Long Odds

Chapter XXXIII

“There is a Providence That Shapes Our Ends”

Marcus Clarke

MR. SAVILLE CHATTERIS was rejoiced at his son’s return to the paths of virtue. The old diplomat began to dream of future glories, of seats in parliament, of snug “places,” and fat pensions. The neighbouring borough of Kirkminster—vacant by the death of Wheales’s colleague—was open, so he thought, to his son. Kirkminster was a cathedral and a garrison town, and, therefore, aristocratic; but it was also a “pottery” town, and, therefore, democratic. The city was divided against itself. The town proper was dull and conservative; the town improper was lively and radical. In the quiet, old-fashioned heavy-mullioned houses that drowsed under the shade of the Minster, lived the haute noblesse of the place. The quantity of clerical dignitaries, that clustered like bees around the cathedral hive, was enormous. Scarcely less great was the crowd of pious spinsters, and remnants of ancient families, waifs and strays of Burke and Debrett, washings from the cask of blue blood imported at the Conquest, who vegetated like fungi in the quiet lanes and alleys that intersected the Cathedral Close. Lying as it did, obscured by buildings, and flanked by quaint gardens and mysterious cloisters, the cathedral itself seemed like a pieuvre, stretching out its long arms in every direction. You could not take two lingual steps in the Old Town without treading upon some sensitive ecclesiastical tentacle, that seized you with resistless grip instantly. Everybody seemed to be connected mysteriously with the great inert mass that lay in the Cathedral Close. The deans, and what not, hung on like leeches to the monstrous wen, and were not to be torn from their hold, save by the administration of the strongest savouring episcopal salt that could be scraped together. In the dark lanes and alleys lived antiquated and faded persons, who had lived for years upon the crumbs from the table of the church. Even Miss Flittering, the little stay maker, who lived behind a corsage and glass case, owned a brother who, when he was not robbing nests or breaking windows, was a chorister, with the most angelic of voices and the whitest of surplices. The interests of the Old Town were bound up with those of the cathedral, and the interests of the cathedral were Conservative in the most mummyfying sense of the word.

But in the New Town the case was widely different. There, a king had arisen who knew not the Joseph of Vested Rights. Some twenty years before, an intelligent person from Staffordshire discovered that the Loamshire clay was remarkably well adapted for the making of pots, and, by dint of industry and perseverance, established a pottery four miles from the sacred circle of county and cathedral domesticity. The pottery trade being a profitable one, this ingenious person from Stafford flourished, and at the time of which I am writing, was one of the wealthiest men in the shire. The “potteries,” were the great thorn in the side of Kirminsterian flesh. The pottery hands were vulgar, not to say noisy and violent. They were free livers, free speakers, and for the most part, free thinkers. They would not come into the fold of the cathedral at any price. In vain did the Dean and Chapter pipe, these unhappy persons sedulously refused to dance to any but the most secular of secular tunes. The men drank beer and smoked, and swore and fought, to their hearts’ content; the women saved their husbands’ earnings if they could, and the girls wore bright ribbons, and admired the “military.” The “military” was the bond between the Old and New Town. The barracks were just half way from the hill that led from the cathedral to the Potteries; and, while the officers were whirling the daughters of the righteous to the dulcet music of Coote, the soldiers were drinking pots of heavy at the Flying Wheel or the Workman’s Arms, or disporting themselves in the brightly lighted dancing halls of the New Town. Indeed, if the truth were told, the little “parties,” and quiet “at homes” of the Dean and Chapter were often deserted for the more exciting, if less elevating, pleasures of the Royal Kirkminster Theatre, or the New Town Singing Saloon. The —th was not a moral regiment—indeed, it could scarcely be expected to be so, with Brentwood for its colonel—and Ponsonby and Hetherington, together with other dashing fellows, and ‘Queen’s hard bargains’ were better known by the pottery folks than they themselves would care to confess.

This was the borough, then, which Saville Chatteris wished his son to contest, and to contest against no less a person than the mighty Wheales himself. At present, the prevailing political tone in Kirkminster was morbidly reformatory. Wheales, barrister-at-law and mouth orator generally, had defeated Sir Thomas Blunderbore by an overwhelming majority, and was carried triumphantly into Parliament upon the shoulders of the mob. But rumours were afloat to the effect that in the ensuing election Wheales would be worsted; that the wind-bags of that mighty Agitator had suddenly collapsed, and the Potteries were disgusted at the shallowness of their representative. Still the old hatred of the Blunderborian type of candidate would not suffer them to elect the Lord of the Beeches, and the wily diplomatist hoped that Master Cyril would slip in, sandwich-wise, between the two opposing forces. “My name will carry the gentry and the tenantry, and his own Radical nonsense will go down with the Potteries. He shall go in on moderate liberal principles, and his connection with the papers will, perhaps, do him more good than harm.”

When the subject was broached to Cyril, he felt rather terrified at the prospect.

“Contest Kirkminster with Wheales! My dear father, it would be madness.”

“Nothing of the kind, sir,” returned Saville. “It is always good policy to fly high at first. If you succeed, people will consider you a very clever fellow, and if you fail, they will call you either ‘plucky’ or ‘presumptuous;’—for a young man, either phase is complimentary in political life.”

“But the expense?”

“Never mind the expense. The result of a success will amply repay outlay. Will you consent to stand?”

“Oh, I consent, of course,” said Cyril, who would have consented to take the post of Past Grand Master at a Masonic dinner had his father asked it. So Kate was duly told of the approaching struggle, and pretended to be much interested in blue books, and to know all about the state of the laws regarding Church Property.

Dacre sending down news of the New Party, Saville suggested that his son should go up to town, see Dacre, gather from him the plans of the forthcoming struggle, and proclaim himself an ally of the Mediating faction. This suited Cyril to a nicety. He would go up to town, see Dacre, quiet his wife, then return to his love once more.

So he went up with Hetherington, who said that he had received a mysterious note from Jack Ponsonby, concerning “Calverly’s horse, you know;” and of which it behoved him, Hetherington, to take immediate cognisance.

When they reached town it was seven o’clock in the evening. Cyril drove straight to Brooke-street, and Hetherington, who knew the improbability of meeting the Hon. John after four in the afternoon, went with him, “to look up old Rupert.”

“Old Rupert,” unfortunately, was not at home. The grave Harris informed the two gentlemen that Mr. Dacre had just gone out, and “h’ordered the cab to be at the Isthmian Theayter at a quarter h’after eleven.”

“By Jove!” says Hetherington. “Good idea, Chatty! There’s a new burlesque or something, I saw in the papers. Let’s go!”

So they went.

Long Odds - Contents    |     Chapter XXXIV - A Duet and a Solo

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