“The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like Unto Leaven”

Mr. Isaac Allen, Fanny’s father, was an ardent Whig in politics⁠—what in later years would have been called a Radical. He had been apprenticed in London, and had attended Mr. Bradshaw’s ministrations there. He was the chosen friend of Zachariah Coleman; but although he loved Zachariah, he had held but little intercourse with him during his first marriage. There were family reasons for the estrangement, due principally to a quarrel between Mrs. Isaac and the first Mrs. Zachariah. But after Mrs. Zachariah had died and her husband suffered so much Isaac was drawn to him again. He was proud of him as a martyr for a good cause, and he often saw him when he went to London on business.

It was in consequence of these London visits that books appeared on the little bookshelf in Cowfold Square which were to be found nowhere else in the town, at any rate not in the Dissenting portion of it. It was a little bookcase, it is true, for people in country places were not great readers in those days; but Sir Walter Scott was there, and upstairs in Mr. Allen’s room there was Byron⁠—not an uncut copy, but one well used both by husband and wife. Mrs. Allen was not a particularly robust woman, although she was energetic. Often without warning, she would not make her appearance till twelve or one o’clock in the day, and would have her fire alight in her bedroom and take her breakfast in bed. It was well understood when she was not at the table with the others that the house was to be kept quiet. After a cup of tea⁠—nothing more⁠—she rose and sat reading for a good two hours. It was not that she was particularly unwell⁠—she simply needed rest. Every now and then retreat from the world and perfect isolation were a necessity to her. If she forced herself to come downstairs when she ought to be by herself she became really ill. Occasionally the fire was alight in the evening, too, and she would be off the moment tea was over, Isaac frequently joining her then, although he never remained with her in the morning. She was almost sure to escape on the day following any excitement or undue worry about household affairs. She knew Sir Walter Scott from end to end, and as few people knew him. He had been to her, and to her husband too, what he can only be to people leading a dull life far from the world. He had broken up its monotony and created a new universe! He had introduced them into a royal society of noble friends. He had added to the ordinary motives which prompted Cowfold action a thousand higher motives. Then there was the charm of the magician, so sanative, so blessed, felt directly any volume of that glorious number was opened. Kenilworth or Redgauntlet was taken down, and the reader was at once in another country and in another age, transported as if by some Arabian charm away from Cowfold cares. If anywhere in another world the blessings which men have conferred here are taken into account in distributing reward, surely the choicest in the store of the Most High will be reserved for His servant Scott! It may be said of others that they have made the world wise or rich, but of him it must be said that he, more than all, has made the world happier⁠—wiser too, wiser through its happiness.

Of the influence of Byron nothing more need be said here, because so much has been said before. It may seem strange that the deacon of a Dissenting chapel and his wife could read him, and could continue to wait upon the ministrations of the Reverend John Broad; but I am only stating a fact. Mrs. Allen could repeat page after page of Childe Harold, and yet she went diligently to Tanner’s Lane. Part of what was read exhaled in the almost republican politics of the Allen household; but it had also its effect in another direction, and it was always felt by the Broads that the Allens were questionable members of the flock. They were gathered into the fold on Sunday, and had the genuine J. B. on their wool, but there was a cross in them. There was nothing which could be urged against them. No word of heresy ever escaped them, no symptom of disbelief was ever seen and yet Mr. Broad often desired exceedingly that they were different, was never at ease with them, and in his heart of hearts bitterly hated them. After all that can be said by way of explanation, there was much in this concealed animosity of Mr. Broad which was unaccountable. It was concealed because he was far too worldly-wise to show it openly; but it was none the less intense. Indeed, it was so intense as to be almost inconsistent with Mr. Broad’s cast of character, and his biographer is at a loss to find the precise point where it naturally connects itself with the main stem from which branch off the rest of his virtues and vices. However, there it was, and perhaps some shrewder psychologist may be able to explain how such a passion could be begotten in a nature otherwise so somnolent.

For this literary leaven in the Allen’s household, as we have said, Zachariah was answerable. Mrs. Allen loved him as she loved her father, and he wrote to her long letters, through which travelled into Cowfold Square all the thought of the Revolution. He never went to Cowfold himself, nor could he ever be persuaded to let little Pauline go. She had been frequently invited, but he always declined the invitation courteously on the ground that he could not spare her. The fame of her beauty and abilities had, however, reached Cowfold, and so it came to pass that when Mr. Thomas Broad, junior, being duly instructed in the doctrine of the Comforter, entered the Dissenting College in London, he determined that at the first opportunity he would call and see her. He had been privately warned both by his father and mother that he was on no account to visit this particular friend of the Allens, firstly, because Zachariah was reputed to be, “inclined towards infidelity,” and secondly, because, summing up the whole argument, he was not “considered respectable.”

“Of course, my dear, you know his history,” quoth Mrs. Broad, “and it would very much interfere with your usefulness if you were to be intimate with him.”

Little Pauline had by this time grown to be a woman, or very nearly one. She had, as in nine times, perhaps, out of ten is the case, inherited her temperament from her mother. She had also inherited something more, for she was like her in face. She had the same luxuriantly dark hair⁠—a wonder to behold when it was let down over her shoulders⁠—the same grey eyes, the same singularly erect attitude, and lips which, although they were not tight and screwed up, were always set with decision. But her distinguishing peculiarity was her inherited vivacity, which was perfectly natural, but frequently exposed her⁠—just as it did her mother⁠—to the charge of being theatrical. The criticism was as unjust in her case as in that of her mother, if by being theatrical we mean being unreal. The unreal person is the half-alive languid person. Pauline felt what she said, and acted it in every gesture. Her precious promptitude of expression made her invaluable as a companion to her father. He was English all over and all through; hypochondriacal, with a strong tendency to self-involution and self-absorption. She was only half English, or rather altogether French, and when he came home in the evening he often felt as if some heavy obstruction in his brain and about his heart were suddenly dissolved. She and her mother were like Hercules in the house of Admetus. Before Hercules has promised to rescue Alcestis we feel that the darkness has disappeared. Pauline was loved by her father with intense passion. When she was a little child, and he was left alone with a bitter sense of wrong, a feeling that he had more than his proper share of life’s misery, his heart was closed, and he cared for no friendship. But the man’s nature could not be thus thwarted, and gradually it poured itself out in full flood⁠—denied exit elsewhere⁠—at this one small point. He rejoiced to find that he had not stiffened into death, and he often went up to her bedside as she lay asleep, and the tears came, and he thanked God, not only for her but for his tears. He could not afford to bring her up like a lady, but he did his best to give her a good education. He was very anxious that she should learn French, and as she was wonderfully quick at languages, she managed in a very short time to speak it fluently.