In the Year of Jubilee by George Gissing
Part I: Miss. Lord
'Now, I look at it in this way. It's to celebrate the fiftieth year of the reign of Queen Victoria--yes: but at the same time, and far more, it's to celebrate the completion of fifty years of Progress. National Progress, without precedent in the history of mankind! One may say, indeed, Progress of the Human Race. Only think what has been done in this half-century: only think of it! Compare England now, compare the world, with what it was in 1837. It takes away one's breath!'
Thus Mr. Samuel Bennett Barmby, as he stood swaying forward upon his toes, his boots creaking. Nancy and Jessica listened to him. They were ready to start on the evening's expedition, but Horace had not yet come home, and on the chance of his arrival they would wait a few minutes longer.
'I shall make this the subject of a paper for our Society next winter--the Age of Progress. And with special reference to one particular--the Press. Only think now, of the difference between our newspapers, all our periodicals of to-day, and those fifty years ago. Did you ever really consider, Miss. Morgan, what a marvellous thing one of our great newspapers really is? Printed in another way it would make a volume--absolutely; a positive volume; packed with thought and information. And all for the ridiculous price of one penny!'
He laughed; a high, chuckling, crowing laugh; the laugh of triumphant optimism. Of the man's sincerity there could be no question; it beamed from his shining forehead, his pointed nose; glistened in his prominent eyes. He had a tall, lank figure, irreproachably clad in a suit of grey: frock coat, and waistcoat revealing an expanse of white shirt. His cuffs were magnificent, and the hands worthy of them. A stand-up collar, of remarkable stiffness, kept his head at the proper level of self-respect.
'By the bye, Miss. Lord, are you aware that the Chinese Empire, with four hundred MILLION inhabitants, has only ten daily papers? Positively; only ten.'
'How do you know?' asked Nancy.
'I saw it stated in a paper. That helps one to grasp the difference between civilisation and barbarism. One doesn't think clearly enough of common things. Now that's one of the benefits one gets from Carlyle. Carlyle teaches one to see the marvellous in everyday life. Of course in many things I don't agree with him, but I shall never lose an opportunity of expressing my gratitude to Carlyle. Carlyle and Gurty! Yes, Carlyle and Gurty; those two authors are an education in themselves.'
He uttered a long 'Ah!' and moved his lips as if savouring a delicious morsel.
'Now here's an interesting thing. If all the cabs in London were put end to end,'--he paused between the words, gravely,--'what do you think, Miss. Morgan, would be the total length?'
'Oh, I have no idea, Mr. Barmby.'
'Forty miles--positively! Forty miles of cabs!'
'How do you know?' asked Nancy.
'I saw it stated in a paper.'
The girls glanced at each other, and smiled. Barmby beamed upon them with the benevolence of a man who knew his advantages, personal and social.
And at this moment Horace Lord came in. He had not the fresh appearance which usually distinguished him; his face was stained with perspiration, his collar had become limp, the flower at his buttonhole hung faded.
'Well, here I am. Are you going?'
'I suppose you know you have kept us waiting,' said his sister.
'Awf'ly sorry. Couldn't get here before.'
He spoke as if he had not altogether the command of his tongue, and with a fixed meaningless smile.
'We had better not delay,' said Barmby, taking up his hat. 'Seven o'clock. We ought to be at Charing Cross before eight; that will allow us about three hours.'
They set forth at once. By private agreement between the girls, Jessica Morgan attached herself to Mr. Barmby, allowing Nancy to follow with her brother, as they walked rapidly towards Camberwell Green. Horace kept humming popular airs; his hat had fallen a little to the side, and he swung his cane carelessly. His sister asked him what he had been doing all day.
'Oh, going about. I met some fellows after the procession. We had a splendid view, up there on the top of Waterloo House.'
'Did Fanny go home?'
'We met her sisters, and had some lunch at a restaurant. Look here; you don't want me to-night. You won't mind if I get lost in the crowd? Barmby will be quite enough to take care of you.'
'You are going to meet her again, I suppose?'
'We had better agree on a rendezvous at a certain time. I say, Barmby, just a moment; if any of us should get separated, we had better know where to meet, for coming home.'
'Oh, there's no fear of that.'
'All the same, it might happen. There'll be a tremendous crush, you know. Suppose we say the place where the trams stop, south of Westminster Bridge, and the time a quarter to eleven?'
This was agreed upon.
At Camberwell Green they mingled with a confused rush of hilarious crowds, amid a clattering of cabs and omnibuses, a jingling of tram-car bells. Public-houses sent forth their alcoholic odours upon the hot air. Samuel Barmby, joyous in his protectorship of two young ladies, for he regarded Horace as a mere boy, bustled about them whilst they stood waiting for the arrival of the Westminster car.
'It'll have to be a gallant rush! You would rather be outside, wouldn't you, Miss. Lord? Here it comes: charge!'
But the charge was ineffectual for their purpose. A throng of far more resolute and more sinewy people swept them aside, and seized every vacant place on the top of the vehicle. Only with much struggle did they obtain places within. In an ordinary mood, Nancy would have resented this hustling of her person by the profane public; as it was, she half enjoyed the tumult, and looked forward to get more of it along the packed streets, with a sense that she might as well amuse herself in vulgar ways, since nothing better was attainable. This did not, however, modify her contempt of Samuel Barmby; it seemed never to have occurred to him that the rough-and-tumble might be avoided, and time gained, by the simple expedient of taking a cab.
Sitting opposite to Samuel, she avoided his persistent glances by reading the rows of advertisements above his head. Somebody's 'Blue;' somebody's 'Soap;' somebody's 'High-class Jams;' and behold, inserted between the Soap and the Jam--'God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoso believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' Nancy perused the passage without perception of incongruity, without emotion of any kind. Her religion had long since fallen to pieces, and universal defilement of Scriptural phrase by the associations of the market-place had in this respect blunted her sensibilities.
Barmby was talking to Jessica Morgan. She caught his words now and then.
'Can you tell me what is the smallest tree in the world?--No, it's the Greenland birch. Its full-grown height is only three inches-- positively! But it spreads over several feet.'
Nancy was tempted to lean forward and say, 'How do you know?' But the jest seemed to involve her in too much familiarity with Mr Barmby; for her own peace it was better to treat him with all possible coldness.
A woman near her talked loudly about the procession, with special reference to a personage whom she called 'Prince of Wiles.' This enthusiast declared with pride that she had stood at a certain street corner for seven hours, accompanied by a child of five years old, the same who now sat on her lap, nodding in utter weariness; together they were going to see the illuminations, and walk about, with intervals devoted to refreshments, for several hours more. Beyond sat a working-man, overtaken with liquor, who railed vehemently at the Jubilee, and in no measured terms gave his opinion of our Sovereign Lady; the whole thing was a 'lay,' an occasion for filling the Royal pocket, and it had succeeded to the tune of something like half a million of money, wheedled, most of it, from the imbecile poor. 'Shut up!' roared a loyalist, whose patience could endure no longer. 'We're not going to let a boozing blackguard like you talk in that way about 'er Majesty!' Thereupon, retort of insult, challenge to combat, clamour from many throats, deep and shrill. Nancy laughed, and would rather have enjoyed it if the men had fought.
At Westminster Bridge all jumped confusedly into the street and ran for the pavement. It was still broad daylight; the sun--a potentate who keeps no Jubilee--dropping westward amid the hues of summer eventide, was unmarked, for all his splendour, by the roaring multitudes.
'Where are you going to leave us?' Nancy inquired of her brother.
'Charing Cross, or somewhere about there.'
'Keep by me till then.'
Barmby was endeavouring to secure her companionship. He began to cross the bridge at her side, but Nancy turned and bade him attend upon Miss. Morgan, saying that she wished to talk with her brother. In this order they moved towards Parliament Street, where the crowd began to thicken.
'Now let us decide upon our route,' exclaimed Barmby, with the air of a popular leader planning a great demonstration. 'Miss. Lord, we will be directed by your wishes. Where would you like to be when the lighting-up begins?'
'I don't care. What does it matter? Let us go straight on and see whatever comes in our way.'
'That's the right spirit! Let us give ourselves up to the occasion! We can't be wrong in making for Trafalgar Square. Advance!'
They followed upon a group of reeling lads and girls, who yelled in chorus the popular song of the day, a sentimental one as it happened--
'Do not forget me, Do not forget me, Think sometimes of me still'--
Nancy was working herself into a nervous, excited state. She felt it impossible to walk on and on under Barmby's protection, listening to his atrocious commonplaces, his enthusiasms of the Young Men's Debating Society. The glow of midsummer had entered into her blood; she resolved to taste independence, to mingle with the limitless crowd as one of its units, borne in whatever direction. That song of the streets pleased her, made sympathetic appeal to her; she would have liked to join in it.
Just behind her--it was on the broad pavement at Whitehall--some one spoke her name.
'Miss. Lord! Why, who would have expected to see you here? Shouldn't have dared to think of such a thing; upon my word, I shouldn't!'
A man of about thirty, dressed without much care, middle-sized, wiry, ruddy of cheek, and his coarse but strong features vivid with festive energy, held a hand to her. Luckworth Crewe was his name. Nancy had come to know him at the house of Mrs. Peachey, where from time to time she had met various people unrecognised in her own home. His tongue bewrayed him for a native of some northern county; his manner had no polish, but a genuine heartiness which would have atoned for many defects. Horace, who also knew him, offered a friendly greeting; but Samuel Barmby, when the voice caught his ear, regarded this intruder with cold surprise.
'May I walk on with you?' Crewe asked, when he saw that Miss. Lord felt no distaste for his company.
Nancy deigned not even a glance at her nominal protector.
'If you are going our way,' she replied.
Barmby, his dignity unobserved, strode on with Miss. Morgan, of whom he sought information concerning the loud-voiced man. Crewe talked away.
'So you've come out to have a look at it, after all. I saw the Miss Frenches last Sunday, and they told me you cared no more for the Jubilee than for a dog-fight. Of course I wasn't surprised; you've other things to think about. But it's worth seeing, that's my opinion. Were you out this morning?'
'No. I don't care for Royalties.'
'No more do I. Expensive humbugs, that's what I call 'em. But I had a look at them, for all that. The Crown Prince was worth seeing; yes, he really was. I'm not so prejudiced as to deny that. He's the kind of chap I should like to get hold of, and have a bit of a talk with, and ask him what he thought about things in general. It's been a big affair, hasn't it? I know a chap who made a Jubilee Perfume, and he's netting something like a hundred pounds a day.'
'Have you any Jubilee speculation on hand?'
'Don't ask me! It makes me mad. I had a really big thing,--a Jubilee Drink,--a teetotal beverage; the kind of thing that would have sold itself, this weather. A friend of mine hit on it, a clerk in a City warehouse, one of the cleverest chaps I ever knew. It really was the drink; I've never tasted anything like it. Why, there's the biggest fortune on record waiting for the man who can supply the drink for total-abstainers. And this friend of mine had it. He gave me some to taste one night, about a month ago, and I roared with delight. It was all arranged. I undertook to find enough capital to start with, and to manage the concern. I would have given up my work with Bullock and Freeman. I'd have gone in, tooth and nail, for that drink! I sat up all one night trying to find a name for it; but couldn't hit on the right one. A name is just as important as the stuff itself that you want to sell. Next morning-- it was Sunday--I went round to my friend's lodgings, and'--he slapped his thigh--'I'm blest if the chap hadn't cut his throat!'
'Betting and forgery. He would have been arrested next day. But the worst of it was that his beverage perished with him. I hadn't a notion how it was made; he wouldn't tell me till I planked down money to start with; and not a drop of it could be found anywhere. And to think that he had absolutely struck oil, as they say; had nothing to do but sit down and count the money as it came in! That's the third man I've known go wrong in less than a year. Betting and embezzlement; betting and burglary; betting and forgery. I'll tell you some time about the chap who went in for burglary. One of the best fellows I ever knew; when he comes out, I must give him a hand. But ten to one he'll burgle again; they always do; burglary grows on a man, like drink.'
His laughter rang across the street; Barmby, who kept looking back, surprised and indignant that this acquaintance of Miss. Lord's was not presented to him, paused for a moment, but Nancy waved to him commandingly, 'Straight on!'
They reached Charing Cross. Horace, who took no part in the conversation, and had dropped behind, at this point found an opportunity of stealing away. It was Crewe who first remarked his absence.
'Hollo! where's your brother?'
'Gone, evidently.--Hush! Don't say anything. Will you do something for me, Mr. Crewe?'
'Of course I will. What is it?'
Nancy pursued in a low voice.
'He's gone to meet Fanny French. At least, he told me so; but I want to know whether it is really Fanny, or some one else. He said they were to meet in front of the Haymarket Theatre. Will you go as quickly as you can, and see if Fanny is there?'
'Like a bird!--But how am I to meet you again?'
'We'll be at the top of Regent Street at nine o'clock,--by Peter Robinson's. Don't lose time.'
He struck off in the westerly direction, and Barmby, looking round at that moment, saw him go. Engrossed in thought of Nancy, Samuel did not yet perceive that her brother had vanished.
'Your friend isn't coming any further?' he said, in a tone of forbearance.
'But where's Mr. Lord?' exclaimed Jessica.
Nancy pretended to look back for him, and for a minute or two they waited. Barmby, glad to be delivered from both male companions, made light of the matter; Horace could take care of himself; they had the appointment for a quarter to eleven;--on! And he now fixed himself resolutely at Nancy's side.
She, delighted with the success of her stratagem, and careless of what might result from it, behaved more companionably. To Luckworth Crewe's society she had no objection; indeed, she rather liked him; but his presence would have hindered the escape for which she was preparing. Poor Jessica might feel it something of a hardship to pass hours alone with 'the Prophet,' but that could not be helped. Nancy would be free to-night, if never again. They turned into the Strand, and Barmby voiced his opinion of the public decorations.
'There's very little of what can be called Art,--very little indeed. I'm afraid we haven't made much progress in Art.--Now what would Ruskin say to this kind of thing? The popular taste wants educating. My idea is that we ought to get a few leading men Burne Jones and--and William Morris--and people of that kind, you know, Miss. Lord,--to give lectures in a big hall on the elements of Art. A great deal might be done in that way, don't you think so, Miss. Morgan?'
'I have no faith in anything popular,' Jessica replied loftily.
'No, no. But, after all, the people have got the upper hand now-a-days, and we who enjoy advantages of education, of culture, ought not to allow them to remain in darkness. It isn't for our own interest, most decidedly it isn't.'
'Did your sisters go to see the procession?' Nancy asked.
'Oh, they were afraid of the crowd. The old gentleman took them out to Tooting Common this afternoon, and they enjoyed themselves. Perhaps I should have been wiser if I had imitated their example; I mean this morning; of course I wouldn't have missed this evening for anything whatever. But somehow, one feels it a sort of duty to see something of these great public holidays. I caught a glimpse of the procession. In its way it was imposing--yes, really. After all, the Monarchy is a great fact--as Gurty would have said. I like to keep my mind open to facts.'
The sun had set, and with approach of dusk the crowds grew denser. Nancy proposed a return westwards; the clubs of Pall Mall and of St James's Street would make a display worth seeing, and they must not miss Piccadilly.
'A little later,' said their escort, with an air of liberality, 'we must think of some light refreshment. We shall be passing a respectable restaurant, no doubt.'
Twilight began to obscure the distance. Here and there a house-front slowly marked itself with points of flame, shaping to wreath, festoon, or initials of Royalty. Nancy looked eagerly about her, impatient for the dark, wishing the throng would sweep her away. In Pall Mall, Barmby felt it incumbent upon him to name the several clubs, a task for which he was inadequately prepared. As he stood staring in doubt at one of the coldly insolent facades, Jessica gazing in the same direction, Nancy saw that her moment had come. She darted off, struggled through a moving crowd, and reached the opposite pavement. All she had now to do was to press onward with the people around her; save by chance, she could not possibly be discovered.
Alarm at her daring troubled her for a few minutes. As a matter of course Barmby would report this incident to her father,--unless she plainly asked him not to do so, for which she had no mind. Yet what did it matter? She had escaped to enjoy herself, and the sense of freedom soon overcame anxieties. No one observed her solitary state; she was one of millions walking about the streets because it was Jubilee Day, and every moment packed her more tightly among the tramping populace. A procession, this, greatly more significant than that of Royal personages earlier in the day. Along the main thoroughfares of mid-London, wheel-traffic was now suspended; between the houses moved a double current of humanity, this way and that, filling the whole space, so that no vehicle could possibly have made its way on the wonted track. At junctions, pickets of police directed progress; the slowly advancing masses wheeled to left or right at word of command, carelessly obedient. But for an occasional bellow of hilarious blackguardism, or for a song uplifted by strident voices, or a cheer at some flaring symbol that pleased the passers, there was little noise; only a thud, thud of footfalls numberless, and the low, unvarying sound that suggested some huge beast purring to itself in stupid contentment.
Nancy forgot her identity, lost sight of herself as an individual. Her blood was heated by close air and physical contact. She did not think, and her emotions differed little from those of any shop-girl let loose. The 'culture,' to which she laid claim, evanesced in this atmosphere of exhalations. Could she have seen her face, its look of vulgar abandonment would have horrified her.
Some one trod violently on her heel, and she turned with a half-angry laugh, protesting. 'Beg your pardon, miss,' said a young fellow of the clerkly order. 'A push be'ind made me do it.' He thrust himself to a place beside her, and Nancy conversed with him unrestrainedly, as though it were a matter of course. The young man, scrutinising her with much freedom, shaped clerkly compliments, and, in his fashion, grew lyrical; until, at a certain remark which he permitted himself, Nancy felt it time to shake him off. Her next encounter was more noteworthy. Of a sudden she felt an arm round her waist, and a man, whose breath declared the source of his inspiration, began singing close to her ear the operatic ditty, 'Queen of my Heart.' He had, moreover, a good tenor voice, and belonged, vaguely, to some stratum of educated society.
'I think you had better leave me alone,' said Nancy, looking him severely in the face.
'Well, if you really think so,'--he seemed struck by her manner of speech,--'of course I will: but I'd much rather not.'
'I might find it necessary to speak to a policeman at the next corner.'
'Oh, in that case.'--He raised his hat, and fell aside. And Nancy felt that, after all, the adventure had been amusing.
She was now in Regent Street, and it came to her recollection that she had made an appointment with Luckworth Crewe for nine o'clock. Without any intention of keeping it; but why not do so? Her lively acquaintance would be excellent company for the next hour, until she chose to bring the escapade to an end. And indeed, save by a disagreeable struggle, she could hardly change the direction of her steps. It was probably past nine; Crewe might have got tired of waiting, or have found it impossible to keep a position on the pavement. Drawing near to the top of Regent Street, she hoped he might be there. And there he was, jovially perspiring; he saw her between crowded heads, and crushed through to her side.