Sunday, June 04, 2017

Railways from Middlemarch

With this good understanding between them, it was natural that Dorothea
asked Mr. Garth to undertake any business connected with the three
farms and the numerous tenements attached to Lowick Manor; indeed,
his expectation of getting work for two was being fast fulfilled.
As he said, "Business breeds." And one form of business which was
beginning to breed just then was the construction of railways.
A projected line was to run through Lowick parish where the
cattle had hitherto grazed in a peace unbroken by astonishment;
and thus it happened that the infant struggles of the railway system
entered into the affairs of Caleb Garth, and determined the course
of this history with regard to two persons who were dear to him.
The submarine railway may have its difficulties; but the bed of the
sea is not divided among various landed proprietors with claims
for damages not only measurable but sentimental. In the hundred
to which Middlemarch belonged railways were as exciting a topic as the
Reform Bill or the imminent horrors of Cholera, and those who held
the most decided views on the subject were women and landholders.
Women both old and young regarded travelling by steam as presumptuous
and dangerous, and argued against it by saying that nothing should
induce them to get into a railway carriage; while proprietors,
differing from each other in their arguments as much as Mr. Solomon
Featherstone differed from Lord Medlicote, were yet unanimous in the
opinion that in selling land, whether to the Enemy of mankind or to a
company obliged to purchase, these pernicious agencies must be made
to pay a very high price to landowners for permission to injure mankind.

But the slower wits, such as Mr. Solomon and Mrs. Waule,
who both occupied land of their own, took a long time to
arrive at this conclusion, their minds halting at the vivid
conception of what it would be to cut the Big Pasture in two,
and turn it into three-cornered bits, which would be "nohow;"
while accommodation-bridges and high payments were remote and incredible.

"The cows will all cast their calves, brother," said Mrs. Waule, in a
tone of deep melancholy, "if the railway comes across the Near Close;
and I shouldn't wonder at the mare too, if she was in foal.
It's a poor tale if a widow's property is to be spaded away,
and the law say nothing to it. What's to hinder 'em from cutting
right and left if they begin? It's well known, _I_ can't fight."

"The best way would be to say nothing, and set somebody on to send 'em
away with a flea in their ear, when they came spying and measuring,"
said Solomon. "Folks did that about Brassing, by what I can understand.
It's all a pretence, if the truth was known, about their being
forced to take one way. Let 'em go cutting in another parish.
And I don't believe in any pay to make amends for bringing a lot
of ruffians to trample your crops. Where's a company's pocket?"

"Brother Peter, God forgive him, got money out of a company,"
said Mrs. Waule. "But that was for the manganese. That wasn't
for railways to blow you to pieces right and left."

"Well, there's this to be said, Jane," Mr. Solomon concluded,
lowering his voice in a cautious manner--"the more spokes we put
in their wheel, the more they'll pay us to let 'em go on, if they
must come whether or not."

This reasoning of Mr. Solomon's was perhaps less thorough than
he imagined, his cunning bearing about the same relation to the course
of railways as the cunning of a diplomatist bears to the general
chill or catarrh of the solar system. But he set about acting on his
views in a thoroughly diplomatic manner, by stimulating suspicion.
His side of Lowick was the most remote from the village, and the
houses of the laboring people were either lone cottages or were
collected in a hamlet called Frick, where a water-mill and some
stone-pits made a little centre of slow, heavy-shouldered industry.

In the absence of any precise idea as to what railways were,
public opinion in Frick was against them; for the human mind in that
grassy corner had not the proverbial tendency to admire the unknown,
holding rather that it was likely to be against the poor man,
and that suspicion was the only wise attitude with regard to it.
Even the rumor of Reform had not yet excited any millennial expectations
in Frick, there being no definite promise in it, as of gratuitous
grains to fatten Hiram Ford's pig, or of a publican at the "Weights
and Scales" who would brew beer for nothing, or of an offer on the
part of the three neighboring farmers to raise wages during winter.
And without distinct good of this kind in its promises, Reform seemed
on a footing with the bragging of pedlers, which was a hint for
distrust to every knowing person. The men of Frick were not ill-fed,
and were less given to fanaticism than to a strong muscular suspicion;
less inclined to believe that they were peculiarly cared for by heaven,
than to regard heaven itself as rather disposed to take them in--
a disposition observable in the weather.

Thus the mind of Frick was exactly of the sort for Mr. Solomon
Featherstone to work upon, he having more plenteous ideas of the
same order, with a suspicion of heaven and earth which was better
fed and more entirely at leisure. Solomon was overseer of the
roads at that time, and on his slow-paced cob often took his
rounds by Frick to look at the workmen getting the stones there,
pausing with a mysterious deliberation, which might have misled
you into supposing that he had some other reason for staying
than the mere want of impulse to move. After looking for a long
while at any work that was going on, he would raise his eyes a
little and look at the horizon; finally he would shake his bridle,
touch his horse with the whip, and get it to move slowly onward.
The hour-hand of a clock was quick by comparison with Mr. Solomon,
who had an agreeable sense that he could afford to be slow.
He was in the habit of pausing for a cautious, vaguely designing chat
with every hedger or ditcher on his way, and was especially willing
to listen even to news which he had heard before, feeling himself
at an advantage over all narrators in partially disbelieving them.
One day, however, he got into a dialogue with Hiram Ford, a wagoner,
in which he himself contributed information. He wished to know whether
Hiram had seen fellows with staves and instruments spying about:
they called themselves railroad people, but there was no telling
what they were or what they meant to do. The least they pretended
was that they were going to cut Lowick Parish into sixes and sevens.

"Why, there'll be no stirrin' from one pla-ace to another,"
said Hiram, thinking of his wagon and horses.

"Not a bit," said Mr. Solomon. "And cutting up fine land such as
this parish! Let 'em go into Tipton, say I. But there's no knowing
what there is at the bottom of it. Traffic is what they put for'ard;
but it's to do harm to the land and the poor man in the long-run."

"Why, they're Lunnon chaps, I reckon," said Hiram, who had a dim
notion of London as a centre of hostility to the country.

"Ay, to be sure. And in some parts against Brassing, by what I've
heard say, the folks fell on 'em when they were spying, and broke
their peep-holes as they carry, and drove 'em away, so as they knew
better than come again."

"It war good foon, I'd be bound," said Hiram, whose fun was much
restricted by circumstances.

"Well, I wouldn't meddle with 'em myself," said Solomon.
"But some say this country's seen its best days, and the sign is,
as it's being overrun with these fellows trampling right and left,
and wanting to cut it up into railways; and all for the big traffic
to swallow up the little, so as there shan't be a team left on the land,
nor a whip to crack."

"I'll crack _my_ whip about their ear'n, afore they bring it
to that, though," said Hiram, while Mr. Solomon, shaking his bridle,
moved onward.

Nettle-seed needs no digging. The ruin of this countryside by
railroads was discussed, not only at the "Weights and Scales,"
but in the hay-field, where the muster of working hands gave
opportunities for talk such as were rarely had through the rural year.

No comments: