Part 3 out of 5
Said I: "I think what puzzles me most is how it all came about."
"It well may," said he, "so great as the change is. It would be
difficult indeed to tell you the whole story, perhaps impossible:
knowledge, discontent, treachery, disappointment, ruin, misery,
despair--those who worked for the change because they could see
further than other people went through all these phases of suffering;
and doubtless all the time the most of men looked on, not knowing
what was doing, thinking it all a matter of course, like the rising
and setting of the sun--and indeed it was so."
"Tell me one thing, if you can," said I. "Did the change, the
'revolution' it used to be called, come peacefully?"
"Peacefully?" said he; "what peace was there amongst those poor
confused wretches of the nineteenth century? It was war from
beginning to end: bitter war, till hope and pleasure put an end to
"Do you mean actual fighting with weapons?" said I, "or the strikes
and lock-outs and starvation of which we have heard?"
"Both, both," he said. "As a matter of fact, the history of the
terrible period of transition from commercial slavery to freedom may
thus be summarised. When the hope of realising a communal condition
of life for all men arose, quite late in the nineteenth century, the
power of the middle classes, the then tyrants of society, was so
enormous and crushing, that to almost all men, even those who had,
you may say despite themselves, despite their reason and judgment,
conceived such hopes, it seemed a dream. So much was this the case
that some of those more enlightened men who were then called
Socialists, although they well knew, and even stated in public, that
the only reasonable condition of Society was that of pure Communism
(such as you now see around you), yet shrunk from what seemed to them
the barren task of preaching the realisation of a happy dream.
Looking back now, we can see that the great motive-power of the
change was a longing for freedom and equality, akin if you please to
the unreasonable passion of the lover; a sickness of heart that
rejected with loathing the aimless solitary life of the well-to-do
educated man of that time: phrases, my dear friend, which have lost
their meaning to us of the present day; so far removed we are from
the dreadful facts which they represent.
"Well, these men, though conscious of this feeling, had no faith in
it, as a means of bringing about the change. Nor was that wonderful:
for looking around them they saw the huge mass of the oppressed
classes too much burdened with the misery of their lives, and too
much overwhelmed by the selfishness of misery, to be able to form a
conception of any escape from it except by the ordinary way
prescribed by the system of slavery under which they lived; which was
nothing more than a remote chance of climbing out of the oppressed
into the oppressing class.
"Therefore, though they knew that the only reasonable aim for those
who would better the world was a condition of equality; in their
impatience and despair they managed to convince themselves that if
they could by hook or by crook get the machinery of production and
the management of property so altered that the 'lower classes' (so
the horrible word ran) might have their slavery somewhat ameliorated,
they would be ready to fit into this machinery, and would use it for
bettering their condition still more and still more, until at last
the result would be a practical equality (they were very fond of
using the word 'practical'), because 'the rich' would be forced to
pay so much for keeping 'the poor' in a tolerable condition that the
condition of riches would become no longer valuable and would
gradually die out. Do you follow me?"
"Partly," said I. "Go on."
Said old Hammond: "Well, since you follow me, you will see that as a
theory this was not altogether unreasonable; but 'practically,' it
turned out a failure."
"How so?" said I.
"Well, don't you see," said he, "because it involved the making of a
machinery by those who didn't know what they wanted the machines to
do. So far as the masses of the oppressed class furthered this
scheme of improvement, they did it to get themselves improved slave-
rations--as many of them as could. And if those classes had really
been incapable of being touched by that instinct which produced the
passion for freedom and equality aforesaid, what would have happened,
I think, would have been this: that a certain part of the working
classes would have been so far improved in condition that they would
have approached the condition of the middling rich men; but below
them would have been a great class of most miserable slaves, whose
slavery would have been far more hopeless than the older class-
slavery had been."
"What stood in the way of this?" said I.
"'Why, of course," said he, "just that instinct for freedom
aforesaid. It is true that the slave-class could not conceive the
happiness of a free life. Yet they grew to understand (and very
speedily too) that they were oppressed by their masters, and they
assumed, you see how justly, that they could do without them, though
perhaps they scarce knew how; so that it came to this, that though
they could not look forward to the happiness or peace of the freeman,
they did at least look forward to the war which a vague hope told
them would bring that peace about."
"Could you tell me rather more closely what actually took place?"
said I; for I thought HIM rather vague here.
"Yes," he said, "I can. That machinery of life for the use of people
who didn't know what they wanted of it, and which was known at the
time as State Socialism, was partly put in motion, though in a very
piecemeal way. But it did not work smoothly; it was, of course,
resisted at every turn by the capitalists; and no wonder, for it
tended more and more to upset the commercial system I have told you
of; without providing anything really effective in its place. The
result was growing confusion, great suffering amongst the working
classes, and, as a consequence, great discontent. For a long time
matters went on like this. The power of the upper classes had
lessened, as their command over wealth lessened, and they could not
carry things wholly by the high hand as they had been used to in
earlier days. So far the State Socialists were justified by the
result. On the other hand, the working classes were ill-organised,
and growing poorer in reality, in spite of the gains (also real in
the long run) which they had forced from the masters. Thus matters
hung in the balance; the masters could not reduce their slaves to
complete subjection, though they put down some feeble and partial
riots easily enough. The workers forced their masters to grant them
ameliorations, real or imaginary, of their condition, but could not
force freedom from them. At last came a great crash. To explain
this you must understand that very great progress had been made
amongst the workers, though as before said but little in the
direction of improved livelihood."
I played the innocent and said: "In what direction could they
improve, if not in livelihood?"
Said he: "In the power to bring about a state of things in which
livelihood would be full, and easy to gain. They had at last learned
how to combine after a long period of mistakes and disasters. The
workmen had now a regular organization in the struggle against their
masters, a struggle which for more than half a century had been
accepted as an inevitable part of the conditions of the modern system
of labour and production. This combination had now taken the form of
a federation of all or almost all the recognised wage-paid
employments, and it was by its means that those betterments of the
conditions of the workmen had been forced from the masters: and
though they were not seldom mixed up with the rioting that happened,
especially in the earlier days of their organization, it by no means
formed an essential part of their tactics; indeed at the time I am
now speaking of they had got to be so strong that most commonly the
mere threat of a 'strike' was enough to gain any minor point:
because they had given up the foolish tactics of the ancient trades
unions of calling out of work a part only of the workers of such and
such an industry, and supporting them while out of work on the labour
of those that remained in. By this time they had a biggish fund of
money for the support of strikes, and could stop a certain industry
altogether for a time if they so determined."
Said I: "Was there not a serious danger of such moneys being
misused--of jobbery, in fact?"
Old Hammond wriggled uneasily on his seat, and said:
"Though all this happened so long ago, I still feel the pain of mere
shame when I have to tell you that it was more than a danger: that
such rascality often happened; indeed more than once the whole
combination seemed dropping to pieces because of it: but at the time
of which I am telling, things looked so threatening, and to the
workmen at least the necessity of their dealing with the fast-
gathering trouble which the labour-struggle had brought about, was so
clear, that the conditions of the times had begot a deep seriousness
amongst all reasonable people; a determination which put aside all
non-essentials, and which to thinking men was ominous of the swiftly-
approaching change: such an element was too dangerous for mere
traitors and self-seekers, and one by one they were thrust out and
mostly joined the declared reactionaries."
"How about those ameliorations," said I; "what were they? or rather
of what nature?"
Said he: "Some of them, and these of the most practical importance
to the mens' livelihood, were yielded by the masters by direct
compulsion on the part of the men; the new conditions of labour so
gained were indeed only customary, enforced by no law: but, once
established, the masters durst not attempt to withdraw them in face
of the growing power of the combined workers. Some again were steps
on the path of 'State Socialism'; the most important of which can be
speedily summed up. At the end of the nineteenth century the cry
arose for compelling the masters to employ their men a less number of
hours in the day: this cry gathered volume quickly, and the masters
had to yield to it. But it was, of course, clear that unless this
meant a higher price for work per hour, it would be a mere nullity,
and that the masters, unless forced, would reduce it to that.
Therefore after a long struggle another law was passed fixing a
minimum price for labour in the most important industries; which
again had to be supplemented by a law fixing the maximum price on the
chief wares then considered necessary for a workman's life."
"You were getting perilously near to the late Roman poor-rates," said
I, smiling, "and the doling out of bread to the proletariat."
"So many said at the time," said the old man drily; "and it has long
been a commonplace that that slough awaits State Socialism in the
end, if it gets to the end, which as you know it did not with us.
However it went further than this minimum and maximum business, which
by the by we can now see was necessary. The government now found it
imperative on them to meet the outcry of the master class at the
approaching destruction of Commerce (as desirable, had they known it,
as the extinction of the cholera, which has since happily taken
place). And they were forced to meet it by a measure hostile to the
masters, the establishment of government factories for the production
of necessary wares, and markets for their sale. These measures taken
altogether did do something: they were in fact of the nature of
regulations made by the commander of a beleaguered city. But of
course to the privileged classes it seemed as if the end of the world
were come when such laws were enacted.
"Nor was that altogether without a warrant: the spread of
communistic theories, and the partial practice of State Socialism had
at first disturbed, and at last almost paralysed the marvellous
system of commerce under which the old world had lived so feverishly,
and had produced for some few a life of gambler's pleasure, and for
many, or most, a life of mere misery: over and over again came 'bad
times' as they were called, and indeed they were bad enough for the
wage-slaves. The year 1952 was one of the worst of these times; the
workmen suffered dreadfully: the partial, inefficient government
factories, which were terribly jobbed, all but broke down, and a vast
part of the population had for the time being to be fed on
undisguised "charity" as it was called.
"The Combined Workers watched the situation with mingled hope and
anxiety. They had already formulated their general demands; but now
by a solemn and universal vote of the whole of their federated
societies, they insisted on the first step being taken toward
carrying out their demands: this step would have led directly to
handing over the management of the whole natural resources of the
country, together with the machinery for using them into the power of
the Combined Workers, and the reduction of the privileged classes
into the position of pensioners obviously dependent on the pleasure
of the workers. The 'Resolution,' as it was called, which was widely
published in the newspapers of the day, was in fact a declaration of
war, and was so accepted by the master class. They began
henceforward to prepare for a firm stand against the 'brutal and
ferocious communism of the day,' as they phrased it. And as they
were in many ways still very powerful, or seemed so to be; they still
hoped by means of brute force to regain some of what they had lost,
and perhaps in the end the whole of it. It was said amongst them on
all hands that it had been a great mistake of the various governments
not to have resisted sooner; and the liberals and radicals (the name
as perhaps you may know of the more democratically inclined part of
the ruling classes) were much blamed for having led the world to this
pass by their mis-timed pedantry and foolish sentimentality: and one
Gladstone, or Gledstein (probably, judging by this name, of
Scandinavian descent), a notable politician of the nineteenth
century, was especially singled out for reprobation in this respect.
I need scarcely point out to you the absurdity of all this. But
terrible tragedy lay hidden behind this grinning through a horse-
collar of the reactionary party. 'The insatiable greed of the lower
classes must be repressed'--'The people must be taught a lesson'--
these were the sacramental phrases current amongst the reactionists,
and ominous enough they were."
The old man stopped to look keenly at my attentive and wondering
face; and then said:
"I know, dear guest, that I have been using words and phrases which
few people amongst us could understand without long and laborious
explanation; and not even then perhaps. But since you have not yet
gone to sleep, and since I am speaking to you as to a being from
another planet, I may venture to ask you if you have followed me thus
"O yes," said I, "I quite understand: pray go on; a great deal of
what you have been saying was common place with us--when--when--"
"Yes," said he gravely, "when you were dwelling in the other planet.
Well, now for the crash aforesaid.
"On some comparatively trifling occasion a great meeting was summoned
by the workmen leaders to meet in Trafalgar Square (about the right
to meet in which place there had for years and years been bickering).
The civic bourgeois guard (called the police) attacked the said
meeting with bludgeons, according to their custom; many people were
hurt in the melee, of whom five in all died, either trampled to death
on the spot, or from the effects of their cudgelling; the meeting was
scattered, and some hundred of prisoners cast into gaol. A similar
meeting had been treated in the same way a few days before at a place
called Manchester, which has now disappeared. Thus the 'lesson'
began. The whole country was thrown into a ferment by this; meetings
were held which attempted some rough organisation for the holding of
another meeting to retort on the authorities. A huge crowd assembled
in Trafalgar Square and the neighbourhood (then a place of crowded
streets), and was too big for the bludgeon-armed police to cope with;
there was a good deal of dry-blow fighting; three or four of the
people were killed, and half a score of policemen were crushed to
death in the throng, and the rest got away as they could. This was a
victory for the people as far as it went. The next day all London
(remember what it was in those days) was in a state of turmoil. Many
of the rich fled into the country; the executive got together
soldiery, but did not dare to use them; and the police could not be
massed in any one place, because riots or threats of riots were
everywhere. But in Manchester, where the people were not so
courageous or not so desperate as in London, several of the popular
leaders were arrested. In London a convention of leaders was got
together from the Federation of Combined Workmen, and sat under the
old revolutionary name of the Committee of Public Safety; but as they
had no drilled and armed body of men to direct, they attempted no
aggressive measures, but only placarded the walls with somewhat vague
appeals to the workmen not to allow themselves to be trampled upon.
However, they called a meeting in Trafalgar Square for the day
fortnight of the last-mentioned skirmish.
"Meantime the town grew no quieter, and business came pretty much to
an end. The newspapers--then, as always hitherto, almost entirely in
the hands of the masters--clamoured to the Government for repressive
measures; the rich citizens were enrolled as an extra body of police,
and armed with bludgeons like them; many of these were strong, well-
fed, full-blooded young men, and had plenty of stomach for fighting;
but the Government did not dare to use them, and contented itself
with getting full powers voted to it by the Parliament for
suppressing any revolt, and bringing up more and more soldiers to
London. Thus passed the week after the great meeting; almost as
large a one was held on the Sunday, which went off peaceably on the
whole, as no opposition to it was offered, and again the people cried
'victory.' But on the Monday the people woke up to find that they
were hungry. During the last few days there had been groups of men
parading the streets asking (or, if you please, demanding) money to
buy food; and what for goodwill, what for fear, the richer people
gave them a good deal. The authorities of the parishes also (I
haven't time to explain that phrase at present) gave willy-nilly what
provisions they could to wandering people; and the Government, by
means of its feeble national workshops, also fed a good number of
half-starved folk. But in addition to this, several bakers' shops
and other provision stores had been emptied without a great deal of
disturbance. So far, so good. But on the Monday in question the
Committee of Public Safety, on the one hand afraid of general
unorganised pillage, and on the other emboldened by the wavering
conduct of the authorities, sent a deputation provided with carts and
all necessary gear to clear out two or three big provision stores in
the centre of the town, leaving papers with the shop managers
promising to pay the price of them: and also in the part of the town
where they were strongest they took possession of several bakers'
shops and set men at work in them for the benefit of the people;--all
of which was done with little or no disturbance, the police assisting
in keeping order at the sack of the stores, as they would have done
at a big fire.
"But at this last stroke the reactionaries were so alarmed, that they
were, determined to force the executive into action. The newspapers
next day all blazed into the fury of frightened people, and
threatened the people, the Government, and everybody they could think
of, unless 'order were at once restored.' A deputation of leading
commercial people waited on the Government and told them that if they
did not at once arrest the Committee of Public Safety, they
themselves would gather a body of men, arm them, and fall on 'the
incendiaries,' as they called them.
"They, together with a number of the newspaper editors, had a long
interview with the heads of the Government and two or three military
men, the deftest in their art that the country could furnish. The
deputation came away from that interview, says a contemporary eye-
witness, smiling and satisfied, and said no more about raising an
anti-popular army, but that afternoon left London with their families
for their country seats or elsewhere.
"The next morning the Government proclaimed a state of siege in
London,--a thing common enough amongst the absolutist governments on
the Continent, but unheard-of in England in those days. They
appointed the youngest and cleverest of their generals to command the
proclaimed district; a man who had won a certain sort of reputation
in the disgraceful wars in which the country had been long engaged
from time to time. The newspapers were in ecstacies, and all the
most fervent of the reactionaries now came to the front; men who in
ordinary times were forced to keep their opinions to themselves or
their immediate circle, but who began to look forward to crushing
once for all the Socialist, and even democratic tendencies, which,
said they, had been treated with such foolish indulgence for the last
"But the clever general took no visible action; and yet only a few of
the minor newspapers abused him; thoughtful men gathered from this
that a plot was hatching. As for the Committee of Public Safety,
whatever they thought of their position, they had now gone too far to
draw back; and many of them, it seems, thought that the government
would not act. They went on quietly organising their food supply,
which was a miserable driblet when all is said; and also as a retort
to the state of siege, they armed as many men as they could in the
quarter where they were strongest, but did not attempt to drill or
organise them, thinking, perhaps, that they could not at the best
turn them into trained soldiers till they had some breathing space.
The clever general, his soldiers, and the police did not meddle with
all this in the least in the world; and things were quieter in London
that week-end; though there were riots in many places of the
provinces, which were quelled by the authorities without much
trouble. The most serious of these were at Glasgow and Bristol.
"Well, the Sunday of the meeting came, and great crowds came to
Trafalgar Square in procession, the greater part of the Committee
amongst them, surrounded by their band of men armed somehow or other.
The streets were quite peaceful and quiet, though there were many
spectators to see the procession pass. Trafalgar Square had no body
of police in it; the people took quiet possession of it, and the
meeting began. The armed men stood round the principal platform, and
there were a few others armed amidst the general crowd; but by far
the greater part were unarmed.
"Most people thought the meeting would go off peaceably; but the
members of the Committee had heard from various quarters that
something would be attempted against them; but these rumours were
vague, and they had no idea of what threatened. They soon found out.
"For before the streets about the Square were filled, a body of
soldiers poured into it from the north-west corner and took up their
places by the houses that stood on the west side. The people growled
at the sight of the red-coats; the armed men of the Committee stood
undecided, not knowing what to do; and indeed this new influx so
jammed the crowd together that, unorganised as they were, they had
little chance of working through it. They had scarcely grasped the
fact of their enemies being there, when another column of soldiers,
pouring out of the streets which led into the great southern road
going down to the Parliament House (still existing, and called the
Dung Market), and also from the embankment by the side of the Thames,
marched up, pushing the crowd into a denser and denser mass, and
formed along the south side of the Square. Then any of those who
could see what was going on, knew at once that they were in a trap,
and could only wonder what would be done with them.
"The closely-packed crowd would not or could not budge, except under
the influence of the height of terror, which was soon to be supplied
to them. A few of the armed men struggled to the front, or climbled
up to the base of the monument which then stood there, that they
might face the wall of hidden fire before them; and to most men
(there were many women amongst them) it seemed as if the end of the
world had come, and to-day seemed strangely different from yesterday.
No sooner were the soldiers drawn up aforesaid than, says an eye-
witness, 'a glittering officer on horseback came prancing out from
the ranks on the south, and read something from a paper which he held
in his hand; which something, very few heard; but I was told
afterwards that it was an order for us to disperse, and a warning
that he had legal right to fire on the crowd else, and that he would
do so. The crowd took it as a challenge of some sort, and a hoarse
threatening roar went up from them; and after that there was
comparative silence for a little, till the officer had got back into
the ranks. I was near the edge of the crowd, towards the soldiers,'
says this eye-witness, 'and I saw three little machines being wheeled
out in front of the ranks, which I knew for mechanical guns. I cried
out, "Throw yourselves down! they are going to fire!" But no one
scarcely could throw himself down, so tight as the crowd were packed.
I heard a sharp order given, and wondered where I should be the next
minute; and then--It was as if--the earth had opened, and hell had
come up bodily amidst us. It is no use trying to describe the scene
that followed. Deep lanes were mowed amidst the thick crowd; the
dead and dying covered the ground, and the shrieks and wails and
cries of horror filled all the air, till it seemed as if there were
nothing else in the world but murder and death. Those of our armed
men who were still unhurt cheered wildly and opened a scattering fire
on the soldiers. One or two soldiers fell; and I saw the officers
going up and down the ranks urging the men to fire again; but they
received the orders in sullen silence, and let the butts of their
guns fall. Only one sergeant ran to a machine-gun and began to set
it going; but a tall young man, an officer too, ran out of the ranks
and dragged him back by the collar; and the soldiers stood there
motionless while the horror-stricken crowd, nearly wholly unarmed
(for most of the armed men had fallen in that first discharge),
drifted out of the Square. I was told afterwards that the soldiers
on the west side had fired also, and done their part of the
slaughter. How I got out of the Square I scarcely know: I went, not
feeling the ground under me, what with rage and terror and despair.'
"So says our eye-witness. The number of the slain on the side of the
people in that shooting during a minute was prodigious; but it was
not easy to come at the truth about it; it was probably between one
and two thousand. Of the soldiers, six were killed outright, and a
I listened, trembling with excitement. The old man's eyes glittered
and his face flushed as he spoke, and told the tale of what I had
often thought might happen. Yet I wondered that he should have got
so elated about a mere massacre, and I said:
"How fearful! And I suppose that this massacre put an end to the
whole revolution for that time?"
"No, no," cried old Hammond; "it began it!"
He filled his glass and mine, and stood up and cried out, "Drink this
glass to the memory of those who died there, for indeed it would be a
long tale to tell how much we owe them."
I drank, and he sat down again and went on.
"That massacre of Trafalgar Square began the civil war, though, like
all such events, it gathered head slowly, and people scarcely knew
what a crisis they were acting in.
"Terrible as the massacre was, and hideous and overpowering as the
first terror had been, when the people had time to think about it,
their feeling was one of anger rather than fear; although the
military organisation of the state of siege was now carried out
without shrinking by the clever young general. For though the
ruling-classes when the news spread next morning felt one gasp of
horror and even dread, yet the Government and their immediate backers
felt that now the wine was drawn and must be drunk. However, even
the most reactionary of the capitalist papers, with two exceptions,
stunned by the tremendous news, simply gave an account of what had
taken place, without making any comment upon it. The exceptions were
one, a so-called 'liberal' paper (the Government of the day was of
that complexion), which, after a preamble in which it declared its
undeviating sympathy with the cause of labour, proceeded to point out
that in times of revolutionary disturbance it behoved the Government
to be just but firm, and that by far the most merciful way of dealing
with the poor madmen who were attacking the very foundations of
society (which had made them mad and poor) was to shoot them at once,
so as to stop others from drifting into a position in which they
would run a chance of being shot. In short, it praised the
determined action of the Government as the acme of human wisdom and
mercy, and exulted in the inauguration of an epoch of reasonable
democracy free from the tyrannical fads of Socialism.
"The other exception was a paper thought to be one of the most
violent opponents of democracy, and so it was; but the editor of it
found his manhood, and spoke for himself and not for his paper. In a
few simple, indignant words he asked people to consider what a
society was worth which had to be defended by the massacre of unarmed
citizens, and called on the Government to withdraw their state of
siege and put the general and his officers who fired on the people on
their trial for murder. He went further, and declared that whatever
his opinion might be as to the doctrines of the Socialists, he for
one should throw in his lot with the people, until the Government
atoned for their atrocity by showing that they were prepared to
listen to the demands of men who knew what they wanted, and whom the
decrepitude of society forced into pushing their demands in some way
"Of course, this editor was immediately arrested by the military
power; but his bold words were already in the hands of the public,
and produced a great effect: so great an effect that the Government,
after some vacillation, withdrew the state of siege; though at the
same time it strengthened the military organisation and made it more
stringent. Three of the Committee of Public Safety had been slain in
Trafalgar Square: of the rest the greater part went back to their
old place of meeting, and there awaited the event calmly. They were
arrested there on the Monday morning, and would have been shot at
once by the general, who was a mere military machine, if the
Government had not shrunk before the responsibility of killing men
without any trial. There was at first a talk of trying them by a
special commission of judges, as it was called--i.e., before a set of
men bound to find them guilty, and whose business it was to do so.
But with the Government the cold fit had succeeded to the hot one;
and the prisoners were brought before a jury at the assizes. There a
fresh blow awaited the Government; for in spite of the judge's
charge, which distinctly instructed the jury to find the prisoners
guilty, they were acquitted, and the jury added to their verdict a
presentment, in which they condemned the action of the soldiery, in
the queer phraseology of the day, as 'rash, unfortunate, and
unnecessary.' The Committee of Public Safety renewed its sittings,
and from thenceforth was a popular rallying-point in opposition to
the Parliament. The Government now gave way on all sides, and made a
show of yielding to the demands of the people, though there was a
widespread plot for effecting a coup d'etat set on foot between the
leaders of the two so-called opposing parties in the parliamentary
faction fight. The well-meaning part of the public was overjoyed,
and thought that all danger of a civil war was over. The victory of
the people was celebrated by huge meetings held in the parks and
elsewhere, in memory of the victims of the great massacre.
"But the measures passed for the relief of the workers, though to the
upper classes they seemed ruinously revolutionary, were not thorough
enough to give the people food and a decent life, and they had to be
supplemented by unwritten enactments without legality to back them.
Although the Government and Parliament had the law-courts, the army,
and 'society' at their backs, the Committee of Public Safety began to
be a force in the country, and really represented the producing
classes. It began to improve immensely in the days which followed on
the acquittal of its members. Its old members had little
administrative capacity, though with the exception of a few self-
seekers and traitors, they were honest, courageous men, and many of
them were endowed with considerable talent of other kinds. But now
that the times called for immediate action, came forward the men
capable of setting it on foot; and a new network of workmen's
associations grew up very speedily, whose avowed single object was
the tiding over of the ship of the community into a simple condition
of Communism; and as they practically undertook also the management
of the ordinary labour-war, they soon became the mouthpiece and
intermediary of the whole of the working classes; and the
manufacturing profit-grinders now found themselves powerless before
this combination; unless THEIR committee, Parliament, plucked up
courage to begin the civil war again, and to shoot right and left,
they were bound to yield to the demands of the men whom they
employed, and pay higher and higher wages for shorter and shorter
day's work. Yet one ally they had, and that was the rapidly
approaching breakdown of the whole system founded on the World-Market
and its supply; which now became so clear to all people, that the
middle classes, shocked for the moment into condemnation of the
Government for the great massacre, turned round nearly in a mass, and
called on the Government to look to matters, and put an end to the
tyranny of the Socialist leaders.
"Thus stimulated, the reactionist plot exploded probably before it
was ripe; but this time the people and their leaders were forewarned,
and, before the reactionaries could get under way, had taken the
steps they thought necessary.
"The Liberal Government (clearly by collusion) was beaten by the
Conservatives, though the latter were nominally much in the minority.
The popular representatives in the House understood pretty well what
this meant, and after an attempt to fight the matter out by divisions
in the House of Commons, they made a protest, left the House, and
came in a body to the Committee of Public Safety: and the civil war
began again in good earnest.
"Yet its first act was not one of mere fighting. The new Tory
Government determined to act, yet durst not re-enact the state of
siege, but it sent a body of soldiers and police to arrest the
Committee of Public Safety in the lump. They made no resistance,
though they might have done so, as they had now a considerable body
of men who were quite prepared for extremities. But they were
determined to try first a weapon which they thought stronger than
"The members of the Committee went off quietly to prison; but they
had left their soul and their organisation behind them. For they
depended not on a carefully arranged centre with all kinds of checks
and counter-checks about it, but on a huge mass of people in thorough
sympathy with the movement, bound together by a great number of links
of small centres with very simple instructions. These instructions
were now carried out.
"The next morning, when the leaders of the reaction were chuckling at
the effect which the report in the newspapers of their stroke would
have upon the public--no newspapers appeared; and it was only towards
noon that a few straggling sheets, about the size of the gazettes of
the seventeenth century, worked by policemen, soldiers, managers, and
press-writers, were dribbled through the streets. They were greedily
seized on and read; but by this time the serious part of their news
was stale, and people did not need to be told that the GENERAL STRIKE
had begun. The railways did not run, the telegraph-wires were
unserved; flesh, fish, and green stuff brought to market was allowed
to lie there still packed and perishing; the thousands of middle-
class families, who were utterly dependant for the next meal on the
workers, made frantic efforts through their more energetic members to
cater for the needs of the day, and amongst those of them who could
throw off the fear of what was to follow, there was, I am told, a
certain enjoyment of this unexpected picnic--a forecast of the days
to come, in which all labour grew pleasant.
"So passed the first day, and towards evening the Government grew
quite distracted. They had but one resource for putting down any
popular movement--to wit, mere brute-force; but there was nothing for
them against which to use their army and police: no armed bodies
appeared in the streets; the offices of the Federated Workmen were
now, in appearance, at least, turned into places for the relief of
people thrown out of work, and under the circumstances, they durst
not arrest the men engaged in such business, all the more, as even
that night many quite respectable people applied at these offices for
relief, and swallowed down the charity of the revolutionists along
with their supper. So the Government massed soldiers and police here
and there--and sat still for that night, fully expecting on the
morrow some manifesto from 'the rebels,' as they now began to be
called, which would give them an opportunity of acting in some way or
another. They were disappointed. The ordinary newspapers gave up
the struggle that morning, and only one very violent reactionary
paper (called the Daily Telegraph) attempted an appearance, and rated
'the rebels' in good set terms for their folly and ingratitude in
tearing out the bowels of their 'common mother,' the English Nation,
for the benefit of a few greedy paid agitators, and the fools whom
they were deluding. On the other hand, the Socialist papers (of
which three only, representing somewhat different schools, were
published in London) came out full to the throat of well-printed
matter. They were greedily bought by the whole public, who, of
course, like the Government, expected a manifesto in them. But they
found no word of reference to the great subject. It seemed as if
their editors had ransacked their drawers for articles which would
have been in place forty years before, under the technical name of
educational articles. Most of these were admirable and
straightforward expositions of the doctrines and practice of
Socialism, free from haste and spite and hard words, and came upon
the public with a kind of May-day freshness, amidst the worry and
terror of the moment; and though the knowing well understood that the
meaning of this move in the game was mere defiance, and a token of
irreconcilable hostility to the then rulers of society, and though,
also, they were meant for nothing else by 'the rebels,' yet they
really had their effect as 'educational articles.' However,
'education' of another kind was acting upon the public with
irresistible power, and probably cleared their heads a little.
"As to the Government, they were absolutely terrified by this act of
'boycotting' (the slang word then current for such acts of
abstention). Their counsels became wild and vacillating to the last
degree: one hour they were for giving way for the present till they
could hatch another plot; the next they all but sent an order for the
arrest in the lump of all the workmen's committees; the next they
were on the point of ordering their brisk young general to take any
excuse that offered for another massacre. But when they called to
mind that the soldiery in that 'Battle' of Trafalgar Square were so
daunted by the slaughter which they had made, that they could not be
got to fire a second volley, they shrank back again from the dreadful
courage necessary for carrying out another massacre. Meantime the
prisoners, brought the second time before the magistrates under a
strong escort of soldiers, were the second time remanded.
"The strike went on this day also. The workmen's committees were
extended, and gave relief to great numbers of people, for they had
organised a considerable amount of production of food by men whom
they could depend upon. Quite a number of well-to-do people were now
compelled to seek relief of them. But another curious thing
happened: a band of young men of the upper classes armed themselves,
and coolly went marauding in the streets, taking what suited them of
such eatables and portables that they came across in the shops which
had ventured to open. This operation they carried out in Oxford
Street, then a great street of shops of all kinds. The Government,
being at that hour in one of their yielding moods, thought this a
fine opportunity for showing their impartiality in the maintenance of
'order,' and sent to arrest these hungry rich youths; who, however,
surprised the police by a valiant resistance, so that all but three
escaped. The Government did not gain the reputation for impartiality
which they expected from this move; for they forgot that there were
no evening papers; and the account of the skirmish spread wide
indeed, but in a distorted form for it was mostly told simply as an
exploit of the starving people from the East-end; and everybody
thought it was but natural for the Government to put them down when
and where they could.
"That evening the rebel prisoners were visited in their cells by VERY
polite and sympathetic persons, who pointed out to them what a
suicidal course they were following, and how dangerous these extreme
courses were for the popular cause. Says one of the prisoners: 'It
was great sport comparing notes when we came out anent the attempt of
the Government to "get at" us separately in prison, and how we
answered the blandishments of the highly "intelligent and refined"
persons set on to pump us. One laughed; another told extravagant
long-bow stories to the envoy; a third held a sulky silence; a fourth
damned the polite spy and bade him hold his jaw--and that was all
they got out of us.'
"So passed the second day of the great strike. It was clear to all
thinking people that the third day would bring on the crisis; for the
present suspense and ill-concealed terror was unendurable. The
ruling classes, and the middle-class non-politicians who had been
their real strength and support, were as sheep lacking a shepherd;
they literally did not know what to do.
"One thing they found they had to do: try to get the 'rebels' to do
something. So the next morning, the morning of the third day of the
strike, when the members of the Committee of Public Safety appeared
again before the magistrate, they found themselves treated with the
greatest possible courtesy--in fact, rather as envoys and ambassadors
than prisoners. In short, the magistrate had received his orders;
and with no more to do than might come of a long stupid speech, which
might have been written by Dickens in mockery, he discharged the
prisoners, who went back to their meeting-place and at once began a
due sitting. It was high time. For this third day the mass was
fermenting indeed. There was, of course, a vast number of working
people who were not organised in the least in the world; men who had
been used to act as their masters drove them, or rather as the system
drove, of which their masters were a part. That system was now
falling to pieces, and the old pressure of the master having been
taken off these poor men, it seemed likely that nothing but the mere
animal necessities and passions of men would have any hold on them,
and that mere general overturn would be the result. Doubtless this
would have happened if it had not been that the huge mass had been
leavened by Socialist opinion in the first place, and in the second
by actual contact with declared Socialists, many or indeed most of
whom were members of those bodies of workmen above said.
If anything of this kind had happened some years before, when the
masters of labour were still looked upon as the natural rulers of the
people, and even the poorest and most ignorant man leaned upon them
for support, while they submitted to their fleecing, the entire
break-up of all society would have followed. But the long series of
years during which the workmen had learned to despise their rulers,
had done away with their dependence upon them, and they were now
beginning to trust (somewhat dangerously, as events proved) in the
non-legal leaders whom events had thrust forward; and though most of
these were now become mere figure-heads, their names and reputations
were useful in this crisis as a stop-gap.
"The effect of the news, therefore, of the release of the Committee
gave the Government some breathing time: for it was received with
the greatest joy by the workers, and even the well-to-do saw in it a
respite from the mere destruction which they had begun to dread, and
the fear of which most of them attributed to the weakness of the
Government. As far as the passing hour went, perhaps they were right
"How do you mean?" said I. "What could the Government have done? I
often used to think that they would be helpless in such a crisis."
Said old Hammond: "Of course I don't doubt that in the long run
matters would have come about as they did. But if the Government
could have treated their army as a real army, and used them
strategically as a general would have done, looking on the people as
a mere open enemy to be shot at and dispersed wherever they turned
up, they would probably have gained the victory at the time."
"But would the soldiers have acted against the people in this way?"
Said he: "I think from all I have heard that they would have done so
if they had met bodies of men armed however badly, and however badly
they had been organised. It seems also as if before the Trafalgar
Square massacre they might as a whole have been depended upon to fire
upon an unarmed crowd, though they were much honeycombed by
Socialism. The reason for this was that they dreaded the use by
apparently unarmed men of an explosive called dynamite, of which many
loud boasts were made by the workers on the eve of these events;
although it turned out to be of little use as a material for war in
the way that was expected. Of course the officers of the soldiery
fanned this fear to the utmost, so that the rank and file probably
thought on that occasion that they were being led into a desperate
battle with men who were really armed, and whose weapon was the more
dreadful, because it was concealed. After that massacre, however, it
was at all times doubtful if the regular soldiers would fire upon an
unarmed or half-armed crowd."
Said I: "The regular soldiers? Then there were other combatants
against the people?"
"Yes," said he, "we shall come to that presently."
"Certainly," I said, "you had better go on straight with your story.
I see that time is wearing."
Said Hammond: "The Government lost no time in coming to terms with
the Committee of Public Safety; for indeed they could think of
nothing else than the danger of the moment. They sent a duly
accredited envoy to treat with these men, who somehow had obtained
dominion over people's minds, while the formal rulers had no hold
except over their bodies. There is no need at present to go into the
details of the truce (for such it was) between these high contracting
parties, the Government of the empire of Great Britain and a handful
of working-men (as they were called in scorn in those days), amongst
whom, indeed, were some very capable and 'square-headed' persons,
though, as aforesaid, the abler men were not then the recognised
leaders. The upshot of it was that all the definite claims of the
people had to be granted. We can now see that most of these claims
were of themselves not worth either demanding or resisting; but they
were looked on at that time as most important, and they were at least
tokens of revolt against the miserable system of life which was then
beginning to tumble to pieces. One claim, however, was of the utmost
immediate importance, and this the Government tried hard to evade;
but as they were not dealing with fools, they had to yield at last.
This was the claim of recognition and formal status for the Committee
of Public Safety, and all the associations which it fostered under
its wing. This it is clear meant two things: first, amnesty for
'the rebels,' great and small, who, without a distinct act of civil
war, could no longer be attacked; and next, a continuance of the
organised revolution. Only one point the Government could gain, and
that was a name. The dreadful revolutionary title was dropped, and
the body, with its branches, acted under the respectable name of the
'Board of Conciliation and its local offices.' Carrying this name,
it became the leader of the people in the civil war which soon
"O," said I, somewhat startled, "so the civil war went on, in spite
of all that had happened?"
"So it was," said he. "In fact, it was this very legal recognition
which made the civil war possible in the ordinary sense of war; it
took the struggle out of the element of mere massacres on one side,
and endurance plus strikes on the other."
"And can you tell me in what kind of way the war was carried on?"
"Yes" he said; "we have records and to spare of all that; and the
essence of them I can give you in a few words. As I told you, the
rank and file of the army was not to be trusted by the reactionists;
but the officers generally were prepared for anything, for they were
mostly the very stupidest men in the country. Whatever the
Government might do, a great part of the upper and middle classes
were determined to set on foot a counter revolution; for the
Communism which now loomed ahead seemed quite unendurable to them.
Bands of young men, like the marauders in the great strike of whom I
told you just now, armed themselves and drilled, and began on any
opportunity or pretence to skirmish with the people in the streets.
The Government neither helped them nor put them down, but stood by,
hoping that something might come of it. These 'Friends of Order,' as
they were called, had some successes at first, and grew bolder; they
got many officers of the regular army to help them, and by their
means laid hold of munitions of war of all kinds. One part of their
tactics consisted in their guarding and even garrisoning the big
factories of the period: they held at one time, for instance, the
whole of that place called Manchester which I spoke of just now. A
sort of irregular war was carried on with varied success all over the
country; and at last the Government, which at first pretended to
ignore the struggle, or treat it as mere rioting, definitely declared
for 'the Friends of Order,' and joined to their bands whatsoever of
the regular army they could get together, and made a desperate effort
to overwhelm 'the rebels,' as they were now once more called, and as
indeed they called themselves.
"It was too late. All ideas of peace on a basis of compromise had
disappeared on either side. The end, it was seen clearly, must be
either absolute slavery for all but the privileged, or a system of
life founded on equality and Communism. The sloth, the hopelessness,
and if I may say so, the cowardice of the last century, had given
place to the eager, restless heroism of a declared revolutionary
period. I will not say that the people of that time foresaw the life
we are leading now, but there was a general instinct amongst them
towards the essential part of that life, and many men saw clearly
beyond the desperate struggle of the day into the peace which it was
to bring about. The men of that day who were on the side of freedom
were not unhappy, I think, though they were harassed by hopes and
fears, and sometimes torn by doubts, and the conflict of duties hard
"But how did the people, the revolutionists, carry on the war? What
were the elements of success on their side?"
I put this question, because I wanted to bring the old man back to
the definite history, and take him out of the musing mood so natural
to an old man.
He answered: "Well, they did not lack organisers; for the very
conflict itself, in days when, as I told you, men of any strength of
mind cast away all consideration for the ordinary business of life,
developed the necessary talent amongst them. Indeed, from all I have
read and heard, I much doubt whether, without this seemingly dreadful
civil war, the due talent for administration would have been
developed amongst the working men. Anyhow, it was there, and they
soon got leaders far more than equal to the best men amongst the
reactionaries. For the rest, they had no difficulty about the
material of their army; for that revolutionary instinct so acted on
the ordinary soldier in the ranks that the greater part, certainly
the best part, of the soldiers joined the side of the people. But
the main element of their success was this, that wherever the working
people were not coerced, they worked, not for the reactionists, but
for 'the rebels.' The reactionists could get no work done for them
outside the districts where they were all-powerful: and even in
those districts they were harassed by continual risings; and in all
cases and everywhere got nothing done without obstruction and black
looks and sulkiness; so that not only were their armies quite worn
out with the difficulties which they had to meet, but the non-
combatants who were on their side were so worried and beset with
hatred and a thousand little troubles and annoyances that life became
almost unendurable to them on those terms. Not a few of them
actually died of the worry; many committed suicide. Of course, a
vast number of them joined actively in the cause of reaction, and
found some solace to their misery in the eagerness of conflict.
Lastly, many thousands gave way and submitted to 'the rebels'; and as
the numbers of these latter increased, it at last became clear to all
men that the cause which was once hopeless, was now triumphant, and
that the hopeless cause was that of slavery and privilege."
CHAPTER XVIII: THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW LIFE
"Well," said I, "so you got clear out of all your trouble. Were
people satisfied with the new order of things when it came?"
"People?" he said. "Well, surely all must have been glad of peace
when it came; especially when they found, as they must have found,
that after all, they--even the once rich--were not living very badly.
As to those who had been poor, all through the war, which lasted
about two years, their condition had been bettering, in spite of the
struggle; and when peace came at last, in a very short time they made
great strides towards a decent life. The great difficulty was that
the once-poor had such a feeble conception of the real pleasure of
life: so to say, they did not ask enough, did not know how to ask
enough, from the new state of things. It was perhaps rather a good
than an evil thing that the necessity for restoring the wealth
destroyed during the war forced them into working at first almost as
hard as they had been used to before the Revolution. For all
historians are agreed that there never was a war in which there was
so much destruction of wares, and instruments for making them as in
this civil war."
"I am rather surprised at that," said I.
"Are you? I don't see why," said Hammond.
"Why," I said, "because the party of order would surely look upon the
wealth as their own property, no share of which, if they could help
it, should go to their slaves, supposing they conquered. And on the
other hand, it was just for the possession of that wealth that 'the
rebels' were fighting, and I should have thought, especially when
they saw that they were winning, that they would have been careful to
destroy as little as possible of what was so soon to be their own."
"It was as I have told you, however," said he. "The party of order,
when they recovered from their first cowardice of surprise--or, if
you please, when they fairly saw that, whatever happened, they would
be ruined, fought with great bitterness, and cared little what they
did, so long as they injured the enemies who had destroyed the sweets
of life for them. As to 'the rebels,' I have told you that the
outbreak of actual war made them careless of trying to save the
wretched scraps of wealth that they had. It was a common saying
amongst them, Let the country be cleared of everything except valiant
living men, rather than that we fall into slavery again!"
He sat silently thinking a little while, and then said:
"When the conflict was once really begun, it was seen how little of
any value there was in the old world of slavery and inequality.
Don't you see what it means? In the times which you are thinking of,
and of which you seem to know so much, there was no hope; nothing but
the dull jog of the mill-horse under compulsion of collar and whip;
but in that fighting-time that followed, all was hope: 'the rebels'
at least felt themselves strong enough to build up the world again
from its dry bones,--and they did it, too!" said the old man, his
eyes glittering under his beetling brows. He went on: "And their
opponents at least and at last learned something about the reality of
life, and its sorrows, which they--their class, I mean--had once
known nothing of. In short, the two combatants, the workman and the
gentleman, between them--"
"Between them," said I, quickly, "they destroyed commercialism!"
"Yes, yes, yes," said he; "that is it. Nor could it have been
destroyed otherwise; except, perhaps, by the whole of society
gradually falling into lower depths, till it should at last reach a
condition as rude as barbarism, but lacking both the hope and the
pleasures of barbarism. Surely the sharper, shorter remedy was the
"Most surely," said I.
"Yes," said the old man, "the world was being brought to its second
birth; how could that take place without a tragedy? Moreover, think
of it. The spirit of the new days, of our days, was to be delight in
the life of the world; intense and overweening love of the very skin
and surface of the earth on which man dwells, such as a lover has in
the fair flesh of the woman he loves; this, I say, was to be the new
spirit of the time. All other moods save this had been exhausted:
the unceasing criticism, the boundless curiosity in the ways and
thoughts of man, which was the mood of the ancient Greek, to whom
these things were not so much a means, as an end, was gone past
recovery; nor had there been really any shadow of it in the so-called
science of the nineteenth century, which, as you must know, was in
the main an appendage to the commercial system; nay, not seldom an
appendage to the police of that system. In spite of appearances, it
was limited and cowardly, because it did not really believe in
itself. It was the outcome, as it was the sole relief, of the
unhappiness of the period which made life so bitter even to the rich,
and which, as you may see with your bodily eyes, the great change has
swept away. More akin to our way of looking at life was the spirit
of the Middle Ages, to whom heaven and the life of the next world was
such a reality, that it became to them a part of the life upon the
earth; which accordingly they loved and adorned, in spite of the
ascetic doctrines of their formal creed, which bade them contemn it.
"But that also, with its assured belief in heaven and hell as two
countries in which to live, has gone, and now we do, both in word and
in deed, believe in the continuous life of the world of men, and as
it were, add every day of that common life to the little stock of
days which our own mere individual experience wins for us: and
consequently we are happy. Do you wonder at it? In times past,
indeed, men were told to love their kind, to believe in the religion
of humanity, and so forth. But look you, just in the degree that a
man had elevation of mind and refinement enough to be able to value
this idea, was he repelled by the obvious aspect of the individuals
composing the mass which he was to worship; and he could only evade
that repulsion by making a conventional abstraction of mankind that
had little actual or historical relation to the race; which to his
eyes was divided into blind tyrants on the one hand and apathetic
degraded slaves on the other. But now, where is the difficulty in
accepting the religion of humanity, when the men and women who go to
make up humanity are free, happy, and energetic at least, and most
commonly beautiful of body also, and surrounded by beautiful things
of their own fashioning, and a nature bettered and not worsened by
contact with mankind? This is what this age of the world has
reserved for us."
"It seems true," said I, "or ought to be, if what my eyes have seen
is a token of the general life you lead. Can you now tell me
anything of your progress after the years of the struggle?"
Said he: "I could easily tell you more than you have time to listen
to; but I can at least hint at one of the chief difficulties which
had to be met: and that was, that when men began to settle down
after the war, and their labour had pretty much filled up the gap in
wealth caused by the destruction of that war, a kind of
disappointment seemed coming over us, and the prophecies of some of
the reactionists of past times seemed as if they would come true, and
a dull level of utilitarian comfort be the end for a while of our
aspirations and success. The loss of the competitive spur to
exertion had not, indeed, done anything to interfere with the
necessary production of the community, but how if it should make men
dull by giving them too much time for thought or idle musing? But,
after all, this dull thunder-cloud only threatened us, and then
passed over. Probably, from what I have told you before, you will
have a guess at the remedy for such a disaster; remembering always
that many of the things which used to be produced--slave-wares for
the poor and mere wealth-wasting wares for the rich--ceased to be
made. That remedy was, in short, the production of what used to be
called art, but which has no name amongst us now, because it has
become a necessary part of the labour of every man who produces."
Said I: "What! had men any time or opportunity for cultivating the
fine arts amidst the desperate struggle for life and freedom that you
have told me of?"
Said Hammond: "You must not suppose that the new form of art was
founded chiefly on the memory of the art of the past; although,
strange to say, the civil war was much less destructive of art than
of other things, and though what of art existed under the old forms,
revived in a wonderful way during the latter part of the struggle,
especially as regards music and poetry. The art or work-pleasure, as
one ought to call it, of which I am now speaking, sprung up almost
spontaneously, it seems, from a kind of instinct amongst people, no
longer driven desperately to painful and terrible over-work, to do
the best they could with the work in hand--to make it excellent of
its kind; and when that had gone on for a little, a craving for
beauty seemed to awaken in men's minds, and they began rudely and
awkwardly to ornament the wares which they made; and when they had
once set to work at that, it soon began to grow. All this was much
helped by the abolition of the squalor which our immediate ancestors
put up with so coolly; and by the leisurely, but not stupid, country-
life which now grew (as I told you before) to be common amongst us.
Thus at last and by slow degrees we got pleasure into our work; then
we became conscious of that pleasure, and cultivated it, and took
care that we had our fill of it; and then all was gained, and we were
happy. So may it be for ages and ages!"
The old man fell into a reverie, not altogether without melancholy I
thought; but I would not break it. Suddenly he started, and said:
"Well, dear guest, here are come Dick and Clara to fetch you away,
and there is an end of my talk; which I daresay you will not be sorry
for; the long day is coming to an end, and you will have a pleasant
ride back to Hammersmith."
CHAPTER XIX: THE DRIVE BACK TO HAMMERSMITH
I said nothing, for I was not inclined for mere politeness to him
after such very serious talk; but in fact I should liked to have gone
on talking with the older man, who could understand something at
least of my wonted ways of looking at life, whereas, with the younger
people, in spite of all their kindness, I really was a being from
another planet. However, I made the best of it, and smiled as
amiably as I could on the young couple; and Dick returned the smile
by saying, "Well, guest, I am glad to have you again, and to find
that you and my kinsman have not quite talked yourselves into another
world; I was half suspecting as I was listening to the Welshmen
yonder that you would presently be vanishing away from us, and began
to picture my kinsman sitting in the hall staring at nothing and
finding that he had been talking a while past to nobody."
I felt rather uncomfortable at this speech, for suddenly the picture
of the sordid squabble, the dirty and miserable tragedy of the life I
had left for a while, came before my eyes; and I had, as it were, a
vision of all my longings for rest and peace in the past, and I
loathed the idea of going back to it again. But the old man chuckled
"Don't be afraid, Dick. In any case, I have not been talking to thin
air; nor, indeed to this new friend of ours only. Who knows but I
may not have been talking to many people? For perhaps our guest may
some day go back to the people he has come from, and may take a
message from us which may bear fruit for them, and consequently for
Dick looked puzzled, and said: "Well, gaffer, I do not quite
understand what you mean. All I can say is, that I hope he will not
leave us: for don't you see, he is another kind of man to what we
are used to, and somehow he makes us think of all kind of things; and
already I feel as if I could understand Dickens the better for having
talked with him."
"Yes," said Clara, "and I think in a few months we shall make him
look younger; and I should like to see what he was like with the
wrinkles smoothed out of his face. Don't you think he will look
younger after a little time with us?"
The old man shook his head, and looked earnestly at me, but did not
answer her, and for a moment or two we were all silent. Then Clara
"Kinsman, I don't like this: something or another troubles me, and I
feel as if something untoward were going to happen. You have been
talking of past miseries to the guest, and have been living in past
unhappy times, and it is in the air all round us, and makes us feel
as if we were longing for something that we cannot have."
The old man smiled on her kindly, and said: "Well, my child, if that
be so, go and live in the present, and you will soon shake it off."
Then he turned to me, and said: "Do you remember anything like that,
guest, in the country from which you come?"
The lovers had turned aside now, and were talking together softly,
and not heeding us; so I said, but in a low voice: "Yes, when I was
a happy child on a sunny holiday, and had everything that I could
"So it is," said he. "You remember just now you twitted me with
living in the second childhood of the world. You will find it a
happy world to live in; you will be happy there--for a while."
Again I did not like his scarcely veiled threat, and was beginning to
trouble myself with trying to remember how I had got amongst this
curious people, when the old man called out in a cheery voice: "Now,
my children, take your guest away, and make much of him; for it is
your business to make him sleek of skin and peaceful of mind: he has
by no means been as lucky as you have. Farewell, guest!" and he
grasped my hand warmly.
"Good-bye," said I, "and thank you very much for all that you have
told me. I will come and see you as soon as I come back to London.
"Yes," he said, "come by all means--if you can."
"It won't be for some time yet," quoth Dick, in his cheery voice;
"for when the hay is in up the river, I shall be for taking him a
round through the country between hay and wheat harvest, to see how
our friends live in the north country. Then in the wheat harvest we
shall do a good stroke of work, I should hope,--in Wiltshire by
preference; for he will be getting a little hard with all the open-
air living, and I shall be as tough as nails."
"But you will take me along, won't you, Dick?" said Clara, laying her
pretty hand on his shoulder.
"Will I not?" said Dick, somewhat boisterously. "And we will manage
to send you to bed pretty tired every night; and you will look so
beautiful with your neck all brown, and your hands too, and you under
your gown as white as privet, that you will get some of those strange
discontented whims out of your head, my dear. However, our week's
haymaking will do all that for you."
The girl reddened very prettily, and not for shame but for pleasure;
and the old man laughed, and said:
"Guest, I see that you will be as comfortable as need be; for you
need not fear that those two will be too officious with you: they
will be so busy with each other, that they will leave you a good deal
to yourself, I am sure, and that is a real kindness to a guest, after
all. O, you need not be afraid of being one too many, either: it is
just what these birds in a nest like, to have a good convenient
friend to turn to, so that they may relieve the ecstasies of love
with the solid commonplace of friendship. Besides, Dick, and much
more Clara, likes a little talking at times; and you know lovers do
not talk unless they get into trouble, they only prattle. Good-bye,
guest; may you be happy!"
Clara went up to old Hammond, threw her arms about his neck and
kissed him heartily, and said:
"You are a dear old man, and may have your jest about me as much as
you please; and it won't be long before we see you again; and you may
be sure we shall make our guest happy; though, mind you, there is
some truth in what you say."
Then I shook hands again, and we went out of the hall and into the
cloisters, and so in the street found Greylocks in the shafts waiting
for us. He was well looked after; for a little lad of about seven
years old had his hand on the rein and was solemnly looking up into
his face; on his back, withal, was a girl of fourteen, holding a
three-year old sister on before her; while another girl, about a year
older than the boy, hung on behind. The three were occupied partly
with eating cherries, partly with patting and punching Greylocks, who
took all their caresses in good part, but pricked up his ears when
Dick made his appearance. The girls got off quietly, and going up to
Clara, made much of her and snuggled up to her. And then we got into
the carriage, Dick shook the reins, and we got under way at once,
Greylocks trotting soberly between the lovely trees of the London
streets, that were sending floods of fragrance into the cool evening
air; for it was now getting toward sunset.
We could hardly go but fair and softly all the way, as there were a
great many people abroad in that cool hour. Seeing so many people
made me notice their looks the more; and I must say, my taste,
cultivated in the sombre greyness, or rather brownness, of the
nineteenth century, was rather apt to condemn the gaiety and
brightness of the raiment; and I even ventured to say as much to
Clara. She seemed rather surprised, and even slightly indignant, and
said: "Well, well, what's the matter? They are not about any dirty
work; they are only amusing themselves in the fine evening; there is
nothing to foul their clothes. Come, doesn't it all look very
pretty? It isn't gaudy, you know."
Indeed that was true; for many of the people were clad in colours
that were sober enough, though beautiful, and the harmony of the
colours was perfect and most delightful.
I said, "Yes, that is so; but how can everybody afford such costly
garments? Look! there goes a middle-aged man in a sober grey dress;
but I can see from here that it is made of very fine woollen stuff,
and is covered with silk embroidery."
Said Clara: "He could wear shabby clothes if he pleased,--that is,
if he didn't think he would hurt people's feelings by doing so."
"But please tell me," said I, "how can they afford it?"
As soon as I had spoken I perceived that I had got back to my old
blunder; for I saw Dick's shoulders shaking with laughter; but he
wouldn't say a word, but handed me over to the tender mercies of
Clara, who said -
"Why, I don't know what you mean. Of course we can afford it, or
else we shouldn't do it. It would be easy enough for us to say, we
will only spend our labour on making our clothes comfortable: but we
don't choose to stop there. Why do you find fault with us? Does it
seem to you as if we starved ourselves of food in order to make
ourselves fine clothes? Or do you think there is anything wrong in
liking to see the coverings of our bodies beautiful like our bodies
are?--just as a deer's or an otter's skin has been made beautiful
from the first? Come, what is wrong with you?"
I bowed before the storm, and mumbled out some excuse or other. I
must say, I might have known that people who were so fond of
architecture generally, would not be backward in ornamenting
themselves; all the more as the shape of their raiment, apart from
its colour, was both beautiful and reasonable--veiling the form,
without either muffling or caricaturing it.
Clara was soon mollified; and as we drove along toward the wood
before mentioned, she said to Dick -
"I tell you what, Dick: now that kinsman Hammond the Elder has seen
our guest in his queer clothes, I think we ought to find him
something decent to put on for our journey to-morrow: especially
since, if we do not, we shall have to answer all sorts of questions
as to his clothes and where they came from. Besides," she said
slily, "when he is clad in handsome garments he will not be so quick
to blame us for our childishness in wasting our time in making
ourselves look pleasant to each other."
"All right, Clara," said Dick; "he shall have everything that you--
that he wants to have. I will look something out for him before he
gets up to-morrow."
CHAPTER XX: THE HAMMERSMITH GUEST-HOUSE AGAIN
Amidst such talk, driving quietly through the balmy evening, we came
to Hammersmith, and were well received by our friends there. Boffin,
in a fresh suit of clothes, welcomed me back with stately courtesy;
the weaver wanted to button-hole me and get out of me what old
Hammond had said, but was very friendly and cheerful when Dick warned
him off; Annie shook hands with me, and hoped I had had a pleasant
day--so kindly, that I felt a slight pang as our hands parted; for to
say the truth, I liked her better than Clara, who seemed to be always
a little on the defensive, whereas Annie was as frank as could be,
and seemed to get honest pleasure from everything and everybody about
her without the least effort.
We had quite a little feast that evening, partly in my honour, and
partly, I suspect, though nothing was said about it, in honour of
Dick and Clara coming together again. The wine was of the best; the
hall was redolent of rich summer flowers; and after supper we not
only had music (Annie, to my mind, surpassing all the others for
sweetness and clearness of voice, as well as for feeling and
meaning), but at last we even got to telling stories, and sat there
listening, with no other light but that of the summer moon streaming
through the beautiful traceries of the windows, as if we had belonged
to time long passed, when books were scarce and the art of reading
somewhat rare. Indeed, I may say here, that, though, as you will
have noted, my friends had mostly something to say about books, yet
they were not great readers, considering the refinement of their
manners and the great amount of leisure which they obviously had. In
fact, when Dick, especially, mentioned a book, he did so with an air
of a man who has accomplished an achievement; as much as to say,
"There, you see, I have actually read that!"
The evening passed all too quickly for me; since that day, for the
first time in my life, I was having my fill of the pleasure of the
eyes without any of that sense of incongruity, that dread of
approaching ruin, which had always beset me hitherto when I had been
amongst the beautiful works of art of the past, mingled with the
lovely nature of the present; both of them, in fact, the result of
the long centuries of tradition, which had compelled men to produce
the art, and compelled nature to run into the mould of the ages.
Here I could enjoy everything without an afterthought of the
injustice and miserable toil which made my leisure; the ignorance and
dulness of life which went to make my keen appreciation of history;
the tyranny and the struggle full of fear and mishap which went to
make my romance. The only weight I had upon my heart was a vague
fear as it drew toward bed-time concerning the place wherein I should
wake on the morrow: but I choked that down, and went to bed happy,
and in a very few moments was in a dreamless sleep.
CHAPTER XXI: GOING UP THE RIVER
When I did wake, to a beautiful sunny morning, I leapt out of bed
with my over-night apprehension still clinging to me, which vanished
delightfully however in a moment as I looked around my little
sleeping chamber and saw the pale but pure-coloured figures painted
on the plaster of the wall, with verses written underneath them which
I knew somewhat over well. I dressed speedily, in a suit of blue
laid ready for me, so handsome that I quite blushed when I had got
into it, feeling as I did so that excited pleasure of anticipation of
a holiday, which, well remembered as it was, I had not felt since I
was a boy, new come home for the summer holidays.
It seemed quite early in the morning, and I expected to have the hall
to myself when I came into it out of the corridor wherein was my
sleeping chamber; but I met Annie at once, who let fall her broom and
gave me a kiss, quite meaningless I fear, except as betokening
friendship, though she reddened as she did it, not from shyness, but
from friendly pleasure, and then stood and picked up her broom again,
and went on with her sweeping, nodding to me as if to bid me stand
out of the way and look on; which, to say the truth, I thought
amusing enough, as there were five other girls helping her, and their
graceful figures engaged in the leisurely work were worth going a
long way to see, and their merry talk and laughing as they swept in
quite a scientific manner was worth going a long way to hear. But
Annie presently threw me back a word or two as she went on to the
other end of the hall: "Guest," she said, "I am glad that you are up
early, though we wouldn't disturb you; for our Thames is a lovely
river at half-past six on a June morning: and as it would be a pity
for you to lose it, I am told just to give you a cup of milk and a
bit of bread outside there, and put you into the boat: for Dick and
Clara are all ready now. Wait half a minute till I have swept down
So presently she let her broom drop again, and came and took me by
the hand and led me out on to the terrace above the river, to a
little table under the boughs, where my bread and milk took the form
of as dainty a breakfast as any one could desire, and then sat by me
as I ate. And in a minute or two Dick and Clara came to me, the
latter looking most fresh and beautiful in a light silk embroidered
gown, which to my unused eyes was extravagantly gay and bright; while
Dick was also handsomely dressed in white flannel prettily
embroidered. Clara raised her gown in her hands as she gave me the
morning greeting, and said laughingly: "Look, guest! you see we are
at least as fine as any of the people you felt inclined to scold last
night; you see we are not going to make the bright day and the
flowers feel ashamed of themselves. Now scold me!"
Quoth I: "No, indeed; the pair of you seem as if you were born out
of the summer day itself; and I will scold you when I scold it."
"Well, you know," said Dick, "this is a special day--all these days
are, I mean. The hay-harvest is in some ways better than corn-
harvest because of the beautiful weather; and really, unless you had
worked in the hay-field in fine weather, you couldn't tell what
pleasant work it is. The women look so pretty at it, too," he said,
shyly; "so all things considered, I think we are right to adorn it in
a simple manner."
"Do the women work at it in silk dresses?" said I, smiling.
Dick was going to answer me soberly; but Clara put her hand over his
mouth, and said, "No, no, Dick; not too much information for him, or
I shall think that you are your old kinsman again. Let him find out
for himself: he will not have long to wait."
"Yes," quoth Annie, "don't make your description of the picture too
fine, or else he will be disappointed when the curtain is drawn. I
don't want him to be disappointed. But now it's time for you to be
gone, if you are to have the best of the tide, and also of the sunny
morning. Good-bye, guest."
She kissed me in her frank friendly way, and almost took away from me
my desire for the expedition thereby; but I had to get over that, as
it was clear that so delightful a woman would hardly be without a due
lover of her own age. We went down the steps of the landing stage,
and got into a pretty boat, not too light to hold us and our
belongings comfortably, and handsomely ornamented; and just as we got
in, down came Boffin and the weaver to see us off. The former had
now veiled his splendour in a due suit of working clothes, crowned
with a fantail hat, which he took off, however, to wave us farewell
with his grave old-Spanish-like courtesy. Then Dick pushed off into
the stream, and bent vigorously to his sculls, and Hammersmith, with
its noble trees and beautiful water-side houses, began to slip away
As we went, I could not help putting beside his promised picture of
the hay-field as it was then the picture of it as I remembered it,
and especially the images of the women engaged in the work rose up
before me: the row of gaunt figures, lean, flat-breasted, ugly,
without a grace of form or face about them; dressed in wretched
skimpy print gowns, and hideous flapping sun-bonnets, moving their
rakes in a listless mechanical way. How often had that marred the
loveliness of the June day to me; how often had I longed to see the
hay-fields peopled with men and women worthy of the sweet abundance
of midsummer, of its endless wealth of beautiful sights, and
delicious sounds and scents. And now, the world had grown old and
wiser, and I was to see my hope realised at last!
CHAPTER XXII: HAMPTON COURT AND A PRAISER OF PAST TIMES
So on we went, Dick rowing in an easy tireless way, and Clara sitting
by my side admiring his manly beauty and heartily good-natured face,
and thinking, I fancy, of nothing else. As we went higher up the
river, there was less difference between the Thames of that day and
Thames as I remembered it; for setting aside the hideous vulgarity of
the cockney villas of the well-to-do, stockbrokers and other such,
which in older time marred the beauty of the bough-hung banks, even
this beginning of the country Thames was always beautiful; and as we
slipped between the lovely summer greenery, I almost felt my youth
come back to me, and as if I were on one of those water excursions
which I used to enjoy so much in days when I was too happy to think
that there could be much amiss anywhere.
At last we came to a reach of the river where on the left hand a very
pretty little village with some old houses in it came down to the
edge of the water, over which was a ferry; and beyond these houses
the elm-beset meadows ended in a fringe of tall willows, while on the
right hand went the tow-path and a clear space before a row of trees,
which rose up behind huge and ancient, the ornaments of a great park:
but these drew back still further from the river at the end of the
reach to make way for a little town of quaint and pretty houses, some
new, some old, dominated by the long walls and sharp gables of a
great red-brick pile of building, partly of the latest Gothic, partly
of the court-style of Dutch William, but so blended together by the
bright sun and beautiful surroundings, including the bright blue
river, which it looked down upon, that even amidst the beautiful
buildings of that new happy time it had a strange charm about it. A
great wave of fragrance, amidst which the lime-tree blossom was
clearly to be distinguished, came down to us from its unseen gardens,
as Clara sat up in her place, and said:
"O Dick, dear, couldn't we stop at Hampton Court for to-day, and take
the guest about the park a little, and show him those sweet old
buildings? Somehow, I suppose because you have lived so near it, you
have seldom taken me to Hampton Court."
Dick rested on his oars a little, and said: "Well, well, Clara, you
are lazy to-day. I didn't feel like stopping short of Shepperton for
the night; suppose we just go and have our dinner at the Court, and
go on again about five o'clock?"
"Well," she said, "so be it; but I should like the guest to have
spent an hour or two in the Park."
"The Park!" said Dick; "why, the whole Thames-side is a park this
time of the year; and for my part, I had rather lie under an elm-tree
on the borders of a wheat-field, with the bees humming about me and
the corn-crake crying from furrow to furrow, than in any park in
"Besides," said she, "you want to get on to your dearly-loved upper
Thames, and show your prowess down the heavy swathes of the mowing
She looked at him fondly, and I could tell that she was seeing him in
her mind's eye showing his splendid form at its best amidst the
rhymed strokes of the scythes; and she looked down at her own pretty
feet with a half sigh, as though she were contrasting her slight
woman's beauty with his man's beauty; as women will when they are
really in love, and are not spoiled with conventional sentiment.
As for Dick, he looked at her admiringly a while, and then said at
last: "Well, Clara, I do wish we were there! But, hilloa! we are
getting back way." And he set to work sculling again, and in two
minutes we were all standing on the gravelly strand below the bridge,
which, as you may imagine, was no longer the old hideous iron
abortion, but a handsome piece of very solid oak framing.
We went into the Court and straight into the great hall, so well
remembered, where there were tables spread for dinner, and everything
arranged much as in Hammersmith Guest-Hall. Dinner over, we
sauntered through the ancient rooms, where the pictures and tapestry
were still preserved, and nothing was much changed, except that the
people whom we met there had an indefinable kind of look of being at
home and at ease, which communicated itself to me, so that I felt
that the beautiful old place was mine in the best sense of the word;
and my pleasure of past days seemed to add itself to that of to-day,
and filled my whole soul with content.
Dick (who, in spite of Clara's gibe, knew the place very well) told
me that the beautiful old Tudor rooms, which I remembered had been
the dwellings of the lesser fry of Court flunkies, were now much used
by people coming and going; for, beautiful as architecture had now
become, and although the whole face of the country had quite
recovered its beauty, there was still a sort of tradition of pleasure
and beauty which clung to that group of buildings, and people thought
going to Hampton Court a necessary summer outing, as they did in the
days when London was so grimy and miserable. We went into some of
the rooms looking into the old garden, and were well received by the
people in them, who got speedily into talk with us, and looked with
politely half-concealed wonder at my strange face. Besides these
birds of passage, and a few regular dwellers in the place, we saw out
in the meadows near the garden, down "the Long Water," as it used to
be called, many gay tents with men, women, and children round about
them. As it seemed, this pleasure-loving people were fond of tent-
life, with all its inconveniences, which, indeed, they turned into
We left this old friend by the time appointed, and I made some feeble
show of taking the sculls; but Dick repulsed me, not much to my
grief, I must say, as I found I had quite enough to do between the
enjoyment of the beautiful time and my own lazily blended thoughts.
As to Dick, it was quite right to let him pull, for he was as strong
as a horse, and had the greatest delight in bodily exercise, whatever
it was. We really had some difficulty in getting him to stop when it
was getting rather more than dusk, and the moon was brightening just
as we were off Runnymede. We landed there, and were looking about
for a place whereon to pitch our tents (for we had brought two with
us), when an old man came up to us, bade us good evening, and asked
if we were housed for that that night; and finding that we were not,
bade us home to his house. Nothing loth, we went with him, and Clara
took his hand in a coaxing way which I noticed she used with old men;
and as we went on our way, made some commonplace remark about the
beauty of the day. The old man stopped short, and looked at her and
said: "You really like it then?"
"Yes," she said, looking very much astonished, "Don't you?"
"Well," said he, "perhaps I do. I did, at any rate, when I was
younger; but now I think I should like it cooler."
She said nothing, and went on, the night growing about as dark as it
would be; till just at the rise of the hill we came to a hedge with a
gate in it, which the old man unlatched and led us into a garden, at
the end of which we could see a little house, one of whose little
windows was already yellow with candlelight. We could see even under
the doubtful light of the moon and the last of the western glow that
the garden was stuffed full of flowers; and the fragrance it gave out
in the gathering coolness was so wonderfully sweet, that it seemed
the very heart of the delight of the June dusk; so that we three
stopped instinctively, and Clara gave forth a little sweet "O," like
a bird beginning to sing.
"What's the matter?" said the old man, a little testily, and pulling
at her hand. "There's no dog; or have you trodden on a thorn and
hurt your foot?"
"No, no, neighbour," she said; "but how sweet, how sweet it is!"
"Of course it is," said he, "but do you care so much for that?"
She laughed out musically, and we followed suit in our gruffer
voices; and then she said: "Of course I do, neighbour; don't you?"
"Well, I don't know," quoth the old fellow; then he added, as if
somewhat ashamed of himself: "Besides, you know, when the waters are
out and all Runnymede is flooded, it's none so pleasant."
"_I_ should like it," quoth Dick. "What a jolly sail one would get
about here on the floods on a bright frosty January morning!"
"WOULD you like it?" said our host. "Well, I won't argue with you,
neighbour; it isn't worth while. Come in and have some supper."
We went up a paved path between the roses, and straight into a very
pretty room, panelled and carved, and as clean as a new pin; but the
chief ornament of which was a young woman, light-haired and grey-
eyed, but with her face and hands and bare feet tanned quite brown
with the sun. Though she was very lightly clad, that was clearly
from choice, not from poverty, though these were the first cottage-
dwellers I had come across; for her gown was of silk, and on her
wrists were bracelets that seemed to me of great value. She was
lying on a sheep-skin near the window, but jumped up as soon as we
entered, and when she saw the guests behind the old man, she clapped
her hands and cried out with pleasure, and when she got us into the
middle of the room, fairly danced round us in delight of our company.
"What!" said the old man, "you are pleased, are you, Ellen?"
The girl danced up to him and threw her arms round him, and said:
"Yes I am, and so ought you to be grandfather."
"Well, well, I am," said he, "as much as I can be pleased. Guests,
please be seated."
This seemed rather strange to us; stranger, I suspect, to my friends
than to me; but Dick took the opportunity of both the host and his
grand-daughter being out of the room to say to me, softly: "A
grumbler: there are a few of them still. Once upon a time, I am
told, they were quite a nuisance."
The old man came in as he spoke and sat down beside us with a sigh,
which, indeed, seemed fetched up as if he wanted us to take notice of
it; but just then the girl came in with the victuals, and the carle
missed his mark, what between our hunger generally and that I was
pretty busy watching the grand-daughter moving about as beautiful as
Everything to eat and drink, though it was somewhat different to what
we had had in London, was better than good, but the old man eyed
rather sulkily the chief dish on the table, on which lay a leash of
fine perch, and said:
"H'm, perch! I am sorry we can't do better for you, guests. The
time was when we might have had a good piece of salmon up from London
for you; but the times have grown mean and petty."
"Yes, but you might have had it now," said the girl, giggling, "if
you had known that they were coming."
"It's our fault for not bringing it with us, neighbours," said Dick,
good-humouredly. "But if the times have grown petty, at any rate the
perch haven't; that fellow in the middle there must have weighed a
good two pounds when he was showing his dark stripes and red fins to
the minnows yonder. And as to the salmon, why, neighbour, my friend
here, who comes from the outlands, was quite surprised yesterday
morning when I told him we had plenty of salmon at Hammersmith. I am
sure I have heard nothing of the times worsening."
He looked a little uncomfortable. And the old man, turning to me,
said very courteously:
"Well, sir, I am happy to see a man from over the water; but I really
must appeal to you to say whether on the whole you are not better off
in your country; where I suppose, from what our guest says, you are
brisker and more alive, because you have not wholly got rid of
competition. You see, I have read not a few books of the past days,
and certainly THEY are much more alive than those which are written
now; and good sound unlimited competition was the condition under
which they were written,--if we didn't know that from the record of
history, we should know it from the books themselves. There is a
spirit of adventure in them, and signs of a capacity to extract good
out of evil which our literature quite lacks now; and I cannot help
thinking that our moralists and historians exaggerate hugely the
unhappiness of the past days, in which such splendid works of
imagination and intellect were produced."
Clara listened to him with restless eyes, as if she were excited and
pleased; Dick knitted his brow and looked still more uncomfortable,
but said nothing. Indeed, the old man gradually, as he warmed to his
subject, dropped his sneering manner, and both spoke and looked very
seriously. But the girl broke out before I could deliver myself of
the answer I was framing:
"Books, books! always books, grandfather! When will you understand
that after all it is the world we live in which interests us; the
world of which we are a part, and which we can never love too much?
Look!" she said, throwing open the casement wider and showing us the
white light sparkling between the black shadows of the moonlit
garden, through which ran a little shiver of the summer night-wind,
"look! these are our books in these days!--and these," she said,
stepping lightly up to the two lovers and laying a hand on each of
their shoulders; "and the guest there, with his over-sea knowledge
and experience;--yes, and even you, grandfather" (a smile ran over
her face as she spoke), "with all your grumbling and wishing yourself
back again in the good old days,--in which, as far as I can make out,
a harmless and lazy old man like you would either have pretty nearly
starved, or have had to pay soldiers and people to take the folk's
victuals and clothes and houses away from them by force. Yes, these
are our books; and if we want more, can we not find work to do in the
beautiful buildings that we raise up all over the country (and I know
there was nothing like them in past times), wherein a man can put
forth whatever is in him, and make his hands set forth his mind and
She paused a little, and I for my part could not help staring at her,
and thinking that if she were a book, the pictures in it were most
lovely. The colour mantled in her delicate sunburnt cheeks; her grey
eyes, light amidst the tan of her face, kindly looked on us all as
she spoke. She paused, and said again:
"As for your books, they were well enough for times when intelligent
people had but little else in which they could take pleasure, and
when they must needs supplement the sordid miseries of their own
lives with imaginations of the lives of other people. But I say
flatly that in spite of all their cleverness and vigour, and capacity
for story-telling, there is something loathsome about them. Some of
them, indeed, do here and there show some feeling for those whom the
history-books call 'poor,' and of the misery of whose lives we have
some inkling; but presently they give it up, and towards the end of
the story we must be contented to see the hero and heroine living
happily in an island of bliss on other people's troubles; and that
after a long series of sham troubles (or mostly sham) of their own
making, illustrated by dreary introspective nonsense about their
feelings and aspirations, and all the rest of it; while the world
must even then have gone on its way, and dug and sewed and baked and
built and carpentered round about these useless--animals."
"There!" said the old man, reverting to his dry sulky manner again.
"There's eloquence! I suppose you like it?"
"Yes," said I, very emphatically.
"Well," said he, "now the storm of eloquence has lulled for a little,
suppose you answer my question?--that is, if you like, you know,"
quoth he, with a sudden access of courtesy.
"What question?" said I. For I must confess that Ellen's strange and
almost wild beauty had put it out of my head.
Said he: "First of all (excuse my catechising), is there competition
in life, after the old kind, in the country whence you come?"
"Yes," said I, "it is the rule there." And I wondered as I spoke
what fresh complications I should get into as a result of this
"Question two," said the carle: "Are you not on the whole much
freer, more energetic--in a word, healthier and happier--for it?"
I smiled. "You wouldn't talk so if you had any idea of our life. To
me you seem here as if you were living in heaven compared with us of
the country from which I came."
"Heaven?" said he: "you like heaven, do you?"
"Yes," said I--snappishly, I am afraid; for I was beginning rather to
resent his formula.
"Well, I am far from sure that I do," quoth he. "I think one may do
more with one's life than sitting on a damp cloud and singing hymns."
I was rather nettled by this inconsequence, and said: "Well,
neighbour, to be short, and without using metaphors, in the land
whence I come, where the competition which produced those literary
works which you admire so much is still the rule, most people are
thoroughly unhappy; here, to me at least most people seem thoroughly
"No offence, guest--no offence," said he; "but let me ask you; you
like that, do you?"
His formula, put with such obstinate persistence, made us all laugh
heartily; and even the old man joined in the laughter on the sly.
However, he was by no means beaten, and said presently:
"From all I can hear, I should judge that a young woman so beautiful
as my dear Ellen yonder would have been a lady, as they called it in
the old time, and wouldn't have had to wear a few rags of silk as she
does now, or to have browned herself in the sun as she has to do now.
What do you say to that, eh?"
Here Clara, who had been pretty much silent hitherto, struck in, and
said: "Well, really, I don't think that you would have mended
matters, or that they want mending. Don't you see that she is
dressed deliciously for this beautiful weather? And as for the sun-
burning of your hay-fields, why, I hope to pick up some of that for
myself when we get a little higher up the river. Look if I don't
need a little sun on my pasty white skin!"
And she stripped up the sleeve from her arm and laid it beside
Ellen's who was now sitting next her. To say the truth, it was
rather amusing to me to see Clara putting herself forward as a town-
bred fine lady, for she was as well-knit and clean-skinned a girl as
might be met with anywhere at the best. Dick stroked the beautiful
arm rather shyly, and pulled down the sleeve again, while she blushed
at his touch; and the old man said laughingly: "Well, I suppose you
DO like that; don't you?"
Ellen kissed her new friend, and we all sat silent for a little, till
she broke out into a sweet shrill song, and held us all entranced
with the wonder of her clear voice; and the old grumbler sat looking
at her lovingly. The other young people sang also in due time; and
then Ellen showed us to our beds in small cottage chambers, fragrant
and clean as the ideal of the old pastoral poets; and the pleasure of
the evening quite extinguished my fear of the last night, that I
should wake up in the old miserable world of worn-out pleasures, and
hopes that were half fears.
CHAPTER XXIII: AN EARLY MORNING BY RUNNYMEDE
Though there were no rough noises to wake me, I could not lie long
abed the next morning, where the world seemed so well awake, and,
despite the old grumbler, so happy; so I got up, and found that,
early as it was, someone had been stirring, since all was trim and in
its place in the little parlour, and the table laid for the morning
meal. Nobody was afoot in the house as then, however, so I went out
a-doors, and after a turn or two round the superabundant garden, I
wandered down over the meadow to the river-side, where lay our boat,
looking quite familiar and friendly to me. I walked up stream a
little, watching the light mist curling up from the river till the
sun gained power to draw it all away; saw the bleak speckling the
water under the willow boughs, whence the tiny flies they fed on were
falling in myriads; heard the great chub splashing here and there at
some belated moth or other, and felt almost back again in my boyhood.
Then I went back again to the boat, and loitered there a minute or
two, and then walked slowly up the meadow towards the little house.
I noted now that there were four more houses of about the same size
on the slope away from the river. The meadow in which I was going
was not up for hay; but a row of flake-hurdles ran up the slope not
far from me on each side, and in the field so parted off from ours on
the left they were making hay busily by now, in the simple fashion of
the days when I was a boy. My feet turned that way instinctively, as
I wanted to see how haymakers looked in these new and better times,
and also I rather expected to see Ellen there. I came to the hurdles
and stood looking over into the hay-field, and was close to the end
of the long line of haymakers who were spreading the low ridges to
dry off the night dew. The majority of these were young women clad
much like Ellen last night, though not mostly in silk, but in light
woollen mostly gaily embroidered; the men being all clad in white
flannel embroidered in bright colours. The meadow looked like a
gigantic tulip-bed because of them. All hands were working
deliberately but well and steadily, though they were as noisy with
merry talk as a grove of autumn starlings. Half a dozen of them, men
and women, came up to me and shook hands, gave me the sele of the
morning, and asked a few questions as to whence and whither, and
wishing me good luck, went back to their work. Ellen, to my
disappointment, was not amongst them, but presently I saw a light
figure come out of the hay-field higher up the slope, and make for
our house; and that was Ellen, holding a basket in her hand. But
before she had come to the garden gate, out came Dick and Clara, who,
after a minute's pause, came down to meet me, leaving Ellen in the
garden; then we three went down to the boat, talking mere morning
prattle. We stayed there a little, Dick arranging some of the
matters in her, for we had only taken up to the house such things as
we thought the dew might damage; and then we went toward the house
again; but when we came near the garden, Dick stopped us by laying a
hand on my arm and said, -
"Just look a moment."
I looked, and over the low hedge saw Ellen, shading her eyes against
the sun as she looked toward the hay-field, a light wind stirring in
her tawny hair, her eyes like light jewels amidst her sunburnt face,
which looked as if the warmth of the sun were yet in it.
"Look, guest," said Dick; "doesn't it all look like one of those very
stories out of Grimm that we were talking about up in Bloomsbury?
Here are we two lovers wandering about the world, and we have come to
a fairy garden, and there is the very fairy herself amidst of it: I
wonder what she will do for us."
Said Clara demurely, but not stiffly: "Is she a good fairy, Dick?"
"O, yes," said he; "and according to the card, she would do better,
if it were not for the gnome or wood-spirit, our grumbling friend of
We laughed at this; and I said, "I hope you see that you have left me
out of the tale."
"Well," said he, "that's true. You had better consider that you have
got the cap of darkness, and are seeing everything, yourself
That touched me on my weak side of not feeling sure of my position in
this beautiful new country; so in order not to make matters worse, I
held my tongue, and we all went into the garden and up to the house
together. I noticed by the way that Clara must really rather have
felt the contrast between herself as a town madam and this piece of
the summer country that we all admired so, for she had rather dressed
after Ellen that morning as to thinness and scantiness, and went
barefoot also, except for light sandals.
The old man greeted us kindly in the parlour, and said: "Well,
guests, so you have been looking about to search into the nakedness
of the land: I suppose your illusions of last night have given way a
bit before the morning light? Do you still like, it, eh?"
"Very much," said I, doggedly; "it is one of the prettiest places on
the lower Thames."
"Oho!" said he; "so you know the Thames, do you?"
I reddened, for I saw Dick and Clara looking at me, and scarcely knew
what to say. However, since I had said in our early intercourse with
my Hammersmith friends that I had known Epping Forest, I thought a
hasty generalisation might be better in avoiding complications than a
downright lie; so I said -
"I have been in this country before; and I have been on the Thames in
"O," said the old man, eagerly, "so you have been in this country
before. Now really, don't you FIND it (apart from all theory, you
know) much changed for the worse?"
"No, not at all," said I; "I find it much changed for the better."
"Ah," quoth he, "I fear that you have been prejudiced by some theory
or another. However, of course the time when you were here before
must have been so near our own days that the deterioration might not
be very great: as then we were, of course, still living under the
same customs as we are now. I was thinking of earlier days than
"In short," said Clara, "you have THEORIES about the change which has
"I have facts as well," said he. "Look here! from this hill you can
see just four little houses, including this one. Well, I know for
certain that in old times, even in the summer, when the leaves were
thickest, you could see from the same place six quite big and fine
houses; and higher up the water, garden joined garden right up to
Windsor; and there were big houses in all the gardens. Ah! England
was an important place in those days."
I was getting nettled, and said: "What you mean is that you de-
cockneyised the place, and sent the damned flunkies packing, and that
everybody can live comfortably and happily, and not a few damned
thieves only, who were centres of vulgarity and corruption wherever
they were, and who, as to this lovely river, destroyed its beauty
morally, and had almost destroyed it physically, when they were
thrown out of it."
There was silence after this outburst, which for the life of me I
could not help, remembering how I had suffered from cockneyism and
its cause on those same waters of old time. But at last the old man
said, quite coolly:
"My dear guest, I really don't know what you mean by either cockneys,
or flunkies, or thieves, or damned; or how only a few people could
live happily and comfortably in a wealthy country. All I can see is
that you are angry, and I fear with me: so if you like we will
change the subject."
I thought this kind and hospitable in him, considering his obstinacy