Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 23

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Chapter XXIII: The Freedom of the Press

But all this while, my slavery to Mr. O'Flynn's party-spirit and coarseness was becoming daily more and more intolerable—an explosion was inevitable; and an explosion came.

Mr. O'Flynn found out that I had been staying at Cambridge, and at a cathedral city too; and it was quite a godsend to him to find any one who knew a word about the institutions at which he had been railing weekly for years. So nothing would serve him but my writing a set of articles on the universities, as a prelude to one on the Cathedral Establishments. In vain I pleaded the shortness of my stay there, and the smallness of my information.

"Och, were not abuses notorious? And couldn't I get them up out of any Radical paper—and just put in a little of my own observations, and a dashing personal cut or two, to spice the thing up, and give it an original look? and if I did not choose to write that—why," with an enormous oath, "I should write nothing." So—for I was growing weaker and weaker, and indeed my hack-writing was breaking down my moral sense, as it does that of most men—I complied; and burning with vexation, feeling myself almost guilty of a breach of trust toward those from whom I had received nothing but kindness, I scribbled off my first number and sent it to the editor—to see it appear next week, three-parts re-written, and every fact of my own furnishing twisted and misapplied, till the whole thing was as vulgar and commonplace a piece of rant as ever disgraced the people's cause. And all this, in spite of a solemn promise, confirmed by a volley of oaths, that I "should say what I liked, and speak my whole mind, as one who had seen things with his own eyes had a right to do."

Furious, I set off to the editor; and not only my pride, but what literary conscience I had left, was stirred to the bottom by seeing myself made, whether I would or not, a blackguard and a slanderer.

As it was ordained, Mr. O'Flynn was gone out for an hour or two; and, unable to settle down to any work till I had fought my battle with him fairly out, I wandered onward, towards the West End, staring into print-shop windows, and meditating on many things.

As it was ordained, also, I turned up Regent Street, and into Langham Place; when, at the door of All-Souls Church, behold a crowd and a long string of carriages arriving, and all the pomp and glory of a grand wedding.

I joined the crowd from mere idleness, and somehow found myself in the first rank, just as the bride was stepping out of the carriage—it was Miss Staunton; and the old gentleman who handed her out was no other than the dean. They were, of course, far too deeply engaged to recognise insignificant little me, so that I could stare as thoroughly to my heart's content as any of the butcher-boys and nursery-maids around me.

She was closely veiled—but not too closely to prevent my seeing her magnificent lip and nostril curling with pride, resolve, rich tender passion. Her glorious black-brown hair—the true "purple locks" which Homer so often talks of—rolled down beneath her veil in great heavy ringlets; and with her tall and rounded figure, and step as firm and queenly as if she were going to a throne, she seemed to me the very ideal of those magnificent Eastern Zubeydehs and Nourmahals, whom I used to dream of after reading the "Arabian Nights."

As they entered the doorway, almost touching me, she looked round, as if for some one. The dean whispered something in his gentle, stately way, and she answered by one of those looks so intense, and yet so bright, so full of unutterable depths of meaning and emotion, that, in spite of all my antipathy, I felt an admiration akin to awe thrill through me, and gazed after her so intently, that Lillian—Lillian herself—was at my side, and almost passed me before I was aware of it.

Yes, there she was, the foremost among a bevy of fair girls, "herself the fairest far," all April smiles and tears, golden curls, snowy rosebuds, and hovering clouds of lace—a fairy queen;—but yet—but yet—how shallow that hazel, eye, how empty of meaning those delicate features, compared with the strength and intellectual richness of the face which had preceded her!

It was too true—I had never remarked it before; but now it flashed across me like lightning—and like lightning vanished; for Lillian's eye caught mine, and there was the faintest spark of a smile of recognition, and pleased surprise, and a nod. I blushed scarlet with delight; some servant-girl or other, who stood next to me, had seen it too—quick-eyed that women are—and was looking curiously at me. I turned, I knew not why, in my delicious shame, and plunged through the crowd to hide I knew not what.