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Two Sides of the Face: Midwinter Tales By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 10273

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Woman Suffrage? It's surprising to me how light some folks will talk- with a Providence, for all they know, waiting round the corner to take them at their word. I put my head in at the Working Man's Institute last night, and there was the new Coastguard officer talking like a book, arguing about Woman Suffrage in a way that made me nervous. "Look 'ee here," he was saying, "a woman must be either married, or unmarried, or otherwise. Keep they three divisions clear in your heads, and then I'll ask you to follow me-" And all the company sitting round with their mouths open. I came away: I couldn't stand it. It put me in mind how my poor mother used to warn me against squinting for fun. "One of these days," she'd say, "the wind'll take and change sudden while you're doing it; and there you'll be fixed and looking fifty ways for Sunday until we meet in the land of marrow and fatness."

And here in Ardevora, of all places!-where the womenkind be that masterful already, a man must get into his sea-boots before he can call his soul his own. Why, there was a woman here once that never asked for a vote in her life, and yet capsized an Election for Parliament-candidates, voters, and the whole apple-cart-as easy as you might turn over a plate. Did you ever hear tell of Kitty Lebow and her eight tall daughters? No; I daresay not. The world's old and losing its memory when it begins to talk of Woman Suffrage.

This Kitty, or Christian, or Christiana Lebow was by birth a Bottrell: and a finer family than the Bottrells, by their own account, you wouldn't find in all England. Not that it matters whether they came over with William the Norman, nor whether they could once on a time ride from sea to sea on their own acres. For Kitty was the last to carry the name, and she left it in Ardevora vestry the day she signed marriage with Paul Lebow (or, as he wrote it, Lebeau-"b-e-a-u,"): and the property had gone generations before. As she said 'pon her death-bed, "five-foot-six of church-hay will hold the only two achers left to me," she being a little body and very facetious to the last, and meaning her legs, of course.

Now the reason I can't tell you: but the mischief with the Bottrells was this: That for generation after generation all the spirit of the family went to the females. The men just dandered away their time and their money, fell into declines, or had fits and went out like the snuff of a candle. But the women couldn't be held nor bound, lived to any age they pleased, and either kept their sweethearts on the hook or married them and made their lives a burden. Oh, a bean-fed sex, sir, and monstrous handsome! And Kitty, though little, was as handsome as any, and walked Ardevora streets with her eight daughters, all tall as grenadiers and terrible as an army with banners.

Her father, old Piers Bottrell, had been a ship's captain: a very tidy old fellow in his behaviour, but muddled in mind, especially towards the end; so that when he died (which he did in his bed, quite peaceful) he must needs take and haunt the house. There wasn't a ha'porth of reason for it, that anyone could discover; and Kitty didn't mind it one farthing. But some say it frightened her husband into his grave: though I reckon he took worse fright at Kitty presenting him with eight daughters one after the other. With a woman like that, you can't say where accident ends and love of mischief begins. And for that matter, there was no telling why she'd married the man at all except for mischief: his father and mother being poor French refugees that had come to Ardevora, thirty years before, and been given shelter by the borough charity in the old Ugnes House[1]- the same that old Piers Bottrell afterwards bought and died in: and Lebow himself, though born in the town and a fisherman by calling, never able to get his tongue round good plain English until the day he was drowned on the whiting-grounds and left Kitty a widow-woman.

All this, as you'll see by-and-by, has to do in one way or another with the Great Election, which took place in the year '68. (The way I'm so glib with the date is that Kit Lebow was so proud of her doings on that day, she had a silver cup made for a momentum and used to measure out her guineas in it: and her great-great-gran'daughter, Mary Ann Cocking, has the cup to this day in her house in Nanjivvey Street, where I've seen it a score of times and spelled out the writing, "C. L."-for Christian Lebow-"1768"). And concerning this Election you must know that "the Duke's interest," as they called it-that's to say, the Whigs-had ruled the roost in Ardevora for more than fifty years; mainly through the Duke's agent, old Squire Martin of Tregoose, that collected the rents, held pretty well all the public offices inside his ten fingers, and would save up a grudge for time-out-of-mind against any man that crossed him. Two members we returned in those days, and in grown men's memories scarce a Tory among them.

There was grumbling, you may be sure: but the old gang held their way, and thought to carry this Election as easy as the others, until word came down t

hat one of the Tory candidates would be Dr. Macann, the famous Bath physician; and this was a facer.

What made this Dr. Macann such a tearing hot candidate was his having been born at Trudgian, a mile out of town here to the west'ard. The Macanns had farmed Trudgian, for maybe a hundred years, having come over from Ireland to start with: a poor, hand-to-mouth lot, respected for nothing but their haveage,[2] which was understood to be something out of the common. But this Samuel, as he was called, turned out a bright boy with his books, and won his way somehow to Cambridge College; and from College, after doing famously, he took his foot in his hand and went up to walk the London hospitals; and so bloomed out into a great doctor, with a gold-headed cane and a wonderful gift with the women-a personable man, too, with a neat leg, a high colour, and a voice like a church-organ. The best of the fellow was he helped his parents and never seemed ashamed of 'em. And for this, and because he'd done credit to the town, the folks couldn't make too much of him.

Well, as I said, this putting up of Macann was a facer for the Duke's men, and they met at the George and Dragon Inn to talk over their unpopularity. There was old Squire Martin, as wicked as a buck rat in a sink; and his son Bob that had lately taken over the Duke's agency; and his brother Ned, the drunken Vicar of Trancells; and his second cousin John Martin, otherwise John à Hall, all wit and no character; and old Parson Polsue, with his curate, old Mr. Grandison, the one almost too shaky to hold a churchwarden pipe while the other lighted it; and Roger Newte, whose monument you see over the hill-a dapper, youngish-looking man, very careful of his finger-nails and smooth in his talk till he got you in a corner. Last but not least was this Roger Newte, who had settled here as Collector of Customs and meant to be Mayor next year; a man to go where the devil can't, and that's between the oak and the rind.

Well, there they were met, drinking punch and smoking their clays and discussing this and that; and Mr. Newte keeping the peace between John a Hall, with his ill-regulated tongue, and the old Parson, who, to say truth, was half the cause of their unpopularity, the church services having sunk to a public scandal; and yet they durstn't cast him over, by reason that he owned eight ramshackle houses, and his curate a couple besides, and by mock-sale could turn these into as many brand-new voters.

"There's nothing for it but pluck," said Mr. Newte. "We must make a new Poor Rate. They've been asking a new one for years; and, bejimbers! I hope they'll like the one they get."

The old Squire stroked his chin. "That's a bit too dangerous, Newte."

"Where's the danger? Churchwardens and Overseers, we can count on every man."

"The parish will appeal, as sure as a gun. King's Bench will send down a mandamus, and the game's up. I don't want to go to prison at my time of life."

"I know something of the law," said Mr. Newte-and indeed he'd studied it at Lincoln's Inn, and kept more knowledge under his wig than any man in the borough. "I know something of law, and there's no question of going to prison. The Tories will appeal to the next Quarter Sessions, and Quarter Sessions will maybe quash the Rate; and that'll take time. Then the Overseers will sit still for a week or two, or a month or two, until the Tories lose patience and apply to London for a writ. Down comes the writ, we'll say. Whereupon the Overseers will sit down and make out a new Rate just a shade different from the last, and the Tories will have to begin again-Quarter Sessions, Court o' King's Bench, mandamus-"

"King's Bench will send down, more like, and attach the Overseers for contempt of Court," suggested young Bob Martin, who was one of them.

"Not a bit of it; but I'll allow you may find it hard to keep their pluck to the sticking-point. Very well, then here's another plan: When it comes to the writ, the Overseers can make out a new Rate 'agreeable to the form and tenor of the same,' as the words go. But a new Rate's worthless until you, Squire, and you, Parson, have signed the allowance for it as magistrates: and now comes your turn to give trouble."

"And how'm I to do that?" asked the old Squire.

"Why, by keeping out of the way, to be sure. Take a holiday: find out some little spa that suits your complaint, and go and drink the waters."

"Ay, do, Parson," chimed in John à Hall. "Take Grandison, here, along with you, and we'll all have a holiday together."

"At the worst," chipped in Newte, "they'll fine you fifty pounds for misbehaviour."

"Fifty pounds! Fine me fifty pounds?" the Parson quavered, his pipe-stem waggling.

"Bless your heart, sir, we can work it in somehow with the Election expenses. But it may not come to that. Parliament's more than five years old already, and I'll warrant the King dissolves it by next spring at latest: which reminds me that keeping an eye on the Voters' List is all very well, but unless we can find a hot pair of candidates, this Macann may unsaddle us after all."

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