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OUT OF THE CLOUD;
A TALE; BY P. W. P.
THE POINDERS AT HOME. SCARCELY a week had passed after the arrival of Lester at Crosswood, before he was engaged to dine at Rose Hall, where he was to meet Captain Oscott, Squire Bezley, and a select circle of friends. When the day arrived, although not anticipating much pleasure from the visit, Lester walked away in that direction. From the Rectory the distance was considerably over a mile
, but a pleasanter country walk could not be found in England. The Hall stood far away from the high road, out of which, through a lodge gate, the visitor passed beneath a noble avenue of beeches to reach an open space, from whence, upon a rising ground, at the distance of about three furlongs, the home of the Poinders was to be seen. It stood in a small par's like enclosure, which was, however, but a trifling portion of the noble domain that originally belonged to the family, from whose last descendants the present owner had purchased it. The old family was supposed to have gone to ruin through neglecting wisely to use their landed property; but the present owner was not likely to fail in a similar manner. In the olden times, so the aged said, there was no paradise which could have surpassed the grounds around Rose Hall; not that they were finely laid out, but Nature had grouped her trees and formed her terraces in a picturesque style, which greatly surpassed the finest laying out of the artistic gardener. They who originally owned the estate had been wise enough to allow of that wild luxuriance and tangled growth which adds a charm to the most beautiful scenes; but the present proprietor, hating every form of free growth, would not tolerate trees unless they grew in regular plantation lines, and even their branches were freely Jopped off when they ventured upon throwing themselves out in an independent style. The gravel walks were all straight, and, in truth, hedges, plants, terraces, and trees bore testimony to the fact that their owner possessed far VOL. VI, NEW SERIES, VOL. II.
more money than taste. Every inch of ground was under rigorous super-
“A primrose by a river's brim,
And it was nothing more.” It was nothing more to Poinder, unless, indeed, as a machine out of which he could grind so much profit. A country won his admiration exactly in proportion to the market value of its produce. And as to the song-birds, he tolerated them because of having been convinced they were of use to the farmer. For a long time he was debating in his mind whether it would be better for England if there were no birds. They plundered the fruit trees, and ate a deal of corn; it was suggested that they sang to man, in return for what they had eaten, but he coolly asked if by their singing they could fill the listeners' cupboards. So far as his power was concerned, their fate was sealed, until an old farmer convinced him that they are excellent agricultural assistants. This caused a change of purpose, but of course without leading him any nearer to the appreciation of their exquisite melodies. He remained still a Peter Bell in regard to Nature. When travelling in the Highlands, he savagely told his wife, who had been extolling the scenery, that there was nothing but ugly mountains, dirty villages, and bad roads; once, when he was in the lake district, he declared there was nothing worth seeing, for it was all “ brown mountains, hard water, and sky not so blue as at the theatre.” Not only was he devoid of poetical feeling, but also of all perceptions of beauty ; and this was made manifest by the ruthless style in which, at his first coming, he attacked Rose Hall. It was a noble old Manor House, but he converted it into a square building. There were several deep bay windows, which he cut away in order to make the walls “
square and orderly." All the ancient furniture had been swept away, and sold by auction, because he could not tolerate it in the house. But when the carved oak had vanished, he was not sparing of the means to furnish with rosewood and mahogany. The Hall was fitted up without regard to cost, and yet there was not a room in it where real comfort was to be had. Every chair stood, sentry-like, in its place, as if afraid to move. That elegant disorder which marks the home of the man of taste, was unknown at Rose Hall, and in its stead there was starched formality, and cold precision.
The personal appearance of “ Ralph Poinder, Esq.," was anything but elegant or preposessing. Being short as a Laplander, fat as a Turk, and bandy-legged as a Fakeer; having a florid complexion, a large mouth, big red ears, and restless gray eyes, he looked more like a retired coachman than a rich country-gentleman. Had he generally appeared in ragged garments no doubt the police would have kept a sharp look out upon his proceedings. It was not difficult to perceive that he was not a gentleman either in manners or mind; for although exceedingly anxious to be considered a member of the beau monde, it was perfectly certain he had no conception of what constitutes the true gentlemanly character. There was in bis style and manner of speaking to dependants and servants, a sort of bullying tone, much like that
which characterises the speech of small jobbing contract masters, who are resolved upon getting as much as possible out of their workmen, but who are not so careful on behalf of their own employers. It was one of his favourite theories that the labouring classes must be kept down, and that, unless they were treated with severity, gentlemen would scarcely be permitted to walk the streets, in addition to being compelled to clean their own boots. When addressing tradesmen, a never-failing and most annoying pomposity marked his tone and manner, which was as ludicrous to the well-informed as it was irritating to the ignorant. The latter were vexed at being thus treated, because the style so painfully reminded them of Plethor the beadle, clothed in his new-laced coat, issuing his order of march to the charity children ; but the better-informed took his orders with the due measure of servility, and then, when his back was turned, compensated for their degradation by caricaturing his pompous style, and ridiculing the man.
It was when Ralph Poinder was at table dining with the squires, or . sitting upon the bench as a magistrate, or figuring at an evening party, that it was amusing to see him. He tried to be at home in every conversation, and literally failed in all. If a scientific subject were introduced, he could not bring himself to confess his ignorance, but persisted in nodding and ejaculating, “Indeed,” “Ah, yes !” as if he were greatly interested in the subject, when the fact was that he neither understood the technical terms made use of, nor cared the value of a straw for the science. At times his remarks were particularly mal à propos, but generally he remained unconscious of the fact. Many were the sly strokes of satire aimed at his impudence and ignorance by those of the ton who scorned the upstart but were delighted with his dinners. He returned the compliment by scorning them; mutually they hated each other, yet dared not openly confess the fact. He aimed at being a man of consequence in society, and thus stood in need of their countenance; while they, aiming at securing the largest possible measure of goodfeeding, stood greatly in love of his dinners. So that to obtain their ends each consented to play the hypocrite to the other. They were all “honourable” and straightforward self-seekers; and as each was careful to assist the other, they managed to convert life into that horrible kind of farce which terminates in the tragedy of self-destruction.
In modern days the question has been raised-though not elegantly proposed, "Have the lower animals got souls P” To which, as was to be expected, most opposite answers have been given, accompanied with the usual measure of bitterness. Men are generally the most positive upon those points about which they know nothing. Some have declared that “the animals are also immortal," and consequently the poor untutored Indian, who, according to Pope, expects in the other world to recover both his dog and gun, has all at once turned out to be a great intuitive philosopher. But before deciding the question, either for or against the pigs and dlucks, it will not be amiss if the learned will first determine whether all men have souls whether they who live the life of ease, neither achieving, nor even having, any purpose beyond those of feeding, dressing, killing time, and sleeping, have souls or, if, at starting, they be supplied in that particular with the same bounty as others, their souls do not become so lean and dwarfed as hardly to deserve the name ? They who propose to "save souls” are generally labouring among the lower classes ; not that they believe all the sin to be with them, for it is confessed that with the upper ten thousand there is more than the average share. And may it not be that as they never propose a West End or a Belgrave and Eaton Square Mission, it is their conviction that the souls of those who reside in those districts have become so dwarfed and stunted in a spiritual sense as to render their souls unworthy of being saved ?
But, with all his faults and weaknesses, Poinder was proud of his children, of whom he had seven, three being daughters, who were all at home. The sons were either at college or travelling, and of that fact their father was especially proud. In his general conversation, he frequently observed that it was very doubtful if colleges were as useful as men imagined ; if they were not best off who had the good fortune to escape them ; but this was when the remembrance crossed his mind that he had not matriculated ; for although frequently sneering at a university career, he was none the less proud in his heart that his four sons were, or had been, Oxford men.
The Miss Poinders were natural curiosities, and yet not worth much study; in fact, there was nothing in them which it was difficult to learn, for their characters lay upon the surface. Jane Victoria, the eldest, took after her father in height and form of face. She was short, robust, and remarkable for the abundance of her bright red hair. Passionately fond of gay colours, she managed to mingle all those of the rainbow in her dress, but being utterly devoid of taste, she arranged them as rudely as the red Indian squaw arranges blue and other beads upon scarlet cloth. Had she been born of poor parents, there is every reason to believe her position in life would have been that of a cook, and a good cook too. It was her delight to be among the pies and made dishes, both in the making and consuming, for her appetite was as good as her desire for cooking was intense. It was a pity Soyer never had the good fortune of being introduced to her; for, had he been, there is reason to believe his eloquence would have prevailed to make her descend from the proud level of her fortunes to pursue cooking as a glorious branch of art, in which case she would probably have given a new Poinder dish to the world, and all future feeding ages would have called her blessed.
Margery, the second daughter, took more after her mother. pale-faced, tall, thin, narrow-chested, and round-shouldered ; but there was an activity, and even a degree of gracefulness, in her movements, that tended to destroy much of the unfavourable impression produced by her first appear
There was, too, an almost Quaker-like quietuess in her style of dressing, which interested the observer even when it failed to please. She moved about the house almost as silently as if it were the family vault, and for some time past she had not been known to laugh. Just at this period she had become very religious, according to the mechanical methods of Pusey. She ate no meat on Fridays; she visited the ruins of an old abbey twice a-week for devotional purposes ; she tried a few doses of the hybrid Confessional; she surrendered a goodly portion of her time to the poor, distributing tracts about the consequences of not attending church, or the duty of obeying their pastors and masters, and spent her evenings either in reading the Lives of the Saints, or in obtaining a knowledge of Puginesque architecture. It had entered her head that Providence sent her into the world to be the bride of a clergyman; and, with perfect honesty, according to her restricted light, she was doing the best towards fitting herself for the supposed duties of that position.
vucy, the youngest child, now in her nineteenth year, was well-formed, of good stature, and clear-complexioned. She was not beautiful, but pleasing ; and it was impossible to look upon her sparkling eyes, or her happy face, without satisfaction. Unfortunately, her voice was rough and man-like; it
was dictatorial and thoroughly unpleasant; so much so, that until a considerable time had passed, so that habit had somewhat blunted the sense of its discordant tones, it was utterly impossible to pass an hour in her company without sore annoyance. To make matters worse, she was "passionately fond of Tennyson," whose poetry she knew by heart, but without comprehending any of his subtle meanings; and frequently she recited passages which had been bighly praised in the quarterlies, or in some of the magazines ; and when this occurred, it was a perfect torture for those who knew his poetry to sit and listen while its meaning was being obscured and its music destroyed. Upon one occasion she assisted in an amateur entertainment-got up for the benefit of “the Crosswood Gridiron and Coal Scuttle Society,”—by “reading the May Queen,” when the effect produced upon young Brier, the poet and reporter, was so fearful that he suffered under a fit of nervousness through at least six months, and never wholly recovered. This, however, he dared not notice in the " Tomahawk,” because Ralph Poinder was the most liberal supporter of that wonderful journal. In the report, the reading was pronounced to have been of first-rate excellence, bringing out all the exquisite points in the poem, and displaying a thorough mastery of the poet's thoughts. Lucy read the notice as gospel truth, and was so far hurried away upon the stream of fancy as to deplore that her position in life deprived her of the opportunity of outslining Helen Faucit or Miss Glyn as an actress and reader of Shakspere. All day long she was engaged mutilating passages from the dramatists and poets, or counting the hours which must elapse before another party or entertainment would give her the opportunity of once more displaying her talent to the benighted sons of Adam.
After dinner, when the ladies had retired, Lester was half-annoyed, halfamused, with the conversation. Captain Oscott had recently heard of a
society for improving the cottages of agricultural labourers," and vented his indignation upon the “ meddling fellows who will not be content to let well alone, but must always be interfering with the landed gentlemen of England, as if they did not know what is best for their own labourers.”
“No good can come of it,” said Poinder ; " no good. They will go on making labouring men discontented with their masters and their work, until, by-and-bye, men of property will be compelled to emigrate to some country where they can do as they please with their own, and then it is most likely the labourers will be in a fearful plight, for they will have no cottages to live in.”
“Right; that's exactly my opinion," put in Squire Bezley; "and the fact is, that Parliament should interfere, to render all such societies illegal. They are a wretched set .who get them up. Cottages, indeed! Why, it's not many years ago since the working men had nothing but mud-huts, and were contented with whatever they could get. Now the labourer is told that he is an injured man, and that he ought to have higher wages and less work. I'll be shot if some of my labourers don't believe themselves to have quite as good a right to the land as I have. And this all comes of schools. Education is ruining the working classes of England; and it will never be well with us until the schools are shut up, and the stocks brought back again."
“ The stocks. Ah! yes,” said the blundering Poinder," there is nothing like the stocks for a mau with a cool head and a calculating mind. I have cleared my twenty thousand in a day. I had a friend who used to let me know the contents of the despatches
Here, suddenly, he checked himself, for, unconsciously, through mistaking the meaning of the Squire in naming the stocks, his mind reverted to its