« PreviousContinue »
THE GAOL CHAPLAIN;
OR, A DARK PAGE FROM LIFE'S VOLUME,
“Caution is the lower story of prudence.”—LORD HALIFAX. None but those who have bent beneath its burden, can estimate the weariness of his task whose office it is to watch over the spiritual improvement of the criminal, and to waste life in devising expedients for arousing and quickening the better feelings of a degraded nature. The many and grievous disappointments which an ardent spirit so circumstanced is compelled to sustain,--the perpetual combat he has to wage with dispositions enslaved, debased, and brutalized by vice, -the undisguised scorn of some, the hopeless indifference of others, —the apathy of most,-tell eventually, with fearful depression, upon a chaplain's efforts and energies. They unnerve, depress, and exhaust him.
This feeling had been mine for many months; and, to be rid of it, I resolved upon a holiday. Held closely and keenly to my ceaseless round of toil by my lay-bishops — the magistrates ; restricted from absence from my prison duties, even for a single day, without their permission; bound to take their pleasure, not only upon the period of my projected holiday, but also upon the substitute whom I purposed should officiate in my stead, my path was sufficiently beset by“ lets and hindrances.” But even temporary freedom was worth a struggle. So I boldly called for the minute-book; entered therein my desire for a fortnight's run; inserted the names of four clergymen, any one of whom would, in the interim, act for me; and left the magistrates to select the party whom they deemed most efficient.
“ A pretty warm discussion this will originate !" was Mr. Croak's remark as I called his attention to the entry, and desired he would submit it to the first visiting magistrate who inspected the prison : "Some lively comments, and truly agreeable personalities will be the upshot of this proposal.”
He was right. The asperities to which my suit gave birth, and the unjust conclusions arrived at during its discussion, were as unexpected as they were marvellous. Five magistrates felt it their duty to take my request into grave consideration.
A fortnight's leave!” cried the chairman, with a well-feigned air of surprise. “Would not a shorter period suffice?".
“ That question I thus answer,”—I spoke bluntly, for my spirit was chafed :-" This is the only request for leave which I have submitted to you for three years past.
“Oh!" returned he carelessly, “ I merely threw out the remark by way of suggestion. I take no cognizance of the past : I have to deal simply with the present. Now, as to your substitute : Mr. Hicks, curate of Greybeach, is the first name on the list. Is there any objection "_and he turned towards his colleagues" to this reve. rend gentleman?"
“An insurmountable one on my part,” said Mr. Cumberstone with energy,“ he is not sound.”
“Pardon me !" I interrupted, completely mistaking the drift of this remark; “Mr. Hicks is a man in the full vigour of life, and his health is excellent.”
“I am alluding, sir,” said Mr. Cumberstone, with a look of grave rebuke, “to his professional, not to his physical health. He is not sound in his religious creed. I am credibly informed that he has very strong doubts upon the Twenty-second Article.”
«Oh! dear! dear!” said Sir Henry Pettinger. “This is sad ! very sad, indeed! Pass him over by all means.
Read the next name."
“Mr. Leaver-the lecturer of Littletown.”
“A Calvinist !" cried Mr. Wapshott; "a decided Calvinist; I know it for a fact.”
"I for one," observed Mr. Cumberstone, with dignified solemnity, “ will never permit a Calvinist to preach within the walls of this crowded gaol.”
“He would play the very deuce with us,” remarked Sir Henry; “he would tell the prisoners they couldn't help being the villains they are ; that they must rob, and forge, and kill, and poach, whether they wonld or no. Bless my soul and body that will never do! Run your pen through his name, and announce the next.”
“Mr. Rumph, of Nymsbury.”
“What, for treason?” cried Sir Henry, starting wildly to his legs ; “something in the Despard and Thistlewood line, eh? Why, I thought fellows in their predicament were not allowed to go abroad? Shameful! Shameful! "What can Mr. Cleaver be thinking of? Where is he? I'll have an explanation."
“ Tainted," was the word I used said the chairman, repeating the term with emphasis; “ tainted with radicalism.”
Oh! oh! I understand,” said the baronet. “No matter! The same disease in a milder form. Cut him decidedly. The next man.”
“Mr. Mears of Hunchburn." “Voice too weak for the gaol, and principles too mild,” exclaimed Mr. Wapshott. “We want a daring preacher; some one who will tell these outcasts boldly what they are, and where they 're going to; that they are earning the worst of wages, and will soon be paid off in full.”
“Mr. Mears, then, we are all agreed, is inadmissible,” struck in the chairman, mercilessly curtailing Mr. Whapshott's homily.
“ Yes, yes!” was the response.
“There is no other; we've exhausted the list. Mr. Cleaver"continued the chairman—“have you any further proposition to make, or any fresh name to suggest ?"
“I have very slight encouragement so to do,” was my somewhat piqued reply; but I will hazard the mention of a fifth clergyman, -MIr. Osterly of Prattlestream, a mild, retiring, guileless man, to whom, I trust, there can be no objection."
“Mr. Osterly! Ah! yes! an inoffensive kind of being; never heard anything to his disadvantage that I can remember," said Mr. Whapshott musingly.
“Mr. Osterly, eh! I've some faint idea-some odd, some curious association connected with the name-yes ! yes! I'm right. Our neighbour, Lord Eastrington, has a decided aversion to him.”
"If,” was my reply, and I addressed it pointedly to the last speaker, who was Sir Henry, "every gentleman whom I propose as my temporary substitute be objected to; if I am to be in reality a prisoner, though nominally a chaplain; one course, and but one, is open to me. I must tender my resignation.”
“Don't !-Don't do anything of the kind !” rejoined Sir Henry, “ You have no idea of the trouble it would occasion us. We should have applications, and testimonials, and canvassing, and all that sort of thing, which is abominably annoying." He looked round, and continued, “No objection, I presume, gentlemen, to Mr. Osterly as a substitute pro tempore? None! Ah! I thought so. Pray enter his name in the minute-book. That makes the arrangement formal. I have said the worst I know of him. You will remember,should that point ever be mooted,—that I distinctly told you our neighbour, Lord Eastrington, had the greatest possible objection to him!”
THE MORAL PEER.
“ No man is so insiguificant as to be sure his example can do no hurt."
LORD CLARENDON. LORD EASTRINGTON was a noble of considerable notoriety and undoubted influence. He was a formidable foe; for he was rich and unscrupulous. He was a valueless friend; for he was essentially selfish. No man cared less for the reverses of those with whom he had been in habits of familiar intercourse; or more rapidly erased the fallen, the struggling, or the disappointed, from his remembrance. According to his political creed his sympathies should have been with the people; but no man viewed with greater harshness the failings of the peasant, or fell in more readily with the notion that a poor man ought to be a perfect character! The strictness with which the game on his richly-cultivated domain was preserved, the suspicion with which all intruders were scanned, and the severity with which all trespassers were warned, contrasted oddly enough with his public avowals that “the poor had certain rights, and that those rights ought to be secured to them." Rights! What rights? Woe to the unhappy farmer's son who was found lurking near his preserves ! Woe to the luckless farmer's boy who was detected, sack in hand, gathering up the acorns which had dropped from the Eastrington oaks! Woe to the thoughtless lad or lassie who, on an autumn morning, diverged from the main road to gather a handful of nuts within his lordship’s tempting coppice! The pains and penalties of the law dogged their heels, and the portals of the county prison yawned to receive them. Their case, in truth, was desperate. From his lordship it was visionary to expect forbearance. He viewed all these delinquencies as grave offences: and, on their coming to his knowledge, was wont to exclaim, with kindling eye and angry frown,
“What an immoral people we are rapidly becoming! Old English honesty is gone. The feeling of sturdy independence and strict integrity which once distinguished the English peasant may be now sought in vain. The rights of property are daily more and more forgotten by the lower classes. A frightful state of things is approach. ing. What a grossly—what a deplorably immoral people we are insensibly becoming! John,-apply at once for a summons against these vicious people, and teach them a lesson !”
What his lordship’s notions of morality really were, horribly perplexed divers of his dependents. The lady who presided over the domestic arrangements of “The Chauntry” was another man's wife. Beautiful, accomplished, lady-like in manner, and abounding in conversational tact, she did the honours of his lordship’s table to his bachelor friends with an ease and self-possession that startled even the knowing ones. But his wife she was not ! And yet Lord Eastrington--if a few pheasants disappeared from his woods, or a few peaches from his walls
would work himself up into a towering passion, and inveigh against “the want of morality—the abominable and increasing want of morality among the lower orders !"
Vivacious Lord Eastrington! it was quite clear he was a stranger to “Paley on the Moral Sense!”
And yet in his own opinion a greater benefactor to his country never existed. “What would become of this district,” was his selfcomplacent inquiry, “ but for myself, and my determination to uphold the game-laws? Those laws, I contend, form one of the most judicious portions of our legal enactments. Their beneficial operation on the lower classes of the community,-calmly considered, -is amazing. Take my own case. Observe the many mouths I feed, and the many backs I clothe, and the many pockets I fill, because I am resolved that the game on the Eastrington estate shall be strictly and efficiently preserved. My keepers, under-keepers, watchers, helps, and scouts, form a band exceeding fifty persons. Where would these men find bread but for me? Who, I should like to know, keeps them from the workhouse but myself? Whose purse enables them to bring up their families in unquestionable comfort ? Mine. Who is it that lightens the poor-rates of each of the surrounding parishes, by finding constant employment for these fifty individuals ? – I do. Another point. Calculate the benefit conferred on the petty tradesmen of this district by the weekly expenditure amongst them of the wages of these fifty individuals. And whence do these results—all of them beneficial—emanate ? From my inflexible determination that game shall be found—and found in abundance--in the Eastrington covers. I hold then, that the game-laws are a positive blessing to the working community; and that he deserves well of his fellow-men who enforces their observance to the utmost possible extent'!"
The neighbouring magistrates, wearied to death with adjudicating on game informations laid ever and anon by Lord Eastrington's keepers ; the tenant-farmers, groaning under the expense of supporting by poor-rates the wives and families of those unhappy men who were imprisoned for poaching on the noble lord's manors,—would have come to a very opposite conclusion: but let that pass.
To the parish of Gareham-blessed by this sporting lord's residence and example - Mr. Osterly was appointed curate.
His nomination was in every way satisfactory to the great landowner. The curate's habits were understood to be quiet and studious. He had
nothing, it was averred, of the sportsman about him—took out no licence—never shot_kept no dogs-never coursed. All points had been well considered ; and my lord graciously intimated to Dr. Pokes, the rector, his opinion that in his selection of Mr. Osterly for his curate, the doctor had been, as usual, most judicious. But the feeling of satisfaction was unhappily not mutual. Mr. Osterly was disgusted with the domestic arrangements at “The Chauntry," and very early came to the conclusion that he would never accept the hospitalities there proffered him, while those hospitalities were dispensed by Mrs. Vandeleur. His determination was soon tested. An invitation to dinner arrived from “The Chauntry.” It was declined. Another: that was waived also. A third: this too was met by a courteous refusal. He was then apprised that Lord Eastrington made a point of paying pointed attention to the officiating clergyman of his parish; and was desired to fix his own day.” Evasion was now impossible ; he submitted : a day was named ; and, with anything but pleasant feelings, he awaited its arrival. His reception at“ The Chauntry” was dignified and cordial. Its noble owner expressed much pleasure at seeing his clergyman at last within his walls. A small party,—the majority sporting men,-was assembled; and, in the centre of a group, laughing and talking with all the gaiety imaginable, was Mrs. Vandeleur. The curate thought-at least he felt that there was but one course for him to pursue. There and thus he could not “ sit down to meat.” A few moments for reflection were all he could command. But these sufficed to tell him that the servant of the Sanctuary should not tolerate shameless sin. Before dinner was announced he seized an opportunity of accosting Lord Eastrington, and begging permission to withdraw. His lordship, many eyes were fixed on them during their brief interview,- was startled, and looked uneasy, but no word or gesture indicative of annoyance escaped him.
“He was sorry,”—he spoke calmly,--"very sorry to lose the advantage of Mr. Osterly's society ; but he would not ask the reason of this sudden change of determination ; nor would he seek, for one moment, to detain him.”
The clergyman bowed, and withdrew; and in so doing, virtually from the parish!
Lord Eastrington ceased to attend church. He declared he “could no longer do so with comfort.” His household followed his example, This was only the beginning of sorrows. The land-steward gave the tenantry a private hint that his lordship was quite indifferent about their attending divine service at present. The hint was understood and taken. The church was speedily emptied. It was in vain that Mr. Osterly redoubled his efforts ; and communed earnestly with his own heart, as to the points in which his ministry was faulty; and how its defects could be remedied. A hostile agency was at work, which met him in all directions—an agency powerful, subtle, and sleepless—an agency bent on his overthrow. The middle classes no longer seemed to welcome him into their houses. His visits were apparently dreaded. A brand was on his brow. He was obnoxious to their lord ; and sooner or later his dismissal was certain. Even the poor seemed to listen to him less confidingly and cheerfully. He was spell-bound. An evil eye was upon him. His church desertedhis personal influence crippled his ministry paralysed. Start not,