoured, by the selection of such
materials as lay within his grasp, to build up, within himself, a mental
seemly architecture. But, to cut short observations that are already too
protracted,—Joe, with all his efforts after mental discipline, was, at
all the lonely self-educated must be at that age—often the slave of his
own hypothesis when he believed himself to be following the most
deductions from an authenticated fact,—oftener a visionary than a true
On the evening preceding the day of Joe's freedom, the good old Deborah,
sitting at her own door, presented a picture almost identical with the
attempted at the opening of this brief recital. Except the deeper furrows
on her face, there was no token that age had strengthened its empire over
fine old woman sat as erect in her arm-chair as she had sat there
seventeen years before. Her eyes also beamed with the same wakefulness and
kindliness on her neighbours, as they
passed by, from their labour, and, tendered her a respectful
recognition,—for she was at peace with all, and beloved by all; and while
the light vapour curled
and wreathed, as it floated slowly upward from her pipe, and then melted,
above her head, into the invisibility of the air, it seemed a type of the
healthful course she had trod in her uprightness, that was, in due time,
to receive its quiet change into the unseen but felicitous future. The
had, for seventeen years, increasingly felt respecting the welfare of her
foster-son,—now the youth was within a few hours of being at age,—filled
so completely, that she could do nothing as she sat in her customary seat
that evening but con over the probable consequences of Joe's emancipation
from the thraldom of apprenticeship, which was to take place the following
"Well, I'm truly thankful," soliloquised the peaceful septuagenarian,
puffing away the clouds from her pipe with growing energy, and now and
her sentences in an audible tone, through the strength of earnestness,—"that the Lord moved my heart to take care of this poor motherless and faytherless
bairn. It's Him, I'm sensible, that inclines us to do any good,—for
there's little that's good in us by natur'. I've no reason to repent what
I did; for, though the
dear lad has a few whirligig notions, yet I'm sure there's a vast deal o'
good in him. He doesn't like church over well;—but then the parson grows
and stupid, like me,—and it's not likely that a young fellow that's grown
so very book-larnt as our Joe should be fond o' spending his time in
listening to an
old toothless parson's dull drawling. Neighbour Toby Lackpenny says that
the lad's ower nat'ral, and not abstrac' enough, in his way o' thinking;
my part, I think he's far ower abstrac' already! At least, I hope he'll
grow wiser, in a few years, than
to say that the dead never appear to the living. He may talk
in that way to green geese like himself, but not to me. Didn't I see my
own dear Barachiah, for three nights together, stand in the moonlight, at
of my bed, while I was weeping
sore for the loss of him?—The Lord forgive me, that I should have grieved
so sinfully as to have disturbed his rest! But that's past and gone, and
deep trouble besides, thank Heaven above! And now, here's this lad. I
wished, often, that I had one o' my own;—but it was not God's will so to
bless my poor Barachiah and me,—and how could I have loved a child of my
own better than I do love this poor bairn? But I was thinking about what I
do for him before he leaves me,—for he's long talked o' seeing the world
when he was out of his time;—and, I make no doubt, he'll want to be off
as soon as noontide makes him free. I must say a few words to him about
it, to-night,—and yet, I feel so chicken-hearted about his going, that I
know how to speak to him."
The good dame's irregular soliloquy was put an end to by the voices of her
younger apprentices, who were drawing homewards for the night. Her
foster-son soon after made his appearance,—book in hand, as usual, at the
end of his evening's walk at the conclusion of labour. The supper-table
spread,—the meal ended,—and Joe and the aged dame were speedily left the
only occupants of the little kitchen. Joe had retaken up his book, and had
been buried for more than half an hour in deep attention to its
contents,—the hour was growing late;—and Dame Deborah, after many inward
began, in a very tremulous tone, to address her foster-child on the most
important theme in her recent soliloquy.
"Joe," said she, "I was thinking, since you will be of age, and a
freeman, to-morrow—"and there her emotion compelled her to hesitate;
but, although Joe
had laid down his book to attend to his aged protectress, he felt too much
agitated to take up the observation where Dame Deborah had left it.
"I reckon you are in the same mind about leaving me, Joe," resumed the
aged woman, trembling with extreme feeling, and uttering the sentence with
cadence that sounded like the keynote of desolation;—"but I wish you to
say what you are
intending to do when I give you your indentures to-morrow at noon?"
"My kind mother,—for a true mother you have been to me," replied the
youth, forcibly subduing his feelings, and addressing Dame Deborah with a
of animation and a fervency of took she had seldom witnessed in him,—"it
is high time I became acquainted with the world. Believe me, I do not
leave you through ingratitude for your unremitted kindness to a poor
orphan,—but I feel I am fitted for other scenes than these. More than all,
man is the
great book I wish to read; and the few humble pages of his history which
lie around me here I have turned over till I am weary of the writing. I
useless to you if I remain, for I shall never
be content, or at rest. I go from you, for a season; but never, never,
dear mother, shall I cease to think of you!"
Joe bowed his head, and covered his face with his hands, in deep emotion;
and the dame, moved utterly beyond self-possession, arose with trembling
haste, and, clasping her foster child in her aged arms, kissed his fair
forehead, while the unwonted tears trickled down her furrowed cheeks.
"My dear bairn! my pratty bairn! my noble bairn!" exclaimed she, with
a bounding heart, as she stood over him in affectionate admiration.
Joe wept, in spite of his efforts to master tears;—but, at length,
recovered sufficient self-possession to lead his aged protectress back to
her chair, and to
recommence the conversation.
"You will consent, then, I hope, to let me go, kind mother," he said,
still holding her hand.
"The Lord's will be done, bairn!" replied Deborah, in a tone of calm
and natural piety. "Yes," added she, with resumed cheerfulness, and in
customary firm under-tone,—"thou shal' go, Joey, lad; and thy pocket shall
not be empty, nayther!"
"Nay, dear mother," answered the high-minded lad,—"I have already
burdened you too heavily, and I will never consent to rob you of the refuge of your old age:—remember, I have hands and
health, and can work for my own support."
"God forbid thou should'st be idle!" answered the dame; for idleness
leads to sin and crime, while honest labour need never be ashamed. But a
guineas in thy pocket will do thee no harm, an' thou husbands 'em well. More than that,
'There's no knowing what a man may have to meet when
he leaves home' thou know'st is an old saying, and thou'lt find it so apt
that thou'lt think on't when thou has left me, mayhap."
A calm and provident conversation ensued, during which Joe agreed to
accept a purse of twenty spade-aces from the good old dame, after she had
assured him it would by no means straiten her means either of subsistence
"And now, dear Joey," said the kind old woman, "let me persuade thee to
throw aside some o' thy whirligig notions. Do not contradict everybody
who are so old-fashioned as to believe what their forefathers taught'em. More than all, Joey," continued Deborah, with some warmth, "I'm shocked
stubbornness in trying to deny what the Scripter says about foul
spirits—the Lord keep us from them!—and, especially, at your daring to threap so stoutly
that the dead never come again!"
"Indeed, dame," replied Joe, in a tone of conciliation and respect, "I
never denied these things out of stubbornness, but because they are
opposed to all
experience:—who, and where, is the person, now living, that has really
seen a ghost?"
"Who—and where—Joe?" echoed Deborah, with a strange and solemn look.
Joe felt amazed that he had not, before he had asked the last question,
called to mind the dame's serious observations in the ferry-boat five
and sat gazing upon the changed countenance of his aged mistress with
"Joe," continued Deborah, after a deep pause succeeding
her emphatic echo of the youth's sceptical question,—"I
thought to have kept what I am about to reveal of the dead as a solemn
secret, and to have buried it with me, in my grave; but, to save thee
unbelief about such solemn things, I will reveal it to thee.
"Wedded husband and wife could not live in greater happiness than my dear Barachiah and I," continued the aged woman, in a voice faltering with
affection:—"the stroke which took him from me raised a murmuring spirit
within me, and day after day, as I moved about this dwelling, my
dared to say that He who lives on high, and does all things well, had
stricken me in wrath that I deserved not. My neighbours would often
attempt to soothe
me; and some of them treated my sorrow with lightness, and said, I would
soon forget my dead husband, and seek another. But they who uttered this
mockery little knew me. Added days and nights only served to increase my
grief; and, at length, I began to watch through the night, until my
and, as I watched, I prayed, in sinful stubbornness and presumption, that
my Maker would either take me away to join the dear being that I loved, or
him once more to me. It was done unto me according to my wicked prayer;
for, one midnight, about ten months after my dear Barachiah's death, as I
up in bed, with the burning desire in my heart to see my husband once
more, and giving full vent to my rebelliousness by the utterance of words
remember with horror,—behold! he whom I had lost stood at the foot of my
bed, but with such a piercing look of reproof as I never saw him wear when
alive. He wore a garment of lovely light, and I could have delighted for
ever to gaze on him, had it not been for that severe look which ran
through my heart,
and told me I had done wrong. I sank away, senseless. When I came to
myself, and the vision was gone, I vowed that I would never pray more as I
that night. But my will was perverse; and, on the next night, I was
tempted again to desire, and then to pray, that I might, yet once more,
see my departed husband. I was punished as before,—but such was my
wickedness, or my weakness, I cannot tell which, that I prayed yet a third time, as presumptuously as ever,
and was visited by another and still more reproving apparition of him God
me, and whom He had taken away. The next morning I was unable to attend to
my daily cares, and was compelled to send for a physician. I took
medicines, but I think they helped less to heal me than did the kind
counsel of the aged man who administered them, and who is now in his
prayed no more the prayer of the presumptuous, but asked for resignation,
till He who has promised to be a husband to the widow filled my bosom
Deborah ceased, as it seemed, disabled, by the fullness of her heart, from
prolonging her narrative. Joe had not only listened to her revelation with
profoundest attention, but felt an irresistible awe under the recital. Deborah had never risen so much above her ordinary self, in his eyes, as
while she was
thus unbosoming a secret she had kept for years. Her attitude, and the
expression of her features, her tone of voice, and the very words in which
she conveyed her solemn story, indicated an unusual frame of mind, and
formed a combined and undeniable proof that the utterer of such unearthly
was as fully persuaded, as of her own existence, that she was delivering
Joe's strong affection for his aged protectress, and his reverence for her
sterling uprightness, contributed to fix his mind more absorbingly on what
heard. The relation of the apparition of Barachiah Thrumpkinson, although
authenticated solely by this solemn averment of his aged relict, thus made
stronger impression on the faith of the youthful listener than any former
narrative of the supernatural, written or oral. The united reasonings of
seemed to be shaken to atoms; and Joe remained answerless, with his eyes
fixed on the floor. Nor had his reasoning faculty re-asserted its
the aged dame rose, and, looking parentally upon him, while she uttered
her usual evening farewell, "Good night, bairn!" took the way to her
Joe returned the salutation with a faltering voice, and hasted, likewise,
to seek his place of repose; but sleep was long ere it visited his eyes,
even when he
had overcome, in some degree, the strange over-awed feeling which had
crept over him while listening to Deborah's story. Amid the solemn
the night, Memory ran through her beaten paths, and Imagination arose, and
mingled therewith the scenes of the future. The great event of
to-morrow,—the greatest, hitherto, in the life of the humble shoemaker's
apprentice,—soon dissipated all other excitements. Would he be happier
when he was free, and had entered the world, as a personal observer,
instead of learning its varied character from books? Something whispered a
But would he not be wiser? Yes; that, he thought, was certain. He would
be able, by the practice of close observation, to compare men with each
he would have the opportunity of trying, as upon a touch-stone, the truth
or fallacy of the peculiar hypotheses he had framed: he would learn to
human heart. And then he thought of the probability, nay, certainty, of
his finding some kindred mind, but farther advanced in great truths, that
be able to set him right where he was wrong; who would teach him the true
secret of perfecting his moral nature, and would lead him on to the
acquirement of intellectual stores, of the very existence of which, it
might be, that he had scarcely a faint conception,—thoughts that enfevered
Then, reverting to the past, he reminded himself of his orphan condition,
of the gratitude he owed his affectionate foster-mother, and of the kind
parental assistance she had offered him; although he was about to desert
her. Often he felt the melting mood come over him so conqueringly, that he
all but resolved to tell the aged dame, in the morning, that he would
remain with her, and try to comfort her, old age. And then he thought of
sensible lessons she had given for his future conduct in the world,—till,
wearied out with the variety of his thoughts, and physically, as well as
exhausted, he sank to slumber.
Joe awoke early, after a dreamless and refreshing sleep, and again his
mind laboured with its difficulties about Deborah's relation of the
apparition; but its
labour was vain. The more he reasoned the greater were his difficulties. The healthful effect of these baffled and perplexed thinkings upon Joe's
was, the deterring of its powers from precipitant and immature
conclusions,—the throwing of its energies back upon fresh and deeper
infixing of a humiliating consciousness that, after all his struggles in
pursuit of knowledge, he scarcely knew anything yet as he ought to know
it. Thus, his
conscious ignorance for the present was really beneficial to him; and,
when the voice of his affectionate mistress was heard summoning him to
he stepped down the ladder shaking his head at himself for a conceited
puppy, and applying homeward to his own case the significant rebuke—
There are more things in heaven and earth, Joe,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Labour, the honest dame declared, should not be thought of, in her house,
the day that Joe was of age,—according to her reckoning by guess,—and
And she bustled about, as old as she was, to place her best earthen jugs,
filled with mead and ale, in goodly array, on the white and well-scoured
that every visitor might drink the young freeman's health; and she hasted
to prepare a large plum-pudding, and other homely cates, for dinner,—all
holding up her head, and striving to look as blythe and merry as if she
had been in her teens.
At length, the hour of parting came; and when Joe rose and took up his
hat,—and his fellow-apprentices that were,—but a few hours before,—took
bundle to accompany him a few miles on the way,—Dame Deborah's aged frame
shook violently, and the tears streamed, unchecked, down her timeworn
"God speed thee, my dear bairn!" she cried,—"and help thee to take heed of
thy ways, that no harm may befall thee!"
Joe felt completely unmanned, and mingled his tears with those of his
beloved and revered benefactress, while he bent to receive her parting
The orphan saw his foster-mother no more alive. When, three years
afterwards, he again entered that little village of Haxey, it was to
attend the interment of Dame Deborah in the same churchyard to which she
had conducted him to witness the burial of his mother. And what an altered
man was Joe! A residence in the manufacturing districts had unveiled to
him a world of misery—contention—competition—avarice—oppression—and
suffering—and famine—that he had never supposed to exist! As for his
religious opinions they changed, and changed again, amidst varnished,
high-sounding professors of sanctity, on the one hand,—and starving
thousands, who in the pangs of despair charged God with the authorship of
their wretchedness, on the other. Had Joe been asked, ten years
afterwards, what were now his religious sentiments, he would have
answered:—"I am wearied with talking about creeds, and I am trying,—by
relieving misery as much as I can, and diffusing all the happiness I
can,—to shew that I believe all men to be my brethren: I think that is the