Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Philosopher Dick

Chapter XIV

page 382

Chapter XIV.

"To Mr. Richard Raleigh.

"Sunnydowns, 26th October.

"My dear Dick,

—God forgive me for not writing before. I feel that I have forfeited man's forgiveness, and can only look to Heaven, that knows the hearts of men, for that which I really think I deserve. Had you been a rich uncle and a pretty twenty-year-old cousin (female) all in one, I should not have written you a single line more than I have done since we met.

"There are some moral laws, my dear child, as inexorable as natural ones. I am, I regret to say, a moral leopard; in other words, I have spots, and I have spots very bad. Unhappy being that I am, I cannot change my spots for the tiger's good conduct stripes, or for my friend the donkey's patient cross.

"I am of the spotted, spotty, and so I shall remain to the end of the chapter.

"I sometimes think that I have been badly brought up, as Heaven knows I was, and then I put the page 383blame there. After reading some delightful twaddle by Mr. Jeremy Taylor, or by the late excellent Joseph Addison of the Spectator, on the influence of example, I blame my sinful associates, from the day I was born to the day I last saw you. Then, on reading some of the moral jerks that Dr. Swift occasionally gave forth, I fancy that all my misfortunes are owing to my having no such thing as vital religion.

"By-the-bye, although you are so mild, amiable, placid and temperate in speech, courteous in manner, mindful of the sweet amenities and little duties that constitute politeness, a good correspondent, and a philosopher to boot, yet you too must have been badly trained, or have relapsed into original sin, otherwise you would not be a hundred miles away from me at this moment. Your associates—one or two of them—I know to be villainously doubtful, and your vital religion is that of the 'Establishment.'

"How is all this? Art thou spotted also? If so, then I am happy, for we can run together, although I am ready to declare that my spots are much blacker than thine.

"I am not going to relate the history of the past month; in the first place, it would be a task, and in the next, the subject is hateful to me.

"Only by word of mouth confidence, on divers page 384incidental occasions and over recurring cigars, shall your goodness be enlightened. For the present, dear Raleigh, know that I am as well as can be expected, and as happy as may be while away from you. I have come to Sunnydowns at last; I have taken possession of the house, and am being introduced to the business of the former practitioner. I might have saved some of my money by starting opposition and starving him out, which would have been no difficult task, but I much prefer our present friendly arrangement.

"I was warned against the man, as a very drunken, good-for-nothing fellow; I found him kind, but helpless, so I determined to deal with him in Christian charity. This poor devil has had a fairly good practice, and would have done much better if he had learnt to behave himself. He is a dull, loutish kind of a fellow, with only a moderate knowledge of his profession, and none of the world. He has lived alone, a bachelor, in a bare deserted place, without comfort, attendance, or company of any sort, and the wonder is that, leading the miserable life he led, he escaped drinking himself to death. Since I have been here I have managed to introduce a little comfort and regularity into the establishment, and the result is a marked improvement already, for he has only got page 385drunk once or twice during the past week. Instead of imbibing a bottle of brandy a day, he now makes one last three days, so you see I have done some good.

"I expect his next move will be farther up country. This place was getting much too civilised for him, as he is essentially a bush doctor.

"The house will need some additions to it, which are not easily effected, as it is an extraordinary piece of patchwork already. The original portion, or nucleus, was little better than a mud hovel with a thatched roof, and this has been built on to it, supported at one end with the wing of a brick house, and on another side with an iron-roofed shed, the whole being tied together with portions of verandah ends and a covered way. I don't intend parting with a bit of the venerable pile, but shall probably run out some lean-tos and other excrescences, with the full certainty that the more I do to it the more damnable it will look.

"Notwithstanding outward appearances, I believe we shall be able to make ourselves cosy enough inside. There are four good-sized rooms. I have selected one for you that is well lighted, and has a westerly aspect, with a pretty view of Mount Pleasant through clumps of native shrubs. It will make page 386a capital studio. We shall probably not keep a 'slavey' at first, but can engage a charwoman to clean up, and make arrangements for taking our meals at the hotel over the way. Next week my 'predecessor' is to leave, and I shall be left in solitary grandeur. I shall then look forward to your coming with feverish expectancy. I should never be able to live contentedly here by myself, but with you I feel that I may yet squeeze out some honeyed drops from the bitter cup. I am pleased with the prospect, and see my way to making a comfortable living. I have made numerous acquaintances already, and have been received with much cordiality; but all this, even with improved health, would avail me nothing without the presence of a trusted friend. Without you, I feel that I should have no companion.

"I suppose you expect some description of the people here, but you will have to come and see for yourself. I know as yet very little about them, and might live here for years without knowing much more. I mean concerning their intellectual and social conditions—about the physical ailments I trust to be better informed. The Wyldes are, of course, my most intimate neighbours. I have seen a good deal of them. Mrs. Wylde is always interesting, fresh, and entertaining; sympathetic and charmingly Irish, save and page 387except when she is talking of gunners, sailors, and P. and O. steamers. I must confess that there is a sameness about the Commodore. He is rarely interesting until he arrives at his three-decker lies. The stipendiary magistrate—Mr. Beaumont—is a highly-educated man, with a venerable head and literary tastes. He is a decided acquisition to our small circle; but I find him too moody and mindful of his small salary, with an air of ennui, born, I should think, of experience and disappointment.

"His wife is the best-preserved woman I have ever seen. She would be positively captivating if she were not a grandmother. But she is too matronly for her sweet acquiescent manners, and too pleasant altogether for her age. Her eldest daughter is a clever girl, but she is shy of talking and exhibiting her first-class brains, for fear of showing her bad front teeth. Mabel, the cadet, is a charming little thing, but of an awkward age—old enough to be interesting, but too old to caress.

"We have a police station, and a sub-inspector of police stationed in it. Sterling is a frequent visitor at the medical quarters. He is a heavy man, very much married, and with a tendency to oppressiveness. At an execution, or in the act of capturing a runaway convict who has brained a warder or just page 388outraged an elderly female, Sterling would be interesting, but when he strays from the dark and thrilling paths of crime he is commonplace.

"The Seymours are said to be refined and hospitable people, travelled and accomplished too, but I have not yet called upon them. Unfortunately, they enjoy perfect health.

"The Dugalds are North of Ireland people, who have a run, and drink whisky. The O'Neils are South of Ireland people, who have a run, and drink whisky. The Patricks are West of Ireland people, who have a run, and drink whisky. They all live within a radius of five miles. You see there is a family likeness throughout. These good people are profuse in their hospitality, but on one condition—that you drink whisky. My predecessor, whatever his shortcomings might be, was never backward in this respect, and he was exceedingly popular with the set accordingly. I have not yet been the round, and I confess to rather dreading the ordeal, although I can generally hold my own in a drinking bout.

"I have been interviewed by the parson, a very decent sort of man, with rather a lugubrious exterior.

"The first meeting was cold and formal, and it appeared likely that we had not much in common, when the happy thought struck me to produce a bottle page 389of brandy. Thereupon he brightened up, and sententiously observed, 'I have ever considered that the best thing to drink is good old wine; next to that good old brandy.' We immediately fraternised. He accepted a cigar, and I considerately discussed with him the question whether or not the moral sense was part of the intellectual faculties, and therefore dependent on brain conditions, consequently terminable with the death of the cerebrum.

"We pursued the subject through three brandy and sodas, and left it unfinished. Strange to say, he was not dogmatic, nor—my dear friend, smiling at the assertion—was I.

"Now I must close. Many thanks for your two letters, but I reserve comments for word of mouth. Come at once, as you promised; come without excuses or rhodomontade. Let not the old man with oily words detain you, and be proof against even the blandishments of his elegant consort; come, for Friendship calls.

"Keep your mind easy, your heart free, and your digestion active. I can give you no better advice; only do not—oh, do not—whatever you do, do not get married.—Ever thine,


Immediately after receiving his friend's letter, page 390Raleigh sought an interview with Mr. Dale to arrange about leaving. He had already conveyed an informal intimation to that effect, but, with habitual diffidence, he had shrunk from any outspoken explanation on the subject.

The returns of the shearing had promised to be exceptionally good, and the squatter was elated accordingly. Raleigh found the old gentleman in an amiable mood, and inclined to be pompously gracious. He was a tall portly man, with a very dignified presence. His head was grey, and partially bald at the top; his face clean-shaved, with the exception of neatly-trimmed grey whiskers; his complexion ruddy, and his features heavy but aristocratic. In manner he studied above all things a grave deportment.

Although an intensely selfish and conceited man, with a very crabbed temper, yet he could generally exercise sufficient self-control to appear calm and complacent. His distinguishing characteristic was suavity. He spoke in measured terms, with soft inflexions, every sentence being articulated with slow precision and rolled out with unctuous impressiveness. In manner he was polite, condescendingly polite, "too b——y polite," according to the rough chaps about, who would sooner stand to be sworn at than addressed in such courtly style. That Mr. Dale page 391swore hard in his heart nobody doubted, and reports had got about that he had been noticed to retire into a quiet corner and there to let off the suppressed steam with great violence. Possibly his wife may have had occasionally to witness those private ebullitions, for it was remarked that whenever her lord was praised in her hearing for his remarkable suavity, she would look rather blue, and answer in mono-syllables.

Mr. Dale received the philosopher with rather more than his customary urbanity.

"Well, my dear boy," he said, "so you want to leave us? Both Mrs. Dale and myself shall be sorry to part with you, but I suppose you know your own business best. It seems rather a pity that, after spending some years in acquiring a practical knowledge of sheep-farming, you should give it up. I have done my best to afford you useful opportunities, and now they are to be thrown away. I have no wish to pry into your affairs; still, considering the deep interest I have taken in your prospects, I may be allowed to ask, What do you propose doing?"

"I have no definite plans," replied the other; "I "never had any."

"Dear me, that is very much to be regretted. A fixed object in life is of great assistance to any page 392young man who is desirous of getting on in the world."

"No doubt of it," said Raleigh.

"A steady purpose, and perseverance in following it up," continued the old gentleman sententiously, "that is the secret of success. Thrift and work, young man, is the royal road to advancement; constant application to business will serve you"——

"Like poor Stead," muttered Raleigh sarcastically.

"My late lamented manager and friend"—Mr. Dale laid particular emphasis on the last word, as if to confer a gracious tribute on the departed one—"was distinguished by these good qualities, and by that means he had earned our confidence and esteem; he would certainly have got on well had he lived."

"Yes; but these shining examples are too good to live," observed Raleigh, with a melancholy shake of the head. "You always hear of their dying young."

Mr. Dale coughed. "We are all liable to accidents, even the best of us," he remarked gravely. "Since his unfortunate death I have been considering, and I have talked the matter over with Mrs. Dale, whether we might not offer you the position of manager—at a lesser salary, of course—but really, my dear boy, with every wish to forward your prospects, page 393and notwithstanding the high regard I always bore your gallant father, and my wish to serve his son"——

"Pray don't mention it," exclaimed the other.

"I fear it would not answer," added the old gentleman with extreme suavity.

"I am sure of it," said Raleigh sharply.

"The fact is," continued Mr. Dale, spreading himself out, and declaiming in a measured and consequential style, "the fact is, in order to succeed, what you want is"——

"Capital!" interjected Raleigh.

"Well, no—yes—why, of course, capital is very serviceable, we all know that. By-the-bye, I understood you had some expectations in that line."

"So I had," answered Raleigh with mock ruefulness, "but, alas! my sad fate has always been

"'By expectations every day beguiled,
Dupe of to-morrow, even from a child.'"

"That is most unfortunate," remarked Mr. Dale, "especially as I could have offered you an excellent investment. But what I was about to observe, when you interrupted me, was that, apart from money, a young man could succeed if he only had"——

"Luck!" interjected Raleigh again.

"Not at all!" protested the other testily. "Not page 394that I deny the advantage of good fortune, but who can trust to that? No, young man, you must learn to rely upon yourself; and what you require is"——

"Cheek!" blurted out the philosopher, with a dark look; "my cursed modesty has been my ruin."

Mr. Dale drew himself up; he bent his eyebrows, and his colour flushed. Then he seemed to check the rising irritation with a loud "Ahem!" and he remarked with impressive gravity, "What you lack, sir, is energy,"

Raleigh shrugged his shoulders. "I have heard that before," he said.

"You cannot hear it too often," replied the old gentleman sternly.

"I'm not sure about that," observed the philosopher argumentatively. "Do you know, sir, that I have come to the conclusion, after giving the subject much impartial consideration, that too much energy is a mistake. Energy is well enough in its way; in small doses and taken in moderation it is beneficial, but if indulged in to excess it is decidedly harmful. It is a bad habit, which has a tendency to grow upon people, to fasten on their vitals, to poison their minds. I have noticed that very energetic men are generally unhappy.

"The British race is particularly afflicted with this page 395complaint—indeed, it has become almost a national epidemic, a moral distemper. On the continent of Europe they call it the spleen."

Mr. Dale opened his eyes wide, and stared down upon the speaker with lofty amazement. He had an uneasy suspicion, at first, that his young friend was "taking a rise out of him," but the earnestness of Raleigh's manner reassured him in that respect. Mr. Dale could only clasp his hands together in silent horror, and shake his head solemnly at expressions of opinion so utterly damnable, or, what amounts to the same thing, so thoroughly un-English. Next to doubting the immeasurable superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race over all other nationalities, the ineffable gloriousness of the British constitution, or the sublime certainty of the principles of free-trade, he could scarcely conceive any profanity greater than to question the pre-eminent advantages of energy.

"You are a queer fellow, my dear Raleigh," he remarked, "and you say some very queer things. It is the first time in my life that I ever heard it asserted that a man could be the worse for energy."

"The world has gone energy-mad," pursued the philosopher warmly. "This age ought in the future to be known as 'The energetic century.' We hear of nothing else. The great discovery of the day is the page 396conservation of energy, but it appears to me that what must have been bottled up for thousands of years has now gushed out upon us with a vengeance.

"Possibly the next age may get a respite. You may have too much of a good thing. The modern scientist would reduce everything to energy, even to a man's soul. The political economist sees in it—under its ordinary expression of money-making—the sole incentive to human action. Progress is developed energy, capital a concentrated energy, education is diffusion of energy, liberty is unrestricted energy, and so on.

"Damn the energy, I say! Are we mere machines, to puff and whirl away all our lives? That we should have to work in order to live is right, but that we should live solely to work is wrong. But apart from all that, I maintain that energy is not the secret of success in life—in fact, as the world is now constituted, energy does not pay?"

Mr. Dale condescended to be gravely amused. "What does pay, then?" he asked.

"The three qualifications which I consider I lack most," answered the other demurely, "capital, luck, and cheek. With any one of these a man is bound to get on. Of course we all know that money makes money. A rich man has no difficulty in becoming richer. In the game of chance which makes up our page 397precarious career the lucky man always comes out right. Then impudence will always assert itself, and the world takes us very much at our own estimation. Of course there are other ways of making money. The miser is bound to accumulate, the usurer clutches his gains; then there is overreaching in trade, gambling, speculation, quackery of every sort. There's a fortune in advertising alone. Perhaps not the least successful party is the one who ruins the energetic man. But where does the honest, ingenuous hard worker ever prosper, beyond earning a mere pittance? It is a universal rule, which seems to apply to every grade and condition of life, the better pay the less work.

"The head man gets a high salary to do very little; the subordinates have to drudge long hours for starvation wages.

"Take any contract undertaking, for instance. The navvie toils like a beast of burden and does the work for bare subsistence; the gauger receives half as much again for looking on; the foreman is paid three times as well to ride about and give directions; the manager drives a carriage and pair, and is in receipt of a fine income; while the contractor can sit in his comfortable office, pulling the wires and amassing a large fortune. That's how the work and the pay are distributed."

page 398

"Your illustration is hardly appropriate," observed Mr. Dale dogmatically. "There are several kinds of energy. Some toil with their hands, others with their brain. The enterprising contractor probably displays more activity than any of his men, only it is of a different sort. It is not those who bustle about and make the greatest show that accomplish most—look at me!"

Raleigh did look at him, but what thoughts he may have indulged in concerning that imposing object he wisely kept to himself. For Mr. Dale was just the personage who did make a great stir and a show of activity without ever doing anything. He had verily accomplished a great deal, but it was only in the way of getting into debt.

"Oh, you are quite out of the common," Raleigh said, with a facetious look; "but, present company excepted, can you point out to me a single person of your acquaintance in this district who has accumulated wealth and gained a position by energy alone?"

The old gentleman was taken rather aback by this home-thrust—he had never looked at the question in that practical way before.

"Well," he said with some hesitation, "let me see—there is Money Brown."

"Money Brown!" exclaimed the other contemp-page 399tuously, "a miserable, grasping, decrepit old money-grubber—a real miser, only that instead of hoarding gold he puts it into land. He came here with money in the first instance, and purchased all the town allotments he could lay hands on at £20 an acre—now worth as many thousands. A man who never parts with anything, who lives in a hovel, subsists on wild pork and potatoes, and brings up his family like paupers. His boys have to work like country louts in the fields, and they say that his wife was not able to go to town for three years for want of a decent dress to wear. And that man has an income which is variously estimated at from £20,000 to £40,000 a year. If that is energy, it must have assumed the form of masterly inactivity."

Mr. Dale scratched his right ear, which he had a habit of doing when he was puzzled. "The man is a miser, no doubt," he said, "and he has peculiar notions about bringing up his children; but he is a very straightforward character, and is justly considered to be one of our leading and most successful colonists. A man of substance, sir. Well then, what about Grabbem & Co.?"

"Usurers, sir—blood-suckers. Everybody knows how they made their money. How many plucky, energetic young men have not been inveigled into page 400their net under false inducements—started as hardy pioneers to open up new country, through years of toil and privation, then suddenly involved in financial difficulties, and discovered to be at the mercy of these wily schemers, to be squeezed dry and turned adrift, ruined and often broken-hearted? That's the sort of energy that pays!"

"You are severe, young man," observed Mr. Dale very complacently, "although I must admit that you have not shot far off the mark. Still, consider what a name they have made and what influence they exercise. If you are prudent, you will try to keep on good terms with a firm of that sort. Now, for high-principled, deserving young men, who have got on very well, there are the Minnows."

"Very decent fellows," said Raleigh, "and nobody has a word to say against them, but their enterprise has been purely of a matrimonial kind. They started with a little money, and were more noted for their parsimony than for anything else. But they are both good-looking and gentlemanly. As they wanted more capital to do any good, the eldest went home and succeeded in marrying an heiress who was the ward of an old aunt of theirs. That was a grand stroke. Now the other fellow has gone to have a try for the sister, who is also well off—the old aunt aiding page 401and abetting, for they want to keep the money in the family."

"Not a bad lay either, my boy! About as good a way of getting a start in life as I know of. Why don't you look out for something of that sort?"

"Oh, I am not energetic enough," replied Raleigh, with a laugh.

"The main test is success," asserted Mr. Dale impressively; "but there are many roads to fortune, if followed up with pluck and perseverance. Look at Blabber for instance. Nobody knows how he gets on; he is always in difficulties, but his dogged energy"——

"Brazen impudence, you mean!" exclaimed Raleigh; "why, the man is one of the most barefaced frauds that ever lived. And what's more, he glories in it. Land specs and mining swindles is what he principally trades on, but he is game to take in anybody in any transaction. I travelled on a coach with him once, and all the way he was boasting of the smart things he had done. The best of the joke is that one of his dupes was present. The poor fool actually joined in the laugh, and seemed quite proud of having been victimised by such a genius."

Mr. Dale loved to hear his friends disparaged, so he merely nodded approvingly, while the philosopher rattled on, out of no ill-will to the people alluded to, page 402but intent on establishing his original proposition, that capital, luck, and cheek were the main factors of success in life.

"Well," said the old gentleman, after they had pretty well exhausted the élite of the province, "well, to return to our first business; I should much like to be of some assistance to you, and to find you some more suitable and permanent situation. As you know, I have considerable interest"——

"To pay," muttered the other, sotto voce.

"And if I could use it on your behalf I would gladly do so. Now, there's the Customs—I might perhaps be able to obtain for you an appointment in that department. You would have to start at the bottom of the ladder, at £80 a year, but if you were steady"——

"But I am most unsteady," pleaded the philosopher grimly. "That would never do, thank you very much all the same."

"It is a great pity," continued Mr. Dale sententiously, "that when you were at college you did not at least take a degree; it might have assisted you materially in after life. If you had M. A. after your name I could easily have got you a place as usher in our High School."

"Oh Lord," ejaculated Raleigh, "I thank Thee that I have been spared that possibility."

page 403

"And you are too old," pursued Mr. Dale, without noticing the interruption, "to be admitted into a bank; not," he added hastily, "that I would recommend any friend or protégé of mine to associate himself with any one of those baneful institutions."

The bank was Mr. Dale's bête noire. It was the one topic upon which he could wax eloquent in indignant denunciation. The bank was, according to him, a hideous social vampire, that sucked the life-blood from the people, a blight on industry, the curse of the country.

Raleigh knew the old man's weakness, and took a malicious joy in humouring him to the top of his bent. "I wouldn't be in a bank, sir," he exclaimed with assumed warmth, "except to draw money from it, no, not for all it contained."

"Oh my young friend," cried Mr. Dale with emotion, as he shook his companion warmly by the hand, "I am so glad to hear you say so. If you had my experience; if you only knew the wholesale robbery effected by these iniquitous bodies, you would pause before you ever had any dealings with them. Beware of them, for if once you get into their clutches you are lost. Would you believe it, sir, the bank holds a lien on my property? but"—— But, once started on that vexed question, there was no stopping page 404the old gentleman, who declaimed vehemently for half-an-hour at a stretch, until the dinner-bell rang, when he wiped the perspiration from his noble brow and graciously walked Raleigh off.

Now, what was the secret of Mr. Dale's intense aversion to the bank? It was simplicity itself. He owed the bank a great deal of money—indeed, all the tribulation was certainly on the side of the bank. When he first started squatting, he had obtained considerable advances from the bank, on the strength of plausible pretences, well supported by his imposing presence and his suave manner. This amount soon had to be increased, for the bank, like any other investor, had to wait for returns, and Mr. Dale had a happy knack of prolonging the agony. Improvements were needed, additions to stock had to be made, and more extended operations were deemed necessary for ultimate success.

In order not to lose what it had already advanced, the bank had to make further advances, while the interest at 12½ per cent. was ever accumulating. The bank had to find all the money, and, as Mr. Dale pleasantly put it, he found the brains. But the money went, while the brains remained, so that the old gentleman had the best of the bargain.

page 405

Now, as Raleigh used to discourse with much verve, "The unfortunate man who is only moderately indebted to the bank may have serious cause for anxiety, for he has to deal with a grasping and unscrupulous creditor; one without personal consideration, or bowels of compassion; but when the lucky customer is 'well in,' when his overdraft represents, as in the case of Mr. Dale, five or six times the total value of his assets, then he has no cause whatever to be alarmed. Why need the old man fret? It is the other party that has all the trouble. It is with the bank as with learning—

"'Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.'

Mr. Dale has imbibed so freely that it is beyond the bounds of possibility to make him disgorge. The bank started him, and the bank must keep him going."

This the bank soon found out to its cost. There was no way out of it. To have stopped supplies would have precipitated a crash, and involved a huge loss and a most damaging exposure. The bank found that it was policy to support Mr. Dale as "a going concern."

On the other hand, as that gentleman's indebtedness increased so did his importance. A man with an overdraft of fifty thousand pounds could only be considered as a personage of great weight. He be-page 406came at last a sort of "old man of the sea," that rode on the shoulders of the bank, and could not be shaken off.

The whole banking fraternity was called in to assist, and the authorities were puzzled beyond measure to know what to do with this frightful incubus.

To sell him up would have been folly. At last a happy thought struck them; they united their efforts, and put him in Parliament!

And that is how Mr. Dale became an "honourable."