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- Denzil Quarrier - 6/53 -
great questions at issue. What we have to do is to clear away the obvious lies and superstitions that hold a great part of the people in a degrading bondage. Our need is of statesmen who are bold enough and strong enough to cast off the restraints of party, of imbecile fears, of words that answer to no reality, and legislate with honest zeal for the general good. How many men are there in Parliament who represent anything more respectable than the interest of a trade, or a faction, or their own bloated person?"
"This would rouse the echoes in an East-end club," interposed Glazzard, with an air of good-humoured jesting.
"The difference is, my dear fellow, that it is given as an honest opinion in a private dining-room. There's Welwyn-Baker now-- thick-headed old jackass!--what right has _he_ to be sitting in a national assembly? Call himself what he may, it's clearly our business to get rid of _him_. There's something infuriating in the thought that such a man can give his hee-haw for or against a proposal that concerns the nation. His mere existence is a lie!"
"He has hardly progressed with the times," assented Glazzard.
Lilian was listening so attentively that she forgot her dinner.
"I didn't think you cared so much about politics," she remarked, gravely.
"Oh, it comes out now and then. I suppose Glazzard's aesthetic neutrality stirs me up."
"I am neither aesthetic nor neutral," remarked the guest, as if casually.
Lilian, after waiting for a further declaration from Glazzard, which did not come, said, in her soft tones:
"You express yourself so vehemently, Denzil."
"Why not? These are obvious truths. Of course I could speak just as strongly on the Conservative side with regard to many things. I can't say that I have much faith in the capacity or honesty of the mass of Radical voters. If I found myself at one of the clubs of which Glazzard speaks, I should very likely get hooted down as an insolent aristocrat. I don't go in for crazy extremes. There'll never be a Utopia, and it's only a form of lying to set such ideals before the multitude. I believe in the distinction of classes; the only class I would altogether abolish is that of the hungry and the ragged. So long as nature doles out the gift of brains in different proportions, there must exist social subordination. The true Radical is the man who wishes so to order things that no one will be urged by misery to try and get out of the class he is born in."
Glazzard agreed that this was a good way of putting it, and thereupon broached a subject so totally different that politics were finally laid aside.
When Lilian rose and withdrew, the friends remained for several minutes in silence. They lighted cigarettes, and contemplatively watched the smoke. Of a sudden, Quarrier bent forward upon the table.
"You shall have the explanation of this some day," he said, in a low friendly voice, his eyes lighting with a gleam of heartfelt confidence.
"Thanks!" murmured the other.
"Tell me--does she impress you favourably?"
"Very. I am disposed to think highly of her."
Denzil held out his hand, and pressed the one which Glazzard offered in return.
"You cannot think too highly--cannot possibly She has a remarkable character. For one thing, I never knew a girl with such strong sympathies--so large-hearted and compassionate. You heard her remark about the beggars; if she had her own way, she would support a colony of pensioners. Let the sentimentalists say what they like, that isn't a common weakness in women, you know. Her imagination is painfully active; I'm afraid it causes her a great deal of misery. The other day I found her in tears, and what do you think was the reason?--she had been reading in some history about a poor fellow who was persecuted for his religion in Charles the First's time-- some dissenter who got into the grip of Laud, was imprisoned, and then brought to destitution by being forbidden to exercise each calling that he took to in hope of earning bread. The end was, he went mad and died. Lilian was crying over the story; it made her wretched for a whole day."
"Rather morbid, that, I'm afraid."
"I don't know; most of us would be better for a little of such morbidness. You mustn't suppose that fiction would have the same effect on her--not at all. That poor devil (his name, I remember, was Workman) was really and truly hounded to insanity and the grave, and she saw the thing in all its dreadful details. I would rather she had got into a rage about it, as I should--but that isn't her nature."
"Let us hope she could rejoice when Laud was laid by the heels."
"I fear not. I'm afraid she would forget, and make excuses for the blackguard."
Glazzard smiled at the ceiling, and smoked silently. Turning his eyes at length, and seeing Quarrier in a brown study, he contemplated the honest face, then asked:
"How old is she?"
"I should have thought younger."
Nothing more was said of Lilian, and very soon they went to the room where she awaited them.
"I know you are a musician, Mr. Glazzard," said Lilian before long. "Will you let me have the pleasure of hearing you play something?"
"Some enemy hath done this," the guest made reply, looking towards Denzil.
But without further protest he went to the piano and played two or three short pieces. Any one with more technical knowledge than the hearers would have perceived that he was doing his best. As it was, Lilian frequently turned to Denzil with a look of intense delight.
"Glazzard," exclaimed his friend at length, "it puzzles me how such a lazy fellow as you are has managed to do so much in so many directions."
The musician laughed carelessly, and, not deigning any other reply, went to talk with his hostess.
The Polterham Literary Institute was a "hot-bed of Radicalism." For the last year or two this had been generally understood. Originating in the editorial columns of the _Polterham Mercury_, the remark was now a commonplace on the lips of good Conservatives, and the liberals themselves were not unwilling to smile an admission of its truth. At the founding of the Institute no such thing was foreseen; but in 1859 Polterham was hardly conscious of the stirrings of that new life which, in the course of twenty years, was to transform the town. In those days a traveller descending the slope of the Banwell Hills sought out the slim spire of Polterham parish church amid a tract of woodland, mead and tillage; now the site of the thriving little borough was but too distinctly marked by trails of smoke from several gaunt chimneys--that of Messrs. Dimes & Nevison's blanket-factory, that of Quarrier & Son's sugar-refinery, and, higher still (said, indeed, to be one of the tallest chimneys in England), that of Thomas & Liversedge's soap-works. With the character of Polterham itself, the Literary Institute had suffered a noteworthy change. Ostensibly it remained non-political: a library, reading-room and lecture-hall, for the benefit of all the townsfolk; but by a subtle process the executive authority had passed into the hands of new men with new ideas. A mere enumeration of the committee sufficed to frighten away all who held by Church, State, and Mr. Welwyn-Baker: the Institute was no longer an Institute, but a "hot-bed."
How could respectable people make use of a library which admitted works of irreligious and immoral tendency? It was an undoubted fact (the _Mercury_ made it known) that of late there had been added to the catalogue not only the "Essays of David flume" and that notorious book Buckle's "History of Civilization," but even a large collection of the writings of George Sand and Balzac--these latter in the original tongue; for who, indeed, would ever venture to publish an English translation? As for the reading-room, was it not characterization enough to state that two Sunday newspapers, reeking fresh from Fleet Street, regularly appeared on the tables? What possibility of perusing the _Standard_ or the _Spectator_ in such an atmosphere? It was clear that the supporters of law and decency must bestir themselves to establish a new Society. Mr. Mumbray, long prominent in the municipal and political life of the town, had already made the generous offer of a large house at a low rental-- one of the ancient buildings which had been spoilt for family residence by the erection of a mill close by. The revered Member for the borough was willing to start the new library with a gift of one hundred volumes of "sterling literature." With dissolution of Parliament m view, not a day should be lost in establishing this centre of intellectual life for right-thinking inhabitants. It was a strange thing, a very strange thing indeed, that interlopers should have been permitted to oust the wealth and reputability of Polterham from an Institute which ought to have been one of the bulwarks of Conservatism. Laxity in the original constitution, and a spirit of supine confidence, had led to this sad result. It seemed impossible that Polterham could ever fall from its honourable position among the Conservative strongholds of the country; but the times were
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