The New Arcadia/Chapter 3



"But far more numerous was the herd of such
Who think too little and who talk too much."—Dryden.

"Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools."—Pope.

"So you have another scheme for reforming the world, father? What a pity you are not the Premier, or rather President of the Trades' Hall! We could all live without working then."

"You're just like your mother, Gwyneth. Never appreciating me and my plans, and you're too plain spoke too! I'll not be treated like this no longer!" laying down his knife and fork.

"Dear father, do not become excited," rejoined the girl, slipping from her seat and imprinting a soft kiss on the knitted brows. "Now tell me all about it. There! I'll sit and sew, and say nothing."

The speaker was a tall girl, with bright hazel eyes and wavy brown hair, straight Grecian nose, firm mouth and chin—one of Nature's queens of common sense and good looks.

Her father, a widower, whose only child she was, had been a soldier in his time, and now lived on the shilling a day his country allowed him—plus another shilling or two his daughter's deft needle won.

"Too clever by half." "Talks more nor he thinks." "Showy, but won't wash!" were the epithets with which his comrades summed up valiant John Elms. He knew something of everything—building, farming, and scheming—was a "bush lawyer," spoke much of "Political Economy," and the "Rights of Man." The anarchists he denounced, and claimed himself to be a Christian Socialist. A son of Erin, he could talk by the hour, like most of his countrymen, with that facility that comes of iteration of the same truths, with varied thumpings of table or tub to drive each platitude home.

The little house in Richmond, thanks to Gwyneth's skill and care, was a model poor man's home. The Sergeant, as Elms liked to be called, was apt at domestic carpentery, as his daughter was with respect to plain upholstery. The parlour, where the Sergeant's meal was laid—he came in at all hours from "meetings"—boasted a small cabinet-organ, a sewing-machine, and a faded drawing-room suite, rendered ever fresh and clean by immaculate holland coverings with red pipings. Rural and military pictures, from the illustrated papers, framed in wood or leather work by father and daughter, decked the walls.

"If there was a prize for the cosiest little home," Dick Malduke, Gwyneth's secret admirer, used to say, "you'd get it, and 'honorary' mention into the bargain."

"I'm full of a new scheme," remarked the father as he drank his tea.

"That's nothing wonderful," responded the undemonstrative daughter, "since you propound (isn't that what you call it?) a fresh theory every day."

"Oh, but I have some one behind me, I feel, now. Some one I can work upon, to put some of my glorious principles into practice."

"And who may be your latest tool, father?" inquired the girl.

"No tool, by Jove!" was the rejoinder. "A reg'lar big-wig of pluck and spirit, I can tell you. You should have seen him send your Dick sprawling," he added, chuckling.

"He's more to you than to me," replied the girl with emphasis on the pronouns. "I admire him as I do the rest of the talkers who don't work! But what happened to your friend, father? This is really quite interesting."

"It was this way," the Sergeant continued; "we were going with about two hundred of the poor fellows, for whom my heart bleeds, to our place of meeting. Dick was carrying the colours, when a smartish trap came dashing up. The horse shied at the red flag, and ran over a little boy that was following. We surrounded the dog-cart, and the chaps began to hoot at the gent, though it was no fault of his. He didn't care a straw. Just went and looked after the little man and put him into a cab. As he was getting up, Dick and some of the others pulled him down, and the cab went on. My man—he's a real game 'un—glared at them like a lion with his tail trod on. Dick—who's always too much to say and must be first, excuse my remarking it——"

"You can say anything, dear father," interjected his daughter, with an arch smile, "to show what a set of simpletons your followers are, and that Dick's the greatest."

"Dick," continued the Sergeant, with a smile, "told the gentleman he ran over the child on purpose. He said nothing more. The doctor clean lifted him from his feet with one from the shoulder. And we saw no more of Mr. Malduke."

"Valiant Dick!" exclaimed the maiden.

At that moment there was a knock at the door that opened directly on the street.

"Good-evening, Miss Elms," said a round, thick-set young man as he entered.

"Why, it's Dick himself," exclaimed the girl. "We were just speaking of you, Mr. Malduke. Talk of the angels and you see their wings."

The visitor seemed in no mood for badinage.

"What have you that bandage across your eye for?" asked the girl, not very sympathetically. "You've been fighting, I do declare."

"Blowed if I have," replied the man moodily; "it's only a cowardly blow that I'll be avenged for yet."

"Why didn't you up and give it him back then and there?" suggested the Sergeant, with a laugh. "Never mind, old boy, he was too big for you. 'He that fights and runs away'—you know the rest. You have to fight another day, you know. Come and have some supper any way, now."

Midst light banter, that the young man only half appreciated, another plate was set, and the events of the day discussed.

"I walked with the doctor towards the hospital," said the elder man, "and he told me—seeing, I suppose, that I knew a thing or two—that he and his friends had a scheme for mending matters. Strange we should have set upon him! He's had a practice up country, and seems to know all about the life, and a lot about the social question, too, though of course I could teach him a lot."

The daughter looked up amused, but said nothing.

"I'm to see him again, and promised to co-operate with him, much to his delight."

"It's all rubbish!" commented Dick, tilting back his chair, "this jabber of co-operation and profit-sharing and their 'new systems.' All a device of the capitalist to make men slaves under another name. I see a lot of 'sweatin'' in it, Mr. Elms. Of course he'll own the land and get all the profit in the end. You see!"

"There you're wrong," replied the Sergeant, "as you raving anarchists always are. You know your game would be up if capital and labour joined hands."

"Don't hit him too hard, father," interjected the maiden, who was stitching on, amused. "He has been punished once already."

Dick looked daggers at the girl, whose head was bent over her work, then he continued—

"I don't believe in half-measures. You'll do no good till every blessed thing's burst up and the State takes control, and all's divided fair."

"Every Saturday night?" naïvely suggested the girl; "it'll be necessary I fear."

"Now look here, Dick," said the Sergeant, "don't be a fool; we have the brains. Let us use these fellows. You just fall into line with us. We'll soon get the concern, if it's started, into our own hands and twist things round as we like."

To much sentiment of this character expression was given. At length the girl, who had kept silence for some time, rose from her seat, and with mingled shame and scorn drawing herself to her full height, her dark eyes flashing, said—

"I'm not going to sit here and listen to such unmanly utterances. God knows, I sorrow for those who are hungry and homeless, but they, for the most part, are honest. They will not lend themselves to stinging the hand that would help them. You throughout are thinking of yourselves, not of them." So saying, she swept with dignity into the little kitchen adjoining, shutting the door with something very like a bang.

Dick looked abashed. The father, with a thump on the table, and a somewhat proud though subdued expression on his face, exclaimed—

"Just her mother all over. She was a lady, you know. Ran away with me. I was good-looking in those days, and could always make an impression.

"What Gwyneth thinks, she must say. And she will always think for herself, as no woman should, to my thinking. I used to try to tame her. Now I give her head, for her mother's sake, and a bit for my own."

"She's a thund'rin' fine girl all the same," added Dick. "Didn't her eyes flash! I'm sorry we vexed her. I'll go and apologize," and the rash youth entered the kitchen and closed the door.

"Always too much talk. Master Dick," soliloquized the father; "you are putting your head into the lioness's mouth. You'll get more than you bargained for, I'm thinking, and you'll never win my daughter."

Gwyneth, her dress tucked about her, was vigorously "washing up" the supper things. She did not raise her head as the young man entered.

"Miss Elms," he began, "I'm really sorry I vexed you, but you know I must be thorough-going."

"In your own interest," she remarked quietly. "What do you care about the poor you talk so much about? I hate shams."

"I am devoted, you must admit, Miss Elms, to the cause of Labour."

"Then why do you not undertake more of it?" she remarked shortly.

"I work with my brains, Miss Elms, with tongue and heart, for the Great Cause of the People."

"All with capital letters," she sneered. "Why do you not sometimes go and do an honest day's work instead of indulging in tall talk?" she added with contempt.

"I would for you, Miss Elms. I'd break stones if only you would encourage me. Gwyneth," the young man proceeded, laying his hand on the dish-cloth, which she relinquished to him, "why do you always spurn me? Do you not know that I adore the ground you walk on?"

"You should not do that," was the quick reply, "the kitchen's not been scrubbed this week. Now, Dick, don't talk rubbish," the girl continued in her quiet, matter-of-fact manner. "Go home like a good man and take care of your eye. And remember this, if you want to come here any more, don't you dare urge my father, who means well, to play the hypocrite and sneak. Now, good-night. I can let you out at this door. Oh, I'll bid farewell to father for you, you need not go back for that." And the dignified maiden bowed the abashed Agitator out at the back entrance into the narrow right-of-way.