Outside Pike Street

On the Friday evening the Major called for Zachariah. He had not yet returned, but his wife was at home. The tea-things were ready, the kettle was on the hob, and she sat knitting at the window. Her visitor knocked at the door; she rose, and he entered. This time he was a little less formal, for after making his bow he shook her hand. She, too, was not quite so stiff, and begged him to be seated.

“Upon my word, madam,” he began, “if I were as well looked after as Mr. Coleman, I doubt if I should be so anxious as he is to change the existing order of things. You would think there is some excuse for me if you were to see the misery and privation of my lodgings. Nobody cares a straw, and as for dust and dirt, they would drive you distracted.”

Mrs. Zachariah smiled, and shifted one of her little white-stockinged feet over the other. She had on the neatest of sandals, with black ribbons, which crossed over the instep. It was one of Zachariah’s weak points, she considered, that he did not seem to care sufficiently for cleanliness, and when he came in he would sometimes put his black hand, before he had washed, on the white tea-cloth, or on the back of a chair, and leave behind him a patch of printer’s ink. It was bad enough to be obliged always to wipe the doorhandles.

“I do my best; but as for dirt, you cannot be so badly off in the Albany as we are in Clerkenwell. Clerkenwell is very disagreeable, but we are obliged to live here.”

“If Clerkenwell is so bad, all the more honour to you for your triumph.”

“Oh, I don’t know about honour; my husband says it is simply my nature.”

“Nature! All the better. I could never live with anybody who was always trying and trying and struggling. I believe in Nature. Don’t you?”

This was an abstract inquiry beyond Mrs. Zachariah’s scope. “It is some people’s nature to like to be tidy,” she contented herself with observing; “and others do not care for it.”

“Oh, perhaps it is because I am a soldier, and accustomed to order, that I care for it above everything.”

Mrs. Zachariah started for a moment. She reflected. She had forgotten it⁠—that she was talking to an officer in His Majesty’s service.

“Have you seen much fighting, sir?”

“Oh, well, for the matter of that, have had my share. I was at Talavera, and suffer a good deal now in damp weather, from having slept so much in the open air.”

“Dear me, that is very hard! My husband is rheumatic, and finds Tarver’s embrocation do him more good than anything. Will you try it if I give you some?”

“With profound gratitude.” Mrs. Coleman filled an empty bottle, took a piece of folded brown paper out of the fireplace cupboard, untied a coil of twine, made up a compact little parcel, and gave it to the Major.

“A thousand thanks. If faith now can really cure, I shall be well in a week.”

Mrs. Zachariah smiled again.

“Are you Dissenters?” he asked abruptly.

“Yes. Independents.”

“I am not surprised. Ever since Cromwell’s days you have always been on the side of liberty; but are you strict⁠—I don’t know exactly what to call it⁠—go to the prayer-meetings⁠—and so on?”

“We are both members of the church, and Mr. Coleman is a deacon,” replied Mrs. Zachariah, with a gravity not hitherto observable.

She looked out of the window, and saw him coming down the street. She placed the kettle nearer the fire, put the tea in the teapot, and sat down again. He came upstairs, went straight into his bedroom, cleaned himself as much as possible, changed his coat, and entered. The Major, being pressed, consented to take tea, and Mrs. Zachariah was a cheerful and even talkative hostess, to the surprise of at least one member of the company. She sat next to her husband, and the Major sat opposite. Three silver spoons and silver sugar-tongs had been put on the table. Ordinarily the spoons were pewter. Zachariah, fond of sugar, was in the habit of taking it with his fingers⁠—a practice to which Mrs. Zachariah strongly objected, and with some reason. It was dirty, and as his hands were none of the whitest, the neighbouring lumps became soiled, and acquired a flavour which did not add to their sweetness. She had told him of it a score of times; but he did not amend, and seemed to think her particularity rather a vice than a virtue. So it is that, as love gilds all defects, lack of love sees nothing but defect in what is truly estimable. Notwithstanding the sugar-tongs, Zachariah⁠—excusable, perhaps, this time, considering the warmth of the speech he was making against the late war⁠—pushed them aside, and helped himself after the usual fashion. A cloud came over Mrs. Zachariah’s face; she compressed her lips in downright anger, pushed the tongs towards him with a rattle, and trod on his foot at the same time. His oration came to an end; he looked round, became confused, and was suddenly silent; but the Major gallantly came to the rescue by jumping up to prevent Mrs. Zachariah from moving in order to put more water on the tea.

“Excuse me, pray;” but as he had risen somewhat suddenly to reach the kettle, he caught the tablecloth on his knee, and in a moment his cup and saucer and the plate were on the floor in twenty pieces, and the tea running all over the carpet. Zachariah looked at his wife, and expected to see her half frantic. But no; though it was her best china, she stopped the Major’s apologies, and assured him, with something almost like laughter, that it was not of the slightest consequence. “Tea doesn’t stain; I hope it has not gone on your coat;” and producing a duster from the cupboard, the evil, save the loss of the crockery, was remedied in a couple of minutes.

At half-past seven o’clock the Major and Zachariah departed. They walked across the top of Hatton Garden, and so onwards till they came to Red Lion Street. Entering a low passage at the side of a small public-house, they went up some stairs, and found themselves opposite a door which was locked. The Major gave three taps and then paused. A moment afterwards he tapped again twice; the lock was turned, and he was admitted. Zachariah found himself in a spacious kind of loft. There was a table running down the middle, and round it were seated about a dozen men, most of whom were smoking and drinking beer. They welcomed the Major with rappings, and he moved towards the empty chair at the head of the board.

“You’re late, chairman,” said one.

“Been to fetch a new comrade.”

“Is that the cove? He looks all right. Here’s your health, guv’nor, and d⁠⸺⁠n all tyrants.” With that he took a pull at the beer.

“Swear him,” said the Major.

A disagreeable-looking man with a big round nose, small red eyes, unshaven face, and slightly unsteady voice, rose, laid down his pipe, and beckoned to Zachariah, who advanced towards him.

The Secretary⁠—for he it was⁠—produced a memorandum-book, and began with a stutter:

“In the sacred name of⁠—”

“Stop!” cried Zachariah, “I don’t swear.”

“That will do,” shouted the Major across a hubbub which arose⁠—“religious. I’ll answer for him: let him sign; that’s enough.”

“You are answerable,” growled the Secretary “if he’s a d⁠⸺⁠d spy we’ll have his blood, that’s all, and yours too, Major.” The Major took no notice, and Zachariah put his name in the book, the roll of the Red Lion Friends of the People.

“Business, Mr. Secretary⁠—the last minutes.”

The minutes were read, and an adjourned debate was then renewed on a motion to organise public meetings to petition in favour of Parliamentary Reform. The reader must understand that politics in those days were somewhat different from the politics of fifty or sixty years later. Bread was thirteenpence a quartern loaf; the national debt, with a much smaller population, was what it is now; everything was taxed, and wages were very low. But what was most galling was the fact that the misery, the taxes, and the debt had been accumulated, not by the will of the people, but by a corrupt House of Commons, the property of borough-mongers, for the sake of supporting the Bourbons directly, but indirectly and chiefly the House of Hanover and the hated aristocracy. There was also a scandalous list of jobs and pensions. Years afterwards, when the Government was forced to look into abuses, the Reverend Thomas Thurlow, to take one example amongst others, was awarded, as compensation for the loss of his two offices, Patentee of Bankrupts and Keeper of Hanaper, the modest allowance annually until his death of £11,380 14s. 6d. The men and women of that time, although there were scarcely any newspapers, were not fools, and there was not a Nottingham weaver who put a morsel of bread in his hungry belly who did not know that two morsels might have gone there if there were no impost on foreign corn to maintain rents, and if there were no interest to pay on money borrowed to keep these sacred kings and lords safe in their palaces and parks. Opinion at the Red Lion Friends of the People Club was much divided. Some were for demonstrations and agitation, whilst others were for physical force. The discussion went on irregularly amidst much tumult.

“How long would they have waited over the water if they had done nothing but jaw? They met together and tore down the Bastile, and that’s what we must do.”

“That may be true,” said a small white-faced man who neither smoked nor drank, “but what followed? You don’t do anything really till you’ve reasoned it out.”

“It’s my belief, parson,” retorted the other, “that you are in a d⁠⸺⁠d funk. This is not the place for Methodists.”

“Order, order!” shouted the chairman.

“I am not a Methodist,” quietly replied the other; “unless you mean by Methodist a man who fears God and loves his Saviour. I am not ashamed to own that, and I am none the worse for it as far as I know. As for being a coward, we shall see.”

The Secretary meanwhile had gone on with his beer. Despite his notorious failing, he had been chosen for the post because in his sober moments he was quick with his pen. He was not a working man; nay, it was said he had been at Oxford. His present profession was that of attorney’s clerk. He got up and began a harangue about Brutus.

“There’s one way of dealing with tyrants⁠—the old way, Mr. Chairman. Death to them all, say I; the shortcut; none of your palaver; what’s the use of palavering?”

He was a little shaky, took hold of the rail of his chair, and as he sat down broke his pipe.

Some slight applause followed; but the majority were either against him, or thought it better to be silent.

The discussion continued irregularly, and Zachariah noticed that about half-a-dozen of those present took no part in it. At about ten o’clock the chairman declared the meeting at an end; and it was quite time he did so, for the smoke and the drink had done their work.

As Zachariah came out, a man stood by his side whom he had scarcely noticed during the evening. He was evidently a shoemaker. There was a smell of leather about him, and his hands and face were grimy. He had a slightly turned-up nose, smallish eyes, half hidden under very black eyebrows, and his lips were thin and straight. His voice was exceedingly high-pitched, and had something creaking in it like the sound of an ill-greased axle. He spoke with emphasis, but not quite like an Englishman, was fond of alliteration, and often, in the middle of a sentence, paused to search for a word which pleased him. Having found it, the remainder of the sentence was poised and cast from him like a dart. His style was a curious mixture of foreign imperfection and rhetoric⁠—a rhetoric, however, by no means affected. It might have been so in another person, but it was not so in him.

“Going east?” said he.


“If you want company, I’ll walk with you. What do you think of the Friends?”

Zachariah, it will be borne in mind, although he was a Democrat, had never really seen the world. He belonged to a religious sect. He believed in the people, it is true, but it was a people of Cromwellian Independents. He purposely avoided the company of men who used profane language, and never in his life entered a tavern. He did not know what the masses really were; for although he worked with his hands, printers were rather a superior set of fellows, and his was an old-established shop which took the best of its class. When brought actually into contact with swearers and drunkards as patriots and reformers he was more than a little shocked.

“Not much,” quoth he.

“Not worse than our virtuous substitute for a sovereign?”

“No, certainly.”

“You object to giving them votes, but is not the opinion of the silliest as good as that of Lord Sidmouth?”

“That’s no reason for giving them votes.”

“I should like to behold the experiment of a new form of misgovernment. If we are to be eternally enslaved to fools and swindlers, why not a change? We have had regal misrule and aristocratic swindling long enough.”

“Seriously, my friend,” he continued, “study that immortal charter, the Declaration of the Rights of Man.”

He stopped in the street, and with an oratorical air repeated the well-known lines, “Men are born and always continue free, and equal in respect of their rights.⁠ ⁠… Every citizen has a right, either by himself or by his representative, to a free voice in determining the necessity of public contributions, the appropriation of them, and their amount, mode of assessment, and duration.” He knew them by heart. “It is the truth,” he continued: “you must come to that, unless you believe in the Divine appointment of dynasties. There is no logical repose between Lord Liverpool and the Declaration. What is the real difference between him and you? None but a question of degree. He does not believe in absolute monarchy, and stays at this point. You go a little lower. You are both alike. How dare you say, ‘My brother, I am more honest and more religious than you; pay me half-a-crown and I will spend it for your welfare’? You cannot tell me that. You know I should have a right to reject you. I refuse to be coerced. I prefer freedom to⁠—felicity.”

Zachariah was puzzled. He was not one of those persons who can see no escape from an argument and yet are not convinced; one of those happy creatures to whom the operations of the intellect are a joke⁠—who, if they are shown that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, decline to disprove it, but act as if they were but one. To Zachariah the appeal “Where will you stop?” was generally successful. If his understanding told him he could not stop, he went on. And yet it so often happens that if we do go on we are dissatisfied; we cannot doubt each successive step, but we doubt the conclusion. We arrive serenely at the end, and lo! it is an absurdity which common sense, as we call it, demolishes with scoffs and laughter.

They had walked down to Holborn in order to avoid the rather dangerous quarter of Gray’s Inn Lane. Presently they were overtaken by the Secretary, staggering under more liquor. He did not recognise them, and rolled on. The shoemaker instantly detached himself from Zachariah and followed the drunken official. He was about to turn into a public-house, when his friend came up to him softly, abstracted a book which was sticking out of his pocket, laid hold of him by the arm, and marched off with him across the street and through Great Turnstile.

Sunday came, and Zachariah and his wife attended the services at Pike Street Meetinghouse, conducted by that worthy servant of God, the Reverend Thomas Bradshaw. He was at that time preaching a series of sermons on the Gospel Covenant, and he enlarged upon the distinction between those with whom the covenant was made and those with whom there was none, save of judgment. The poorest and the weakest, if they were sons of God, were more blessed than the strongest who were not. These were nothing: “they should go out like the smoke of a candle with an ill favour; whereas the weak and simple ones are upholden, and go from strength to strength, and increase with the increasings of God.” Zachariah was rather confused by what had happened during the week, and his mind, especially during the long prayer, wandered a good deal much to his discomfort.