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The Seven Sons of Mammon.
BY GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA.
WHAT is the proverbial dish known as "Humble Pie" made of?
"Sugar and spice, and all that's nice," as is suited to the appetite of little girls? "Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails," as beseems the ruder stomachs of little boys? It is questionable. Many consider Humble Pie to be a mere figure of speech-a rhetorical viand, which might furnish the table of him who dines with Duke Humphrey, having previously breakfasted with a Barmecide, lunched on diagrams, and filled himself with the east wind. Still, there is reason to believe that Humble Pie was a viand actually consumed by our great grandmothers; and taking into account the ingredients in a recipe, which the writer has found in a very old volume of the Gentleman's Magazine, the pie need have been by no means so untoothsome as its name would imply: "Take the humbles of a deer," says the recipe,-you see, there is venison for you to begin with,—and then it goes on to enumerate slices of bacon, condiments, buttered crust, and so forth all things by no means suggestive of humility. He who first decried Humble Pie, and libelled it as a mean and shabby kind of victuals, was very probably some envious one who came late to the feast, and of the succulent pasty found only the pie-dish and some brown flakes of crust remaining.
The Humble Pie which the ex-curate Ruthyn Pendragon was invited
to eat soon after his departure from Swordsley was, however, the metaphorical, and not the dainty dish. He looked at it with loathing, but dreaded lest he might have to eat it perforce, as Pistol ate his leek, -fortune cudgelling him the while, and had he not been a clergyman, he might have said, again with ancient Pistol, "I eat, and eke I swear." Not but that I think swearing to be quite practicable without verbal maledictions. Good manners have banished oaths from the drawingroom and the dinner-table; but pray, did you never see the master of the house look a very unmistakable malison at the servants if the sidedishes were not handed round properly, or the wines were corked? Did you never detect your charming neighbour in the ocular utterance of at least a score naughty words, when, by unskilful carving, you have given her the wings of a bird which would not enable her to fly away, or when in the dance it has been your misfortune to tread on and tear one of her hundred-and-fifty flounces? We are commanded not to swear at all; but having stifled the gros mots, let us carry out the good work by putting a bit between our teeth, lest they too should grind themselves in mute curses; let us put a bearing-rein on our shoulders, lest they should shrug, and a kicking-strap on our fingers, lest they should be clenched and especially blinkers over our eyes, far too prone as they are, on slight provocation, to dart malignant expletives to the right and to the left.
So Ruthyn Pendragon, being reverend, did not swear-at least out loud; but his brow grew darker, and his eye fiercer, and he bit his lip more closely every day. It is a hard fight, that tussle with the strong, rich, well backed-up world—and you all untrained, underfed, and friendless; you think you may win the contest by science and finish. Well, if you be wondrous wise, you may do so; but in general the brute force of your opponent carries the day, and one swashing blow from the Hercules you are battling with sends you sprawling. And pray mark the philosophy in the rhyme of the nursery hero, who was "wondrous wise:" He jumped into a quickset hedge, and scratched out both his eyes; that is to say, he got into difficulties; he was broken, ruined, sold up; he went to the dogs; his enemies exulted, and said, "There is an end of our friend. It is all up with him. We always thought so." Indeed the man's wondrous wisdom came to his aid; for by mere force of marvellous sagacity and strong will, did he not scratch his eyes in again.
Ruthyn Pendragon found that of his own motion he had thrown up the means of earning a decent and reputable livelihood. He had got nothing in exchange but a gratuitous seat at an ordinary, at which the staple in the bill of fare was Humble Pie. Wheresoever he turned, he found the detested dish paraded before him. It was Humble Pie hot and Humble Pie cold. Humble Pie roast and boiled; pâté à l'humble serviteur, and not at all à la financière. He was haunted by the ghost of
this grim victual, not knowing what day his resolution might fail, and he be compelled to devour it ravenously. He had determined not to be a curate any more. He had said to the church at Swordsley that henceforth it was to be a struggle between it and him. But he meant a grander and more potent Church when he apostrophised the humble little structure of St. Mary-la-Douce. The most abhorred form that Humble Pie could assume, was in his being possibly driven to ask the Reverend Ernest Goldthorpe for testimonials as to his moral character,-for the Rector of Swordsley could scarcely refuse him those,-and seek, if he were pressed by want, for another curacy. Before he would do that, he thought, he would hang himself. What! abase himself in the sight of the supercilious High Churchman, at whose little follies and weaknesses he, with his great, strong, logical mind, had so often laughed! What! humiliate himself in the sight of the proud and scornful lady who, for a mere declaration of love, had treated him as one would treat a lacquey that had stolen spoons! No; sooner the suicide's halter, the suicide's opium-bottle, than that. All was over between him and the vocation for which he had so carefully trained himself. He had torn his cassock and rent his bands, he said to himself, irrevocably. The arrow was shot; the battle had commenced, and the strongest should win.
He had very little money, and a fortnight in London brought him well nigh to the lowest ebb. He found that lodging, even in a mean hotel in a back-street of Blackfriars, was too expensive for him. He tried a Temperance Coffee-house, which was very dirty and very expensive, and that too proved beyond his means. He sought at very many private houses, but could not hear of a decent sleeping-room under six or seven shillings a week. He began to part with his clothes, which were few and of no great account, and with his books, which were numerous, and in some sort valuable. He had many college prizes, with the old arms emblazoned on the covers; many expensive editions of the classics, to purchase which he had denied himself many a meal; and not a few choice volumes presented to him by old college friends. Away went Elzevirs and Aldines. Away went college prizes. Away went Liddell and Scott, and the Corpus Poetarum. With great fear and trembling he had first essayed to pawn his library, as he had been prudent enough to do with his clothes; but he found that the pawnbrokers would scarcely lend the value of their weight in paper upon them, and that one pair of pantaloons was worth three lexicons. With secret rage and anguish he began selling his beloved folios. He certainly got more by their vendition outright; but the sacrifice was still enormous. The secondhand booksellers in Holborn and Holywell Street told him that Greek and Latin books were worth scarcely any thing now; and the prices they allowed certainly gave an ex parte confirmation to their opinion. One candid bookvendor, indeed, who rejoiced much in the sale of albums and gift-books, told him that he only bought his volumes for their "jackets,"
meaning their handsome bindings; and that so long as he could keep a stock of books well bound in vellum or tooled morocco, he could find customers, who would not care if the book itself was the Iliad or the Keepsake for 1836. "The greatest Hauthor of the Hage, Sir," remarked this worthy tradesman, "next to the gent that signs the fi'pun' notes, is 'Ayday. Hany thing with 'Ayday's name to it is sure to sell." And when Ruthyn Pendragon parted with a book "bound by Hayday," he dined somewhat more copiously than was his wont.
He led a perfectly solitary life. To not one of his old friends, although many were wealthy and influential, did he care to appeal, either for assistance or advice. If he met them in the street, he did his best to avoid them, or at most returned a furtive or sullen response to his greetings. Ruthyn had preserved just this link of connection with the world, as, when he left Swordsley, to desire that all letters which arrived for him after his departure might be forwarded to the Chapter Coffeehouse in St. Paul's Churchyard. That hostelry has been long since pulled down; but at the date to which this story refers the Chapter was a queer, rambling place, with a darkling coffee-room and several mouldy old waiters, who were supposed to remember the Great Fire of London, and that Cathedral of St. Paul which was Gothic, and not Corinthian. It was a great house of call for parsons more or less dilapidated, who plied for hire there in a not much less overt manner than did the red-nosed and white-aproned ticket-porters at the entrance to Doctors' Commons, hard by. Yet the Chapter Coffee-house had its fasti, literary as well as theological; for did not poor Charlotte Brontë and her sister stay there when they came to London after the wonderful success of that most marvellous book Jane Eyre?
Every other day or so Pendragon looked in at the Chapter for his letters. A good many came. There were offers of help, which he deliberately tore up. There was a curt note from the Reverend Ernest, informing him that, although they had parted in anger, their differences had in no way impaired the esteem he entertained for Mr. Pendragon's character, and that if his recommendation could be of any service to Mr. P. at any future stage of his career, it was very heartily at his service. Not for many years afterwards was the ex-curate to know at whose instance this letter was written, or by whose hand it was dropped into the letterbox of the Swordsley post-office. There was another note, too, in a bold, dashing scrawl, with plenty of blots and plenty of capital letters, in which L. S. informed R. P. that she thought M. H. was sorry for having used him so cruelly, and that matters might yet be mended if he "squared" the Rector. And the epistle wound up by reminding him that he had always a friend in need in the person of Lord Chalkstonehengist. But I don't think his Lordship wrote the letter, and I think that Ruthyn Pendragon knew perfectly well who did.
He kept both these letters for a day or two, often re-perusing them,
and musing over their contents. But that unlucky flavour of Humble Pie pervaded both. He tore the Reverend Ernest Goldthorpe's note into very symmetrical little bits, and having, for his own solace and satisfaction, trampled them under foot, he collected the fragments, and flung them in a handful to the ducks in the ornamental water in St. James's Park. The ducks ate them, as they will eat any thing,-bread-crumbs, cigar-ends, or tenpenny nails; and it is to be hoped that their omnivorous stomachs derived benefit from the conciliatory expressions of the Rector of Swordsley.
Letter number two Ruthyn did not treat quite so cavalierly. He returned no answer to it; but he kept it about him, at first in his pocketbook, whence, finding that its corners were getting frayed, he transferred it to his bosom. I think he sewed it up in a glove which did not belong to him, and which he had acquired in a surreptitious and-for a clergyman-somewhat dishonest manner, and then he hung the little packet round his neck by a silken string, and felt that when he was laid in his grave he should wish to have that short blotted letter next his heart.
All this time he was very strenuously striving to earn his livelihood; for his means were very exigent, and he felt that his scanty stock of ready money would hold out but a little time longer. When he first went to the Chapter, he used to take a dish of tea there; but soon he began to grudge the cost of that luxury, and was fain to shamble past the waiter, and ask in a shamefaced manner at the bar for his letters. The waiters contemned him accordingly, and soon began to look upon him as a kind of hedge-parson or hackney-chaplain, who would do any absentee's duty, and preach some one else's sermon for ten shillings and a dinner. "If I am doomed to eat that kind of Humble Pie," thought Ruthyn Pendragon, "I shall have to hire a gown and a surplice, for I have parted with both." He had by this time but one suit of what may be termed clerical undress uniform, and it had grown wofully shabby and white at the seams. He had never acquired that art-in which some young curates are so expert-of tying his cravat in a captivating manner; and now, when he could only afford two clean ones in a week, the ill-knotted kerchief gave him a more slovenly appearance than ever. Walkingprowling down Whitehall, rather-one morning, Ruthyn Pendragon met a Bishop. His Lordship was probably on his way to the Athenæum, from some visit he had paid to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners or the Home Secretary. Perhaps he had been sitting in Convocation. There he was, plump, rosy, trimly-shaven, aproned, shovel-hatted, and silk-stockinged; one of the most prosperous-looking descendants, perhaps, of the Twelve who were bidden to set no store by worldly wealth, that you could light upon in a summer's day. He quickened his pace as the disconsolate curate approached; and his episcopal trot almost became a run as, with averted face, he hastened towards King Charles's statue. Why did his lordship avoid his needy brother? Pendragon concluded that it was