Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to be alone), but the most remarkable in the prophesying line was Samson Heavyside. Samson was or rather had been the principal shopkeeper of Chatterford, a small country-town known to our memory as home, in the years when home was precious as a place of friends and holidays; that stood out in brilliant contrast with the cold and tiresome school. Well, we remember it yet; its broad great streets, where a row would have made an era, and a crowd was never known; its old-fashioned brick houses with their narrow windows, and the girls that looked out at them, are all changed since, except in our dreams; its small sober-looking shops, that seemed to our childhood's fancy rich with a wealth we never found in all the world of men; but above all we remember-Samson Heavyside. Politeness would have termed him a rather stout gentleman, for his circumference considerably exceeded his altitude, which was at the best a something below the middle stature; in youth he had been handsome-at least Mrs. Heavyside said so, and we suppose she ought to know; but the period had passed before our recollection, and to us he appeared with a countenance round and rosy as the full rising moon,-poets, forgive the simile; a globular head bald as that of the seer of old, for Time himself had shaven it; and a pair of small blue eyes filled with an unvarying expression of self-satisfaction, for he had grown rich, and was listened to in Chatterford; and he also possessed such a peculiar knack of closing the said windows of his soul against our external world and all its vanities on occasions of high and solemn prediction, that the act served as a signal to his acquaintances, informing them that prophecy on a great scale was about to commence.

Samson had been in business almost from his boyhood, and seemed one of those des.. tined by nature to "have and to hold," as the church service hath it; with knowledge just sufficient to carry on trade in the country; habits that were constitutionally regular and steady; and a mind that never strayed beyond the same narrow circle of commonplace ideas. He had scraped and plodded on in the village where he was born, and though gifted with little energy and less enterprise, had contrived to become the Rothschild of Chatterford, while scores of his contemporaries with better abilities and more prosperous beginnings, were still struggling amid the thousand difficulties which beset fathers of large and respectable families.

Fortune had charmed Samson from all such drains on the purse, for he had no family except what was constituted by himself and Mrs. Heavyside—a thrifty but simpleminded dame, remarkable only for her activity in housekeeping, and an immoveable trust in the prophetic powers of her husband. They had married prudently, though somewhat late in life, yet with a due consideration of each other's worldly possessions; and after saving and managing together for more than twenty years, during which Samson's ability and readiness for prediction increased with every additional hundred that swelled his credit at the bank, Mr. Heavyside at length made up his mind to retire from business to a large house which he had built-to use his own words—“ on purpose for himself," leaving the now empty shop and long brick edifice which he had formerly occupied to a widowed sister with two sons and as many daughters, who managed to keep up a decent appearance by their united industry, and also afforded matter for their uncle's foretelling wisdom when other subjects were scarce in Chatterford. Often were their fortunes declared, and under various aspects, for Samson had now nothing to do but prophesy.

We know not whether it was the weight of unemployed time or the silence of his home, unbroken by the music of young voices, that made the old man's stay within its walls so brief, for his oracles were generally delivered where most of his hours were spent, wind and weather permitting,-at the open door.

Worthy old Samson Heavyside: he rises still to our imagination most prominent of the things that were in Chatterford. We see him in his old accustomed station one sunny morning, clad, or rather rolled up, in black broadcloth-for he was one of those individuals whose garments seem intended as swaddling-bands for themcasting ominous and wrathful glances over the way at the new and handsome window with which his nephews had commenced shop-keeping in the scene of his early sales; and still less gentle looks at the other extremity of the house, where an advertisement-board proclaimed to all concerned the long list of accomplishments taught in the seminary" for young ladies" just opened by the widow's two daughters. "A great change that, Mr. Heavyside," said the apothecary next door, as he stepped out with a warning word to the young apprentice. Now, that's what I

call improvement."

66

Samson answered only by an awful shake of the head, and then, closing his eyes in due form, he proceeded to business.

"Yes, Dr. Smith, no doubt you would call it improvement; but I can tell you that family will be ruined, totally ruined and undone: within the next twelve months a dark deal shutter will cover their nice-trimmed window, and they'll all be in the debtors' prison or somewhere worse, and that's just their deserving. Couldn't them there foolish young men keep the shop as I had it before them? They'll never make as much money, I fancy! And as for the girls, what call had they for a school? Couldn't they wash, and sew, and darn, as their mother did? though they mightn't earn much, it would keep them out of harm's way. There's no standing the pride of young people, doctor; but mind, I tell you it will get a downcome!" Such were Samson's responses; and a year passed over the earth with all its chance and change, and left some traces of its footsteps even on that small community.

Samson stood again at his door on another sweet sunny morning, such as our English summer sheds on the quiet villages. But Chatterford was not then quiet; the bells of the old church were ringing a wild and merry peal, and half the town were moving to the sound with a flutter of white ribbons and muslin, for the widow's eldest daughter was to be married to a young artist, the son of a neighbour, and born to prospects even less brilliant than her own. There had been an early promise between them, which he returned to claim after years of toil in a distant city, where he had won less wealth than reputation, and that day was Mary's wedding. Samson stood forth, but not to join the bridal procession, for he remembered that young Burnell's father made shoes while he sold sugar; therefore he voted the match low, and prophesied against it accordingly.

Out stepped Dr. Smith, again to enjoy the usual gossip, and after him out stepped to the door the young apprentice. Readers, we are above concealing the fact, that apprentice was ourselves; but we had not then assumed the plural, for time had not yet given the royalty of the pen, in which we now rejoice, meagre and circumscribed though it be as that of a German margrave, and put to sad shifts at times to maintain its dignity, especially in the "financial department.”

But let us not speak of those things, for they, and more than they, were foretold to us a thousand times by the prescience of Samson, though we believed in better; and our first sonnet was already written: it was never printed, except in our memory, and the subject thereof was Mary. The doctor opened the session by observing "That it was a fine day, and a very fine wedding." But Samson's eyes were already closed in prophetic fashion. "Yes, doctor," said he, "simple people may imagine

so; but I can tell you it is a most unlucky day for my niece, poor thing; she 'll never live happy; and before a twelvemonth they'll both be in the workhouse, depend upon it, doctor. I know what's to happen, and that will be a just dispensation of Providence on her for disgracing all her relations by marrying a shoemaker's son ; for they are disgraced, though they don't know it, the creatures; and on him, for looking up to my sister's daughter; but they 'll all go to ruin, anyway."

The wedding procession had passed, and we might not follow, though our heart went after it; for we felt we were but an apprentice; yet the old grocer's last observation woke the slumbering soul of chivalry within us, as now, in the world's grey and frosty age, it wakes only in the breast of eighteen; and in spite of the power of his bank stock, in spite of the terrors of Doctor Smith, yea, and the fear of our own mother's lecture, we shouted at the top of our voice-and truly that was no small pitch-pointing at the same time to the still well-painted and better-filled window over the way. "Ha, old boy, you prophesied as bad about the shop and the school this time last year, and there they are both yet!"

Doctor Smith stood dumb with astonishment, all the old people within hearing ran to the doors, and Samson opened his eyes on us in mingled wrath and amazement; but the seer of Chatterford had an original mode of interpreting his own predictions. "You young saucebox,” cried he, in no very gentle tone, advancing, as if with intent to collar; "didn't I say they would all be ruined, except they amended their ways; and so they did, though it warn't much; but they'll all be ruined, anyway, and so will you, you young villain ;" and his eyes closed, “Doctor Smith, that boy will be hanged yet." And Samson withdrew into the sanctity of his own four walls, giving the door a prophetic bang behind him, where he edified Mrs. Heavyside with many an awful disclosure regarding the futurity of the whole town, and ourselves in particular, till both deplored in concert the foreseen misfortunes; for though Samson rarely prophesied anything but evil, there was no malice in his composition, and the only subject of lamentation he and his helpmate had (by the bye, an indispensable article to some people) was found in his own predictions, for they never doubted their fulfilment. We will not linger to relate how Doctor Smith expressed his sense of our merits on the occasion, nor recall the animadversions of our mother, prolonged though they were to a rather late hour that evening; but from that day Samson displayed an unusual interest in our destiny, and his versions concerning it generally vacillated between the gallows and the workhouse.

Years passed away. We had gone forth into the world, and tried our strength amid the strife of men; we had mingled with the crowds of cities; we had learned their lessons; alas! for the knowledge of good and evil is strangely blended; and we had gained some steps, short and slippery though they were, in the highway of fortune; but sufficient to give our words a weight and our opinions an importance unknown to apprentice-doings among the magnates of Chatterford; for we had returned a greater if not a better man; but the tracks of time were deep in that quiet corner: many were altered, and some were missed; for the scythe had been there as well as the sand-glass; but as we sauntered up the street in all our travelled glory to re-visit the scene of our early bondage, in the shop of Doctor Smith our ear was caught by a sound of other days :-" Doctor, depend upon it, I know what 's to happen; the bushrangers will rob them, and the kangaroos will eat them, and they'll never get as much as a Christian funeral; but people will go to their own destruction."

And there stood Samson in the old accustomed station, with his eyes fast closed, prophesying to our former instructor against the intended voyage of his young niece

and nephew, who were bound for the far Australia, Their mother was dead, and their elder brother had married. Mary and her husband (we have forgiven the fellow) were growing rich and prosperous, and the solitary brother and sister hoped to better their fortune in the southern" Land of Promise."

Samson had an old man's dislike of emigration, and had been more than usually liberal of his predictions, having already foretold shipwreck and misfortunes of every possible shape by land and sea; for it was only the conclusion of the vision that reached our ear. But pleasant letters came back from that wandering pair-letters full of hope and prosperity-and both married well in the distant colony. It was thought that Samson showed something very like disappointment at the news; but he prophesied on; and as the march of the world's improvement gradually neared the narrow sphere of his observation, matters of more public import found a place in his revelations. A library was established in Chatterford, and he prophesied against that; people nevertheless read, and the books increased in number. A news-room arose, and Samson foretold its doom. But it prospered, and he was at length caught reading the Queen's speech quietly by its fire. But as the old man's thread of life grew thinner, his predictions took a more alarming turn, and his inherent love of the terrible seemed to strengthen; till at length, on the lighting of Chatterford with gas, he was actually known to run from house to house, warning his neighbours against the catastrophe which must follow, and when no one believed his report, Samson stationed himself as usual at his own door, and made a point of calling in every passer-by to give them private instruction from the depths of his boding vision. We know not what decrees of Fate he made known against the steam-engine and powerlooms, some of which were now established in the neighbourhood, but many of the rising generation openly avowed that Samson was insane, and the men of his own had lost confidence in his foreknowledge, for some of them had grown as rich as himself. But Mrs. Heavyside's faith was still the same, and in her he found a believing listener when all Chatterford failed him.

When we last saw Samson Heavyside he discoursed no longer touching ourselves and the gallows; nay, he seemed to have forgotten or forgiven our early unbelief; age and disease had laid their withering hand upon him, and he could no longer reach the door at which he delighted to prophesy. His trusting partner had gone down to the grave before him; his ear had failed, and his eye grown dim to our earthly sights and sounds; but a word dropped, we know not how, regarding “the railway" then in progress, chanced to reach him, and the slackening cord once more sent forth a prophetic tone. "It will never do," cried he, in a thin voice cracked by age and anger. "It will ruin the world; I know it will, and all connected with it will be ruined; turned to 'stags' every man of them, depend upon it, for I know what's going to happen."

Poor Samson, peace to his prophetic soul! that was the last prediction he ever uttered, and that railway train sweeps past his very grave; but the number of its 'stags' we never counted, though it may be that many of the old man's visions were as certain as the dreams of our early hope or those of all modern prophets.

STRANORLAR, 1846.

THE EYE-WITNESS.

III.-INDIVIDUALITIES OF STATESMEN AND LEGISLATORS.

THE Scotch have a peculiar epithet - "kenspeckle." They apply it to individuals whose face or features, tallness or shortness, leave a vivid impression. A "kenspeckle" man is one whom, having seen once, you will know ever afterwards. He stands out, in your memory, from the whole herd of the human race. Handsome or ugly, there is something in the conformation of his body, in the twitch of his nose, in the cast of his eye, in the manner of his walking, which irresistibly reminds you of himself, and prevents you from confounding him with any other individual.

Certain of our public men are “kenspeckle,” and their forms and features are as familiar to those who have never seen them as to those who have. No country visitant of London, though he came from the farthest north or the remotest west, would be mistaken in detecting in the tall figure, the aquiline nose, the expressive mouth, the determined cast of the countenance, the apparition of His Grace FieldMarshal the Duke of Wellington, conqueror at Waterloo, and Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's forces. Not so markedly, but almost as surely, would be recognised the large bust, the somewhat deficient legs, the "Saxon" look, light-haired and florid, of Sir Robert Peel. Again, as the huge hulk of Mr. O'Connell moves downwards towards the House, every man would say "that's him!" His individuality, like his voice, is so distinctive, that it would be impossible for any one to mistake him. Very much smaller in size, but as peculiar in look, is LORD JOHN RUSSELL. His smallness creates, at first, an idea of insignificance; but on listening to one of his speeches, those especially in which he enunciates great principles, one feels that though the man may not be an orator, in the larger sense, he has a mind and a soul, and we exclaim with the chorus in Henry the Fifth

"model to thy inward greatness,

Like little body with a mighty heart!"

There are other men not so notable, but whose physiognomies are markedly expressive. The "long head" of Sir Thomas Wilde, the foremost of our forensic advocates, and who has ploughed his way upwards from an humble to a high position in life; the full-sized bust and intelligent head of Thomas Wakley, Coroner, and representative for Finsbury; the genteel figure, handsome form, and spirited aspect of his colleague, Mr. Thomas Duncombe; the thin pale cast of the countenance of Mr. Richard Cobden, whose head is generally drooped downwards, as if he were perpetually meditating; the unmistakeable race-proclaiming look of Mr. Disraeli; the burly form of the "Railway King," Mr. Hudson, who talks everything in a strong. Yorkshire dialect; the round, sleek, jolly, good-humoured aspect of Sir Robert Harry Inglis, who makes people feel that "godliness is profitable" even for this life; the fury of Mr. Ferrand, who roars out everything he has got to say in a voice which would awake the "Seven Sleepers ;" the tall form of Mr. Charles Buller, the cleverest man in point of intellect in the existing House of Commons, but who seems almost to have outgrown himself, and to have shot beyond powers and capacities of the

« AnteriorContinuar »