Shirley HTML version

16. Whitsuntide
The fund prospered. By dint of Miss Keeldar's example, the three rectors'
vigorous exertions, and the efficient though quiet aid of their spinster and
spectacled lieutenants, Mary Ann Ainley and Margaret Hall, a handsome sum
was raised; and this being judiciously managed, served for the present greatly to
alleviate the distress of the unemployed poor. The neighbourhood seemed to
grow calmer: for a fortnight past no cloth had been destroyed; no outrage on mill
or mansion had been committed in the three parishes. Shirley was sanguine that
the evil she wished to avert was almost escaped; that the threatened storm was
passing over: with the approach of summer she felt certain that trade would
improve - it always did; and then this weary war could not last for ever: peace
must return one day: with peace what an impulse would be given to commerce!
Such was the usual tenor of her observations to her tenant, Gérard Moore,
whenever she met him where they could converse, and Moore would listen very
quietly - too quietly to satisfy her. She would then by her impatient glance
demand something more from him - some explanation, or at least some
additional remark. Smiling in his way, with that expression which gave a
remarkable cast of sweetness to his mouth, while his brow remained grave, he
would answer to the effect, that himself, too, trusted in the finite nature of the
war; that it was indeed on that ground the anchor of his hopes was fixed: thereon
his speculations depended. 'For you are aware,' he would continue, 'that I now
work Hollow's Mill entirely on speculation: I sell nothing; there is no market for my
goods. I manufacture for a future day: I make myself ready to take advantage of
the first opening that shall occur. Three months ago this was impossible to me; I
had exhausted both credit and capital: you well know who came to my rescue;
from what hand I received the loan which saved me. It is on the strength of that
loan I am enabled to continue the bold game which, a while since, I feared I
should never play more. Total ruin I know will follow loss, and I am aware that
gain is doubtful; but I am quite cheerful: so long as I can be active, so long as I
can strive, so long, in short, as my hands are not tied, it is impossible for me to
be depressed. One year, nay, but six months of the reign of the olive, and I am
safe; for, as you say, peace will give an impulse to commerce. In this you are
right; but as to the restored tranquillity of the neighbourhood - as to the
permanent good effect of your charitable fund - I doubt. Eleemosynary relief
never yet tranquillised the working-classes - it never made them grateful; it is not
in human nature that it should. I suppose, were all things ordered aright, they
ought not to be in a position to need that humiliating relief; and this they feel: we
should feel it were we so placed. Besides, to whom should they be grateful? To
you - to the clergy perhaps, but not to us mill-owners. They hate us worse than
ever. Then, the disaffected here are in correspondence with the disaffected
elsewhere: Nottingham is one of their headquarters, Manchester another,
Birmingham a third. The subalterns receive orders from their chiefs; they are in a
good state of discipline: no blow is struck without mature deliberation. In sultry
weather, you have seen the sky threaten thunder day by day, and yet night after