The Man that Everything went Against by Anonymous
"I tell you," said poor Ned, angrily, "everything has gone against me all my life long. If I had had other people's chances I should have been a different sort of a man, and you wouldn't have had to come looking me up here. But I never had a chance, and so what's the use of talking?"
Ned Bean was one of my neighbours; but at this time he was lodged in the jail of the next town覧and dear lodgings they were likely to prove to him. He was an old man: his scanty white hair, his rough, unshorn chin, his haggard, thin face, now flushed with momentary excitement, his rough countryman's garb, dirty and neglected覧all this and more made him an object for pity. A volcano of wrath was pent up in that old man's bosom, striving for vent.
He had been committed only a few days before for brutally misusing his poor old wife覧half killing her, in fact, in a fit of ungoverned fury. The case was too serious to be disposed of by the magistrate before whom he had been at first taken, and who had sent it to the higher county sessions.
I had the day before visited the injured woman, who lay groaning from the effects of her husband's savage assault; and it was at her request, or rather her earnest prayer, that I went the next day to see the unhappy prisoner.
"No," said he once more, when I was considering what further to say, seeing that his old wife's kind and forgiving messages, which I had delivered, had wrought no softening effect on his mind覧"No; I never had a chance; and there's the end on't."
"How is it that you never had a chance, neighbour?" I asked, as kindly as I could, for it occurred to me that if poor old Bean were encouraged to tell his grievances, I might be better able to put in a word or two afterwards.
"How is it?" said he. "Why, haven't I been a poor man all my life? and when a man is poor everything goes against him, doesn't it?"
"I am not sure that it does, neighbour Bean. Some have not found it so," said I; not adding, however, as I might have done, that there were other poor men in the world, who were not in the habit of battering their wives, as he had done.
He had always been a lone thing in the world覧so he said; he had never known father or mother, brother or sister. He had been brought up in the parish workhouse, to which he had been taken when a helpless baby; and when old enough to do a bit of work he was set to that. According to his statement he was badly used by everybody in the house, and was glad enough to get sent out to service as a waggoner's boy at a farm. But there he wasn't treated much better, for he was knocked about by the waggoner till he couldn't stand it any longer, so he ran away. There were bills stuck about the country, describing him, and offering a reward to any one for taking him up and bringing him back again. "But they forgot that I could read the bills as well as they could," said poor old Bean, with a chuckle.
"But why did they take the trouble to post bills about you?"
"They said I had taken something that wasn't mine覧the waggoner's money," old Ned explained, with a little reluctance.
"I suppose you were not caught and taken back to your place?"
"No; I took care to get far enough away, and went into the country with a set of tramps. I got work in a hop garden, and when hopping was over, master, seeing I was a likely sort of a young chap, offered to take me on, and give me regular work."
"Well, that was kind, at all events," I remarked. "Don't you think so, neighbour?"
"Oh, I don't know as to that," said the old man; "if he hadn't thought I was worth my money, he wouldn't have took to me. Every man for himself, you know."
"Well, anyhow, in being for himself, your new master was for you as well, I think."
Bean went on to say he slaved and slaved, and got his pay, but not much thanks. But he couldn't do better; and so he stopped, and went on slaving "lots of years," till he "was a man upgrown." Then he got married.
"To the same poor old creature whom you so badly misused the other day, and who has sent you her forgiving messages by me?"
"Ah, yes, well; just as you like, sir; only she wasn't old then. That was forty years gone by."
"You have lived together forty years, then? and have always been poor, as I suppose, neighbour?"
"You are safe to say that, master," he replied, sharply. "How is a man to get rich on twelve or fourteen shillings a week, and sometimes out of work, and a family to bring up?"
"Not very likely to get rich覧especially when he spends much of his spare time and a large part of his earnings at the beershop," I ventured to say.
"What's that to覧to anybody?" asked Bean, fiercely. It seemed as though he meant, "What's that to you?" but he stopped short at the word. "It was my own money I spent," he added.
"And what became of your sons and daughters覧poor things?" I asked him.
"They went to the bad, mostly. There was Ned, the oldest覧he took to poaching, and was sent across the water for knocking a gamekeeper about. Then there was Tom; he went for a soldier, and I never heard of him afterwards. The girls got married, and didn't make much of that. The only one that did any good was Joe, and he got a place in London, or somewhere; but he went against me, like everybody else. The last time I saw him he had a good coat on his back, and good shoes on his feet, and money in his pocket; but he wouldn't give his old father a penny. He told me if he did I should only get drunk with it. A pretty sort of a son that, sir!"
"But about your wife, neighbour. You cannot deny that you are in the habit of treating her roughly; and that last affair, you know, which has brought you here覧覧"
"She shouldn't have given me so much tongue," said the old man. "She is always giving me tongue, she is!"
"Well, neighbour," said I, when poor Bean had come to an end of his story and his complaints, "I really am very sorry for you. I can plainly see, from everything you have told me, that you have been badly used all your life, up to the present time."
"Ah, I thought you would say so when you came to know the rights of it," said my poor neighbour, suddenly brightening up a little.
"You have had one enemy in particular who has always set himself against you. I think I happen to know who it is," I said.
"More than one; lots of them," poor old Ned protested.
"Let us stick to that one," I went on. "I'll tell you about him. To begin at the beginning, it was he who would not permit you to get any good out of the teaching you had when you were a poor little orphan boy. It was he, only you did not know it, who sent you wandering over the country as a tramp and vagabond, when you might have gone on comfortably and respectably with your first master. It was he who took away your character and branded you as a thief. It was this same enemy of yours who, when you grew older, sent you to the beershop, when you would otherwise have been industriously at work, or sitting at home quietly and happily with your wife and children. It is he who set your children against you, and drove them, as you say, 'to the bad,' my poor neighbour. You don't know it, but this same person has destroyed your peace and pleasure in your own house, and has robbed you of pounds and pounds, which would have helped to make you comfortable in your old age."
"I wish I knew who he is!" exclaimed the old man, rousing himself excitedly.
"I will tell you, neighbour; but I have one thing more to say about this enemy覧I have great reason to believe that he is doing a good deal to shorten your life."
"You don't say that, sir!" cried the poor man, with some signs of alarm. "But now you speak of it," he continued, "I have felt sometimes as if I was being poisoned."
"Ah, no doubt. Well, that was your enemy's doing. And not to make a longer story of it, the man I am speaking of has destroyed every chance you ever had of getting on覧and you have had chances覧he has upset your poor old wife's temper, and urged her on to give you so much tongue, as you say."
"I can't think who you can mean, or what you are talking about, sir," said my old neighbour, ponderingly.
"The name of the man who has done you all this mischief is Edward Bean, commonly called Tipsy Ned. Do you know him?"
For a moment or two poor Ned did not speak, but sat looking at me savagely. Then the muscles of his face worked convulsively, and his eyes were slowly withdrawn from my face, and looked down on the prison floor. Then he muttered, "I reckon you are right, sir."
I knelt down and prayed with and for my poor old neighbour before I left the jail; and that was the last I saw of him. He was soon afterwards tried, and condemned to six months' imprisonment for the assault on his wife, but he did not live out the term. His constitution was shattered by previous habits. He was taken ill, and died in the infirmary of the county prison.
The circumstances I have related have nearly passed from the memory of those in the village where he once lived; but I have revived the story, "to point a moral," though it may not "adorn a tale."