Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 21

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Chapter XXI: The Sweater's Den

I was greedily devouring Lane's "Arabian Nights," which had made their first appearance in the shop that day.

Mackaye sat in his usual place, smoking a clean pipe, and assisting his meditations by certain mysterious chironomic signs; while opposite to him was Farmer Porter—a stone or two thinner than when I had seen him last, but one stone is not much missed out of seventeen. His forehead looked smaller, and his jaws larger than ever, and his red face was sad, and furrowed with care.

Evidently, too, he was ill at ease about other matters besides his son. He was looking out of the corners of his eyes, first at the skinless cast on the chimney-piece, then at the crucified books hanging over his head, as if he considered them not altogether safe companions, and rather expected something "uncanny" to lay hold of him from behind—a process which involved the most horrible contortions of visage, as he carefully abstained from stirring a muscle of his neck or body, but sat bolt upright, his elbows pinned to his sides, and his knees as close together as his stomach would permit, like a huge corpulent Egyptian Memnon—the most ludicrous contrast to the little old man opposite, twisted up together in his Joseph's coat, like some wizard magician in the stories which I was reading. A curious pair of "poles" the two made; the mesothet whereof, by no means a "punctum indifferens," but a true connecting spiritual idea, stood on the table—in the whisky-bottle.

Farmer Porter was evidently big with some great thought, and had all a true poet's bashfulness about publishing the fruit of his creative genius. He looked round again at the skinless man, the caricatures, the books; and, as his eye wandered from pile to pile, and shelf to shelf, his face brightened, and he seemed to gain courage.

Solemnly he put his hat on his knees, and began solemnly brushing it with his cuff. Then he saw me watching him, and stopped. Then he put his pipe solemnly on the hob, and cleared his throat for action, while I buried my face in the book.

"Them's a sight o' larned beuks, Muster Mackaye?"

"Humph!"

"Yow maun ha' got a deal o' scholarship among they, noo?"

"Humph!"

"Dee yow think, noo, yow could find out my boy out of un, by any ways o' conjuring like?"

"By what?"

"Conjuring—to strike a perpendicular, noo, or say the Lord's Prayer backwards?"

"Wadna ye prefer a meeracle or twa?" asked Sandy, after a long pull at the whisky-toddy.

"Or a few efreets?" added I.

"Whatsoever you likes, gentlemen. You're best judges, to be sure," answered
Farmer Porter, in an awed and helpless voice.

"Aweel—I'm no that disinclined to believe in the occult sciences. I dinna haud a'thegither wi' Salverte. There was mair in them than Magia naturalis, I'm thinking. Mesmerism and magic-lanterns, benj and opium, winna explain all facts, Alton, laddie. Dootless they were an unco' barbaric an' empiric method o' expressing the gran' truth o' man's mastery ower matter. But the interpenetration o' the spiritual an' physical worlds is a gran' truth too; an' aiblins the Deity might ha' allowed witchcraft, just to teach that to puir barbarous folk—signs and wonders, laddie, to mak them believe in somewhat mair than the beasts that perish: an' so ghaists an warlocks might be a necessary element o' the divine education in dark and carnal times. But I've no read o' a case in which necromancy, nor geomancy, nor coskinomancy, nor ony other mancy, was applied to sic a purpose as this. Unco gude they were, may be, for the discovery o' stolen spunes—but no that o' stolen tailors."