Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 749, May 4, 1878

CHAMBERS’S JOURNAL
OF
POPULAR
LITERATURE, SCIENCE, AND ART.

CONTENTS

THE POWER OF DRAW.
HELENA, LADY HARROGATE.
NOTHING NEW.
AN INSURANCE TALE.
THE PRAIRIES AND THEIR INHABITANTS.
ROBBERY OF AN EXPRESS TRAIN.
POPULAR ERRORS REGARDING THE SHREW-MOUSE.
FLOATING-LIGHTS.



No. 749.

Price 1½d.

SATURDAY, MAY 4, 1878.


THE POWER OF DRAW.

We have on several occasions called attention to the Power of Draw. It is a force which for good as well as for evil pervades the whole social system. Every centre of industry exerts this attractive force by drawing to it large numbers of persons for the sake of employment, and so far the Draw acts beneficially. All our large towns are in no small degree made up of individuals who have drifted thither in the hope of exercising their abilities for their own and the public advantage. This is exactly as it should be. The world is open to everybody. It is only a truism to say that by the Power of Draw the uttermost ends of the earth are peopled.

Unfortunately, this subtle power in its pervading energy is not limited to the industrious and well-disposed. It is acutely demonstrated by all who are looking about for the means of indulging in a life of idleness at the cost of others. The disposition to abstain from useful labour and to depend less or more on gratuitous benefactions, has been largely encouraged by mistaken views of what is ordinarily called charity. The poor—no matter how they happen to be poor—have been extolled as if they were superior beings, to whom all must contribute as one of the noblest of virtues. With perverted notions of this kind, society has for ages done everything in its power to consecrate and encourage poverty, and no wonder it has attained to stupendous dimensions. Early injunctions to give all to the poor were followed by the piously inconsiderate and wide-sweeping benefactions of the monasteries. These in their turn were followed by the statutory obligations of the poor-laws. And now there is superadded a system of voluntary contribution so extensive and varied as to dominate the soundest principles of political economy, and which in its general working amounts to a kind of communism. By every large city, arrangements are organised to succour every human need and infirmity. Those who do not find it agreeable to work will be fed—the feeding, perhaps, not being what all would like, but pretty well as a make-shift. For every species of ailment, from a broken leg to diseased lungs, there is adequate provision. The cultivation of thrift and self-respect not to be thought of. Bad as things seem to have been in the palmy days of the monasteries, they are now in some quarters ten times worse. While one set of people are slaving between death and life, another set, determined to take their ease, keep hovering on the verge of that agreeable category the poor, and so contrive to lead a jolly sort of existence.

Not that the so-called poor profess to be pure idlers. For decency’s sake, they occasionally work a little, and enjoy the commiseration of suffering from the severity of winter, or from the commercial depression arising from ‘bad times.’ On such occasions the Power of Draw increases in intensity; and now are offered favourable opportunities for tender-hearted individuals to take a lead in establishing soup-kitchens, or benefactions thought to be equally creditable. It is melancholy to consider how at times like these, so little real good is done in comparison with the amount of harm. We see, more particularly as regards the young, the degree of suffering that is presently assuaged, but take no account of the mischief incurred by adding to the general demoralisation. While philanthropists are fondly imagining that they are doing much good, they are very probably adding fresh accumulations to the already overgrown mass of misery and crime. Not more surely do hens run to the heap, than do the thriftless and semi-pauperised instinctively flock towards places where there is an inconsiderately lavish distribution of charity. We never hear of a soup-kitchen being set up, under however careful an administration, without saying: ‘There goes a distinct increase to the Power of Draw.’

The injury done by systems of profuse charity has been frequently pointed out, but we have seen nothing so effective and convincing on the subject as a paper read by Mr Brace at the American Social Science Congress of May 1874, of which a copious abstract is given by a correspondent in The Times, of January 24, in the{274} present year. We think it may serve a good purpose to present our readers with a few facts from this interesting paper.

Referring to a serious depression in trade which threw large numbers of persons out of work in New York, plans were devised for giving temporary support to the necessitous; the result being that an encouragement was held out to idleness and improvidence. ‘The experience of New York in 1857’ (says Mr Brace), ‘and of Boston and other cities since that date, proves that the soup-kitchen charity only creates pauperism. Despite the warning of the experienced, soup-kitchens and free lodgings were opened by public and private means, with the utmost liberality, in various portions of New York last winter, and enormous sums were contributed by private citizens for these popular benefactions. Before the winter was over, however, most of those engaged in them regretted, without doubt, that they had ever taken part in these kindly but mistaken charities. The reports of competent observers shew what were their effects. The announcement of the intended opening of these and kindred charities immediately called into the city the floating vagrants, beggars, and paupers who wander from village to village throughout the state. The streets of New York became thronged with this ragged, needy crowd; they filled all the station-houses and lodging-places provided by private charity, and overflowed into the island almshouses. Street-begging to the point of importunity became a custom. Ladies were robbed even on their own door-steps by these mendicants. Petty offences such as thieving and drunkenness increased. One of the free lodgings in the upper part of the city established by the Commissioners of Charities became a public nuisance from its rowdyism and criminality.

Nor would these paupers work. On one occasion, the almshouse authorities were discharging a band of able-bodied paupers, and having need of some light outdoor labour on the island, they offered these men what is thought good country wages—that is, fifteen dollars a month and board. They unanimously refused, preferring the free lodgings and free lunches of the city.’ Then, he adds, came the attractive power—the Power of Draw. ‘Tramps came hurrying to the feast of charity, honest and hard-working labouring men from every part of the neighbouring country. Farms in the state of New York were left stripped of labourers, though the farmers offered good wages. Working-men came from as far away as Pittsburg and Boston, partly, no doubt, to see the sights of New York, but hoping also for aid from public and private charities. In some cases, young men were arrested in criminal houses, who made their headquarters in these soup-kitchens or relief-houses, and then sallied out to enjoy the criminal indulgences of the city.

The pauperising influences, however, of this indiscriminate charity reached beyond these classes. Poor families abandoned steady industry, got their meals at the soup-kitchens, and spent the day in going from one charitable organisation to another. Those experienced with this class report that such people acquire a “Micawber” habit of depending on chances, and seldom return to constant work again. Instances were known of families taking their meals from the Relief Association and spending the money set aside for this daily in liquor, so that, in the poorest quarters the liquor-trade was never so prosperous. A singular effect was also produced on the class of homeless girls. Many avoided the houses where charity was connected with work, and obtained their meals at the free-lunch places, and then lodged in the low cheap lodging-houses, where their habits were uncontrolled and they could wander the streets at night. Many were thus enticed into ruin.

But another class now felt the pauperising influence of this charity, one which had never stooped to public alms before, the mechanics and artisans. These were not driven by the severest poverty. They had been in receipt of good wages, and had much money laid up in the savings-banks. They contributed through the winter large sums to various strikes and labour unions. The best proof that they were not pressed by poverty is that never once did they lower their demand for wages in any branch of industry. The most ignorant job-work, as for instance a man’s labour in moving, was fifty cents an hour. Few would even clean snow from a side-walk or cut or saw wood or carry burdens for less than at the rate of two to two and a half dollars per diem. Mechanics still demanded from three to five dollars per diem. It was notorious that important trades, such as the building-trade, were at a standstill on account of high wages, and that the employing class could not afford to pay such high rates. Yet no wages came down. Labour was in struggle with capital against a lowering of prices. Charity assisted labour in the combat. The soup-kitchens and relief associations of various names became thronged with mechanics. Some of the best working-men in the city ate and lodged at the public expense. Thousands of able-bodied artisans, young and skilful, were fed by alms. The idleness and dependence injured many among them irretrievably. The whole settlement of the labour question was postponed by the over-generous charity of the city, and spring came upon the mechanical class without a revival of trade, which might have come if misguided kindness had not supported them in this struggle.

These benevolent institutions also interfered with many kinds of legitimate business. Thus in one ward, the eleventh, a number of small eating-house keepers, who had made an honest living by their occupation, were almost thrown into bankruptcy by the competition of certain soup-kitchens established by religious associations. A similar thing occurred in other wards. In one district also, a keeper of a laundry who had ten or twelve girls in his employment at good wages, found himself stripped of his help in the midst of the winter, these women preferring to live for nothing in the free lodgings. He accordingly was compelled to{275} advertise for help, but without success, and was ultimately obliged to close his laundry.

It had been expected that this industrial crisis would bring down the wages of female servants, since these had remained at a high rate, though all other prices had fallen. The superintendent of the Free Labour Bureau, however, stated that during all this distress, the poor girls who came to his office could not be induced to take situations for less than from fourteen to twenty dollars per month, and said that they preferred to live at the charitable institutions until they could get such wages as they chose. It is well known that the wages of female labour have been as high this winter as at any time since the war. One of the free dormitories for women was, in fact, broken up by its coming to the knowledge of the directresses that a lady on one occasion offered each lodger a situation in a good family at ten dollars per month, and not one of these “victims of poverty” could be found who would accept the place on the terms.’

One way and another an injury was done through these pauperising influences which is even now scarcely remedied. The drawing of large numbers into the vortex of charity was in all respects inexcusable; for if the heedlessly benevolent had let matters alone, the more necessitous would have found remunerative work in quarters where labour was specially in demand. It should never be forgotten that there is a principle of readjustment in labour which tends to cure local disorganisations. What philanthropists have to do on pressing occasions like those mentioned is to interpose no distracting element, such as the temptation of free soup-kitchens, and to facilitate removal to spots where industry can be advantageously exercised.

In all the large cities in Great Britain we are acquainted with, there are antiquated semi-ruinous buildings in the alleys behind the main thoroughfares, which were at one time occupied by the affluent classes, but are now sunk to the condition of resorts for the idle, the drunken, and the dissolute, who habitually prey on society, and are a torment to the public authorities. Attempts to root out these dens of infamy and disease encounter a resolute opposition from those who from usurious motives have become the proprietors of such places, and more especially does opposition come from ratepayers who are shocked at the prospect of paying some trifle annually in the shape of an improvement tax. Antiquaries who have a morbid fancy for old houses which will scarcely hold together, and are as dark and unwholesome as dungeons, also have their howl. So that it is usually no easy matter to procure legislative authority to put our towns generally on a decent footing.

Let it be specially noted that narrow dingy lanes are the centres of nearly all that is degrading in towns whether large or small. The idle and dissolute do not approve of living in the face of day. They prefer to nestle in groups behind-backs, as being there less likely to incur observation. It is consistent with all experience that just as a town abounds in narrow lanes, it abounds in pauperism and every species of iniquity. Clear away your lanes, and you correspondingly lessen the number of the dangerous classes. Every town, of course, must have dwellings suitable for the less affluent in the community, but in some way or other let all come to the front. In England, the behind-backs ‘slums’ we speak of are known as courts, in Scotland they are called closes; but whatever be their generic designation, they are a nuisance and a scandal, for they draw towards them, by under-currents of intelligence, the dregs of the population from all parts of the United Kingdom. Obviously, the attraction is intensified by the succours of one sort or other offered by public charities. What with holes and corners to creep into out of sight, and with the chance of coming in for a share of profuse benevolences, the Draw is complete.

A number of years ago, when at the head of a city municipality, we made a fair attempt, by legislative measures, to sweep away the worst class of closes, substituting for them open thoroughfares, and likewise endeavoured to put the public charities on a reasonably comprehensive footing. The degree of success was moderate. From the prevalence of narrow views, the ‘Improvement Act’ was so materially restricted as to convey the impression that, by ordinary forms of procedure, in which loquacious and popularity hunting agitators have their say, the improvement of towns on a scale consistent with enlarged principles of sanitary and social economy is barely practicable. In vain you say of any special improvement that it would clear away the haunts of the disreputable, and at the same time lower the mortality to the extent of eight or ten per thousand annually. What is a lowering of the death-rate in comparison with the obligation to pay an additional rate of a penny per pound? Let things alone. The inertia of systematic obstruction accordingly prevails.

Curiously enough, as we speedily discovered, there are vested interests in charities. Each species of benevolence possesses an administrative organisation of chairmen, secretaries, collectors, and so forth, who with an affection for use and wont, do not readily perceive how there can be any advantage in a combination of distributive bodies. If you throw twelve separate charities into one, the officials connected with the eleven that are set aside will necessarily suffer extinction. There is a more cogent argument. Twelve collectors, each with his separate book, have a better chance of screwing money from householders than one solitary collector. Besides, there are peculiar fancies to be operated on. Some will contribute to Dispensaries, who could not be wheedled into subscribing for the support of a Soup-kitchen or the distribution of coals. Collectors, like sportsmen, know the bird they can bring down. In these circumstances, all that came out of our poor effort at combining charities was the establishment of another administrative body with the function of being a check on all descriptions of applicants. That this ‘Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor,’ has done some good by arresting promiscuous charity, is we believe generally allowed. On a similar plan there has been established in the metropolis, a ‘Society for organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity,’ which we understand is working advantageously. It is indeed chiefly by the rigid scrutiny which is so organised, that the deserving poor can be properly aided and the worthless repressed. On the public at large, however, rests the responsibility of ridding{276} towns of their hosts of roughs and on-hangers; for so long as mean haunts in obscure courts and closes are suffered to exist, and while people indiscriminately yield to importunities, so long will be freely exercised the Power of Draw.

W. C.


HELENA, LADY HARROGATE.

CHAPTER XXIV.—A NEIGHBOURLY VISIT.

Jasper, as he walked with dawdling gait back to the morning-room—the ex-cavalry officer always did dawdle, except in the hunting-field or when race-horses were thundering past the judge’s chair—felt what in his case did duty for brains to be in a dizzy whirl. He could not grapple with the mystery which seemed to have chosen Carbery Chase for its headquarters. The captain was by no means, as has been said, one of those guileless youths, if such there be, who are slow to think evil. Shew him a plain, intelligible, sordid motive, and no one could be quicker in descrying it, no matter how fair a pretence of decorous honour might be kept up. But this was beyond him. ‘No kith or kin of mine after all!’ he muttered as he made his way along the thickly carpeted corridor. ‘I must have been wrong, absurdly wrong all the time. But why my father should press me so hard on this subject no fellow could understand. He’s in earnest though, about desiring the match.’

As he spoke he laid his grasp on the handle of the door of the morning-room, turned it, and entering, found with a complacent smile, that Ruth Willis was alone. Captain Denzil was on sufficiently good terms with himself, but even coxcombs are glad of the confirmatory suffrages of others; and Jasper felt as though he were under a sort of obligation to the baronet’s ward for having paid him the compliment of falling in love with him.

‘I thought,’ said Jasper, as if to apologise for his presence in that pretty room, where a man seemed incongruous with the surroundings, ‘that my sisters were here.’

‘Shall I call them?’ asked Ruth, with that sweet hypocrisy which girls only can exhibit, and half-rising from the tiny work-table as she spoke.

‘Pray don’t. I have nothing on earth to say to them, or indeed to anybody,’ said Jasper. ‘Life drags at Carbery like wheels on a mud-plastered road. Don’t you find it so too, Miss Willis?’

‘Indeed I do not,’ answered the Indian orphan, taking up the cudgels gracefully in defence of her guardian’s home. ‘I should be very ungrateful if I did. It is not every day that a lonely little thing like myself is taken into the house of a kind dear family of new-old friends, who cherish and protect, and pet and spoil her, as your good father and sisters have done, Captain Denzil, to poor little Ruth Willis.’

She said this so well, did Ruth, in a voice that was slightly tremulous and with eyes that swam in tears, that Jasper was for the moment fairly taken in. There was uncommonly little sentiment in his own composition, but such men as he was, still like women to be softer-hearted than themselves, and then Miss Willis looked very pretty and delicate and helpless as she glanced up at him from under the screen of her dark eyelashes.

‘I can’t stand it, indeed I can’t, if you cry, Miss Willis!’ he said, drawing a chair up to the tiny work-table. ‘You have found me a sad bore and a sad plague, I am afraid, since I was stupid enough to do this at Pebworth races.’

As he spoke he looked down at his arm, which still reposed in its silken sling, and assumed a melancholy air, although in truth he felt all but well again. Ruth, from beneath her eyelashes, scanned him more narrowly than he was aware of.

‘Is he amusing himself at my expense?’ thus ran her quick thoughts. ‘Or has he been applying thus early in the day to the cherry-brandy in his hunting-flask, or the contents of the decanters? No; he seems sober, and civil too. This is a puzzle.’

Miss Willis was justified in her perplexity, for this attention on Jasper’s part was something new. The captain was not one of those men, of whom there are no lack, who in a country-house flirt to pass the time away, as naturally and with as little ulterior design as they smoke a cigar during their early stroll about the stables or the Home Farm. He had accepted, as an Eastern despot accepts the homage of his courtiers, fifty petty kindnesses at Ruth’s hands during his illness, and had preferred her company to that of Lucy and Blanche simply because she was cleverer than they, and had the tact not to weary him.

‘I was sorry to see you so much in pain, Captain Denzil, and glad when I could be of any use,’ answered Ruth, plying her needle with that demure industry which can be intermitted or resumed with such skilful effect in the course of a conversation.

‘Yes; and I was bear enough never to thank you, Miss Ruth. May I call you Ruth?’ said Jasper, as he bent forward and took the girl’s slender little hand in his. It was the first time that he had ever touched the hand of Miss Willis, save in the ceremonial salute with which members of a household meet for the day or part for the night.

‘I like to be called Ruth by my friends,’ returned the baronet’s ward. ‘Dear Blanche and Lucy always call me by my Christian name, and that pleases me, for I think it proves that they do not any longer regard me as a stranger. And that is much to me.’

There was a sweet simplicity, a touching pathos in Ruth’s tone not wholly thrown away on Jasper. He could not quite distinguish whether or not she were playing a part; but if this were acting, he owned that it was, of its kind, excellent.

‘I hope you count me among your friends?’ he said, still keeping captive the little hand that he held.

‘I shall be very pleased to do so,’ returned Ruth, with a downward droop of her silken eyelashes.

‘I wish I did know how to please you. It’s a lesson I should like to learn,’ said the captain, with a warmth that surprised himself; but before Miss Willis could return an appropriate answer, the door opened so quickly that she had barely time to snatch away her hand from Jasper’s grasp before his two sisters were in the room. Blanche Denzil had an open note in her hand, and both girls wore an expression more animated than usual. Lucy was the first to speak.

{277}

‘We want you, Jasper, to drive up with us to High Tor, if you feel strong enough this morning. Maud has written to Blanche, as she promised, you know, to let us know when her silver pheasants arrived from the dealer’s in London; and this note’—and Lucy indicated the letter in her sister’s hand—‘has just come, begging us to go round and see the birds made comfortable in their new abode. The day is charming. You must come with us, indeed.’

‘Pheasants before the First of October gives one leave to shoot them, are not much in my line,’ said Jasper carelessly. ‘What are your plans for this morning, Miss Willis?’

Ruth with becoming modesty replied that Captain Denzil was only too good to inquire as to the proceedings of so insignificant a person as she was. ‘I try to be useful,’ she said. ‘Sometimes Sir Sykes allows me to read aloud to him the newspapers or a book. If nobody wants me, I think I shall stroll down to the quiet cool path in the woods beside the river. It is a favourite haunt of mine.’

‘Well, I’ll walk down there with you, if you don’t mind my cigar, Miss Willis,’ replied the captain languidly. ‘I don’t want particularly to go to High Tor, or to go into ecstasies over the fine feathers of a lot of fancy poultry cooped in a pen and called pheasants.’

‘No, no,’ said Blanche and Lucy with one accord; ‘we are not going to allow you to play truant to-day. You must come, and so must Ruth. We never thought of leaving her behind’ (this by-the-bye was the whitest of white fibs, for up to that moment Ruth’s companionship on the projected expedition had never once crossed the mind of either of the sisters); ‘and there is plenty of room for all in the double basket-carriage.’

‘I shall be bored, and shew it. The De Veres are not a bit in my line. Harrogate, for instance, I can’t get on with for five minutes—my fault, I daresay. But he knows nothing and cares nothing about the things that interest me; and I trouble my head just as little about his model cottages and reclamation of waste lands and militia drill. The one subject we have in common is fox-hunting, and even on that we take somewhat different views.’ This was a long speech for Jasper; but the concession which it somewhat ungraciously implied was readily accepted by his jubilant sisters.

‘You forget Lady Gladys,’ said Blanche archly; ‘she would never forgive us if we appeared without you.’

The double basket-carriage, one of those convenient, roomy, and perhaps to male eyes ugly vehicles, that do so much good service in country places, came round in due course, drawn by its pair of strong and spirited Exmoor ponies, coblike, sturdy little animals, well fitted to make light of the steep Devonshire roads, yet shewing some of the fire and fleetness due to their dash of Arab blood. The ‘clothes-basket on wheels,’ as Jasper irreverently styled it, received its human freight; Miss Willis, in spite of Blanche’s instances, seating herself meekly with her back to the horses, and the captain of course beside her. Lucy took the reins; the smart boy in livery who had been standing at the ponies’ heads, let go the bridles and sprang deftly to his perch behind as the light carriage bowled merrily away along the smooth park road.

Never yet, since first she made her appearance at Carbery Chase, had Ruth looked one half so attractive, in her quaint elfish way, as she did then, as flashing and animated, her dark eyes saying far more than did her lips, she conversed with Jasper on the outward drive.

‘I declare,’ thought the captain to himself, ‘if the governor had been a little more explicit, I wouldn’t mind speaking out. With three thousand a year, or four—ay, it would require to be four—the thing might be managed.’


NOTHING NEW.

There is no new thing under the sun,’ says a proverb which is itself perhaps only the rehabilitation of some antediluvian precept to the same effect; and nothing so powerfully argues in favour of the truth of the statement as a little pamphlet written by the eccentric though clever Marquis of Worcester, and printed in London by J. Grismond in 1663. It is entitled, ‘A Century of the Names and Scantlings of such Inventions as at present I can call to mind to have tried and perfected, which, my former Notes being lost, I have, at the instance of a powerful friend, endeavoured now, in the year 1655, to set these down in such a way as may sufficiently instruct me to put any of them in Practice.’ Who the ‘powerful friend’ may have been it is impossible to say. The published catalogue was, however, dedicated to Charles II. by His Majesty’s ‘passionately devoted, or otherwise disinterested, subject and servant,’ the Marquis.

This dedication is followed by a quaintly worded address to the two Houses of Parliament, craving patronage for the author’s investigations, thanking the Lords and Commons for past favours, ruefully stating that the inventor had already spent ten thousand pounds on his experiments, and promising to prosecute his researches by the aid of one Casper Kaltoff, who for five-and-thirty years had been employed under him. The Marquis, in stating his merits, is not too modest, for he belauds his inventions and his disinterestedness to the skies, and in well-chosen words suggests that if the government refuse him its patronage, the government, and not he, will suffer. Then, after the custom of the age, he subscribes himself, ‘Your most passionately bent fellow-subject in His Majesty’s service, compatriot for the publick good and advantage, and a most humble servant to all and every of you,

Worcester.’

So far the Marquis is, comparatively speaking, plain-spoken and straightforward; but when he begins to catalogue his discoveries, the reader feels bound to confess that though the noble peer may have set down his notes in such a way as might sufficiently instruct him to put any of them in practice, he scarcely amplified them sufficiently to instruct other people. Doubtless he was intentionally vague in the specifications or explanations of his inventions; for when he wrote, he still cherished a hope that he would reap some substantial fruits from his ingenuity; but in spite of his vagueness, he wrote at least enough to shew that many things even now regarded as new, had been roughly thought out by his fertile brain.

The specification first on the list is decidedly mysterious. It is entitled ‘Seals abundantly significant,’{278} and professes to describe an invention whereby accounts may be kept mechanically, and a letter, ‘though written but in English, may be read and understood in eight several languages, and in English itself to a clean contrary and different sense, unknown to any but the correspondent, and not to be read or understood by him neither, if opened before it arrive unto him.’ Presumably this ambiguous statement alludes to an instrument for writing accounts and letters in cipher, for the four specifications that follow, treat of that hackneyed subject, and one of them of a system of short-hand which seems to be not without a modern representative. Next comes a plan for telegraphing by means of coloured flags and lights; and then ‘A way how to level and shoot cannon by night as well as by day and as directly.’ The ninth specification is terribly pertinent to the tragic event that happened at Bremerhafen in December 1875. It speaks of ‘An engine, portable in one’s pocket, which may be carried and fastened on the inside of the greatest ship, and at any appointed minute, though a week after, either of day or night, it shall irrecoverably sink that ship.’ The note immediately following suggests torpedoes, and relates to a plan for diving and fastening a similar engine to a vessel.

Nor were Admiral Hobart Pacha’s attempts to ward off the attacks of these submarine monsters without a prototype; for the inventive Marquis at once goes on to hint at a method whereby a ship may be guarded from such a catastrophe either by day or by night. Specification number twelve is scarcely less suggestive of water-tight compartments, for it alludes to ‘A way to make a ship not possible to be sunk, though shot an hundred times betwixt wind and water by cannon.’ The next note does not seem to have prompted the exertions of modern inventors; but who shall say whether number fourteen is not responsible for the employment of steam, or even of hydraulic power, for the working of a vessel? At all events, it hints at the economisation of labour, and at the multiplication of force without the intervention of a capstan or of similar machinery. Number fifteen palpably suggests the application of some motive-power very like steam to boats. The Marquis speaks of ‘A way how to make a boat work itself against wind and tide, yea, both without the help of man or beast; yet so that the wind or tide, though directly opposite, shall force the ship or boat against itself.’

It is not surprising that, in the middle of the seventeenth century, this, among many other alleged inventions, was regarded as somewhat chimerical; and indeed, at the present moment, if we except steam, it is hard to believe that the noble lord was not solemnly joking with Charles II. and the two Houses of Parliament. But a subsequent specification, which we shall notice in its due order, proves that the Marquis knew of the power of steam, and had practically experimented with it; and there are therefore some grounds for thinking that, had he been properly subsidised and assisted, the name of Worcester might have been as intimately associated with the great modern means of locomotion as are those of Watt and Fulton. Unfortunately the Marquis was too much in advance of his age, and thus his genius was lost upon it.

A very common table ornament of the present day is hinted at in number eighteen, which speaks of ‘An artificial fountain to be turned like an hour-glass by a child in the twinkling of an eye.’ And number nineteen plainly suggests the carriage-brake as now applied by every coachbuilder. The two succeeding notices relate to the use of water as a motive-power. And number twenty-three tells of a water-clock intended not only to shew the time, but also the motions of the heavenly bodies. Number twenty-four is a plan for discharging bullets by means of a silent spring, ‘admirable for fire-works and astonishing of besieged cities.’ And number twenty-six is a method for the more effectual employment of the lever as a mechanical force. Then follows a dark hint at the employment of pontoons for the formation of military bridges over broad rivers; and another specification, number thirty, speaks of a system for enabling four pieces of cannon ‘to discharge two hundred bullets each hour’—a thing which, under the old system of loading by manual power at the muzzle, would have been quite impossible. This is followed by a number of different plans for writing in cipher, and for communicating by means of various objects, such as knotted strings, fringes, bracelets, gloves, &c., and by the smell, taste, and touch. Number forty-four is a way ‘To make a key of a chamber-door which to your sight hath its wards and rose-pipe but paper-thick, and yet at pleasure in a minute of an hour shall become a perfect pistol, capable to shoot through a breast-plate commonly of carbine-proof, with prime, powder, and firelock, undiscoverably in a stranger’s hand.’ Such a diabolical machine in the possession of one of the many unscrupulous gentlemen of the period, would indeed have been a murderous weapon if used freely in the dimly lighted streets of London. Scarcely less unpleasant must have been the Venetian instrument for noiselessly discharging a poisoned needle at an unsuspecting enemy.

Next come specifications headed respectively ‘A most conceited tinder-box,’ ‘An artificial bird,’ and ‘An hour water-ball;’ the last of which speaks of a ball of any metal, ‘which, thrown into a pool or pail of water, shall presently rise from the bottom, and constantly shew, by the superficies of the water, the hour of the day or night, never rising more out of the water than just to the minute it sheweth of each quarter of the hour; and, if by force kept under water, yet the time is not yet lost, but recovered as soon as it is permitted to rise to the superficies of the water.’ Number forty-eight is the description of an improved staircase, and number forty-nine of ‘A portable engine, in way of a tobacco tongs, whereby a man may get over a wall, or get up again being come down, finding the coast proving unsecure unto him.’ Then there is ‘A pocket ladder,’ ‘A rule of gradation’ useful for cipher-writing, ‘A mystical jangling of bells’ for the conveyance of private intelligence, and three notices relating to ‘water-scrues.’ Number fifty-six is entitled ‘An advantageous change of centers;’ and respecting it the Marquis says: ‘A most incredible thing if not seen, but tried before the late king of blessed memory, in the Tower by my directions, two extraordinary ambassadors accompanying His Majesty, and the Dukes of Richmond and Hamilton, with most of the court, attending him. The{279} wheel was fourteen feet over, and forty weights of fifty pounds apiece. Sir William Balfore, then lieutenant of the Tower, can justify it with several others. They all saw that no sooner these great weights passed the diameter line of the lower side but they hung a foot further from the center, nor no sooner passed the diameter line of the upper side but they hung a foot nearer. Be pleased to judge the consequence.’ In this modest request the Marquis appears to shroud a hint that he has discovered the secret of perpetual motion, which, however, has like all other perpetual-motion schemes, failed in practice.

Specification number fifty-eight is certainly in some measure responsible for the modern revolver, telling as it does of a method ‘whereby a pistol may be made to discharge a dozen times with one loading, and without so much as once new priming requisite, or to change it out of one hand into the other, or stop one’s horse.’ And the next notices are for the application of similar systems to carabines, muskets, arquebusses, and crocks or ship-muskets, and of a different method for sakers. In these ideas we may recognise indeed the first principles not only of the revolver, but also of the Winchester rifle and of the mitrailleuse in its various forms. Warfare has recently been revolutionised by inventions of this kind; and the conditions of naval warfare especially are now likely to be altered by the arrangement which practically places the whole broadside of a vessel under the control of one man. For this latter improvement we may find the idea in the Marquis’s plan by which ‘one man in the cabbin may govern the whole side of ship-muskets, to the number, if need require, of two or three thousand shots.’ After devoting several notices to the various aspects of this subject, the noble inventor complacently remarks: ‘When first I gave my thoughts to make guns shoot often, I thought there had been but one only exquisite way inventible, yet by several trials and much charge I have perfectly tried all these.’ The necessary experiments appear to have left him with an old cannon or two upon his hands, as the next and most important specification shews that the scientific nobleman nearly succeeded in blowing himself up, and so concluding his investigations. He calls it ‘A fire water-work;’ and probably that remarkable name expresses, as well as any other might, the Marquis’s ‘admirable and most forcible way to drive up water by fire, not by drawing or sucking it upwards, for that must be as the philosopher calleth it, intra sphæram activitatis, which is but at such a distance. But,’ he emphatically continues, ‘this way hath no bounder, if the vessels be strong enough.’

Then he goes on to give us what seems to be the earliest record of the employment of steam-power in England. ‘I have taken,’ he says, ‘a piece of a whole cannon, whereof the end was burst, and filled it three-quarters full of water, stopping and scruing up the broken end, as also the touch-hole; and making a constant fire under it, within twenty-four hours it burst and made a great crack. So that having a way to make my vessels, so that they are strengthened by the force within them, and the one to fill after the other, I have seen the water run like a constant fountain-stream forty feet high; one vessel of water, rarefied by fire, driveth up forty of cold water. And a man that tends the work is but to turn two cocks; that, one vessel of water being consumed, another begins to force and re-fill with cold water, and so successively, the fire being tended and kept constant, which the self-same person may likewise abundantly perform in the interim between the necessity of turning the said cocks.’ Following this are four notices relating to improvements for locks to chests and safes, one relating to a drawbridge, and one treating of what the Marquis calls ‘A conceited door’—namely one which will open either inwards or outwards.

Two paragraphs further on comes the short specification, ‘How to make a man to fly; which I have tried with a little boy of ten years old in a barn, from one end to the other, on a hay-mow.’ The last clause is certainly acceptable; for it justifies a hope that the poor little fellow did not break his neck in the pursuit of science. The three succeeding notices are entitled respectively ‘A continually going watch,’ ‘A total locking of cabinet-boxes,’ and ‘Light pistol barrels;’ and the headings serve to demonstrate at least the versatility of the author. Next come two methods for carrying secret correspondence without observation, an idea for the economisation of labour in rasping hartshorn, and the specification of a calculating machine. These are followed by notices of two barbarous engines, respectively called ‘An untoothsome pear’ and ‘An imprisoning chair,’ of a candle-moulding machine, and of a talkative artificial head, the modus operandi of which we take the liberty of smiling at. The Marquis states that his invention would answer in French, Latin, Welsh, Irish, or English, any question put to it, and then shut its mouth until the next question was asked. It cannot be doubted that if the artificial head were so life-like as to be able to answer questions, it would also do a little talking on its own account. The noble Lord seems at this period to have been suffering from an attack of moral depravity; for the incredible notice of the brazen head is followed by two specifications of methods for cheating at cards and dice respectively; and a little lower down, we come upon ‘a little engine portable in one’s pocket, which placed to any door, without any noise but one crack, openeth any door or gate.’ Number ninety-three is the specification of an engine for raising sunken ships; and at the end of the long catalogue are some mysterious notices of a machine which the Marquis modestly calls ‘a semi-omnipotent engine,’ and of two other machines which conjointly seem to hint at some knowledge of hydraulic power of which the discoverer was particularly proud. ‘I deem this invention,’ he says, ‘to crown my labours, to reward my expenses, and make my thoughts acquiesce in way of further inventions;’ and he concludes by hinting at leaving to posterity a book wherein his inventions, ‘with the shape and form of all things belonging to them, should be printed by brass plates.’

And so we will take leave of the inventive nobleman, who, though apparently not always too veracious, was decidedly a genius. It is probably owing to the fact of his having lived in an inappreciative age that he is to this day usually placed on a level with the fabulous Academicians of Laputa, rather than among such men as Franklin, Arkwright, and Watt; but on the other hand, it is not unlikely that had his Century of Inventions{280} been judiciously reduced to a score, or even a dozen, the Marquis of Worcester’s reputation among his contemporaries might have stood proportionately higher.


AN INSURANCE TALE.

I am a solicitor of considerable standing and practice in a large provincial town in Ireland, the name of which it is here unnecessary to mention. On the evening of the 31st of December some twenty-five years ago, I was in the aforesaid town sitting in my study. The day had been one of unusual inclemency; rain had alternated with sleet and snow; and the cold and cutting wind had blown with a rude strength which made its chilly touch at once incisive. As the shades of night had begun to fall, the storm, instead of abating, had risen in turbulence and height; and at the hour of which I am about to speak, the spasmodic energy of the elements seemed like the last convulsions of the dying year. I had been reading some legal documents during the evening; but perceiving from a glance at my watch that it was fast approaching twelve o’clock, I laid my papers aside and drew my chair nearer to the fire. The hail beat violently against the windows, the wind sighed amongst the trees outside, and the keyhole of my study-door expressed its feelings in tones if possible more melancholy.

The feeling of which I was conscious, as I sat thus gazing into the blazing comfort before me, was one of selfish satisfaction that I was not at the mercy of the tempest outside. Forms of various human sufferers presented themselves to my mental vision, and seemed to take the shape of the red coals in the fire; while the wind and my sorrowing keyhole seemed vocal with the burden of their woe. I was soon plunged in a deep moralising on the misery which we see around us—on that strange invisible link between sorrow and sin; and the last moments of the passing year were just landing me in one of those good resolutions which we are told form such excellent paving-stones, when I was aroused from my moral reverie by a knock at my study-door. Pushing my chair back a little distance from the fire, and assuming a more professional air, I articulated the well-known ‘Come in;’ and this mandate was duly obeyed by my servant, who informed me that a gentleman outside was particularly anxious to see me.

A moment afterwards, a figure which in all but size resembled our old friend the ‘drowned rat,’ entered my study, and making a courteous bow, said: ‘I fear this is a very unreasonable hour to intrude upon you, sir.’ My visitor was very tall, had a pale thoughtful face, and when he unbuttoned the coat which covered him from head to foot, I perceived that he was a clergyman.

‘Won’t you take a seat by the fire?’ I said, ‘for you must be very cold and wet such a night as this.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ he replied; ‘I am too wet to sit down. I had better tell you at once the cause of this unseasonable visit. I have been attending in my capacity as a Christian minister a young lady who has been very ill, and is now, I believe, dying. She sent for me to-night about ten o’clock, and when I went to her, she entreated me to go for a solicitor. I had heard of you, sir, as a man of standing in that profession, and I have accordingly come to ask you to drive over with me to her.’

I suggested that the lady very probably wanted to make her will, and wished for professional assistance.

‘I cannot tell,’ he replied. ‘I asked her if no one but a solicitor would do, and she said not. She said she must see a solicitor before she died. She seemed terribly distressed, and pressed her request so earnestly upon me that I felt I dare not neglect it.’

‘How far is the young lady’s residence from this?’ I asked, wishing to bring the matter to a practical issue.

‘About ten miles,’ replied the clergyman.

‘Ten miles on a night such as this is no joke!’

‘It is, sir, a long drive, and I know that the night is very severe; but I would take it as a great favour if you would come with me. I know not where to go or what to do, if you decline. I will drive you there, and send my car back with you; and you will of course hold me responsible for your fees.’

The last sentence decided my wavering resolve and gained the clergyman’s object; for what attorney ever remained inactive where he had a good mark for costs? So shrugging my shoulders, I said: ‘Well, I suppose I had better go with you, though I should much prefer going to bed.’

‘Thank you,’ he replied; ‘it is very good of you to consent.’

Having provided myself with the writing materials necessary to draft a will, and having wrapped myself from head to foot in waterproof, I accompanied the clergyman to the hall-door. There we ascended the conveyance which was to take us to our destination, and soon were cutting our way through the driving sleet and snow. Being of an inquisitive turn of mind, I thought it would be wise to elicit from the clergyman some little information about the young lady whose will I supposed that I was about to draw; and with that view I began to examine him. I, however, found that he could tell me very little. He only knew that she was a Miss M——; that she had been staying with an aunt of hers who lived in his parish; that she had become dangerously ill some four or five days previously; that he believed she was an only daughter; that her mother was dead; and that her father had been telegraphed for, and was expected to arrive in the morning. He added earnestly: ‘He will never see his daughter alive, poor man!’

While we were speaking, the joy-bells had begun to ring out their merry peals, welcoming in the new year. In a few moments, however, after the clergyman’s last remark, they ceased, and a dead silence ensued. ‘How ironical was the tone of those bells!’ said the clergyman with a sigh, as the last peal was dying away. I answered half-unconsciously ‘Yes;’ but I little knew how fully I would comprehend his meaning before many hours had passed away.

After a long and bitter drive, the conveyance at last drew up at a large old-fashioned house, with the appearance of which I was well acquainted, and which I knew to be the residence of an old lady of property, though I had never been inside it. The clergyman, on alighting, brought me round to a side-door, at which he knocked very{281} gently. After he had knocked two or three times, the door was at length opened to us by an elderly woman, whom I afterwards learned to be the nurse, and who conducted us, by the aid of a lantern, up an old winding-stair into a long corridor. Stopping before a door at the end of it, the nurse motioned us to wait while she entered the room. She had been only a few seconds inside, when I heard a low moan, and a female voice exclaim almost in a cry: ‘Oh, has the time come?’ A moment afterwards the clergyman and myself had entered the room, and lying on a bed in the middle of it I saw the form of a young girl apparently about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. As we approached her bedside, the clergyman said to her: ‘I have brought the solicitor with me;’ but she did not answer him, and gently waved her hand for the nurse and himself to leave the room.

After they had left, she looked at me earnestly for a minute and then said in a faint voice: ‘Are you a solicitor, sir?’

I answered: ‘I am;’ and added: ‘I suppose you wish me to draw your will for you?’

‘My will!’ she said with evident surprise. ‘Ah no! I have nothing to leave, except perhaps my heart.’ She remained for some time after this without speaking, her silence being only broken by moans such as I had heard from the corridor. After a little while I heard her murmur: ‘O my father, my poor dear father! must it be?’ then clasping her two almost fleshless hands, she closed her eyes for a few moments. At last, with evident effort, she turned round on her pillow, and looking straight at me, said in a voice tremulous with weakness and emotion: ‘I want, sir, to make a statement to you which I feel it my duty to make before I die. It has tortured me for months, and I dare not meet my Maker if I did not tell all, though it breaks my very heart to do so.’

Fearing that she was going to confess some crime, or make some other important criminal declaration, I said to her: ‘If you are about to make any statement which may be of importance afterwards, I had better go for a magistrate, and you can make it before him.’

‘O no, sir; no magistrate!’ she cried out earnestly. ‘What I have to tell concerns my poor father, and I dare not state it to a magistrate, for it might ruin him. If you will not hear me and try to save my poor father, I shall die with sealed lips. O my father! my good kind father! it is too, too cruel that I must tell of your sin.’ The last words were pronounced almost in a cry; the tears filled her eyes, and she began to sob piteously. Her racking cough soon followed; and I feared that she must indeed die ‘with sealed lips,’ as she had said; for to me it seemed that every succeeding cough must be her last. After a little while, however, a slight respite came, and she tried to resume her statement. She gasped out: ‘The insurance—the Blank Insurance’ (mentioning the name of a well-known Company); ‘it’s not my’—— But before she could get any farther, the cough again seized her, and this time with such terrible power that the poor creature fell back utterly exhausted.

Fearing that her life was now really waning, I went to the door of the room for the nurse, who at once came in. When she had settled the sufferer in a more easy position, she turned to me and whispered: ‘Very little longer, sir!’ I, however, remained in the room, in the hope that after a little time she might have strength to resume her statement; but when half an hour had nearly elapsed without bringing with it any sign of returning strength, I saw that the statement must remain in its unfinished condition. I therefore wrote down carefully all that had occurred, put it into an envelope, sealed it, placed it in my pocket, and prepared to go away. Before doing so, I took one look at the form that lay on the bed before me. To describe her face, I cannot, though I seem to see it as distinctly to-day as I saw it then—one of those strangely exquisite flowers, whose tender growth so often kindles the selfish craving of the old reaper, Death. I had stood by many a death-bed; my profession had inured me to scenes of anguish and pain; but as I looked on that pale beautiful woman, and read on her features the impression which told only too plainly of a conflict of racking reality within, my cold heart softened, and my whole nature went forth in one great yearning to comfort and to soothe her. I breathed a prayer for the soul that was passing—earnest, as I had never known earnestness before; and with feelings too sad to portray, but too real to be forgotten, I left the room and the house.

Two days after this eventful night, my friend the clergyman (whom I subsequently discovered to be the newly appointed rector of a neighbouring parish) again entered my study. He told me that the poor young girl was dead, that she had passed away about half an hour after I had left the room, never having spoken a word after that terrible fit of coughing to which I had been a witness.

The question then came to be decided as to the meaning of the broken statement made by the young girl, and what was my duty with regard to it. I have since frequently questioned the wisdom and propriety of the course which I then pursued; but whether right or wrong, my action was the result of much deliberation. I wrote in the first instance to the insurance Company, asking them if they would kindly inform me, as solicitor for the late Miss M——, whether any insurance had been effected on her life with that Company; and if so, when and by whom it was effected, what was the amount of it, and to whom it had become payable by the fall of Miss M——’s life. I received a letter in reply from the secretary of the Company, informing me that my young friend had herself, about a year previously, effected an insurance on her own life in two policies of five thousand pounds each, and that if she had not otherwise assigned the policies during her lifetime, the sum of ten thousand pounds was payable to her executors or administrators, as the case might be.

The receipt of this information led me to believe, what I had suspected before, that there was something wrong about this insurance, though I could not exactly determine the nature of that something. I therefore wrote a second time to the Company, stating that I had reason to believe that it would be wise for the Company to make careful inquiries with reference to the Policy, before surrendering its value. The secretary at once wrote back to me asking me to state the information which led me to form this belief; but I replied that{282} I was not in possession of any information whatever bearing on the matter, but that from what took place at an interview which I had had with the late Miss M—— a short time before her death, I had been led to suspect that there was something wrong about the insurance.

I heard no more of the matter till one morning some two or three months afterwards, when I was honoured with a visit from the secretary and solicitor of the insurance Company. They told me that the father of my poor young friend had threatened them with legal proceedings if they did not pay the amount of the insurance at once, and asked me to tell them exactly what had passed at the interview to which I had alluded in my letter. At first I hesitated as to whether I ought to do so or not, but ultimately I gave them a true account of all that had taken place on that fatal 31st of December. They thanked me warmly, said they thought I had only done my duty in disclosing the matter to them, and went away.

What use the Company made of this information, or what means they adopted to probe the mystery to its source, I do not know; but about six months after my interview with the secretary and solicitor, when I was beginning to hope that I should never hear of the case again, I received a summons to attend at an assizes to be shortly holden in the county town of a northern shire. There was no means of refusing this command, though I would have given a good deal to be able to evade it. I therefore found myself, about a fortnight after its receipt, quietly sitting in the crowded court-house of the aforesaid town, a witness in the case of ‘M—— versus The Blank Insurance Company.’

I had but little difficulty as I looked round the court in identifying the plaintiff; for my eyes soon rested on a manly form bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the young girl by whose death-bed I had stood about a year before. The beauty of her face was there moulded in lines of masculine firmness and power; and though her father’s expression was far from pleasing, there was nothing about him at all indicative of the character subsequently exhibited to the court. He appeared to be a gentleman of good birth and position; and as I looked at him before the case began, I was very curious to know what was his real position with reference to the insurance, and how far it would be disclosed on the evidence.

His counsel, in opening the plaintiffs case, said that it was one of the simplest cases ever ushered into a court of justice. The facts, he said, were simply these: ‘Two years previously, the late Miss M—— insured her life with the defendants, the Blank Insurance Company, in two policies of five thousand pounds each. A year after, she had effected these insurances, Miss M—— had died, without having assigned or disposed of the policies in any way. Her father, the plaintiff, was her only next of kin and her administrator, and was now entitled absolutely to the ten thousand pounds; which the Company, however, had refused to pay.’ To an uninitiated spectator, the evidence for the plaintiff certainly seemed to bear out the counsel’s statement; but when the plaintiff’s case had closed, the counsel on behalf of the Company rose and said that they were in a position to prove by a connected chain of evidence that every word of the plaintiff’s case was valueless, and that this insurance had been effected under circumstances of the grossest fraud and crime.

I myself was the first witness called on behalf of the Company; and after much objection, I was allowed to give a plain unvarnished description of the scene which I have already depicted on that sad night. You could have heard a pin drop while I was speaking, and the sensation which was produced in court was manifest. I was of course severely cross-examined; but as I had nothing to conceal, my testimony was not shaken.

The next witness for the Company was an eminent London physician, who stated that in the beginning of March, two years previously, Mr M—— had come to him in London, and had brought with him a young lady, who he said was his daughter, to have her examined by him. He then made a careful examination of the young lady, and found her to be in rapid consumption, of which result he told Mr M——, and added at the same time that she could not in his opinion live for six months. The Company’s own doctor was next called, and stated that at the end of the same month of March, Mr M—— had come to him in London, and told him that his daughter was anxious to effect an insurance on her life with the Blank Company, and asked him to appoint a day to examine her. He had known Mr M—— for many years, but had never seen his daughter. Mr M——, however, told him that she was a healthy country girl, and he would have no difficulty in passing her for the Company. It was then agreed that he should call upon Mr M—— the next day at the hotel at which they were staying and examine his daughter. He did so; and Mr M—— then introduced to him as his daughter a handsome healthy-looking girl, with all the appearance of having lived in the country. The girl looked so very healthy, that he did not think it necessary to make any minute examination of her, and merely questioned her as to what diseases—if any—she had had. She seemed very much confused, but this he attributed to her natural shyness. He recommended the Company to insure her life at the ordinary rate for her age, which was then twenty-four. The doctor was then told to look round the court and say if he saw any one like the young girl whom on that occasion he had examined; and after a little while he pointed to a young girl, and said that he believed that she was the person whom he had then examined.

The excitement in court at this announcement can scarcely be imagined. Every eye was turned on the young girl, who a few minutes afterwards ascended the witness-table. As I gazed at her, I was painfully reminded of the poor creature whom I had seen lying in such trouble less than a year before; for the likeness to her was strangely great. There was, however, a robustness, a glow of health about the girl whom I now saw for the first time, which was sadly wanting in my young friend, and which served to conceal a resemblance otherwise manifest. She said that she lived in the south of England with her father, who was a well-to-do farmer. Two years and a half previously, Mr M—— and his daughter had come to lodge at their farm for the benefit of Miss M——’s health, as she was then very delicate. Every one noticed a very strong likeness between herself and Miss M——,{283} and a firm friendship arose between them. Mr and Miss M—— stayed about six months at the farm; and when they were about to go away to London, Mr M—— proposed that she should go up with them as a companion to his daughter, which she did. On the day before they left London, Miss M—— went out with her father to pay a visit, and she was left by herself in the hotel. She was sitting alone in their private room reading, when suddenly Mr M—— returned alone, rushed into the room, and said in a threatening manner: ‘You must say you are my daughter! There is a gentleman coming in now; and mind you must say you are my daughter! If you don’t, we’ll all be ruined. Remember!’ He then hastened back, and in less than a minute re-entered with the Company’s doctor, the last witness. She was so completely taken by surprise and overcome with alarm, that she did not know what she was doing, but nevertheless felt completely under the influence of Mr M——. He introduced her to the doctor as his daughter; the doctor shook hands with her, and said he was glad to see her looking so strong and well. He asked her whether she had lived much in the country; and said he thought it would be a mere farce to go through the form of examining any one who looked so completely the essence of health as she did. He mentioned a great number of diseases, and asked her if she ever had had any of them; and after some other remarks he concluded with: ‘Well, I think I may now tell them that you’re not going to die yet awhile.’ He then talked a little to Mr M——; they had wine together; he bade adieu to her, and the two gentlemen quitted the house. All was mystery to her. She now began to entertain a confused sort of dread of Mr M——. When his daughter came home, she told her all about it, and asked her what it meant; but Miss M—— said that she did not know—that perhaps it was a joke of her father’s. She, however, forced Miss M—— to promise never to say anything about it.

What the effect of this evidence was on the occupants of the court, I can hardly say, for I was too much absorbed in my own thoughts to notice any manifestation of feeling in others. The truth was now only too plain. The father of my young friend, knowing that his daughter’s health was failing, had resolved to profit by her death, and with that intent had secured a simple country girl and brought her up to London, to be the unwitting means of accomplishing his unfeeling design. In London he had learned on the best authority that his daughter could not live for six months, and within a month afterwards he had insured her life in her own name, without her knowledge, for a large sum of money, which he knew must be paid to him on her death; and to secure the lucre for which he craved, he had passed off for his poor dying daughter a healthy country girl; he had lied to his old friend, and caused an innocent girl to perpetrate a fraud. As these facts came home to my mind in their horrid reality, I gazed across the court to see the man who had conceived this mighty inhumanity. The coil of truth, as it had been gradually unravelled by the witnesses, seemed to have wound itself serpent-like round the frame of its foe; for the form which a little while before had been erect and defiant was now humbly prone, the eye which had glanced restlessly round the court was now fixed on the ground, and a death-like pallor lay on his countenance.

The jury without leaving their box pronounced their verdict for the Company, and the judge thereupon solemnly announced that he would direct a criminal prosecution to be instituted against the plaintiff for the crimes disclosed in that most painful case. At this announcement, I rose and entreated the judge not to adopt that course. I reminded him of the dying anxiety of the poor daughter to have her father saved, and urged that the plaintiff would be sufficiently punished by the loss of position which must be consequent on the verdict. But my solicitations were all in vain. The judge said that he sat there to protect society, and that if such crimes as had been that day disclosed were allowed to pass unpunished, he would fail in the duty which he sat there to discharge. A few minutes afterwards Mr M—— left the court in custody; and as I saw him thus committed to the pitiless mercy of the law, compassion—which can look on the wicked as well as the good—seemed to rise within me, and I almost regretted that I had put the insurance Company on the track which they had followed with such fatal accuracy.

The law, however, though very powerful, is not omnipotent; and in this case its power was destined to be futile. It was found not to be convenient to try Mr M—— at the same assizes; and his trial was therefore postponed till the following one, and he himself allowed out on bail. The next assizes came round, and everything was ready for the trial; but the prisoner was nowhere to be found. They called him in the court, they called him outside; but in vain. It was soon found that the prisoner had absconded—vanished no one knew where; and the individuals who had been kind enough to stake a portion of their worldly goods on his reappearance, were asked to shew their affection for him by paying the penalty which the law so properly attaches to such misplaced philanthropy. The following comment on the case appeared a day or two afterwards in the local newspaper: ‘We can only say that justice has been defeated, and a very bad type of criminal has escaped unpunished. The inscrutable wisdom of Providence has reserved his punishment for another world.’


More than twenty years after the events above narrated, the course of my professional business led me to cross the Atlantic and visit the city of New York. It happened in the course of that visit, as I was returning to my hotel at a late hour one night, that I became conscious that a human form was following me. I at once looked round, and saw within a yard of me an old man with a long white beard and weather-beaten face, dressed in ragged attire, shoeless and stockingless. Something in his face caught my attention, and on looking at it more closely, I recognised it as one which I had seen before, though I could not then tell where. When I turned round, the old man muttered in an earnest, almost savage manner: ‘Give me some money; I want it badly—very badly;’ but as I did not feel quite easy at finding so questionable a creature so close to me at such an hour of the night and in a strange city, I made no reply to his request, but hastened my steps. He, however, followed me, and again craved for{284} money; and this time I answered in our English stereotyped form: ‘I have nothing for you, my good man.’

I suppose, however, that he did not catch my reply, for he added sharply: ‘What do you say?’ To which I answered: ‘I say that I have no money for you.’

‘Do you indeed?’ he said with fury. ‘Then keep it, and perish with it. I hope it may drag you down, as it did me.’ With these words he turned away, and I heard his steps behind me no more; but I had not gone very far when I recollected on what former occasion I had seen the old man’s face. I remembered that it was the same face which twenty years before I had seen in that northern court-house—the face that had known a death-like pallor when the heavy chain of Truth clanked forth its tale of hidden guilt. I at once stopped and turned round; but I could only distinguish faintly the outline of his figure in the distance; and as I gazed at that ragged form, retreating I knew not whither, there flashed with vivid reality through my mind the events which I have endeavoured here to relate, and I remembered the words of a thoughtful modern writer: ‘The secrets of men’s lives are rarely held inviolate till eternity—there is a reckoning here without the aid of eternal books.’


THE PRAIRIES AND THEIR INHABITANTS.

The subject of sport has a fascinating interest for readers of almost every class. Nor is this interest lessened when the scene of such adventures is laid in the wide prairies of the Far West. On those vast plains, ocean-like in their rolling expanse, the wigwam of the red man, and the bison and other denizens of the prairie, are alike disappearing, to be succeeded by the stately and magnificent cities which are the result of American enterprise and civilisation. Lieutenant-colonel Dodge, an officer in the United States army, gives us, in his Hunting Grounds of the Great West (London: Chatto and Windus, 1877), an instructive résumé of the present aspect and position of those plains, which are still in great measure a Debatable Land, on the frontiers of which a fierce warfare is almost constantly being carried on between the wandering Indian tribes and the white settlers who are every year supplanting them.

The distinctive term ‘The Plains’ is specially applied to the area of rolling prairies extending from the mountains of Texas on the south to the British line on the north, and from the Missouri river on the east to the Rocky Mountains on the west.

Although called Plains they are never absolutely level, but present many undulations and much variety of surface. Even in their most barren stretches they are covered with short grass, but are almost without trees, which grow only in the cañons or deep water-courses. On the higher Plains this absence of trees is caused by want of water and the prevalence of high winds; and on the lower, by the prairie-fires kindled by the Indians, by the devastation caused by beavers, and by the prevalence, although in a lesser degree, of wind. In winter, on these wide Plains the storms are sometimes fearful; the icy cold north wind curdles the blood in the veins, and is speedily fatal to any living creature that is exposed to its fury; even birds fall dead in great numbers. Its destructiveness is only equalled by the terrific rain, thunder, and hail-storms which occur in summer.

No one should ever travel over the Plains without a compass, although in the unsettling misery of feeling lost, confidence is sometimes lost even in that friendly guide. In winter, from the glare of the sun on the wide waste of snow, a painful affection called snow-blindness is experienced by most travellers on the Plains. Not only is the power of vision temporarily lost, but if the skin be at all sensitive, the face and hands swell and blister, and are as exquisitely painful as if scorched by fire. In travelling, the choice of a camping-place is of the first importance; water, grass, and wood are essential requisites, and so is a knowledge of the special dangers which beset wanderers on these prairies. Camp-life, Colonel Dodge tells us, with a good tent, a nice mess-kit, plenty of bedding, a travelling kitchen, and supplies of preserved fruit and vegetables, is very enjoyable indeed. The rifle rarely fails to provide a good dinner, to which the hunters return at sunset with a keen appetite, which enables them to do full justice to the dainties of the prairie. These discussed, they collect in the cool breezy evening around the camp-fire, and with pipe and flask and song and story, the short twilight hours go merrily by.

One of the most frequent dangers to which camp-life is exposed is prairie-fire, which rises and spreads on all sides, to the height sometimes of thirty feet, half-stifling the men with smoke and heat, and driving the animals frantic with terror. Another danger arises from the sudden and severe rain-storms, which are so excessive that they may be aptly denominated water-spouts. Fancy a party of hunters in their comfortable well-appointed camp, pitched as camps often are, on the bank of a half-dry stream. After a luxurious dinner and pleasant social evening, each has retired to his own special tent, when suddenly the unmistakable rush and roar of a large volume of water awakens the traveller. In a moment he is upon his feet, rushing out into the darkness to discover if possible what it all means. The green sward of the night before is gone—water is before, behind, around him, everywhere!

When morning breaks, cold and gray, it shews, instead of the picturesque river-bluff and comfortable camp, an apparently shoreless lake, with one or two cotton-wood trees gallantly stemming the flood, on the topmost boughs of which are a few forlorn specimens of humanity, cowering before the keen wind, which as it careers along the prairie, makes sad havoc of the few fluttering remnants of their sleeping apparel. Fortunately, however, these deluges are of short continuance, and abate as quickly as they rise. Another danger, the possibilities of which are diminishing every year, arises from the stampedes to which the herds of buffalo are periodically subject. When this sudden panic seizes these immense brutes, they rush blindly on after the leaders, trampling over everything that comes in their way. Our author was camping out one night in the spring of 1871 with four wagons and a small escort. He had gone to bed, but was not asleep, when he fancied that he heard a faint, rushing sound; and suspicious that it might{285} be a water-spout, he sprang out of his tent, and peered up the creek beside which the camp was pitched. He strained his eyes in the darkness to discover the line of foam, which is generally the precursor of an approaching deluge; but to his surprise he could discover nothing; yet the sound went on increasing, and came evidently from the prairie. Suddenly its probable cause flashed upon him, and arousing his men, he explained to them what he feared and besought them to keep calm. This was somewhat difficult, for the buffalo were already in sight, and to all appearance bearing right down upon them. ‘Our only chance,’ he said, ‘is to try to split the herd; if we cannot do that, we are lost!’ With that end in view he stationed his men fifty yards from the camp, and in trembling and fear awaited the onslaught. On, with a heavy trampling thud like thunder, rushed the unwieldy mass till they were within thirty yards of the men, who discharged their muskets and yelled with the energy of despair. A few of the foremost buffalo fell dead; the others wavered, swerved a little, and finally plunged away on one side, roaring and crashing and tumbling in the darkness over the banks of the creek.

Another danger of camp-life proceeds from rattlesnakes and vipers, which are very susceptible of cold, and at night crawl close to the person of the sleeper for warmth. One officer—a friend of Colonel Dodge’s—once found a rattlesnake coiled up beneath his pillow; and another, when drawing on his boot, felt his foot come in contact with a soft substance; he dropped the boot at once, and a huge rattlesnake glided out. Another nocturnal visitor almost as much dreaded as the snakes is the skunk, a horrible little animal about the size of a cat, which makes its way into a camp and has been known to devour the face, hands, or any uncovered part of the nearest sleeper; a skunk-bite being almost invariably followed in certain portions of the Plains by hydrophobia.

The great attraction of the Plains to sportsmen is the variety and abundance of game which they contain. First in order, as being pre-eminently an habitué of the Plains, is the buffalo, or more properly speaking, the bison, and which, in spite of its apparent ferocity, is, according to Colonel Dodge, who knows its habits well, a mild, stupid, inoffensive animal.

The elk, although disappearing even faster than the buffalo, is still to be met with on the Plains; and his great size, magnificent antlers, and splendid form, stamp him as the monarch of the prairies. He is timid, and seldom even in the last extremity employs his great strength in his own defence; what he trusts to is his skill in doubling, dodging, and hiding, which in spite of his size he accomplishes as cunningly and successfully as a hare or a fox. Many varieties of the Deer tribe are found in the Plains; of these the black-tailed deer, the red-deer, and the antelope are the most abundant, affording in the proper season boundless supplies of the most delicious venison. The mountain-sheep can scarcely be called an inhabitant of the Plains; his chosen home being amid the wild crags and rugged fastnesses of mountain-ranges. He is a fine animal, with a body somewhat resembling that of a deer, and a sheep’s head surmounted by a pair of stupendous horns. His flesh is declared by the gourmands of the hunting fraternity to be the choicest of choice morsels, a delicious compound of venison and the finest Southdown mutton.

The prairies abound with smaller animals, rabbits of two kinds, gophers, and prairie-dogs a species of marmot. The carnivora of the Plains are not numerous. First come the wolves, which hunt in packs, but whose power of making themselves disagreeable has, Colonel Dodge thinks, been greatly over-rated. This can scarcely be said of the grisly bear, which is a huge, sagacious, and pre-eminently ferocious brute. The cougar or puma, which is sometimes called the Mexican lion, is also a formidable antagonist to come to close grips with. The panther is very much the same animal on a smaller scale, and is scarcely more dangerous than the wild-cat, which is abundant and of a large size. A variety of birds are found on the Plains, flocks of quails, partridges, geese, and five species of grouse; but none of these can compete in point of size or delicacy with the wild turkey. This magnificent bird when fat is often found to weigh from twenty to twenty-five pounds.

Of the red men, the fast diminishing aborigines of the prairies, Colonel Dodge does not draw a very favourable picture. He paints them, he tells us, as he finds them, not with every attribute softened and toned down by the veil of false sentiment which the romances of Cooper and other novelists have thrown around them. The North American Indian taken as he stands is as cruel, lazy, and degraded a savage as is to be found upon the face of the earth. Virtue, morality, generosity, and honour are not only words without a meaning for him, but have no synonyms in his language. The bad qualities of the Indians are, however, no good reason for the infamous manner in which they have been treated by the agents of the American government.

Intensely conscious of his own helplessness, and conceiving that he is tossed about like a feather between the good and bad god, it is very important for the Indian to discover which of his deities is in the ascendant for the moment; and this he tries to do by divination. There is nothing so trifling but that he may deduce from it a knowledge of the supernatural; the flight of a bird, the bark of a dog, the gliding of a snake through the grass, are all full for him of a subtle intelligence; but what he principally relies upon for information is what he calls the making of a medicine. This species of manufacture, the mysteries of which are known only to himself, is undertaken upon all occasions; and besides these private acts of what may be called devotion, the tribe has from time to time a great medicine-making in common, presided over by a medicine chief. A huge structure of dressed skins called a medicine lodge is set up, with a rude image cut from a log suspended from the roof. A certain number of warriors are then selected from the assembled tribe, and a dance, which may truly be called ‘the dance of death,’ is begun. Day sinks into night and night dawns into day, and still it goes on without a moment’s intermission, till all the performers have fallen senseless to the floor, some to rise no more. If at the end of two or three days this strange ceremony is concluded without a death, the medicine chief pronounces it good medicine, and the tribe separate assured of the protection of the good god.

{286}

As soon as an Indian boy becomes a warrior he thinks of a wife; and as an Indian belle is often something of a coquette, he finds, as others have done, that the favours of wooing are ‘fashious to seek.’ At length, however, the dusky beauty is won, and the favoured lover betakes himself to the father’s lodge, and something like the following colloquy ensues. ‘You have got a daughter,’ begins the lover, ‘an ugly lazy thing; but I want a wife, and I am willing as a favour to take her off your hands.’

‘Are you speaking of my darling girl?’ says the father—‘the prettiest best girl in the whole tribe. I do not think of giving her to any one, much less to you. Why, you are a mere boy; you have done nothing to speak of; you have not taken one scalp; you have only stolen a few wretched ponies. No, no; she is not for you, unless indeed you give me twenty ponies for her.’

‘Twenty ponies!’ yells the lover. ‘One is too many.’ And thus the haggling goes on, until a bargain is struck at something like the fair market-price of the girl, who forthwith, for there is no marriage ceremony, accompanies her new husband or master to his father’s lodge. Many families generally live under one roof, and they have not upon an average more than one meal a day. A large pot full of meat is set upon the fire, and when sufficiently cooked is taken off and placed in the middle of the floor. The inmates then gather around and help themselves with their fingers. What is left is set aside, and any one who feels hungry goes and helps himself. The lodge of the Indians is made of dressed buffalo-skins, supported upon a light framework of wood. The fire is in the centre; and as the draught is very defective, the lodge is generally in cold weather full of smoke. The beds are piles of buffalo-robes and blankets, which serve as seats during the day. Furniture there is none; except a few pots, kettles, and trunks containing the dried meat and superfluous clothing of the family, may be dignified by that term. But what is wanting in upholstery is made up in dirt, everything being kept in a state of inconceivable filth. The wealth of an Indian consists in his horses and mules; and as he leads a nomadic life in fine weather, he rarely burdens himself with anything that is not easily transported. In the general division of meat and skins, the widows and orphans of the tribe are cared for, and a certain portion set aside for their maintenance.

The Indians are very fond of gambling, and also of drinking, which is a very destructive vice to them. Another of their favourite indoor amusements is story-telling, in which they take great delight. A good story-teller is a very important personage in the tribe, and is always surrounded by an eager audience.

The cruelty of the Indians is extreme; men and women alike take an exquisite pleasure in torturing their captives. Much of this cruelty, however, has in latter days arisen from vengeful hatred to the United States government, which has broken faith with them over and over again, and is still conducting a war of extermination. No wonder that under the circumstances the red man should resent the cruelties practised by his invaders, and make reprisals when opportunity offers. It is but fair to the Indians to state, that across the frontier-line in Canada, where the treaties made with them have been rigidly observed, there have been no Indian wars and no Indian massacres; and that the red men have proved themselves to be quiet and not unthriving subjects of Queen Victoria.


ROBBERY OF AN EXPRESS TRAIN.

The following story shews the extent to which wholesale plunder may be carried on in the United States of America: About eleven o’clock on the night of Wednesday 19th September, 1877, an express train on the Union Pacific Railway was approaching the little station of Big Springs in Wyoming Territory. There wanted fully a quarter of an hour to the time when it was due, and the station-master William Barnard and his assistant had not yet commenced to prepare for its arrival; the former was still in his office, the latter engaged somewhere about the premises. All was as silent as a station generally is during the intervals between trains; when the stillness was suddenly broken in a manner no less unexpected than unpleasant. The door of the office was burst open, and four men entering, seized the astonished station-master, and told him that if he attempted the slightest resistance or refused to obey their orders, his life should instantly be forfeited. He had no choice but to submit; for he perceived clearly by the words and actions of the intruders that they were members of a large party of robbers, and that the station was completely in their power. They all wore crape masks to conceal their features, but spoke in their natural tones; and as the band consisted of thirteen men fully armed, nothing but compliance with their demands was possible on the part of the station officials. The place was solitary, the hour late; and the robbers lost no time in carrying out their evidently carefully prepared plans. The telegraph apparatus was their first object, and this they compelled the station-master to destroy. Barnard endeavoured to mislead them by only removing a portion of it, but it was of no avail; one of the men angrily desired him to mind what he was about or he would have a bullet through his head, and then ordered him to take out certain parts of the instrument and give them to him; shewing by his knowledge of the terms employed that he must have been a telegraph operator himself. In the meantime the rest of the band had not been idle. They compelled the porter to put out his ordinary signals for the now rapidly advancing train; and they maintained the strictest watch to see that nothing was done that might in the faintest degree create alarm or suspicion.

All fell out exactly as they had anticipated: the train came gradually to a stand in obedience to the signal, and ran blindly into the trap prepared for it. The unconscious passengers, most of whom were asleep, were quite at the mercy of the robbers, who lost not a moment in diligently setting to work to make the most of the golden opportunity before them. The train in the meantime had drawn up at the platform; it was a long one, consisting of a saloon and two Pullman’s sleeping-cars, besides ordinary carriages and luggage-vans; and there were a good many passengers, nearly all of them sleeping soundly. A portion of the gang at once made prisoners of the engineer and stoker; while four of them compelled Barnard the station-master to go as he usually did to the{287} mail-van and knock at the door for admittance. George Miller, the post-office agent in charge of the mails and specie, immediately opened the door, when several of the robbers jumped in, one of them holding a revolver to his head, while the others rapidly cleared the drawers and boxes of all the money they contained; thus securing a very large sum—about forty or fifty thousand dollars. They did not trouble themselves to examine the letters; and a combination-safe containing a very large sum in gold and notes was also left untouched; for it was beyond their power to break it open, and neither Miller the agent nor Patterson the conductor of the train knew the combined intricacies; this the robbers obliged them to swear on their word of honour.

The gang then directed their attention to the passengers, most of whom were now awake, and beginning to be aware of the unpleasant circumstances in which they were placed. Some were inclined to resist the highwaymen; but the more prudent among them counselled submission, as very few of them had available firearms, and they were ignorant of the strength of the band, and feared more serious consequences if they were driven to resort to extremes. Of the likelihood of this they had an early intimation; for a passenger who chanced to be standing on the outside platform of one of the carriages as the train entered the station, had a couple of pistol-shots fired at him, luckily without doing him any injury. He retreated into the carriage, and was directly followed by the robbers, who entered the car at both ends, and desired the passengers to hold up their hands; a command they all instantly obeyed. They were then rifled one after the other; their pockets being thoroughly searched, watches, purses, and all loose money being taken away. This was done in all the open carriages; but the doors of the two Pullman sleeping-cars being locked, they did not obtain an entrance into either; and the inmates probably thinking discretion the better part of valour, remained ensconced within their shelter. Whether it would long have served as such cannot now be determined; possibly the robbers might have forced the doors had time been allowed them; but fortunately for the travellers the whistle of an approaching goods-train scared the gang, who made a precipitate retreat from the scene of their depredations, carrying their booty along with them.

Relieved of their unwelcome presence, the passengers issued forth from the cars and began to relate their various experiences. Luckily no one was seriously wounded. The postal agent had been violently knocked against the carriage-door at the first rush of the thieves, and was considerably bruised, and another man had his forehead grazed by a pistol bullet; but beyond those comparatively trifling injuries they all escaped with the fright and the loss of every article of value on which the robbers had time to lay their hands. Most of the passengers in the open cars were cleared of whatever money they had about them, and several of them lost gold and silver watches; but even in the excitement of the moment a few of them had sufficient presence of mind to enable them hastily to secrete purses and pocket-books, either by slipping them under the cushions or dropping them on the floor. A Jew named Harris was robbed of four hundred and fifty dollars and his watch; but while raising his hands in obedience to the command of ‘Hands up!’ he skilfully contrived to drop a roll of notes on the seat beside him, which was overlooked by the robbers as they examined his pockets. A miner who wore a belt containing eleven thousand dollars in gold, was quick enough to fasten it round the waist of his little child, who was not molested by the thieves, and this large sum fortunately escaped their clutches. They managed, however, in the short space of time at their disposal to make some very pretty pickings out of the train; their gains being computed at fully fifty thousand dollars, besides watches and other articles of value.

The scheme had evidently been a most carefully organised one, and was carried out in every detail with perfect coolness and regularity, not a moment being wasted, and the members of the gang having clearly been previously instructed as to the duty each man was to perform. It is supposed they had fastened their horses somewhere at the back of the station, as on quitting the train they immediately disappeared without leaving any traces behind them.

An alarm was at once given, and several parties started in pursuit; but their search was entirely unsuccessful so far as regarded hearing any tidings of the robbers. The following day a band of searchers found among the mountains ten or twelve miles from the station of Big Springs, a rifle, a pistol, and an empty money-box; proving indisputably that the highwaymen had passed that way. It was well known that some very notorious Missouri bandits were at large among the Black Hills, and it is believed that they were the perpetrators of the attack on the train. A large reward was offered for their apprehension; but so far as we know, they have hitherto managed to elude all pursuit, and it is doubtful whether they may ever be brought to justice. With such possible contingencies, travelling by the Union Pacific, or any other railway in the Far West, is not a pleasant idea to contemplate.


No popular error is more absolutely destitute of foundation than that regarding the shrew. This little quadruped, very common in meadows and pastures in all parts of Britain, and generally known as the shrew-mouse, is as harmless as any creature that lives. Its food consists of insects and their larvæ; and its teeth are very small, so that it is scarcely able to bite through the human skin. Yet according to a popular belief, very widely prevalent, its bite is most venomous, and in many districts in England the viper is less feared. Nor is it only its bite that is supposed to be deadly to man or beast. Contact with it in any way is accounted extremely dangerous; and cattle seized with any malady, especially if shewing any appearance of numbness in the legs, are apt to be reputed ‘shrew-struck.’ Horses in particular are accounted very liable to suffer from this cause. An infallible cure, however, was to be found in dragging the shrew-struck animal through a bramble rooted at both ends, or{288} in the application of a twig of a shrew-ash. ‘A shrew-ash,’ says White, in his Natural History of Selborne, ‘is an ash whose twigs or branches, when gently applied to the limbs of cattle, will immediately relieve the pain which a beast suffers from the running of a shrew-mouse over the part affected; for it is supposed that a shrew-mouse is of so baneful and deleterious a nature, that whenever it creeps over a beast, whether it be horse, cow, or sheep, the suffering animal is afflicted with cruel anguish, and threatened with the loss of the use of its limbs. Against this accident, to which they were continually liable, our provident forefathers always kept a shrew-ash at hand, which, when once medicated, would maintain its virtue for ever.’ This tree, whose every branch possessed such a potent charm, was an ash in the trunk of which an auger-hole had been bored, and a living shrew put into the hole, which was then closed with a wooden plug. The incantations used when this was done have now been forgotten; the shrew-ash has lost its old repute; but the belief in its virtues still lingers in some quarters, and the belief in the dangerous bite and maleficent touch of the shrew is strong among the country-people in many parts of England. How confidently this belief was entertained even by the best educated in former times appears from many allusions to it by old authors. It was received as an unquestionable fact of natural history. In Topsel’s History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents, published in 1658, it is said of the shrew, that ‘it is a ravening beast, feigning itself gentle and tame; but being touched, it biteth deep and poisoneth deadly; it beareth a cruel mind, desiring to hurt anything;’ with much more of the like nature, and much concerning medicinal virtues ascribed to this little animal. But the belief in the deadliness of the shrew’s bite has been transmitted from one generation to another from times far more remote than those of this credulous author. It prevailed among the ancient Romans, and their remedy for a shrew’s bite was to cut the body of the little creature asunder and place it on the injured part.


FLOATING-LIGHTS.

Besides the lighthouses which warn the sailor of danger and guide him in his course amidst the darkness of night, there are along the British coasts numerous floating-lights or light-vessels in situations where the erection of a lighthouse is impossible, where there are banks or shoals perilous to ships but affording no foundation for a building. These vessels ride at anchor in places that have been selected for them, and which are as exactly marked on the charts as the positions of the lighthouses. Most of them are stationed off the east coast of England from the mouth of the Humber southward; a few on other parts of the English coast, and on that of Ireland; and two on the coast of Scotland. They are generally vessels of about one hundred and fifty tons, specially constructed with a view to their riding safely at anchor in exposed situations and during the most severe storms, without regard to sailing-powers, of which they have no need; and it has been an extremely rare thing for any of them to be driven from their moorings or to experience any disaster. The mariner counts upon the guidance of their light in any weather, as confidently as he does on that of a lighthouse built upon a rock.

The English floating-lights, like the English lighthouses, are under the care and management of Trinity House. From the Appendix to the Report of the Royal Commission on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, presented to the Houses of Parliament in 1861, we obtain some interesting information concerning them. They are each provided with a crew of eleven men, who have no occupation but their professional duties; and of whom there are at all times seven on board the vessel, and four on shore, employed in the storehouses at the Trinity Buoy Wharf, Blackwall. The men remain on shore for a month at a time. Each vessel has a master and mate, but these are never on duty at the same time; taking the command in turn, month about. No men are employed in this service but such as are already good sailors; and the men rise by seniority from the lowest rank to that of master, so that there is a strong inducement for them to continue in the service. Misconduct of any kind—as disobedience of the orders of the master or mate, quarrelling, breach of regulations, neglect of duty, or intoxication when on shore—is punished by censure, degradation to a lower rank, or dismissal from the service, according to the gravity of the offence. The lowest wage of the men is only two pounds fifteen shillings per month—at least so it was in 1861, and we have heard of no change. The master has five pounds per month and an allowance of ten pounds a year for house-rent. All find their own provisions. They are allowed to use beer on board the vessel, but no spirits. They are completely secluded from the rest of the world, whilst on duty. No boats are allowed to go alongside the light-vessels, and the men are strictly forbidden to go on board any passing ship. A library is supplied to each vessel.

Life in a light-vessel one would think must be rather monotonous; but many of those who enter the service remain long in it. Small pensions are allowed to superannuated men or those disabled by disease or accident. The lantern used to be hung from the yard-arm of the vessel, but in 1807 Mr R. Stevenson introduced at the floating-light at the Bell Rock the mode now used, in which the lantern surrounds the mast, sliding up and down on it, and is elevated to the top of it when lighted. Those light-vessels which occupy the most exposed stations ride more easily, if the water is deep, than those which are tossed by smaller but more frequent waves. The latter must sometimes be rather unpleasant abodes. The master of the Owers light-vessel, in the English Channel, between Beachy Head and the Isle of Wight, told the members of the Royal Commission who visited his vessel in 1859, that in bad weather he sometimes ‘could not lie on the floor of his cabin without holding on to the legs of the table.’


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