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Title: Hodge and His Masters
Author: Jefferies, Richard, 1848-1887
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HODGE AND HIS MASTERS

BY

RICHARD JEFFERIES

Author of 'The Gamekeeper at Home,' 'Wild Life in a Southern County,'
'The Amateur Poacher,' 'Round About A Great Estate,' Etc.



PREFACE

The papers of which this volume is composed originally appeared in the
_Standard_, and are now republished by permission of the Editor.

In manners, mode of thought, and way of life, there is perhaps no class of
the community less uniform than the agricultural. The diversities are so
great as to amount to contradictions. Individuality of character is most
marked, and, varying an old saw, it might be said, so many farmers so many
minds.

Next to the tenants the landowners have felt the depression, to such a
degree, in fact, that they should perhaps take the first place, having no
one to allow them in turn a 20 per cent, reduction of their liabilities.
It must be remembered that the landowner will not receive the fruits of
returning prosperity when it comes for some time after they have reached
the farmer. Two good seasons will be needed before the landowner begins to
recoup.

Country towns are now so closely connected with agriculture that a
description of the one would be incomplete without some mention of the
other. The aggregate capital employed by the business men of these small
towns must amount to an immense sum, and the depreciation of their
investments is of more than local concern.

Although the labourer at the present moment is a little in the background,
and has the best of the bargain, since wages have not much fallen, if at
all; yet he will doubtless come to the front again. For as agriculture
revives, and the sun shines, the organisations by which he is represented
will naturally display fresh vigour.

But the rapid progress of education in the villages and outlying districts
is the element which is most worthy of thoughtful consideration. On the
one hand, it may perhaps cause a powerful demand for corresponding
privileges; and on the other, counteract the tendency to unreasonable
expectations. In any case, it is a fact that cannot be ignored. Meantime,
all I claim for the following sketches is that they are written in a fair
and impartial spirit.

RICHARD JEFFERIES.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I. THE FARMERS' PARLIAMENT

    II. LEAVING HIS FARM

   III. A MAN OF PROGRESS

    IV. GOING DOWNHILL

     V. THE BORROWER AND THE GAMBLER

    VI. AN AGRICULTURAL GENIUS--OLD STYLE

   VII. THE GIG AND THE FOUR-IN-HAND. A BICYCLE FARMER

  VIII. HAYMAKING. 'THE JUKE'S COUNTRY'

    IX. THE FINE LADY FARMER. COUNTRY GIRLS

     X. MADEMOISELLE, THE GOVERNESS

    XI. FLEECEBOROUGH. A 'DESPOT'

   XII. THE SQUIRE'S 'ROUND ROBIN'

  XIII. AN AMBITIOUS SQUIRE

   XIV. THE PARSON'S WIFE

    XV. A MODERN COUNTRY CURATE

   XVI. THE SOLICITOR

  XVII. 'COUNTY COURT DAY'

 XVIII. THE BANK. THE OLD NEWSPAPER

   XIX. THE VILLAGE FACTORY. VILLAGE VISITORS. WILLOW-WORK

    XX. HODGE'S FIELDS

   XXI. A WINTER'S MORNING

  XXII. THE LABOURER'S CHILDREN, COTTAGE GIRLS

 XXIII. THE LOW 'PUBLIC' IDLERS

  XXIV. THE COTTAGE CHARTER, FOUR-ACRE FARMERS

   XXV. LANDLORDS' DIFFICULTIES, THE LABOURER AS A POWER. MODERN CLERGY

  XXVI. A WHEAT COUNTRY

 XXVII. GRASS COUNTRIES

XXVIII. HODGE'S LAST MASTERS, CONCLUSION



CHAPTER I



THE FARMERS' PARLIAMENT


The doorway of the Jason Inn at Woolbury had nothing particular to
distinguish it from the other doorways of the same extremely narrow
street. There was no porch, nor could there possibly be one, for an
ordinary porch would reach half across the roadway. There were no steps to
go up, there was no entrance hall, no space specially provided for crowds
of visitors; simply nothing but an ordinary street-door opening directly
on the street, and very little, if any, broader or higher than those of
the private houses adjacent. There was not even the usual covered way or
archway leading into the courtyard behind, so often found at old country
inns; the approach to the stables and coach-houses was through a separate
and even more narrow and winding street, necessitating a detour of some
quarter of a mile. The dead, dull wall was worn smooth in places by the
involuntary rubbings it had received from the shoulders of foot-passengers
thrust rudely against it as the market-people came pouring in or out, or
both together.

Had the spot been in the most crowded district of the busiest part of the
metropolis, where every inch of ground is worth an enormous sum, the
buildings could not have been more jammed together, nor the inconvenience
greater. Yet the little town was in the very midst of one of the most
purely agricultural counties, where land, to all appearance, was
plentiful, and where there was ample room and 'verge enough' to build
fifty such places. The pavement in front of the inn was barely eighteen
inches wide; two persons could not pass each other on it, nor walk
abreast. If a cart came along the roadway, and a trap had to go by it, the
foot-passengers had to squeeze up against the wall, lest the box of the
wheel projecting over the kerb should push them down. If a great waggon
came loaded with wool, the chances were whether a carriage could pass it
or not; as for a waggon-load of straw that projected from the sides,
nothing could get by, but all must wait--coroneted panel or plain
four-wheel--till the huge mass had rumbled and jolted into the more open
market-place.

But hard, indeed, must have been the flag-stones to withstand the wear and
tear of the endless iron-shod shoes that tramped to and fro these mere
ribbons of pavements. For, besides the through traffic out from the
market-place to the broad macadamised road that had taken the place and
the route of an ancient Roman road, there were the customers to the shops
that lined each side of the street. Into some of these you stepped from
the pavement down, as it were, into a cave, the level of the shop being
eight or ten inches below the street, while the first floor projected over
the pavement quite to the edge of the kerb. To enter these shops it was
necessary to stoop, and when you were inside there was barely room to turn
round. Other shops were, indeed, level with the street; but you had to be
careful, because the threshold was not flush with the pavement, but rose a
couple of inches and then fell again, a very trap to the toe of the
unwary. Many had no glass at all, but were open, like a butcher's or
fishmonger's. Those that had glass were so restricted for space that, rich
as they might be within in the good things of the earth, they could make
no 'display.' All the genius of a West-end shopman could not have made an
artistic arrangement in that narrow space and in that bad light; for,
though so small below, the houses rose high, and the street being so
narrow the sunshine rarely penetrated into it.

But mean as a metropolitan shopman might have thought the spot, the
business done there was large, and, more than that, it was genuine. The
trade of a country market-town, especially when that market-town, like
Woolbury, dates from the earliest days of English history, is hereditary.
It flows to the same store and to the same shop year after year,
generation after generation, century after century. The farmer who walks
into the saddler's here goes in because his father went there before him.
His father went in because his father dealt there, and so on farther back
than memory can trace. It might almost be said that whole villages go to
particular shops. You may see the agricultural labourers' wives, for
instance, on a Saturday leave the village in a bevy of ten or a dozen, and
all march in to the same tradesman. Of course in these latter days
speculative men and 'co-operative' prices, industriously placarded, have
sapped and undermined this old-fashioned system. Yet even now it retains
sufficient hold to be a marked feature of country life. To the through
traffic, therefore, had to be added the steady flow of customers to the
shops.

On a market-day like this there is, of course, the incessant entry and
exit of carts, waggons, traps, gigs, four-wheels, and a large number of
private carriages. The number of private carriages is, indeed, very
remarkable, as also the succession of gentlemen on thoroughbred horses--a
proof of the number of resident gentry in the neighbourhood, and of its
general prosperity. Cart-horses furbished up for sale, with straw-bound
tails and glistening skins; 'baaing' flocks of sheep; squeaking pigs;
bullocks with their heads held ominously low, some going, some returning,
from the auction yard; shouting drovers; lads rushing hither and thither;
dogs barking; everything and everybody crushing, jostling, pushing through
the narrow street. An old shepherd, who has done his master's business,
comes along the pavement, trudging thoughtful and slow, with ashen staff.
One hand is in his pocket, the elbow of the arm projecting; he is feeling
a fourpenny-piece, and deliberating at which 'tap' he shall spend it. He
fills up the entire pavement, and stolidly plods on, turning ladies and
all into the roadway; not from intentional rudeness, but from sheer
inability to perceive that he is causing inconvenience.

Unless you know the exact spot it is difficult in all this crowd and
pushing, with a nervous dread of being gored from behind by a bull, or
thrown off your feet by a sudden charge of sheep, to discover the door of
the Jason Inn. That door has been open every legitimate and lawful hour
this hundred years; but you will very likely be carried past it and have
to struggle back. Then it is not easy to enter, for half a dozen stalwart
farmers and farmers' sons are coming out; while two young fellows stand
just inside, close to the sliding bar-window, blocking up the passage, to
exchange occasional nods and smiles with the barmaid.

However, by degrees you shuffle along the sanded passage, and past the
door of the bar, which is full of farmers as thick as they can stand, or
sit. The rattle of glasses, the chink of spoons, the hum of voices, the
stamping of feet, the calls and orders, and sounds of laughter, mingle in
confusion. Cigar-smoke and the steam from the glasses fill the room--all
too small--with a thick white mist, through which rubicund faces dimly
shine like the red sun through a fog.

Some at the tables are struggling to write cheques, with continual jogs at
the elbow, with ink that will not flow, pens that scratch and splutter,
blotting-paper that smudges and blots. Some are examining cards of an
auction, and discussing the prices which they have marked in the margin in
pencil. The good-humoured uproar is beyond description, and is increased
by more farmers forcing their way in from the rear, where are their horses
or traps--by farmers eagerly inquiring for dealers or friends, and by
messengers from the shops loaded with parcels to place in the customer's
vehicle.

At last you get beyond the bar-room door and reach the end of the passage,
where is a wide staircase, and at the foot a tall eight-day clock. A
maid-servant comes tripping down, and in answer to inquiry replies that
that is the way up, and the room is ready, but she adds with a smile that
there is no one there yet. It is three-quarters of an hour after the time
fixed for the reading of a most important paper before a meeting specially
convened, before the assembled Parliament of Hodge's masters, and you
thought you would be too late. A glance at the staircase proves the truth
of the maid's story. It has no carpet, but it is white as well-scrubbed
wood could well be. There is no stain, no dust, no foot-mark on it; no
heavy shoe that has been tramping about in the mud has been up there. But
it is necessary to go on or go back, and of the two the first is the
lesser evil.

The staircase is guarded by carved banisters, and after going up two
flights you enter a large and vacant apartment prepared for the meeting of
the farmers' club. At the farther end is a small mahogany table, with an
armchair for the president, paper, pens, ink, blotting-paper, and a wax
candle and matches, in case he should want a light. Two less dignified
chairs are for the secretary (whose box, containing the club records,
books of reference, &c., is on the table), and for the secretary's clerk.
Rows of plain chairs stretch across the room, rank after rank; these are
for the audience. And last of all are two long forms, as if for Hodge, if
Hodge chooses to come.

A gleam of the afternoon sun--as the clouds part awhile--attracts one
naturally to the window. The thickness of the wall in which it is placed
must be some two or three feet, so that there is a recess on which to put
your arms, if you do not mind the dust, and look out. The window is half
open, and the sounds of the street come up, 'baaing' and bellowing and
squeaking, the roll of wheels, the tramp of feet, and, more distant, the
shouting of an auctioneer in the market-place, whose stentorian tones come
round the corner as he puts up rickcloths for sale. Noise of man and
animal below; above, here in the chamber of science, vacancy and silence.
Looking upwards, a narrow streak of blue sky can be seen above the ancient
house across the way.

After awhile there comes the mellow sound of bells from the church which
is near by, though out of sight; bells with a soft, old-world tone; bells
that chime slowly and succeed each other without haste, ringing forth a
holy melody composed centuries ago. It is as well to pause a minute and
listen to their voice, even in this railroad age of hurry. Over the busy
market-place the notes go forth, and presently the hum comes back and
dwells in the recess of the window. It is a full hour after the time
fixed, and now at last, as the carillon finishes, there are sounds of
heavy boots upon the staircase. Three or four farmers gather on the
landing; they converse together just outside. The secretary's clerk comes,
and walks to the table; more farmers, who, now they have company, boldly
enter and take seats; still more farmers; the secretary arrives; finally
the president appears, and with him the lecturer. There is a hum of
greeting; the minutes are read; the president introduces the professor,
and the latter stands forth to read his paper--'Science, the Remedy for
Agricultural Depression.'

Farmers, he pointed out, had themselves only to blame for the present
period of distress. For many years past science had been like the voice
crying in the wilderness, and few, a very few only, had listened. Men had,
indeed, come to the clubs; but they had gone away home again, and, as the
swine of the proverb, returned to their wallowing in the mire. One blade
of grass still grew where two or even three might be grown; he questioned
whether farmers had any real desire to grow the extra blades. If they did,
they had merely to employ the means provided for them. Everything had been
literally put into their hands; but what was the result? Why, nothing--in
point of fact, nothing. The country at large was still undrained. The very
A B C of progress had been neglected. He should be afraid to say what
proportion of the land was yet undrained, for he should be contradicted,
called ill names, and cried down. But if they would look around them they
could see for themselves. They would see meadows full of rank, coarse
grass in the furrows, which neither horse nor cattle would touch. They
would see in the wheat-fields patches of the crop sickly, weak, feeble,
and altogether poor; that was where the water had stood and destroyed the
natural power of the seed. The same cause gave origin to that mass of
weeds which was the standing disgrace of arable districts.

But men shut their eyes wilfully to these plain facts, and cried out that
the rain had ruined them. It was not the rain--it was their own intense
dislike of making any improvement. The _vis inertiae_ of the agricultural
class was beyond the limit of language to describe. Why, if the land had
been drained the rain would have done comparatively little damage, and
thus they would have been independent of the seasons. Look, again, at the
hay crop; how many thousand tons of hay had been wasted because men would
not believe that anything would answer which had not been done by their
forefathers! The hay might have been saved by three distinct methods. The
grass might have been piled against hurdles or light frame-work and so
dried by the wind; it might have been pitted in the earth and preserved
still green; or it might have been dried by machinery and the hot blast. A
gentleman had invented a machine, the utility of which had been
demonstrated beyond all doubt. But no; farmers folded their hands and
watched their hay rotting.

As for the wheat crop, how could they expect a wheat crop? They had not
cleaned the soil--there were horse-hoes, and every species of contrivances
for the purpose; but they would not use them. They had not ploughed
deeply: they had merely scratched the surface as if with a pin. How could
the thin upper crust of the earth--the mere rind three inches thick--be
expected to yield crop after crop for a hundred years? Deep ploughing
could only be done by steam: now how many farmers possessed or used
steam-ploughs? Why, there were whole districts where such a thing was
unknown. They had neglected to manure the soil; to restore to it the
chemical constituents of the crops. But to speak upon artificial manure
was enough to drive any man who had the power of thought into temporary
insanity. It was so utterly dispiriting to see men positively turning away
from the means of obtaining good crops, and then crying out that they were
ruined. With drains, steam-ploughs, and artificial manure, a farmer might
defy the weather.

Of course, continued the professor, it was assumed that the farmer had
good substantial buildings and sufficient capital. The first he could get
if he chose; and without the second, without capital, he had no business
to be farming at all. He was simply stopping the road of a better man, and
the sooner he was driven out of the way the better. The neglect of
machinery was most disheartening. A farmer bought one machine, perhaps a
reaping-machine, and then because that solitary article did not
immediately make his fortune he declared that machinery was useless. Could
the force of folly farther go? With machinery they could do just as they
liked. They could compel the earth to yield, and smile at the most
tropical rain, or the most continuous drought. If only the voice of
science had been listened to, there would have been no depression at all.
Even now it was not too late.

Those who were wise would at once set to work to drain, to purchase
artificial manure, and set up steam power, and thereby to provide
themselves with the means of stemming the tide of depression. By these
means they could maintain a head of stock that would be more than double
what was now kept upon equal acreage. He knew full well one of the
objections that would be made against these statements. It would be said
that certain individuals had done all this, had deep ploughed, had
manured, had kept a great head of valuable stock, had used every resource,
and yet had suffered. This was true. He deeply regretted to say it was
true.

But why had they suffered? Not because of the steam, the machinery, the
artificial manure, the improvements they had set on foot; but because of
the folly of their neighbours, of the agricultural class generally. The
great mass of farmers had made no improvements; and, when the time of
distress came, they were beaten down at every point. It was through these
men and their failures that the price of stock and of produce fell, and
that so much stress was put upon the said individuals through no fault of
their own. He would go further, and he would say that had it not been for
the noble efforts of such individuals--the pioneers of agriculture and its
main props and stays--the condition of farming would have been simply
fifty times worse than it was. They, and they alone, had enabled it to
bear up so long against calamity. They had resources; the agricultural
class, as a rule, had none. Those resources were the manure they had put
into the soil, the deep ploughing they had accomplished, the great head of
stock they had got together, and so on. These enabled them to weather the
storm.

The cry for a reduction of rent was an irresistible proof of what he had
put forth--that it was the farmers themselves who were to blame. This cry
was a confession of their own incompetency. If you analysed it--if you
traced the general cry home to particular people--you always found that
those people were incapables. The fact was, farming, as a rule, was
conducted on the hand-to-mouth principle, and the least stress or strain
caused an outcry. He must be forgiven if he seemed to speak with unusual
acerbity. He intended no offence. But it was his duty. In such a condition
of things it would be folly to mince matters, to speak softly while
everything was going to pieces. He repeated, once for all, it was their
own fault. Science could supply the remedy, and science alone; if they
would not call in the aid of science they must suffer, and their
privations must be upon their own heads. Science said, Drain, use
artificial manure, plough deeply, keep the best breed of stock, put
capital into the soil. Call science to their aid, and they might defy the
seasons.

The professor sat down and thrust his hand through his hair. The president
invited discussion. For some few minutes no one rose; presently, after a
whispered conversation with his friend, an elderly farmer stood up from
the forms at the very back of the room. He made no pretence to rounded
periods, but spoke much better than might have been expected; he had a
small piece of paper in his hand, on which he had made notes as the
lecture proceeded.

He said that the lecturer had made out a very good case. He had proved to
demonstration, in the most logical manner, that farmers were fools. Well,
no doubt, all the world agreed with him, for everybody thought he could
teach the farmer. The chemist, the grocer, the baker, the banker, the wine
merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, the clerk, the mechanic, the merchant,
the editor, the printer, the stockbroker, the colliery owner, the
ironmaster, the clergyman, and the Methodist preacher, the very cabmen and
railway porters, policemen, and no doubt the crossing-sweepers--to use an
expressive Americanism, all the whole "jing-bang"--could teach the
ignorant jackass of a farmer.

Some few years ago he went into a draper's shop to bring home a parcel for
his wife, and happened to enter into conversation with the draper himself.
The draper said he was just going to sell off the business and go into
dairy farming, which was the most paying thing out. That was just when
there came over from America a patent machine for milking cows. The
draper's idea was to milk all his cows by one of these articles, and so
dispense with labour. He saw no more of him for a long time, but had heard
that morning that he went into a dairy farm, got rid of all his money, and
was now tramping the country as a pedlar with a pack at his back.
Everybody thought he could teach the farmer till he tried farming himself,
and then he found his mistake.

One remark of the lecturer, if he might venture to say so, seemed to him,
a poor ignorant farmer of sixty years' standing, not only uncalled-for and
priggish, but downright brutal. It was that the man with little capital
ought to be driven out of farming, and the sooner he went to the wall the
better. Now, how would all the grocers and other tradesmen whom he had
just enumerated like to be told that if they had not got 10,000_l_. each
they ought to go at once to the workhouse! That would be a fine remedy for
the depression of trade.

He always thought it was considered rather meritorious if a man with small
capital, by hard work, honest dealing, and self-denial, managed to raise
himself and get up in the world. But, oh no; nothing of the kind; the
small man was the greatest sinner, and must be eradicated. Well, he did
not hesitate to say that he had been a small man himself, and began in a
very small way. Perhaps the lecturer would think him a small man still, as
he was not a millionaire; but he could pay his way, which went for
something in the eyes of old-fashioned people, and perhaps he had a pound
or two over. He should say but one word more, for he was aware that there
was a thunderstorm rapidly coming up, and he supposed science would not
prevent him from getting a wet jacket. He should like to ask the lecturer
if he could give the name of one single scientific farmer who had
prospered?

Having said this much, the old gentleman put on his overcoat and busted
out of the room, and several others followed him, for the rain was already
splashing against the window-panes. Others looked at their watches, and,
seeing it was late, rose one by one and slipped off. The president asked
if any one would continue the discussion, and, as no one rose, invited the
professor to reply.

The professor gathered his papers and stood up. Then there came a heavy
rolling sound--the unmistakable boom of distant thunder. He said that the
gentleman who had left so abruptly had quite misconstrued the tenour of
his paper. So far from intending to describe farmers as lacking in
intelligence, all he wished to show was that they did not use their
natural abilities, from a certain traditionary bowing to custom. They did
not like their neighbours to think that they were doing anything novel. No
one respected the feelings that had grown up and strengthened from
childhood, no one respected the habits of our ancestors, more than he did;
no one knew better the solid virtues that adorned the homes of
agriculturists. Far, indeed, be it from him to say aught--[Boom! and the
rattling of rain against the window]--aught that could--but he saw that
gentlemen were anxious to get home, and would conclude.

A vote of thanks was hurriedly got over, and the assembly broke up and
hastened down the staircase. They found the passage below so blocked with
farmers who had crowded in out of the storm that movement was impossible.
The place was darkened by the overhanging clouds, the atmosphere thick and
close with the smoke and the crush. Flashes of brilliant lightning seemed
to sweep down the narrow street, which ran like a brook with the
storm-water; the thunder seemed to descend and shake the solid walls.
'It's rather hard on the professor,' said one farmer to another. 'What
would science do in a thunderstorm?' He had hardly spoken when the hail
suddenly came down, and the round white globules, rebounding from the
pavement, rolled in at the open door. Each paused as he lifted his glass
and thought of the harvest. As for Hodge, who was reaping, he had to take
shelter how he might in the open fields. Boom! flash! boom!--splash and
hiss, as the hail rushed along the narrow street.



CHAPTER II



LEAVING HIS FARM


A large white poster, fresh and glaring, is pasted on the wall of a barn
that stands beside a narrow country lane. So plain an advertisement,
without any colour or attempt at 'display,' would be passed unnoticed
among the endless devices on a town hoarding. There nothing can be hoped
to be looked at unless novel and strange, or even incomprehensible. But
here the oblong piece of black and white contrasts sufficiently in itself
with red brick and dull brown wooden framing, with tall shadowy elms, and
the glint of sunshine on the streamlet that flows with a ceaseless murmur
across the hollow of the lane. Every man that comes along stays to read
it.

The dealer in his trap--his name painted in white letters on the
shaft--pulls up his quick pony, and sits askew on his seat to read. He has
probably seen it before in the bar of the wayside inn, roughly hung on a
nail, and swaying to and fro with the draught along the passage. He may
have seen it, too, on the handing-post at the lonely cross-roads, stuck on
in such a manner that, in order to peruse it, it is necessary to walk
round the post. The same formal announcement appears also in the local
weekly papers--there are at least two now in the smallest place--and he
has read it there. Yet he pauses to glance at it again, for the country
mind requires reiteration before it can thoroughly grasp and realise the
simplest fact. The poster must be read and re-read, and the printer's name
observed and commented on, or, if handled, the thickness of the paper felt
between thumb and finger. After a month or two of this process people at
last begin to accept it as a reality, like cattle or trees--something
substantial, and not mere words.

The carter, with his waggon, if he be an elderly man, cries 'Whoa!' and,
standing close to the wall, points to each letter with the top of his
whip--where it bends--and so spells out 'Sale by Auction.' If he be a
young man he looks up at it as the heavy waggon rumbles by, turns his
back, and goes on with utter indifference.

The old men, working so many years on a single farm, and whose minds were
formed in days when a change of tenancy happened once in half a century,
have so identified themselves with the order of things in the parish that
it seems to personally affect them when a farmer leaves his place. But
young Hodge cares nothing about his master, or his fellow's master.
Whether they go or stay, prosperous or decaying, it matters nothing to
him. He takes good wages, and can jingle some small silver in his pocket
when he comes to the tavern a mile or so ahead; so 'gee-up' and let us get
there as rapidly as possible.

An hour later a farmer passes on horseback; his horse all too broad for
his short legs that stick out at the side and show some inches of stocking
between the bottom of his trousers and his boots. A sturdy, thick-set man,
with a wide face, brickdust colour, fringed with close-cut red whiskers,
and a chest so broad he seems compelled to wear his coat unbuttoned. He
pulls off his hat and wipes his partly bald head with a coloured
handkerchief, stares at the poster a few minutes, and walks his horse
away, evidently in deep thought. Two boys--cottagers' children--come home
from school; they look round to see that no one observes, and then throw
flints at the paper till the sound of footsteps alarms them.


Towards the evening a gentleman and lady, the first middle-aged, the
latter very young--father and daughter--approach, their horses seeming to
linger as they walk through the shallow stream, and the cool water
splashes above their fetlocks. The shooting season is near at hand,
Parliament has risen, and the landlords have returned home. Instead of the
Row, papa must take his darling a ride through the lanes, a little dusty
as the autumn comes on, and pauses to read the notice on the wall. It is
his neighbour's tenant, not his, but it comes home to him here. It is the
real thing--the fact--not the mere seeing it in the papers, or the warning
hints in the letters of his own steward. 'Papa,' is rather quiet for the
rest of the ride. Ever since he was a lad--how many years ago is that?--he
has shot with his neighbour's party over this farm, and recollects the
tenant well, and with that friendly feeling that grows up towards what we
see year after year. In a day or two the clergyman drives by with his low
four-wheel and fat pony, notes the poster as the pony slackens at the
descent to the water, and tells himself to remember and get the tithe.
Some few Sundays, and Farmer Smith will appear in church no more.

Farmer Smith this beautiful morning is looking at the wheat, which is, and
is not, his. It would have been cut in an ordinary season, but the rains
have delayed the ripening. He wonders how the crop ever came up at all
through the mass of weeds that choked it, the spurrey that filled the
spaces between the stalks below, the bindweed that climbed up them, the
wild camomile flowering and flourishing at the edge, the tall thistles
lifting their heads above it in bunches, and the great docks whose red
seeds showed at a distance. He sent in some men, as much to give them
something to do as for any real good, one day, who in a few hours pulled
up enough docks to fill a cart. They came across a number of snakes, and
decapitated the reptiles with their hoes, and afterwards hung them all
up--tied together by the tail--to a bough. The bunch of headless snakes
hangs there still, swinging to and fro as the wind plays through the oak.
Vermin, too, revel in weeds, which encourage the mice and rats, and are,
perhaps, quite as much a cause of their increase as any acts of the
gamekeeper.

Farmer Smith a few years since was very anxious for the renewal of his
lease, just as those about to enter on tenancies desired leases above
everything. All the agricultural world agreed that a lease was the best
thing possible--the clubs discussed it, the papers preached it. It was a
safeguard; it allowed the tenant to develop his energies, and to put his
capital into the soil without fear. He had no dread of being turned out
before he could get it back. Nothing like a lease--the certain
preventative of all agricultural ills. There was, to appearance, a great
deal of truth in these arguments, which in their day made much impression,
and caused a movement in that direction. Who could foresee that in a few
short years men would be eager to get rid of their leases on any terms?
Yet such was the fact. The very men who had longed so eagerly for the
blessing of security of tenure found it the worst thing possible for their
interest.

Mr. Smith got his lease, and paid for it tolerably stiffly, for at that
period all agricultural prices were inflated--from the price of a lease to
that of a calf. He covenanted to pay a certain fixed rental for so many
acres of arable and a small proportion of grass for a fixed time. He
covenanted to cultivate the soil by a fixed rotation; not to sow this nor
that, nor to be guided by the change of the markets, or the character of
the seasons, or the appearance of powerful foreign competitors. There was
the parchment prepared with all the niceties of wording that so many
generations of lawyers had polished to the highest pitch; not a loophole,
not so much as a _t_ left uncrossed, or a doubtful interlineation. But
although the parchment did not alter a jot, the times and seasons did.
Wheat fell in price, vast shipments came even from India, cattle and sheep
from America, wool from Australia, horses from France; tinned provisions
and meats poured in by the ton, and cheese, and butter, and bacon by the
thousand tons. Labour at the same time rose. His expenditure increased,
his income decreased; his rent remained the same, and rent audit came
round with the utmost regularity.

Mr. Smith began to think about his lease, and question whether it was such
an unmixed blessing. There was no getting out of it, that was certain. The
seasons grew worse and worse. Smith asked for a reduction of rent. He got,
like others, ten per cent, returned, which, he said looked very liberal to
those who knew nothing of farming, and was in reality about as useful as a
dry biscuit flung at a man who has eaten nothing for a week. Besides
which, it was only a gracious condescension, and might not be repeated
next year, unless he kept on his good behaviour, and paid court to the
clergyman and the steward. Unable to get at what he wanted in a direct
way, Smith tried an indirect one. He went at game, and insisted on its
being reduced in number. This he could do according to the usual terms of
agreement; but when it came to the point he found that the person called
in to assess the damage put it at a much lower figure than he had himself;
and who was to decide what was or was not a reasonable head of game? This
attack of his on the game did him no good whatever, and was not
unnaturally borne in mind--let us not say resented.

He next tried to get permission to sell straw--a permission that he saw
granted to others in moderation. But he was then reminded of a speech he
had made at a club, when, in a moment of temper (and sherry), he had let
out a piece of his mind, which piece of his mind was duly published in the
local papers, and caused a sensation. Somebody called the landlord's
attention to it, and he did not like it. Nor can he be blamed; we none of
us like to be abused in public, the more especially when, looking at
precedents, we do not deserve it. Smith next went to the assessment
committee to get his taxes reduced, on the ground of a loss of revenue.
The committee sympathised with him, but found that they must assess him
according to his rent. At least so they were then advised, and only did
their duty.

By this time the local bankers had scented a time of trouble approaching
in the commercial and agricultural world; they began to draw in their more
doubtful advances, or to refuse to renew them. As a matter of fact, Smith
was a perfectly sound man, but he had so persistently complained that
people began to suspect there really was something wrong with his
finances. He endeavoured to explain, but was met with the tale that he had
himself started. He then honestly produced his books, and laid his
position bare to the last penny.

The banker believed him, and renewed part of the advance for a short
period; but he began, to cogitate in this wise: 'Here is a farmer of long
experience, born of a farming family, and a hardworking fellow, and, more
than that, honest. If this man, who has hitherto had the command of a fair
amount of capital, cannot make his books balance better than this, what
must be the case with some of our customers? There are many who ride about
on hunters, and have a bin of decent wine. How much of all this is
genuine? We must be careful; these are hard times.' In short, Smith,
without meaning it, did his neighbours an immense deal of harm. His very
honesty injured them. By slow degrees the bank got 'tighter' with its
customers. It leaked out--all things leak out--that Smith had said too
much, and he became unpopular, which did not increase his contentment.

Finally he gave notice that unless the rent was reduced he should not
apply to renew the lease, which would soon expire. He had not the least
intention in his secret mind of leaving the farm; he never dreamed that
his notice would be accepted. He and his had dwelt there for a hundred
years, and were as much part and parcel of the place as the elm-trees in
the hedges. So many farms were in the market going a-begging for tenants,
it was not probable a landlord would let a good man go for the sake of a
few shillings an acre. But the months went by and the landlord's agents
gave no sign, and at last Smith realised that he was really going to
leave.

Though he had so long talked of going, it came upon him like a
thunderbolt. It was like an attack of some violent fever that shakes a
strong man and leaves him as weak as a child. The farmer, whose meals had
been so hearty, could not relish his food. His breakfast dwindled to a
pretence; his lunch fell off; his dinner grew less; his supper faded; his
spirits and water, the old familiar 'nightcap,' did him no good. His jolly
ringing laugh was heard no more; from a thorough gossip he became
taciturn, and barely opened his lips. His clothes began to hang about him,
instead of fitting him all too tight; his complexion lost the red colour
and became sallow; his eyes had a furtive look in them, so different to
the old straightforward glance.

Some said he would take to his bed and die; some said he would jump into
the pond one night, to be known no more in this world. But he neither
jumped into the pond nor took to his bed. He went round his fields just
the same as before--perhaps a little more mechanically; but still the old
routine of daily work was gone through. Leases, though for a short period,
do not expire in a day; after awhile time began to produce its usual
effect. The sharpness of the pain wore off, and he set to work to make the
best of matters. He understood the capacity of each field as well as
others understand the yielding power of a little garden. His former study
had been to preserve something like a balance between what he put in and
what he took out of the soil. Now it became the subject of consideration
how to get the most out without putting anything in. Artificial manures
were reduced to the lowest quantity and of the cheapest quality, such as
was used being, in fact, nothing but to throw dust, literally, in the eyes
of other people. Times were so bad that he could not be expected, under
the most favourable circumstances, to consume much cake in the stalls or
make much manure in that way.

One by one extra expenditures were cut off. Gates, instead of being
repaired, were propped up by running a pole across. Labour was eschewed in
every possible way. Hedges were left uncut; ditches were left uncleaned.
The team of horses was reduced, and the ploughing done next to nothing.
Cleaning and weeding were gradually abandoned. Several fields were allowed
to become overrun with grass, not the least attention being paid to them;
the weeds sprang up, and the grass ran over from the hedges. The wheat
crop was kept to the smallest area. Wheat requires more previous labour
and care as to soil than any other crop. Labour and preparation cost
money, and he was determined not to spend a shilling more than he was
absolutely compelled. He contrived to escape the sowing, of wheat
altogether on some part of the farm, leaving it out of the rotation. That
was a direct infringement of the letter of the agreement; but who was to
prove that he had evaded it? The steward could not recollect the crops on
several hundred acres; the neighbouring tenants, of course, knew very
well; but although Smith had become unpopular, they were not going to tell
tales of him. He sold everything he dared off the farm, and many things
that he did not dare. He took everything out of the soil that it was
possible to take out. The last Michaelmas was approaching, and he walked
round in the warm August sunshine to look at the wheat.

He sat down on an old roller that lay in the corner of the field, and
thought over the position of things. He calculated that it would cost the
incoming tenant an expenditure of from one thousand two hundred pounds to
one thousand five hundred pounds to put the farm, which was a large one,
into proper condition. It could not be got into such condition under three
years of labour. The new tenant must therefore be prepared to lay out a
heavy sum of money, to wait while the improvement went on, must live how
he could meanwhile, and look forward some three years for the commencement
of his profit. To such a state had the farm been brought in a brief time.
And how would the landlord come off? The new tenant would certainly make
his bargain in accordance with the state of the land. For the first year
the rent paid would be nominal; for the second, perhaps a third or half
the usual sum; not till the third year could the landlord hope to get his
full rental. That full rental, too, would be lower than previously,
because the general depression had sent down arable rents everywhere, and
no one would pay on the old scale.

Smith thought very hard things of the landlord, and felt that he should
have his revenge. On the other hand, the landlord thought very hard things
of Smith, and not without reason. That an old tenant, the descendant of
one of the oldest tenant-farmer families, should exhaust the soil in this
way seemed the blackest return for the good feeling that had existed for
several generations. There was great irritation on both sides.

Smith had, however, to face one difficulty. He must either take another
farm at once, or live on his capital. The interest of his capital--if
invested temporarily in Government securities--would hardly suffice to
maintain the comfortable style of living he and his rather large family of
grown-up sons and daughters had been accustomed to. He sometimes heard a
faint, far off 'still small voice,' that seemed to say it would have been
wiser to stay on, and wait till the reaction took place and farming
recovered. The loss he would have sustained by staying on would, perhaps,
not have been larger than the loss he must now sustain by living on
capital till such time as he saw something to suit him. And had he been
altogether wise in omitting all endeavours to gain his end by conciliatory
means? Might not gentle persuasion and courteous language have ultimately
produced an impression? Might not terms have been arranged had he not been
so vehement? The new tenant, notwithstanding that he would have to contend
with the shocking state of the farm, had such favourable terms that if he
only stayed long enough to let the soil recover, Smith knew he must make a
good thing of it.

But as he sat on the wooden roller under the shade of a tree and thought
these things, listening to the rustle of the golden wheat as it moved in
the breeze, he pulled a newspaper out of his pocket, and glanced down a
long, long list of farms to let. Then he remembered that his pass-book at
the bank showed a very respectable row of figures, buttoned up his coat,
and strolled homeward with a smile on his features. The date fixed for the
sale, as announced by the poster on the barn, came round, and a crowd
gathered to see the last of the old tenant. Old Hodge viewed the scene
from a distance, resting against a gate, with his chin on his hand. He was
thinking of the days when he first went to plough, years ago, under
Smith's father. If Smith had been about to enter on another farm old Hodge
would have girded up his loins, packed his worldly goods in a waggon, and
followed his master's fortunes thither. But Smith was going to live on his
capital awhile; and old Hodge had already had notice to quit his cottage.
In his latter days he must work for a new master. Down at the sale young
Hodge was lounging round, hands in pocket, whistling--for there was some
beer going about. The excitement of the day was a pleasurable sensation,
and as for his master he might go to Kansas or Hong-Kong.



CHAPTER III



A MAN OF PROGRESS


The sweet sound of rustling leaves, as soothing as the rush of falling
water, made a gentle music over a group of three persons sitting at the
extremity of a lawn. Upon their right was a plantation or belt of trees,
which sheltered them from the noonday sun; on the left the green sward
reached to the house; from the open window came the rippling notes of a
piano, and now and again the soft accents of the Italian tongue. The walls
of the garden shut out the world and the wind--the blue sky stretched
above from one tree-top to another, and in those tree-tops the cool
breeze, grateful to the reapers in the fields, played with bough and leaf.
In the centre of the group was a small table, and on it some tall glasses
of antique make, and a flask of wine. By the lady lay a Japanese parasol,
carelessly dropped on the grass. She was handsome, and elegantly dressed;
her long drooping eyelashes fringed eyes that were almost closed in
luxurious enjoyment; her slender hand beat time to the distant song. Of
the two gentlemen one was her brother--the other, a farmer, her husband.
The brother wore a pith helmet, and his bronzed cheek told of service
under tropical suns. The husband was scarcely less brown; still young, and
very active-looking, you might guess his age at forty; but his bare
forehead (he had thrown his hat on the ground) was marked with the line
caused by involuntary contraction of the muscles when thinking. There was
an air of anxiety, of restless feverish energy, about him. But just for
the moment he was calm and happy, turning over the pages of a book.
Suddenly he looked up, and began to declaim, in a clear, sweet voice:

                       'He's speaking now,
      Or murmuring, "Where's my serpent of old Nile?"
      For so he calls me. Now I feed myself
      With most delicious poison!'

Just then there came the sharp rattle of machinery borne on the wind; he
recollected himself, shut the volume, and rose from his seat. 'The men
have finished luncheon,' he said; 'I must go and see how things are
getting on.' The Indian officer, after one glance back at the house, went
with him. There was a private footpath through the plantation of trees,
and down this the two disappeared. Soon afterwards the piano ceased, and a
lady came slowly across the lawn, still humming the air she had been
playing. She was the farmer's sister, and was engaged to the officer. The
wife looked up from the book which she had taken from the table, with a
smile of welcome. But the smile faded as she said--'They have gone out to
the reapers. Oh, this farm will worry him out of his life! How I wish he
had never bought it! Don't let Alick have anything to do with farms or
land, dear, when you are married.'

The girl laughed, sat down, took her hand, and asked if matters were
really so serious.

'It is not so much the money I trouble about,' said the wife. 'It is Cecil
himself. His nature is too fine for these dull clods. You know him, dear;
his mind is full of art--look at these glasses--of music and pictures.
Why, he has just been reading "Antony and Cleopatra," and now he's gone to
look after reapers. Then, he is so fiery and quick, and wants everything
done in a minute, like the men of business in the "City." He keeps his
watch timed to a second, and expects the men to be there. They are so
slow. Everything agricultural is so slow. They say we shall have fine
seasons in two or three years; only think, _years_. This is what weighs on
Cecil.'

By this time the two men had walked through the plantation, and paused at
a small gate that opened on the fields. The ground fell rapidly away,
sloping down for half a mile, so that every portion of the fields below
was visible at once. The house and gardens were situate on the hill; the
farmer had only to stand on the edge to overlook half his place.

'What a splendid view!' said the officer. The entire slope was yellow with
wheat--on either hand, and in front the surface of the crop extended
unbroken by hedge, tree, or apparent division. Two reaping-machines were
being driven rapidly round and round, cutting as they went; one was a
self-binder and threw the sheaves off already bound; the other only laid
the corn low, and it had afterwards to be gathered up and bound by
hand-labour. There was really a small army of labourers in the field; but
it was so large they made but little show.

'You have a first-rate crop,' said the visitor; 'I see no weeds, or not
more than usual; it is a capital crop.'

'Yes,' replied the farmer, 'it is a fine crop; but just think what it cost
me to produce it, and bear in mind, too, the price I shall get for it.' He
took out his pocket-book, and began to explain.

While thus occupied he looked anything but a farmer. His dress was indeed
light and careless, but it was the carelessness of breeding, not
slovenliness. His hands were brown, but there were clean white cuffs on
his wrist and gold studs; his neck was brown, but his linen spotless. The
face was too delicate, too refined with all its bronze; the frame was well
developed, but too active; it lacked the heavy thickness and the lumbering
gait of the farmer bred to the plough. He might have conducted a great
financial operation; he might have been the head of a great mercantile
house; he might have been on 'Change; but that stiff clay there, stubborn
and unimpressionable, was not in his style.

Cecil had gone into farming, in fact, as a 'commercial speculation,' with
the view of realising cent. per cent. He began at the time when it was
daily announced that old-fashioned farming was a thing of the past.
Business maxims and business practice were to be the rule of the future.
Farming was not to be farming; it was to be emphatically 'business,' the
same as iron, coal, or cotton. Thus managed, with steam as the motive
power, a fortune might be made out of the land, in the same way as out of
a colliery or a mine. But it must be done in a commercial manner; there
must be no restrictions upon the employment of capital, no fixed rotation
of crops, no clauses forbidding the sale of any products. Cecil found,
however, that the possessors of large estates would not let him a farm on
these conditions. These ignorant people (as he thought them) insisted upon
keeping up the traditionary customs; they would not contract themselves
out of the ancient form of lease.

But Cecil was a man of capital. He really had a large sum of money, and
this short-sighted policy (as he termed it) of the landlords only made him
the more eager to convince them how mistaken they were to refuse anything
to a man who could put capital into the soil. He resolved to be his own
landlord, and ordered his agents to find him a small estate and to
purchase it outright. There was not much difficulty in finding an estate,
and Cecil bought it. But he was even then annoyed and disgusted with the
formalities, the investigation of title, the completion of deeds, and
astounded at the length of a lawyer's bill.

Being at last established in possession Cecil set to work, and at the same
time set every agricultural tongue wagging within a radius of twenty
miles. He grubbed up all the hedges, and threw the whole of his arable
land into one vast field, and had it levelled with the theodolite. He
drained it six feet deep at an enormous cost. He built an engine-shed with
a centrifugal pump, which forced water from the stream that ran through
the lower ground over the entire property, and even to the topmost storey
of his house. He laid a light tramway across the widest part of his
estate, and sent the labourers to and fro their work in trucks. The
chaff-cutters, root-pulpers, the winnowing-machine--everything was driven
by steam. Teams of horses and waggons seemed to be always going to the
canal wharf for coal, which he ordered from the pit wholesale.

A fine set of steam-ploughing tackle was put to work, and, having once
commenced, the beat of the engines never seemed to cease. They were for
ever at work tearing up the subsoil and bringing it to the surface. If he
could have done it, he would have ploughed ten feet deep. Tons of
artificial manure came by canal boat--positively boat loads--and were
stored in the warehouse. For he put up a regular warehouse for the storage
of materials; the heavy articles on the ground floor, the lighter above,
hoisted up by a small crane. There was, too, an office, where the
'engineer' attended every morning to take his orders, as the bailiff might
at the back-door of an old farmhouse. Substantial buildings were erected
for the shorthorn cattle.

The meadows upon the estate, like the corn-fields, were all thrown
together, such divisions as were necessary being made by iron railings.
Machines of every class and character were provided--reaping-machines,
mowing-machines, horse-hoes, horse-rakes, elevators--everything was to be
done by machinery. That nothing might be incomplete, some new and
well-designed cottages were erected for the skilled artisans--they could
scarcely be called labourers--who were engaged to work these engines. The
estate had previously consisted of several small farms: these were now
thrown all into one, otherwise there would not have been room for this
great enterprise.

A complete system of booking was organised. From the sale of a bullock to
the skin of a calf, everything was put down on paper. All these entries,
made in books specially prepared and conveniently ruled for the purpose,
came under Cecil's eye weekly, and were by him re-entered in his ledgers.
This writing took up a large part of his time, and the labour was
sometimes so severe that he could barely get through it; yet he would not
allow himself a clerk, being economical in that one thing only. It was a
saying in the place that not a speck of dust could be blown on to the
estate by the wind, or a straw blown off, without it being duly entered in
the master's books.

Cecil's idea was to excel in all things. Some had been famous for
shorthorns before him, others for sheep, and others again for wheat. He
would be celebrated for all. His shorthorns should fetch fabulous prices;
his sheep should be known all over the world; his wheat should be the crop
of the season. In this way he invested his capital in the soil with a
thoroughness unsurpassed. As if to prove that he was right, the success of
his enterprise seemed from the first assured. His crops of wheat, in which
he especially put faith, and which he grew year after year upon the same
land, totally ignoring the ancient rotations, were the wonder of the
neighbourhood. Men came from far and near to see them. Such was the effect
of draining, turning up the subsoil, continual ploughing, and the
consequent atmospheric action upon the exposed earth, and of liberal
manure, that here stood such crops of wheat as had never previously been
seen. These he sold, as they stood, by auction; and no sooner had the
purchasers cleared the ground than the engines went to work again, tearing
up the earth. His meadow lands were irrigated by the centrifugal pump, and
yielded three crops instead of one. His shorthorns began to get known--for
he spared no expense upon them--and already one or two profitable sales
had been held. His sheep prospered; there was not so much noise made about
them, but, perhaps, they really paid better than anything.

Meantime, Cecil kept open house, with wine and refreshments, and even beds
for everybody who chose to come and inspect his place. Nothing gave him
such delight as to conduct visitors over the estate and to enter into
minute details of his system. As for the neighbouring farmers they were
only too welcome. These things became noised abroad, and people arrived
from strange and far-off places, and were shown over this Pioneer's Farm,
as Cecil loved to call it. His example was triumphantly quoted by every
one who spoke on agricultural progress. Cecil himself was the life and
soul of the farmers' club in the adjacent market town. It was not so much
the speeches he made as his manner. His enthusiasm was contagious. If a
scheme was started, if an experiment was suggested, Cecil's cheque-book
came out directly, and the thing was set on foot without delay. His easy,
elastic step, his bright eye, his warm, hearty handshake, seemed to
electrify people--to put some of his own spirit into them. The circle of
his influence was ever increasing--the very oldest fogeys, who had
prophesied every kind of failure, were being gradually won over.

Cecil himself was transcendently happy in his work; his mind was in it; no
exertion, no care or trouble, was too much. He worked harder than any
navvy, and never felt fatigue. People said of him--'What a wonderful man!'
He was so genuine, so earnest, so thorough, men could not choose but
believe in him. The sun shone brightly, the crops ripened, the hum of the
threshing-machine droned on the wind--all was life and happiness. In the
summer evenings pleasant groups met upon the lawn; the song, the jest went
round; now and then an informal dance, arranged with much laughter, whiled
away the merry hours till the stars appeared above the trees and the dew
descended.

Yet to-day, as the two leaned over the little gate in the plantation and
looked down upon the reapers, the deep groove which continual thought
causes was all too visible on Cecil's forehead. He explained to the
officer how his difficulties had come about. His first years upon the farm
or estate--it was really rather an estate than a farm--had been fairly
prosperous, notwithstanding the immense outlay of capital. A good
percentage, in some cases a high-rate of percentage, had been returned
upon the money put into the soil. The seasons were good, the crops large
and superabundant. Men's minds were full of confidence, they bought
freely, and were launching out in all directions.

They wanted good shorthorn cattle--he sold them cattle; they wanted
sheep--he sold them sheep. They wanted wheat, and he sold them the
standing crops, took the money, and so cleared his profit and saved
himself trouble. It was, in fact, a period of inflation. Like stocks and
shares, everything was going up; everybody hastening to get rich.
Shorthorns with a strain of blue blood fetched fancy prices; corn crops
ruled high; every single thing sold well. The dry seasons suited the soil
of the estate, and the machinery he had purchased was rapidly repaying its
first cost in the saving of labour. His whole system was succeeding, and
he saw his way to realise his cent. per cent.

But by degrees the dream faded. He attributed it in the first place to the
stagnation, the almost extinction, of the iron trade, the blowing out of
furnaces, and the consequent cessation of the demand for the best class of
food on the part of thousands of operatives and mechanics, who had
hitherto been the farmers' best customers. They would have the best of
everything when their wages were high; as their wages declined their
purchases declined. In a brief period, far briefer than would be imagined,
this shrinking of demand reacted upon agriculture. The English farmer made
his profit upon superior articles--the cheaper class came from abroad so
copiously that he could not compete against so vast a supply.

When the demand for high-class products fell, the English farmer felt it
directly. Cecil considered that it was the dire distress in the
manufacturing districts, the stagnation of trade and commerce and the
great failures in business centres, that were the chief causes of low
prices and falling agricultural markets. The rise of labour was but a
trifling item. He had always paid good wages to good men, and always meant
to. The succession of wet seasons was more serious, of course; it lowered
the actual yield, and increased the cost of procuring the yield; but as
his lands were well drained, and had been kept clean he believed he could
have withstood the seasons for awhile.

The one heavy cloud that overhung agriculture, in his opinion was the
extraordinary and almost world-spread depression of trade, and his
argument was very simple. When men prospered they bought freely, indulged
in luxurious living, kept horses, servants, gave parties, and consumed
indirectly large quantities of food. As they made fortunes they bought
estates and lived half the year like country gentlemen--that competition
sent up the price of land. The converse was equally true. In times of
pressure households were reduced, servants dismissed, horses sold,
carriages suppressed. Rich and poor acted alike in different degrees but
as the working population was so much more numerous it was through the low
wages of the working population in cities and manufacturing districts that
the farmers suffered most.

It was a period of depression--there was no confidence, no speculation.
For instance a year or two since the crop of standing wheat then growing
on the very field before their eyes was sold by auction, and several lots
brought from 16_l_. to 18_l_. per acre. This year the same wheat would not
fetch 8_l_. per acre; and, not satisfied with that price, he had
determined to reap and thresh it himself. It was the same with the
shorthorns, with the hay, and indeed with everything except sheep, which
had been a mainstay and support to him.

'Yet even now,' concluded Cecil, shutting his pocket-book, 'I feel
convinced that my plan and my system will be a success. I can see that I
committed one great mistake--I made all my improvements at once, laid out
all my capital, and crippled my self. I should have done one thing at a
time. I should, as it were, have grown my improvements--one this year, one
next. As it was, I denuded myself of capital. Had the times continued
favourable it would not have mattered, as my income would have been large.
But the times became adverse before I was firmly settled, and, to be
plain, I can but just keep things going without a loan--dear Bella will
not be able to go to the sea this year; but we are both determined not to
borrow.'

'In a year or two I am convinced we shall flourish again; but the waiting,
Alick, the waiting, is the trial. You know I am impatient. Of course, the
old-fashioned people, the farmers, all expect me to go through the
Bankruptcy Court. They always said these new-fangled plans would not
answer, and now they are sure they were right. Well, I forgive them their
croaking, though most of them have dined at my table and drank my wine. I
forgive them their croaking, for so they were bred up from childhood. Were
I ill-natured, I might even smile at them, for they are failing and
leaving their farms by the dozen, which seems a pretty good proof that
their antiquated system is at best no better than mine. But I can see what
they cannot see--signs of improvement. The steel industry is giving men
work; the iron industry is reviving; the mines are slowly coming into work
again; America is purchasing of us largely; and when other nations
purchase of us, part, at least, of the money always finds its way to the
farmer. Next season, too, the weather may be more propitious.

'I shall hold on, Alick--a depression is certain to be followed by a rise.
That has been the history of trade and agriculture for generations.
Nothing will ever convince me that it was intended for English
agriculturists to go on using wooden ploughs, to wear smock-frocks, and
plod round and round in the same old track for ever. In no other way but
by science, by steam, by machinery, by artificial manure, and, in one
word, by the exercise of intelligence, can we compete with the world. It
is ridiculous to suppose we can do so by returning to the ignorance and
prejudice of our ancestors. No; we must beat the world by superior
intelligence and superior energy. But intelligence, mind, has ever had
every obstacle to contend against. Look at M. Lesseps and his wonderful
Suez Canal. I tell you that to introduce scientific farming into England,
in the face of tradition, custom, and prejudice, is a far harder task than
overcoming the desert sand.'



CHAPTER IV



GOING DOWNHILL


An aged man, coming out of an arable field into the lane, pauses to look
back. He is shabbily clad, and there is more than one rent in his coat;
yet it is a coat that has once been a good one, and of a superior cut to
what a labourer would purchase. In the field the ploughman to whom he has
been speaking has started his team again. A lad walks beside the horses,
the iron creaks, and the ploughman holding the handles seems now to press
upon them with his weight, and now to be himself bodily pulled along. A
dull November cloud overspreads the sky, and misty skits of small rain
sweep across the landscape. As the old man looks back from the gate, the
chill breeze whistles through the boughs of the oak above him, tearing off
the brown dry leaves, and shaking out the acorns to fall at his feet. It
lifts his grey hair, and penetrates the threadbare coat. As he turns to
go, something catches his eye on the ground, and from the mud in the
gateway he picks up a cast horse-shoe. With the rusty iron in his hand he
passes slowly down the lane, and, as he goes, the bitter wind drives the
fallen leaves that have been lying beside the way rustling and dancing
after him.

From a farmer occupying a good-sized farm he had descended to be a
farmer's bailiff in the same locality. But a few months since he was
himself a tenant, and now he is a bailiff at 15_s_. a week and a cottage.
There is nothing dramatic, nothing sensational, in the history of his
descent; but it is, perhaps, all the more full of bitter human
experiences. As a man going down a steep hill, after a long while finds
himself on the edge of a precipitous chalk pit, and topples in one fall to
the bottom, so, though the process of going downhill occupied so long, the
actual finish came almost suddenly. Thus it was that from being a master
he found himself a servant. He does not complain, nor appeal for pity. His
back is a little more bowed, he feels the cold a little more, his step is
yet more spiritless. But all he says about it is that 'Hard work never
made any money yet.'

He has worked exceedingly hard all his lifetime. In his youth, though the
family were then well-to-do, he was not permitted to lounge about in
idleness, but had to work with the rest in the fields. He dragged his
heavy nailed shoes over the furrows with the plough; he reaped and loaded
in harvest time; in winter he trimmed the hedgerows, split logs, and
looked after the cattle. He enjoyed no luxurious education--luxurious in
the sense of scientifically arranged dormitories, ample meals, and
vacations to be spent on horseback, or with the breechloader. Trudging to
and fro the neighbouring country town, in wind, and wet, and snow, to
school, his letters were thrashed into him. In holiday time he went to
work--his holidays, in fact, were so arranged as to fall at the time when
the lad could be of most use in the field. If an occasion arose when a lad
was wanted, his lessons had to wait while he lent a hand. He had his play,
of course, as boys in all ages have had; but it was play of a rude
character with the plough lads, and the almost equally rough sons of
farmers, who worked like ploughmen.

In those days the strong made no pretence to protect the weak, or to
abnegate their natural power. The biggest lad used his thews and sinews to
knock over the lesser without mercy, till the lesser by degrees grew
strong enough to retaliate. To be thrashed, beaten, and kicked was so
universal an experience that no one ever imagined it was not correct, or
thought of complaining. They accepted it as a matter of course. As he grew
older his work simply grew harder, and in no respect differed from that of
the labourers, except that he directed what should be done next, but none
the less assisted to do it.

Thus the days went on, the weeks, and months, and years. He was close upon
forty years old before he had his own will for a single day. Up to almost
that age he worked on his father's farm as a labourer among the labourers,
as much under parental authority as when he was a boy of ten. When the old
man died it was not surprising that the son, so long held down in
bondage--bondage from which he had not the spirit to escape--gave way for
a short period to riotous living. There was hard drinking, horse-racing,
and card-playing, and waste of substance generally.

But it was not for long, for several reasons. In the first place, the lad
of forty years, suddenly broken forth as it were from school, had gone
past the age when youth plunges beyond recall. He was a grown man, neither
wise nor clever; but with a man's sedateness of spirit and a man's hopes.
There was no innate evil in his nature to lead him into unrighteous
courses. Perhaps his fault rather lay in his inoffensive disposition--he
submitted too easily. Then, in the second place, there was not much money,
and what there was had to meet many calls.

The son found that the father, though reputed a substantial man, and a man
among farmers of high esteem and good family, had been anything but rich.
First there were secret debts that had run on for fully thirty years--sums
of from fifty to one hundred pounds--borrowed in the days of his youth,
when he, too, had at last been released in a similar manner from similar
bondage, to meet the riotous living in which he also had indulged. In
those earlier days there had been more substance in cattle and corn, and
he had had no difficulty in borrowing ready money from adjoining farmers,
who afterwards helped him to drink it away. These boon companions had now
grown old. They had never pressed their ancient comrade for the principal,
the interest being paid regularly. But now their ancient comrade was dead
they wanted their money, especially when they saw the son indulging
himself, and did not know how far he might go. Their money was paid, and
reduced the balance in hand materially.

Now came a still more serious matter. The old man, years ago, when corn
farming paid so handsomely, had been induced by the prospect of profit to
take a second and yet larger farm, nearly all arable. To do this he was
obliged, in farming phrase, to 'take up'--_i.e._ to borrow--a thousand
pounds, which was advanced to him by the bank. Being a man of substance,
well reputed, and at that date with many friends, the thousand pounds was
forthcoming readily, and on favourable terms. The enterprise, however, did
not prosper; times changed, and wheat was not so profitable. In the end he
had the wisdom to accept his losses and relinquish the second farm before
it ate him up. Had he only carried his wisdom a little farther and repaid
the whole of the bank's advance, all might yet have been well. But he only
repaid five hundred pounds, leaving five hundred pounds still owing. The
bank having regularly received the interest, and believing the old
gentleman upright--as he was--was not at all anxious to have the money
back, as it was earning fair interest. So the five hundred remained on
loan, and, as it seemed, for no very definite purpose.

Whether the old gentleman liked to feel that he had so much money at
command (a weakness of human nature common enough), or whether he thought
he could increase the produce of his farm by putting it in the soil, it is
not possible to say. He certainly put the five hundred out of sight
somewhere, for when his son succeeded him it was nowhere to be found.
After repaying the small loans to his father's old friends, upon looking
round the son saw cattle, corn, hay, and furniture, but no five hundred
pounds in ready money. The ready money had been muddled away--simply
muddled away, for the old man had worked hard, and was not at all
extravagant.

The bank asked for the five hundred, but not in a pressing manner, for the
belief still existed that there was money in the family. That belief was
still further fostered because the old friends whose loans had been repaid
talked about that repayment, and so gave a colour to the idea. The heir,
in his slow way, thought the matter over and decided to continue the loan.
He could only repay it by instalments--a mode which, to a farmer brought
up in the old style, is almost impossible, for though he might meet one he
would be sure to put off the next--or by selling stock (equivalent to
giving up his place), or by borrowing afresh. So he asked and obtained a
continuation of the loan of the five hundred, and was accommodated, on
condition that some one 'backed' him. Some one in the family did back him,
and the fatal mistake was committed of perpetuating this burden. A loan
never remains at the same sum; it increases if it is not reduced. In
itself the five hundred was not at all a heavy amount for the farm to
carry, but it was the nucleus around which additional burdens piled
themselves up. By a species of gravitation such a burden attracts others,
till the last straw breaks the camel's back. This, however, was not all.

The heir discovered another secret which likewise contributed to sober
him. It appeared that the farm, or rather the stock and so on, was really
not all his father's. His father's brother had a share in it--a share of
which even the most inquisitive gossips of the place were ignorant. The
brother being the eldest (himself in business as a farmer at some
distance) had the most money, and had advanced a certain sum to the
younger to enable him to start his farm, more than a generation since.
From that day to this not one shilling of the principal had been repaid,
and the interest only partially and at long intervals. If the interest
were all claimed it would now amount to nearly as much as the principal.
The brother--or, rather, the uncle--did not make himself at all unpleasant
in the matter. He only asked for about half the interest due to him, and
at the same time gave the heir a severe caution not to continue the
aforesaid riotous living. The heir, now quite brought down to earth after
his momentary exaltation, saw the absolute necessity of acquiescence. With
a little management he paid the interest--leaving himself with barely
enough to work the farm. The uncle, on his part, did not act unkindly; it
was he who 'backed' the heir up at the bank in the matter of the
continuation of the loan of the five hundred pounds. This five hundred
pounds the heir had never seen and never would see: so far as he was
concerned it did not exist; it was a mere figure, but a figure for which
he must pay. In all these circumstances there was nothing at all
exceptional.

At this hour throughout the width and breadth of the country there are
doubtless many farmers' heirs stepping into their fathers' shoes, and at
this very moment looking into their affairs. It may be safely said that
few indeed are those fortunate individuals who find themselves clear of
similar embarrassments. In this particular case detailed above, if the
heir's circumstances had been rigidly reduced to figures--if a
professional accountant had examined them--it would have been found that,
although in possession of a large farm, he had not got one scrap of
capital.

But he was in possession of the farm, and upon that simple fact of
possession he henceforth lived, like so many, many more of his class. He
returned to the routine of labour, which was a part of his life. After
awhile he married, as a man of forty might naturally wish to, and without
any imputation of imprudence so far as his own age was concerned. The wife
he chose was one from his own class, a good woman, but, as is said to be
often the case, she reflected the weakness of her husband's character. He
now worked harder than ever--a labourer with the labourers. He thus saved
himself the weekly expense of the wages of a labourer--perhaps, as
labourers do not greatly exert themselves, of a man and a boy. But while
thus slaving with his hands and saving this small sum in wages, he could
not walk round and have an eye upon the other men. They could therefore
waste a large amount of time, and thus he lost twice what he saved. Still,
his intention was commendable, and his persistent, unvarying labour really
wonderful. Had he but been sharper with his men he might still have got a
fair day's work out of them while working himself. From the habit of
associating with them from boyhood he had fallen somewhat into their own
loose, indefinite manner, and had lost the prestige which attaches to a
master. To them he seemed like one of themselves, and they were as much
inclined to argue with him as to obey. When he met them in the morning he
would say, 'Perhaps we had better do so and so,' or 'Suppose we go and do
this or that.' They often thought otherwise; and it usually ended in a
compromise, the master having his way in part, and the men in part. This
lack of decision ran through all, and undid all that his hard work
achieved. Everything was muddled from morn till night, from year's end to
year's end. As children came the living indoors became harder, and the
work out of doors still more laborious.

If a farmer can put away fifty pounds a year, after paying his rent and
expenses, if he can lay by a clear fifty pounds of profit, he thinks
himself a prosperous man. If this farmer, after forty years of saving,
should chance to be succeeded by a son as thrifty, when, he too has
carried on the same process for another twenty years, then the family may
be, for village society, wealthy, with three or even four thousand pounds,
besides goods and gear. This is supposing all things favourable, and men
of some ability, making the most of their opportunities. Now reverse the
process. When children came, as said before, our hard-working farmer found
the living indoors harder, and the labour without heavier. Instead of
saving fifty pounds a year, at first the two sides of the account (not
that he ever kept any books) about balanced. Then, by degrees, the balance
dropped the wrong way. There was a loss, of twenty or thirty pounds on the
year, and presently of forty or fifty pounds, which could only be made
good by borrowing, and so increasing the payment of interest.

Although it takes sixty years--two generations--to accumulate a village
fortune by saving fifty pounds a year, it does not occupy so long to
reduce a farmer to poverty when half that sum is annually lost. There was
no strongly marked and radical defect in his system of farming to amount
for it; it was the muddling, and the muddling only, that did it. His work
was blind. He would never miss giving the pigs their dinner, he rose at
half-past three in the morning, and foddered the cattle in the grey dawn,
or milked a certain number of cows, with unvarying regularity. But he had
no foresight, and no observation whatever. If you saw him crossing a
field, and went after him, you might walk close behind, placing your foot
in the mark just left by his shoe, and he would never know it. With his
hands behind his back, and his eyes upon the ground, he would plod across
the field, perfectly unconscious that any one was following him. He
carried on the old rotation of cropping in the piece of arable land
belonging to the farm, but in total oblivion of any advantage to be
obtained by local change of treatment. He could plan nothing out for next
year. He spent nothing, or next to nothing, on improved implements; but,
on the other hand, he saved nothing, from a lack of resource and
contrivance.

As the years went by he fell out of the social life of the times; that is,
out of the social life of his own circle. He regularly fed the pigs; but
when he heard that the neighbours, were all going in to the town to attend
some important agricultural meeting, or to start some useful movement, he
put his hands behind his back and said that he should not go; he did not
understand anything about it. There never used to be anything of that
sort. So he went in to luncheon on bread and cheese and small ale. Such a
course could only bring him into the contempt of his fellow-men. He became
a nonentity. No one had any respect for or confidence in him. Otherwise,
possibly, he might have obtained powerful help, for the memory of what his
family had been had not yet died out.

Men saw that he lived and worked as a labourer; they gave him no credit
for the work, but they despised him for the meanness and churlishness of
his life. There was neither a piano nor a decanter of sherry in his house.
He was utterly out of accord with the times. By degrees, after many years,
it became apparent to all that he was going downhill. The stock upon the
farm was not so large nor of so good a character as had been the case. The
manner of men visibly changed towards him. The small dealers, even the
very carriers along the road, the higglers, and other persons who call at
a farm on petty business, gave him clearly to know in their own coarse way
that they despised him. They flatly contradicted him, and bore him down
with loud tongues. He stood it all meekly, without showing any spirit;
but, on the other hand, without resentment, for he never said ill of any
man behind his back.

It was put about now that he drank, because some busybody had seen a jar
of spirits carried into the house from the wine merchant's cart. A jar of
spirits had been delivered at the house at intervals for years and years,
far back into his father's time, and every one of those who now expressed
their disgust at his supposed drinking habits had sipped their tumblers in
that house without stint. He did not drink--he did not take one-half at
home what his neighbours imbibed without injury at markets and auctions
every week of their lives. But he was growing poor, and they called to
mind that brief spell of extravagance years ago, and pointed out to their
acquaintances how the sin of the Prodigal was coming home to him.

No man drinks the bitter cup of poverty to the dregs like the declining
farmer. The descent is so slow; there is time to drain every drop, and to
linger over the flavour. It may be eight, or ten, or fifteen years about.
He cannot, like the bankrupt tradesman, even when the fatal notice comes,
put up his shutters at once and retire from view. Even at the end, after
the notice, six months at least elapse before all is over--before the farm
is surrendered, and the sale of household furniture and effects takes
place. He is full in public view all that time. So far as his neighbours
are concerned he is in public view for years previously. He has to rise in
the morning and meet them in the fields. He sees them in the road; he
passes through groups of them in the market-place. As he goes by they look
after him, and perhaps audibly wonder how long he will last. These people
all knew him from a lad, and can trace every inch of his descent. The
labourers in the field know it, and by their manner show that they know
it.

His wife--his wife who worked so hard for so many, many years--is made to
know it too. She is conspicuously omitted from the social gatherings that
occur from time to time. The neighbours' wives do not call; their
well-dressed daughters, as they rattle by to the town in basket-carriage
or dog-cart, look askance at the shabby figure walking slowly on the path
beside the road. They criticise the shabby shawl; they sneer at the slow
step which is the inevitable result of hard work, the cares of maternity,
and of age. So they flaunt past with an odour of perfume, and leave the
'old lady' to plod unrecognised.

The end came at last. All this blind work of his was of no avail against
the ocean steamer and her cargo of wheat and meat from the teeming regions
of the West. Nor was it of avail against the fall of prices, and the
decreased yield consequent upon a succession of bad seasons. The general
lack of confidence pressed heavily upon a man who did not even attempt to
take his natural place among his fellow-men. The loan from the bank had
gradually grown from five to seven or eight hundred by thirties, and
forties, and fifties added to it by degrees; and the bank--informed,
perhaps, by the same busybodies who had discovered that he drank--declined
further assistance, and notified that part, at least, of the principal
must be repaid. The landlord had long been well aware of the state of
affairs, but refrained from action out of a feeling for the old family.
But the land, from the farmer's utter lack of capital, was now going from
bad to worse. The bank having declined to advance further, the rent began
to fall into arrear. The landlord caused it to be conveyed to his tenant
that if he would quit the farm, which was a large one, he could go into a
smaller, and his affairs might perhaps be arranged.

The old man--for he was now growing old--put his hands behind his back and
said nothing, but went on with his usual routine of work. Whether he had
become dulled and deadened and cared nothing, whether hope was extinct, or
he could not wrench himself from the old place, he said nothing. Even then
some further time elapsed--so slow is the farmer's fall that he might
almost be excused for thinking that it would never come. But now came the
news that the old uncle who had 'backed' him at the bank had been found
dead in bed of sheer old age. Then the long-kept secret came out at last.
The dead man's executors claimed the money advanced so many, many years
ago.

This discovery finished it. The neighbours soon had food for gossip in the
fact that a load of hay which he had sold was met in the road by the
landlord's agent and turned back. By the strict letter of his agreement he
could not sell hay off the farm; but it had been permitted for years. When
they heard this they knew it was all over. The landlord, of course, put in
his claim; the bank theirs. In a few months the household furniture and
effects were sold, and the farmer and his aged wife stepped into the
highway in their shabby clothes.

He did not, however, starve; he passed to a cottage on the outskirts of
the village, and became bailiff for the tenant of that very arable farm to
work which years ago his father had borrowed the thousand pounds that
ultimately proved their ruin. He made a better bailiff than a farmer,
being at home with every detail of practice, but incapable of general
treatment. His wife does a little washing and charing; not much, for she
is old and feeble. No charity is offered to them--they have outlived old
friends--nor do they appeal for any. The people of the village do not heed
them, nor reflect upon the spectacle in their midst. They are merged and
lost in the vast multitude of the agricultural poor. Only two of their
children survive; but these, having early left the farm and gone into a
city, are fairly well-to-do. That, at least, is a comfort to the old folk.

It is, however, doubtful whether the old man, as he walks down the lane
with his hands behind his back and the dead leaves driven by the November
breeze rustling after, has much feeling of any kind left. Hard work and
adversity have probably deadened his finer senses. Else one would think he
could never endure to work as a servant upon that farm of all others, nor
to daily pass the scenes of his youth. For yonder, well in sight as he
turns a corner of the lane, stands the house where he dwelt so many, many
years; where the events of his life came slowly to pass; where he was
born; where his bride came home; where his children were born, and from
whose door he went forth penniless.

Seeing this every day, surely that old man, if he have but one spark of
feeling left, must drink the lees of poverty to the last final doubly
bitter dregs.



CHAPTER V



THE BORROWER AND THE GAMBLER


'Where do he get the money from, you?' 'It be curious, bean't it; I minds
when his father drove folks' pigs to market.' These remarks passed between
two old farmers, one standing on the sward by the roadside, and the other
talking to him over the low ledge, as a gentleman drove by in a
Whitechapel dog-cart, groom behind. The gentleman glanced at the two
farmers, and just acknowledged their existence with a careless nod,
looking at the moment over their heads and far away.

There is no class so jealous of a rapid rise as old-fashioned farming
people. They seem to think that if a man once drove pigs to market he
should always continue to do so, and all his descendants likewise. Their
ideas in a measure approximate to those of caste among the Hindoos. It is
a crime to move out of the original groove; if a man be lowly he must
remain lowly, or never be forgiven. The lapse of time makes not the least
difference. If it takes the man thirty years to get into a fair position
he is none the less guilty. A period equal to the existence of a
generation is not sufficient excuse for him. He is not one whit better
than if he had made his money by a lucky bet on a racehorse. Nor can he
ever hope to live down this terrible social misdemeanour, especially if it
is accompanied by the least ostentation.

Now, in the present day a man who gets money shows off more than ever was
the case. In the olden time the means of luxury were limited, and the
fortunate could do little more than drink, and tempt others to drink. But
to-day the fortunate farmer in the dog-cart, dressed like a gentleman,
drove his thorough-bred, and carried his groom behind. Frank D----, Esq.,
in the slang of the time, 'did the thing grand!' The dog-cart was a
first-rate article. The horse was a high-stepper, such as are not to be
bought for a song; the turn-out was at the first glance perfect. But if
you looked keenly at the groom, there was a suspicion of the plough in his
face and attitude. He did not sit like a man to the manner born. He was
lumpy; he lacked the light, active style characteristic of the
thoroughbred groom, who is as distinct a breed as the thoroughbred horse.
The man looked as if he had been taken from the plough and was conscious
of it. His feet were in top-boots, but he could not forget the heavy
action induced by a long course of walking in wet furrows. The critics by
the hedge were not capable of detecting these niceties. The broad facts
were enough for them. There was the gentleman in his ulster, there was the
resplendent turn-out, there was the groom, and there was the thoroughbred
horse. The man's father drove their pigs to market, and they wanted to
know where he got the money from.

Meantime Mr. D----, having carelessly nodded, had gone on. Half a mile
farther some of his own fields were contiguous to the road, yet he did
not, after the fashion of the farmer generally, pause to gaze at them
searchingly; he went on with the same careless glance. This fact, which
the old-fashioned folk had often observed, troubled them greatly. It
seemed so unnatural, so opposite to the old ideas and ways, that a man
should take no apparent interest in his own farm. They said that Frank was
nothing of a farmer; he knew nothing of farming. They looked at his ricks;
they were badly built, and still worse thatched. They examined his
meadows, and saw wisps of hay lying about, evidence of neglect; the fields
had not been properly raked. His ploughed fields were full of weeds, and
not half worked enough. His labourers had acquired a happy-go-lucky style,
and did their work anyhow or not at all, having no one to look after them.
So, clearly, it was not Frank's good farming that made him so rich, and
enabled him to take so high and leading a position.

Nor was it his education or his 'company' manners. The old folk noted his
boorishness and lack of the little refinements which mark the gentleman.
His very voice was rude and hoarse, and seemed either to grumble or to
roar forth his meaning. They had frequently heard him speak in public--he
was generally on the platform when any local movement was in progress--and
could not understand why he was put up there to address the audience,
unless it was for his infinite brass. The language he employed was rude,
his sentences disjointed, his meaning incoherent; but he had a knack of an
_apropos_ jest, not always altogether savoury, but which made a mixed
assembly laugh. As his public speeches did not seem very brilliant, they
supposed he must have the gift of persuasion, in private. He did not even
ride well to hounds--an accomplishment that has proved a passport to a
great landlord's favour before now--for he had an awkward, and, to the
eye, not too secure a seat in the saddle.

Nor was it his personal appearance. He was very tall and ungainly, with a
long neck and a small round head on the top of it. His features were flat,
and the skin much wrinkled; there seemed nothing in his countenance to
recommend him to the notice of the other sex. Yet he had been twice
married; the last time to a comparatively young lady with some money, who
dressed in the height of fashion.

Frank had two families--one, grown up, by his first wife, the second in
the nursery--but it made no difference to him. All were well dressed and
well educated; the nursery maids and the infants went out for their
airings in a carriage and pair. Mrs. D----, gay as a Parisian belle, and
not without pretensions to beauty, was seen at balls, parties, and every
other social amusement. She seemed to have the _entrée_ everywhere in the
county. All this greatly upset and troubled the old folk, whose heads
Frank looked over as he carelessly nodded them good-morning driving by.
The cottage people from whose ranks his family had so lately risen,
however, had a very decided opinion upon the subject, and expressed it
forcibly. "'Pend upon it," they said, "'pend upon it, he have zucked
zumbody in zumhow."

This unkind conclusion was perhaps not quite true. The fact was, that
Frank, aided by circumstances, had discovered the ease with which a man
can borrow. That was his secret--his philosopher's stone. To a certain
extent, and in certain ways, he really was a clever man, and he had the
luck to begin many years ago when farming was on the ascending side of the
cycle. The single solid basis of his success was his thorough knowledge of
cattle--his proficiency in dealership. Perhaps this was learnt while
assisting his father to drive other folks' pigs to market. At all events,
there was no man in the county who so completely understood cattle and
sheep, for buying and selling purposes, as Frank. At first he gained his
reputation by advising others what and when to buy; by degrees, as people
began to see that he was always right, they felt confidence in him, and
assisted him to make small investments on his own account. There were then
few auctioneers, and cattle were sold in open market. If a man really was
a judge, it was as good to him as a reputation for good ale is to an
innkeeper. Men flock to a barrel of good ale no matter whether the inn be
low class or high class. Men gather about a good judge of cattle, and will
back him up. By degrees D---- managed to rent a small farm, more for the
purpose of having a place to turn his cattle into than for farming
proper--he was, in fact, a small dealer.

Soon afterwards there was an election. During the election, Frank gained
the good-will of a local solicitor and political agent. He proved himself
an active and perhaps a discreetly unscrupulous assistant. The solicitor
thought he saw in Frank talent of a certain order--a talent through which
he (the solicitor) might draw unto himself a share of other people's
money. The lawyer's judgment of men was as keen as Frank's judgment of
cattle. He helped Frank to get into a large farm, advancing the money with
which to work it. He ran no risk; for, of course, he had Frank tight in
the grasp of his legal fist, and he was the agent for the landlord. The
secret was this--the lawyer paid his clients four per cent, for the safe
investment of their money. Frank had the money, worked a large farm with
it, and speculated in the cattle markets, and realised some fifteen or
perhaps twenty per cent., of which the lawyer took the larger share.
Something of this sort has been done in other businesses besides farming.
Frank, however, was not the man to remain in a state of tutelage, working
for another. His forte was not saving--simple accumulation was not for
him; but he looked round the district to discover those who had saved.

Now, it is a fact that no man is so foolish with his money as the working
farmer in a small way, who has put by a little coin. He is extremely
careful about a fourpenny piece, and will wrap a sovereign up in several
scraps of paper lest he should lose it; but with his hundred or two
hundred pounds he is quite helpless. It has very likely occupied him the
best part of his lifetime to add one five-pound note to another, money
most literally earned in the sweat of his brow; and at last he lends it to
a man like Frank, who has the wit to drive a carriage and ride a
thoroughbred. With the strange inconsistency so characteristic of human
nature, a half-educated, working farmer of this sort will sneer in his
rude way at the pretensions of such a man, and at the same time bow down
before him.

Frank knew this instinctively, and, as soon as ever he began to get on,
set up a blood-horse and a turn-out. By dint of such vulgar show and his
own plausible tongue he persuaded more than one such old fellow to advance
him money. Mayhap these confiding persons, like a certain Shallow, J.P.,
have since earnestly besought him in vain to return them five hundred of
their thousand. In like manner one or two elderly ladies--cunning as
magpies in their own conceit--let him have a few spare hundreds. They
thought they could lay out this money to better advantage than the safe
family adviser 'uncle John,' with his talk of the Indian railways and a
guaranteed five per cent. They thought (for awhile) that they had done a
very clever thing on the sly in lending their spare hundreds to the great
Mr. Frank D---- at a high rate of interest, and by this time would perhaps
be glad to get the money back again in the tea-caddy.

But Frank was not the man to be satisfied with such small game. After a
time he succeeded in getting at the 'squire.' The squire had nothing but
the rents of his farms to live upon, and was naturally anxious for an
improving tenant who would lay out money and put capital into the soil. He
was not so foolish as to think that Frank was a safe man, and of course he
had legal advice upon the matter. The squire thought, in fact, that
although Frank himself had no money, Frank could get it out of others, and
spend it upon his place. It did not concern the squire where or how Frank
got his money, provided he had it--he as landlord was secure in case of a
crash, because the law gave him precedence over all other creditors. So
Frank ultimately stepped into one of the squire's largest farms and cut a
finer dash than ever.

There are distinct social degrees in agriculture. The man who occupies a
great farm under a squire is a person of much more importance than he who
holds a little tenancy of a small proprietor. Frank began to take the lead
among the farmers of the neighbourhood, to make his appearance at public
meetings, and to become a recognised politician--of course upon the side
most powerful in that locality, and most likely to serve his own interest.
His assurance, and, it must be owned, his ready wit, helped him in coming
to the front. When at the front, he was invited to the houses of really
well-to-do country people. They condoned his bluff manners--they were the
mark of the true, solid British agriculturist. Some perhaps in their
hearts thought that another day they might want a tenant, and this man
would serve their turn. As a matter of fact, Frank took every unoccupied
farm which he could get at a tolerably reasonable rent. He never seemed
satisfied with the acreage he held, but was ever desirous of extending it.
He took farm after farm, till at last he held an area equal to a fine
estate. For some years there has been a disposition on the part of
landlords to throw farms together, making many small ones into one large
one. For the time, at all events, Frank seemed to do very well with all
these farms to look after. Of course the same old-fashioned folk made
ill-natured remarks, and insisted upon it that he merely got what he could
out of the soil, and did not care in the least how the farming was done.
Nevertheless, he flourished--the high prices and general inflation of the
period playing into his hand.

Frank was now a very big man, the biggest man thereabout. And it was now
that he began to tap another source of supply--to, as it were, open a
fresh cask--_i.e._ the local bank. At first he only asked for a hundred or
so, a mere bagatelle, for a few days--only temporary convenience. The bank
was glad to get hold of what really looked like legitimate business, and
he obtained the bagatelle in the easiest manner--so easily that it
surprised him. He did not himself yet quite know how completely his showy
style of life, his large acreage, his speeches, and politics, and
familiarity with great people, had imposed upon the world in which he
lived. He now began to realise that he was somebody. He repaid the loan to
the day, waited awhile and took a larger one, and from that time the
frequency and the amount of his loans went on increasing.

We have seen in these latter days bank directors bitterly complaining that
they could not lend money at more than 7/8 or even 1/2 per cent., so
little demand was there for accommodation. They positively could not lend
their money; they had millions in their tills unemployed, and practically
going a-begging. But here was Frank paying seven per cent, for short
loans, and upon a continually enlarging amount. His system, so far as the
seasons were concerned, was something like this. He took a loan (or
renewed an old one) at the bank on the security of the first draught of
lambs for sale, say, in June. This paid the labourers and the working
expenses of the hay harvest, and of preparing for the corn. He took the
next upon the second draught of lambs in August, which paid the reapers.
He took a third on the security of the crops, partly cut, or in process of
cutting, for his Michaelmas rent. Then for the fall of the year he kept on
threshing out and selling as he required money, and had enough left to pay
for the winter's work. This was Frank's system--the system of too many
farmers, far more than would be believed. Details of course vary, and not
all, like Frank, need three loans at least in the season to keep them
going. It is not every man who mortgages his lambs, his ewes (the draught
from a flock for sale), and the standing crops in succession.

But of late years farming has been carried on in such an atmosphere of
loans, and credit, and percentage, and so forth, that no one knows what is
or what is not mortgaged. You see a flock of sheep on a farm, but you do
not know to whom they belong. You see the cattle in the meadow, but you do
not know who has a lien upon them. You see the farmer upon his
thoroughbred, but you do not know to whom in reality the horse belongs. It
is all loans and debt. The vendors of artificial manure are said not to be
averse sometimes to make an advance on reasonable terms to those
enterprising and deserving farmers who grow so many tons of roots, and win
the silver cups, and so on, for the hugest mangold grown with their
particular manure. The proprietors of the milk-walks in London are said to
advance money to the struggling dairymen who send them their milk. And
latterly the worst of usurers have found out the farmers--_i.e._ the men
who advance on bills of sale of furniture, and sell up the wretched client
who does not pay to the hour. Upon such bills of sale English farmers have
been borrowing money, and with the usual disastrous results. In fact, till
the disastrous results became so conspicuous, no one guessed that the
farmer had descended so far. Yet, it is a fact, and a sad one.

All the while the tradespeople of the market-towns--the very people who
have made the loudest outcry about the depression and the losses they have
sustained--these very people have been pressing their goods upon the
farmers, whom they must have known were many of them hardly able to pay
their rents. Those who have not seen it cannot imagine what a struggle and
competition has been going on in little places where one would think the
very word was unknown, just to persuade the farmer and the farmer's family
to accept credit. But there is another side to it. The same tradesman who
to-day begs--positively begs--the farmer to take his goods on any terms,
in six months' time sends his bill, and, if it be not paid immediately,
puts the County Court machinery in motion.

Now this to the old-fashioned farmer is a very bitter thing. He has never
had the least experience of the County Court; his family never were sued
for debt since they can remember. They have always been used to a year's
credit at least--often two, and even three. To be threatened with public
exposure in the County Court because a little matter of five pounds ten is
not settled instantly is bitter indeed. And to be sued so arbitrarily by
the very tradesman who almost stuffed his goods down their throats is more
bitter still.

Frank D----, Esq.'s coarse grandeur answered very well indeed so long as
prices were high. While the harvests were large and the markets inflated;
while cattle fetched good money; while men's hearts were full of
mirth--all went well. It is whispered now that the grand Frank has
secretly borrowed 25_l_. of a little cottage shopkeeper in the adjacent
village--a man who sells farthing candles and ounces of tea--to pay his
reapers. It is also currently whispered that Frank is the only man really
safe, for the following reason--they are all 'in' so deep they find it
necessary to keep him going. The squire is 'in,' the bank is 'in,' the
lawyer is 'in,' the small farmers with two hundred pounds capital are
'in,' and the elderly ladies who took their bank-notes out of their
tea-caddies are 'in.' That is to say, Mr. Frank owes them so much money
that, rather than he should come to grief (when, they must lose pretty
well all), they prefer to keep him afloat. It is a noticeable fact that
Frank is the only man who has not raised his voice and shouted
'Depression.' Perhaps the squire thinks that so repellent a note, if
struck by a leading man like Frank, might not be to his interest, and has
conveyed that thought to the gentleman in the dog-cart with the groom
behind. There are, however, various species of the façade farmer.

'What kind of agriculture is practised here?' the visitor from town
naturally asks his host, as they stroll towards the turnips (in another
district), with shouldered guns. 'Oh, you had better see Mr. X----,' is
the reply, 'He is our leading agriculturist; he'll tell you all about it.'
Everybody repeats the same story, and once Mr. X----'s name is started
everybody talks of him. The squire, the clergyman--even in casually
calling at a shop in the market town, or at the hotel (there are few inns
now)--wherever he goes the visitor hears from all of Mr. X----. A
successful man--most successful, progressive, scientific, intellectual.
'Like to see him? Nothing easier. Introduction? Nonsense. Why, he'd be
delighted to see you. Come with me.'

Protesting feebly against intruding on privacy, the visitor is hurried
away, and expecting to meet a solid, sturdy, and somewhat gruff old
gentleman of the John Hull type, endeavors to hunt up some ideas about
shorthorns and bacon pigs. He is a little astonished upon entering the
pleasure grounds to see one or more gardeners busy among the parterres and
shrubberies, the rhododendrons, the cedar deodaras, the laurels, the
pampas grass, the 'carpet gardening' beds, and the glass of distant
hothouses glittering in the sun. A carriage and pair, being slowly driven
by a man in livery from the door down to the extensive stabling,
passes--clearly some of the family have just returned. On ringing, the
callers are shown through a spacious hall with a bronze or two on the
marble table, into a drawing-room, elegantly furnished. There is a short
iron grand open with a score carelessly left by the last player, a harp in
the corner, half hidden by the curtains, some pieces of Nankin china on
the side tables.

Where are the cow-sheds? Looking out of window a level lawn extends, and
on it two young gentlemen are playing tennis, in appropriate costume. The
laboured platitudes that had been prepared about shorthorns and bacon pigs
are quite forgotten, and the visitor is just about to ask the question if
his guide has not missed the farm-house and called at the squire's, when
Mr. X---- comes briskly in, and laughs all apology about intrusion to the
winds in his genial manner. He insists on his friends taking some
refreshment, will not take refusal; and such is the power of his vivacity,
that they find themselves sipping Madeira and are pressed to come and dine
in the evening, before one at least knows exactly where he is. 'Just a
homely spread, you know; pot-luck; a bit of fish and a glass of Moet; now
_do_ come.' This curious mixture of bluff cordiality, with unexpected
snatches of refinement, is Mr. X----'s great charm. 'Style of farming;
tell you with pleasure.' [Rings the bell.] 'John' (to the manservant),
'take this key and bring me account book No. 6 B, Copse Farm; that will be
the best way to begin.'

If the visitor knows anything of country life, he cannot help recollecting
that, if the old type of farmer was close and mysterious about anything,
it was his accounts. Not a word could be got out of him of profit or loss,
or revenue: he would barely tell you his rent per acre, and it was
doubtful if his very wife ever saw his pass-book. Opening account book No.
6 B, the explanation proceeds.

'My system of agriculture is simplicity itself, sir. It is all founded on
one beautiful commercial precept. Our friends round about here [with a
wave of the hand, indicating the country side]--our old folks--whenever
they got a guinea put it out of sight, made a hoard, hid it in a stocking,
or behind a brick in the chimney. Ha! ha! Consequently their operations
were always restricted to the same identical locality--no scope, sir, no
expansion. Now my plan is--invest every penny. Make every shilling pay for
the use of half a crown, and turn the half-crown into seven and sixpence.
Credit is the soul of business. There you have it. Simplicity itself. Here
are the books; see for yourself. I publish my balance half-yearly--like a
company. Then the public see what you are doing. The earth, sir, as I said
at the dinner the other day (the idea was much applauded), the earth is
like the Bank of England--you may draw on it to any extent; there's always
a reserve to meet you. You positively can't overdraw the account. You see
there's such a solid security behind you. The fact is, I bring commercial
principles into agriculture; the result is, grand success. However, here's
the book; just glance over the figures.'

The said figures utterly bewilder the visitor, who in courtesy runs his
eye from top to bottom of the long columns--farming accounts are really
the most complicated that can be imagined--so he, meantime, while turning
over the pages, mentally absorbs the personality of the commercial
agriculturist. He sees a tall, thin farmer, a brown face and neck, long
restless sinewy hands, perpetually twiddling with a cigar or a gold
pencil-case--generally the cigar, or rather the extinct stump of it, which
he every now and then sucks abstractedly, in total oblivion as to its
condition. His dress would pass muster in towns--well cut, and probably
from Bond Street. He affects a frock and high hat one day, and
knickerbockers and sun helmet the next. His pockets are full of papers,
letters, etc., and as he searches amid the mass for some memorandum to
show, glimpses may be seen of certain oblong strips of blue paper with an
impressed stamp.

'Very satisfactory,' says the visitor, handing back No 6 B; 'may I inquire
how many acres you occupy?'

Out comes a note-book. 'Hum! There's a thousand down in the vale, and
fifteen hundred upland, and the new place is about nine hundred, and the
meadows--I've mislaid the meadows--but it's near about four thousand.
Different holdings, of course. Great nuisance that, sir; transit, you see,
costs money. City gentlemen know that. Absurd system in this country--the
land parcelled out in little allotment gardens of two or three hundred
acres. Why, there's a little paltry hundred and twenty acre freehold dairy
farm lies between my vale and upland, and the fellow won't let my waggons
or ploughing-tackle take the short cut, ridiculous. Time it was altered,
sir. Shooting? Why, yes; I have the shooting. Glad if you'd come over.'

Then more Madeira, and after it a stroll through the gardens and
shrubberies and down to the sheds, a mile, or nearly, distant. There, a
somewhat confused vision of 'grand shorthorns,' and an inexplicable jumble
of pedigrees, grand-dams, and 'g-g-g-g-g-g-dams,' as the catalogues have
it; handsome hunters paraded, steam-engines pumping water, steam-engines
slicing up roots, distant columns of smoke where steam-engines are tearing
up the soil. All the while a scientific disquisition on ammonia and the
constituent parts and probable value of town sewage as compared with
guano. And at intervals, and at parting, a pressing invitation to dinner
[when pineapples or hot-house grapes are certain to make their appearance
at dessert]--such a flow of genial eloquence surely was never heard
before!

It requires a week at least of calm reflection, and many questions to his
host, before the visitor--quite carried away--can begin to arrange his
ideas, and to come slowly to the opinion that though Mr. X---- is as open
as the day and frank to a fault, it will take him a precious long time to
get to the bottom of Mr. X----'s system; that is to say, if there is any
bottom at all to it.

Mr. X---- is, in brief, a gambler. Not in a dishonest, or even suspicious
sense, but a pure gambler. He is a gigantic agricultural speculator; his
system is, as he candidly told you, credit. Credit not only with the bank,
but with everybody. He has actually been making use of you, his casual and
unexpected visitor, as an instrument. You are certain to talk about him;
the more he is talked of the better, it gives him a reputation, which is
beginning to mean a great deal in agriculture as it has so long in other
pursuits. You are sure to tell everybody who ever chooses to converse with
you about the country of Mr. X----, and Mr. X----'s engines, cattle,
horses, profuse hospitality, and progressive science.

To be socially popular is a part of his system; he sows corn among society
as freely as over his land, and looks to some grains to take root, and
bring him increase a hundred fold, as indeed they do. Whatever movement is
originated in the neighbourhood finds him occupying a prominent position.
He goes to London as the representative of the local agricultural chamber;
perhaps waits upon a Cabinet Minister as one of the deputation. He speaks
regularly at the local chamber meetings; his name is ever in the papers.
The press are invited to inspect his farms, and are furnished with minute
details. Every now and then a sketch of his life and doings, perhaps
illustrated with a portrait, appears in some agricultural periodical. At
certain seasons of the year parties of gentlemen are conducted over his
place. In parochial or district matters he is a leading man.

Is it a cottage flower-show, a penny reading, a cricket club, a benefit
society--it does not matter what, his subscriptions, his name, and his
voice are heard in it. He is the life and soul of it; the energy comes
from him, though others higher in the scale may be the nominal heads. And
the nominal heads, knowing that he can be relied upon politically, are
grateful, and give him their good word freely. He hunts, and is a welcome
companion--the meet frequently takes place at his house, or some of the
huntsmen call for lunch; in fact, the latter is an invariable thing.
Everybody calls for lunch who happens to pass near any day; the house has
a reputation for hospitality. He is the clergyman's right hand--as in
managing the school committee. When the bishop comes to the confirmation,
he is introduced as 'my chief lay supporter.' At the Rural Diaconal
Conference, 'my chief supporter' is one of the lay speakers. Thus he
obtains every man's good word whose good word is worth anything. Social
credit means commercial credit. Yet he is not altogether acting a part--he
really likes taking the lead and pushing forward, and means a good deal of
what he says.

He is especially quite honest in his hospitality. All the same, so far as
business is concerned, it is pure gambling, which may answer very well in
favourable times, but is not unlikely to end in failure should the strain
of depression become too severe. Personal popularity, however, will tide
him over a great deal. When a man is spoken highly of by gentry, clergy,
literally everybody, the bank is remarkably accommodating. Such a man may
get for his bare signature--almost pressed on him, as if his acceptance of
it were a favour--what another would have to deposit solid security for.

In plain language, he borrows money and invests it in every possible way.
His farms are simply the basis of his credit. He buys blood shorthorns, he
buys blood horses, and he sells them again. He buys wheat, hay, &c., to
dispose of them at a profit. If he chose, he could explain to you the
meaning of contango, and even of that mysterious term to the uninitiated,
'backwardation.' His speculations for the 'account' are sometimes heavy.
So much so, that occasionally, with thousands invested, he has hardly any
ready money. But, then, there are the crops; he can get money on the
coming crops. There is, too, the live stock money can be borrowed on the
stock.

Here lies the secret reason of the dread of foreign cattle disease. The
increase of our flocks and herds is, of course, a patriotic cry (and
founded on fact); but the secret pinch is this--if foot-and-mouth,
pleuro-pneumonia, or rinderpest threaten the stock, the tenant-farmer
cannot borrow on that security. The local bankers shake their heads--three
cases of rinderpest are equivalent to a reduction of 25 per cent. in the
borrowing power of the agriculturist. The auctioneers and our friends have
large transactions--'paper' here again. With certain members of the hunt
he books bets to a high amount; his face is not unknown at Tattersall's or
at the race meetings. But he does not flourish the betting-book in the
face of society. He bets--and holds his tongue. Some folks have an ancient
and foolish prejudice against betting; he respects sincere convictions.

Far and away he is the best fellow, the most pleasant company in the
shire, always welcome everywhere. He has read widely, is well educated;
but, above all, he is ever jolly, and his jollity is contagious. Despite
his investments and speculations, his brow never wears that sombre aspect
of gloomy care, that knitted concentration of wrinkles seen on the face of
the City man, who goes daily to his 'office.' The out-of-door bluffness,
the cheery ringing voice, and the upright form only to be gained in the
saddle over the breezy uplands, cling to him still. He wakes everybody up,
and, risky as perhaps some of his speculations are, is socially
enlivening.

The two young gentlemen, by-the-by, observed playing lawn-tennis from the
drawing-room window, are two of his pupils, whose high premiums and
payments assist to keep up the free and generous table, and who find
farming a very pleasant profession. The most striking characteristic of
their tutor is his Yankee-like fertility of resource and bold
innovations--the very antipodes of the old style of 'clod-compeller.'



CHAPTER VI



AN AGRICULTURAL GENIUS-OLD STYLE


Towards the hour of noon Harry Hodson, of Upcourt Farm, was slowly
ascending the long slope that led to his dwelling. In his left hand he
carried a hare, which swung slightly to and fro as he stepped out, and the
black-tipped ears rubbed now and then against a bunch of grass. His
double-barrel was under his right arm. Every day at the same hour Harry
turned towards home, for he adhered to the ways of his fathers and dined
at half-past twelve, except when the stress of harvest, or some important
agricultural operation, disturbed the usual household arrangements. It was
a beautiful October day, sunny and almost still, and, as he got on the
high ground, he paused and looked round. The stubbles stretched far away
on one side, where the country rose and fell in undulations. On the
distant horizon a column of smoke, broadening at the top, lifted itself
into the sky; he knew it was from the funnel of a steam-plough, whose
furnace had just been replenished with coal. The appearance of the smoke
somewhat resembled that left by a steamer at sea when the vessel is just
below the horizon. On the other hand were wooded meadows, where the rooks
were cawing--some in the oaks, some as they wheeled round in the air. Just
beneath him stood a row of wheat ricks--his own. His gaze finally rested
upon their conical roofs with satisfaction, and he then resumed his walk.

Even as he moved he seemed to bask in the sunshine; the sunshine pouring
down from the sky above, the material sunshine of the goodly wheat ricks,
and the physical sunshine of personal health and vigour. His walk was the
walk of a strong, prosperous man--each step long, steady, and firm, but
quite devoid of haste. He was, perhaps, forty years of age, in the very
prime of life, and though stooping a little, like so many countrymen, very
tall, and built proportionately broad across the shoulders and chest. His
features were handsome--perhaps there was a trace of indolence in their
good-humoured expression--and he had a thick black beard just marked with
one thin wavy line of grey. That trace of snow, if anything, rather added
to the manliness of his aspect, and conveyed the impression that he was at
the fulness of life when youth and experience meet. If anything, indeed,
he looked too comfortable, too placid. A little ambition, a little
restlessness, would perhaps have been good for him.

By degrees he got nearer to the house; but it was by degrees only, for he
stayed to look over every gate, and up into almost every tree. He stopped
to listen as his ear caught the sound of hoofs on the distant road, and
again at the faint noise of a gun fired a mile away. At the corner of a
field a team of horses--his own--were resting awhile as the carter and his
lad ate their luncheon. Harry stayed to talk to the man, and yet again at
the barn door to speak to his men at work within with the winnowing
machine. The homestead stood on an eminence, but was hidden by elms and
sycamores, so that it was possible to pass at a distance without observing
it.

On entering the sitting-room Harry leaned his gun against the wall in the
angle between it and the bureau, from which action alone it might have
been known that he was a bachelor, and that there were no children about
the house to get into danger with fire-arms. His elderly aunt, who acted
as housekeeper, was already at table waiting for him. It was spread with a
snow-white cloth, and almost equally snow-white platter for bread--so much
and so well was it cleaned. They ate home-baked bread; they were so many
miles from a town or baker that it was difficult to get served regularly,
a circumstance which preserved that wholesome institution. There was a
chine of bacon, small ale, and a plentiful supply of good potatoes. The
farmer did full justice to the sweet picking off the chine, and then
lingered over an old cheese. Very few words were spoken.

Then, after his dinner, he sat in his arm-chair--the same that he had used
for many years--and took a book. For Harry rather enjoyed a book, provided
it was not too new. He read works of science, thirty years old, solid and
correct, but somewhat behind the age; he read histories, such as were
current in the early part of the present century, but none of a later date
than the end of the wars of the First Napoleon. The only thing modern he
cared for in literature was a 'society' journal, sent weekly from London.
These publications are widely read in the better class of farmsteads now.
Harry knew something of most things, even of geology. He could show you
the huge vertebrae of some extinct saurian, found while draining was being
done. He knew enough of archaeology to be able to tell any enthusiastic
student who chanced to come along where to find the tumuli and the
earthworks on the Downs. He had several Roman coins, and a fine bronze
spearhead, which had been found upon the farm. These were kept with care,
and produced to visitors with pride. Harry really did possess a wide fund
of solid, if quiet, knowledge. Presently, after reading a chapter or two,
he would drop off into a siesta, till some message came from the men or
the bailiff, asking for instructions.

The farmstead was, in fact, a mansion of large size, an old manor-house,
and had it been situate near a fashionable suburb and been placed in
repair would have been worth to let as much per annum as the rent of a
small farm. But it stood in a singularly lonely and outlying position, far
from any village of size, much less a town, and the very highway even was
so distant that you could only hear the horse's hoofs when the current of
air came from that direction. This was his aunt's--the housekeeper's--great
complaint, the distance to the highway. She grumbled because she could not
see the carriers' carts and the teams go by; she wanted to know what was
going on.

Harry, however, seemed contented with the placid calm of the vast house
that was practically empty, and rarely left it, except for his regular
weekly visit to market. After the fashion of a thoroughbred farmer he was
often rather late home on market nights. There were three brothers, all in
farms, and all well to do; the other two were married, and Harry was
finely plagued about being a bachelor. But the placid life at the old
place--he had succeeded to his father--somehow seemed to content him. He
had visitors at Christmas, he read his books of winter evenings and after
dinner; in autumn he strolled round with his double-barrel and knocked
over a hare or so, and so slumbered away the days. But he never neglected
the farming-everything was done almost exactly as it had been done by his
father.

Old Harry Hodson was in his time one of the characters of that country
side. He was the true founder of the Hodson family. They had been yeomen
in a small way for generations, farming little holdings, and working like
labourers, plodding on, and never heard of outside their fifty-acre farms.
So they might have continued till this day had not old Harry Hodson arose
to be the genius--the very Napoleon--of farming in that district. When the
present Harry, the younger, had a visitor to his taste--_i.e._ one who was
not in a hurry--he would, in the evening, pull out the books and papers
and letters of his late father from the bureau (beside which stood the
gun), and explain how the money was made. The logs crackled and sparkled
on the hearth, the lamp burnt clear and bright; there was a low singing
sound in the chimney; the elderly aunt nodded and worked in her arm-chair,
and woke up and mixed fresh spirits and water, and went off to sleep
again; and still Harry would sit and smoke and sip and talk. By-and-by the
aunt would wish the visitor good-night, draw up the clock, and depart,
after mixing fresh tumblers and casting more logs upon the fire, for well
she knew her nephew's ways. Harry was no tippler, he never got
intoxicated; but he would sit and smoke and sip and talk with a friend,
and tell him all about it till the white daylight came peeping through the
chinks in the shutters.

Old Harry Hodson, then, made the money, and put two of his sons in large
farms, and paid all their expenses, so that they started fair, besides
leaving his own farm to the third. Old Harry Hodson made the money, yet he
could not have done it had he not married the exact woman. Women have made
the fortunes of Emperors by their advice and assistance, and the greatest
men the world has seen have owned that their success was owing to feminine
counsel. In like manner a woman made the policy of an obscure farmer a
success. When the old gentleman began to get well to do, and when he found
his teeth not so strong as of yore, and his palate less able to face the
coarse, fat, yellowy bacon that then formed the staple of the household
fare, he actually ventured so far as to have one joint of butcher's meat,
generally a leg of mutton, once a week. It was cooked for Sunday, and, so
far as that kind of meat was concerned, lasted till the next Sunday. But
his wife met this extravagant innovation with furious opposition. It was
sheer waste; it was something almost unpardonably prodigal. They had eaten
bacon all their lives, often bacon with the bristles thick upon it, and to
throw away money like this was positively wicked. However, the-old
gentleman, being stubborn as a horse-nail, persisted; the wife, still
grumbling, calmed down; and the one joint of meat became an institution.
Harry, the younger, still kept it up; but it had lost its significance in
his day, for he had a fowl or two in the week, and a hare or a partridge,
and, besides, had the choicest hams.

Now, this dispute between the old gentleman and his wife--this dispute as
to which should be most parsimonious--was typical of their whole course of
life. If one saved cheese-parings, the other would go without cheese at
all, and be content with dry bread. They lived--indeed, harder than their
own labourers, and it sometimes happened that the food they thought good
enough was refused by a cottager. When a strange carter, or shepherd, or
other labourer came to the house from a distance, perhaps with a waggon
for a load of produce or with some sheep, it was the custom to give them
some lunch. These men, unaccustomed even in their own cottages to such
coarse food, often declined to eat it, and went away empty, but not before
delivering their opinion of the fare, expressed in language of the rudest
kind.

No economy was too small for old Hodson; in the house his wife did almost
all the work. Nowadays a farmer's house alone keeps the women of one, or
even two, cottages fully employed. The washing is sent out, and occupies
one cottage woman the best part of her spare time. Other women come in to
do the extra work, the cleaning up and scouring, and so on. The expense of
employing these women is not great; but still it is an expense. Old Mrs.
Hodson did everything herself, and the children roughed it how they could,
playing in the mire with the pigs and geese. Afterwards, when old Hodson
began to get a little money, they were sent to a school in a market town.
There they certainly did pick up the rudiments, but lived almost as hard
as at home. Old Hodson, to give an instance of his method, would not even
fatten a pig, because it cost a trifle of ready money for 'toppings,' or
meal, and nothing on earth could induce him to part with a coin that he
had once grasped. He never fattened a pig (meaning for sale), but sold the
young porkers directly they were large enough to fetch a sovereign
a-piece, and kept the money.

The same system was carried on throughout the farm. The one he then
occupied was of small extent, and he did a very large proportion of the
work himself. He did not purchase stock at all in the modern sense; he
grew them. If he went to a sale he bought one or two despicable-looking
cattle at the lowest price, drove them home, and let them gradually gather
condition. The grass they ate grew almost as they ate it--in his own
words, 'They cut their own victuals'--_i.e._ with their teeth. He did not
miss the grass blades, but had he paid a high price then he would have
missed the money.

Here he was in direct conflict with modern farming. The theory of the
farming of the present day is that time is money, and, according to this,
Hodson made a great mistake. He should have given a high price for his
stock, have paid for cake, &c., and fattened them up as fast as possible,
and then realised. The logic is correct, and in any business or
manufacture could not be gainsaid. But Hodson did just the reverse. He did
not mind his cattle taking a little time to get into condition, provided
they cost him no ready money. Theoretically, the grass they ate
represented money, and might have been converted to a better use. But in
practice the reverse came true. He succeeded, and other men failed. His
cattle and his sheep, which he bought cheap and out of condition, quietly
improved (time being no object), and he sold them at a profit, from which
there were no long bills to deduct for cake.

He purchased no machinery whilst in this small place--which was chiefly
grass land--with the exception of a second-hand haymaking machine. The
money he made he put out at interest on mortgage of real property, and it
brought in about 4 per cent. It was said that in some few cases where the
security was good he lent it at a much higher rate to other farmers of
twenty times his outward show. After awhile he went into the great farm
now occupied by his son Harry, and commenced operations without borrowing
a single shilling. The reason was because he was in no hurry. He slowly
grew his money in the little farm, and then, and not till then, essayed
the greater. Even then he would not have ventured had not the
circumstances been peculiarly favourable. Like the present, it was a time
of depression generally, and in this particular case the former tenant had
lived high and farmed bad. The land was in the worst possible state, the
landlord could not let it, and Hodson was given to understand that he
could have it for next to nothing at first.

Now it was at this crisis of his life that he showed that in his own
sphere he possessed the true attribute of genius. Most men who had
practised rigid economy for twenty years, whose hours, and days, and weeks
had been occupied with little petty details, how to save a penny here and
a fourpenny bit yonder, would have become fossilised in the process. Their
minds would have become as narrow as their ways. They would have shrunk
from any venture, and continued in the old course to the end of their
time.

Old Hodson, mean to the last degree in his way of living, narrow to the
narrowest point where sixpence could be got, nevertheless had a mind. He
saw that his opportunity had come, and he struck. He took the great corn
farm, and left his little place. The whole country side at once pronounced
him mad, and naturally anticipated his failure. The country side did not
yet understand two things. They did not know how much money he had saved,
and they did not know the capacity of his mind. He had not only saved
money, and judiciously invested it, but he had kept it a profound secret,
because he feared if his landlord learnt that he was saving money so fast
the rent of the little farm would have been speedily raised. Here, again,
he was in direct conflict with the modern farmer. The modern man, if he
has a good harvest or makes a profit, at once buys a 'turn-out,' and grand
furniture, and in every way 'exalts his gate,' When landlords saw their
tenants living in a style but little inferior to that they themselves kept
up, it was not really very surprising that the rents a few years back
began to rise so rapidly. In a measure tenants had themselves to blame for
that upward movement.

Old Hodson carried his money to a long distance from home to invest, so
anxious was he that neither his landlord nor any one else should know how
quickly he was getting rich. So he entered upon his new venture--the great
upland farm, with its broad cornfields, its expanse of sheep walk and
down, its meadows in the hollow, its copses (the copses alone almost as
big as his original holding), with plenty of money in his pocket, and
without being beholden to bank or lawyer for a single groat. Men thought
that the size of the place, the big manor-house, and so on, would turn his
head. Nothing of the kind; he proceeded as cautiously and prudently as
previously. He began by degrees. Instead of investing some thousand pounds
in implements and machinery at a single swoop, instead of purchasing three
hundred sheep right off with a single cheque, he commenced with one thing
at a time. In this course he was favoured by the condition of the land,
and by the conditions of the agreement. He got it, as it were, gradually
into cultivation, not all at once; he got his stock together, a score or
two at a time, as he felt they would answer. By the year the landlord was
to have the full rent: the new tenant was quite able to pay it, and did
pay it without hesitation at the very hour it was due. He bought very
little machinery, nothing but what was absolutely necessary--no expensive
steam-plough. His one great idea was still the same, _i.e._ spend no
money.

Yet he was not bigoted or prejudiced to the customs of his
ancestors--another proof that he was a man of mind. Hodson foresaw, before
he had been long at Upcourt Farm, that corn was not going in future to be
so all in all important as it had been. As he said himself, 'We must go to
our flocks now for our rent, and not to our barn doors.' His aim,
therefore, became to farm into and through his flock, and it paid him
well. Here was a man at once economical to the verge of meanness, prudent
to the edge of timidity, yet capable of venturing when he saw his chance;
and above all, when that venture succeeded, capable of still living on
bacon and bread and cheese, and putting the money by.

In his earlier days Hodson was as close of speech as of expenditure, and
kept his proceedings a profound secret. As he grew older and took less
active exercise--the son resident at home carrying out his
instructions--he became more garrulous and liked to talk about his system.
The chief topic of his discourse was that a farmer in his day paid but one
rent, to the landlord, whereas now, on the modern plan, he paid eight
rents, and sometimes nine. First, of course, the modern farmer paid his
landlord (1); next he paid the seedsman (2); then the manure manufacturer
(3); the implement manufacturer (4); the auctioneer (5); the railroad, for
transit (6); the banker, for short loans (7); the lawyer or whoever
advanced half his original capital (8); the schoolmaster (9).

To begin at the end, the rent paid by the modern farmer to the
schoolmaster included the payment for the parish school; and, secondly,
and far more important, the sum paid for the education of his own
children. Hodson maintained that many farmers paid as much hard cash for
the education of their children, and for the necessary social surroundings
incident to that education, as men used to pay for the entire sustenance
of their households. Then there was the borrowed capital, and the short
loans from the banker; the interest on these two made two more rents.
Farmers paid rent to the railroad for the transit of their goods. The
auctioneer, whether he sold cattle and sheep, or whether he had a depôt
for horses, was a new man whose profits were derived from the farmers.
There were few or no auctioneers or horse depositories when he began
business; now the auctioneer was everywhere, and every country town of any
consequence had its establishment for the reception and sale of horses.
Farmers sunk enough capital in steam-ploughs and machinery to stock a
small farm on the old system, and the interest on this sunk capital
represented another rent. It was the same with the artificial manure
merchant and with the seedsman. Farmers used to grow their own seed, or,
at most, bought from the corn dealers or a neighbour if by chance they
were out. Now the seedsman was an important person, and a grand shop might
be found, often several shops, in every market town, the owners of which
shops must likewise live upon the farmer. Here were eight or nine people
to pay rent to instead of one.

No wonder farming nowadays was not profitable. No wonder farmers could not
put their sons into farms. Let any one look round their own neighbourhood
and count up how many farmers had managed to do that. Why, they were
hardly to be found. Farmers' sons had to go into the towns to get a
livelihood now. Farming was too expensive a business on the modern
system--it was a luxury for a rich man, who could afford to pay eight or
nine landlords at once. The way he had got on was by paying one landlord
only. Old Hodson always finished his lecture by thrusting both hands into
his breeches pockets, and whispering to you confidentially that it was not
the least use for a man to go into farming now unless he had got ten
thousand pounds.

It was through the genius of this man that his three sons were doing so
well. At the present day, Harry, the younger, took his ease in his
arm-chair after his substantial but plain dinner, with little care about
the markets or the general depression. For much of the land was on high
ground and dry, and the soil there benefited by the wet. At the same time
sheep sold well, and Harry's flocks were large and noted. So he sauntered
round with his gun, and knocked over a hare, and came comfortably home to
dinner, easy in his mind, body, and pocket.

Harry was not a man of energy and intense concentrated purpose like his
father. He could never have built up a fortune, but, the money being
there, Harry was just the man to keep it. He was sufficiently prudent to
run no risk and to avoid speculation. He was sufficiently frugal not to
waste his substance on riotous living, and he was naturally of a placid
temperament, so that he was satisfied to silently and gradually accumulate
little by little. His knowledge of farming, imbibed from his father,
extended into every detail. If he seldom touched an implement now, he had
in his youth worked like the labourers, and literally followed the plough.
He was constantly about on the place, and his eye, by keeping the men
employed, earned far more money than his single arm could have done. Thus
he dwelt in the lonely manor-house, a living proof of the wisdom of his
father's system.

Harry is now looking, in his slow complacent way, for a wife. Being forty
years of age, he is not in a great hurry, and is not at all inclined to
make a present of himself to the first pretty face he meets. He does not
like the girl of the period; he fears she would spend too much money. Nor,
on the other hand, does he care for the country hoyden, whose mind and
person have never risen above the cheese-tub, with red hands, awkward
gait, loud voice, and limited conversation. He has read too much, in his
quiet way, and observed too much, in his quiet way, also, for that. He
wants a girl well educated, but not above her station, unaffected and yet
comely, fond of home and home duties, and yet not homely. And it would be
well if she had a few hundreds--a very small sum would do--for her dower.
It is not that he wants the money, which can be settled on herself; but
there is a vein of the old, prudent common sense running through Harry's
character. He is in no hurry; in time he will meet with her somewhere.



CHAPTER VII



THE GIG AND THE FOUR-IN-HAND. A BICYCLE FARMER


Two vehicles were gradually approaching each other from opposite
directions on a long, straight stretch of country road, which, at the
first glance, appeared level. The glare of the August sunshine reflected
from the white dust, the intense heat that caused a flickering motion of
the air like that which may be seen over a flue, the monotonous low
cropped hedges, the scarcity of trees, and boundless plain of cornfields,
all tended to deceive the eye. The road was not really level, but rose and
fell in narrow, steep valleys, that crossed it at right angles--the glance
saw across these valleys without recognising their existence. It was
curious to observe how first one and then the other vehicle suddenly
disappeared, as if they had sunk into the ground, and remained hidden for
some time. During the disappearance the vehicle was occupied in cautiously
going down one steep slope and slowly ascending the other. It then seemed
to rapidly come nearer till another hollow intervened, and it was abruptly
checked. The people who were driving could observe each other from a long
distance, and might naturally think that they should pass directly,
instead of which they did not seem to get much nearer. Some miles away,
where the same road crossed the Downs, it looked from afar like a white
line drawn perpendicularly up the hill.

The road itself was narrow, hardly wider than a lane, but on either side
was a broad strip of turf, each strip quite twice the width of the
metalled portion. On the verge of the dust the red pimpernel opened its
flowers to the bright blue cloudless sky, and the lowly convolvulus grew
thickly among the tall dusty bennets. Sweet short clover flowers stood but
a little way back; still nearer the hedges the grass was coarser, long,
and wire-like. Tall thistles stood beside the water furrows and beside the
ditch, and round the hawthorn bushes that grew at intervals on the sward
isolated from the hedge. Loose flints of great size lay here and there
among the grass, perhaps rolled aside surreptitiously by the
stone-breakers to save themselves trouble. Everything hot and dusty. The
clover dusty, the convolvulus dusty, the brambles and hawthorn, the small
scattered elms all dusty, all longing for a shower or for a cool breeze.

The reapers were at work in the wheat, but the plain was so level that it
was not possible to see them without mounting upon a flint heap. Then
their heads were just visible as they stood upright, but when they stooped
to use the hook they disappeared. Yonder, however, a solitary man in his
shirt-sleeves perched up above the corn went round and round the field,
and beside him strange awkward arms seemed to beat down the wheat. He was
driving a reaping machine, to which the windmill-like arms belonged.
Beside the road a shepherd lingered, leaning on a gate, while his flock,
which he was driving just as fast and no faster than they cared to eat
their way along the sward, fed part on one side and part on the other. Now
and then two or three sheep crossed over with the tinkling of a bell. In
the silence and stillness and brooding heat, the larks came and dusted
themselves in the white impalpable powder of the road. Farther away the
partridges stole quietly to an anthill at the edge of some barley. By the
white road, a white milestone, chipped and defaced, stood almost hidden
among thistles and brambles. Some white railings guarded the sides of a
bridge, or rather a low arch over a dry watercourse. Heat, dust, a glaring
whiteness, and a boundless expanse of golden wheat on either hand.

After awhile a towering four-in-hand coach rose out of the hollow where it
had been hidden, and came bowling along the level. The rapid hoofs beat
the dust, which sprang up and followed behind in a cloud, stretching far
in the rear, for in so still an atmosphere the particles were long before
they settled again. White parasols and light dust coats--everything that
could be contrived for coolness--gay feathers and fluttering fringes,
whose wearers sat in easy attitudes enjoying the breeze created by the
swift motion. Upon such a day the roof of a coach is more pleasant than
the thickest shade, because of that current of air, for the same leaves
that keep off the sun also prevent a passing zephyr from refreshing the
forehead. But the swifter the horses the sweeter the fresh wind to fan the
delicate cheek and drooping eyelid of indolent beauty. So idle were they
all that they barely spoke, and could only smile instead of laugh if one
exerted himself to utter a good jest. The gentleman who handled the
ribbons was the only one thoroughly awake.

His eyes were downcast, indeed, because they never left his horses, but
his ears were sharply alive to the rhythmic beat of the hoofs and the
faint creak and occasional jingle of the harness. Had a single shoe failed
to send forth the proper sound as it struck the hard dry road, had there
been a creak or a jingle too many, or too few, those ears would instantly
have detected it. The downcast eyes that looked neither to the right nor
left--at the golden wheat or the broad fields of barley--were keenly
watching the ears of the team, and noting how one of the leaders lathered
and flung white froth upon the dust. From that height the bowed backs of
the reapers were visible in the corn. The reapers caught sight of the
coach, and stood up to look, and wiped their brows, and a distant hurrah
came from the boys among them. In all the pomp and glory of paint and
varnish the tall coach rolled on, gently swaying from side to side as the
springs yielded to the irregularities of the road. It came with a heavy
rumble like far-away thunder over the low arch that spanned the dry
water-course.

Meantime the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction had also
appeared out of a hollow. It was a high, narrow gig of ancient make, drawn
by a horse too low for the shafts and too fat for work. In the gig sat two
people closely pressed together by reason of its narrow dimensions. The
lady wore a black silk dress, of good and indeed costly material, but
white with the dust that had settled upon it. Her hands were covered with
black cotton gloves, and she held a black umbrella. Her face was hidden by
a black veil; thin corkscrew curls fringed the back of her head. She was
stout, and sat heavily in the gig. The man wore a grey suit, too short in
the trousers--at least they appeared so as he sat with his knees wide
apart, and the toe of one heavy boot partly projecting at the side of the
dash-board. A much-worn straw hat was drawn over his eyes, and he held a
short whip in his red hand. He did not press his horse, but allowed the
lazy animal to go jog-trot at his own pace. The panels of the gig had lost
their original shining polish; the varnish had cracked and worn, till the
surface was rough and grey. The harness was equally bare and worn, the
reins mended more than once. The whole ramshackle concern looked as if it
would presently fall to pieces, but the horse was in much too good a
condition.

When the four-in-hand had come within about a hundred yards, the farmer
pulled his left rein hard, and drew his gig right out of the road on to
the sward, and then stopped dead, to give the coach the full use of the
way. As it passed he took off his straw hat, and his wife stooped low as a
makeshift for bowing. An outsider might have thought that the aristocratic
coach would have gone by this extremely humble couple without so much as
noticing it. But the gentleman who was driving lifted his hat to the dowdy
lady, with a gesture of marked politeness, and a young and
elegantly-dressed lady, his sister, nodded and smiled, and waved her hand
to her. After the coach had rolled some fifty yards away, the farmer
pulled into the road, and went on through the cloud of dust it had left
behind it, with a complacent smile upon his hard and weather-worn
features. 'A' be a nice young gentleman, the Honourable be,' said he
presently. 'So be Lady Blanche,' replied his wife, lifting her veil and
looking back after the four-in-hand. 'I'm sure her smile's that sweet it
be a pleasure for to see her.'

Half a mile farther the farmer drew out of the road again, drove close to
the hedge, stopped, and stood up to look over. A strongly-built young man,
who had been driving the reaping machine in his shirt-sleeves, alighted
from his seat and came across to the hedge.

'Goes very well to-day,' he said, meaning that the machine answered.

'You be got into a good upstanding piece, John,' replied the old man
sharply in his thin jerky voice, which curiously contrasted with his still
powerful frame. 'You take un in there and try un'--pointing to a piece
where the crop had been beaten down by a storm, and where the reapers were
at work. 'You had better put the rattletrap thing away, John, and go in
and help they. Never wasted money in all my life over such a thing as that
before. What be he going to do all the winter? Bide and rust, I 'spose.
Can you put un to cut off they nettles along the ditch among they stones?'

'It would break the knives,' said the son.

'But you could cut um with a hook, couldn't you?' asked the old man, in a
tone that was meant to convey withering contempt of a machine that could
only do one thing, and must perforce lie idle ten months of the year.

'That's hardly a fair way of looking at it,' the son ventured.

'John,' said his mother, severely, 'I can't think how you young men can
contradict your father. I'm sure young men never spoke so in my time; and
I'm sure your father has been prospered in his farming' (she felt her silk
dress), 'and has done very well without any machines, which cost a deal of
money--and Heaven knows there's a vast amount going out every day.'

A gruff voice interrupted her--one of the reapers had advanced along the
hedge, with a large earthenware jar in his hand.

'Measter,' he shouted to the farmer in the gig, 'can't you send us out
some better tackle than this yer stuff?'

He poured some ale out of the jar on the stubble with an expression of
utter disgust.

'It be the same as I drink myself,' said the farmer, sharply, and
immediately sat down, struck the horse, and drove off.

His son and the labourer--who could hardly have been distinguished apart
so far as their dress went--stood gazing after him for a few minutes. They
then turned, and each went back to his work without a word.

The farmer drove on steadily homewards at the same jog-trot pace that had
been his wont these forty years. The house stood a considerable distance
back from the road: it was a gabled building of large size, and not
without interest. It was approached by a drive that crossed a green, where
some ducks were waddling about, and entered the front garden, which was
surrounded by a low wall. Within was a lawn and an ancient yew tree. The
porch was overgrown with ivy, and the trees that rose behind the grey
tiles of the roof set the old house in a frame of foliage. A fine old
English homestead, where any man might be proud to dwell. But the farmer
did not turn up the drive. He followed the road till he came to a gate
leading into the rickyard, and, there getting out of the gig, held the
gate open while the horse walked through. He never used the drive or the
front door, but always came in and went out at the back, through the
rickyard.

The front garden and lawn were kept in good order, but no one belonging to
the house ever frequented it. Had any stranger driven up to the front
door, he might have hammered away with the narrow knocker--there was no
bell--for half an hour before making any one hear, and then probably it
would have been by the accident of the servant going by the passage, and
not by dint of noise. The household lived in the back part of the house.
There was a parlour well furnished, sweet with flowers placed there fresh
daily, and with the odour of those in the garden, whose scent came in at
the ever open window; but no one sat in it from week's end to week's end.
The whole life of the inmates passed in two back rooms--a sitting-room and
kitchen.

With some slight concessions to the times only, Farmer M---- led the life
his fathers led before him, and farmed his tenancy upon the same
principles. He did not, indeed, dine with the labourers, but he ate very
much the same food as they did. Some said he would eat what no labourer or
servant would touch; and, as he had stated, drank the same smallest of
small beer. His wife made a large quantity of home-made wine every year,
of which she partook in a moderate degree, and which was the liquor
usually set before visitors. They rose early, and at once went about their
work. He saw his men, and then got on his horse and rode round the farm.
He returned to luncheon, saw the men again, and again went out and took a
turn of work with them. He rode a horse because of the distance--the farm
being large--not for pleasure. Without it he could not have visited his
fields often enough to satisfy himself that the labourers were going on
with their work. He did not hunt, nor shoot--he had the right, but never
exercised it; though occasionally he was seen about the newly-sown fields
with a single-barrel gun, firing at the birds that congregated in crowds.
Neither would he allow his sons to shoot or hunt.

One worked with the labourers, acting as working bailiff--it was he who
drove the reaping machine, which, after long argument and much persuasion
the farmer bought, only to grumble at and abuse every day afterwards. The
other was apprenticed as a lad to a builder and carpenter of the market
town, and learned the trade exactly as the rest of the men did there. He
lodged in the town in the cheapest of houses, ate hard bread and cheese
with the carpenters and masons and bricklayers, and was glad when the
pittance he received was raised a shilling a week. Once now and then he
walked over to the farm on Sundays or holidays--he was not allowed to come
too often. They did not even send him in a basket of apples from the great
orchard; all the apples were carefully gathered and sold.

These two sons were now grown men, strong and robust, and better educated
than would have been imagined--thanks to their own industry and good
sense, and not to any schooling they received. Two finer specimens of
physical manhood it would have been difficult to find, yet their wages
were no more than those of ordinary labourers and workmen. The bailiff,
the eldest, had a pound a week, out of which he had to purchase every
necessary, and from which five shillings were deducted for lodgings. It
may be that he helped himself to various little perquisites, but his
income from every source was not equal to that of a junior clerk. The
other nominally received more, being now a skilled workman; but as he had
to pay for his lodgings and food in town, he was really hardly so well
off. Neither of these young men had the least chance of marrying till
their father should die; nothing on earth would induce him to part with
the money required to set the one in business up or the other in a
separate farm. He had worked all his time under his father, and it seemed
to him perfectly natural that his sons should work all their time under
him.

There was one daughter, and she, too, was out at work. She was housekeeper
to an infirm old farmer; that is to say, she superintended the dairy and
the kitchen, and received hardly as much as a cook in a London
establishment. Like the sons, she was finely developed physically, and had
more of the manners of a lady than seemed possible under the
circumstances.

Her father's principles of farming were much the same as his plan of
housekeeping and family government. It consisted of never spending any
money. He bought no machines. The reaping machine was the one exception,
and a bitter point with the old man. He entered on no extensive draining
works, nor worried his landlord to begin them. He was content with the
tumble-down sheds till it was possible to shelter cattle in them no
longer. Sometimes he was compelled to purchase a small quantity of
artificial manure, but it was with extreme reluctance. He calculated to
produce sufficient manure in the stalls, for he kept a large head of
fattening cattle, and sheep to the greatest extent possible. He would
rather let a field lie fallow, and go without the crop from it, till
nature had restored the exhausted fertility, than supply that fertility at
the cost of spending money. The one guiding motto of his life was 'Save,
not invest.' When once he got hold of a sovereign he parted with it no
more; not though all the scientific professors in the world came to him
with their analyses, and statistics, and discoveries. He put it in the
bank, just as his father would have put it into a strong box under his
bed. There it remained, and the interest that accrued, small as it was,
was added to it.

Yet it was his pride to do his land well. He manured it well, because he
kept cattle and sheep, especially the latter, to the fullest capacity of
his acreage; and because, as said before, he could and did afford to let
land lie fallow when necessary. He was in no hurry. He was not anxious for
so much immediate percentage upon an investment in artificial manure or
steam-plough. He might have said, with a greater man, 'Time and I are
two.' It was Time, the slow passage of the years, that gave him his
profit. He was always providing for the future; he was never out of
anything, because he was never obliged to force a sale of produce in order
to get the ready cash to pay the bank its interest upon borrowed money. He
never borrowed; neither did he ever make a speech, or even so much as
attend a farmers' club, to listen to a scientific lecture. But his teams of
horses were the admiration of the country side--no such horses came into
the market town. His rent was paid punctually, and always with country
bank-notes--none of your clean, newfangled cheques, or Bank of England
crisp paper, but soiled, greasy country notes of small denomination.

Farmer M---- never asked for a return or reduction of his rent. The
neighbours said that he was cheaply rented: that was not true in regard to
the land itself. But he certainly was cheaply rented if the condition of
the farm was looked at. In the course of so many long years of careful
farming he had got his place into such a state of cultivation that it
could stand two or three bad seasons without much deterioration. The same
bad seasons quite spoiled the land of such of his neighbours as had relied
upon a constant application of stimulants to the soil. The stimulating
substances being no longer applied, as they could not afford to buy them,
the land fell back and appeared poor.

Farmer M---, of course, grumbled at the weather, but the crops belied his
lips. He was, in fact, wealthy--not the wealth that is seen in cities, but
rich for a countryman. He could have started both his sons in business
with solid capital. Yet he drank small beer which the reapers despised,
and drove about in a rusty old gig, with thousands to his credit at that
old country bank. When he got home that afternoon, he carefully put away
some bags of coin for the wages of the men, which he had been to fetch,
and at once started out for the rickyard, to see how things were
progressing. So the Honourable on the tall four-in-hand saluted with
marked emphasis the humble gig that pulled right out of the road to give
him the way, and the Lady Blanche waved her hand to the dowdy in the dusty
black silk with her sweetest smile. The Honourable, when he went over the
farm with his breechloader, invariably came in and drank a glass of the
small beer. The Lady Blanche, at least once in the autumn, rode up,
alighted, and drank one glass of the home-made wine with the dowdy. Her
papa, the landlord, was an invalid, but he as invariably sent a splendid
basket of hot-house grapes. But Farmer M---- was behind the age.

Had he looked over the hedge in the evening, he might have seen a row of
reapers walking down the road at the sudden sound of a jingling bell
behind them, open their line, and wheel like a squad, part to the right
and part to the left, to let the bicycle pass. After it had gone by they
closed their rank, and trudged on toward the village. They had been at
work all day in the uplands among the corn, cutting away with their hooks
low down the yellow straw. They began in the early morning, and had first
to walk two miles or more up to the harvest field. Stooping, as they
worked, to strike low enough, the hot sun poured his fierce rays upon
their shoulders and the backs of their necks. The sinews of the right arm
had continually to drive the steel through straw and tough weeds entangled
in the wheat. There was no shadow to sit under for luncheon, save that at
the side of the shocks, where the sheaves radiated heat and interrupted
the light air, so that the shadow was warmer than the sunshine. Coarse
cold bacon and bread, cheese, and a jar of small beer, or a tin can of
weak cold tea, were all they had to supply them with fresh strength for
further labour.

At last the evening came, the jackets so long thrown aside were resumed,
and the walk home began. After so many hours of wearisome labour it was
hardly strange that their natural senses were dulled--that they did not
look about them, nor converse gaily. By mutual, if unexpressed consent,
they intended to call at the wayside inn when they reached it, to rest on
the hard bench outside, and take a quart of stronger ale. Thus trudging
homewards after that exhausting day, they did not hear the almost silent
approach of the bicycle behind till the rider rang his bell. When he had
passed, the rider worked his feet faster, and swiftly sped away along the
dry and dusty road. He was a tall young gentleman, whose form was well set
off and shown by the tight-fitting bicycle costume. He rode well and with
perfect command--the track left in the dust was straight, there was no
wobbling or uncertainty.

'That be a better job than ourn, you,' said one of the men, as they
watched the bicycle rapidly proceeding ahead.

'Ay,' replied his mate, 'he be a vine varmer, he be.'

Master Phillip, having a clear stretch of road, put on his utmost speed,
and neither heard the comments made upon him, nor would ha e cared if he
had. He was in haste, for he was late, and feared every minute to hear the
distant dinner bell. It was his vacation, and Master Phillip, having
temporarily left his studies, was visiting a gentleman who had taken a
country mansion and shooting for the season. His host had accumulated
wealth in the 'City,' and naturally considered himself an authority on
country matters. Master Phillip's 'governor' was likewise in a large way
of business, and possessed of wealth, and thought it the correct thing for
one of his sons to 'go in' for agriculture--a highly genteel occupation,
if rightly followed, with capital and intelligence. Phillip liked to ride
his bicycle in the cool of the evening, and was supposed in these
excursions to be taking a survey of the soil and the crops, and to be
comparing the style of agriculture in the district to that to which he had
been trained while pursuing his studies. He slipped past the wayside inn;
he glided by the cottages and gardens at the outskirts of the village; and
then, leaving the more thickly inhabited part on one side, went by a
rickyard. Men were busy in the yard putting up the last load of the
evening, and the farmer in his shirt-sleeves was working among and
directing the rest. The bicyclist without a glance rode on, and shortly
after reached the lodge gates. They were open, in anticipation of his
arrival.

He rode up the long drive, across the park, under the old elms, and
alighted at the mansion before the dinner bell rang, much to his relief;
for his host had more than one daughter, and Phillip liked to arrange his
toilet to perfection before he joined their society. His twenty-five-guinea
dressing-case, elaborately fitted up--too completely indeed, for he had no
use for the razor--soon enabled him to trim and prepare for the
dining-room. His five-guinea coat, elegant studs, spotless shirt and
wristbands, valuable seal ring on one finger, patent leather boots,
keyless watch, eyeglass, gold toothpick in one pocket, were all carefully
selected, and in the best possible style. Mr. Phillip--he would have
scorned the boyish 'master'--was a gentleman, from the perfumed locks
above to the polished patent leather below. There was _ton_ in his very
air, in the 'ah, ah,' of his treble London tone of voice, the antithesis
of the broad country bass. He had a firm belief in the fitness of
things--in the unities, so to speak, of suit, action, and time.

When his team were struggling to force the ball by kick, or other
permitted means, across the tented field, Phillip was arrayed in accurate
football costume. When he stood on the close-mown lawn within the
white-marked square of tennis and faced the net, his jacket was barred or
striped with scarlet. Then there was the bicycle dress, the morning coat,
the shooting jacket, and the dinner coat, not to mention the Ulster or
Connaught overcoat, the dust coat, and minor items innumerable. Whether
Phillip rolled in the mire at football, or bestrode a bicycle, or sat down
to snow-white tablecloth and napkin, he conscientiously dressed the part.
The very completeness of his prescribed studies--the exhaustive character
of the curriculum-naturally induced a frame of mind not to be satisfied
with anything short of absolute precision, and perhaps even apt to extend
itself into dilettanteism.

Like geology, the science of agriculture is so vast, it embraces so wide a
range, that one really hardly knows where it begins or ends. Phillip's
knowledge was universal. He understood all about astronomy, and had
prepared an abstract of figures proving the connection of sun-spots,
rainfall, and the price of wheat. Algebra was the easiest and at the same
time the most accurate mode of conducting the intricate calculations
arising out of the complicated question of food--of flesh formers and heat
generators--that is to say, how much a sheep increased in weight by
gnawing a turnip. Nothing could be more useful than botany-those who could
not distinguish between a dicotyledon and a monocotyledon could certainly
never rightly grasp the nature of a hedgerow. _Bellis perennis_ and
_Sinapis arvensis_ were not to be confounded, and _Triticum repens_ was a
sure sign of a bad farmer. Chemistry proved that too small a quantity of
silicate made John Barleycorn weak in the knee; ammonia, animal
phosphates, nitrogen, and so on, were mere names to many ignorant folk.
The various stages and the different developments of insect life were next
to be considered.

As to the soil and strata--the very groundwork of a farm--geology was the
true guide to the proper selection of suitable seed. Crops had been
garnered by the aid of the electric light, the plough had been driven by
the Gramme machine; electricity, then, would play a foremost part in
future farming, and should be studied with enthusiasm. Without mathematics
nothing could be done; without ornithological study, how know which bird
revelled on grain and which destroyed injurious insects? Spectrum analysis
detected the adulteration of valuable compounds; the photographer recorded
the exact action of the trotting horse; the telephone might convey orders
from one end of an estate to the other; and thus you might go through the
whole alphabet, the whole cyclopaedia of science, and apply every single
branch to agriculture.

It is to be hoped that Phillip's conversational account of his studies has
been correctly reproduced here. The chemical terms look rather weak, but
the memory of an ordinary listener can hardly be expected to retain such a
mass of technicalities. He had piles of strongly-bound books, the reward
of successful examinations, besides diplomas and certificates of
proficiency. These subjects could be pursued under cover, but there was
besides the field work, which had a more practical sound; model farms to
be visited; steam-engines to be seen at work; lectures to be listened to
on the spot; deep-drainage operations, a new drill, or a new sheaf-binder
to be looked at. Then there were the experimental plots--something like
the little _parterres_ seen at the edge of lawns.

One plot was sown without manure, another was sown with manure, a third
had a different kind of manure. The dozen mangolds grown in one patch were
pulled up and carefully weighed. The grains of wheat in an ear standing in
an adjacent patch were counted and recorded. As these plots were about a
yard wide, and could be kept clean, no matter what the weather; and as a
wheelbarrow load of clay, or chalk, or sand thrown down would alter the
geological formation, the results obtained from them were certainly
instructive, and would be very useful as a guide to the cultivation of a
thousand acres. There was also a large, heavy iron roller, which the
scholars could if they chose drag round and round the gravel path.

Architecture, again, touches the agriculturist nearly. He requires
buildings for the pigs, cattle, horses, labourers, engine and machinery,
lastly, for himself. Out of doors almost any farmhouse that could be
visited might be made by a lecturer an illustrative example of what ought
to be avoided. Scarcely one could be found that was not full of
mistakes--utterly wrong, and erected regardless of design and utility.
Within doors, with ink, tracing paper, compasses, straight-edge and ruler,
really valuable ground plans, front elevations, and so on, could be laid
down. Altogether, with this circle of science to study, the future farmer
had very hard work to face. Such exhaustive mental labour induced a
certain nervousness that could only be allayed by relaxation. The bicycle
afforded a grateful change. Mounted upon the slender, swift-revolving
wheel, Mr. Phillip in the cool of the evening, after the long day of
study, sometimes proceeded to stretch his limbs. The light cigar soothed
his weary and overstrained mind.

The bicycle by-and-by, as if drawn by the power of gravitation, approached
more and more nearly to the distant town. It threaded the streets, and
finally stopped in the archway of an inn. There, leaned against the wall,
under the eye of the respectful ostler, the bicycle reposed. The owner
strolled upstairs, and in the company of choice spirits studied the laws
of right angles, of motion, and retarding friction, upon the level surface
of the billiard table. Somewhere in a not much frequented street there
could be seen a small window in which a coloured plate of fashions was
always displayed. There were also some bonnets, trimming, and tasteful
feathers. Nothing could be more attractive than this window. The milliner
was young and pretty, and seemed to have a cousin equally young and
pretty. Poor, lonely, friendless creatures, it was not surprising they
should welcome a little flirtation. The bicycle which so swiftly carries
the young man of the present day beyond the penetrating vision of his aunt
or tutor has much to answer for.

But, as pointed out previously, such exhaustive scientific training
naturally tends to make the mind mathematical. It cannot be satisfied
unless its surroundings--the substantial realisation of the concrete-are
perfect. So Mr. Phillip had a suit for every purpose--for football,
cricket, tennis, bicycle, shooting, dining, and strolling about. In the
same way he possessed a perfect armoury of athletic and other useful
implements. There were fine bats by the best makers for cricket, rods for
trout fishing, splendid modified choke-bores, saddles, jockey caps, and so
on. A gentleman like this could hardly long remain in the solitary halls
of learning--society must claim him for parties, balls, dinners, and the
usual round. It was understood that his 'governor' was a man of
substantial wealth; that Phillip would certainly be placed in an extensive
farm, to play the pleasant part of a gentleman farmer. People with
marriageable daughters looked upon the clever scholar as a desirable
addition to their drawing-rooms. Phillip, in short, found himself by
degrees involved in a whirl of festivities, and was never at a loss where
to go for amusement when he could obtain leave to seek relaxation. If such
social adulation made him a little vain, if it led to the purchase of a
twenty-five-guinea dressing-case, and to frequent consultations with the
tailor, it really was not Phillip's fault. He felt himself popular, and
accepted the position.

When the vacation came, gathering up a fresh pile of grandly-bound prize
books, broad sheets of diplomas, and certificates, Phillip departed to his
friend's mansion for the partridge shooting. Coming down the road on the
bicycle he overtook the reapers, and sprang his bell to warn them. The
reapers thought Phillip's job better than theirs.

At dinner, while sipping his claret, Phillip delivered his opinion upon
the agriculture of the district, which he had surveyed from his bicycle.
It was incomplete, stationary, or retrograde. The form of the fields alone
was an index to the character of the farmers who cultivated them. Not one
had a regular shape. The fields were neither circles, squares,
parallelograms, nor triangles. One side, perhaps, might be straight; the
hedgerow on the other had a dozen curves, and came up to a point. With
such irregular enclosures it was impossible that the farmer could plan out
his course with the necessary accuracy. The same incompleteness ran
through everything--one field was well tilled, the next indifferently, the
third full of weeds. Here was a good modern cattle-shed, well-designed for
the purpose; yonder was a tumble-down building, with holes in the roof and
walls.

So, too, with the implements--a farmer never seemed to have a complete
set. One farmer had, perhaps, a reaping machine, but he had not got an
elevator; another had an elevator, but no steam-plough. No one had a full
set of machinery. If they drained, they only drained one field; the entire
farm was never by any possibility finished straight off. If the farmer had
two new light carts of approved construction, he was sure to have three
old rumbling waggons, in drawing which there was a great waste of power.
Why not have all light carts? There was no uniformity. The farming mind
lacked breadth of view, and dwelt too much on detail. It was not, of
course, the fault of the tenants of the present day, but the very houses
they inhabited were always put in the wrong place. Where the ground was
low, flat, and liable to be flooded, the farmhouse was always built by a
brook. When the storms of winter came the brook overflowed, and the place
was almost inaccessible. In hilly districts, where there was not much
water, the farmhouse was situate on the slope, or perhaps on the plateau
above, and in summer very likely every drop of water used had to be drawn
up there from a distance in tanks.

The whole of rural England, in short, wanted rearranging upon mathematical
principles. To begin at the smallest divisions, the fields should be
mapped out like the squares of a chessboard; next, the parishes; and,
lastly, the counties. You ought to be able to work steam-ploughing tackle
across a whole parish, if the rope could be made strong enough. If you
talked with a farmer, you found him somehow or other quite incapable of
following a logical sequence of argument. He got on very well for a few
sentences, but, just as one was going to come to the conclusion, his mind
seized on some little paltry detail, and refused to move any farther. He
positively could not follow you to a logical conclusion. If you, for
instance, tried to show him that a certain course of cropping was the
correct one for certain fields, he would listen for awhile, and then
suddenly declare that the turnips in one of the said fields last year were
a failure. That particular crop of turnips had nothing at all to do with
the system at large, but the farmer could see nothing else.

What had struck him most, however, in that particular district, as he
traversed it on the bicycle, was the great loss of time that must result
from the absence of rapid means of communication on large farms. The
distance across a large farm might, perhaps, be a mile. Some farms were
not very broad, but extended in a narrow strip for a great way. Hours were
occupied in riding round such farms, hours which might be saved by simple
means. Suppose, for example, that a gang of labourers were at work in the
harvest-field, three-quarters of a mile from the farmhouse. Now, why not
have a field telegraph, like that employed in military operations? The
cable or wire was rolled on a drum like those used for watering a lawn.
All that was needed was to harness a pony, and the drum would unroll and
lay the wire as it revolved. The farmer could then sit in his office and
telegraph his instructions without a moment's delay. He could tap the
barometer, and wire to the bailiff in the field to be expeditious, for the
mercury was falling. Practically, there was no more necessity for the
farmer to go outside his office than for a merchant in Mincing Lane. The
merchant did not sail in every ship whose cargo was consigned to him: why
should the farmer watch every waggon loaded? Steam could drive the
farmer's plough, cut the chaff, pump the water, and, in short, do
everything. The field telegraph could be laid down to any required spot
with the greatest ease, and thus, sitting in his office chair, the farmer
could control the operations of the farm without once soiling his hands.
Mr. Phillip, as he concluded his remarks, reached his glass of claret, and
thus incidentally exhibited his own hand, which was as white as a lady's.



CHAPTER VIII



HAYMAKING. 'THE JUKE'S COUNTRY'


A rattling, thumping, booming noise, like the beating of their war drums
by savages, comes over the hedge where the bees are busy at the bramble
flowers. The bees take no heed, they pass from flower to flower, seeking
the sweet honey to store at home in the hive, as their bee ancestors did
before the Roman legions marched to Cowey Stakes. Their habits have not
changed; their 'social' relations are the same; they have not called in
the aid of machinery to enlarge their liquid, wealth, or to increase the
facility of collecting it. There is a low murmur rather than a buzz along
the hedgerow; but over it the hot summer breeze brings the thumping,
rattling, booming sound of hollow metal striking against the ground or in
contact with other metal. These ringing noises, which so little accord
with the sweet-scented hay and green hedgerows, are caused by the careless
handling of milk tins dragged hither and thither by the men who are
getting the afternoon milk ready for transit to the railway station miles
away. Each tin bears a brazen badge engraved with the name of the milkman
who will retail its contents in distant London. It may be delivered to the
countess in Belgravia, and reach her dainty lip in the morning chocolate,
or it may be eagerly swallowed up by the half-starved children of some
back court in the purlieus of the Seven Dials.

Sturdy milkmaids may still be seen in London, sweeping the crowded
pavement clear before them as they walk with swinging tread, a yoke on
their shoulders, from door to door. Some remnant of the traditional dairy
thus survives in the stony streets that are separated so widely from the
country. But here, beside the hay, the hedgerows, the bees, the flowers
that precede the blackberries--here in the heart of the meadows the
romance has departed. Everything is mechanical or scientific. From the
refrigerator that cools the milk, the thermometer that tests its
temperature, the lactometer that proves its quality, all is mechanical
precision. The tins themselves are metal--wood, the old country material
for almost every purpose, is eschewed--and they are swung up into a waggon
specially built for the purpose. It is the very antithesis of the jolting
and cumbrous waggon used for generations in the hay-fields and among the
corn. It is light, elegantly proportioned, painted, varnished--the work
rather of a coachbuilder than a cartwright. The horse harnessed in it is
equally unlike the cart-horse. A quick, wiry horse, that may be driven in
a trap or gig, is the style--one that will rattle along and catch the
train.

The driver takes his seat and handles the reins with the air of a man
driving a tradesman's van, instead of walking, like the true old carter,
or sitting on the shaft. The vehicle rattles off to the station, where
ten, fifteen, or perhaps twenty such converge at the same hour, and then
ensues a scene of bustle, chaff, and rough language. The tins are placed
in the van specially reserved for them, the whistle sounds, the
passengers--who have been wondering why on earth there was all this noise
and delay at a little roadside station without so much as a visible
steeple--withdraw their heads from the windows; the wheels revolve, and,
gathering speed, the train disappears round the curve, hastening to the
metropolis. Then the empty tins returned from town have to be conveyed
home with more rattling, thumping and booming of hollow tin--there to be
carefully cleansed, for which purpose vast quantities of hot water must be
ready, and coal, of course, must be consumed in proportion.

This beautiful afternoon the booming seems to sound more than usual; it
may perhaps be the wind that carries the noise along. But Mr. George, the
farmer, who has been working among the haymakers, steps out from the rank,
and going some way aside pauses awhile to consider. You should not address
him as Farmer George. Farmer as an affix is not the thing now; farmers are
'Mr. So-and-so.' Not that there is any false pride about the present
individual; his memory goes back too far, and he has had too much
experience of the world. He leans on his prong--the sharp forks worn
bright as silver from use--stuck in the sward, and his chest pressing on
the top of the handle, or rather on both hands, with which he holds it.
The handle makes an angle of forty-five degrees with his body, and thus
gives considerable support and relief while he reflects.

He leans on his prong, facing to windward, and gazing straight into the
teeth of the light breeze, as he has done these forty and odd summers
past. Like the captain of a sailing ship, the eye of the master haymaker
must be always watching the horizon to windward. He depends on the sky,
like the mariner, and spreads his canvas and shapes his course by the
clouds. He must note their varying form and drift; the height and
thickness and hue; whether there is a dew in the evenings; whether the
distant hills are clearly defined or misty; and what the sunset portends.
From the signs of the sunset he learns, like the antique Roman
husbandman--

     'When the south projects a stormy day,
      And when the clearing north will puff the clouds away.'

According as the interpretation of the signs be favourable, adverse, or
doubtful, so he gives his orders.

This afternoon, as he stands leaning on the prong, he marks the soft air
which seems itself to be heated, and renders the shade, if you seek it for
coolness, as sultry as the open field. The flies are numerous and
busy--the horses can barely stand still, and nod their heads to shake them
off. The hills seem near, and the trees on the summit are distinctly
visible. Such noises as are heard seem exaggerated and hollow. There is
but little cloud, mere thin flecks; but the horizon has a brassy look, and
the blue of the sky is hard and opaque. Farmer George recollects that the
barometer he tapped before coming out showed a falling mercury; he does
not like these appearances, more especially the heated breeze. There is a
large quantity of hay in the meadow, much of it quite ready for carting,
indeed, the waggons are picking it up as fast as they can, and the rest,
if left spread about through next day--Sunday--would be fit on Monday.

On Sunday there are no wages to pay to the labourers; but the sun, if it
shines, works as hard and effectually as ever. It is always a temptation
to the haymaker to leave his half-made hay spread about for Sunday, so
that on Monday morning he may find it made. Another reason why he
hesitates is because he knows he will have trouble with the labourers, who
will want to be off early as it is Saturday. They are not so ready to work
an hour or two overtime as when he was a boy. On the other hand, he
recollects that the weather cablegrams from America foretell the arrival
of a depression. What would his grandfather have thought of adjusting the
work in an English meadow to the tenour of news from the other side of the
Atlantic?

Suddenly, while he ponders, there arises a shout from the labourers. The
hay in one spot, as if seized by an invisible force, lifts itself up and
revolves round and round, rising higher every turn. A miniature cyclone is
whirling it up--a column of hay twisting in a circle and rising above the
trees. Then the force of the whirlwind spends itself; some of the hay
falls on the oaks, and some drifts with the breeze across the field before
it sinks.

This decides him at once. He resolves to have all the hay carted that he
can, and the remainder put up into haycocks. The men grumble when they
hear it; perhaps a year ago they would have openly mutinied, and refused
to work beyond the usual hour. But, though wages are still high, the
labourers feel that they are not so much the masters as they were--they
grumble, but obey. The haycocks are put up, and the rick-cloth unfolded
over the partly made rick. Farmer George himself sees to it that the cloth
does not touch the rick at the edges, or the rain, if it comes, will go
through instead of shooting off, and that the ropes are taut and firmly
belayed. His caution is justified in the night by a violent thunderstorm,
and in the morning it is raining steadily.

It rains again on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday it does not
rain, but the hedges are wet, the ground is soaked, the grass hung with
raindrops, the sky heavy with masses of drifting cloud. The hay cannot be
touched; it must lie a day till sufficiently dry. Friday is more hopeful.
He walks out into the fields, and kicks a haycock half over. The hay is
still wet, but he congratulates himself that not much damage is done.
Saturday Is warm and fine--work goes on again. But Sunday is near. Sunday
is fiery hot. Monday, the rain pours down with tropical vehemence.

Thus the monotonous, heart-breaking days go by and lengthen into weeks,
and the weeks extend into months. The wheat is turning colour, and still
the hay lies about, and the farmer has ceased even to tap the barometer.
Those fields that are not cut are brown as brown can be--the grass has
seeded and is over ripe. The labourers come every day, and some trifling
job is found for them--the garden path is weeded, the nettles cut, and
such little matters done. Their wages are paid every week in silver and
gold--harvest wages, for which no stroke of harvest work has been done. He
must keep them on, because any day the weather may brighten, and then they
will be wanted. But the weather does not brighten, and the drain of ready
cash continues. Besides the men, the mowing machine is idle in the shed.
Even if the rain ceases, the crops are so laid that it is doubtful if it
can be employed. The horse-rake is idle, the elevator is idle, the
haymaking machine is idle, and these represent capital, if not to a large
amount. He notes the price of hay at the market. For months past it has
been low--so low that it has hardly paid him to sell that portion of old
hay which he felt he could spare. From October of last year to June of
this [1879] the price remained about the same. It is now rising, but he
has no more old hay to part with, and the new is not yet made. He has to
bear in mind that his herd of cows has to be kept in high feed all the
winter, to supply an unvarying quantity of milk to the London purchaser.

These wet days, forcing him unwillingly to stay within doors, send him to
his books and accounts, and they tell a story somewhat at variance with
the prevalent belief that dairy-farming is the only branch of farming that
is still profitable. First, as to the milk-selling. Cows naturally yield a
larger supply in the summer than in winter, but by the provisions of the
contract between the farmer and the milkman the quantity sent in summer is
not to exceed, and the quantity in winter not to fall short of, a
stipulated amount.[Footnote: An improvement upon this system has been
introduced by the leading metropolitan dairy company. The farmer is asked
to fix a minimum quantity which he will engage to supply daily, but he can
send as much more as he likes. This permits of economical and natural
management in a dairy, which was very difficult under the rigid rule
mentioned above.] The price received in summer is about fivepence or
fivepence-halfpenny per imperial gallon, afterwards retailed in London at
about one shilling and eightpence. When the cost of conveyance to the
station, of the horses, of the wear and tear, of the men who have to be
paid for doing nothing else but look after the milk, is deducted, the
profit to the farmer is but small. He thinks, too, that he notices a
decided falling-off in the demand for milk even at this price.

Some dairies find a difficulty in disposing of the milk--they cannot find
a purchaser. He has himself a considerable surplus over and above what the
contract allows him to send. This must either be wasted entirely or made
into butter and cheese. In order to make cheese, the plant, the tubs,
vats, presses, and so on, must be kept in readiness, and there must be an
experienced person to superintend the work. This person must be paid a
salary, and lodge and board in the house, representing therefore a
considerable outlay. The cheese, when made and sent to market, fluctuates
of course in price: it may be as low as fourpence a pound wholesale; it
may go as high as sixpence. Fourpence a pound wholesale will not pay for
the making; sixpence will leave a profit; but of late the price has gone
rather to the lower than the higher figure. A few years since, when the
iron industries flourished, this kind of cheese had a good and ready sale,
and there was a profit belonging to it; but since the iron trade has been
in so depressed a condition this cheese has sold badly. The surplus milk
consequently brings no profit, and is only made into cheese because it
shall not be wasted, and in the hope that possibly a favourable turn of
the cheese market may happen. Neither the summer cheese nor the summer
milk is bringing him in a fortune.

Meantime the hay is spoiling in the fields. But a few years ago, when
agricultural prices were inflated, and men's minds were full of
confidence, he recollects seeing standing grass crops sold by auction for
5_l_. the acre, and in some cases even higher prices were realised. This
year similar auctions of standing grass crops hardly realised 30_s_. an
acre, and in some instances a purchaser could not be found even at that
price. The difference in the value of grass represented by these prices is
very great.

He has no pigs to sell, because, for a long while past, he has had nothing
upon which to feed them, the milk being sold. The pigsties are full of
weeds; he can hardly fatten one for his own use, and has scarcely better
facilities for keeping pigs than an agricultural labourer. The carriage of
the milk to the station requires at least two quick horses, and perhaps
more; one cannot do it twice a day, even with a very moderate load. The
hard highway and the incessant work would soon knock a single horse up.
The mowing machine and the horse-rake must be drawn by a similar horse, so
that the dairy farm may be said to require a style of horse like that
employed by omnibus proprietors. The acreage being limited, he can only
keep a certain number of horses, and, therefore, has no room for a brood
mare.

Farmer George is aware that nothing now pays like a brood cart mare with
fair good luck. The colt born in April is often sold six months
afterwards, in September, for 20_l_. or 25_l_., and even up to 30_l_.,
according to excellence. The value of cart-horse colts has risen greatly,
and those who are fortunately able to maintain a brood mare have reaped
the profit. But Mr. George, selling the milk, and keeping a whole stud of
nags for the milk cart, the mowing machine, the horse-rake, and so forth,
cannot maintain a brood mare as well. In the winter, it is true, the milk
may sell for as high a price as tenpence per gallon of four quarts, but
then he has a difficulty in procuring the quantity contracted for, and may
perhaps have to buy of neighbours to keep up the precise supply.

His herd must also be managed for the purpose, and must be well fed, and
he will probably have to buy food for them in addition to his hay. The nag
horses, too, that draw the milk waggon, have to be fed during the winter,
and are no slight expense. As for fattening a beast in a stall, with a
view to take the prize at Christmas at the local show, he has abandoned
that, finding that it costs more to bring the animal up to the condition
required than he can afterwards sell it for. There is no profit in that.
America presses upon him hard, too--as hard, or harder, than on the
wheat-grower. Cases have been known of American cheese being sold in
manufacturing towns as low as twopence per pound retail--given away by
despairing competition.

How, then, is the dairyman to succeed when he cannot, positively cannot,
make cheese to sell at less than fourpence per pound wholesale? Of course
such instances are exceptional, but American cheese is usually sold a
penny or more a pound below the English ordinary, and this cuts the ground
from under the dairyman's feet; and the American cheese too is acquiring a
reputation for richness, and, price for price, surpasses the English in
quality. Some people who have long cherished a prejudice against the
American have found, upon at last being induced to try the two, that the
Canadian cheddar is actually superior to the English cheddar, the English
selling at tenpence per pound and the Canadian at sevenpence.

Mr. George finds he pays a very high rent for his grass land--some 50_s_.
per acre--and upon reckoning up the figures in his account-books heaves a
sigh. His neighbours perchance may be making fortunes, though they tell
quite a different tale, but he feels that he is not growing rich. The work
is hard, or rather it is continuous. No one has to attend to his duties so
regularly all the year round as the man who looks after cows. They cannot
be left a single day from the 1st of January to the 31st of December. Nor
is the social state of things altogether pleasant to reflect on. His sons
and daughters have all left home; not one would stay and take to the dairy
work. They have gone into the towns, and found more congenial employment
there. He is himself growing in years. His wife, having once left off
making cheese when the milk selling commenced, and having tasted the
sweets of rest, is unwilling to return to that hard labour. When it is
done he must pay some one to do it.

In every way ready money is going out of the house. Cash to pay the
haymakers idling about in the sheds out of the rain; cash to pay the men
who manage the milk; cash to pay the woman who makes the cheese out of the
surplus milk; cash to pay the blacksmith for continually re-shoeing the
milk cart nags and for mending machines; cash to pay the brewer and the
butcher and the baker, neither of whom took a sovereign here when he was a
lad, for his father ate his own bacon, brewed his own beer, and baked his
own bread; cash to pay for the education of the cottagers' children; cash,
a great deal of cash, to pay the landlord.

Mr. George, having had enough of his accounts, rises and goes to the
window. A rain cloud sweeping along the distant hills has hidden them from
sight, and the rack hurries overhead driven before the stormy wind. There
comes a knock at the door. It is the collector calling the second time for
the poor rates, which have grown heavier of late.

But, however delayed, the haymaking is finished at last, and by-and-by,
when the leaves have fallen and the hunting commences, a good run drives
away for the time at least the memory of so unpropitious a season. Then
Mr. George some mild morning forms one of a little group of well-mounted
farmers waiting at a quiet corner while the hounds draw a great wood. Two
of them are men long past middle age, whose once tawny beards are
grizzled, but who are still game, perhaps more so than the rising
generation. The rest have followed them here, aware that these old hands
know every inch of the country, and are certain to be in the right place.
The spot is not far from the park wall, where the wood runs up into a
wedge-shaped point, and ends in a low mound and hedge. Most of the company
at the meet in the park have naturally cantered across the level sward,
scattering the sheep as they go, and are now assembled along the side of
the wood, near where a green 'drive' goes through it, and apparently gives
direct access to the fields beyond. From thence they can see the huntsman
in the wood occasionally, and trace the exact course the hounds are taking
in their search.

A gallant show it is by the wood! Horsemen and horsewomen, late comers
hastening up, restless horses, a throng for ever in motion, and every now
and then the blast of a horn rising up from the trees beneath. A gallant
show indeed, but two old cunning ones and their followers have slipped
away down to this obscure corner where they can see nothing of it, and are
themselves hidden. They know that the wood is triangular in shape, and
that from this, the apex, they have merely to pass the low hedge in front,
and, turning to the left, ride along the lower side, and so bisect the
course the fox will probably take. They know that the 'drive,' which
offers so straight and easy a descent through the wood from the park, is
pleasant enough till the lower ground is reached. There the soft, oozy
earth, which can never dry under the trees, is poached into a slough
through which even timber carriages cannot be drawn. Nor can a horseman
slip aside, because of the ash poles and thorn thickets. Those who are
trapped there must return to the park and gallop all round the wood
outside, unless they like to venture a roll in that liquid mud. Any one
can go to a meet, but to know all the peculiarities of the covers is only
given to those who have ridden over the country these forty years. In this
corner a detached copse of spruce fir keeps off the wind--the direction of
which they have noted--and in this shelter it is almost warm.

The distant crack of a whip, the solitary cry of a hound, a hollow shout,
and similar sounds, come frequently, and now and then there is an
irrepressible stir in the little group as they hear one of the many false
alarms that always occur in drawing a great wood. To these noises they are
keenly sensitive, but utterly ignore the signs of other life around them.
A pheasant, alarmed by the hounds, comes running quietly, thinking to
escape into the line of isolated copses that commences here; but, suddenly
confronted by the horsemen just outside, rises with an uproar, and goes
sailing down over the fields. Two squirrels, happy in the mild weather,
frisk out of the copse into the dank grass, till a curvet of one of the
horses frightens them up into the firs again.

Horses and men are becoming impatient. 'That dalled keeper has left an
earth open,' remarks one of the riders. His companion points with his whip
at the hedge just where it joins the wood. A long slender muzzle is thrust
for a moment cautiously over the bare sandy mound under cover of a thorn
stole. One sniff, and it is withdrawn. The fox thought also to steal away
along the copses, the worst and most baffling course he could choose. Five
minutes afterwards, and there is this time no mistake. There comes from
the park above the low, dull, rushing roar of hundreds of hoofs, that
strike the sward together, and force by sheer weight the reluctant earth
to resound. The two old hands lead over the hedge, and the little company,
slipping along below the wood, find themselves well on the track, far in
front of the main body. There is a block in the treacherous 'drive,' those
who where foremost struggling to get back, and those behind struggling to
come down. The rest at last, learning the truth, are galloping round the
outside, and taking it out of their horses before they get on the course
at all.

It is a splendid burst, and the pace is terrible. The farmers' powerful
horses find it heavy going across the fresh ploughed furrows and the wet
'squishey' meadows, where the double mounds cannot be shirked. Now a lull,
and the two old hands, a little at fault, make for the rising ground,
where are some ricks, and a threshing machine at work, thinking from
thence to see over the tall hedgerows. Upon the rick the labourers have
stopped work, and are eagerly watching the chase, for from that height
they can see the whole field. Yonder the main body have found a succession
of fields with the gates all open: some carting is in progress, and the
gates have been left open for the carter's convenience. A hundred horsemen
and eight or ten ladies are galloping in an extended line along this
route, riding hardest, as often happens, when the hounds are quiet, that
they may be ready when the chiding commences.

Suddenly the labourers exclaim and point, the hounds open, and the
farmers, knowing from the direction they point where to ride, are off. But
this time the fox has doubled, so that the squadrons hitherto behind are
now closest up, and the farmers in the rear: thus the fortune of war
changes, and the race is not to the swift. The labourers on the rick,
which stands on the side of a hill, are fully as excited as the riders,
and they can see what the hunter himself rarely views, _i.e._ the fox
slipping ahead before the hounds. Then they turn to alternately laugh at,
and shout directions to a disconsolate gentleman, who, ignorant of the
district, is pounded in a small meadow. He is riding frantically round and
round, afraid to risk the broad brook which encircles it, because of the
treacherous bank, and maddened by the receding sound of the chase. A boy
gets off the rick and runs to earn sixpence by showing a way out. So from
the rick Hodge has his share of the sport, and at that elevation can see
over a wide stretch of what he--changing the 'd' into a 'j'--calls 'the
juke's country.'

It is a famous land. There are spaces, which on the map look large, and
yet have no distinctive character, no individuality as it were. Such broad
expanses of plain and vale are usefully employed in the production of
cattle and corn. Villages, hamlets, even towns are dotted about them, but
a list of such places would not contain a single name that would catch the
eye. Though occupying so many square miles, the district, so far as the
world is concerned, is non-existent. It is socially a blank. But 'the
juke's country' is a well-known land. There are names connected with it
which are familiar not only in England, but all the world over, where
men--and where do they not?--converse of sport. Something beyond mere
utility, beyond ploughing and sowing, has given it within its bounds a
species of separate nationality. The personal influence of an acknowledged
leader has organised society and impressed it with a quiet enthusiasm.
Even the bitterest Radical forgives the patrician who shoots or rides
exceptionally well, and hunting is a pursuit which brings the peer and the
commoner side by side.

The agricultural population speak as one man upon the subject. The old
farmer will tell you with pride how his advice was sought when disease
entered the kennels, and how his remedy saved the lives of valuable
hounds. The farmer's son, a mere lad, whose head barely rises to his
saddle, talks of 'the duke' as his hero. This boy knows the country, and
can ride straight, better than many a gentleman with groom and second
horse behind. Already, like his elders, he looks forward impatiently to
the fall of the leaf. The tenants' wives and daughters allude with
pleasure to the annual social gatherings at the mansion, and it is
apparent that something like a real bond exists between landlord and
tenant. No false pride separates the one from the other--intercourse is
easy, for a man of high and ancient lineage can speak freely to the
humblest labourer without endangering his precedence. It needs none of the
parvenu's _hauteur_ and pomp to support his dignity. Every tenant is
treated alike.

On small estates there is sometimes a complaint that the largest tenant is
petted while the lesser are harshly treated. Nothing of that is known
here. The tenants are as well content as it is possible for men to be who
are passing under the universal depression. _Noblesse oblige_--it would be
impossible for that ancient house to stoop to meanness. The head rides to
the hunt, as his ancestors rode to battle, with a hundred horsemen behind
him. His colours are like the cockades of olden times. Once now and then
even Royalty honours the meet with its presence. Round that ancient house
the goodwill of the county gathers; and when any family event--as a
marriage--takes place, the hearty congratulations offered come from far
beyond the actual property. His pastime is not without its use--all are
agreed that hunting really does improve the breed of horses. Certainly it
gives a life, a go, a social movement to the country which nothing else
imparts.

It is a pleasant land withal--a land of hill and vale, of wood and copse.
How well remembered are the copses on the hills, and the steeples, those
time-honoured landmarks to wandering riders! The small meadows with double
mounds have held captive many a stranger. The river that winds through
them enters by-and-by a small but ancient town, with its memories of the
fierce Danes, and its present talk of the hunt. About five o'clock on
winter afternoons there is a clank of spurs in the courtyard of the old
inn, and the bar is crowded with men in breeches and top-boots. As they
refresh themselves there is a ceaseless hum of conversation, how so-and-so
came a cropper, how another went at the brook in style, or how some poor
horse got staked and was mercifully shot. A talk, in short, like that in
camp after a battle, of wounds and glory. Most of these men are tenant
farmers, and reference is sure to be made to the price of cheese, and the
forthcoming local agricultural show.

This old market town has been noted for generations as a great cheese
centre. It is not, perhaps, the most convenient situation for such a
market, and its population is inconsiderable; but the trade is, somehow or
other, a tradition of the place, and traditions are hard to shake. Efforts
have been made to establish rival markets in towns nearer to the modern
resorts of commerce, but in vain. The attempt has always proved a failure,
and to this day the prices quoted at this place rule those of the
adjoining counties, and are watched in distant cities. The depression made
itself felt here in a very practical manner, for prices fell to such an
extent that the manufacture of the old style of cheese became almost a
dead loss. Some farmers abandoned it, and at much trouble and expense
changed their system, and began to produce Cheddar and Stilton. But when
the Stilton was at last ready, there was no demand for it. Almost
suddenly, however, and quite recently, a demand sprang up, and the price
of that cheese rose. They say here in the bar that this probably saved
many from difficulties; large stocks that had been lying on hand
unsaleable for months going off at a good price. They hope that it is an
omen of returning prosperity, and do not fail to observe the remarkable
illustration it affords of the close connection between trade and
agriculture. For no sooner did the iron trade revive than the price of
cheese responded. The elder men cannot refrain from chuckling over the
altered tone of the inhabitants of cities towards the farmers. 'Years
ago,' they say, 'we were held up to scorn, and told that we were quite
useless; there was nothing so contemptible as the British farmer. Now they
have discovered that, after all, we are some good, and even Manchester
sympathises with us.'

It is now hoped that the forthcoming local show--largely patronised and
promoted by the chief of the hunting field--will be better than was at one
time anticipated. Those who would like to see the real working of an
agricultural show such as this should contrive to visit the yard early in
the morning of the opening day, some few hours before the public are
admitted. The bustle, the crash of excited exhibitors, the cries of men in
charge of cattle, the apparently inextricable confusion, as if everything
had been put off to the last moment--the whole scene is intensely
agricultural. Every one is calling for the secretary. A drover wants to
know where to put his fat cattle; a carter wants to ask where a great
cart-horse is to stand--he and his horse together are hopelessly
floundering about in the crowd. The agent of a firm of implement
manufacturers has a telegram that another machine is coming, and is
anxious for extra space; the representative of an artificial manure
factory is vainly seeking a parcel that has got mislaid. The seedsman
requires permission to somewhat shift his stall; wherever is the
secretary?

When he appears, a clergyman at once pounces on him to apply for tickets
for the dinner, and is followed by a farmer, who must have a form and an
explanation how to fill it up. One of his labourers has decided at the
last minute to enter for a prize--he has had a year to make up his mind
in. A crowd of members of the Society are pushing round for a private
view, and watching the judges at their work. They all turn to the
secretary to ask where such and such an exhibit may be found, and demand
why on earth the catalogues are not ready? Mr. Secretary, a stout tenant
farmer, in breeches and top-boots, whose broad face beams with good nature
(selected, perhaps, for that very quality), pants and wipes his forehead,
for, despite the cold, the exertion and the universal flurry have made him
quiet hot. He gives every inquirer a civil answer, and affably begs the
eager folk that press upon him to come up into the committee-room.

At this a satisfied smile replaces the troubled expression upon their
faces. They feel that their difficulties are at an end; they have got hold
of the right man at last--there is something soothing in the very sound of
the committee-room. When they get up into this important apartment they
find it quite empty. There is a blazing fire in the grate, and littered on
the long table is a mass of forms, letters, lists, and proofs of the
catalogue waiting for the judges' decision to be entered. After half an
hour or so their hopes begin to fall, and possibly some one goes down to
try and haul the secretary up into his office. The messenger finds that
much-desired man in the midst of an excited group; one has him by the arm
pulling him forward, another by the coat dragging him back, a third is
bawling at him at the top of a powerful voice.

By-and-by, however, the secretary comes panting up into the committee-room
with a letter in his hand and a pleased expression on his features. He
announces that he has just had a note from his Grace, who, with his party,
will be here early, and who hopes that all is going on well. Then to
business, and it is surprising how quickly he disposes of it. A farmer
himself, he knows exactly what is wanted, and gives the right order
without a moment's hesitation. It is no new experience to him, and despite
all this apparent confusion, everything presently falls into its place.

After the opening of the show there is a meeting, at which certain prizes
are distributed, among them rewards to the best ploughman in 'the juke's
country,' and to those labourers who have remained longest in the service
of one master. For the graceful duty of presentation a marchioness has
been selected, who, with other visitors of high social rank, has come over
from that famous hunting mansion. To meet that brilliant party the whole
agricultural interest has assembled. The room is crowded with tenant
farmers, the entire hunting field is present. Every clergyman in the
district is here, together with the gentry, and many visitors for the
hunting season. Among them, shoulder to shoulder, are numbers of
agricultural labourers, their wives, and daughters, dressed in their best
for the occasion. After some speeches, a name is called, and an aged
labourer steps forward.

His grandchildren are behind him; two of his sons, quite elderly
themselves, attend him almost to the front, so that he may have to make
but a few steps unsupported. The old man is frosted with age, and moves
stiffly, like a piece of mechanism rather than a living creature, nor is
there any expression--neither smile nor interest--upon his absolutely
immobile features. He wears breeches and gaiters, and a blue coat cut in
the style of two generations since. There is a small clear space in the
midst of the well-dressed throng. There he stands, and for the moment the
hum is hushed.

For sixty years that old man laboured upon one farm; sixty years of
ploughing and sowing, sixty harvests. What excitement, what discoveries
and inventions--with what giant strides the world has progressed while he
quietly followed the plough! An acknowledgment has been publicly awarded
to him for that long and faithful service. He puts forth his arm; his dry,
horny fingers are crooked, and he can neither straighten nor bend them.
Not the least sign appears upon his countenance that he is even conscious
of what is passing. There is a quick flash of jewelled rings ungloved to
the light, and the reward is placed in that claw-like grasp by the white
hand of the marchioness.

Not all the gallant cavalry of the land fearlessly charging hedge and
brook can, however, repel the invasion of a foe mightier than their chief.
Frost sometimes comes and checks their gaiety. Snow falls, and levels
every furrow, and then Hodge going to his work in the morning can clearly
trace the track of one of his most powerful masters, Squire Reynard, who
has been abroad in the night, and, likely enough, throttled the
traditional grey goose. The farmer watches for the frozen thatch to drip;
the gentleman visiting the stable looks up disconsolately at the icicles
dependent from the slated eave with the same hope. The sight of a stray
seagull wandering inland is gladly welcomed, as the harbinger of drenching
clouds sweeping up on soft south-westerly gales from the nearest coast.


The hunt is up once more, and so short are the hours of the day in the
dead of the year, that early night often closes round the chase. From out
of the gloom and the mist comes the distant note of the horn, with a weird
and old-world sound. By-and-by the labourer, trudging homeward, is
overtaken by a hunter whose horse's neck droops with weariness. His boots
are splashed with mud, his coat torn by the thorns. He is a visitor,
vainly trying to find his way home, having come some ten or fifteen miles
across country since the morning. The labourer shows the route--the
longest way round is the shortest at night--and as they go listens eagerly
to the hunter's tale of the run. At the cross roads they part with mutual
goodwill towards each other, and a shilling, easily earned, pays that
night for the cottager's pipe and glass of ale.



CHAPTER IX



THE FINE LADY FARMER. COUNTRY GIRLS


A pair of well-matched bays in silver-plated harness, and driven by a
coachman in livery, turn an easy curve round a corner of the narrow
country road, forcing you to step on the sward by the crimson-leaved
bramble bushes, and sprinkling the dust over the previously glossy surface
of the newly fallen horse chestnuts. Two ladies, elegantly dressed, lounge
in the carriage with that graceful idleness--that indifferent
indolence--only to be acquired in an atmosphere of luxury. Before they
pass out of sight round another turn of the road it is possible to observe
that one at least possesses hair of the fashionable hue, and a complexion
delicately brilliant--whether wholly natural or partly aided by art. The
other must be pronounced a shade less rich in the colours of youth, but is
perhaps even more expensively dressed. An experienced observer would at
once put them down as mother and daughter, as, indeed, they are.

The polished spokes of the wheels glitter in the sun, the hoofs of the
high-stepping pair beat the firm road in regular cadence, and smoothly the
carriage rolls on till the brown beech at the corner hides it. But a sense
of wealth, of social station, and refinement--strange and in strong
contrast to the rustic scene--lingers behind, like a faint odour of
perfume. There are the slow teams pulling stolidly at the ploughs--they
were stopped, of course, for the carters to stare at the equipage; there
are the wheat ricks; yonder a lone farmstead, and black cattle grazing in
the pasture. Surely the costly bays, whose hoofs may even now be heard,
must belong to the lordly owner of these broad acres--this undulating
landscape of grass and stubble, which is not beautiful but evidently
fertile!

A very brief inquiry at the adjacent market town disposes of this natural
conclusion. It is the carriage of a tenant farmer--but what a tenant! The
shopkeepers here are eloquent, positively gratefully eloquent, in the
praise of his wife and daughter. Customers!--no such customers had been
known in the old borough from time immemorial. The tradesman as he speaks
involuntarily pulls out his till, glances in, and shuts it up with a
satisfied bang. The old style of farmer, solid and substantial enough,
fumbling at the bottom of his canvas bag for silver and gold, was a crusty
curmudgeon where silk and satin, kid gloves, and so forth were concerned.
His wife had to look sharp after her poultry, geese and turkeys, and such
similar perquisites, in order to indulge in any innocent vanity,
notwithstanding that the rent was paid and a heavy balance at the bank.

Then he would have such a length of credit--a year at least--and nowadays
a shopkeeper, though sure of his money, cannot wait long for it. But to
ask for the account was to give mortal offence. The bill would be paid
with the remark, intended to be intensely sarcastic, 'Suppose you thought
we was a-going to run away--eh?' and the door would never again be
darkened by those antique breeches and gaiters. As for the common run of
ordinary farmers, their wives bought a good deal, but wanted it cheap and,
looking at the low price of corn and the 'paper' there was floating about,
it did not do to allow a long bill to be run up. But the Grange
people--ah! the Grange people put some life into the place. 'Money! they
must have heaps of money' (lowering his voice to a whisper). 'Why, Mrs.
---- brought him a fortune, sir; why, she's got a larger income than our
squire' (as if it were, rank treason to say so). 'Mr. ---- has got money
too, and bless you, they holds their heads as high as their landlord's,
and good reason they should. They spend as much in a week as the squire do
in a month, and don't cheapen nothing, and your cheque just whenever you
like to ask for it. That's what I calls gentlefolks.' For till and counter
gauge long descent, and heraldic quarterings, and ancestral Crusaders, far
below the chink of ready money, that synonym for all the virtues.

The Grange people, indeed, are so conspicuous, that there is little
secrecy about them or their affairs. The house they reside in--it cannot
be called a farmstead--is a large villa-like mansion of recent erection,
and fitted with every modern convenience. The real farmstead which it
supplanted lies in a hollow at some distance, and is occupied by the head
bailiff, for there are several employed. As the architecture of the villa
is consonant with modern 'taste,' so too the inferior is furnished in the
'best style,' of course under the supervision of the mistress. Mrs. ----
has filled it with rosewood and ormolu, with chairs completely gilt, legs,
back, seat, and all, with luxurious ottomans, 'occasional' tables inlaid
with mother-o'-pearl, soft carpets, polished brazen grate-fittings,
semi-ecclesiastical, semi-mediaeval, and so forth.

Everywhere the glitter of glass, mirrors over the mantelpieces, mirrors
let into panels, glass chiffoniers, and pendent prisms of glass round the
ornamental candlesticks. Mixed with this some of the latest productions of
the new English Renaissance--stiff, straight-back, plain oak chairs, such
as men in armour may have used--together with Japanese screens. In short,
just such a medley of artistic styles as may be seen in scores of suburban
villas where money is of little account, and even in houses of higher
social pretensions. There is the usual illustrated dining-room literature,
the usual _bric-à-brac_, the usual cabinet series of poets. There are oil
paintings on the walls; there is an immense amount of the most expensive
electroplate on the dinner table; the toilet accessories in the guest
chambers are 'elegant' and _recherché_. The upholsterer has not been
grudged.

For Mrs. ---- is the daughter of a commercial man, one of the principals
of a great firm, and has been accustomed to these things from her youth
upwards. She has no sympathies with the past, that even yet is loth to
quit its hold of the soil and of those who are bred upon it. The ancient
simplicity and plainness of country life are positively repulsive to her;
she associates them with poverty. Her sympathies are with warm,
well-lighted rooms, full of comfort, shadowless because of the glare of
much gas. She is not vulgar, just the reverse--she is a thorough lady, but
she is not of the country and its traditions. She is the city and the
suburb transplanted to the midst of corn, and grass, and cattle. She has
her maid, skilled in the toilet, her carriage and pair and pony carriage,
grooms, footmen, just exactly as she would have done had she brought her
magnificent dowry to a villa at Sydenham.

In the season, with her daughter, she goes to town, and drives daily in
the park, just the same as to-day she has driven through the leaf-strewn
country-lane to the market town. They go also to the sea-side, and now and
then to the Continent. They are, of course, invited to the local balls,
and to many of the best houses on more private occasions. The
ramifications of finance do not except the proudest descendants of the
Crusaders, and the 'firm' has its clients even among them. Bonnets come
down from Madame Louise, boxes of novels from Mudie's; 'Le Follet' is read
in the original, and many a Parisian romance as well. Visitors are
continually coming and going--the carriage is perpetually backwards and
forwards to the distant railway station. Friends come to the shooting, the
hunting, the fishing; there is never any lack of society.

The house is full of servants, and need be, to wait upon these people.
Now, in former days, and not such a great while since, the best of
servants came from the country. Mistresses sought for them, and mourned
when, having imbibed town ways and town independence, they took their
departure to 'better' themselves. But that is a thing of the past; it is
gone with the disappearance of the old style of country life. Servant
girls in farmhouses when young used to have a terribly hard life: hard
work, hard fare, up early of a morning, stone flags under foot by day,
bare boards under foot upstairs, small pay, and hard words too often. But
they turned out the best of women, the healthiest and strongest, the most
sought after. Now they learn a great deal about Timbuctoo, and will soon,
no doubt, about Cyprus; but the 'servant from the country' is no more.
Nothing less will suit them to begin with than the service of the parish
clergyman, then they aspire to the Grange, get there, and receive a
finishing education, and can never afterwards condescend to go where a
footman is not kept. They become, in short, fine ladies, whose fathers are
still at the plough--ladies who at home have been glad of bread and bacon,
and now cannot possibly survive without hot butcher's meat every day, and
game and fish in their seasons.

But to return. Mrs. ---- and her daughter have also their saddle horses.
They do not often hunt, but frequently go to the meet. They have, it is
true, an acceptable excuse for preferring riding to walking--the fashion
of tying the dress back so tightly makes it extremely difficult for a lady
to get over a country stile. The rigours of winter only enable them to
appear even yet more charming in furs and sealskin. In all this the Grange
people have not laid themselves open to any reproach as to the
extravagance or pretension of their doings. With them it is genuine, real,
unaffected: in brief, they have money, and have a right to what it can
purchase.

Mr. ---- is not a tenant farmer from necessity; personally he is not a
farmer at all, and knows no more of shorthorns than the veriest 'City'
man. He has a certain taste for country life, and this is his way of
enjoying it--and a very acute way, too, when you come to analyse it. The
major portion of his capital is, with his wife's, in the 'firm'; it is
administered and employed for him by men whose family interests and his
are identical, whose knowledge of business is profound, whose own capital
is there too. It is a fortunate state of things, not brought about in a
day, but the growth of more than one generation. Now this man, as has been
remarked, has a taste for country life--that is to say, he is an
enthusiast over horses--not betting, but horses in their best form. He
likes to ride and drive about, to shoot, and fish, and hunt. There is
nothing despicable in this, but, after the manner of men, of course he
must find an excuse.

He found it in the children when they were young--two boys and one girl.
It was better for them to have country air, to ride about the country
lanes, and over the hills. The atmosphere altogether was more healthy,
more manly than in the suburbs of a city. The excuse is a good one. Now
come the means; two plans are open to him. He can buy an estate, or he can
rent a large farm, or rather series of farms. If he purchases a fine
estate he must withdraw his capital from business. In the first place,
that would be inconvenient to old friends, and even unjust to them; in the
second place, it would reduce his income most materially. Suppose we say,
not for absolute exactness, but for the sake of present contrast, that
capital well invested in business brings in ten per cent. The same capital
invested in land brings in, say, three per cent. nominally; but is it as
much in reality if you deduct those expensive improvements upon which
tenants insist nowadays, and the five per cents, and ten per cents,
allowed off the rent in bad years? At all events, it is certain that
landlords, as a class, are investing more and more every year in business,
which looks as if they did not consider land itself sufficiently
remunerative. In addition, when you have bought your estate, should you
subsequently wish to realise, the difficulties and delays are very trying.
You cannot go down to your broker and say, 'Sell me a thousand acres this
morning.' Capital in land is locked up.

Mr. ----, having been trained in traditions of ready money and easy
transfer, does not like this prospect. But as the tenant of a great farm
it is quite another matter. The larger part of his capital still remains
in the 'firm,' and earns him a handsome income. That which is invested in
stock, cattle, horses, implements, &c., is in a sense readily negotiable
if ever he should desire to leave. Instead of having to pet and pamper
discontented tenants, his landlord has to pet and pamper him. He has, in
fact, got the upper hand. There are plenty of landlords who would be only
too glad to get the rich Mr. ---- to manure and deep-plough their lands;
but there are comparatively few Mr. ----'s whose rent-day payments can be
implicitly relied on. Mr. ----, in point of fact, gets all the sweets of
the country gentleman's life, and leaves the owner all the sour. He has no
heir presumptive to check his proceedings; no law of entail to restrain
him; no old settlements to bind him hand and foot; none of those hundred
and one family interests to consult which accumulate in the course of
years around a landed estate, and so seriously curtail the freedom of the
man in possession, the head of the family. So far as liberty and financial
considerations go, he is much better off than his landlord, who perhaps
has a title.

Though he knows nothing of farming, he has the family instinct of accounts
and figures; he audits the balance-sheets and books of his bailiff
personally, and is not easily cheated. Small peculations of course go on,
but nothing serious. The farms pay their way, and contribute a trifle
towards the household expenses. For the rest, it is taken out in liberty,
out-of-door life, field sports, and unlimited horses. His wife and
daughter mix in the best society the county affords, besides their annual
visits to town and the sea-side: they probably enjoy thrice the liberty
and pleasure they would elsewhere. Certainly they are in blooming health.
The eldest son is studying for the law, the younger has the commercial
instinct more strongly developed, and is already with the 'firm.' Both of
them get the full benefit of country life whenever they wish; both of them
feel that there is plenty of capital behind them, and not the slightest
jealousy exists on account of primogeniture. Of course they have their
troubles--what family has not its troubles?--but on the whole their
position is an enviable one.

When Mrs. ---- and her daughter rustle into their pew at church--placed
next in honour to that of the proprietor of the soil--all eyes are turned
upon them. The old-fashioned farmer's wife, who until her years pressed
heavily upon her made the cheese and butter in her husband's dairy, is not
so old but that her eyes can distinguish the colour of a ribbon. She may
talk of such things as vanities, and unknown in her day, but for all that
a pair of keen eyes criticise skirt, and trimmings, and braidings, and so
forth, as displayed up in the Grange pew. Her daughter, who is quite
young--for in her mother's time farming people did not marry till late in
life--brings a still keener pair of eyes to bear in the same direction.

The bonnets from Regent Street are things to think over and talk of. The
old lady disinters her ancient finery; the girl, by hook or crook, is
determined to dress in the fashion. If one farmer's wife is a fine lady,
why not another? Do not even the servant girls at the Grange come out
twenty times finer than people who have a canvas bag full of sovereigns at
home, and many such bags at the bank? So that the Grange people, though
they pay their way handsomely, and plough deep and manure lavishly, and
lead the van of agriculture, are not, perhaps, an unmixed good. They help
on that sapping and undermining of the ancient, sturdy simplicity, the
solid oak of country character, replacing it with veneer. It is not, of
course, all, or a tenth part, their fault, or in any way traceable to
them. It is part and parcel of the wide-spread social changes which have
gradually been proceeding.

But the tenant farmer's wife who made the butter and cheese, and even
helped to salt bacon, where is she now? Where are the healthy daughters
that used to assist her? The wife is a fine lady--not, indeed, with
carriage and pair, but with a dandy dog-cart at least; not with
three-guinea bonnets, but with a costly sealskin jacket. There are kid
gloves on her hands; there is a suspicion of perfume about her; there is a
rustling of silk and satin, and a waving of ostrich feathers. The daughter
is pale and interesting, and interprets Beethoven, and paints the old
mill; while a skilled person, hired at a high price, rules in the dairy.
The son rides a-hunting, and is glib on the odds. The 'offices'--such it
is the fashion to call the places in which work was formerly done--are
carefully kept in the background. The violets and snowdrops and crocuses
are rooted up, all the sweet and tender old flowers ruthlessly eradicated,
to make way for a blazing parterre after the manner of the suburban
villa--gay in the summer, in the spring a wilderness of clay, in the
autumn a howling desert of musty evergreens..

The 'civilisation' of the town has, in fact, gone out and taken root
afresh in the country. There is no reason why the farmer should not be
educated; there is no reason why his wife should not wear a sealskin
jacket, or the daughter interpret Beethoven. But the question arises, Has
not some of the old stubborn spirit of earnest work and careful prudence
gone with the advent of the piano and the oil painting? While wearing the
dress of a lady, the wife cannot tuck up her sleeves and see to the
butter, or even feed the poultry, which are down at the pen across 'a
nasty dirty field.' It is easy to say that farming is gone to the dogs,
that corn is low, and stock uncertain, and rents high, and so forth. All
that is true, but difficulties are nothing new; nor must too much be
expected from the land.

A moderate-sized farm, of from 200 to 800 acres, will no more enable the
mistress and the misses to play the fine lady to-day than it would two
generations ago. It requires work now the same as then--steady,
persevering work--and, what is more important, prudence, economy,
parsimony if you like; nor do these necessarily mean the coarse manners of
a former age. Manners may be good, education may be good, the intellect
and even the artistic sense may be cultivated, and yet extravagance
avoided. The proverb is true still: 'You cannot have your hare and cook
him too.' Now so many cook their hares in the present day without even
waiting to catch them first. A euphuism has been invented to cover the
wrongfulness of this system; it is now called 'discounting.' The fine lady
farmers discount their husbands' corn and fat cattle, cheese and butter,
before they reach the market. By-and-by the plough stops in the furrow,
and the team is put up to auction, and farewell is said to the old
homestead for evermore.

There was no warmer welcome to be met with in life than used to be
bestowed upon the fortunate visitor to an old house in the country where
the people were not exactly farmers in the ordinary sense, because they
were sufficiently well off to be independent, and yet made no pretence to
gentility. You dropped in quite unexpectedly and informally after a
pleasant stroll about the fields with a double-barrel, untrammelled by any
attendant. The dogs were all over cleavers sticking to their coats, and
your boots had to be wiped with a wisp of straw; your pocket was heavy
with a couple of rabbits or a hare, and your hands black enough from
powder and handling gates and stiles. But they made you feel immediately
that such trifles were not of the slightest account.

The dogs were allowed to rush in anyhow and set to work to lick their paws
by the fire as if the house was their own. Your apology about your boots
and general state of disorder was received with a smile by the mistress,
who said she had sons of her own, and knew their ways. Forthwith one
sturdy son seized the double-barrel, and conveyed it to a place of safety;
a second took the rabbits or the hare, that you might not be incommoded by
such a lump in your pocket, and sent the game on home to your quarters by
a labourer; a third relieved you of your hat. As many tall young ladies
rose to offer you a seat, so that it was really difficult to know which
way to turn, besides which the old grandfather with silvery hair pressed
you to take his chair by the fire.

They had just sat down to the old-fashioned tea at half-past four, and in
a moment there was a cup and plate ready. The tea had a fragrant scent,
warm and grateful after the moist atmosphere of the meadows, smelling of
decaying leaves. The mistress suggested that a nip of brandy might improve
it, thinking that tea was hardly strong enough for a man. But that was,
declined; for what could be more delicious than the sweet, thick cream
poured in by a liberal hand? A fine ham had already been put on the table,
as if by magic--the girls really seemed to anticipate everything you could
possibly want. As for the butter, it was exquisite, and so, too, the
home-baked bread, the more so, because only touched in the processes of
preparing by the whitest and softest of hands. Such simple things become
luxuries when brought to perfection by loving care. The old dog on the
hearthrug came thrusting his nose into your hands, making almost too great
friends, being perfectly well aware (cunning old fellow) that he could
coax more out of a visitor than one of the family, who knew how he had
stuffed all day.

Over all there was an atmosphere of welcome, a genial brightness. The
young men were anxious to tell you where the best sport could be got. The
young ladies had a merry, genuine, unaffected smile--clearly delighted to
see you, and not in the least ashamed of it. They showed an evident desire
to please, without a trace of an _arriére pensée_. Tall, well-developed,
in the height of good health, the bloom upon the cheek and the brilliant
eyes formed a picture irresistibly charming. But it was the merry laugh
that so long dwelt in the memory--nothing so thoroughly enchants one as
the woman who laughs from her heart in the joyousness of youth. They
joined freely in the conversation, but did not thrust themselves forward.
They were, of course, eager for news of the far away world, but not a hint
was breathed of those social scandals which now form our favourite gossip.
From little side remarks concerning domestic matters it was evident that
they were well acquainted with household duties. Indeed, they assisted to
remove the things from the table without any consciousness that it was a
menial task.

It was not long after tea before, drawing round the fire, pipes were
produced, and you were asked to smoke. Of course you declined on account
of the ladies, but it was none the less pleasant to be asked. There was
the great secret of it all-the genuine, liberal, open-handed and
open-hearted proffering of all the house contained to the guest. And it
was none the less an amusing conversation because each of the girls
candidly avowed her own opinions upon such topics as were started--blushing
a little, it is true, if you asked the reason for the opinion, for ladies
are not always quite ready with the why and wherefore. But the contrast of
character, the individuality displayed, gave a zest and interest to the
talk; so that the hour wore late before you were aware of it. Then, if you
would go, two, at least, of the three boys piloted you by the best and
cleanest route, and did not wish you farewell till you were in the
straight road. This was not so many years ago.

Today, if you call at such a country house, how strangely different is the
reception! None of the family come to the door to meet you. A servant
shows you into a parlour--drawing-room is the proper word now--well
carpeted and furnished in the modern style. She then takes your name--what
a world of change is shown in that trifling piece of etiquette! By-and-by,
after the proper interval, the ladies enter in morning costume, not a
stray curl allowed to wander from its stern bands, nature rigidly
repressed, decorum--'Society'--in every flounce and trimming. You feel
that you have committed a solecism coming on foot, and so carrying the
soil on your boots from the fields without into so elegant an apartment
Visitors are obviously expected to arrive on wheels, and in correct trim
for company. A remark about the crops falls on barren ground; a question
concerning the dairy, ignorantly hazarded, is received with so much
_hauteur_ that at last you see such subjects are considered vulgar. Then a
touch of the bell, and decanters of port and sherry are produced and our
wine presented to you on an electro salver together with sweet biscuits.
It is the correct thing to sip one glass and eat one biscuit.

The conversation is so insipid, so entirely confined to the merest
platitudes, that it becomes absolutely a relief to escape. You are not
pressed to stay and dine, as you would have been in the old days--not
because there is a lack of hospitality, but because they would prefer a
little time for preparation in order that the dinner might be got up in
polite style. So you depart--chilled and depressed. No one steps with you
to open the gate and exchange a second farewell, and express a cordial wish
to see you again there. You feel that you must walk in measured step and
place your hat precisely perpendicular, for the eyes of 'Society' are upon
you. What a comfort when you turn a corner behind the hedge and can thrust
your hands into your pockets and whistle!

The young ladies, however, still possess one thing which they cannot yet
destroy--the good constitution and the rosy look derived from ancestors
whose days were spent in the field under the glorious sunshine and the
dews of heaven. They worry themselves about it in secret and wish they
could appear more ladylike--i.e. thin and white. Nor can they feel quite
so languid and indifferent, and _blasé_ as they desire. Thank Heaven they
cannot! But they have succeeded in obliterating the faintest trace of
character, and in suppressing the slightest approach to animation. They
have all got just the same opinions on the same topics--that is to say,
they have none at all; the idea of a laugh has departed. There is a dead
line of uniformity. But if you are sufficiently intimate to enter into the
inner life of the place it will soon be apparent that they either are or
wish to appear up to the 'ways of the world.'

They read the so-called social journals, and absorb the gossip,
tittle-tattle, and personalities--absorb it because they have no means of
comparison or of checking the impression it produces of the general loose
tone of society. They know all about it, much more than you do. No turn of
the latest divorce case or great social exposure has escaped them, and the
light, careless way in which it is the fashion nowadays to talk openly of
such things, as if they were got up like a novel--only with living
characters--for amusement, has penetrated into this distant circle. But
then they have been to half the leading watering-places--from Brighton to
Scarborough; as for London, it is an open book to them; the railways have
long dissipated the pleasing mysteries that once hung over the metropolis.
Talk of this sort is, of course, only talk; still it is not a satisfactory
sign of the times. If the country girl is no longer the hoyden that swung
on the gates and romped in the hay, neither has she the innocent thought
of the olden days.

At the same time our friends are greatly devoted to the Church--old people
used to attend on Sundays as a sacred and time honoured duty, but the
girls leave them far behind, for they drive up in a pony carriage to the
distant church at least twice a week besides. They talk of matins and
even-song; they are full of vestments, and have seen 'such lovely things'
in that line. At Christmas and Easter they are mainly instrumental in
decorating the interior till it becomes perfectly gaudy with colour, and
the old folk mutter and shake their heads. Their devotion in getting
hothouse flowers is quite touching. One is naturally inclined to look with
a liberal eye upon what is capable of a good construction. But is all this
quite spontaneous? Has the new curate nothing at all to do with it? Is it
not considered rather the correct thing to be 'High' in views, and even to
manifest an Ultramontane tendency? There is a rather too evident
determination to go to the extreme--the girls are clearly bent upon
thrusting themselves to the very front of the parish, so that no one shall
be talked of but the Misses ----. Anything is seized upon, that will
afford an opening for posing before the world of the parish, whether it be
an extreme fashion in dress or in ritual.

And the parish is splitting up into social cliques. These girls, the local
leaders of fashion, hold their heads far above those farmers' sons who
bear a hand in the field. No one is eligible who takes a share in manual
work: not even to be invited to the house, or even to be acknowledged if
met in the road. The Misses ----, whose papa is well-to-do, and simply
rides round on horseback to speak to the men with his steam-plough, could
not possibly demean themselves to acknowledge the existence of the young
men who actually handle a fork in the haymaking time. Nothing less than
the curate is worthy of their smile. A very great change has come over
country society in this way. Of course, men (and women) with money were
always more eligible than those without; but it is not so very long ago
that one and all--well-to-do and poor--had one bond in common. Whether
they farmed large or small acres, all worked personally. There was no
disgrace in the touch of the plough--rather the contrary; now it is
contamination itself.

The consequence is that the former general goodwill and acquaintanceship
is no more. There are no friendly meetings; there is a distinct social
barrier between the man and the woman who labours and the one who does
not. These fashionable young ladies could not possibly even go into the
hayfield because the sun would spoil their complexion, they refresh
themselves with aërated waters instead. They could not possibly enter the
dairy because it smells so nasty. They would not know their father's teams
if they met them on the road. As for speaking to the workpeople--the idea
would be too absurd!

Once on a time a lift in the waggon just across the wet turf to the
macadamised road--if it chanced to be going that way--would have been
looked upon as a fortunate thing. The Misses ---- would indeed stare if
one of their papa's carters touched his hat and suggested that they should
get up. They have a pony carriage and groom of their own. He drives the
milk-cart to the railway station in the morning; in the afternoon he dons
the correct suit and drives the Misses ---- into the town to shopping. Now
there exists a bitter jealousy between the daughters of the tradesmen in
the said town and these young ladies. There is a race between them as to
which shall be first in fashion and social rank. The Misses ---- know very
well that it galls their rivals to see them driving about so grandly half
the afternoon up and down the streets, and to see the big local people
lift their hats, as the banker, with whom, of course, the large farmer has
intimate dealings. All this is very little; on paper it reads moan and
contemptible: but in life it is real--in life these littlenesses play a
great part. The Misses ---- know nothing of those long treasured recipes
formerly handed down in old country houses, and never enter the kitchen.
No doubt, if the fashion for teaching cooking presently penetrates into
the parish, they will take a leading part, and with much show and blowing
of trumpets instruct the cottager how to boil the pot. Anything, in short,
that happens to be the rage will attract them, but there is little that is
genuine about them, except the eagerness for a new excitement.

What manner of men shall accept these ladies as their future helpmates?
The tenant farmers are few and far between that could support their
expenditure upon dress, the servants they would require, and last, but not
least, the waste which always accompanies ignorance in household
management. Nor, indeed, do they look for tenant farmers, but hope for
something higher in the scale.

The Misses ---- are fortunate in possessing a 'papa' sufficiently
well-to-do to enable them to live in this manner. But there are hundreds
of young ladies whose fathers have not got so much capital in their farms,
while what they have is perhaps borrowed. Of course these girls help
cheerfully in the household, in the dairy, and so forth? No. Some are
forced by necessity to assist in the household with unwilling hands: but
few, indeed, enter the dairy. All dislike the idea of manual labour,
though never so slight. Therefore they acquire a smattering of knowledge,
and go out as governesses. They earn but a small stipend in that
profession, because they have rarely gone through a sufficiently strict
course of study themselves. But they would rather live with strangers,
accepting a position which is often invidious, than lift a hand to work at
home, so great is the repugnance to manual labour. These, again, have no
domestic knowledge (beyond that of teaching children), none of cooking, or
general household management. If they marry a tenant farmer of their own
class, with but small capital, they are too often a burden financially.
Whence comes this intense dislike to hand work--this preference for the
worst paid head work? It is not confined, of course, to the gentler sex.
No more striking feature of modern country life can be found.

You cannot blame these girls, whether poor or moderately well-to-do, for
thinking of something higher, more refined and elevating than the
cheese-tub or the kitchen. It is natural, and it is right, that they
should wish to rise above that old, dull, dead level in which their
mothers and grandmothers worked from youth to age. The world has gone on
since then--it is a world of education, books, and wider sympathies. In
all this they must and ought to share. The problem is how to enjoy the
intellectual progress of the century and yet not forfeit the advantages of
the hand labour and the thrift of our ancestors? How shall we sit up late
at night, burning the midnight oil of study, and yet rise with the dawn,
strong from sweet sleep, to guide the plough? One good thing must be
scored down to the credit of the country girls of the day. They have done
much to educate the men. They have shamed them out of the old rough,
boorish ways; compelled them to abandon the former coarseness, to become
more gentlemanly in manner. By their interest in the greater world of
society, literature, art, and music (more musical publications probably
are now sold for the country in a month than used to be in a year), they
have made the somewhat narrow-sighted farmer glance outside his parish. If
the rising generation of tenant farmers have lost much of the bigoted
provincial mode of thought, together with the provincial pronunciation, it
is undoubtedly due to the influence of the higher ideal of womanhood that
now occupies their minds. And this is a good work to have accomplished.



CHAPTER X



MADEMOISELLE, THE GOVERNESS


A country 'roadside' railway station seemed deserted upon a warm August
afternoon. It was all but concealed on that level ground by the hedges and
trees of the fields with which it was surrounded. There was no sound of
man or wheels, and nothing moving upon the platform. On the low green
banks of the rail, where the mast-like telegraph poles stood, the broad
leaves of the coltsfoot almost covered the earth, and were dusty with the
sand whirled up an hour since behind the rushing express. By the footpath,
higher up under the close-cropped hedge, the yarrow flourished, lifting
its white flower beside the trodden soil. The heavy boots of the
platelayers walking to and fro to their work on the permanent way brushed
against it, and crushed the venturous fibres of the creeping cinquefoil
that stretched into the path. From the yellow standing wheat the sparrows
rose in a bevy, and settled upon the hedge, chirping merrily. Farther
away, where a meadow had been lately mown, the swallows glided to and fro,
but just above the short grass, round and round, under the shadow of the
solitary oaks. Over the green aftermath is the swallows' favourite haunt
when the day, though passing fair, does not look like settled weather. For
lack of such weather the reapers have not yet entered the ripening corn.

But, for the hour, the sun shines brightly, and a narrow line along the
upper surfaces of the metals, burnished by the polishing friction of a
thousand wheels, glints like silver under the rays. The red brick of the
booking-office looks redder and more staring under the fierce light. The
door is locked, and there is no waiting-room in which to take shelter;
nothing but a projecting roof over a part of the platform. On the lintel
is the stationmaster's name painted in small white letters, like the name
of the landlord over the doorway of an inn. Two corded boxes lie on the
platform, and near them stand half a dozen rusty milk tins, empty. With
the exception of a tortoiseshell cat basking in the sunshine, there seems
nothing living in the station, and the long endless rails stretching on
either side in a straight line are vacant. For hours during the day the
place slumbers, and a passenger gliding by in the express may well wonder
why a station was built at all in the midst of trees and hedges without so
much as a single visible house.

But by night and very early in the morning there is bustle enough. Then
the white painted cattle pen yonder, from which the animals are forced
into the cattle trucks, is full of frightened beasts, lowing doubtfully,
and only goaded in by the resounding blows upon their backs. Then the
sheep file in in more patient ranks, but also doubtful and bleating as
they go. An engine snorts to and fro, shunting coal waggons on to the
siding--coal for the traction engines, and to be consumed in threshing out
the golden harvest around. Signalmen, with red and green lights, rush
hither and thither, the bull's-eyes now concealed by the trucks, and now
flashing out brightly like strange will-o'-the-wisps. At intervals long
and heavy goods trains go by, causing the solid earth to tremble.

Presently the sun rises over the distant hills, and the red arms of the
signals stand out clearly defined, and then the noise of wheels, the
shouts of the drivers, and the quick sound of hoofs betoken the approach
of the milk carts with their freight for the early morning train. From the
platform it is out of sight; but a few yards from the gate a small inn is
hidden under the tall elms of the hedgerow. It has sprung up since the
railway came, and is called the Railway Hotel. It proffers good stabling,
and even a fly and posting for the passenger who finds himself set down at
that lonely place--a mere road--without the certainty of a friendly
carriage meeting him. The porter may, perhaps, be taking his glass within.
The inspector or stationmaster (whichever may be technically correct), now
that the afternoon express has gone safely through, has strolled up the
line to his garden, to see how his potatoes are getting on. He knows full
well that the slow, stopping train despatched just after it will not reach
his station for at least an hour.

Outside the 'Hotel' stands a pony cart--a gaily coloured travelling rug
lies across the seat, and the pony, a perfect little beauty, is cropping
the grass by the hedge side. By-and-by a countryman comes up the road,
evidently a labourer dressed in his best--he hastens to the 'Hotel,'
instead of to the station, and finds from the porter that he is at least
twenty minutes too soon. Then a waggon arrives, and stops while the carter
drinks. Presently the porter and the labourer stroll together over to the
platform, and after them a young fellow--a farmer's son, not yet a man but
more than a boy--comes out and re-arranges the travelling rug in the pony
cart. He then walks on to the platform, whistling defiantly with his hands
in his pockets, as if he had got an unpleasant duty to perform, but was
not going to be intimidated. He watches the stationmaster unlock the
booking-office, and follows him in out of idle curiosity.

It is booking-office, parcel-office, waiting-room and all combined, and
the telegraph instrument is there too, some of the needles blocked over
with a scrap of paper. The place is crammed with sacks, bags, boxes,
parcels and goods mixed together, such as ironwork for agricultural
machines, and in a corner lies a rick-cloth smelling strongly of tar like
the rigging of a ship. On the counter, for there is no sliding window as
usual at large stations, stands the ticket-stamping machine, surrounded
with piles of forms, invoices, notices, letters, and the endless documents
inseparable from railway business, all printed on a peculiar paper with a
faint shade of yellow.

Somebody says 'A' be coming,' and the young farmer walks out to watch the
white steam now just visible far away over the trees. The train runs round
the curve on to the straight, and the engine in front grows gradually
larger and larger as it comes nearer, visibly vibrating till the brake
draws it up at the platform.

Master Jack has no difficulty in identifying the passenger he has come to
meet. His sister, a governess, coming home for a holiday, is the only
person that alights, and the labourer, dressed for the occasion, is the
only one who gets in. No sooner is he in than he gapes out of the window
open-mouthed at Miss S----. She wears a light Ulster to protect her dress
from the dust and dirt of travel. Her fashionable hat has an air of the
West End; her gloved hand holds a dainty little bag; she steps as those
must do who wear tight dresses and high heels to their boots. Up goes her
parasol instantly to shade her delicate complexion from the glaring sun.
Master Jack does not even take her hand, or kiss her; he looks her up and
down with a kind of contemptuous admiration, nods, and asks how much
luggage? He has, you see, been repulsed for 'gush' on previous occasions.
Mademoiselle points to her luggage, which the porter, indeed, has already
taken out. He worked in his boyhood on her father's farm, and attends upon
her with cheerful alacrity. She gives him a small coin, but looks the
other way, without a sign of recognition. The luggage is placed in the
pony cart.

Mademoiselle gets in without so much as patting the beautiful little
creature in the shafts. Her ticket is the only first-class ticket that has
been given up at that lonely station all the week. 'Do make haste,' she
remarks petulantly as her brother pauses to speak to a passing man who
looks like a dealer. Master Jack turns the pony cart, and away they go
rattling down the road. The porter, whilom an agricultural labourer, looks
after them with a long and steady stare. It is not the first time he has
seen this, but he can hardly take it in yet.

'She do come the lady grandish, don't her?' the dealer remarks
meditatively. 'Now her father----'

'Ay,' interrupts the porter, 'he be one of the old sort; but she----' he
cannot get any further for lack of an appropriate illustration. The
arrival of mademoiselle periodically takes their breath away at that
little place.

As the pair rattle along in the pony trap there is for a time a total
silence. Mademoiselle looks neither to the right nor the left, and asks
after nobody. She does not note the subtle tint of bronze that has begun
to steal over the wheat, nor the dark discoloured hay, witness of rough
weather, still lying in the meadows. Her face--it is a very pretty
face--does not light up with any enthusiasm as well-remembered spots come
into sight. A horseman rides round a bend of the road, and meets them--he
stares hard at her--she takes no heed. It is a young farmer, an old
acquaintance, anxious for some sign of recognition. After he has passed he
lifts his hat, like a true countryman, unready at the moment. As for the
brother, his features express gathering and almost irrepressible disgust.
He kicks with his heavy boots, he whistles, and once now and then gives a
species of yell. Mademoiselle turns up her pretty nose, and readjusts her
chevron gloves.

'Have you not got any cuffs, Jack?' she asks, 'your wrists look so bare
without them.'

Jack makes no reply. Another silence. Presently he points with an
expression meant to be sardonic at a distant farmhouse with his whip.

'Jenny's married,' he says, full well aware that this announcement will
wake her up, for there had been of old a sort of semi-feud or rivalry
between the two girls, daughters of neighbouring farmers, and both with
pretensions to good looks.

'Who to?' she asks eagerly.

'To old Billy L----; lots of tin.'

'Pshaw!' replies mademoiselle. 'Why, he's sixty, a nasty, dirty old
wretch.'

'He has plenty of money,' suggests Jack.

'What you think plenty of money, perhaps. He is nothing but a farmer,' as
if a farmer was quite beneath her notice.

Just then a farmer rode out into the road from the gateway of a field, and
Jack pulled up the pony. The farmer was stout, elderly, and florid; he
appeared fairly well-to-do by his dress, but was none too particular to
use his razor regularly. Yet there was a tenderness--almost a pathos--in
the simple words he used:--'Georgie, dear, come home?' 'Yes, papa,' and
she kissed his scrubby chin as he bent down from his horse. He would not
go to the station to meet her; but he had been waiting about behind the
hedge for an hour to see her come along. He rode beside the pony cart, but
Georgie did not say anything more, or ask after any one else.

As they turned a corner the farmer pointed ahead. 'There's your mother,
Georgie, looking over the garden wall.' The yearning mother had been there
these two hours, knowing that her darling could not arrive before a
certain time, and yet unable in her impatience to stay within. Those old
eyes were dim with tears under the spectacles as Georgie quietly kissed
her forehead, and then suddenly, with something like generous feeling, her
lips.

They went in, an old pointer, whose days in the stubble were nearly over,
following close at Georgie's heels, but without obtaining a pat for his
loving memory. The table was spread for tea--a snowy cloth, the whitest of
bread, the most delicious golden butter, the ham fresh cooked, as Georgie
might be hungry, the thick cream, the silver teapot, polished for Georgie,
and the bright flowers in the vase before her plate. The window was open,
with its view of the old, old hills, and a breath of summer air came in
from the meadow. The girl glanced round, frowned, and went upstairs to her
room without a word, passing on the landing the ancient clock in its tall
case, ticking loud and slow.

And this was 'home.' The whole place jarred upon her, fresh as she was
from a fine house in Belgravia. The sitting-room beneath, which she had so
quickly left, looked cheerful and homely, but it was that very homeliness
that jarred upon her. The teapot was real silver, but it was of
old-fashioned shape. Solid as the furniture was, and still after so many
years of service worth money, yet it was chipped by kicks from iron-shod
boots, which had also worn the dingy carpet bare. There was an absence of
the nick-nacks that strew the rooms of people in 'Society.' There was not
even a bell-handle to pull; if you wanted the maid of all work, you must
open the door and call to her. These little things, trifles as they may
be, repelled her. It was a bitter cup to her to come 'home.'

Mr. S---- was a farmer of fair means, and, compared with many of his
neighbours, well-to-do, and well connected. But he was still a yeoman
only, and personally made pretensions to nothing more. Though he himself
had received little or no education, he quite saw the value of it, and was
determined that his children should be abreast of the times. Accordingly,
so soon as Georgie grew old enough, a governess with high recommendations,
and who asked what the farmer then thought a high price (he knows more
about such things now!) was had down from London. Of course the
rudimentary A B C of learning could just as well have been imparted by an
ordinary person, but Mr. and Mrs. S---- had a feeling which they could not
perhaps have expressed in words, that it was not so much the actual
reading and writing, and French and music, and so on, as a social
influence that was needed to gradually train the little country girl into
a young lady fit to move in higher society.

The governess did her work thoroughly. Georgie was not allowed to walk in
the wet grass, to climb up the ladder on to the half-completed hayrick,
and romp under the rick-cloth, to paddle with naked feet in the shallow
brook, or any other of the things that country children have done from
time immemorial. Such things she was taught were not ladylike, and, above
all, she was kept away from the cottage people. She was not permitted to
enter their doors, to converse with the women, or to watch the carter with
his horses. Such vulgar folk and their vulgar dialect were to be carefully
avoided. Nor must she get into a hedge after a bird's-nest, lest she
should tear her frock.

It was not long before the governess really ruled the house. The farmer
felt himself totally unable to interfere in these matters; they were
outside his experience altogether. His wife did not like it, but for
Georgie's sake she gave up her former habits, and endeavoured to order the
house according to the ideas of the governess from London. The traditions,
as it were, of the place were upset. It was not a solitary instance, the
same thing has happened in scores of farmhouses to a more or less degree.
Mr. S---- all his life had ridden on horseback, or driven a gig, which did
very well for him and his wife. But the governess thought Georgie ought to
learn to ride and drive, and gigs were so much out of fashion. So the pony
cart and pony were purchased for her, and in this she went into the
distant market town twice or more weekly. Sometimes it was for shopping,
sometimes to fetch household goods, sometimes to see friends; any excuse
answered very well. The governess said, and really believed, that it was
better for Georgie to be away from the farm as much as possible, to see
town people (if only a country town), and to learn their ways.

The many cheap illustrated papers giving the last details of fashionable
costumes were, of course, brought home to be carefully read in the
evenings. These publications have a large circulation now in farmhouses.
Naturally Georgie soon began to talk about, and take an interest--as girls
will do--in the young gentlemen of the town, and who was and who was not
eligible. As for the loud-voiced young farmers, with their slouching walk,
their ill-fitting clothes, and stupid talk about cows and wheat, they were
intolerable. A banker's clerk at least--nothing could be thought of under
a clerk in the local banks; of course, his salary was not high, but then
his 'position.' The retail grocers and bakers and such people were quite
beneath one's notice--low, common persons. The 'professional tradesmen'
(whatever that may be) were decidedly better, and could be tolerated. The
solicitors, bank managers, one or two brewers (wholesale--nothing retail),
large corn factors or coal merchants, who kept a carriage of some
kind--these formed the select society next under, and, as it were,
surrounding the clergy and gentry. Georgie at twelve years old looked at
least as high as one of these; a farmhouse was to be avoided above all
things.

As she grew older her mind was full of the local assembly ball. The ball
had been held for forty years or more, and had all that time been in the
hands of the exclusive upper circles of the market town. They only asked
their own families, relations (not the poor ones), and visitors. When
Georgie was invited to this ball it was indeed a triumph. Her poor mother
cried with pleasure over her ball dress. Poor woman, she was a good, a too
good, mother, but she had never been to a ball. There were, of course,
parties, picnics, and so on, to which Georgie, having entered the charmed
circle, was now asked; and thus her mind from the beginning centred in the
town. The sheep-fold, the cattle-pen, the cheese-tub, these were thrust
aside. They did not interest her, she barely understood the meaning when
her father took the first prize at an important cattle show. What
So-and-so would wear at the flower show, where all the select would come,
much more nearly concerned her.

At the high-class academy where her education was finished the same
process went on. The other girls quickly made her thoroughly understand (a
bitter knowledge) that the great people in the little market town, the
very richest of them, were but poor in comparison with their papas. Their
papas were in the 'City,' or on ''Change,' and had as many thousands a
year as the largest farmer she knew could reckon hundreds. Georgie felt
ashamed of her papa, recollecting his crumpled old hat, and his scrubby
chin. Being really a nice girl, under the veneer that was so industriously
placed upon her, she made friends among her fellow scholars, and was
invited to more than one of their grand homes in Kensington and the
suburbs of London. There she learned all the pomp of villa life, which put
into the shade the small incomes which displayed their miserable vanities
in the petty market town. Footmen, butlers, late dinners, wines,
carriages, the ceaseless gossip of 'Society' were enough to dazzle the
eyes of a girl born so near the cowshed. The dresses she had to wear to
mix with these grand friends cost a good deal--her parents sacrificing
their own comforts for her advantage--and yet, in comparison with the
beautiful costumes she saw, they seemed shabby.

Georgie was so far fortunate as to make friends of some of the elder
people, and when she had passed her examinations, and obtained the
diplomas and certificates which are now all essential, through their
interest she obtained at starting a very high salary. It was not long
before she received as much as sixty or seventy pounds a year. It was not
only that she really was a clever and accomplished girl, but her
recommendations were influential. She was employed by wealthy people, who
really did not care what they paid so long as their children were in good
hands. Now to the old folk at home, and to the neighbours, this seemed an
immense salary for a girl, especially when the carriage, the footmen, the
wines, and late dinners, and so on, were taken into consideration. The
money, however, was of very little use to her. She found it necessary to
dress equal to her place. She had to have several dresses to wear,
according to the time of day, and she had to have new ones very often, or
she might be told petulantly and pointedly by her mistress that 'one gets
so weary of seeing the same dresses every day.' Instead of the high salary
leaving a handsome profit, her father had occasionally to pay a stiff bill
for her. But then the 'position'--look at the 'position' and the society.

Georgie, in process of time, went to Scotland, to Paris, the South of
France, to Rome, and Naples. Being a discreet girl, and having a winning
manner, she became as much a companion to her mistress as governess, and
thus saw and heard more of the world than she would otherwise have done.
She saw some very grand people indeed occasionally. After this, after the
Continent, and, above all, London in the season, the annual visit to the
old farmhouse came to be a bitter time of trial. Georgie had come home now
for a few days only, to ask for money, and already before she had scarcely
spoken had rushed upstairs to hide her feeling of repulsion in the privacy
of her room.

Her welcome had been warm, and she knew that under the rude exterior it
was more than warm; but the absence of refinement jarred upon her. It all
seemed so uncouth. She shrank from the homely rooms; the very voice of her
mother, trembling with emotion, shocked her ear, unaccustomed to country
pronunciation. She missed the soft accents of the drawing-room. From her
window she could see nothing but the peaceful fields--the hateful green
trees and hedges, the wheat, and the hateful old hills. How miserable it
was not to be born to Grosvenor Square!

Georgie's case was, of course, exceptional in so far as her 'success' was
concerned. She possessed good natural parts, discretion, and had the
advantage of high-class recommendations. But apart from her 'success,' her
case was not exceptional. The same thing is going on in hundreds of
farmhouses. The daughters from the earliest age are brought up under a
system of education the practical tendency of which is to train their
minds out of the associations of farming. When later on they go out to
teach they are themselves taught by the social surroundings of the
households into which they enter to still more dislike the old-fashioned
ways of agriculture. Take twenty farmers' families, where there are girls,
and out of that twenty fifteen will be found to be preparing for a
scholastic life. The farmer's daughter does not like the shop-counter,
and, as she cannot stay at home, there is nothing left to her but the
profession of governess. Once thoroughly imbued with these 'social' ideas,
and a return to the farm is almost impossible. The result is a continuous
drain of women out of agriculture--of the very women best fitted in the
beginning to be the helpmate of the farmer. In no other calling is the
assistance of the wife so valuable; it is not too much to say that part at
least of the decadence of agriculture is owing to the lack of women
willing to devote themselves as their mothers did before them. It follows
that by degrees the farming caste is dying out. The sons go to the city,
the daughters go to the city; in a generation, or little more, a once
well-known farming family becomes extinct so far as agriculture is
concerned.

How could such a girl as poor Georgie, looking out of window at the
hateful fields, and all at discord with the peaceful scene, settle down as
the mistress of a lonely farmhouse?



CHAPTER XI



FLEECEBOROUGH. A 'DESPOT'


An agricultural district, like a little kingdom, has its own capital city.
The district itself is as well defined as if a frontier line had been
marked out around it, with sentinels and barriers across the roads, and
special tolls and duties. Yet an ordinary traveller, upon approaching,
fails to perceive the difference, and may, perhaps, drive right through
the territory without knowing it. The fields roll on and rise into the
hills, the hills sink again into a plain, just the same as elsewhere;
there are cornfields and meadows; villages and farmsteads, and no visible
boundary. Nor is it recognised upon the map. It does not fit into any
political or legal limit; it is neither a county, half a county, a
hundred, or police division. But to the farmer it is a distinct land. If
he comes from a distance he will at once notice little peculiarities in
the fields, the crops, the stock, or customs, and will immediately inquire
if it be not such and such a place that he has heard of. If he resides
within thirty miles or so he will ever since boyhood have heard 'the
uplands' talked of as if it were a separate country, as distinct as
France. Cattle from the uplands, sheep, horses, labourers, corn or hay, or
anything and anybody from thence, he has grown up accustomed to regard
almost as foreign.

There is good reason, from an agricultural point of view, for this. The
district, with its capital city, Fleeceborough, really is distinct, well
marked, and defined. The very soil and substrata are characteristic. The
products are wheat, and cattle, and sheep, the same as elsewhere, but the
proportions of each, the kind of sheep, the traditionary methods and farm
customs are separate and marked. The rotation of crops is different, the
agreements are on a different basis, the very gates to the fields have
peculiar fastenings, not used in other places. Instead of hedges, the
fields, perhaps, are often divided by dry stone walls, on which, when they
have become old, curious plants may sometimes be found. For the flora,
too, is distinct; you may find herbs here that do not exist a little way
off, and on the other hand, search how you will, you will not discover one
single specimen of a simple flower which strews the meadows elsewhere.

Here the very farmhouses are built upon a different plan, and with
different materials; the barns are covered with old stone slates, instead
of tiles or thatch. The people are a nation amongst themselves. Their
accent is peculiar and easily recognised, and they have their own
folklore, their own household habits, particular dainties, and way of
life. The tenant farmers, the millers, the innkeepers, and every Hodge
within 'the uplands' (not by any means all hills)--in short, every one is
a citizen of Fleeceborough. Hodge may tend his flock on distant pastures,
may fodder his cattle in far-away meadows, and dwell in little hamlets
hardly heard of, but all the same he is a Fleeceborough man. It is his
centre; thither he looks for everything.

The place is a little market town, the total of whose population in the
census records sounds absurdly small; yet it is a complete world in
itself; a capital city, with its kingdom and its ruler, for the territory
is practically the property of a single family. Enter Fleeceborough by
whichever route you will, the first object that fixes the attention is an
immensely high and endless wall. If you come by carriage one way, you
skirt it for a long distance; if you come the other, you see it as you
pass through the narrow streets every now and then at the end of them,
closing the prospect and overtopping the lesser houses. By railway it is
conspicuous from the windows; and if you walk about the place, you
continually come upon it. It towers up perpendicular and inaccessible,
like the curtain wall of an old fortification: here and there the upper
branches of some great cedar or tall pine just show above it. One or more
streets for a space run conterminous with it--the wall on one side, the
low cottage-houses on the other, and their chimneys are below the coping.
It does not really encircle the town, yet it seems everywhere, and is the
great fact of the place.

If you wander about examining this wall, and wondering where it begins and
where it ends, and what is inside, you may perchance come upon a gateway
of noble proportions. It is open, but one hesitates to pass through,
despite the pleasant vista of trees and green sward beyond. There is a
watchman's wooden hut, and the aged sentinel is reading his newspaper in
the shadow, his breast decorated with medal and clasp, that tell of
honourable service. A scarlet-coated soldier may, too, be strolling
thereabout, and the castellated top of a barrack-like building near at
hand is suggestive of military force. You hesitate, but the warden invites
you to walk at your leisure under the old trees, and along the endless
glades. If you enter, you pass under the metal scrollwork of the iron
gates, and, above, the gilded circle of a coronet glistens in the
sunshine. These are the private demesnes of a prince and ruler of
Hodge--the very highest and most powerful of his masters in that part of
the country. The vast wall encloses his pleasure-grounds and mansion; the
broad iron gates give access to mile after mile of park and wood, and the
decorated warden or pensioner has but to open them for the free entry of
all Fleeceborough and her citizens. Of course the position of the barrack
is a mere accident, yet it gives an air of power and authority--the place
is really as open, the beautiful park as common and accessible as the
hill-top under the sky. A peer only at Westminster, here he is a prince,
whose dominions are almost co-extensive with the horizon; and this, the
capital city, is for the most part his.

Far away stretches that little kingdom, with its minor towns of villages,
hamlets, and farms. Broad green meadows, where the cattle graze beside the
streams and in the plains; rolling uplands, ploughed and sown, where the
barley nourishes; deep rich wheatlands; high hills and shadowy woods; grey
church towers; new glaring schools; quiet wayside inns, and ancient
farmhouses tenanted for generations by the same families.

Farmers have long since discovered that it is best to rent under a very
large owner, whether personal as in this case, or impersonal as a college
or corporation. A very large owner like this can be, and is, more liberal.
He puts up sheds, and he drains, and improves, and builds good cottages
for the labourers. Provided, of course, that no serious malpractice comes
to light, he, as represented by his steward, never interferes, and the
tenant is personally free. No one watches his goings out and comings in;
he has no sense of an eye for ever looking over the park wall. There is a
total absence of the grasping spirit sometimes shown. The farmer does not
feel that he will be worried to his last shilling. In case of unfavourable
seasons the landlord makes no difficulty in returning a portion of the
rent; he anticipates such an application. Such immense possessions can
support losses which would press most heavily upon comparatively small
properties. At one side of the estate the soil perchance is light and
porous, and is all the better for rain; on the other, half across the
county, or quite, the soil is deep and heavy and naturally well watered
and flourishes in dry summers. So that there is generally some one
prospering if another suffers, and thus a balance is maintained.

A reserve of wealth has, too, slowly accumulated in the family coffers,
which, in exceptional years, tides the owner over with little or no
appreciable inconvenience. With an income like this, special allowances,
even generous allowances, can be and are made, and so the tenants cease to
feel that their landlord is living out of their labour. The agreements are
just; there is no rapacity. Very likely the original lease or arrangement
has expired half a century since; but no one troubles to renew it. It is
well understood that no change will be effected. The tenure is as steady
as if the tenant had an Act of Parliament at his back.

When men have once settled, they and their descendants remain, generation
after generation. By degrees their sons and sons' descendants settle too,
and the same name occurs perhaps in a dozen adjacent places. It is this
fixed unchangeable character of the district which has enabled the mass of
the tenants not indeed to become wealthy, but to acquire a solid,
substantial standing. In farming affairs money can be got together only in
the slow passage of years; experience has proved that beyond a doubt.
These people have been stationary for a length of time, and the moss of
the proverb has grown around them. They walk sturdily, and look all men in
the face; their fathers put money in the purse. Times are hard here as
everywhere, but if they cannot, for the present season, put more in that
purse, its contents are not, at all events, much diminished, and enable
them to maintain the same straightforward manliness and independence.
By-and-by, they know there will come the chink of the coin again.

When the tenant is stationary, the labourer is also. He stays in the same
cottage on the same farm all his life, his descendants remain and work for
the same tenant family. He can trace his descent in the locality for a
hundred years. From time immemorial both Hodge and his immediate employers
have looked towards Fleeceborough as their capital. Hodge goes in to the
market in charge of his master's sheep, his wife trudges in for household
necessaries. All the hamlet goes in to the annual fairs. Every cottager in
the hamlet knows somebody in the town; the girls go there to service, the
boys to get employment. The little village shops obtain their goods from
thence. All the produce--wheat, barley, oats, hay, cattle, and sheep--is
sent into the capital to the various markets held there. The very ideas
held in the villages by the inhabitants come from Fleeceborough; the local
papers published there are sold all round, and supply them with news,
arguments, and the politics of the little kingdom. The farmers look to
Fleeceborough just as much or more. It is a religious duty to be seen
there on market days. Not a man misses being there; if he is not visible,
his circle note it, and guess at various explanations.

Each man has his own particular hostelry, where his father, and his
grandfather, put up before him, and where he is expected to dine in the
same old room, with the pictures of famous rams, that have fetched
fabulous prices, framed against the walls, and ram's horns of exceptional
size and peculiar curve fixed up above the mantelpiece. Men come in in
groups of two or three, as dinner time approaches, and chat about sheep
and wool, and wool and sheep; but no one finally settles himself at the
table till the chairman arrives. He is a stout, substantial farmer, who
has dined there every market day for the last thirty or forty years.

Everybody has his own particular seat, which he is certain to find kept
for him. The dinner itself is simple enough, the waiters perhaps still
more simple, but the quality of the viands is beyond praise. The mutton is
juicy and delicious, as it should be where the sheep is the very idol of
all men's thoughts; the beef is short and tender of grain; the vegetables,
nothing can equal them, and they are all here, asparagus and all, in
profusion. The landlord grows his own vegetables--every householder in
Fleeceborough has an ample garden--and produces the fruit from his own
orchards for the tarts. Ever and anon a waiter walks round with a can of
ale and fills the glasses, whether asked or not. Beef and mutton,
vegetables and fruit tarts, and ale are simple and plain fare, but when
they are served in the best form, how will you surpass them? The real
English cheese, the fresh salads, the exquisite butter--everything on the
table is genuine, juicy, succulent, and rich. Could such a dinner be found
in London, how the folk would crowd thither! Finally, comes the waiter
with his two clean plates, the upper one to receive the money, the lower
to retain what is his. If you are a stranger, and remember what you have
been charged elsewhere in smoky cities for tough beef, stringy mutton,
waxy potatoes, and the very bread black with smuts, you select half a
sovereign and drop it on the upper plate. In the twinkling of an eye eight
shillings are returned to you; the charge is a florin only.

They live well in Fleeceborough, as every fresh experience of the place
will prove; they have plentiful food, and of the best quality; poultry
abounds, for every resident having a great garden (many, too, have
paddocks) keeps fowls; fresh eggs are common; as for vegetables and fruit,
the abundance is not to be described. A veritable cornucopia--a horn of
plenty--seems to forever pour a shower of these good things into their
houses. And their ale! To the first sight it is not tempting. It is thick,
dark, a deep wine colour; a slight aroma rises from it like that which
dwells in bonded warehouses. The first taste is not pleasing; but it
induces a second, and a third. By-and-by the flavour grows upon the
palate; and now beware, for if a small quantity be thrown upon the fire it
will blaze up with a blue flame like pure alcohol. That dark
vinous-looking ale is full of the strength of malt and hops; it is the
brandy of the barley. The unwary find their heads curiously queer before
they have partaken, as it seems to them, of a couple of glasses. The very
spirit and character of Fleeceborough is embodied in the ale; rich,
strong, genuine. No one knows what English ale is till he has tried this.

After the market dinner the guests sit still--they do not hurry away to
counter and desk; they rest awhile, and dwell as it were on the flavour of
their food. There is a hum of pleasant talk, for each man is a right boon
companion. The burden of that talk has been the same for generations--sheep
and wool, wool and sheep. Occasionally mysterious allusions are made to
'he,' what 'he' will do with a certain farm, whether 'he' will support
such and such a movement, or subscribe to some particular fund, what view
will 'he' take of the local question of the day? Perhaps some one has had
special information of the step 'he' is likely to take; then that favoured
man is an object of the deepest interest, and is cross-questioned all
round the table till his small item of authentic intelligence has been
thoroughly assimilated. 'He' is the resident within those vast and endless
walls, with the metal gates and the gilded coronet above--the prince of
this kingdom and its capital city. To rightly see the subjects loyally
hastening hither, let any one ascend the church tower on market day.

It is remarkably high, and from thence the various roads converging on the
town are visible. The province lies stretched out beneath. There is the
gleam of water--the little river, with its ancient mills--that flows
beside the town; there are the meadows, with their pleasant footpaths.
Yonder the ploughed fields and woods, and yet more distant the open hills.
Along every road, and there are many, the folk are hastening to their
capital city, in gigs, on horseback, in dog-traps and four-wheels, or
sturdily trudging afoot. The breeze comes sweet and exhilarating from the
hills and over the broad acres and green woods; it strikes the chest as
you lean against the parapet, and the jackdaws suspend themselves in
mid-air with outstretched wings upheld by its force. For how many years,
how many centuries, has this little town and this district around it been
distinct and separate? In the days before the arrival of the Roman legions
it was the country of a distinct tribe, or nation, of the original
Britons. But if we speak of history we shall never have done, for the town
and its antique abbey (of which this tower is a mere remnant) have mingled
more or less in every change that has occurred, down from the earthwork
camp yonder on the hills to to-day--down to the last puff of the
locomotive there below, as its driver shuts off steam and runs in with
passengers and dealers for the market, with the papers, and the latest
novel from London.

Something of the old local patriotism survives, and is vigorous in the
town here. Men marry in the place, find their children employment in the
place, and will not move, if they can help it. Their families--well-to-do
and humble alike--have been there for so many, many years. The very
carter, or the little tailor working in his shop-window, will tell you
(and prove to you by records) that his ancestor stood to the barricade
with pike or matchlock when the army of King or Parliament, as the case
may be, besieged the sturdy town two hundred years ago. He has a longer
pedigree than many a titled dweller in Belgravia. All these people believe
in Fleeceborough. When fate forces them to quit--when the young man seeks
his fortune in New Zealand or America--he writes home the fullest
information, and his letters published in the local print read curiously
to an outsider, so full are they of local inquiries, and answers to
friends who wished to know this or that. In the end he comes back--should
he succeed in getting the gold which tempted him away--to pass his latter
days gossiping round with the dear old folk, and to marry amongst them.
Yet, with all their deep local patriotism, they are not bigoted or
narrow-minded; there is too much literature abroad for that, and they have
the cosiest reading-room wherein to learn all that passes in the world.
They have a town council held now and then in an ancient wainscoted hall,
with painted panels and coats of arms, carved oaken seats black with age,
and narrow windows from which men once looked down into the street,
wearing trunk hose and rapier.

But they have at least two other councils that meet much more often, and
that meet by night. When his books are balanced, when his shop is shut,
after he has strolled round his garden, and taken his supper, the
tradesman or shopkeeper walks down to his inn, and there finds his circle
assembled. They are all there, the rich and the moderately well-to-do, the
struggling, and the poor. Each delivers his opinion over the social glass,
or between the deliberate puffs of his cigar or pipe. The drinking is
extremely moderate, the smoking not quite so temperate; but neither the
glass nor the cigar are the real attractions. It is the common hall--the
informal place of meeting.

It is here that, the real government of the town is planned--the mere
formal resolutions voted in the ancient council-room are the outcome of
the open talk, and the quiet whisper here. No matter what subject is to
the front, the question is always heard--What will 'he' do? What will 'he'
say to it? The Volunteers compete for prizes which 'he' offers. The
cottage hospital; the flower show; the cattle show, or agricultural
exhibition; the new market buildings arose through his subscriptions and
influence; the artesian well, sunk that the town might have the best of
water, was bored at his expense; and so on through the whole list of town
affairs. When 'he' takes the lead all the lesser gentry--many of whom,
perhaps, live in his manor houses--follow suit, and with such powerful
support to back it a movement is sure to succeed, yet 'he' is rarely seen;
his hand rarely felt; everything is done, but without obtrusiveness. At
these nightly councils at the chief hostelries the farmers of the district
are almost as numerous as the townsmen. They ride in to hear the news and
exchange their own small coin of gossip. They want to know what 'he' is
going to do, and little by little of course it leaks out.

But the town is not all so loyal. There is a section which is all the more
vehemently rebellious because of the spectacle of its staid and
comfortable neighbours. This section is very small, but makes a
considerable noise. It holds meetings and utters treasonable speeches, and
denounces the 'despot' in fiery language. It protests against a free and
open park; it abhors artesian wells; it detests the throwing open of nut
woods that all may go forth a-nutting; it waxes righteously indignant at
every gift, be it prizes for the flower show or a new market site. It
scorns those mean-spirited citizens that cheer these kindly deeds. It asks
why? Why should we wait till the park gates are open? Why stay till the
nut woods are declared ready? Why be thankful for pure water? Why not take
our own? This one man has no right to these parks and woods and pleasure
grounds and vast walls; these square miles of ploughed fields, meadows and
hills. By right they should all be split up into little plots to grow our
potatoes. Away with gilded coronet and watchman, batter down these walls,
burn the ancient deeds and archives, put pick and lever to the tall church
tower; let us have the rights of man! These violent ebullitions make not
the least different. All the insults they can devise, all the petty
obstructions they can set up, the mud they can fling, does not alter the
calm course of the 'despot' one jot. The artesian well is bored, and they
can drink pure water or not, as pleases them. The prizes are offered, and
they can compete or stand aloof. Fleeceborough smiles when it meets at
night in its council-rooms, with its glass and pipe; Fleeceborough knows
that the traditional policy of the Hall will continue, and that policy is
acceptable to it.

What manner of man is this 'despot' and prince behind his vast walls?
Verily his physique matters nothing; whether he be old or of middle age,
tall or short, infirm or strong. The policy of the house keeps the actual
head and owner rather in the background. His presence is never obtruded;
he is rarely seen; you may stay in his capital for months and never catch
a glimpse of him. He will not appear at meetings, that every man may be
free, nor hesitate to say his say, and abuse what he lists to abuse. The
policy is simply perfect freedom, with support and substantial assistance
to any and to every movement set on foot by the respectable men of
Fleeceborough, or by the tenant farmers round about. This has been going
on for generations; so that the personnel of the actual owner concerns
little. His predecessors did it, he does it, and the next to come will do
it. It is the tradition of the house. Nothing is left undone that a true
princely spirit could do to improve, to beautify, or to preserve.

The antiquities of the old, old town are kept for it, and not permitted to
decay; the ancient tesselated pavements of Roman villas carefully
protected from the weather; the remnants of the enclosing walls which the
legions built for their defence saved from destruction; the coins of the
emperors and of our own early kings collected; the spurs, swords,
spearheads, all the fragments of past ages arranged for inspection and
study by every one who desires to ponder over them. Chipped flints and
arrowheads, the bones of animals long extinct, and the strange evidences
of yet more ancient creatures that swam in the seas of the prehistoric
world, these too are preserved at his cost and expense. Archaeologists,
geologists, and other men of science come from afar to see these things
and to carry away their lessons. The memories of the place are cherished.
There was a famous poet who sang in the woods about the park; his
hermitage remains, and nothing is lost that was his. Art-treasures there
are, too, heirlooms to be seen behind those vast walls by any who will be
at the trouble of asking.

Such is the policy of Hodge's own prince, whose silent influence is felt
in every household for miles about, and felt, as all must admit, however
prejudiced against the system, in this case for good. His influence
reaches far beyond the bounds even of that immense property. The example
communicates itself to others, and half the county responds to that
pleasant impulse. It is a responsible position to hold; something,
perhaps, a little like that of the Medici at Florence in the olden times.
But here there is no gonfalon, no golden chain of office, no velvet
doublet, cloak, and rapier, no guards with arquebuss or polished crossbow.
An entire absence of state and ceremony marks this almost unseen but
powerful sway. The cycle of the seasons brings round times of trial here
as over the entire world, but the conditions under which the trial is
sustained could scarcely in our day, and under our complicated social and
political system, be much more favourable.



CHAPTER XII



THE SQUIRE'S 'ROUND ROBIN


A cock pheasant flies in frantic haste across the road, beating the air
with wide-stretched wings, and fast as he goes, puts on yet a faster spurt
as the shot comes rattling up through the boughs of the oak beneath him.
The ground is, however, unfavourable to the sportsman, and the bird
escapes. The fir copse from which the pheasant rose covers a rather sharp
descent on one side of the highway. On the level above are the ploughed
fields, but the slope itself is too abrupt for agricultural operations,
and the soil perhaps thin and worthless. It is therefore occupied by a
small plantation. On the opposite side of the road there grows a fine row
of oaks in a hedge, under whose shade the dust takes long to dry when once
damped by a shower. The sportsman who fired stands in the road; the
beaters are above, for they desire the game to fly in a certain direction;
and what with the narrow space between the firs and the oaks, the
spreading boughs, and the uncertainty of the spot where the pheasant would
break cover, it is not surprising that he missed.

The shot, after tearing through the boughs, rises to some height in the
air, and, making a curve, falls of its own weight only, like pattering
hail--and as harmless--upon an aged woman, just then trudging slowly
round the corner. She is a cottager, and has been to fetch the weekly dole
of parish bread that helps to support herself and infirm husband. She
wears a long cloak that nearly sweeps the ground on account of her
much-bowed back, and carries a flag basket full of bread in one hand, and
a bulging umbrella, which answers as a walking stick, in the other. The
poor old body, much startled, but not in the least injured, scuttles back
round the corner, exclaiming, 'Lor! it be Filbard a-shooting: spose a'had
better bide a bit till he ha' done.' She has not long to wait. The young
gentleman standing in the road gets a shot at another cock; this time the
bird flies askew, instead of straight across, and so gives him a better
opportunity. The pheasant falls crash among the nettles and brambles
beside the road. Then a second and older gentleman emerges from the
plantation, and after a time a keeper, who picks up the game.

The party then proceed along the road, and coming round the corner the
great black retriever runs up to the old woman with the most friendly
intentions, but to her intense confusion, for she is just in the act of
dropping a lowly curtsey when the dog rubs against her. The young
gentleman smiles at her alarm and calls the dog; the elder walks on
utterly indifferent. A little way up the road the party get over the gate
into the meadows on that side, and make for another outlying plantation.
Then, and not till then, does the old woman set out again, upon her slow
and laborious journey. 'Filbard be just like a gatepost,' she mutters; 'a'
don't take no notice of anybody.' Though she had dropped the squire so
lowly a curtsey, and in his presence would have behaved with profound
respect, behind his back and out of hearing she called him by his family
name without any prefix. The cottagers thereabout almost always did this
in speaking among themselves of their local magnate. They rarely said
'Mr.'; it was generally 'Filbard,' or, even more familiarly, 'Jim
Filbard.' Extremes meet. They hardly dared open their mouths when they saw
him, and yet spoke of him afterwards as if he sat with them at bacon and
cabbage time.

Squire Filbard and one of his sons were walking round the outlying copses
that October day with the object of driving the pheasants in towards the
great Filbard wood, rather than of making a bag. The birds were inclined
to wander about, and the squire thought a little judicious shooting round
the outskirts would do good, and at the same time give his son some sport
without disturbing the head of game he kept up in the wood itself. The
squire was large made, tall, and well proportioned, and with a bearded,
manly countenance. His neck was, perhaps, a little thick and
apoplectic-looking, but burnt to a healthy brick-dust colour by exposure
to the sun. The passing years had drawn some crows'-feet round the eyes,
but his step was firm, his back straight, and he walked his ancestral
acres every inch the master. The defect of his features was the thinness
of the lips, and a want of character in a nose which did not accord with a
good forehead. His hands, too, were very large and puffy; his finger-nails
(scrupulously clean) were correspondingly large, and cut to a sharp point,
that seemed to project beyond the tip of the finger, and gave it a
scratchy appearance.

The chimneys of Filbard Hall showed for some distance above the trees of
the park, for the house stood on high ground. It was of red brick,
somewhat square in style, and had little of the true Elizabethan
character--it was doubtless later in date, though not modern. The
chimneys, however, had a pleasing appearance over the trees; they were in
stacks, and rather larger, or broader apparently at the top than where
they rose from the roof. Such chimneys are not often seen on recent
buildings. A chimney seems a simple matter, and yet the aspect of a house
from a distance much depends upon its outline. The mansion was of large
size, and stood in an extensive park, through which carriage drives swept
up to the front from different lodge gates. Each of the drives passed
under avenues of trees--the park seemed to stretch on either hand without
enclosure or boundary--and the approach was not without a certain
stateliness. Within the apartments were commodious, and from several there
were really beautiful views. Some ancient furniture, handed down
generation after generation, gave a character to the rooms; the oak
staircase was much admired, and so was the wainscoating of one part.

The usual family portraits hung on the walls, but the present squire had
rather pushed them aside in favour of his own peculiar hobby. He collected
antique Italian pictures--many on panels--in the pre-Raphaelite style.
Some of these he had picked up in London, others he had found and
purchased on the Continent. There were saints with glories or _nimbi_
round their heads, Madonnas and kneeling Magi, the manger under a kind of
penthouse, and similar subjects--subjects the highest that could be
chosen. The gilding of the _nimbi_ seemed well done certainly, and was
still bright, but to the ordinary eye the stiffness of the figures, the
lack of grace, the absence of soul in the composition was distressingly
apparent. It was, however, the squire's hobby, and it must be admitted
that he had very high authority upon his side. Some sensitive persons
rather shrank from seeing him handle these painted panels with those
peculiar scratchy finger-nails; it set their teeth on edge. He gave
considerable sums of money for many of these paintings, the only
liberality he permitted himself, or was capable of.

His own room or study was almost bare, and the solitary window looked on a
paved passage that led to the stables. There was nothing in it but a large
table, a bookcase, and two or three of the commonest horsehair chairs; the
carpet was worn bare. He had selected this room because there was a door
close by opening on the paved passage. Thus the bailiff of the Home Farm,
the steward, the gamekeeper, the policeman, or any one who wished to see
him on business, could come to the side door from the back and be shown in
to him without passing through the mansion. This certainly was a
convenient arrangement; yet one would have thought that he would have had
a second and more private study in which to follow his own natural bent of
mind. But the squire received the gardener and gave him directions about
the cucumbers--for he descended even to such minutiae as that--sitting at
the same table on which he had just written to an Italian art collector
respecting a picture, or to some great friend begging him to come and
inspect a fresh acquisition. The bookcase contained a few law books, a
manual for the direction of justices--the squire was on the commission--a
copy of Burke, and in one corner of a shelf a few musty papers referring
to family history. These were of some value, and the squire was proud of
showing them to those who took an interest in archaeology; yet he kept
them much as if they had been receipts for the footman's livery, or a
dozen bottles of stable medicine. He wrote with a quill pen, and as it
went up and down it scratched the paper as if it had been those sharp
projecting finger-nails.

In this study he spent many hours when at home--he rose late, and after
breakfast repaired hither. The steward was usually in attendance. He was a
commonplace man, but little above the description of a labourer. He
received wages not much superior to those a labourer takes in summer time,
but as he lived at the Home Farm (which was in hand) there were of course
some perquisites. A slow, quiet man, of little or no education, he
pottered about and looked after things in general. One morning perhaps he
would come in to talk with the squire about the ash wood they were going
to cut in the ensuing winter, or about the oak bark which had not been
paid for. Or it might be the Alderney cow or the poultry at the Home Farm,
or a few fresh tiles on the roof of the pig-sty, which was decaying. A
cart wanted a new pair of wheels or a shaft. One of the tenants wanted a
new shed put up, but it did not seem necessary; the old one would do very
well if people were not so fidgety. The wife or daughter of one of the
cottage people was taking to drink and getting into bad ways. This or that
farmer had had some sheep die. Another farmer had bought some new
silver-mounted harness, and so on, through all the village gossip.

Often it was the gamekeeper instead of the steward who came in or was sent
for. The squire kept a large head of pheasants for certain reasons, but he
was not over-anxious to pay for them. The keeper grumbled about his wages,
that he had no perquisites, and that the shooting season never brought him
any fees--unless the squire let the place; he only wished he let it every
year. This, of course, was said aside; to the squire he was hat in hand.
He had to produce his vouchers for food for the pheasants and dogs, and to
give particulars why a certain gate on the plantation wanted renewing. The
steward had seen it, and thought it might be repaired; why did the keeper
think it ought to be renewed altogether? And was there not plenty of larch
timber lying about, that had been thrown and not sold, that would make a
very good spar-gate, without purchasing one? Why couldn't old Hooker, the
hedge carpenter, knock it up cheap?

Next came the coachman--the squire did not keep up anything of a stud,
just enough to work the carriage, and some ordinary riding horses and a
pony for the children. The coachman had to explain why a new lock was
wanted on the stable door; why the blacksmith's bill was so much for
shoes; after which there was a long gossip about the horses of a gentleman
who had come down and rented a place for the season. The gardener
sometimes had an interview about the quantity of apples that might be sold
from the orchard, and twenty other peddling details, in which the squire
delighted. As for the butler, time at last had brought him to bear with
patience the inquisition about the waste corks and the empty bottles.

The squire would have had the cook in and discussed the stock-pot with her
for a full hour, but the cook set up her back. She wouldn't, no, that she
wouldn't; and the squire found that the cook was mistress of the
situation. She was the only personage who did not pass him with deference.
She tossed her head, and told her fellow-servants audibly that he was a
poor, mean-spirited man; and as for missis, she was a regular
Tartar--there! In this they thoroughly agreed. The coachman and footman,
when out with the carriage, and chancing to get a talk with other coachmen
and footmen, were full of it. He was the meanest master they had ever
known; yet they could not say that he paid less wages, or that they were
ill-fed--it was this meddling, peddling interference they resented. The
groom, when he rode into town for the letter-bag, always stopped to tell
Ills friends some fresh instance of it. All the shopkeepers and tradesmen,
and everybody else, had heard of it. But they were none the less
obsequious when the squire passed up the street. The servants were never
so glad as when young master came home with the liberal views imbibed in
modern centres of learning, and with a free, frank mode of speech. But
miss, the sole daughter, they simply hated; she seemed to have ten times
the meanness of her papa, and had been a tell-tale from childhood. The
kitchen said she saved her curl papers to sell as waste paper.

The 'missis' was as haughty, as unapproachable, and disdainful as the
master was inquisitive; she never spoke to, looked at, nor acknowledged
any one--except the three largest tenants and their wives. To these, who
paid heavily, she was gracious. She dressed in the very extreme and front
of fashion--the squire himself quite plainly, without the least pretence
of dandyism. Hateful as the village folk thought her _hauteur_ and open
contempt for them, they said she was more the lady than the squire was the
gentleman.

The squire's time, when at home, like everything else, was peddled away.
He rode into market one day of the week; he went to church on Sundays with
unfailing regularity, and he generally attended the petty sessional bench
on a third day. Upon the bench, from the long standing of his family, he
occupied a prominent position. His mind invariably seized the minutiae of
the evidence, and never seemed to see the point or the broad bearings of
the case. He would utterly confuse a truthful witness, for instance, who
chanced to say that he met the defendant in the road. 'But you said just
now that you and he were both going the same way; how, then, could you
meet him?' the squire would ask, frowning sternly. Whether the witness
overtook or met the defendant mattered nothing to the point at issue; but
the squire, having got a satisfactory explanation, turned aside, with an
aggravating air of cleverness. For the rest of the week the squire could
not account for his time. He sometimes, indeed, in the hunting season,
rode to the meet; but he rarely followed. He had none of the enthusiasm
that makes a hunter; besides, it made the horse in such a heat, and would
work him out too quick for economy.

He went out shooting, but not in regular trim. He would carry his gun
across to the Home Farm, and knock over a rabbit on the way; then spend
two hours looking at the Alderney cow, the roof of the pig-sty, and the
poultry, and presently stroll across a corner of the wood, and shoot a
pheasant. The head of game was kept up for the purpose of letting the
mansion from time to time when the squire or his lady thought it desirable
to go on the Continent, that the daughter might acquire the graces of
travel. A visit to London in the season, a visit to the seaside, and then
home in the autumn to peddle about the estate, made up the year when they
did not go abroad. There was a broad park, noble trees, a great mansion, a
stately approach; but within it seemed all littleness of spirit.

The squire's own private study--the morning-room of the owner of this fine
estate--was, as previously observed, next the passage that led to the
stables, and the one window looked out on a blank wall. It was in this
room that he conducted his business and pleasure, and his art researches.
It was here that he received the famous 'Round Robin' from his tenants.
The estate was not very large--something between 3,000 and 4,000
acres--but much of it was good and fertile, though heavy land, and highly
rented. Had the squire received the whole of his rents for his own private
use he would have been well off as squires go. But there was a flaw or
hitch somewhere in the right, or title, or succession. No one knew the
precise circumstances, because, like so many similar family disputes, when
the lawyers were ready, and the case had come before the tribunal, a
compromise was arrived at, the terms of which were only known to the
tribunal and the parties directly concerned.

But everybody knew that the squire had to pay heavy pensions to various
members of another branch of the family; and it was imagined that he did
not feel quite fixed in the tenure--that possibly the case might, under
certain circumstances, be heard of again--since it was noticed that he did
not plant trees, or make improvements, or in any way proceed to increase
the permanent attractions of the estate. It seemed as if he felt he was
only lodging there. He appeared to try and get all he could off the
place--without absolute damage--and to invest or spend nothing. After all
these payments had been made the squire's income was much reduced, and
thus, with all these broad acres, these extensive woods, and park, and
mansion, pleasure grounds, game, and so forth, he was really a poor man.
Not poor in the sense of actual want, but a man in his position had, of
course, a certain appearance to keep up. Horses, carriages--even
cooks--are not to be had for nothing, and are absolutely essential to
those who are compelled to maintain any kind of dignity. Sons with liberal
ideas are expensive; a daughter is expensive; a wife who insists on
dressing in the fashion is expensive.

Now, taking all those things into consideration, and remembering, too,
that the squire as a good father (which he was admittedly) wished to make
provision for the future of his children, it may perhaps, after all, be
questioned whether he really was so mean and little of spirit as appeared.
Under the circumstances, if he wished to save, the only way open to him
was to be careful in little things. Even his hobby--the pre-Raphaelite
pictures--was not without its advantage in this sense; the collection was
certainly worth more than he gave for it, for he got it all by careful
bargaining, and it could be sold again at a profit. The careful
superintendence of the Alderney cow, the cucumber frames, and the rabbits,
might all be carried out for the very best of objects, the good of his
children.

Now, the squire was, of course, very well aware of the troubles of
agriculture, the wetness of the seasons--which played havoc with the
game--the low prices, and the loud talk that was going on around him. But
he made no sign. He might have been deaf, dumb, and blind. He walked by
the wheat, but did not see the deficiency of the crop, nor the
extraordinary growth of weeds. There were voices in the air like the
mutterings of a coming storm, but he did not hear them. There were
paragraphs in the papers--how So-and-So had liberally reduced the rents or
returned a percentage; but he did not read them, or did not understand.
Rent days came and went, and no sign was made. His solicitor received the
rents, but nothing could be got out of him by the farmers. The little
farmers hardly liked to take the lead: some of them did not dare. The
three largest farmers looked at each other and wondered which would speak
first. They were awkwardly situated. The squire's wife acknowledged their
wives and daughters, and once now and then deigned to invite them to the
mansion. The squire himself presented them with specimens of a valuable
breed of poultry he was bringing up at the Home Farm. It was difficult to
begin unpleasant business.

Meantime the solicitor gathered up the cheques, wished them good afternoon
and departed. Another rent day came round, and still no sign. The squire's
policy was, in fact, to ignore. He ignored the depression altogether--could
not see that it existed in that county at all. Recollect, it was the only
policy open to him. Whether the rents paid to him were large or small, his
expenses would be the same. There were the members of the other branch of
the family to be paid in full. There were the carriages, the servants, the
gamekeepers, and so on. He could reduce nothing; no wonder that he was
slow to acknowledge that he must be himself reduced. The fatal day--so
long dreaded--came at last.

A large letter lay on the table in the study one morning, along with the
other letters. He did not recognise the handwriting, and naturally opened
it first. It was a 'Round Robin' from the tenants. All had signed a
memorial, setting forth the depression, and respectfully, even humbly,
asking that their case be taken into consideration, and that a percentage
be returned, or the rent reduced. Their heavy land, they pointed out, had
been peculiarly difficult to work in such seasons. They had suffered
exceptionally, and they trusted he would take no offence. But there was an
unmistakable hint that they were in earnest. All signed it--from the
ungrateful largest tenants, who had had presents of fancy poultry, and
whose wives had been smiled upon, down to the smallest working farmer, who
could hardly be distinguished from his own labourers.

The squire read the names over twice, pointing to each with his sharp,
scratchy finger-nail. There were other letters from the members of the
other branch of the family whose pensions were just due in full. Suppose
he returned ten per cent. of the rents to the tenants, that would not be
like ten per cent. upon the entire rental, but perhaps twenty-five or
thirty per cent, upon that portion of the rental which actually went into
his own pocket. A man can hardly be expected to cheerfully tender other
people a third of his income. But sprawling and ill-written as many of the
signatures were to the 'Round Robin'--the pen held by heavy hands--yet
they were genuine, and constituted a very substantial fact, that must be
yielded to.



CHAPTER XIII



AN AMBITIOUS SQUIRE


Perhaps the magistrate most regular in his attendance at a certain country
Petty Sessional Court is young Squire Marthorne. Those who have had
business to transact at such Courts know the difficulty that often arises
from the absence of a second magistrate, there being a numerous class of
cases with which one justice of the peace is not permitted to deal. There
must be two, and it sometimes happens that only one is forthcoming. The
procedure adopted varies much in different divisions, according to the
population and the percentage of charges brought up. Usually a particular
day is appointed when it is understood that a full bench will be present,
but it not unfrequently happens that another and less formal meeting has
to be held, at which the attendance is uncertain. The district in which
Mr. Marthorne resides chances to be somewhat populous, and to include one
or two turbulent places that furnish a steady supply of offenders. The
practice therefore is to hold two Courts a week; at one of these, on the
Saturday, the more important cases are arranged to be heard, when there
are always plenty of magistrates. At the other, on the Tuesday, remands
and smaller matters are taken, and there then used to be some delay.

One justice thought his neighbour would go, another thought the same of
his neighbour, and the result was nobody went. Having tacitly bound
themselves to attend once a week, the justices, many of whom resided miles
away, did not care formally to pledge themselves to be invariably present
on a second day. Sometimes the business on that second day was next to
nothing, but occasionally serious affairs turned up, when messengers had
to be despatched to gather a quorum.

But latterly this uncertainty has been put an end to through the regular
attendance of young Squire Marthorne, of Marthorne House. The Marthornes
are an old family, and one of the best connected in the county, though by
no means rich, and, whether it was the lack of great wealth or a want of
energy, they had until recently rather dropped out of the governing
circle. When, however, the young squire, soon after his accession to the
property, in the natural course of events, was nominated to the Commission
of the Peace, he began to exhibit qualities calculated to bring him to the
front. He developed an aptitude for business, and at the same time showed
a personal tact and judgment which seemed to promise a future very
different from the previous stagnation of his family.

These qualities came first into play at the Petty Sessions, which, apart
from the criminal business, is practically an informal weekly Parliament
of local landowners. Marthorne, of course, was well known to the rest long
before his appearance among them as a colleague. He had gained some
reputation at college; but that had long since been forgotten in the
prestige he had attained as a brilliant foxhunter. Even in the days before
his accession, when his finances were notoriously low, he had somehow
contrived to ride a first-rate horse. Everybody likes a man who rides a
good horse. At the same time there was nothing horsey about him; he was
always the gentleman. Since his succession the young squire, as he was
familiarly described--most of the others being elderly---had selected his
horses with such skill that it was well known a very great man had noticed
them, so that when he came to the Bench, young as he was, Marthorne
escaped the unpleasant process of finding his level--_i.e._ being
thoroughly put down.

If not received quite as an equal by that assemblage of elderly gentlemen,
he was made to feel that at all events they would listen to what he had to
say. That is a very great point gained. Marthorne used his advantage with
judgment. He displayed a modesty highly commendable in a young man. He
listened, and only spoke for the purpose of acquiring information. Nothing
is so pleasing as to find a man of intelligence willingly constituting
himself your pupil. They were all anxious to teach him the business of the
county, and the more he endeavoured to learn from them the cleverer they
thought him.

Now, the business of the county was not very intricate; the details were
innumerable, but the general drift was easy to acquire. Much more
complicated to see through were all the little personal likings,
dislikings, petty spites, foibles, hobbies, secret understandings, family
jars, and so forth, which really decide a man's vote, or the scale into
which he throws his influence. There were scores of squires dotted over
the county, each of whom possessed local power more or less considerable,
and each of whom might perchance have private relations with men who held
high office in the State. Every family had its history and its archives
containing records of negotiations with other families. People who met
with all outward friendliness, and belonged to the same party, might have
grudges half a century old, but not yet forgotten. If you made friends
with one, you might mortally offend the other. The other would say
nothing, but another day a whisper to some great authority might destroy
the hopes of the aspirant. Those who would attain to power must study the
inner social life, and learn the secret motives that animate men. But to
get at the secret behind the speech, the private thought behind the vote,
would occupy one for years.

Marthorne, of course, having been born and bred in the circle, knew the
main facts; but, when he came to really set himself to work, he quickly
felt that he was ignorant, and that at any moment he might irritate some
one's hidden prejudice. He looked round for an older man who knew all
about it, and could inform him. This man he found in the person of the
Vice-Chairman of the Petty Sessions. The nominal Chairman, like many other
unpaid officials, held the place because of old family greatness, not from
any personal ability--family greatness which was in reality a mere
tradition. The Vice-Chairman was the true centre and spirit of the circle.

A man of vast aptitude for details, he liked county business for its own
sake, and understood every technicality. With little or no personal
ambition, he had assisted in every political and social movement in the
county for half a century, and knew the secret motives of every individual
landowner. With large wealth, nothing to do, and childless, he took a
liking to young Marthorne. The old man wished for nothing better than to
talk; the young squire listened attentively. The old man was delighted to
find some one who would sit with him through the long hours of Petty
Sessional business. Thus it was that the people who had to attend the
Local Board, whether it was a Saturday, the principal day, or whether it
was a Tuesday, that had previously been so trying, found their business
facilitated by the attendance of two magistrates. The Vice-Chairman was
always there, and Mr. Marthorne was always there. It sometimes happened
that while Hodge the lately intoxicated, or Hodge the recent pugilist, was
stolidly waiting for his sentence, the two justices in the retiring room
were convulsed with laughter; the one recounting, the other imbibing, some
curious racy anecdote concerning the family history of a local magnate.

Meantime, the young squire was steadily gaining a reputation for solid
qualities, for work and application. Not only at the Bench, but at the
Board of Guardians and at other Boards where the justice of the peace is
_ex officio_ a member, he steadily worked at details, sat patiently upon
committees, audited endless accounts, read interminable reports, and was
never weary of work. The farmers began to talk about him, and to remark to
each other what a wonderful talent for business he possessed, and what a
pleasant-speaking young gentleman he was. The applause was well earned,
for probably there is no duller or more monotonous work than that of
attending Boards which never declare dividends. He next appeared at the
farmers' club, at first as a mere spectator, and next, though with evident
diffidence, as a speaker.

Marthorne was no orator; he felt when he stood up to speak an odd
sensation in the throat, as if the glottis had contracted. He was, in
fact, very nervous, and for the first two or three sentences had not the
least idea what he had said. But he forced himself to say it--his will
overruled his physical weakness. When said it was not much--only a few
safe platitudes--but it was a distinct advance. He felt that next time he
should do better, and that his tongue would obey his mind. His remarks
appeared in the local print, and he had started as a speaker. He was
resolved to be a speaker, for it is evident to all that, without frequent
public speech, no one can now be a representative man. Marthorne, after
this, never lost an opportunity of speaking--if merely to second a
resolution, to propose a toast, he made the most of it. One rule he laid
down for himself, namely, never to say anything original. He was not
speaking to propound a new theory, a new creed, or view of life. His aim
was to become the mouthpiece of his party. Most probably the thought that
seemed to him so clever might, if publicly expressed, offend some
important people. He, therefore, carefully avoided anything original. High
authorities are now never silent; when Parliament closes they still
continue to address the public, and generally upon more or less stirring
questions of the time.

In those addresses, delivered by the very leaders of his own party,
Marthorne found the material, and caught from their diligent perusal the
spirit in which to use it. In this way, without uttering a single original
idea of his own, and with very little originality of expression, the young
orator succeeded perfectly in his aim. First, he became recognised as a
speaker, and, therefore, extremely useful; secondly, he was recognised as
one of the soundest exponents of politics in the county. Marthorne was not
only clever, but 'safe.' His repute for the latter quality was of even
more service to him than for talent; to be 'safe' in such things is a very
great recommendation. Personal reputation is of slow growth, but it does
grow. The Vice-Chairman, Marthorne's friend and mentor, had connections
with very high people indeed. He mentioned Marthorne to the very high
people. These, in their turn, occasionally cast a glance at what Marthorne
was doing. Now and then they read a speech of his, and thought it
extremely good, solid, and well put. It was understood that a certain M.P.
would retire at the next election; and they asked themselves whom they had
to take his place?

While this important question was exercising the minds of those in
authority, Marthorne was energetically at work gaining the social
suffrage. The young squire's lady--he had married in his minority for
beauty and intelligence, and not for money--was discovered to be a very
interesting young person. Her beauty and intelligence, and, let it be
added, her true devotion to her husband's cause, proved of fifty times
more value to him than a dowry of many manors. Her tact smoothed the way
everywhere; she made friends for him in all directions, especially perhaps
during the London season. Under the whirl and glitter of that fascinating
time there are latent possibilities of important business. Both Marthorne
and his lady had by birth and connections the _entrée_ into leading
circles; but many who have that _entrée_ never attain to more influence in
society than the furniture of the drawing-room.

These two never for a moment lost sight of the country while they enjoyed
themselves in town. Everything they said or did was said and done with a
view to conciliate people who might have direct or indirect influence in
the country. In these matters, ladies of position still retain
considerable power in their hands. The young squire and his wife put
themselves to immense trouble to get the good-will of such persons, and
being of engaging manners they in time succeeded. This was not effected at
once, but three or four years are a very short time in which to develop
personal influence, and their success within so brief a period argues
considerable skill.

At home again in the autumn the same efforts were diligently continued.
The mansion itself was but of moderate size and by no means convenient,
but the squire's lady transformed it from a gaunt, commonplace country
house into an elegant and charming residence. This she contrived without
great expense by the exercise of good taste and a gift of discriminating
between what was and what was not. The exterior she left alone--to alter
an exterior costs a heavy sum and often fails. But the interior she
gradually fitted in a novel fettle, almost entirely after her own design.
The gardens, too, under her supervision, became equally inviting. The
house got talked about, and was itself a social success.

On his part, the squire paid as much attention to the estate. It was not
large, far from sufficient of itself, indeed, to support any social or
political pretensions without the most rigid economy. And the pair were
rigidly economical. The lady dressed in the height of the fashion, and
drove the most beautiful horses, and yet she never wasted a shilling upon
herself. Her own little private whims and fancies she resolutely refused
to gratify. Every coin was spent where it would produce effect. In like
manner, the squire literally never had half a sovereign in his pocket. He
selected the wines in his cellar with the greatest care, and paid for them
prices which the wine merchant, in these days of cheap wines, was
unaccustomed to receive from men of thrice his income. The squire paid for
the very best wine, and in private drank a cheap claret. But his guests,
many of them elderly gentlemen, when once they had dined with him never
forgot to come again. His bins became known throughout the county; very
influential people indeed spoke of them with affection. It was in this way
that the squire got a high value out of his by no means extensive rents.

He also looked after the estate personally. Hodge, eating his luncheon
under the hedge in October, as he slowly munched his crust, watched the
squire strolling about the fields, with his gun under his arm, and
wondered why he did not try the turnips. The squire never went into the
turnip field, and seemed quite oblivious that he carried a gun, for when a
covey rose at his feet he did not fire, but simply marked them down. His
mind, in fact, was busy with more important matters, and, fond as he was
of shooting, he wanted the birds for some one else's delectation. After he
had had the place a little while, there was not a square inch of waste
ground to be found. When the tenants were callous to hints, the squire
gave them pretty clearly to understand that he meant his land to be
improved, and improved it was. He himself of his own free motive and
initiative ordered new buildings to be erected where he, by personal
inspection, saw that they would pay. He drained to some extent, but not
very largely, thinking that capital sunk in drains, except in particular
soils, did not return for many years.

Anxious as he was to keep plenty of game, he killed off the rabbits, and
grubbed up many of the small covers at the corners and sides of arable
fields which the tenants believed injurious to crops. He repaired
labourers' cottages, and added offices to farmsteads. In short, he did
everything that could be done without too heavy an expenditure. To kill
off the rabbits, to grub the smaller coverts, to drain the marshy spots,
to thatch the cottages, put up cattle sheds, and so on, could be effected
without burdening the estate with a loan. But, small as these improvements
were in themselves, yet, taken together, they made an appreciable
difference.

There was a distinct increase in the revenue of the estate after the first
two years. The increase arose in part from the diminished expenses, for it
has been found that a tumble-down place is more costly to maintain than
one in good repair. The tenants at first were rather alarmed, fearing lest
the change should end in a general rise of rents. It did not. The squire
only asked an increase when he had admittedly raised the value of the
land, and then only to a moderate amount. By degrees he acquired a
reputation as the most just of landlords. His tenantry were not only
satisfied, but proud of him; for they began to foresee what was going to
happen.

Yet all these things had been done for his own interest--so true is it
that the interest of the landlord and the tenant are identical. The squire
had simply acted judiciously, and from personal inspection. He studied his
estate, and attended to it personally. Of course he could not have done
these things had he not succeeded to a place but little encumbered with
family settlements. He did them from interested motives, and not from mere
sentiment. But, nevertheless, credit of a high order was justly accorded
to him. So young a man might naturally have expended his income on
pleasure. So young a wife might have spent his rents in frivolity. They
worked towards an end, but it was a worthy end--for ambition, if not too
extravagant, is a virtue. Men with votes and influence compared this
squire in their minds with other squires, whose lives seemed spent in a
slumberous donothingness.

Thus, by degrees, the young squire's mansion and estate added to his
reputation. The labour which all this represented was immense. Both the
squire and his wife worked harder than a merchant in his office. Attending
Boards and farmers' clubs, making speeches, carrying on correspondence,
looking after the estate, discharging social duties, filled up every
moment of his time. Superintending the house, the garden, corresponding,
and a hundred other labours, filled up every moment of hers. They were
never idle; to rise socially and politically requires as great or greater
work than for a poor man to achieve a fortune.

Ultimately the desired result began to be apparent. There grew up a
general feeling that the squire was the best man for the place in
Parliament which, in the course of events, must ere long be vacant. There
was much heartburning and jealousy secretly felt among men twice his age,
who had waited and hoped for years for such an opening, till at last they
had rusted and become incapable of effort. But, cynical as they might be
in private, they were too wise to go openly against the stream. A few
friendly words spoken in season by a great man whose goodwill had been
gained decided the matter. At an informal meeting of the party--how much
more is effected at informal than at formal assemblies!--Marthorne was
introduced as the successor to the then representative. The young squire's
estate could not, of course, bear the heavy pecuniary strain which must
arise; but before those who had the control of these things finally
selected him they had ascertained that there would be no difficulty with
respect to money. Marthorne's old friend and mentor, the wealthy
Vice-Chairman of the Petty Sessions, who had inducted him into the county
business, announced that he should bear the larger part of the expense. He
was not a little proud of his _protégé_.

The same old friend and mentor, wise with the knowledge and experience
which long observation of men had given him, advised the young squire what
to do when the depression first came upon agriculture. The old man said,
'Meet it; very likely it will not last two years. What is that in the life
of an estate?' So the young squire met it, and announced at once that he
should return a percentage of his rents. 'But not too high a percentage,'
said the old man; 'let us ascertain what the rest of the landowners think,
else by a too liberal reduction you may seem to cast a reflection upon
them.' The percentage was returned, and continued, and the young squire
has tided over the difficulty.

His own tenantry and the farming interest generally are proud of him.
Hodge, who, slow as he is, likes a real man, says, 'He beant such a bad
sort of a veller, you; a' beant above speaking to we!' When the time comes
the young squire will certainly be returned.



CHAPTER XIV



THE PARSON'S WIFE

It is pleasant, on a sunny day to walk through a field of wheat when the
footpath is bordered on either side by the ripening crop, without the
intervention of hedge or fence. Such a footpath, narrow, but well kept,
leads from a certain country churchyard to the highway road, and passes on
the way a wicket gate in a thick evergreen shrubbery which surrounds the
vicarage lawn and gardens. This afternoon the wheat stands still and
upright, without a motion, in the burning sunshine, for the sun, though he
has sloped a little from his highest meridian altitude, pours an even
fiercer beam than at the exact hour of noon. The shadeless field is
exposed to the full glare of the brilliant light. There are no trees in
the field itself, the hedges are cut low and trimmed to the smallest
proportions, and are devoid of timber; and, as the ground is high and
close to the hills, all the trees in sight are beneath, and can be
overlooked. Whether in sunshine or storm there is no shelter--no medium;
the wind rushes over with its utmost fury, or the heat rests on it
undisturbed by the faintest current. Yet, sultry as it is, the footpath is
a pleasant one to follow.

The wheat ears, all but ripe--to the ordinary eye they are ripe, but the
farmer is not quite satisfied--rise to the waist or higher, and tempt the
hand to pluck them. Butterflies flutter over the surface, now descending
to some flower hidden beneath, now resuming their joyous journey. There is
a rich ripe feeling in the very atmosphere, the earth is yielding her
wealth, and a delicate aroma rises from her generous gifts. Far as the eye
can see, the rolling plains and slopes present various tints of
yellow--wheat in different stages of ripeness, or of different kinds; oats
and barley--till the hedges and woods of the vale conceal the farther
landscape on the one hand and the ridge of the hills upon the other.

Nothing conveys so strong an impression of substantial wealth as the view
of wheat-fields. A diamond ornament in a window may be ticketed as worth
so many hundreds of pounds; but the glittering gem, and the sum it
represents, seem rather abstract than real. But the wheat, the golden
wheat, is a great fact that seizes hold of the mind; the idea comes of
itself that it represents solid wealth.

The tiles of the vicarage roof--all of the house visible above the
shrubbery--look so hot and dry in the glaring sunshine that it does not
seem possible for vegetation to exist upon them; yet they are tinted with
lichen. The shrubbery has an inviting coolness about it--the thick
evergreens, the hollies on which the berries are now green, the cedars and
ornamental trees planted so close together that the passer-by cannot see
through, must surely afford a grateful shade--a contrast with the heat of
the wheat-field and the dust of the highway below. Just without the wicket
gate a goat standing upon his hind legs, his fore legs placed against the
palings, is industriously nibbling the tenderest leaves of the shrubs and
trees which he can reach. Thus extended to his full length he can reach
considerably higher than might be supposed, and is capable of much
destruction. Doubtless he has got out of bounds.

Inside the enclosure the reverend gentleman himself reclines in an
arm-chair of cane-work placed under the shade of the verandah, just
without the glass door or window opening from the drawing-room upon the
lawn. His head has fallen back and a little to one side, and an open book
lies on his knee; his soft felt hat is bent and crumpled; he has yielded
to the heat and is slumbering. The blinds are partly down the window, but
a glimpse can be obtained of a luxurious carpet, of tables in valuable
woods and inlaid, of a fine piano, of china, and the thousand and one
nicknacks of highly civilised life. The reverend gentleman's suit of
black, however, is not new; it is, on the contrary, decidedly rusty, and
the sole of one of his boots, which is visible, is much worn. Over his
head the roses twine round the pillars of the verandah, and there is a
_parterre_ of brilliant flowers not far from his feet.

His wife sits, a few yards distant, under a weeping ash, whose
well-trained boughs make a perfect tent, and shield her from the sun. She
has a small table before her, and writing materials, and is making notes
with the utmost despatch from some paper or journal. She is no longer
young, and there are marks of much care and trouble on her forehead; but
she has still a pleasing expression upon her features, her hands are
exquisitely white, and her figure, once really good, retains some of the
outline that rendered it beautiful. Wherever you saw her you would say,
That is a lady. But her dress, tasteful though it be, is made of the
cheapest material, and looks, indeed, as if it had been carefully folded
away last summer, and was now brought out to do duty a second time.

The slow rumble of waggon wheels goes down the road, close to the lawn,
but concealed by the trees, against whose boughs the sheaves of the load
rustle as they go past. Wealth rolling by upon the waggon, wealth in the
well-kept garden, in the smart lawn, in the roses, the bright flowers, the
substantial well-furnished house, the luxurious carpet, and the china;
wealth, too, all around in the vast expanse of ripening wheat. He has
nothing to do but to slumber in the cane chair and receive his tithe of
the harvest. She has nothing to do but to sit under the shadow of the
weeping ash and dream dreams, or write verses. Such, at least, might be
the first impression.

The publication from which she is so earnestly making notes is occupied
with the management of bees, and she is so busy because the paper is only
borrowed, and has to be returned. Most of the papers and books that come
to the vicarage have to be hastily read for the same reason. Mrs. F---- is
doing her very best and hardest to increase the Rev. F----'s income--she
has tried to do so for some years, and despite repeated failures is
bravely, perhaps a little wearily, still trying. There is not much left
for her to experiment with. The goat surreptitiously nibbling the valuable
shrubs outside the palings is a member of a flock that once seemed to
promise fair. Goats at one time (she was persuaded) were the means of
ready wealth--they could live anywhere, on anything (the shrubs to wit),
and yielded such rich milk; it far surpassed that of the shorthorn; there
was the analysis to prove it! Such milk must of course be worth money,
beside which there were the kids, and the cheese and butter.

Alas! the goats quickly obtained so evil a reputation, worse than that of
the rabbits for biting off the shooting vegetation, that no one would have
them on the land. The milk was all the analysis declared it, but in that
outlying village, which did not contain two houses above the quality of a
farmstead, there was no one to buy it. There was a prejudice against the
butter which could not be got over; and the cheese--well, the cheese
resembled a tablet of dark soap. Hodge would not eat it at a gift; he
smelt it, picked a morsel off on the tip of his clasp knife, and threw it
aside in contempt. One by one the goats were got rid of, and now but two
or three remained; she could not make up her mind to part with all, for
living creatures, however greatly they have disappointed, always enlist
the sympathies of women.

Poultry was the next grand discovery--they ate their heads off, refused to
lay eggs, and, when by frequent purchase they became numerous and promised
to pay, quietly died by the score, seized with an epidemic. She learnt in
visiting the cottagers how profitable their allotment gardens were to
them, and naturally proceeded to argue that a larger piece of ground would
yield proportionately larger profit if cultivated on the same principle.
If the cottagers could pay a rent for an acre which, in the aggregate, was
three times that given by the ordinary farmer, and could even then make a
good thing of it, surely intelligence and skill might do the same on a
more extended scale. How very foolish the farmers were! they might raise
at least four times the produce they did, and they might pay three times
the rent. As the vicar had some hundred and fifty acres of glebe let at
the usual agricultural rent, if the tenants could be persuaded or
instructed to farm on the cottager's system, what an immense increase it
would be to his income! The tenants, however, did not see it. They
shrugged their shoulders, and made no movement The energetic lady resolved
to set an example, and to prove to them that they were wrong.

She rented an acre of arable land (at the side of the field), giving the
tenant a fair price for it. First it had to be enclosed so as to be parted
off from the open field. The cost of the palings made the vicar wince; his
lady set it duly down to debit. She planted one-half potatoes, as they
paid thirty pounds per acre, and on the rest put in hundreds of currant
bushes, set a strawberry bed and an asparagus bed, on the principle that
luxuries of that kind fetch a high price and occupy no more space than
cabbages. As the acre was cultivated entirely by the spade, the cost of
the labour expended upon it ran up the figures on the debit side to an
amount which rather startled her. But the most dispiriting part of the
commencement was the length of time to wait before a crop came. According
to her calculations that represented so much idle capital sunk, instead of
being rapidly turned over. However, she consoled herself with the pig-sty,
in which were half a dozen animals, whose feeding she often personally
superintended.

The potatoes failed, and did not pay for the digging; the currant bushes
were blighted; the strawberries were eaten by snails, and, of course, no
asparagus could be cut for three years; a little item, this last, quite
overlooked. The pigs returned exactly the sum spent upon them; there was
neither profit nor loss, and there did not appear any chance of making a
fortune out of pork. The lady had to abandon the experiment quite
disheartened, and found that, after all her care and energy, her books
showed a loss of fifteen pounds. It was wonderful it was not more; labour
was so expensive, and no doubt she was cheated right and left.

She next tried to utilise her natural abilities, and to turn her
accomplishments to account. She painted; she illuminated texts; she
undertook difficult needlework of various kinds, in answer to
advertisements which promised ample remuneration for a few hours' labour.
Fifteen hours' hard work she found was worth just threepence, and the
materials cost one shilling: consequently she laboriously worked herself
poorer by ninepence.

Finally, she was studying bees, which really seemed to hold out some
prospect of success. Yonder were the hills where they could find thyme in
abundance; the fields around supplied clover; and the meadows below were
full of flowers. So that hot summer day, under the weeping ash, she was
deep in the study of the 'Ligurian queen,' the 'super' system, the
mysteries of 'driving,' and making sketches of patent hives. Looking up
from her sketch she saw that her husband had fallen asleep, and stayed to
gaze at him thoughtfully.

He looked worn, and older than he really was; as if rest or change would
do him good; as if he required luxuries and petting. She sighed, and
wondered whether the bees would enable her to buy him such things, for
though the house was well furnished and apparently surrounded with wealth,
they were extremely poor. Yet she did not care for money for their own
household use so much as to give him the weight in parish affairs he so
sadly needed. She felt that he was pushed aside, treated as a cipher, and
that he had little of the influence that properly belonged to him. Her two
daughters, their only children, were comfortably, though not grandly,
married and settled; there was no family anxiety. But the work, the
parish, the people, all seemed to have slipped out of her husband's hands.
She could not but acknowledge that he was too quiet and yielding, that he
lacked the brazen voice, the personal force that imposes upon men. But
surely his good intentions, his way of life, his gentle kindness should
carry sway. Instead of which the parish seemed to have quite left the
Church, and the parson was outside the real modern life of the village. No
matter what he did, even if popular, it soon seemed to pass out of his
hands.

There was the school, for instance. He could indeed go across and visit
it, but he had no control, no more than the veriest stranger that strolled
along the road. He had always been anxious for a good school, and had done
the best he could with means so limited before the new Acts came into
operation. When they were passed he was the first to endeavour to carry
them out and to save the village the cost and the possible quarrelling of
a school board. He went through all the preliminary work, and reconciled,
as far as possible, the jarring interests that came into play. The two
largest landlords of the place were unfortunately not on good terms.
Whatever the one did the other was jealous of, so that when one promised
the necessary land for the school, and it was accepted, the other withdrew
his patronage, and declined to subscribe. With great efforts the vicar,
nevertheless, got the school erected, and to all appearance the difficulty
was surmounted.

But when the Government inspection took place it was found that, though
not nearly filled with scholars, there was not sufficient cubic space to
include the children of a distant outlying hamlet, which the vicar had
hoped to manage by a dame school. These poor children, ill fed and young,
could hardly stand walking to and from the village school--a matter of
some five miles daily, and which in winter and wet weather was, in itself,
a day's work for their weary little limbs. As the vicar could not raise
money enough to pay a certificated teacher at the proposed branch or dame
school, the scheme had to be abandoned. Then, according to red tape, it
was necessary to enlarge the village school to accommodate these few
children, and this notwithstanding that the building was never full. The
enlargement necessitated a great additional expenditure The ratepayers
did, indeed, after much bickering and much persuasion, in the end pay off
the deficiency; but in the meantime, the village had been brought to the
verge of a school board.

Religious differences came to the front--there was, in fact, a trial of
force between the denominations. Till then for many years these
differences had slumbered and been almost forgotten; they were now brought
into collision, and the social quiet of the place was upset. A council of
the chief farmers and some others was ultimately formed, and, as a matter
of fact, really did represent the inhabitants fairly well. But while it
represented the parish, it left the vicar quite outside. He had a voice,
but nothing more. He was not the centre--the controlling spirit.

He bore it meekly enough, so far as he was personally concerned; but he
grieved about it in connection with his deep religious feelings and his
Church. The Church was not in the front of all, as it should be. It was
hard after all his labour; the rebuffs, the bitter remarks, the sneers of
those who had divergent views, and, perhaps worse than all, the cold
indifference and apathy of those who wished things to remain in the old
state, ignoring the fact that the law would not suffer it. There were many
other things besides the school, but they all went the same way. The
modern institution was introduced, championed by the Church, worked for by
the Church, but when at last it was successful, somehow or other it seemed
to have severed itself from the Church altogether. The vicar walked about
the village, and felt that, though nominally in it, he was really out of
it.

His wife saw it too, still more clearly than he did. She saw that he had
none of the gift of getting money out of people. Some men seem only to
have to come in contact with others to at once receive the fruits of their
dormant benevolent feelings. The rich man writes his cheque for 100_l_.,
the middle-class well-to-do sends his bank notes for 20_l_., the
comfortable middle-class man his sovereigns. A testimonial is got up, an
address engrossed on vellum, speeches are made, and a purse handed over
containing a draft for so many hundreds, 'in recognition, not in reward,
of your long continued and successful ministrations.' The art of causing
the purse-strings to open is an art that is not so well understood,
perhaps, among the orthodox as by the unorthodox. The Rev. F---- either
could not, or would not, or did not know how to ask, and he did not
receive.

Just at present his finances were especially low. The tenants who farmed
the glebe land threatened to quit unless their rents were materially
reduced, and unless a considerable sum was expended upon improvements. To
some very rich men the reduction of rents has made a sensible difference;
to the Rev. F---- it meant serious privations. But he had no choice; he
had to be satisfied with that or nothing. Then the vicarage house, though
substantial and pleasant to look at, was not in a good state within. The
rain came through in more places than one, and the ancient woodwork of the
roof was rotten. He had already done considerable repairing, and knew that
he must soon do more. The nominal income of the living was but moderate;
but when the reductions were all made, nothing but a cheese-paring seemed
left. From this his subscriptions to certain ecclesiastical institutions
had to be deducted.

Lastly, he had received a hint that a curate ought to be kept now that his
increasing age rendered him less active than before. There was less hope
now than ever of anything being done for him in the parish. The landowners
complained of rent reductions, of farms idle on their hands, and of
increasing expenses. The farmers grumbled about the inclement seasons,
their continual losses, and the falling markets. It was not a time when
the churlish are almost generous, having such overflowing pockets. There
was no testimonial, no address on vellum, no purse with banker's draft for
the enfeebled servant of the Church slumbering in the cane chair in the
verandah.

Yet the house was exquisitely kept, marvellously kept considering the
class of servants they were obliged to put up with. The garden was bright
and beautiful with flowers, the lawn smooth; there was an air of
refinement everywhere. So the clergyman slept, and the wife turned again
to her sketch of the patent hive, hoping that the golden honey might at
last bring some metallic gold. The waggon rumbled down the road, and
Hodge, lying at full length on the top of the load, could just see over
the lowest part of the shrubbery, and thought to himself what a jolly life
that parson led, sleeping the hot hours away in the shade.



CHAPTER XV



A MODERN COUNTRY CURATE


'He can't stroddle thuck puddle, you: can a'?'

'He be going to try: a' will leave his shoe in it.'

Such were the remarks that passed between two agricultural women who from
behind the hedge were watching the approach of the curate along a deep
miry lane. Where they stood the meadow was high above the level of the
lane, which was enclosed by steep banks thickly overgrown with bramble,
briar, and thorn. The meadows each side naturally drained into the hollow,
which during a storm was filled with a rushing torrent, and even after a
period of dry weather was still moist, for the overhanging trees prevented
evaporation. A row of sarsen stones at irregular intervals were intended
to afford firm footing to the wayfarer, but they were nothing more than
traps for the unwary. Upon placing the foot on the smooth rounded surface
it immediately slipped, and descended at an angle into a watery hole. The
thick, stiff, yellow clay held the water like a basin; the ruts, quite two
feet deep, where waggon wheels had been drawn through by main force, were
full to the brim. In summer heats they might have dried, but in November,
though fine, they never would.

Yet if the adventurous passenger, after gamely struggling, paused awhile
to take breath, and looked up from the mud, the view above was beautiful.
The sun shone, and lit up the oaks, whose every leaf was brown or buff;
the gnats played in thousands in the mild air under the branches. Through
the coloured leaves the blue sky was visible, and far ahead a faintly
bluish shadow fell athwart the hollow. There were still blackberries on
the bramble, beside which the brown fern filled the open spaces, and
behind upon the banks the mosses clothed the ground and the roots of the
trees with a deep green. Two or more fieldfares were watching in an elm
some distance down; the flock to which they belonged was feeding, partly
in the meadow and partly in the hedge. Every now and then the larks flew
over, uttering their call-note. Behind a bunch of rushes a young rabbit
crouched in the ditch on the earth thrown out from the hole hard by,
doubtful in his mind whether to stay there or to enter the burrow.

It was so still and mild between the banks, where there was not the least
current of air, that the curate grew quite warm with the exertion. His
boots adhered to the clay, in which they sank at every step; they came out
with a 'sock, sock.' He now followed the marks of footsteps, planting his
step where the weight of some carter or shepherd had pressed the mud down
firm. Where these failed he was attracted by a narrow grass-grown ridge, a
few inches wide, between two sets of ruts. In a minute he felt the ridge
giving beneath him as the earth slipped into the watery ruts. Next he
crept along the very edge of the ditch, where the briars hooked in the
tail of his black frock-coat, and an unnoticed projecting bough quietly
lifted his shovel-hat off, but benevolently held it suspended, instead of
dropping it in the mud. Still he made progress, though slow; now with a
giant stride across an exceptionally doubtful spot, now zigzagging from
side to side. The lane was long, and he seemed to make but little advance.
But there was a spirit in him not to be stayed by mud, or clay, or any
other obstacle. It is pleasant to see an enthusiast, whether right or
wrong, in these cynical days. He was too young to have acquired much
worldly wisdom, but he was full of the high spirit which arises from
thorough conviction and the sense of personal consecration conferred by
the mission on the man. He pushed on steadily till brought to a stop by a
puddle, broad, deep, and impassable, which extended right across the lane,
and was some six or eight yards long. He tried to slip past at the side,
but the banks were thick with thorns, and the brambles overhung the water;
the outer bushes coated with adhesive mud. Then he sounded the puddle with
his stick as far as he could reach, and found it deep and the bottom soft,
so that the foot would sink into it. He considered, and looked up and down
the lane.

The two women, of whose presence he was unconscious, watched him from the
high and dry level of the meadow, concealed behind the bushes and the
oaks. They wore a species of smock frock gathered in round the waist by a
band over their ordinary dress; these smock frocks had once been white,
but were now discoloured with dirt and the weather. They were both stout
and stolid-looking, hardy as the trees under which they stood. They were
acorn picking, searching for the dropped acorns in the long rank grass by
the hedge, under the brown leaves, on the banks, and in the furrows. The
boughs of the oak spread wide--the glory of the tree is its head--and the
acorns are found in a circle corresponding with the outer circumference of
the branches. Some are still farther afield, because in falling they
strike the boughs and glance aside. A long slender pole leaning against
the hedge was used to thrash the boughs within reach, and so to knock down
any that remained.

A sack half filled was on the ground close to the trunk of the oak, and by
it was a heap of dead sticks, to be presently carried home to boil the
kettle. Two brown urchins assisted them, and went where the women could
not go, crawling under the thorns into the hedge, and creeping along the
side of the steep bank, gathering acorns that had fallen into the mouths
of the rabbit holes, or that were lying under the stoles. Out of sight
under the bushes they could do much as they liked, looking for fallen nuts
instead of acorns, or eating a stray blackberry, while their mothers
rooted about among the grass and leaves of the meadow. Such continual
stooping would be weary work for any one not accustomed to it. As they
worked from tree to tree they did not observe the colours of the leaves,
or the wood-pigeons, or the pheasant looking along the edge of the ditch
on the opposite side of the field. If they paused it was to gossip or to
abuse the boys for not bringing more acorns to the sack.

But when the boys, hunting in the hedge, descried the curate in the
distance and came back with the news, the two women were suddenly
interested. The pheasants, the wood-pigeons, or the coloured leaves were
not worthy of a glance. To see a gentleman up to his ankles in mud was
quite an attraction. The one stood with her lap half-full of acorns; the
other with a basket on her arm. The two urchins lay down on the ground,
and peered from behind a thorn stole, their brown faces scarcely
distinguishable from the brown leaves, except for their twinkling eyes.
The puddle was too wide to step across, as the women had said, nor was
there any way round it.

The curate looked all round twice, but he was not the man to go back. He
tucked up his troupers nearly to the knee--he wore them short always--and
stepped into the water. At this the urchins could barely suppress a shout
of delight--they did, however, suppress it--and craned forward to see him
splash. The curate waded slowly to the middle, getting deeper and deeper,
and then suddenly found firmer footing, and walked the rest of the way
with the water barely over his boots. After he was through he cleansed his
boots on a wisp of grass and set off at a good pace, for the ground past
the pool began to rise, and the lane was consequently drier. The women
turned again to their acorns, remarking, in a tone with something like
respect in it, 'He didn't stop for the mud, you: did a'?'

Presently the curate reached the highway with its hard surface, and again
increased his pace. The hedges here were cut each side, and as he walked
rapidly, leaning forward, his shovel-hat and shoulders were visible above
them, and his coat tails floated in the breeze of his own progress. His
heavy boots--they were extremely thick and heavy, though without
nails--tramped, tramped, on the hard road. With a stout walking-stick in
one hand, and in the other a book, he strode forward, still more swiftly
as it seemed at every stride. A tall young man, his features seemed thin
and almost haggard; out of correspondence with a large frame, they looked
as if asceticism had drawn and sharpened them. There was earnestness and
eagerness--almost feverish eagerness--in the expression of his face. He
passed the meadows, the stubble fields, the green root crops, the men at
plough, who noticed his swift walk, contrasting with their own slow
motion; and as he went his way now and then consulted a little slip of
paper, upon which he had jotted memoranda of his engagements. Work, work,
work--ceaseless work. How came this? What could there be to do in a
sparely-populated agricultural district with, to appearance, hardly a
cottage to a mile?

After nearly an hour's walking he entered the outskirts of a little
country town, slumbering outside the railway system, and, turning aside
from the street, stopped at the door of the ancient vicarage. The resident
within is the ecclesiastical head of two separate hamlets lying at some
miles' distance from his own parish. Each of these hamlets possesses a
church, though the population is of the very sparsest, and in each he
maintains a resident curate. A third curate assists him in the duties of
the home parish, which is a large one, that is, in extent. From one of
these distant hamlets the curate, who struggled so bravely through the
mire, has walked in to consult with his superior. He is shown into the
library, and sinks not unwillingly into a chair to wait for the vicar, who
is engaged with a district visitor, or lay sister.

This part of the house is ancient, and dates from medieval times. Some
have conjectured that the present library and the adjoining rooms (the
partitions being modern) originally formed the refectory of a monastic
establishment. Others assign it to another use; but all agree that it is
monastic and antique. The black oak rafters of the roof, polished as it
were by age, meet overhead unconcealed by ceiling. Upon the wall in one
place a figure seems at the first glance to be in the act to glide forth
like a spectre from the solid stone. The effect is caused by the subdued
colouring, which is shadowy and indistinct. It was perhaps gaudy when
first painted; but when a painting has been hidden by a coat or two of
plaster, afterwards as carefully removed as it was carelessly laid on, the
tints lose their brilliancy. Some sainted woman in a flowing robe, with
upraised arm, stands ever in the act to bless. Only half one of the
windows of the original hall is in this apartment--the partition wall
divides it. There yet remain a few stained panes in the upper part; few as
they are and small, yet the coloured light that enters through them seems
to tone the room.

The furniture, of oak, is plain and spare to the verge of a gaunt
severity, and there is not one single picture-frame on the wide expanse of
wall. On the table are a few books and some letters, with foreign
postmarks, and addressed in the crabbed handwriting of Continental
scholars. Over the table a brazen lamp hangs suspended by a slender chain.
In a corner are some fragments of stone mouldings and wood carvings like
the panel of an ancient pew. There are no shelves and no bookcase. Besides
those on the table, one volume lies on the floor, which is without carpet
or covering, but absolutely clean: and by the wall, not far from the
fireplace, is an open chest, ancient and ponderous, in which are the works
of the Fathers. The grate has been removed from the fireplace and the
hearth restored; for in that outlying district there is plenty of wood.
Though of modern make, the heavy brass fire-irons are of ancient shape.
The fire has gone out--the logs are white with the ash that forms upon
decaying embers; it is clear that the owner of this bare apartment, called
a library, but really a study, is not one who thinks of his own personal
comfort. If examined closely the floor yonder bears the marks of feet that
have walked monotonously to and fro in hours of thought. When the eye has
taken in these things, as the rustle of the brown leaves blown against the
pane without in the silence is plainly audible, the mind seems in an
instant to slip back four hundred years.

The weary curate has closed his eyes, and starts as a servant enters
bringing him wine, for the vicar, utterly oblivious of his own comfort, is
ever on the watch for that of others. His predecessor, a portly man, happy
in his home alone, and, as report said, loving his ease and his palate,
before he was preferred to a richer living, called in the advice of
architects as to converting the ancient refectory to some use. In his time
it was a mere lumber-room, into which all the odds and ends of the house
were thrown. Plans were accordingly prepared for turning one part of it
into a cosy breakfast parlour, and the other into a conservatory. Before
any steps, however, were taken he received his preferment--good things
flow to the rich--and departed, leaving behind him a favourable memory. If
any inhabitant were asked what the old vicar did, or said, and what work
he accomplished, the reply invariably was, 'Oh! hum! he was a very good
sort of man: he never interfered with anybody or anything!'

Accustomed to such an even tenour of things, all the _vis inertiae_ of the
parish revolted when the new vicar immediately evinced a determination to
do his work thoroughly. The restless energy of the man alone set the
stolid old folk at once against him. They could not 'a-bear to see he
a-flying all over the parish: why couldn't he bide at home?' No one is so
rigidly opposed to the least alteration in the conduct of the service as
the old farmer or farmer's wife, who for forty years and more has listened
to the same old hymn, the same sing-song response, the same style of
sermon. It is vain to say that the change is still no more than what
was--contemplated by the Book of Common Prayer. They naturally interpret
that book by what they have been accustomed to from childhood. The vicar's
innovations were really most inoffensive, and well within even a narrow
reading of the rubric. The fault lay in the fact that they were
innovations, so far as the practice of that parish was concerned. So the
old folk raised their voices in a chorus of horror, and when they met
gossiped over the awful downfall of the faith. All that the vicar had yet
done was to intone a part of the service, and at once many announced that
they should stay away.

Next he introduced a choir. The sweet voices of the white-robed boys
rising along the vaulted roof of the old church melted the hearts of those
who, with excuses for their curiosity to their neighbours, ventured to go
and hear them. The vicar had a natural talent, almost a genius, for music.
There was a long struggle in his mind whether he might or might not permit
himself an organ in his library. He decided it against himself, mortifying
the spirit as well as the flesh, but in the service of the Church he felt
that he might yield to his inclination. By degrees he gathered round him
the best voices of the parish; the young of both sexes came gladly after
awhile to swell the volume of song. How powerful is the influence of holy
music upon such minds as are at all inclined to serious devotion! The
church filled more and more every Sunday, and people came from the
farthest corners of the parish, walking miles to listen. The young people
grew enthusiastic, and one by one the old folk yielded and followed them.

At the same time the church itself seemed to change. It had been cold and
gloomy, and gaunt within, for so many generations, that no one noticed it.
A place of tombs, men hurried away from it as quickly as possible. Now,
little touches here and there gradually gave it the aspect of habitation.
The new curtains hung at the door of the vestry, and drawn, too, across
the main entrance when service began, the _fleur-de-lys_ on the crimson
ground gave an impression of warmth. The old tarnished brazen fittings of
the pews were burnished up, a new and larger stove (supplied at the
vicar's expense) diffused at least some little heat in winter. A curate
came, one who worked heart and soul with the vicar, and the service became
very nearly choral, the vicar now wearing the vestment which his degree
gave him the strict right to assume. There were brazen candlesticks behind
the altar, and beautiful flowers. Before, the interior was all black and
white. Now there was a sense of colour, of crimson curtains, of polished
brass, of flowers, and rich-toned altar cloth. The place was lit up with a
new light. After the first revolt of the old folk there was little
opposition, because the vicar, being a man who had studied human nature
and full of practical wisdom as well as learning, did all things
gradually. One thing as introduced at a time, and the transition--after
the first start--was effected imperceptibly. Nor was any extravagant
ritual thrust upon the congregation; nor any suspicious doctrine broached.

In that outlying country place, where men had no knowledge of cathedrals,
half the offices of the Church had been forgotten. The vicar brought them
back again. He began early morning services; he had the church open all
day for private prayer. He reminded the folk of Lent and Eastertide,
which, except for the traditional pancakes, had almost passed out of their
lives. Festivals, saints' days, midnight service, and, above all, the
Communion, were insisted upon and brought home to them. As in many other
country districts, the Communion had nearly dropped into disuse. At first
he was alone, but by-and-by a group of willing lay helpers grew up around
him. The churchwardens began to work with him; then a few of the larger
tenant farmers. Of the two great landed proprietors, one was for him from
the first, the other made no active opposition, but stood aloof. When, in
the autumn, the family of the one that was for him came home, a fresh
impetus was given. The ladies of the mansion came forward to join in the
parish and Church work, and then other ladies, less exalted, but fairly
well-to-do, who had only been waiting for a leader, crowded after.

For the first time in the memory of man the parish began to be 'visited.'
Lay sisters accepted the charge of districts; and thus there was not a
cottage, nor an old woman, but had the change brought home to her.
Confirmation, which had been almost forgotten, was revived, and it was
surprising what a number of girls came forward to be prepared. The Bishop,
who was not at all predisposed to view the 'movement' with favour, when he
saw the full church, the devotional congregation, and after he had visited
the vicarage and seen into what was going on personally, expressed openly
a guarded approval, and went away secretly well pleased. Rightly or
wrongly, there was a 'movement' in the parish and the outlying hamlets:
and thus it was that the curate, struggling through the mire, carried in
his face the expression of hard work. Work, work, work; the vicar, his
three curates and band of lay helpers, worked incessantly.

Besides his strictly parochial duties, the vicar wrote a manual for use in
the schools, he attended the Chambers of Agriculture, and supported
certain social movements among the farmers; he attended meetings, and,
both socially and politically, by force of character, energy, and the gift
of speech, became a power in the country side. Still striving onwards, he
wrote in London periodicals, he published a book, he looked from the
silence of his gaunt study towards the great world, and sometimes dreamed
of what he might have done had he not been buried in the country, and of
what he might even yet accomplish. All who came in contact with him felt
the influence of his concentrated purpose: one and all, after they had
worked their hardest, thought they had still not done so much as he would
have done.

The man's charm of manner was not to be resisted; he believed his office
far above monarchs, but there was no personal pretension. That gentle,
pleasing manner, with the sense of intellectual power behind it, quite
overcame the old folk. They all spoke with complacent pride of 'our
vicar'; and, what was more, opened their purses. The interior of the
church was restored, and a noble organ built. When its beautiful notes
rose and fell, when sweet voices swelled the wave of sound, then even the
vicar's restless spirit was soothed in the fulfilment of his hope. A large
proportion of the upper and middle class of the parish was, without a
doubt, now gathered around him; and there was much sympathy manifested
from adjacent parishes with his objects, sympathy which often took the
form of subscriptions from distant people.

But what said Hodge to it all? Hodge said nothing. Some few young cottage
people who had good voices, and liked to use them, naturally now went to
church. So did the old women and old men, who had an eye to charity. But
the strong, sturdy men, the carters and shepherds, stood aloof; the bulk
and backbone of the agricultural labouring population were not in the
least affected. They viewed the movement with utter indifference. They
cleaned their boots on a Sunday morning while the bells were ringing, and
walked down to their allotments, and came home and ate their cabbage, and
were as oblivious of the vicar as the wind that blew. They had no present
quarrel with the Church; no complaint whatever; nor apparently any old
memory or grudge;  yet there was a something, a blank space as it were,
between them and the Church. If anything, the 'movement' rather set them
against going.

Agricultural cottagers have a strong bias towards Dissent in one form or
another; village chapels are always well filled. Dissent, of course, would
naturally rather dislike a movement of the kind. But there was no active
or even passive opposition. The cottage folk just ignored the Church;
nothing more and nothing less. No efforts were spared to obtain their
good-will and to draw them into the fold, but there was absolutely no
response. Not a labourer's family in that wide district was left
unvisited. The cottages were scattered far apart, dotted here and there,
one or two down in a narrow coombe surrounded on three sides by the green
wall of the hills. Others stood on the bleak plains, unsheltered by tree
or hedge, exposed to the keen winds that swept across the level, yet
elevated fields. A new cottage built in modern style, with glaring red
brick, was perched on the side of a hill, where it was visible miles away.
An old thatched one stood in a hollow quite alone, half a mile from the
highway, and so hidden by the oaks that an army might have ravaged the
country and never found it. How many, many miles of weary walking such
rounds as these required!

Though they had, perhaps, never received a 'visitor' before, it was
wonderful with what skill the cottage women especially--the men being
often away at work--adapted themselves to the new _régime_. Each time they
told a more pitiful tale, set in such a realistic framing of hardship and
exposure that a stranger could not choose but believe. In the art of
encouraging attentions of this sort no one excels the cottage women; the
stories they will relate, with the smallest details inserted in the right
place, are something marvellous. At first you would exclaim with the
deepest commiseration, such a case of suffering and privation as this
cannot possibly be equalled by any in the parish; but calling at the next
cottage, you are presented with a yet more moving relation, till you find
the whole population are plunged in misery and afflicted with incredible
troubles. They cannot, surely, be the same folk that work so sturdily at
harvest. But when the curate has administered words of consolation and
dropped the small silver dole in the palm, when his shovel-hat and black
frock-coat tails have disappeared round the corner of the copse, then in a
single second he drops utterly out of mind. No one comes to church the
more. If inquiries are made why they did not come, a hundred excuses are
ready; the rain, a bad foot, illness of the infant, a cow taken ill and
requiring attention, and so on.

After some months of such experience the curate's spirits gradually
decline; his belief in human nature is sadly shaken. Men who openly
oppose, who argue and deny, are comparatively easy to deal with; there is
the excitement of the battle with evil. But a population that listens, and
apparently accepts the message, that is so thankful for little charities,
and always civil, and yet turns away utterly indifferent, what is to be
done with it? Might not the message nearly as well be taken to the cow at
her crib, or the horse at his manger? They, too, would receive a wisp of
sweet hay willingly from the hand.

But the more bitter the experience, the harder the trial, the more
conscientiously the curate proceeds upon his duty, struggling bravely
through the mire. He adds another mile to his daily journey: he denies
himself some further innocent recreation. The cottages in the open fields
are comparatively pleasant to visit, the sweet fresh air carries away
effluvia. Those that are so curiously crowded together in the village are
sinks of foul smell, and may be of worse--places where, if fever come, it
takes hold and quits not. His superior requests him earnestly to refrain
awhile and to take rest, to recruit himself with a holiday--even orders
him to desist from overmuch labour. The man's mind is in it, and he cannot
obey. What is the result?

Some lovely autumn day, at a watering-place, you may perchance be
strolling by the sea, with crowds of well-dressed, happy people on the one
side, and on the other the calm sunlit plain where boats are passing to
and fro. A bath-chair approaches, and a young man clad in black gets out
of it, where some friendly iron railings afford him a support for his
hand. There, step by step, leaning heavily on the rails, he essays to walk
as a child. The sockets of his joints yield beneath him, the limbs are
loose, the ankle twists aside; each step is an enterprise, and to gain a
yard a task. Thus day by day the convalescent strives to accustom the
sinews to their work. It is a painful spectacle; how different, how
strangely altered, from the upright frame and the swift stride that
struggled through the miry lane, perhaps even then bearing the seeds of
disease imbibed in some foul village den, where duty called him!

His wan, white face seems featureless; there is nothing but a pair of
deep-set eyes. But as you pass, and momentarily catch their glance, they
are bright and burning still with living faith.



CHAPTER XVI



THE SOLICITOR


In glancing along the street of a country town, a house may sometimes be
observed of a different and superior description to the general row of
buildings. It is larger, rises higher, and altogether occupies more space.
The façade is stylish, in architectural fashion of half a century since.
To the modern eye it may not perhaps look so interesting as the true old
gabled roofs which seem so thoroughly English, nor, on the other hand, so
bright and cheerful as the modern suburban villa. But it is substantial
and roomy within. The weather has given the front a sombre hue, and the
windows are dingy, as if they rarely or never knew the care of a
housemaid. On the ground floor the windows that would otherwise look on to
the street are blocked to almost half their height with a wire blind so
closely woven that no one can see in, and it is not easy to see out. The
doorway is large, with stone steps and porch--the doorway of a gentleman's
house. There is business close at hand--shops and inns, and all the usual
offices of a town--but, though in the midst, this house wears an air of
separation from the rest of the street.

When it was built--say fifty years ago, or more--it was, in fact, the
dwelling-house of an independent gentleman. Similar houses may be found in
other parts of the place, once inhabited by retired and wealthy people.
Such persons no longer live in towns of this kind--they build villas with
lawns and pleasure grounds outside in the environs, or, though still
retaining their pecuniary interest, reside at a distance. Like large
cities, country towns are now almost given over to offices, shops,
workshops, and hotels. Those who have made money get away from the streets
as quickly as possible. Upon approaching nearer to this particular
building the street door will be found to be wide open to the public, and,
if you venture still closer, a name may be seen painted in black letters
upon the side of the passage wall, after the manner of the brokers in the
courts off Throgmorton Street, or of the lawyers in the Temple. It is, in
fact, the office of a country solicitor--most emphatically one of Hodge's
many masters--and is admirably suited for his purpose, on account of its
roomy interior.

The first door within opens on the clerks' room, and should you modestly
knock on the panels instead of at once turning the handle, a voice will
invite you to 'Come in.' Half of the room is partitioned off for the
clerks, who sit at a long high desk, with a low railing or screen in front
of them. Before the senior is a brass rail, along which he can, if he
chooses, draw a red curtain. He is too hard at work and intent upon some
manuscript to so much as raise his head as you enter. But the two younger
men, eager for a change, look over the screen, and very civilly offer to
attend to your business. When you have said that you wish to see the head
of the firm, you naturally imagine that your name will be at once shouted
up the tube, and that in a minute or two, at farthest, you will be ushered
into the presence of the principal. In that small country town there
cannot surely be much work for a lawyer, and a visitor must be quite an
event. Instead, however, of using the tube they turn to the elder clerk,
and a whispered conversation takes place, of which some broken sentences
may be caught--'He can't be disturbed,' 'It's no use,' 'Must wait.' Then
the elder clerk looks over his brass rail and says he is very sorry, but
the principal is engaged, the directors of a company are with him, and it
is quite impossible to say exactly when they will leave. It may be ten
minutes, or an hour. But if you like to wait (pointing with his quill to a
chair) your name shall be sent up directly the directors leave.

You glance at the deck, and elect to wait. The older clerk nods his head,
and instantly resumes his writing. The chair is old and hard--the stuffing
compressed by a generation of weary suitors; there are two others at equal
distances along the wall. The only other furniture is a small but solid
table, upon which stands a brass copying-press. On the mantelpiece there
are scales for letter-weighing, paper clips full of papers, a county
Post-office directory, a railway time-table card nailed to the wall, and a
box of paper-fasteners. Over it is a map, dusty and dingy, of some estate
laid out for building purposes, with a winding stream running through it,
roads passing at right angles, and the points of the compass indicated in
an upper corner.

On the other side of the room, by the window, a framed advertisement hangs
against the wall, like a picture, setting forth the capital and reserve
and the various advantages offered by an insurance company, for which the
firm are the local agents. Between the chairs are two boards fixed to the
wall with some kind of hook or nail for the suspension of posters and
printed bills. These boards are covered with such posters, announcing
sales by auction, farms to be let, houses to be had on lease, shares in a
local bank or gasworks for sale, and so on, for all of which properties
the firm are the legal representatives. Though the room is of fair size
the ceiling is low, as in often the case in old houses, and it has, in
consequence, become darkened by smoke and dust, therein, after awhile,
giving a gloomy, oppressive feeling to any one who has little else to gaze
at. The blind at the window rises far too high to allow of looking out,
and the ground glass above it was designed to prevent the clerks from
wasting their time watching the passers-by in the street. There is,
however, one place where the glass is worn and transparent, and every now
and then one of the two younger clerks mounts on his stool and takes a
peep through to report to his companion.

The restraint arising from the presence of a stranger soon wears off; the
whisper rises to a buzz of talk; they laugh, and pelt each other with
pellets of paper. The older clerk takes not the least heed. He writes
steadily on, and never lifts his head from the paper--long hours of labour
have dimmed his sight, and he has to stoop close over the folio. He may be
preparing a brief, he may be copying a deposition, or perhaps making a
copy of a deed; but whatever it is, his whole mind is absorbed and
concentrated on his pen. There must be no blot, no erasure, no
interlineation. The hand of the clock moves slowly, and the half-heard
talk and jests of the junior clerks--one of whom you suspect of making a
pen-and-ink sketch of you--mingle with the ceaseless scrape of the
senior's pen, and the low buzz of two black flies that circle for ever
round and round just beneath the grimy ceiling. Occasionally noises of the
street penetrate; the rumble of loaded waggons, the tramp of nailed shoes,
or the sharp quick sound of a trotting horse's hoofs. Then the junior
jumps up and gazes through the peephole. The directors are a very long
time upstairs. What can their business be? Why are there directors at all
in little country towns?

Presently there are heavy footsteps in the passage, the door slowly opens,
and an elderly labourer, hat in hand, peers in. No one takes the least
notice of him. He leans on his stick and blinks his eyes, looking all
round the room; then taps with the stick and clears his throat--'Be he in
yet?' he asks, with emphasis on the 'he.' 'No, he be not in,' replies a
junior, mocking the old man's accent and grammar. The senior looks up,
'Call at two o'clock, the deed is not ready,' and down goes his head
again. 'A main bit o' bother about this yer margidge' (mortgage), the
labourer remarks, as he turns to go out, not without a complacent smile on
his features for the law's delays seem to him grand, and he feels
important. He has a little property--a cottage and garden--upon which he
is raising a small sum for some purpose, and this 'margidge' is one of the
great events of his life. He talked about it for two or three years before
he ventured to begin it; he has been weeks making up his mind exactly what
to do after his first interview with the solicitor--he would have been
months had not the solicitor at last made it plain that he could waste no
more time--and when it is finally completed he will talk about it again to
the end of his days. He will be in and out asking for 'he' all day long at
intervals, and when the interview takes place it will be only for the
purpose of having everything already settled explained over to him for the
fiftieth time. His heavy shoes drag slowly down the passage--he will go to
the street corner and talk with the carters who come in, and the old
women, with their baskets, a-shopping, about 'this yer law job.'

There is a swifter step on the lead-covered staircase, and a clerk
appears, coming from the upper rooms. He has a telegram and a letter in
one hand, and a bundle of papers in the other. He shows the telegram and
the letter to his fellow clerks--even the grave senior just glances at the
contents silently, elevates his eyebrows, and returns to his work. After a
few minutes' talk and a jest or two the clerk rushes upstairs again.

Another caller comes. It is a stout, florid man, a young farmer or
farmer's son, riding-whip in hand, who produces a red-bound rate-book from
a pocket in his coat made on purpose to hold the unwieldy volume. He is a
rate-collector for his parish, and has called about some technicalities.
The grave senior clerk examines the book, but cannot solve the
difficulties pointed out by the collector, and, placing it on one side,
recommends the inquirer to call in two hours' time. Steps again on the
stairs, and another clerk comes down leisurely, and after him still
another. Their only business is to exchange a few words with their
friends, for pastime, and they go up again.

As the morning draws on, the callers become more numerous, and it is easy
to tell the positions they occupy by the degree of attention they receive
from the clerks. A tradesman calls three or four times, with short
intervals between--he runs over from his shop; the two juniors do not
trouble to so much as look over the screen, and barely take the trouble to
answer the anxious inquiry if the principal is yet disengaged. They know,
perhaps, too much about his bills and the state of his credit. A builder
looks in--the juniors are tolerably civil and explain to him that it is no
use calling for yet another hour at least. The builder consults his watch,
and decides to see the chief clerk (who is himself an attorney, having
passed the examination), and is forthwith conducted upstairs. A burly
farmer appears, and the grave senior puts his head up to answer, and
expresses his sorrow that the principal is so occupied. The burly farmer,
however, who is evidently a man of substance, thinks that the chief clerk
can also do what he wants, and he, too, is ushered upstairs. Another
farmer enters--a rather rougher-looking man--and, without saying a word,
turns to the advertisement boards on which the posters of farms to be let,
&c., are displayed. These he examines with the greatest care, pointing
with his forefinger as he slowly reads, and muttering to himself.
Presently he moves to go. 'Anything to suit you, sir?' asks the senior
clerk. 'Aw, no; I knows they be too much money,' he replies, and walks
out.

A gentleman next enters, and immediately the juniors sink out of sight,
and scribble away with eager application; the senior puts down his pen and
comes out from his desk. It is a squire and magistrate. The senior
respectfully apologises for his employer being so occupied. The gentleman
seems a little impatient. The clerk rubs his hands together deprecatingly,
and makes a desperate venture. He goes upstairs, and in a few minutes
returns; the papers are not ready, but shall be sent over that evening in
any case. With this even the squire must fain be satisfied and depart. The
burly farmer and the builder come downstairs together amicably chatting,
and after them the chief clerk himself. Though young, he has already an
expression of decision upon his features, an air of business about him; in
fact, were he not thoroughly up to his work he would not remain in that
office long. To hold that place is a guarantee of ability. He has a bundle
of cheques, drafts, &c., in his hand, and after a few words with the grave
senior at the desk, strolls across to the bank.

No sooner has the door closed behind him than a shoal of clerks come
tripping down on tip-toe, and others appear from the back of the house.
They make use of the opportunity for a little gossip. Voices are heard in
the passage, and an aged and infirm labouring man is helped in by a woman
and a younger man. The clerks take no notice, and the poor old follow
props himself against the wall, not daring to take a chair. He is a
witness. He can neither read nor write, but he can recollect 'thuck ould
tree,' and can depose to a fact worth perhaps hundreds of pounds. He has
come in to be examined; he will be driven in a week or two's time from the
village to the railway station in a fly, and will talk about it and his
visit to London till the lamp of life dies out.

A footman calls with a note, a groom brings another, the letters are
carelessly cast aside, till one of the juniors, who has been watching from
the peephole, reports that the chief clerk is coming, and everybody
scuttles back to his place. Callers come still more thickly; another
solicitor, well-to-do, and treated with the utmost deference; more
tradesmen; farmers; two or three auctioneers, in quick succession; the
well-brushed editor of a local paper; a second attorney, none too well
dressed, with scrubby chin and face suspiciously cloudy, with an odour of
spirits and water and tobacco clinging to his rusty coat. He belongs to a
disappearing type of country lawyer, and is the wreck, perhaps, of high
hopes and good opportunities. Yet, wreck as he is, when he gets up at the
Petty Sessions to defend some labourer, the bench of magistrates listen to
his maundering argument as deferentially as if he were a Q.C. They pity
him, and they respect his cloth. The scrubby attorney whistles a tune, and
utters an oath when he learns the principal is engaged. Then he marches
out, with his hat on one side of his head, to take another 'refresher.'

Two telegrams arrive, and are thrown aside; then a gentleman appears, whom
the senior goes out to meet with an air of deference, and whom he actually
conducts himself upstairs to the principal's room. It is a local banker,
who is thus admitted to the directors' consultation. The slow hand of the
clock goes round, and, sitting wearily on the hard chair, you wonder if
ever it will be possible to see this much-sought man. By-and-by a door
opens above, there is a great sound of voices and chatting, and half a
dozen gentlemen--mostly landed proprietors from their appearance--come
downstairs. They are the directors, and the consultation is over. The
senior clerk immediately goes to the principal, and shortly afterwards
reappears and asks you to come up.

As you mount the lead-covered stairs you glance down and observe the
anxious tradesman, the ancient labourer, and several others who have
crowded in, all eyeing you with jealous glances. But the senior is holding
the door open--you enter, and it closes noiselessly behind you. A hand
with a pen in it points to a chair, with a muttered 'Pardon--half a
moment' and while the solicitor just jots down his notes you can glance
round the apartment. Shelves of calf-bound law books; piles of japanned
deed-boxes, some marked in white letters 'Trustees of,' or 'Executors of'
and pigeon-holes full of papers seem to quite hide the walls. The floor is
covered with some material noiseless to walk on (the door, too, is double,
to exclude noise and draught); the furniture is solid and valuable; the
arm-chair you occupy capacious and luxurious. On the wall hangs a section
of the Ordnance map of the district. But the large table, which almost
fills the centre of the room, quickly draws the attention from everything
else.

It is on that table that all the business is done; all the energies of the
place are controlled and directed from thence. At the first glance it
appears to support a more chaotic mass of papers. They completely conceal
it, except just at the edge. Bundles of letters tied with thin red tape,
letters loose, letters unopened; parchment deeds with the seals and
signature just visible; deeds with the top and the words, 'This
indenture,' alone glowing out from the confusion; deeds neatly folded;
broad manuscript briefs; papers fastened with brass fasteners; papers
hastily pinned together; old newspapers marked and underlined in red ink;
a large sectional map, half unrolled and hanging over the edge; a small
deed-box, the lid open, and full of blue paper in oblong strips; a tall
porcupine-quill pen sticking up like a spire; pocket-books; books open;
books with half a dozen papers in them for markers; altogether an utter
chaos. But the confusion is only apparent; the master mind knows the exact
position of every document, and can lay his hand on it the moment it is
wanted.

The business is such that even the master mind can barely keep pace with
it. This great house can hardly contain it; all the clerks we saw rushing
about cannot get through the work, and much of the mechanical copying or
engrossing goes to London to be done. The entire round of country life
comes here. The rolling hills where the shepherd watches his flock, the
broad plains where the ploughman guides the share, the pleasant meadows
where the roan cattle chew the cud, the extensive parks, the shady woods,
sweet streams, and hedges overgrown with honeysuckle, all have their
written counterpart in those japanned deed-boxes. Solid as is the land
over which Hodge walks stolid and slow, these mere written words on
parchment are the masters of it all. The squire comes here about intricate
concerns of family settlements which in their sphere are as hard to
arrange as the diplomatic transactions of Governments. He comes about his
tenants and his rent; he comes to get new tenants.

The tenants resort to the solicitor for farms, for improvements,
reductions, leases, to negotiate advances, to insure for the various
affairs of life. The clergyman comes on questions that arise out of his
benefice, the churchyard, ecclesiastical privileges, the schools, and
about his own private property. The labourer comes about his cottage and
garden--an estate as important to him as his three thousand acres to the
squire--or as a witness. The tradesman, the builder, the banker come for
financial as well as legal objects. As the town develops, and plots are
needed for houses and streets, the resort to the solicitor increases
tenfold. Companies are formed and require his advice. Local government
needs his assistance. He may sit in an official position in the County
Court, or at the bench of the Petty Sessions. Law suits--locally great--
are carried through in the upper Courts of the metropolis; the counsel's
name appears in the papers, but it is the country solicitor who has
prepared everything for him, and who has marshalled that regiment of
witnesses from remote hamlets of the earth. His widening circle of
landlord clients have each their attendant circles of tenants, who feel
confidence in their leader's legal adviser. Parochial officers come to
him; overseer, rate-collector, church warden, tithing-man. The
all-important work of registering voters fills up the space between one
election and another. At the election his offices are like the
head-quarters of an army. He may represent some ancient college, or
corporation with lands of vast extent. Ladies with a little capital go
home content when he has invested their money in mortgage of real
property. Still the work goes on increasing; additional clerks have to be
employed; a fresh wing has to be built to the old house. He has, too, his
social duties; he is, perhaps, the head or mainspring of a church
movement--this is not for profit, but from conviction. His lady is carried
to and fro in the brougham, making social visits. He promotes athletic
clubs, reading-rooms, shows, exhibitions. He is eagerly seized upon by
promoters of all kinds, because he possesses the gift of organisation. It
becomes a labour merely to catalogue his engagements like this. Let the
rain rain, or the sun shine, the pen never stays work.

Personally he is the very antithesis is of what might be predicated of the
slow, comfortable, old-fashioned lawyer. He is in the prime of life,
physically full of vigour, mentally persevering with untiring
perseverance, the embodiment of energy, ever anxious to act, to do rather
than to delay. As you talk with him you find his leading idea seems to be
to arrange your own half-formed views for you; in short, to show you what
you really do want, to put your desire into shape. He interprets you. Many
of the clients who come to him are the most impracticable men in the
world. A farmer, for instance, with a little money, is in search of a
farm. Find him twenty farms just the size for his capital, he will visit
them all and discover a fault in each, and waver and waver till the proper
season for entering on possession is past. The great problem with country
people is how to bring them to the point. You may think you have got all
your witnesses ready for the train for London, and, as the bell rings,
find that one has slipped away half a mile to talk with the blacksmith
about the shoeing of his mare. Even the squire is trying when, he talks of
this or that settlement. Of course, as he is educated, no lengthy and
oft-repeated explanations are needed; but the squire forgets that time is
valuable, and lingers merely to chat. He has so much time to spare, he is
apt to overlook that the solicitor has none. The clergyman will talk,
talk, talk in rounded periods, and nothing will stop him; very often he
drives his wife in with him from the village, and the wife must have her
say. As for Hodge and his mortgage, ten years would not suffice for his
business, were he allowed to wander on. The problem is to bring these
impracticable people to the point with perfect courtesy. As you talk with
him yourself, you feel tempted to prolong the interview--so lucid an
intellect exercises an indefinable charm.

Keen and shrewd as he is, the solicitor has a kindly reputation. Men say
that he is slow to press them, that he makes allowances for circumstances;
that if the tenant is honestly willing to discharge his obligation he need
fear no arbitrary selling up. But he is equally reputed swift of
punishment upon those who would take shelter behind more shallow pretence,
or attempt downright deceit. Let a man only be straightforward, and the
solicitor will wait rather than put the law in force. Therefore, he is
popular, and people have faith in him. But the labour, the incessant
supervision, the jotting down of notes, the ceaseless interviews, the
arguments, the correspondence, the work that is never finished when night
comes, tell even upon that physical vigour and mental elasticity. Hodge
sleeps sound and sees the days go by with calm complacency. The man who
holds that solid earth, as it were, in the japanned boxes finds a nervous
feeling growing upon him despite his strength of will. Presently nature
will have her way; and, weary and hungry for fresh air, he rushes off for
awhile to distant trout-stream, moor, or stubble.



CHAPTER XVII



'COUNTY-COURT DAY'


The monthly sitting of the County Court in a country market town is an
event of much interest in all the villages around, so many of the causes
concerning agricultural people. 'County-Court Day' is looked upon as a
date in the calendar by which to recollect when a thing happened, or to
arrange for the future.

As the visitor enters the doorway of the Court, at a distance the scene
appears imposing. Brass railings and red curtains partition off about a
third of the hall, and immediately in the rear of this the Judge sits high
above the rest on a raised and carpeted dais. The elevation and isolation
of the central figure adds a solemn dignity to his office. His features
set, as it were, in the wig, stand out in sharp relief--they are of a
keenly intellectual cast, and have something of the precise clearness of
an antique cameo. The expression is that of a mind in continuous
exercise--of a mind accustomed not to slow but to quick deliberation, and
to instant decision. The definition of the face gives the eyes the aspect
of penetration, as if they saw at once beneath the surface of things.

If the visitor looks only at the Judge he will realise the dignity of the
law; the law which is the outcome and result of so many centuries of
thought. But if he glances aside from the central figure the impression is
weakened by the miserable, hollow, and dingy framing. The carpet upon the
daïs and the red curtains before it ill conceal the paltry substructure.
It is composed of several large tables, heavy and shapeless as benches,
placed side by side to form a platform. The curtains are dingy and
threadbare the walls dingy; the ceiling, though lofty, dingy; the boxes on
either side for Plaintiff and Defendant are scratched and defaced by the
innumerable witnesses who have blundered into them, kicking their shoes
against the woodwork. The entire apparatus is movable, and can be taken to
pieces in ten minutes, or part of it employed for meetings of any
description. There is nothing appropriate or convenient; it is a
makeshift, and altogether unequal to the pretensions of a Court now
perhaps the most useful and most resorted to of any that sit in the
country.

Quarter sessions and assizes come only at long intervals, are held only in
particular time-honoured places, and take cognisance only of very serious
offences which happily are not numerous. The County Court at the present
day has had its jurisdiction so enlarged that it is really, in country
districts, the leading tribunal, and the one best adapted to modern wants,
because its procedure is to a great extent free from obsolete forms and
technicalities. The Plaintiff and the Defendant literally face their
Judge, practically converse with him, and can tell their story in their
own simple and natural way. It is a fact that the importance and
usefulness of the country County Court has in most places far outgrown the
arrangements made for it. The Judges may with reason complain that while
their duties have been enormously added to, their convenience has not been
equally studied, nor their salaries correspondingly increased.

In front, and below the Judge's desk, just outside the red curtain, is a
long and broad table, at which the High Bailiff sits facing the hall. By
his side the Registrar's clerk from time to time makes notes in a
ponderous volume which contains a minute and exact record of every claim.
Opposite, and at each end, the lawyers have their chairs and strew the
table with their papers.

As a rule a higher class of lawyers appear in the County Court than before
the Petty Sessional Bench. A local solicitor of ability no sooner gets a
'conveyancing' practice than he finds his time too valuable to be spent
arguing in cases of assault or petty larceny. He ceases to attend the
Petty Sessions, unless his private clients are interested or some
exceptional circumstances induce him. In the County Court cases often
arise which concern property, houses and lands, and the fulfilment of
contracts. Some of the very best lawyers of the district may consequently
be seen at that table, and frequently a barrister or two of standing
specially retained is among them.

A low wooden partition, crossing the entire width of the hall, separates
the 'bar' from the general public, Plaintiff and Defendant being admitted
through a gangway. As the hall is not carpeted, nor covered with any
material, a new-comer must walk on tip-toe to avoid raising the echo of
hollow boards, or run the risk of a reproof from the Judge, anxiously
endeavouring to catch the accents of a mumbling witness. Groups of people
stand near the windows whispering, and occasionally forgetting, in the
eagerness of the argument, that talking is prohibited. The room is already
full, but will be crowded when the 'horse case' comes on again. Nothing is
of so much interest as a 'horse case.' The issues raised concern almost
every countryman, and the parties are generally well known. All the idlers
of the town are here, and among them many a rascal who has been, through
the processes, and comes again to listen and possibly learn a dodge by
which to delay the execution of judgment. Some few of the more favoured
and respectable persons have obtained entrance to the space allotted to
the solicitors, and have planted themselves in a solid circle round the
fire, effectually preventing the heat from benefiting anyone else. Another
fire, carefully tended by a bailiff, burns in the grate behind the Judge,
but, as his seat is so far from it, without adding much to his comfort. A
chilly draught sweeps along the floor, and yet at the same time there is a
close and somewhat fetid atmosphere at the height at which men breathe.
The place is ill warmed and worse ventilated; altogether without
convenience, and comfortless.

To-day the Judge, to suit the convenience of the solicitors engaged in the
'horse case,' who have requested permission to consult in private, has
asked for a short defended cause to fill up the interval till they are
ready to resume. The High Bailiff calls 'Brown _v_. Jones,' claim 8_s_.
for goods supplied. No one at first answers, but after several calls a
woman in the body of the Court comes forward. She is partly deaf, and
until nudged by her neighbours did not hear her husband's name. The
Plaintiff is a small village dealer in tobacco, snuff, coarse groceries,
candles, and so on. His wife looks after the little shop and he works with
horse and cart, hauling and doing odd jobs for the farmers. Instead of
attending himself he has sent his wife to conduct the case. The Defendant
is a labourer living in the same village, who, like so many of his class,
has got into debt. He, too, has sent his wife to represent him. This is
the usual course of the cottagers, and of agricultural people who are
better off than cottagers. The men shirk out of difficulties of this kind
by going off in the morning early to their work with the parting remark,
'Aw, you'd better see about it; I don't knaw nothing about such jobs.'

The High Bailiff has no easy task to swear the Plaintiff's representative.
First, she takes the book and kisses it before the formula prescribed has
been repeated. Then she waits till the sentence is finished and lifts the
book with the left hand instead of the right. The Registrar's clerk has to
go across to the box and shout an explanation into her ear. 'Tell the
truth,' says the old lady, with alacrity; 'why, that's what I be come
for.' The Judge asks her what it is she claims, and she replies that that
man, the Registrar's clerk, has got it all written down in his book. She
then turns to the Defendant's wife, who stands in the box opposite, and
shouts to her, 'You knows you ain't paid it.'

It is in vain that the Judge endeavours to question her, in vain that the
High Bailiff tries to calm her, in vain that the clerk lays his hand on
her arm--she is bent on telling the Defendant a bit of her mind. The Court
is perforce compelled to wait till it is over, when the Judge, seeing that
talking is of no avail, goes at once to the root of the matter and asks to
see her books. A dirty account-book, such as may be purchased for
threepence, is handed up to him; the binding is broken, and some of the
leaves are loose. It is neither a day-book, a ledger, nor anything
else--there is no system whatever, and indeed the Plaintiff admits that
she only put down about half of it, and trusted to memory for the rest.
Here is a date, and after it some figures, but no articles mentioned,
neither tea nor candles. Next come some groceries, and the price, but no
one's name, so that it is impossible to tell who had the goods. Then there
are pages with mysterious dots and strokes and half-strokes, which
ultimately turn out to mean ounces and half-ounces of tobacco. These have
neither name nor value attached. From end to end nothing is crossed off,
so that whether an account be paid or not cannot be ascertained.

While the Judge laboriously examines every page, trying by the light of
former experience to arrive at some idea of the meaning, the Defendant's
wife takes up her parable. She chatters in return at the Plaintiff, then
she addresses the High Bailiff, who orders her to remain quiet, and,
finally, turns round and speaks to the crowd. The Judge, absorbed in the
attempt to master the account-book, does not for the moment notice this,
till, as he comes to the conclusion that the book is utterly valueless, he
looks up and finds the Defendant with her back turned gesticulating and
describing her wrongs to the audience. Even his command of silence is with
reluctance obeyed, and she continues to mutter to herself. When order is
restored the Judge asks for her defence, when the woman immediately
produces a receipt, purporting to be for this very eight shillings' worth.
At the sight of this torn and dirty piece of paper the Plaintiff works
herself into a fury, and speaks so fast and so loud (as deaf people will)
that no one else can be heard. Till she is made to understand that she
will be sent out of Court she does not desist. The Judge looks at the
receipt, and finds it correct; but still the Plaintiff positively declares
that she has never had the money. Yet she admits that the receipt is in
her handwriting. The Judge asks the Defendant who paid over the cash, and
she replies that it was her husband. The account-book contains no
memorandum of any payment at all. With difficulty the Judge again obtains
silence, and once more endeavours to understand a page of the account-book
to which the Plaintiff persists in pointing. His idea is now to identify
the various articles mentioned in the receipt with the articles put down
on that particular page.

After at least three-quarters of an hour, during which the book is handed
to and fro by the clerk from Judge to Plaintiff, that she may explain the
meaning of the hieroglyphics, some light at last begins to dawn. By dint
of patiently separating the mixed entries the Judge presently arrives at a
partial comprehension of what the Plaintiff has been trying to convey. The
amount of the receipted bill and the amount of the entries in the page of
the account-book are the same; but the articles entered in the book and
those admitted to be paid for are not. The receipt mentions candles; the
account-book has no candles. Clearly they are two different debts, which
chanced to come to the same figure. The receipt, however, is not dated,
and whether it is the Defendant who is wilfully misrepresenting, or
whether the Plaintiff is under a mistaken notion, the Judge for the time
cannot decide. The Defendant declares that she does not know the date and
cannot fix it--it was a 'main bit ago,' and that is all she can say.

For the third time the Judge, patient to the last degree, wades through
the account-book. Meanwhile the hands of the clock have moved on. Instead
of being a short case, this apparently simple matter has proved a long
one, and already as the afternoon advances the light of the dull winter's
day declines. The solicitors engaged in the 'horse case,' who retired to
consult, hoping to come to a settlement, returned into Court fully an hour
ago, and have since been sitting at the table waiting to resume. Besides
these some four or five other lawyers of equal standing are anxiously
looking for a chance of commencing their business. All their clients are
waiting, and the witnesses; they have all crowded into the Court, the
close atmosphere of which is almost intolerable.

But having begun the case the Judge gives it his full and undivided
attention. Solicitors, clients, witnesses, cases that interest the public,
causes that concern valuable property, or important contracts must all be
put aside till this trifling matter is settled. He is as anxious as any,
or more so, to get on, because delay causes business to accumulate--the
adjourned causes, of course, having to be heard at next Court, and thus
swelling the list to an inordinate length. But, impatient as he may be,
especially as he is convinced that one or other of the parties is keeping
back a part of the truth, he is determined that the subject shall be
searched to the bottom. The petty village shopkeeper and the humble
cottager obtain as full or fuller attention than the well-to-do Plaintiffs
and Defendants who can bring down barristers from London.

'What have you there?' the Registrar's clerk demands of the Plaintiff
presently. She has been searching in her pocket for a snuff-box wherewith
to refresh herself, and, unable to immediately discover it, has emptied
the contents of the pocket on the ledge of the witness-box. Among the rest
is another little account-book.

'Let me see that,' demands the Judge, rather sharply, and no wonder. 'Why
did you not produce it before?'

'Aw, he be last year's un; some of it be two years ago,' is the reply.

Another long pause. The Judge silently examines every page of the
account-book two years old. Suddenly he looks up. 'This receipt,' he says,
'was given for an account rendered eighteen months ago. Here in this older
book are the entries corresponding with it. The present claim is for a
second series of articles which happened to come to the same amount, and
the Defendant, finding that the receipt was not dated, has endeavoured to
make it do duty for the two.'

'I tould you so,' interrupts the Plaintiff. 'I tould you so, but you
wouldn't listen to I.'

The Judge continues that he is not sure he ought not to commit the
Defendant, and then, with a gesture of weary disgust, throws down his pen
and breaks off in the middle of his sentence to ask the High Bailiff if
there are any other judgments out against the Defendant. So many years'
experience of the drifts, subterfuges, paltry misrepresentations and
suppressions--all the mean and despicable side of poor humanity--have
indeed wearied him, but, at the same time, taught forbearance. He
hesitates to be angry, and delays to punish. The people are poor,
exceedingly poor. The Defendant's wife says she has eight children; they
are ignorant, and, in short, cannot be, in equity, judged as others in
better circumstances. There are two other judgments against the Defendant,
who is earning about 12s. a week, and the verdict is 1s. a month, first
payment that day three weeks.

Then the solicitor for the Plaintiff in the 'horse case' rises and informs
the Judge that the parties cannot settle it, and the case must proceed.
The Plaintiff and Defendant take their places, and some thirty witnesses
file through the gangway to the witness-room to be out of Court. The
bailiffs light the gas as the gloom deepens, and the solicitor begins his
opening speech. The Judge has leant back in his chair, closed his eyes,
and composed himself to listen. By the time two witnesses have been
examined the hour has arrived when the Judge can sit no longer. He must
leave, because on the morrow he has to hold a Court in another part of the
county. The important 'horse case' and the other causes must wait a
month.. He sits to the very last moment, then hastily stuffs deeds,
documents, papers of all descriptions into a portmanteau already
overflowing, and rushes to his carriage.

He will go through much the same work to-morrow; combating the irritating
misrepresentations, exposing suppressors, discovering the truth under a
mountain of crass stupidity and wilful deceit. Next day he will be again
at work; and the same process will go on the following week. In the month
there are perhaps about five days--exclusive of Sundays--upon which he
does not sit. But those days are not holidays. They are spent in patiently
reading a mass of deeds, indentures, contracts, vouchers, affidavits,
evidence of every description and of the most voluminous character. These
have been put in by solicitors, as part of their cases, and require the
most careful attention. Besides causes that are actually argued out in
open Court, there are others which, by consent of both parties, are placed
in his hands as arbitrator. Many involve nice points of law, and require a
written judgment in well-chosen words.

The work of the County Court Judge at the present day is simply enormous;
it is ceaseless and never finished, and it demands a patience which
nothing can ruffle. No matter how much falsehood may annoy him, a Judge
with arbitrary power entrusted to him must not permit indignation alone to
govern his decision. He must make allowances for all.

For the County Court in country districts has become a tribunal whose
decisions enter, as it were, into the very life of the people. It is not
concerned with a few important cases only; it has to arrange and finally
settle what are really household affairs. Take any village, and make
inquiries how many householders there are who have not at one time or
other come under the jurisdiction of the County Court? Either as
Plaintiff, or Defendant, or as witness, almost every one has had such
experience, and those who have not have been threatened with it. Beside
those defended cases that come before the Judge, there are hundreds upon
hundreds of petty claims, to which no defence is offered, and which are
adjudicated upon by the Registrar at the same time that the Judge hears
the defended causes.

The labourer, like so many farmers in a different way, lives on credit and
is perpetually in debt. He purchases his weekly goods on the security of
hoeing, harvest, or piece work, and his wages are continually absorbed in
payment of instalments, just as the tenant-farmer's income is too often
absorbed in the payment of interest and instalments of his loans. No one
seems ever to pay without at least a threat of the County Court, which
thus occupies a position like a firm appointed to perpetually liquidate a
vast estate. It is for ever collecting shillings and half-crowns.


This is one aspect of the County Court; the other is its position with
respect to property. It is the great arbitrator of property--of houses and
land, and deeds and contracts. Of recent years the number of the owners of
land has immensely increased--that is, of small pieces--and the litigation
has correspondingly grown. There is enough work for a man of high legal
ability in settling causes of this character alone, without any 'horse
case' with thirty witnesses, or any dispute that involves the conflict of
personal testimony.



CHAPTER XVIII



THE BANK. THE OLD NEWSPAPER


The most imposing building in a certain country market town is the old
Bank, so called familiarly to distinguish it from the new one. The
premises of the old Bank would be quite unapproached in grandeur, locally,
were it not for the enterprise of the new establishment. Nothing could be
finer than the façade of the old Bank, which stands out clear and elegant
in its fresh paint among the somewhat dingy houses and shops of the main
street. It is rather larger in size, more lofty, and has the advantage of
being a few yards nearer to the railway station. But the rival institution
runs it very close. It occupies a corner on the very verge of the
market-place--its door facing the farmer as he concludes his deal--and it
is within a minute of the best hotels, where much business is done. It is
equally white and clean with fresh paint, and equally elegant in design.

A stranger, upon a nice consideration of the circumstances, might find a
difficulty in deciding on which to bestow his patronage; and perhaps the
chief recommendation of the old establishment lies in the fact that it is
the older of the two. The value of antiquity was never better understood
than in these modern days. Shrewd men of business have observed that the
quality of being ancient is the foundation of credit. Men believe in that
which has been long established. Their fathers dealt there, they deal
themselves, and if a new-comer takes up his residence he is advised to do
likewise.

A visitor desirous of looking on the outside, at least of country banking,
would naturally be conducted to the old Bank. If it were an ordinary day,
_i.e._ not a market or fair, he might stand on the pavement in front
sunning himself without the least inconvenience from the passenger
traffic. He would see, on glancing Up and down the street, one or two aged
cottage women going in or out of the grocer's, a postman strolling round,
and a distant policeman at the farthest corner. A sprinkling of boys
playing marbles at the side of the pavement, and two men loading a waggon
with sacks of flour from a warehouse, complete the scene as far as human
life is concerned. There are dogs basking on doorsteps, larger dogs
rambling with idleness in the slow sway of their tails, and overhead black
swifts (whose nests are in the roofs of the higher houses) dash to and
fro, uttering their shrill screech.

The outer door of the bank is wide open--fastened back--ostentatiously
open, and up the passage another mahogany door, closed, bears a polished
brazen plate with the word 'Manager' engraved upon it. Everything within
is large and massive. The swing door itself yields with the slow motion of
solidity, and unless you are agile as it closes in the rear, thrusts you
forward like a strong gale. The apartment is large and lofty: there is
room for a crowd, but at present there is no one at the counter. It is
long enough and broad enough for the business of twenty customers at once;
so broad that the clerks on the other side are beyond arm's reach. But
they have shovels with which to push the gold towards you, and in a small
glass stand is a sponge kept constantly damp, across which the cashier
draws his finger as he counts the silver, the slight moisture enabling him
to sort the coin more swiftly.

The fittings are perfect, as perfect as in a London bank, and there is an
air of extreme precision. Yonder open drawers are full of pass-books; upon
the desks and on the broad mantelpiece are piles of cheques, not scattered
in disorder but arranged in exact heaps. The very inkstands are heavy and
vast, and you just catch a glimpse round the edge of the semi-sentry box
which guards the desk of the chief cashier, of a ledger so huge that the
mind can hardly realise the extent of the business which requires such
ponderous volumes to record it. Then beyond these a glass door, half open,
apparently leads to the manager's room, for within it is a table strewn
with papers, and you can see the green-painted iron wall of a safe.

The clerks, like the place, are somewhat imposing; they are in no hurry,
they allow you time to look round you and imbibe the sense of awe which
the magnificent mahogany counter and the brazen fittings, all the
evidences of wealth, are so calculated to inspire. The hollow sound of
your footstep on the floor does not seem heard; the slight 'Ahem!' you
utter after you have waited a few moments attracts no attention, nor the
rustling of your papers. The junior clerks are adding up column after
column of figures, and are totally absorbed; the chief cashier is
pondering deeply over a letter and annotating it. By-and-by he puts it
down, and slowly approaches. But after you have gone through the
preliminary ceremony of waiting, which is an institution of the place, the
treatment quite changes. Your business is accomplished with practised
ease, any information you may require is forthcoming on the instant, and
deft fingers pass you the coin. In brief, the whole machinery of banking
is here as complete as in Lombard Street. The complicated ramifications of
commercial transactions are as well understood and as closely studied as
in the 'City.' No matter what your wishes, provided, of course, that your
credentials are unimpeachable, they will be conducted for you
satisfactorily and without delay.

Yet the green meadows are within an arrow shot, and standing on the
threshold and looking down a cross street you can see the elms of the
hedgerows closing in the prospect. It is really wonderful that such
conveniences should he found in so apparently insignificant a place. The
intelligence and courtesy of the officials is most marked. It is clear,
upon reflection, that such intelligence, such manners, and knowledge not
only of business but of men (for a banker and a banker's agent has often
to judge at a moment's notice whether a man be a rogue or honest), cannot
be had for nothing. They must be paid for, and, in so far at least as the
heads are concerned, paid liberally. It is known that the old Bank has
often paid twenty and twenty-five per cent, to its shareholders. Where
does all this money come from? From Hodge, toiling in the field and
earning his livelihood in the sweat of his brow? One would hardly think so
at first, and yet there are no great businesses or manufactories here.
Somehow or other the money that pays for this courtesy and commercial
knowledge, for these magnificent premises and furniture, that pays the
shareholders twenty-five per cent., must be drawn from the green meadows,
the cornfields, and the hills where the sheep feed.

On an ordinary day the customers that come to the bank's counter may be
reckoned on the fingers. Early in the morning the Post-Office people come
for their cash and change; next, some of the landlords of the principal
inns with their takings; afterwards, such of the tradesmen as have cheques
to pay in. Later on the lawyers' clerks, or the solicitors themselves drop
in; in the latter case for a chat with the manager. A farmer or two may
call, especially on a Friday, for the cash to pay the labourers next day,
and so the morning passes. In the afternoon one or more of the local
gentry or clergy may drive up or may not--it is a chance either way--and
as the hour draws near for closing some of the tradesmen come hurrying in
again. Then the day, so far as the public are concerned, is over.
To-morrow sees the same event repeated.

On a market-day there is a great bustle; men hustle in and out, with a
bluff disregard of conventional politeness, but with no intention of
rudeness. Through the open doors comes the lowing of cattle, and the
baaing of sheep; the farmers and dealers that crowd in and out bring with
them an odour of animals that exhales from their garments. The clerks are
now none too many, the long broad counter none too large; the resources of
the establishment are taxed to the utmost. The manager is there in person,
attending to the more important customers.

In the crush are many ladies who would find their business facilitated by
coming on a different day. But market-day is a tradition with all classes;
even the gentry appear in greater numbers. If you go forth into the
Market-place you will find it thronged with farmers. If you go into the
Corn Hall or Exchange, where the corndealers have their stands, and where
business in cereals and seeds is transacted; if you walk across to the
auction yard for cattle, or to the horse depository, where an auction of
horses is proceeding; everywhere you have to push your way through groups
of agriculturists. The hotels are full of them (the stable-yards full of
their various conveyances), and the restaurant, the latest innovation in
country towns, is equally filled with farmers taking a chop, and the inner
rooms with ladies discussing coffee and light refreshments.

Now every farmer of all this crowd has his cheque-book in the breast
pocket of his coat. Let his business be what it may, the purchase of
cattle, sheep, horses, or implements, seed, or any other necessary, no
coin passes. The parties, if the transaction be private, adjourn to their
favourite inn, and out comes the cheque-book. If a purchase be effected at
either of the auctions proceeding it is paid for by cheque, and, on the
other hand, should the farmer be the vendor, his money comes to him in the
shape of a cheque. With the exception of his dinner and the ostler, the
farmer who comes to market carries on all his transactions with paper. The
landlord of the hotel takes cash for the dinner, and the ostler takes his
shilling. For the rest, it is all cheques cheques, cheques; so that the
whole business of agriculture, from the purchase of the seed to the sale
of the crop, passes through the bank.

The toll taken by the bank upon such transactions as simple buying and
selling is practically _nil_; its profit is indirect. But besides the
indirect profit there is the direct speculation of making advances at high
interest, discounting bills, and similar business. It might almost be said
that the crops are really the property of the local banks, so large in the
aggregate are the advances made upon them. The bank has, in fact, to study
the seasons, the weather, the probable market prices, the import of grain
and cattle, and to keep an eye upon the agriculture of the world. The
harvest and the prices concern it quite as much as the actual farmer who
tills the soil. In good seasons, with a crop above the average, the
business of the bank expands in corresponding ratio. The manager and
directors feel that they can advance with confidence; the farmer has the
means to pay. In bad seasons and with short crops the farmer is more
anxious than ever to borrow; but the bank is obliged to contract its
sphere of operations.

It usually happens that one or more of the directors of a country bank are
themselves farmers in a large way--gentlemen farmers, but with practical
knowledge. They are men whose entire lives have been spent in the
locality, and who have a very wide circle of acquaintances and friends
among agriculturists. Their forefathers were stationed there before them,
and thus there has been an accumulation of local knowledge. They not only
thoroughly understand the soil of the neighbourhood, and can forecast the
effect of particular seasons with certainty, but they possess an intimate
knowledge of family history, what farmer is in a bad way, who is doubtful,
or who has always had a sterling reputation. An old-established country
bank has almost always one or more such confidential advisers. Their
assistance is invaluable.

Since agriculture became in this way, through the adoption of banking, so
intimately connected with commerce, it has responded, like other
businesses, to the fluctuations of trade. The value of money in
Threadneedle Street affects the farmer in an obscure hamlet a hundred
miles away, whose fathers knew nothing of money except as a coin, a token
of value, and understood nothing of the export or import of gold. The
farmer's business is conducted through the bank, but, on the other hand,
the bank cannot restrict its operations to the mere countryside. It is
bound up in every possible manner with the vast institutions of the
metropolis. Its private profits depend upon the rate of discount and the
tone of the money market exactly in the same way as with those vast
institutions. A difficulty, a crisis there is immediately felt by the
country bank, whose dealings with its farmer customers are in turn
affected.

Thus commerce acts upon agriculture. _Per contra_, the tradesmen of the
town who go to the bank every morning would tell you with doleful faces
that the condition of agriculture acts upon trade in a most practical
manner. Neither the farmer, nor the farmer's wife and family expend nearly
so much as they did at their shops, and consequently the sums they carry
over to the bank are much diminished in amount. The local country
tradesman probably feels the depression of agriculture all but as much as
the farmer himself. The tradesman is perhaps supported by the bank; if he
cannot meet his liabilities the bank is compelled to withdraw that
support.

Much of this country banking seems to have grown up in very recent times.
Any elderly farmer out yonder in the noisy market would tell you that in
his young days when he first did business he had to carry coin with him,
especially if at a distance from home. It was then the custom to attend
markets and fairs a long way off, such markets being centres where the
dealers and drovers brought cattle. The dealers would accept nothing but
cash; they would not have looked at a cheque had such a thing been
proffered them. This old Bank prides itself upon the reputation it
enjoyed, even in those days. It had the power of issuing notes, and these
notes were accepted by such men, even at a great distance, the bank having
so good a name. They were even preferred to the notes of the Bank of
England, which at one time, in outlying country places, were looked on
with distrust, a state of things which seems almost incredible to the
present generation.

In those days men had no confidence. That mutual business understanding,
the credit which is the basis of all commerce of the present time, did not
exist. Of course this only applies to the country and to country trading;
the business men of cities were years in advance of the agriculturists in
this respect. But so good was the reputation of the old Bank, even in
those times, that its notes were readily accepted. It is, indeed,
surprising what a reputation some of the best of the country banks have
achieved. Their names are scarcely seen in the money articles of the daily
press. But they do a solid business of great extent, and their names in
agricultural circles are names of power. So the old Bank here, though
within an arrow shot of the green meadows, though on ordinary days a
single clerk might attend to its customers, has really a valuable
_clientèle._

Of late years shrewd men of business discovered that the ranks of the
British farmer offered a wonderful opportunity for legitimate banking. The
farmer, though he may not be rich, must of necessity be the manager, if
not the actual owner, of considerable capital. A man who farms, if only a
hundred acres, must have some capital. It may not be his own--it may be
borrowed; still he has the use of it. Here, then, a wide field opened
itself to banking enterprise. Certainly there has been a remarkable
extension of banking institutions in the country. Every market town has
its bank, and in most cases two--branches of course, but banks to all
intents and purposes. Branches are started everywhere.

The new Bank in this particular little town is not really new. It is
simply a branch set up by a well-established bank whose original centre
may perhaps be in another county. It is every whit as respectable as the
other, and as well conducted. Its branch as yet lacks local antiquity, but
that is the only difference. The competition for the farmer's business
between these branches, scattered all over the length and breadth of the
country, must of necessity be close. When the branch, or new Bank, came
here, it was started in grand premises specially erected for it, in the
most convenient situation that could be secured.

Till then the business of the old Bank had been carried on in a small and
dingy basement. The room was narrow, badly lit, and still worse
ventilated, so that on busy days both the clerks and the customers
complained of the stuffy atmosphere. The ancient fittings had become worn
and defaced; the ceiling was grimy; the conveniences in every way
defective. When it was known that a new branch was to be opened the
directors of the old Bank resolved that the building, which had so long
been found inadequate, should be entirely renovated. They pulled it down,
and the present magnificent structure took its place.

Thus this little country town now possesses two banks, whose façades could
hardly be surpassed in a city. There is perhaps a little rivalry between
the managers of the two institutions, in social as well as in business
matters. Being so long established there the old Bank numbers among its
customers some of the largest landed proprietors, the leading clergy, and
solicitors. The manager coming into contact with these, and being himself
a man of intelligence, naturally occupies a certain position. If any
public movement is set on foot, the banks strive as to which shall be most
to the fore, and, aided by its antiquity, the old Bank, perhaps, secures a
social precedence. Both managers belong to the 'carriage people' of the
town.

Hodge comes into the place, walking slowly behind cattle or sheep, or
jolting in on a waggon. His wife comes, too, on foot, through the roughest
weather, to fetch her household goods. His daughter comes into the hiring
fair, and stands waiting for employment on the pavement in the same spot
used for the purpose from time immemorial, within sight of the stately
façades of the banks. He himself has stood in the market-place with
reaping hook or hoe looking for a master. Humble as he may be, it is clear
that the wealth in those cellars--the notes and the gold pushed over the
counters in shovels--must somehow come from the labour which he and his
immediate employer--the farmer--go through in the field.

It is becoming more and more the practice for the carter, or shepherd, who
desires a new situation, to advertise. Instead of waiting for the chance
of the hiring fair, he trudges into the market town and calls at the
office of the oldest established local paper. There his wishes are reduced
to writing for him, he pays his money, and his advertisement appears. If
there is an farmer advertising for a man, as is often the case, he at the
same time takes the address, and goes over to offer his services. The
farmer and the labourer alike look to the advertisement columns as the
medium between them.

The vitality and influence of the old-fashioned local newspaper is indeed
a remarkable feature of country life. It would be thought that in these
days of cheap literature, these papers, charging twopence, threepence, and
even fourpence per copy, could not possibly continue to exist. But,
contrary to all expectation, they have taken quite a fresh start, and
possess a stronger hold than ever upon the agricultural population. They
enter into the old homesteads, and every member of the farmer's family
carefully scans them, certain of finding a reference to this or that
subject or person in whom he takes an interest.

Some such papers practically defy competition. In the outlying towns,
where no factories have introduced a new element, it is vain for the most
enterprising to start another. The squire, the clergyman, the lawyer, the
tenant-farmer, the wayside innkeeper stick to the old weekly paper, and
nothing can shake it. It is one of the institutions of agriculture.

The office is, perhaps, in a side street of the quiet market-town, and
there is no display to catch the casual purchaser. No mystery surrounds
the editor's sanctum; the visitor has but to knock, and is at once
admitted to his presence. An office could scarcely be more plainly
furnished. A common table, which has, however, one great virtue--it does
not shake when written on--occupies the centre. Upon one side is a large
desk or bureau; the account-books lying open show that the editor, besides
his literary labour, has to spend much time in double entry. Two chairs
are so completely hidden under 'exchanges' that no one can sit upon them.
Several of these 'exchanges' are from the United States or Australia, for
the colonists are often more interested and concerned about local affairs
in the old country than they are with the doings in the metropolis.
Against the wall, too, hangs a picture of a fine steamer careering under
sail and steam, and near it a coloured sectional map of some new township
marked out in squares. These are the advertisements of an Atlantic or
Australian line, or of both; and the editor is their agent. When the young
ploughman resolves to quit the hamlet for the backwoods of America or the
sheepwalks of Australia, he comes here to engage his berth. When the young
farmer wearies of waiting for dead men's shoes--in no other way can he
hope to occupy an English farm--he calls here and pays his passage-money,
and his broad shoulders and willing hands are shipped to a land that will
welcome him. A single shelf supports a few books, all for reference, such
as the 'Clergy List,' for the Church is studied, and the slightest change
that concerns the district carefully recorded.

Beneath this, the ponderous volumes that contain the file of the paper for
the last forty years are piled, their weight too great for a shelf resting
on the floor. The series constitutes a complete and authentic local
history. People often come from a distance to consult it, for it is the
only register that affords more than the simple entry of birth and death.

There is a life in the villages and hamlets around, in the little places
that are not even hamlets, which to the folk who dwell in them is fully as
important as that of the greatest city. Farmhouses are not like the villas
of cities and city suburbs. The villa has hardly any individuality; it is
but one of many, each resembling the other, and scarcely separated. To-day
one family occupies it, tomorrow another, next year perhaps a third, and
neither of these has any real connection with the place. They are
sojourners, not inhabitants, drawn thither by business or pleasure; they
come and go, and leave no mark behind. But the farmhouse has a history.
The same family have lived in it for, perhaps, a hundred years: they have
married and intermarried, and become identified with the locality. To them
all the petty events of village life have a meaning and importance: the
slow changes that take place and are chronicled in the old newspaper have
a sad significance, for they mark that flux of time which is carrying
them, too, onwards to their rest.

These columns of the file, therefore, that to a stranger seem a blank, to
the old folk and their descendants are like a mirror, in which they can
see the faces of the loved ones who passed away a generation since. They
are the archives of the hamlets round about: a farmer can find from them
when his grandfather quitted the old farm, and read an account of the
sale. Men who left the village in their youth for the distant city or the
still more distant colonies, as they grow in years often feel an
irresistible desire to revisit the old, old place. The home they so fondly
recollect is in other hands, and yet in itself but little changed. A few
lines in the plainest language found in the file here tell to such a
greybeard a story that fills his eyes with tears. But even a stranger who
took the trouble to turn over the folios would now and then find matter to
interest him: such as curious notes of archaeological discovery, accounts
of local customs now fallen into disuse, and traditions of the past. Many
of these are worthy of collection in more accessible form.

There is hardly anything else in the room except the waste basket under
the table. As the visitor enters, a lad goes out with a roll of manuscript
in his hand, and the editor looks up from his monotonous task of
proof-reading, for he has that duty also to perform. Whatever he is doing,
some one is certain to call and break off the thread of his thought. The
bailiff or farm-steward of a neighbouring estate comes in to insert an
advertisement of timber for sale, or of the auction of the ash-poles
annually felled. A gamekeeper calls with a notice not to sport or trespass
on certain lands. The editor has to write out the advertisement for these
people, and for many of the farmers who come, for countrymen have the
greatest dislike to literary effort of any kind, and can hardly be
persuaded to write a letter. Even when they have written the letter they
get the daughter to address the envelope, lest the Post Office should
smile at their rude penmanship. The business of preparing the
advertisement is not quickly concluded, for just as it is put down to
their fancy, they recollect another item which has to be added. Then they
stand and gossip about the family at the mansion and the affairs of the
parish generally, totally oblivious of the valuable time they are wasting.
Farmers look in to advertise a cottage or a house in the village to let,
and stay to explain the state of the crops, and the why and the wherefore
of So-and-so leaving his tenancy.

The largest advertisers invariably put off their orders till the morning
of the paper going to press, from sheer inattention. On that busy morning,
auctioneers' clerks rush in with columns of auction sales of cattle,
sheep, horses, hay, or standing crops (according to the season of the
year), and every species of farm produce. After them come the solicitors'
clerks, with equally important and lengthy notices of legal matters
concerning the effects of farmers who have fallen into difficulties, of
parochial or turnpike affairs, or 'Pursuant to an Act intitled "An Act to
further amend the Law and to Relieve Trustees."' These notices have been
lying on their desks for days, but are perversely sent down at the last
moment, and upset the entire make-up of the paper.

Just as the editor has arranged for these, and is in the act to rush up
into the press-room, a timid knock announces a poor cottage girl, who has
walked in from a hamlet six or seven miles away to inquire the address of
a lady who wants a servant. This advertisement appeared at least three
weeks since, for country folk could in no wise make up their minds to
apply under three weeks, and necessitates a search back through the file,
and a reference to divers papers. He cannot in common courtesy leave the
poor girl to wait his convenience, and meantime the steam is up and the
machine waiting. When the address is discovered, the girl thinks she
cannot remember it, and so he has to write it down on a piece of paper for
her.

He has no highly organised staff to carry on the routine work; he has to
look after every department as well as the purely editorial part. Almost
every one who has a scrap of news or gossip looks in at the office to chat
about it with him. Farmers, who have driven in to the town from distant
villages, call to tell him of the trouble they are having over the new
schools, and the conflict in the parish as to whether they shall or shall
not have a school board. Clergymen from outlying vicarages come to mention
that a cottage flower show, a penny reading, a confirmation, or some such
event, is impending, and to suggest the propriety of a full and special
account. Occasionally a leading landed proprietor is closeted with him,
for at least an hour, discussing local politics, and ascertaining from him
the tone of feeling in the district.

Modern agricultural society insists upon publicity. The smallest village
event must be chronicled, or some one will feel dissatisfied, and inquire
why it was not put in the paper. This continual looking towards the paper
for everything causes it to exercise a very considerable amount of
influence. Perhaps the clergy and gentry are in some things less powerful
than the local newspaper, for, from a variety of causes, agricultural
society has become extremely sensitive to public opinion. The temperate
and thoughtful arguments put forward by a paper in which they have
confidence directly affect the tenant-farmers. On the other hand, as
expressing the views of the tenant-farmers, the paper materially
influences the course taken by the landed proprietors.

In country districts the mere numerical circulation of a weekly
publication is no measure of its importance. The position of the
subscribers is the true test. These old-established papers, in fact,
represent property. They are the organs of all who possess lands, houses,
stock, produce; in short, of the middle class. This is evident from the
advertising columns. The lawyer, the auctioneer, the land agent, the
farmer, all who have any substance, publish their business in this medium.
Official county advertisements appear in it. The carter and the shepherd
look down the column of situations vacant as they call at the village inn
for a glass of ale, or, if they cannot read, ask some one to read for
them. But they do not purchase this kind of newspaper. The cottager spells
over prints advocating the disestablishment of the Church, the division of
great estates, and the general subversion of the present order of things.
Yet when the labourer advertises, he goes to the paper subscribed to by
his master. The disappearance of such an obsolete and expensive paper is
frequently announced as imminent; but the obsolete and expensive print,
instead of disappearing, nourishes with renewed vitality. Solid matter,
temperate argument, and genuine work, in the long ran, pay the best. An
editor who thus conducts his paper is highly appreciated by the local
chiefs of his party, and may even help to contribute to the success of an
Administration.

The personal labour involved in such editing must be great from the
absence of trained assistance, and because the materials must be furnished
by incompetent hands. Local news must be forwarded by local people,
perhaps by a village tailor with literary tastes. Such correspondents
often indulge in insinuations, or fulsome flattery, which must be
carefully eliminated. From another village an account of some event comes
from the schoolmaster--quite an important person nowadays!--who writes in
a fair, round hand and uses the finest language and the longest words. He
invariably puts 'hebdomadal' for 'weekly.' A lawyer's clerk writes a
narrative of some case, on blue foolscap, and, after the manner of legal
documents, without a single stop from beginning to end.

Once a year comes the labour of preparing the sheet almanac. This useful
publication is much valued by the tenants of the district, and may be
found pinned against the wall for ready reference in most farmhouses.
Besides the calendar it contains a list of county and other officials,
dates of quarter sessions and assizes, fair days and markets, records of
the prices obtained at the annual sales of rams or shorthorns on leading
farms, and similar agricultural information.

The editor has very likely been born in the district, and has thus grown
up to understand the wants and the spirit of the farming class. He is
acquainted with the family history of the neighbourhood, a knowledge which
is of much advantage in enabling him to avoid unnecessarily irritating
personal susceptibilities. His private library is not without interest. It
mainly consists of old books picked up at the farmhouse sales of thirty
years. At such disposals of household effects volumes sometimes come to
light that have been buried for generations among lumber. Many of these
books are valuable and all worth examination. A man of simple and retiring
habits, his garden is perhaps his greatest solace, and next to that a
drive or stroll through the green meadows around. Incessant mental labour
has forced him to wear glasses before his time, and it is a relief and
pleasure to the eyes to dwell on green sward and leaf. Such a man performs
a worthy part in country life, and possesses the esteem of the country
side.



CHAPTER XIX



THE VILLAGE FACTORY. VILLAGE VISITORS. WILLOW-WORK


In the daytime the centre of a certain village may be said to be the shop
of the agricultural machinist. The majority of the cottagers are away in
the fields at work, and the place is elsewhere almost quiet. A column of
smoke and a distant din guide the visitor to the spot where the hammers
are clattering on the anvils.

Twisted iron, rusty from exposure, lies in confusion on the blackened
ground before the shed. Coal-dust and the carbon deposited from volumes of
thick smoke have darkened the earth, and coated everything with a black
crust. The windows of the shed are broken, probably by the accidental
contact of long rods of iron carelessly cast aside, and some of the slates
of the roof appear gone just above the furnace, as if removed for
ventilation and the escape of the intense heat. There is a creaking of
stiff leather as the bellows rise and fall, and the roar of the blast as
it is forced up through the glowing coals.

A ceaseless hum of wheels in motion comes from the rear, and the peculiar
crackling sound of a band in rapid revolution round the drum of the engine
and the shaft. Then the grinding scrape of sharp steel on iron as the edge
of the tool cuts shavings from the solid metal rotating swiftly in the
lathe. As blow follows blow the red-hot 'scale,' driven from the surface
of the iron on the anvil by the heavy sledge, flies rattling against the
window in a spray of fire. The ring of metal, the clatter, the roaring,
and hissing of steam, fill the air, and through it rises now and then the
shrill quick calls of men in command.

Outside, and as it seems but a stone's throw distant, stands the old grey
church, and about it the still, silent, green-grown mounds over those who
once followed the quiet plough.

Bound the corner of the village street comes a man with a grimy red flag,
and over the roofs of the cottages rises a cloud of smoke, and behind it
yet another. Two steam ploughing engines are returning from their work to
their place beside the shed to wait fresh orders. The broad wheels of the
engines block up the entire width of the street, and but just escape
overthrowing the feeble palings in front of the cottage doors. Within
those palings the children at play scarcely turn to look; the very infants
that can hardly toddle are so accustomed to the ponderous wonder that they
calmly gnaw the crusts that keep them contented. It requires a full hour
to get the unwieldy engines up the incline and round the sharp turns on to
the open space by the workshop. The driver has to 'back,' and go-a-head,
and 'back' again, a dozen times before he can reach the place, for that
narrow bye-way was not planned out for such traffic. A mere path leading
to some cottages in the rear, it was rarely used even by carts before the
machinist came, and it is a feat of skill to get the engines in without,
like a conqueror, entering by a breach battered in the walls. When, at
last, they have been piloted into position, the steam is blown off, and
the rushing hiss sounds all over the village. The white vapour covers the
ground like a cloud, and the noise re-echoes against the old grey church,
but the jackdaws do not even rise from the battlements.

These engines and their corresponding tackle are the chief stock-in-trade
of the village machinist. He lets them out to the farmers of the district,
which is principally arable; that is, he contracts to do their ploughing
and scarifying at so much per acre. In the ploughing seasons the engines
are for ever on the road, and with their tackle dragging behind them take
up the highway like a train. One day you may hear the hum and noise from a
distant field on the left; in a day or two it comes from another on the
right; next week it has shifted again, and is heard farther off
northwards, and so all round the compass.

The visitor, driving about the neighbourhood, cannot but notice the huge
and cumbrous-looking plough left awhile on the sward by the roadside.
One-half of the shares stand up high in the air, the other half touch the
ground, and it is so nicely balanced that boys sometimes play at see-saw
on it. He will meet the iron monster which draws this plough by the bridge
over the brook, pausing while its insatiable thirst is stayed from the
stream. He will see it patiently waiting, with a slight curl of steam over
the boiler, by the wayside inn while its attendants take their lunch.

It sometimes happens in wet weather that the engines cannot be moved from
the field where they have been ploughing. The soil becomes so soft from
absorbing so much water that it will not bear up the heavy weight. Logs
and poles are laid down to form a temporary way, but the great wheels sink
too deeply, and the engines have to be left covered with tarpaulins. They
have been known to remain till the fresh green leaves of spring on the
hedges and trees almost hid them from sight.

The machinist has another and lighter traction engine which does not
plough, but travels from farm to farm with a threshing machine. In autumn
it is in full work threshing, and in winter drives chaff-cutters for the
larger farmers. Occasionally it draws a load of coal in waggons or trucks
built for the purpose. Hodge's forefathers knew no rival at plough time;
after the harvest they threshed the corn all the winter with the flail.
Now the iron horse works faster and harder than he.

Some of the great tenant-farmers have sets of ploughing-engines and tackle
of their own, and these are frequently at the machinist's for repairs. The
reaping, mowing, threshing, haymaking, hoeing, raking, and other machines
and implements also often require mending. Once now and then a bicyclist
calls to have his machine attended to, something having given way while on
a tour. Thus the village factory is in constant work, but has to encounter
immense competition.

Country towns of any size usually possess at least one manufactory of
agricultural implements, and some of these factories have acquired a
reputation which reaches over sea. The visitor to such a foundry is shown
medals that have been granted for excellence of work exhibited in Vienna,
and may see machines in process of construction which will be used upon
the Continent; so that the village machinist, though apparently isolated,
with nothing but fields around him, has in reality competitors upon every
side.

Ploughing engines, again, travel great distances, and there are firms that
send their tackle across a county or two. Still the village factory, being
on the spot, has plenty of local work, and the clatter of hammers, the
roar of the blast, and the hum of wheels never cease at the shed. Busy
workmen pass to and fro, lithe men, quick of step and motion, who come
from Leeds, or some similar manufacturing town, and whose very step
distinguishes them in a moment from the agricultural labourer.

A sturdy ploughboy comes up with a piece of iron on his shoulder; it does
not look large, but it is as much as he can carry. One edge of it is
polished by the friction of the earth through which it has been forced; it
has to be straightened, or repaired, and the ploughboy waits while it is
done. He sits down outside the shed on a broken and rusty iron wheel,
choosing a spot where the sun shines and the building keeps off the wind.
There, among the twisted iron, ruins and fragments of machines, he takes
out his hunch of bread and cheese, and great clasp knife, and quietly
enjoys his luncheon. He is utterly indifferent to the noise of the
revolving wheels, the creak of the bellows, the hiss of steam; he makes no
inquiry about this or that, and shows no desire to understand the wonders
of mechanics. Something in his attitude--in the immobility, the almost
animal repose of limb; something in the expression of his features, the
self-contained oblivion, so to say, suggests an Oriental absence of
aspiration. Only by negatives and side-lights, as it were, can any idea be
conveyed of his contented indifference. He munches his crust; and, when he
has done, carefully, and with vast deliberation, relaces his heavy shoe.
The sunshine illumines the old grey church before him, and falls on the
low green mounds, almost level with the sward, which cover his ancestors.

These modern inventions, this steam, and electric telegraph, and even the
printing-press have but just skimmed the surface of village life. If they
were removed--if the pressure from without, from the world around, ceased,
in how few years the village and the hamlet would revert to their original
condition!

On summer afternoons, towards five or six o'clock, a four-wheel
carriage--useful, but not pretentious--comes slowly up the hill leading to
the village. The single occupant is an elderly man, the somewhat wearied
expression of whose features is caused by a continuous application to
business. The horse, too well fed for work, takes his own time up the
hill, and when at the summit the reins are gently shaken, makes but an
idle pretence to move faster, for he knows that his master is too
good-natured and forbearing to use the whip, except to fondly stroke his
back. The reins are scarcely needed to guide the horse along the familiar
road to a large farmhouse on the outskirts of the village, where at the
gate two or more children are waiting to welcome 'papa.'

Though a farmhouse, the garden is laid out in the style so often seen
around detached villas, with a lawn for tennis and croquet, parterres
bright with summer flowers, and seats under the pleasant shade of the
trees. Within it is furnished in villa fashion, and is in fact let to a
well-to-do tradesman of the market town a few miles distant. He has wisely
sent his family for the summer months to inhale the clear air of the
hills, as exhilarating as that of the sea. There they can ride the pony
and donkeys over the open sward, and romp and play at gipsying. Every
evening he drives out to join them, and every morning returns to his
office. The house belongs to some large tenant-farmer, who has a little
freehold property, and thus makes a profit from it.

This practice of hiring a village home for the summer has become common of
recent years among the leading tradesmen of country towns. Such visitors
are welcome to the cottage folk. They require the service of a labourer
now and then; they want fresh eggs, and vegetables from the allotment
gardens. The women have the family washing to do, and a girl is often
needed to assist indoors, or a boy to clean the knives and shoes. Many
perquisites fall to the cottage people--cast aside dresses, and so on;
besides which there are little gifts and kindnesses from the lady and her
children.

Towards November, again, the congregation in the old church one Sunday
morning find subject for speculation concerning a stranger who enters a
certain well-appointed pew appropriated to The Chestnuts. He is clearly
the new tenant who has taken it for the hunting season. The Chestnuts is a
mansion built in modern style for a former landowner. As it is outside the
great hunting centres it is let at a low rental compared with its
accommodation. The labourers are glad to see that the place is let again,
for although the half-pay officer--the new occupant--who has retired,
wounded and decorated, from the service of a grateful country, has
probably not a third the income of the tradesman, and five times the
social appearance to maintain, still there will be profit to be got from
him.

What chance has such a gentleman in bargaining with the cottagers? How
should he know the village value of a cabbage? How should he understand
the farmyard value of a fowl? It may possibly strike him as odd that
vegetables should be so dear when, as he rides about, he sees whole fields
green with them. He sees plenty of fowls, and geese, and turkeys, gobbling
and cackling about the farmyards, and can perhaps after awhile faintly
perceive that they are the perquisites of the ladies of the tenants'
households, who drive him a very hard bargain. He, too, has cast aside
suits, shoes, hats, and so forth, really but little worn, to give away to
the poor. If married, his family require some help from the cottage women;
and there are odd jobs, well paid for, on the place for the men. Thus the
cottagers are glad of the arrival of their new masters, the one in the
summer, the other in the winter months.

The 'chapel-folk' of the place have so increased in numbers and affluence
that they have erected a large and commodious building in the village.
Besides the cottagers, many farmers go to the chapel, driving in from the
ends of the parish. It is a curious circumstance that many of the largest
dealers in agricultural produce, such as cheese, bacon, and corn, and the
owners of the busiest wharves where coal and timber, slate, and similar
materials are stored, belong to the Dissenting community. There are some
agricultural districts where this class of business is quite absorbed by
Dissenters--almost as much as money-changing and banking business is said
to be the exclusive property of Jews in some Continental countries. Such
dealers are often substantial and, for the country, even wealthy men. Then
there are the Dissenting tradesmen of the market town. All these together
form a species of guild. The large chapel in the village was built by
their united subscriptions. They support each other in a marked manner in
times of difficulty, so that it is rare for a tenant-farmer of the
persuasion to lose his position unless by wilful misconduct. This mutual
support is so very marked as to be quite a characteristic fact.

The cottagers and their families go to chapel with these masters. But
sometimes the cottager, as he approaches the chapel door, finds upon it
(as in the church porch) a small printed notice affixed there by the
overseers. If the labourer is now recognised as a person whose opinion is
to be consulted, on the other hand he finds that he is not without
responsibilities. The rate-collector knocks at the cottage door as well as
at the farmer's. By gradual degrees village rates are becoming a serious
burden, and though their chief incidence may be upon the landlord and the
tenant, indirectly they begin to come home to the labourer. The school
rate is voluntary, but it is none the less a rate; the cemetery, the
ancient churchyard being no more available, has had to be paid for, and,
as usual, probably cost twice what was anticipated. The highways, the
sanitary authority, not to speak of poor relief, all demand a share. Each
in itself may be only a straw, but accumulated straws in time fill a
waggon.

One side of the stable of the village inn, which faces the road, presents
a broad surface for the country bill-sticker. He comes out from the market
town, and travels on foot for a whole day together, from hamlet to hamlet.
posting up the contents of his bag in the most outlying and lonely
districts. Every villager as he passes by reads the announcements on the
wall: the circus coming to the market town, some jeweller's marvellous
watches, the selling off of spring or summer goods by the drapers at an
immense reduction, once now and then a proclamation headed V.R., and the
sales of farm stock (the tenants leaving) and of large freehold
properties.

These latter are much discussed by the callers at the inn. A carter comes
along perhaps with a loaded waggon from some distance, and as he stays to
drink his quart talks of the changes that are proceeding or imminent in
his locality. Thus the fact that changes are contemplated is often widely
known before the actual advertisement is issued. The labourers who hear
the carter's story tell it again to their own employer next time they see
him, and the farmer meeting another farmer gossips over it again.

There has grown up a general feeling in the villages and agricultural
districts that the landed estates around them are no longer stable and
enduring. A feeling of uncertainty is abroad, and no one is surprised to
hear that some other place, or person, is going. It is rumoured that this
great landlord is about to sell as many farms as the family settlements
will let him. Another is only waiting for the majority of his son to
accomplish the same object. Others, it is said, are proceeding abroad to
retrench. Properties are coming into the market in unexpected directions,
and others are only kept back because the price of land has fallen, and
there is a difficulty in selling a large estate. If divided into a number
of lots, each of small size, land still fetches its value, and can be
readily sold; but that is not always convenient, and purchasers hesitate
to invest in extensive estates. But though kept back, efforts are being
made to retrench, and, it is said, old mansions that have never been let
before can now be hired for the season. Not only the tenant-farmers, but
the landowners are pacing through a period of depression, and their tenure
too is uncertain. Such is the talk of the country side as it comes to the
village inn.

Once a week the discordant note of a horn or bugle, loudly blown by a man
who does not understand his instrument, is heard at intervals. It is the
newspaper vendor, who, like the bill-sticker, starts from the market town
on foot, and goes through the village with a terrible din. He stops at the
garden gate in the palings before the thatched cottage, delivers his print
to the old woman or the child sent out with the copper, and starts again
with a flourish of his trumpet. His business is chiefly with the
cottagers, and his print is very likely full of abuse of the landed
proprietors as a body. He is a product of modern days, almost the latest,
and as he goes from cottage door to cottage door, the discordant uproar of
his trumpet is a sign of the times.

In some districts the osier plantations give employment to a considerable
number of persons. The tall poles are made into posts and rails; the
trunks of the pollard trees when thrown are cut into small timber that
serves many minor purposes; the brushwood or tops that are cut every now
and then make thatching sticks and faggots; sometimes hedges are made of a
kind of willow wicker-work for enclosing gardens. It is, however, the
plantations of withy or osier that are most important. The willow grows so
often in or near to water that in common opinion the association cannot be
too complete. But in the arrangement of an osier-bed water is utilised,
indeed, but kept in its place--i.e. at the roots, and not over the stoles.
The osier should not stand in water, or rise, as it were, out of a
lake--the water should be in the soil underneath, and the level of the
ground higher than the surface of the adjacent stream.

Before planting, the land has to be dug or ploughed, and cleared; the
weeds collected in the same way as on an arable field. The sticks are then
set in rows eighteen inches apart, each stick (that afterwards becomes a
stole) a foot from its neighbours of the same row. At first the weeds
require keeping down, but after awhile the crop itself kills them a good
deal. Several willows spring from each planted stick, and at the end of
twelve months the first crop is ready for cutting. Next year the stick or
stole will send up still more shoots, and give a larger yield.

The sorts generally planted are called Black Spanish and Walnut Leaf. The
first has a darker bark, and is a tough wood; the other has a light yellow
bark, and grows smoother and without knots, which is better for working up
into the manufactured article. Either will grow to nine feet high--the
average height is six or seven feet. The usual time for cutting is about
Good Friday--that is, just before the leaf appears. After cutting, the
rods are stacked upright in water, in long trenches six inches deep
prepared for the purpose, and there they remain till the leaf comes out.
The power of growth displayed by the willow is wonderful--a bough has only
to be stuck in the earth, or the end of a pole placed in the brook, for
the sap to rise and shoots to push forth.

When the leaf shows the willows are carried to the 'brakes,' and the work
of stripping off the bark commences. A 'brake' somewhat resembles a pair
of very blunt scissors permanently fixed open at a certain angle, and
rigidly supported at a convenient height from the ground. The operator
stands behind it, and selecting a long wand from the heap beside him
places it in the 'brake,' and pulls it through, slightly pressing it
downwards. As he draws it towards him, the edges of the iron tear the bark
and peel it along the whole length of the stick. There is a knack in the
operation, of course, but when it is acquired the wand is peeled in a
moment by a dexterous turn of the wrist, the bark falls to the ground on
the other side of the brake, and the now white stick is thrown to the
right, where a pile soon accumulates. The peel is handy for tying up, and
when dried makes a capital material for lighting fires. This stripping of
the osiers is a most busy time in the neighbourhood of the large
plantations--almost like hop-picking--for men, women, and children can all
help. It does not require so much strength as skill and patience.

After the peeling the sticks have to be dried by exposure to the sun; they
are then sorted into lengths, and sold in bundles. If it is desired to
keep them any time they must be thoroughly dried, or they will 'heat' and
rot and become useless. This willow harvest is looked forward to by the
cottagers who live along the rivers as an opportunity for earning extra
money. The quantity of osier thus treated seems immense, and yet the
demand is said to be steady, and as the year advances the price of the
willow rises. It is manufactured into all kinds of baskets--on farms,
especially arable farms, numbers of baskets are used. Clothes baskets,
market baskets, chaff baskets, bassinettes or cradles, &c., are some few
of the articles manufactured from it. Large quantities of willow, too, are
worked up unpeeled into hampers of all kinds. The number of hampers used
in these days is beyond computation, and as they are constantly wearing
out, fresh ones have to be made. An advantage of the willow is that it
enables the farmer to derive a profit from land that would otherwise be
comparatively valueless. Good land, indeed, is hardly fitted for osier; it
would grow rank with much pith in the centre, and therefore liable to
break. On common land, on the contrary, it grows just right, and not too
coarse. Almost any scrap or corner does for willow, and if properly tended
it speedily pays for the labour.

The digging and preparation of the ground gives employment, and afterwards
the weeding and the work required to clean the channels that conduct water
round and through the beds. Then there is the cutting and the peeling, and
finally the basket-making; and thus the willow, though so common as to be
little regarded, finds work for many hands.



CHAPTER XX



HODGE'S FIELDS


The labourer working all the year round in the open air cannot but note to
some degree those changes in tree and plant which coincide with the
variations of his daily employment. Early in March, as he walks along the
southern side of the hedge, where the dead oak leaves still cumber the
trailing ivy, he can scarcely avoid seeing that pointed tongues of green
are pushing up. Some have widened into black-spotted leaves; some are
notched like the many-barbed bone harpoons of savage races. The hardy
docks are showing, and the young nettles have risen up. Slowly the dark
and grey hues of winter are yielding to the lively tints of spring. The
blackthorn has white buds on its lesser branches, and the warm rays of the
sun have drawn forth the buds on one favoured hawthorn in a sheltered
nook, so that the green of the coming leaf is visible. Bramble bushes
still retain their forlorn, shrivelled foliage; the hardy all but
evergreen leaves can stand cold, but when biting winds from the north and
east blow for weeks together even these curl at the edge and die.

The remarkable power of wind upon leaves is sometimes seen in May, when a
strong gale, even from the west, will so beat and batter the tender
horse-chestnut sprays that they bruise and blacken. The slow plough
traverses the earth, and the white dust rises from the road and drifts
into the field. In winter the distant copse seemed black; now it appears
of a dull reddish brown from the innumerable catkins and buds. The
delicate sprays of the birch are fringed with them, the aspen has a load
of brown, there are green catkins on the bare hazel boughs, and the
willows have white 'pussy-cats.' The horse-chestnut buds--the hue of dark
varnish--have enlarged, and stick to the finger if touched; some are so
swollen as to nearly burst and let the green appear. Already it is
becoming more difficult to look right through the copse. In winter the
light could be seen on the other side; now catkin, bud, and opening leaf
have thickened and check the view. The same effect was produced not long
since by the rime on the branches in the frosty mornings; while each
smallest twig was thus lined with crystal it was not possible to see
through. Tangled weeds float down the brook, catching against projecting
branches that dip into the stream, or slowly rotating and carried
apparently up the current by the eddy and back-water behind the bridge. In
the pond the frogs have congregated in great numbers; their constant
'croo-croo' is audible at some distance.

The meadows, so long bound by frost and covered with snow, are slowly
losing their wan aspect, and assuming a warmer green as the young blades
of grass come upwards. Where the plough or harrow has passed over the
clods they quickly change from the rich brown of fresh-turned soil to a
whiter colour, the dryness of the atmosphere immediately dissipating the
moisture in the earth. So, examine what you will, from the clod to the
tiniest branch, the hedge, the mound, the water--everywhere a step forward
has been taken. The difference in a particular case may be minute; but it
is there, and together these faint indications show how closely spring is
approaching.

As the sun rises the chaffinch utters his bold challenge on the tree; the
notes are so rapid that they seem to come all at once. Welcome, indeed, is
the song of the first finch. Sparrows are busy in the garden--the hens are
by far the most numerous now, half a dozen together perch on the bushes.
One suddenly darts forth and seizes a black insect as it flies in the
sunshine. The bee, too, is abroad, and once now and then a yellow
butterfly. From the copse on the warmer days comes occasionally the deep
hollow bass of the wood pigeon. On the very topmost branch of an elm a
magpie has perched; now he looks this way, and then turns that, bowing in
the oddest manner, and jerking his long tail up and down. Then two of them
flutter across the field--feebly, as if they had barely strength to reach
the trees in the opposite hedge. Extending their wings they float slowly,
and every now and then the body undulates along its entire length. Rooks
are building--they fly and feed now in pairs; the rookery is alive with
them. To the steeple the jackdaws have returned and fly round and round;
now one holds his wings rigid and slides down at an angle of sixty degrees
at a breakneck pace, as if about to dash himself in fragments on the
garden beneath.

Sometimes there come a few days which are like summer. There is an almost
cloudless sky, a gentle warm breeze, and a bright sun filling the fields
with a glow of light. The air, though soft and genial, is dry, and perhaps
it is this quality which gives so peculiar a definition to hedge, tree,
and hill. A firm, almost hard, outline brings copse and wood into clear
relief; the distance across the broadest fields appears sensibly
diminished. Such freedom from moisture has a deliciously exhilarating
effect on those who breathe so pure an atmosphere. The winds of March
differ, indeed, in a remarkable manner from, the gales of the early year,
which, even when they blow from a mild quarter, compel one to keep in
constant movement because of the aqueous vapour they carry. But the true
March wind, though too boisterous to be exactly genial, causes a joyous
sense of freshness, as if the very blood in the veins were refined and
quickened upon inhaling it. There is a difference in its roar--the note is
distinct from the harsh sound of the chilly winter blast. On the lonely
highway at night, when other noises are silent, the March breeze rushes
through the tall elms in a wild cadence. The white clouds hasten over,
illuminated from behind by a moon approaching the full; every now and then
a break shows a clear blue sky and a star shining. Now a loud roar
resounds along the hedgerow like the deafening boom of the surge; it
moderates, dies away, then an elm close by bends and sounds as the blast
comes again. In another moment the note is caught up and repeated by a
distant tree, and so one after another joins the song till the chorus
reaches its highest pitch. Then it sinks again, and so continues with
pauses and deep inspirations, for March is like a strong man drawing his
breath full and long as he starts to run a race.

The sky, too, like the earth, whose hedges, trees, and meadows are
acquiring fresher colours, has now a more lovely aspect. At noon-day, if
the clouds be absent, it is a rich azure; after sunset a ruddy glow
appears almost all round the horizon, while the thrushes sing in the wood
till the twilight declines. At night, when the moon does not rise till
late, the heavens are brilliant with stars. In the east Arcturus is up;
the Great Bear, the Lesser Bear, and Cassiopeia are ranged about the Pole.
Procyon goes before the Dog; the noble constellation of Orion stretches
broad across the sky; almost overhead lucent Capella looks down. Aries
droops towards the west; the Bull follows with the red Aldebaran, and the
Pleiades. Behind these, Castor and Pollux, and next the cloudlike,
nebulous Cancer. Largest of all, great Sirius is flaming in the south,
quivering with the ebb and flow of his light, sometimes with an emerald
scintillation like a dewdrop on which a sunbeam glances.

The busy summer, with its haymaking, reaping, and continuous succession of
harvest work, passes too swiftly for reflection both for masters and men.
But in the calm of autumn there is time again to look round. Then white
columns of smoke rise up slowly into the tranquil atmosphere, till they
overtop the tallest elms, and the odour of the burning couch is carried
across the meadows from the lately-ploughed stubble, where the weeds have
been collected in heaps and fired. The stubble itself, short and in
regular lines, affords less and less cover every year. As the seed is now
drilled in, and the plants grow in mathematically straight lines, of
course when the crop is reaped, if you stand at one side of the field you
can see right across between the short stubbs, so that a mouse could
hardly find shelter. Then quickly come the noisy steam ploughing engines,
after them the couch collectors, and finally the heaps are burnt, and the
strong scent of smoke hangs over the ground. Against these interruptions
of their haunts and quiet ways what are the partridges to do? Even at
night the place is scarcely their own, for every now and then as the
breeze comes along, the smouldering fires are fanned into bright flame,
enough to alarm the boldest bird.

In another broad arable field, where the teams have been dragging the
plough, but have only just opened a few furrows and gone home, a flock of
sheep are feeding, or rather picking up a little, having been, turned in,
that nothing might be lost. There is a sense of quietness--of repose; the
trees of the copse close by are still, and the dying leaf as it drops
falls straight to the ground. A faint haze clings to the distant woods at
the foot of the hills; it is afternoon, the best part of an autumn day,
and sufficiently warm to make the stile a pleasant resting-place. A dark
cloud, whose edges rise curve upon curve, hangs in the sky, fringed with
bright white light, for the sun is behind it, and long, narrow streamers
of light radiate from the upper part like the pointed rays of an antique
crown. Across an interval of blue to the eastward a second massive cloud,
white and shining as if beaten out of solid silver, fronts the sun, and
reflects the beams passing horizontally through the upper ether downwards
on the earth like a mirror.

The sparrows in the stubble rise in a flock and settle down again. Yonder
a solitary lark is singing. Then the sun emerges, and the yellow autumn
beams flood the pale stubble and the dark red earth of the furrow. On the
bushes in the hedge hang the vines of the bryony, bearing thick masses of
red berries. The hawthorn leaves in places have turned pale, and are
touched, too, towards the stalk with a deep brown hue. The contrast of the
two tints causes an accidental colour resembling that of bronze, which
catches the eye at the first glance, but disappears on looking closer.
Spots of yellow on the elms seem the more brilliant from the background of
dull green. The drooping foliage of the birch exhibits a paler yellow; the
nut-tree bushes shed brown leaves upon the ground. Perhaps the beech
leaves are the most beautiful; two or three tints are blended on the
topmost boughs. There is a ruddy orange hue, a tawny brown, and a bright
green; the sunlight comes and mingles these together. The same leaf will
sometimes show two at least of these colours--green shading into brown, or
into a ruddy gold. Later on, the oaks, in a monochrome of buff, will rival
the beeches. Now and then an acorn drops from the tree overhead, with a
smart tap on the hard earth, and rebounds some inches high. Some of these
that fall are already dark--almost black--but if opened they will be found
bored by a grub. They are not yet ripe as a crop; the rooks are a good
guide in that respect, and they have not yet set steadily to work upon
this their favourite autumn food. Others that have fallen and been knocked
out of the cup are a light yellow at the base and green towards the middle
and the point; the yellow part is that which has been covered by the cup.
In the sward there is a small hole from out of which creeps a wasp at
intervals; it is a nest, and some few of them are still at work. But their
motions are slow and lack vivacity; before long, numbers must die, and
already many have succumbed after crawling miserably on the ground which
they spurned a short while since, when with a brisk buzz they flew from
apple to plum.

In the quiet woodland lane a covey of partridges are running to and fro on
the short sward at the side, and near them two or three pheasants are
searching for food. The geometrical spiders--some of them look almost as
big as a nut--hang their webs spun to a regular pattern on the bushes. The
fungi flourish; there is a huge specimen on the elm there, but the flowers
are nearly gone.

A few steps down the lane, upon looking over a gate into a large arable
field where the harrow has broken up the clods, a faint bluish tinge may
be noticed on the dull earth in the more distant parts. A second glance
shows that it is caused by a great flock of woodpigeons. Some more come
down out of the elms and join their companions; there must be a hundred
and fifty or two hundred of them. The woodpigeon on the ground at a
distance is difficult to distinguish, or rather to define individually--the
pale blue tint seems to confuse the eye with a kind of haze. Though the
flock take little notice now--knowing themselves to be far out of
gunshot--yet they would be quickly on the alert if an attempt were made to
approach them.

Already some of the elms are becoming bare--there are gaps in the foliage
where the winds have carried away the leaves. On the bramble bushes the
blackberries cluster thickly, unseen and ungathered in this wild spot. The
happy hearts that go a-blackberrying think little of the past: yet there
is a deep, a mournful significance attached to that joyous time. For how
many centuries have the blackberries tempted men, women, and children out
into the fields, laughing at scratched hands and nettles, and clinging
burrs, all merrily endured for the sake of so simple a treasure-trove.
Under the relics of the ancient pile-dwellings of Switzerland, disinterred
from the peat and other deposits, have been found quantities of blackberry
seeds, together with traces of crabs and sloes; so that by the dwellers in
those primeval villages in the midst of the lakes the wild fruits of
autumn were sought for much as we seek them now; the old instincts are
strong in us still.

The fieldfares will soon be here now, and the redwings, coming as they
have done for generations about the time of the sowing of the corn.
Without an almanack they know the dates; so the old sportsmen used to
declare that their pointers and setters were perfectly aware when
September was approaching, and showed it by unusual restlessness. By the
brook the meadows are green and the grass long still; the flags, too, are
green, though numbers of dead leaves float down on the current. There is
green again where the root crops are flourishing; but the brown tints are
striving hard, and must soon gain the mastery of colour. From the barn
comes the clatter of the winnowing machine, and the floor is covered with
heaps of grain.

After the sun has gone down and the shadows are deepening, it is lighter
in the open stubbles than in the enclosed meadows--the short white stubbs
seem to reflect what little light there is. The partridges call to each
other, and after each call run a few yards swiftly, till they assemble at
the well-known spot where they roost. Then comes a hare stealing by
without a sound. Suddenly he perceives that he is watched, and goes off at
a rapid pace, lost in the brooding shadow across the field. Yonder a row
of conical-roofed wheat-ricks stand out boldly against the sky, and above
them a planet shines.

Still later, in November, the morning mist lingers over gorse and heath,
and on the upper surfaces of the long dank grass blades, bowed by their
own weight, are white beads of dew. Wherever the eye seeks an object to
dwell on, there the cloud-like mist seems to thicken as though to hide it.
The bushes and thickets are swathed in the vapour; yonder, in the hollow,
it clusters about the oaks and hangs upon the hedge looming in the
distance. There it no sky--a motionless, colourless something spreads
above; it is, of course, the same mist, but looking upwards it apparently
recedes and becomes indefinite. The glance finds no point to rest on--as
on the edges of clouds--it is a mere opaque expanse. But the air is dry,
the moisture does not deposit itself, it remains suspended, and waits but
the wind to rise and depart. The stillness is utter: not a bird calls or
insect buzzes by. In passing beneath the oaks the very leaves have
forgotten to fall. Only those already on the sward, touched by the frost,
crumble under the footstep. When green they would have yielded to the
weight, but now stiffened they resist it and are crushed, breaking in
pieces.

A creaking and metallic rattle, as of chains, comes across the arable
field--a steady gaze reveals the dim outline of a team of horses slowly
dragging the plough, their shapes indistinctly seen against the hedge. A
bent figure follows, and by-and-by another distinct creak and rattle, and
yet a third in another direction, show that there are more teams at work,
plodding to and fro. Watching their shadowy forms, suddenly the eye
catches a change in the light somewhere. Over the meadow yonder the mist
is illuminated; it is not sunshine, but a white light, only visible by
contrast with the darker mist around. It lasts a few moments, and then
moves, and appears a second time by the copse. Though hidden here, the
disk of the sun must be partly visible there, and as the white light does
not remain long in one place, it is evident that there is motion now in
the vast mass of vapour. Looking upwards there is the faintest suspicion
of the palest blue, dull and dimmed by mist, so faint that its position
cannot be fixed, and the next instant it is gone again.

But the teams at plough are growing momentarily distinct--a breath of air
touches the cheek, then a leaf breaks away from the bough and starts forth
as if bent on a journey, but loses the impetus and sinks to the ground.
Soon afterwards the beams of the sun light up a distant oak that glows in
the hedge--a rich deep buff--and it stands out, clear, distinct, and
beautiful, the chosen and selected one, the first to receive the ray.
Rapidly the mist vanishes--disappearing rather than floating away; a
circle of blue sky opens overhead, and, finally, travelling slowly, comes
the sunshine over the furrows. There is a perceptible sense of warmth--the
colours that start into life add to the feeling. The bare birch has no
leaf to reflect it, but its white bark shines, and beyond it two great
elms, the one a pale green and the other a pale yellow, stand side by
side. The brake fern is dead and withered; the tip of each frond curled
over downwards by the frost, but it forms a brown background to the dull
green furze which is alight here and there with scattered blossom, by
contrast so brilliantly yellow as to seem like flame. Polished holly
leaves glisten, and a bunch of tawny fungus rears itself above the grass.

On the sheltered sunny bank lie the maple leaves fallen from the bushes,
which form a bulwark against the north wind; they have simply dropped upon
the ivy which almost covers the bank. Standing here with the oaks overhead
and the thick bushes on the northern side it is quite warm and genial; so
much so that if is hard to realise that winter is at hand. But even in the
shortest days, could we only get rid of the clouds and wind, we should
find the sunshine sufficiently powerful to make the noontide pleasant. It
is not that the sun is weak or low down, nor because of the sharp frosts,
that winter with us is dreary and chill. The real cause is the prevalence
of cloud, through which only a dull light can penetrate, and of
moisture-laden winds.

If our winter sun had fair play we should find the climate very different.
Even as it is, now and then comes a break in the masses of vapour
streaming across the sky, and if you are only sheltered from the wind (or
stand at a southern window), the temperature immediately rises. For this
reason the temperatures registered by thermometers are often far from
being a correct record of the real weather we have had. A bitter frost
early in the morning sends the mercury below zero, but perhaps, by eleven
o'clock the day is warm, the sky being clear and the wind still. The last
register instituted--that of the duration of sunshine, if taken in
connection with the state of the wind--is the best record of the
temperature that we have actually felt. These thoughts naturally arise
under the oaks here as the bright sunlight streams down from a sky the
more deeply blue from contrast with the brown, and buff, and yellow leaves
of the trees.

Hark! There comes a joyous music over the fields--first one hound's, note,
then two, then three, and then a chorus; they are opening up a strong
scent. It rises and falls--now it is coming nearer, in a moment I shall
see them break through the hedge on the ridge--surely that was a shout!
Just in the very moment of expectation the loud tongues cease; I wait,
listening breathlessly, but presently a straggling cry or two shows that
the pack has turned and are spread wide trying to recover. By degrees the
sounds die away; and I stroll onwards.

A thick border of dark green firs bounds the copse--the brown leaves that
have fallen from the oaks have lodged on the foliage of the firs and are
there supported. In the sheltered corner some of the bracken has partly
escaped the frost, one frond has two colours. On one side of the rib it is
green and on the other yellow. The grass is strewn with the leaves of the
aspen, which have turned quite black. Under the great elms there seems a
sudden increase of light--it is caused by the leaves which still remain on
the branches; they are all of the palest yellow, and, as you pass under,
give the impression of the tree having been lit up--illuminated with its
own colour. From the bushes hang the red berries of the night shade, and
the fruit on the briars glistens in the sun. Inside the copse stand
innumerable thistles shoulder high, dead and gaunt; and a grey border
running round the field at the bottom of the hedge shows where the tall,
strong weeds of summer have withered up. A bird flutters round the topmost
boughs of the elm yonder and disappears with a flash of blue--it is a jay.
Here the grass of the meadow has an undertone of grey; then an arable
field succeeds, where six strong horses are drawing the heavy drill, and
great bags of the precious seed are lying on the furrows.

Another meadow, where note a broken bough of elder, the leaves on which
have turned black, while still on its living branches they are green, and
then a clump of beeches. The trunks are full of knot-holes, after a dead
bough has fallen off and the stump has rotted away, the bark curls over
the orifice and seemingly heals the wound more smoothly and completely
than with other trees. But the mischief is proceeding all the same,
despite that flattering appearance; outwardly the bark looks smooth and
healthy, but probe the hole and the rottenness is working inwards. A
sudden gap in the clump attracts the glance, and there--with one great
beech trunk on this side and another on that--is a view opening down on
the distant valley far below. The wood beneath looks dwarfed, and the
uneven tops of the trees, some green, some tinted, are apparently so close
together as to hide aught else, and the shadows of the clouds move over it
as over a sea. A haze upon the horizon brings plain and sky together
there; on one side, in the far distance a huge block, a rude vastness
stands out dusky and dimly defined--it is a spur of the rolling hills.

Out in the plain, many a mile away, the sharp, needle-like point of a
steeple rises white above the trees, which there shade and mingle into a
dark mass--so brilliantly white as to seem hardly real. Sweeping the view
round, there is a strange and total absence of houses or signs of
habitation, other than the steeple, and now that, too, is gone. It has
utterly vanished--where, but a few moments before it glowed with
whiteness, is absolutely nothing. The disappearance is almost weird in the
broad daylight, as if solid stone could sink into the earth. Searching for
it suddenly a village appears some way on the right--the white walls stand
out bright and clear, one of the houses is evidently of large size, and
placed on a slight elevation is a prominent object. But as we look it
fades, grows blurred and indistinct, and in another moment is gone. The
whole village has vanished--in its place is nothing; so swift is the
change that the mind scarcely credits the senses.

A deep shadow creeping towards us explains it. Where the sunlight falls,
there steeple or house glows and shines; when it has passed, the haze that
is really there, though itself invisible, instantly blots out the picture.
The thing may be seen over and over again in the course of a few minutes;
it would be difficult for an artist to catch so fleeting an effect. The
shadow of the cloud is not black--it lacks several shades of that--there
is in it a faint and yet decided tint of blue. This tone of blue is not
the same everywhere--here it is almost distinct, there it fades; it is an
aerial colour which rather hints itself than shows. Commencing the descent
the view is at once lost, but we pass a beech whose beauty is not easily
conveyed. The winds have scarcely rifled it; being in a sheltered spot on
the slope, the leaves are nearly perfect. All those on the outer boughs
are a rich brown--some, perhaps, almost orange. But there is an inner mass
of branches of lesser size which droop downwards, something after the
manner of a weeping willow; and the leaves on these are still green and
show through. Upon the whole tree a flood of sunshine pours, and over it
is the azure sky. The mingling, shading, and contrast of these colours
give a lovely result--the tree is aglow, its foliage ripe with colour.

Farther down comes the steady sound of deliberate blows, and the upper
branches of the hedge falls beneath the steel. A sturdy labourer, with a
bill on a pole, strikes slow and strong and cuts down the hedge to an even
height. A dreadful weapon that simple tool must have been in the old days
before the advent of the arquebus. For with the exception of the spike,
which is not needed for hedge work, it is almost an exact copy of the
brown bill of ancient warfare; it is brown still, except where sharpened.
Wielded by a sinewy arm, what, gaping gashes it must have slit through
helm and mail and severed bone! Watch the man there--he slices off the
tough thorn as though it were straw. He notes not the beauty of the beech
above him, nor the sun, nor the sky; but on the other hand, when the sky
is hidden, the sun gone, and the beautiful beech torn by the raving winds
neither does he heed that. Rain and tempest affect him not; the glaring
heat of summer, the bitter frost of winter are alike to him. He is built
up like an oak. Believe it, the man that from his boyhood has stood
ankle-deep in the chill water of the ditch, patiently labouring with axe
and bill; who has trudged across the furrow, hand on plough, facing sleet
and mist; who has swung the sickle under the summer sun--this is the man
for the trenches. This is the man whom neither the snows of the North nor
the sun of the South can vanquish; who will dig and delve, and carry
traverse and covered way forward in the face of the fortress, who will lie
on the bare ground in the night. For they who go up to battle must fight
the hard earth and the tempest, as well as face bayonet and ball. As of
yore with the brown bill, so now with the rifle--the muscles that have
been trained about the hedges and fields will not fail England in the hour
of danger.

Hark!--a distant whoop--another, a blast of a horn, and then a burst of
chiding that makes the woods ring. Down drops the bill, and together,
heedless of any social difference in the common joy, we scramble to the
highest mound, and see the pack sweep in full cry across the furrows.
Crash--it is the bushes breaking, as the first foam-flecked, wearied horse
hardly rises to his leap, and yet crushes safely through, opening a way,
which is quickly widened by the straggling troop behind. Ha! down the lane
from the hill dashes another squadron that has eroded the chord of the arc
and comes in fresher. Ay, and a third is entering at the bottom there, one
by one, over the brook. Woods, field, and paths, but just before an empty
solitude, are alive with men and horses. Up yonder, along the ridge,
gallops another troop in single file, well defined against the sky, going
parallel to the hounds. What a view they must have of the scene below! Two
ladies who ride up with torn skirts cannot lift their panting horses at
the double mound. Well, let us defy 'wilful damage' for once. The gate,
jealously padlocked, is swiftly hoisted off its hinges, and away they go
with hearty thanks. We slip the gate on again just as some one hails to us
across the field to wait a minute, but seeing it is only a man we calmly
replace the timber and let him take his chance. He is excited, but we
smile stolidly. In another minute the wave of life is gone; it has swept
over and disappeared as swiftly as it came. The wood, the field, and lane
seem painfully--positively painfully--empty. Slowly the hedger and ditcher
goes back to his work, where in the shade under the bushes even now the
dew lingers.

So there are days to be enjoyed out of doors even in much-abused November.
And when the wind rises and the storm is near, if you get under the lee of
a good thick copse there is a wild pleasure in the frenzy that passes
over. With a rush the leaves stream outwards, thickening the air, whirling
round and round; the tree-tops bend and sigh, the blast strikes them, and
in an instant they are stripped and bare. A spectral rustling, as the
darkness falls and the black cloud approaches, is the fallen leaves in the
copse, lifted up from their repose and dashed against the underwood. Then
a howl of wrath descends and fills the sense of hearing, so that for the
moment it is hard to tell what is happening. A rushing hiss follows, and
the rain hurtles through the branches, driving so horizontally as to pass
overhead. The sheltering thorn-thicket stirs, and a long, deep, moaning
roar rises from the fir-trees. Another howl that seems to stun--to so fill
the ears with sound that they cannot hear--the aerial host charges the
tree-ranks, and the shock makes them tremble to the root. Still another
and another; twigs and broken boughs fly before it and strew the sward;
larger branches that have long been dead fall crashing downwards; leaves
are forced right through the thorn-thicket, and strike against the face.
Fortunately, so fierce a fury cannot last; presently the billows of wind
that strike the wood come at longer intervals and with less vigour; then
the rain increases, and yet a little while and the storm has swept on. The
very fury--the utter _abandon_--of its rage is its charm; the spirit rises
to meet it, and revels in the roar and buffeting. By-and-by they who have
faced it have their reward. The wind sinks, the rain ceases, a pale blue
sky shows above, and then yonder appears a majesty of cloud--a Himalaya of
vapour. Crag on crag rises the vast pile--such jagged and pointed rocks as
never man found on earth, or, if he found, could climb--topped with a peak
that towers to the heavens, and leans--visibly leans--and threatens to
fall and overwhelm the weak world at its feet. A gleam as of snow glitters
on the upper rocks, the passes are gloomy and dark, the faces of the
precipice are lit up with a golden gleam from the rapidly-sinking sun. So
the magic structure stands and sees the great round disk go down. The
night gathers around those giant mounts and dark space receives them.



CHAPTER XXI



A WINTER'S MORNING


The pale beams of the waning moon still cast a shadow of the cottage,
when the labourer rises from his heavy sleep on a winter's morning.
Often he huddles on his things and slips his feet into his thick
'water-tights'--which are stiff and hard, having been wet over night--by
no other light than this. If the household is comparatively well managed,
however, he strikes a match, and his 'dip' shows at the window. But he
generally prefers to save a candle, and clatters down the narrow steep
stairs in the semi-darkness, takes a piece of bread and cheese, and steps
forth into the sharp air. The cabbages in the garden he notes are covered
with white frost, so is the grass in the fields, and the footpath is hard
under foot. In the furrows is a little ice--white because the water has
shrunk from beneath it, leaving it hollow--and on the stile is a crust of
rime, cold to the touch, which he brushes off in getting over. Overhead
the sky is clear--cloudless but pale--and the stars, though not yet fading,
have lost the brilliant glitter of midnight. Then, in all their glory, the
idea of their globular shape is easily accepted; but in the morning, just
as the dawn is breaking, the absence of glitter comes the impression of
flatness--circular rather than globular. But yonder, over the elms, above
the cowpens, the great morning star has risen, shining far brighter, in
proportion, than the moon; an intensely clear metallic light--like
incandescent silver.

The shadows of the trees on the frosted ground are dull. As the footpath
winds by the hedge the noise of his footstep startles the blackbird
roosting in the bushes, and he bustles out and flies across the field.
There is more rime on the posts and rails around the rickyard, and the
thatch on the haystack is white with it in places. He draws out the broad
hay-knife--a vast blade, wide at the handle, the edge gradually curving to
a point--and then searches for the rubber or whetstone, stuck somewhere in
the side of the rick. At the first sound of the stone upon the steel the
cattle in the adjoining yard and sheds utter a few low 'moos,' and there
is a stir among them. Mounting the ladder he forces the knife with both
hands into the hay, making a square cut which bends outwards, opening from
the main mass till it appears on the point of parting and letting him fall
with it to the ground. But long practice has taught him how to balance
himself half on the ladder, half on the hay. Presently, with a truss
unbound and loose on his head, he enters the yard, and passes from crib to
crib, leaving a little here and a little there, for if he fills one first,
there will be quarrelling among the cows, and besides, if the crib is too
liberally filled, they will pull it out and tread it under foot. The
cattle that are in the sheds fattening for Christmas have cake as well,
and this must be supplied in just proportion.

The hour of milking, which used to be pretty general everywhere, varies
now in different places, to suit the necessities of the milk trade. The
milk has, perhaps, to travel three or four miles to the railway station;
near great towns, where some of the farmers deliver milk themselves from
house to house, the cows are milked soon after noonday. What would their
grandfathers have said to that? But where the old customs have not much
altered, the milker sits down in the morning to his cow with the stars
still visible overhead, punching his hat well into her side--a hat well
battered and thickly coated with grease, for the skin of the cow exudes an
unctuous substance. This hat he keeps for the purpose. A couple of milking
pails--they are of large size--form a heavy load when filled. The milker,
as he walks back to the farmhouse, bends his head under the yoke--whence
so many men are round-shouldered--and steps slowly with a peculiar swaying
motion of the body, which slight swing prevents it from spilling.

Another man who has to be up while the moon casts a shadow is the carter,
who must begin to feed his team very early in order to get them to eat
sufficient. If the manger be over-filled they spill and waste it, and at
the same time will not eat so much. This is tedious work. Then the lads
come and polish up the harness, and so soon as it is well light get out to
plough. The custom with the horses is to begin to work as early as
possible, but to strike off in the afternoon some time before the other
men, the lads riding home astride. The strength of the carthorse has to be
husbanded carefully, and the labour performed must be adjusted to it and
to the food, i.e. fuel, consumed. To manage a large team of horses, so as
to keep them in good condition, with glossy coats and willing step, and
yet to get the maximum of work out of them, requires long experience and
constant attention. The carter, therefore, is a man of much importance on
a farm. If he is up to his duties he is a most valuable servant; if he
neglects them he is a costly nuisance, not so much from his pay, but
because of the hindrance and disorganisation of the whole farm-work which
such neglect entails.

Foggers and milkers, if their cottages are near at hand, having finished
the first part of the day's work, can often go back home to breakfast,
and, if they have a good woman in the cottage, find a fire and hot tea
ready. The carter can rarely leave his horses for that, and, therefore,
eats his breakfast in the stable; but then he has the advantage that up to
the time of starting forth he is under cover. The fogger and milker, on
the other hand, are often exposed to the most violent tempests. A gale of
wind, accompanied with heavy rain, often readies its climax just about the
dawn. They find the soil saturated, and the step sinks into it--the
furrows are full of water; the cow-yard, though drained, is a pool, no
drain being capable of carrying it off quick enough. The thatch of the
sheds drips continually; the haystack drips; the thatch of the stack,
which has to be pulled off before the hay-knife can be used, is wet; the
old decaying wood of the rails and gates is wet. They sit on the
three-legged milking-stool (whose rude workmanship has taken a dull polish
from use) in a puddle; the hair of the cow, against which the head is
placed, is wet; the wind blows the rain into the nape of the neck behind,
the position being stooping. Staggering under the heavy yoke homewards,
the boots sink deep into the slush and mire in the gateways, the weight
carried sinking them well in. The teams do not usually work in very wet
weather, and most of the out-door work waits; but the cattle must be
attended to, Sundays and holidays included. Even in summer it often
happens that a thunderstorm bursts about that time of the morning. But in
winter, when the rain is driven by a furious wind, when the lantern is
blown out, and the fogger stumbles in pitchy darkness through mud and
water, it would be difficult to imagine a condition of things which
concentrates more discomfort.

If, as often happens, the man is far from home--perhaps he has walked a
mile or two to work--of course he cannot change his clothes, or get near a
fire, unless in the farmer's kitchen. In some places the kitchen is open
to the men, and on Sundays, at all events, they get a breakfast free. But
the kindly old habits are dying out before the hard-and-fast money system
and the abiding effects of Unionism, which, even when not prominently
displayed, causes a silent, sullen estrangement.

Shepherds, too, sometimes visit the fold very early in the morning, and in
the lambing season may be said to be about both day and night. They come,
however, under a different category to the rest of the men, because they
have no regular hours, but are guided solely by the season and the work. A
shepherd often takes his ease when other men are busily labouring. On the
other hand, he is frequently anxiously engaged when they are sleeping. His
sheep rule his life, and he has little to do with the artificial divisions
of time.

Hedgers and ditchers often work by the piece, and so take their own time
for meals; the ash woods, which are cut in the winter, are also usually
thrown by the piece. Hedging and ditching, if done properly, is hard work,
especially if there is any grubbing. Though the arms get warm from
swinging the grub-axe or billhook, or cleaning out the ditch and
plastering and smoothing the side of the mound with the spade, yet feet
and ankles are chilled by the water in the ditch. This is often dammed up
and so kept back partially, but it generally forces its way through. The
ditcher has a board to stand on; there is a hole through it, and a
projecting stick attached, with which to drag it into position. But the
soft soil allows the board to sink, and he often throws it aside as more
encumbrance than use. He has some small perquisites: he is allowed to
carry home a bundle of wood or a log every night, and may gather up the
remnants after the faggoting is finished. On the other hand, he cannot
work in bad weather.

Other men come to the farm buildings to commence work about the time the
carter has got his horses fed, groomed, and harnessed, and after the
fogger and milker have completed their early duties. If it is a frosty
morning and the ground firm, so as to bear up a cart without poaching the
soil too much, the manure is carried out into the fields. This is plain,
straightforward labour, and cannot be looked upon as hard work. If the
cattle want no further attention, the foggers and milkers turn their hands
after breakfast to whatever may be going on. Some considerable time is
taken up in slicing roots with the machine, or chaff-cutting--monotonous
work of a simple character, and chiefly consisting in turning a handle.

The general hands--those who come on when the carter is ready, and who are
usually young men, not yet settled down to any particular branch--seem to
get the best end of the stick. They do not begin so early in the morning
by some time as the fogger, milker, carter, or shepherd; consequently, if
the cottage arrangements are tolerable, they can get a comfortable
breakfast first. They have no anxieties or trouble whatever; the work may
be hard in itself, but there is no particular hurry (in their estimation)
and they do not distress themselves. They receive nearly the same wages as
the others who have the care of valuable flocks, herds, and horses; the
difference is but a shilling or two, and, to make up for that, they do not
work on Sundays. Now, the fogger must feed his cows, the carter his horse,
the shepherd look to his sheep every day; consequently their extra wages
are thoroughly well earned. The young labourer--who is simply a labourer,
and professes no special branch--is, therefore, in a certain sense, the
best off. He is rarely hired by the year--he prefers to be free, so that
when harvest comes he may go where wages chance to be highest. He is an
independent person, and full of youth, strength, and with little
experience of life, is apt to be rough in his manners and not overcivil.
His wages too often go in liquor, but if such a young man keeps steady
(and there are a few that do keep steady) he does very well indeed, having
no family to maintain.

A set of men who work very hard are those who go with the steam-ploughing
tackle. Their pay is so arranged as to depend in a measure on the number
of acres they plough. They get the steam up as early as possible in the
morning, and continue as late as they can at night. Just after the
harvest, when the days are long, and, indeed, it is still summer, they
work for extremely long hours. Their great difficulty lies in getting
water. This must be continually fetched in carts, and, of course, requires
a horse and man. These are not always forthcoming in the early morning,
but they begin as soon as they can get water for the boiler, and do not
stop till the field be finished or it is dark.

The women do not find much work in the fields during the winter. Now and
then comes a day's employment with the threshing-machine when the farmer
wants a rick of corn threshed out. In pasture or dairy districts some of
them go out into the meadows and spread the manure. They wear gaiters, and
sometimes a kind of hood for the head. If done carefully, it is hard work
for the arms--knocking the manure into small pieces by striking it with a
fork swung to and fro smartly.

In the spring, when the great heaps of roots are opened--having been
protected all the winter by a layer of straw and earth--it is necessary to
trim them before they are used. This is often done by a woman. She has a
stool or log of wood to sit on, and arranges a couple of sacks or
something of the kind, so as to form a screen and keep off the bitter
winds which are then so common--colder than those of the winter proper.
With a screen one side, the heap of roots the other, and the hedge on the
third, she is in some sense sheltered, and, taking her food with her, may
stay there the whole day long, quite alone in the solitude of the broad,
open, arable fields.

From a variety of causes, the number of women working in the fields is
much less than was formerly the case; thus presenting precisely the
reverse state of things to that complained of in towns, where the clerks,
&c., say that they are undersold by female labour. The contrast is rather
curious. The price of women's labour has, too, risen; and there does not
appear to be any repugnance on their part to field-work. Whether the
conclusion is to be accepted that there has been a diminution in the
actual number of women living in rural places, it is impossible to decide
with any accuracy. But there are signs that female labour has drifted to
the towns quite as much as male--especially the younger girls. In some
places it seems rare to see a young girl working in the field (meaning in
winter)--those that are to be found are generally women well advanced in
life. Spring and summer work brings forth more, but not nearly so many as
used to be the case.

Although the work of the farm begins so soon in the morning, it is, on the
other hand, in the cold months, over early. 'The night cometh when no man
can work' was, one would think, originally meant in reference to
agricultural labour. It grows dusk before half-past four on a dull
winter's day, and by five is almost, if not quite, dark. Lanterns may be
moving in the cowyards and stables; but elsewhere all is quiet--the
hedger and ditcher cannot see to strike his blow, the ploughs have ceased
to move for some time, the labourer's workshop--the field--is not lighted
by gas as the rooms of cities.

The shortness of the winter day is one of the primary reasons why, in
accordance with ancient custom, wages are lowered at that time. In summer,
on the contrary, the hours are long, and the pay high--which more than
makes up for the winter reduction. A labourer who has any prudence can, in
fact, do very well by putting by a portion of his extra summer wages for
the winter; if he does not choose to exercise common sense, he cannot
expect the farmer (or any manufacturer) to pay the same price for a little
work and short time as for much work and long hours. Reviewing the work
the labourer actually does in winter, it seems fair and just to state that
the foggers, or milkers, i.e. the men who attend on cattle, the carters,
and the shepherds, work hard, continuously, and often in the face of the
most inclement weather. The mere labourers, who, as previously remarked,
are usually younger and single men, do not work so hard, nor so long. And
when they are at it--whether turning the handle of a winnowing machine in
a barn, cutting a hedge, spreading manure, or digging--it must be said
that they do not put the energy into it of which their brawny arms are
capable.

'The least work and the most money,' however, is a maxim not confined to
the agricultural labourer. Recently I had occasion to pass through a busy
London street in the West-end where the macadam of the roadway was being
picked up by some score of men, and, being full of the subject of labour,
I watched the process. Using the right hand as a fulcrum and keeping it
stationary, each navvy slowly lifted his pick with the left half-way up,
about on a level with his waistcoat, when the point of the pick was barely
two feet above the ground. He then let it fall--simply by its own
weight--producing a tiny indentation such as might be caused by the kick
of one's heel It required about three such strokes, if they could so
called strokes, to detach one single small stone. After that exhausting
labor the man stood at ease for a few minutes, so that there were often
three or four at once staring about them, while several others lounged
against the wooden railing placed to keep vehicles back.

A more irritating spectacle it would be hard to imagine. Idle as much
agricultural labour is, it is rarely so lazy as that. How contractors get
their work done, if that is a sample, it is a puzzle to understand. The
complaint of the poor character of the work performed by the agricultural
labourer seems also true of other departments, where labour--pure and
simple labour of thews and sinews--is concerned. The rich city merchant,
who goes to his office daily, positively works harder, in spite of all his
money. So do the shopmen and assistants behind their counters; so do the
girls in drapers' shops, standing the whole day and far into the evening
when, as just observed, the fields have been dark for hours; so, indeed,
do most men and women who earn their bread by any other means than mere
bodily strength.

But the cattle-men, carters, and shepherds, men with families and settled,
often seem to take an interest in their charges, in the cows, horses, or
sheep; some of them are really industrious, deserving men. The worst
feature of unionism is the lumping of all together, for where one man is
hardly worth his salt, another is a good workman. It is strange that such
men as this should choose to throw in their lot with so many who are
idle--whom they must know to be idle--thus jeopardising their own position
for the sake of those who are not worth one-fifth the sacrifice the
agricultural cottager must be called upon to make in a strike. The
hard-working carter or cattle-man, according to the union theory, is to
lose his pay, his cottage, his garden, and get into bad odour with his
employer, who previously trusted him, and was willing to give him
assistance, in order that the day labourer who has no responsibilities
either of his own or his master's, and who has already the best end of the
stick, should enjoy still further opportunities for idleness.



CHAPTER XXII



THE LABOURER'S CHILDREN. COTTAGE GIRLS


In the coldest weather one or more of the labourer's children are sure to
be found in the farmyard somewhere. After the mother has dressed her boy
(who may be about three or four years old) in the morning, he is at once
turned out of doors to take care of himself, and if, as is often the case,
the cottage is within a short distance of the farmyard, thither he toddles
directly. He stands about the stable door, watching the harnessing of the
great carthorses, which are, from the very first, the object of his
intense admiration. But he has already learnt to keep out of the way,
knowing that his presence would not otherwise be tolerated a moment, and
occupies a position which enables him to dart quickly behind a tree, or a
rick.

When the horses are gone he visits the outhouse, where the steam-engine is
driving the chaff-cutter, or peers in at the huge doors of the barn, where
with wide wooden shovel the grain is being moved. Or he may be met with
round the hay-ricks, dragging a log of wood by a piece of tar cord, the
log representing a plough. As you come upon him suddenly he draws up to
the rick as if the hay was his natural protector, and looks up at you with
half-frightened, half-curious gaze, and mouth open. His hat is an old one
of his father's, a mile too big, coming down over his ears to his
shoulders, well greased from ancient use--a thing not without its
advantage, since it makes it impervious to rain. He wears what was a white
jacket, but is now the colour of the prevailing soil of the place; a belt;
and a pair of stumping boots, the very picture in miniature of his
father's, heeled and tipped with iron. His naked legs are red with the
cold, but thick and strong; his cheeks are plump and firm, his round blue
eyes bright, his hair almost white, like bleached straw.

An hour or two ago his skin was clean enough, for he was sent out well
washed, but it is now pretty well grimed, for he has been making himself
happy in the dirt, as a boy should do if he be a boy. For one thing it is
clean dirt, nothing but pure mother earth, and not the nasty unctuous
filth of city courts and back lanes. If you speak to him he answers you
sturdily--if you can catch the meaning of his words, doubly difficult from
accent and imperfect knowledge of construction. But he means well, and if
you send him on an errand will run off to find 'measter' as fast as his
short stature will allow. He will potter about the farmyard the whole
morning, perhaps turning up at home for a lunch of a slice of bread well
larded. His little sister, not so old as himself, is there, already
beginning her education in the cares of maternity, looking after the
helpless baby that crawls over the wooden threshold of the door with bare
head, despite the bitter cold. Once during the day he may perhaps steal
round the farmhouse, and peer wistfully from behind the tubs or buckets
into the kitchen, when, if the mistress chances to be about, he is pretty
certain to pick up some trifle in the edible line.

How those prosperous parents who dwell in highly-rented suburban villas,
and send out their children for a walk with a couple of nurses, and a
'bow-wow' to run beside the perambulator, would be eaten up with anxiety
did their well-dressed boys or girls play where this young son of toil
finds his amusement! Under the very hoofs of the carthorses--he will go
out to them when they are loose in the field, three or four in a group,
under a tree, when it looks as if the slightest movement on their part
must crush him; down to the side of the deep broad brook to swim sticks in
it for boats, where a slip on the treacherous mud would plunge him in, and
where the chance of rescue--everybody being half a mile away at
work--would be absolutely _nil_. The cows come trampling through the yard;
the bull bellows in the meadow; great, grunting sows, savage when they
have young, go by, thrusting their noses into and turning up the earth for
food; steam ploughing engines pant and rumble about; carts are continually
coming and going; and he is all day in the midst of it without guardian of
any kind whatsoever. The fog, and frost, and cutting winter winds make him
snivel and cry with the cold, and yet there he is out in it--in the
draughts that blow round the ricks, and through the hedge bare of leaves.
The rain rushes down pitilessly--he creeps inside the barn or shed, and
with a stick splashes the puddles. The long glaring days of summer see him
exposed to the scorching heat in the hay, or the still hotter harvest
field. Through it all he grows stout and strong, and seems happy enough.

He is, perhaps, more fortunate than his sister, who has to take part in
the household work from very early age. But the village school claims them
both after awhile; and the greater number of such schools are well filled,
taking into consideration the long distances the children have to come and
the frequent bad state of the roads and lanes. Both the employers and the
children's own parents get them to school as much as possible; the former
put on a mild compulsion, the latter for the most part are really anxious
for the schooling, and have even an exaggerated idea of the value of
education. In some cases it would seem as if the parents actually educated
themselves in some degree from their own children, questioning them as to
what they have been told. But, on the other hand, the labourer objects to
paying for the teaching, and thinks the few coppers he is charged a
terrible extortion.

The lads, as they grow older and leave school, can almost always find
immediate employment with their father on the same farm, or on one close
by. Though they do not now go out to work so soon, yet, on the other hand,
when they do commence they receive higher weekly wages. The price paid for
boys' labour now is such that it becomes a very important addition to the
aggregate income of the cottager. When a man has got a couple of boys out,
bringing home so much per week, his own money, of course, goes very much
farther.

The girls go less and less into the field. If at home, they assist their
parents at harvest time when work is done by the acre, and the more a man
can cut the better he is off; but their aim is domestic service, and they
prefer to be engaged in the towns. They shirk the work of a farmhouse,
especially if it is a dairy, and so it has come to be quite a complaint
among farmers' wives, in many places, that servants are not to be
obtained. Those that are available are mere children, whose mothers like
them to go out anywhere at first, just to obtain an insight into the
duties of a servant. The farmer's wife has the trouble and annoyance of
teaching these girls the rudiments of household work, and then, the moment
they are beginning to be useful, they leave, and almost invariably go to
the towns. Those that remain are the slow-witted, or those who are tied in
a measure by family difficulties--as a bedridden mother to attend to; or,
perhaps, an illegitimate child of her own may fetter the cottage girl.
Then she goes out in the daytime to work at the farmhouse, and returns to
sleep at home.

Cottage girls have taken to themselves no small airs of recent years--they
dress, so far as their means will go, as flashily as servants in cities,
and stand upon their dignity. This foolishness has, perhaps, one good
effect--it tends to diminish the illegitimate births. The girls are
learning more self-respect--if they could only achieve that and eschew the
other follies it would be a clear gain. It may be questioned whether
purely agricultural marriages are as common as formerly. The girl who
leaves her home for service in the towns sees a class of men--grooms,
footmen, artisans, and workmen generally--not only receiving higher wages
than the labourers in her native parish, but possessing a certain amount
of comparative refinement. It is not surprising that she prefers, if
possible, to marry among these.

On the other hand, the young labourer, who knows that he can get good
wages wherever he likes to go, has become somewhat of a wanderer. He roams
about, not only from village to village, but from county to county;
perhaps works for a time as a navvy on some distant railway, and thus
associates with a different class of men, and picks up a sort of coarse
cynicism. He does not care to marry and settle and tie himself down to a
routine of labour--he despises home pleasures, preferring to spend his
entire earnings upon himself. The roaming habits of the rising generation
of labourers is an important consideration, and it has an effect in many
ways. Statistics are not available; but the impression left on the mind is
that purely rural marriages are not so frequent, notwithstanding that
wages at large have risen. When a young man does marry, he and his wife
not uncommonly live for a length of time with his parents, occupying a
part of the cottage.

Had any one gone into a cottage some few years back and inquired about the
family, most probably the head of the house could have pointed out all his
sons and daughters engaged in or near the parish. Most likely his own
father was at work almost within hail. Uncles, cousins, various relations,
were all near by. He could tell where everybody was. To-day if a similar
inquiry wore made, the answer would often be very different. The old
people might be about still, but the younger would be found scattered over
the earth. One, perhaps, went to the United States or Canada in the height
of the labourers' agitation some years ago, when agents were busy
enlisting recruits for the Far West. Since then another has departed for
Australia, taking with him his wife. Others have migrated northwards, or
to some other point of the compass--they are still in the old country, but
the exact whereabouts is not known. The girls are in service a hundred
miles away--some married in the manufacturing districts. To the
middle-aged, steady, stay-at-home labourer, the place does not seem a bit
like it used to. Even the young boys are restless, and talking of going
somewhere. This may not be the case with every single individual cottage
family, but it is so with a great number. The stolid phalanx of
agricultural labour is slowly disintegrating.

If there yet remains anything idyllic in the surroundings of rural cottage
life, it may be found where the unmarried but grown-up sons--supposing
these, of course, to be steady--remain at home with their parents. The
father and head of the house, having been employed upon one farm for the
last thirty years or more, though nominally carter, is really a kind of
bailiff. The two young men work on at the same place, and lodge at home,
paying a small weekly sum for board and lodging. Their sister is probably
away in service; their mother manages the cottage. She occasionally bears
a hand in indoor work at the farmhouse, and in the harvest time aids a
little in the field, but otherwise does not labour. What is the result?
Plenty to eat, good beds, fairly good furniture, sufficient fuel, and some
provision for contingencies, through the benefit club. As the wages are
not consumed in drink, they have always a little ready money, and, in
short, are as independent as it is possible for working men to be,
especially if, as is often the case, the cottage and garden is their own,
or is held on a small quit-rent. If either of the sons in time desires to
marry, he does not start utterly unprovided. His father's influence with
the farmer is pretty sure to procure him a cottage; he has some small
savings himself, and his parents in the course of years have accumulated
some extra furniture, which is given to him.

If a cottage, where the occupants are steady like this, be visited in the
evening, say towards seven o'clock, when dinner is on the table (labourers
dining or supping after the conclusion of the day's work), the fare will
often be found of a substantial character. There may be a piece of
mutton--not, of course, the prime cut, but wholesome meat--cabbages,
parsnips, carrots (labourers like a profusion of vegetables), all laid out
in a decent manner. The food is plain, but solid and plentiful. If the
sister out in service wishes to change her situation, she has a home to go
to meanwhile. Should any dispute occur with the employer the cottage is
still there, and affords a shelter till the difficulty is settled or other
work obtained. In towns the workman who has been earning six or even ten
shillings a day, and paying a high rent (carefully collected every week),
no sooner gets his discharge than he receives notice to quit his lodgings,
because the owner knows he will not be paid. But when the agricultural
labourer has a quit-rent cottage, or one of his own, he has a permanent
resource, and can look round for another engagement.

The cooking in the best cottages would not commend itself to the student
of that art: in those where the woman is shiftless it would be deemed
simply intolerable. Evidence of this is only too apparent on approaching
cottages, especially towards the evening. Coming from the fresh air of the
fields, perhaps from the sweet scent of clover or of new-mown grass, the
odour which arises from the cottages is peculiarly offensive. It is not
that they are dirty inside--the floor may be scrubbed, the walls brushed,
the chairs clean, and the beds tidy; it is from outside that all the
noisome exhalations taint the breeze. The refuse vegetables, the washings,
the liquid and solid rubbish generally is cast out into the ditch, often
open to the highway road, and there festers till the first storm sweeps it
away. The cleanest woman indoors thinks nothing disgusting out of doors,
and hardly goes a step from her threshold to cast away indescribable
filth. Now, a good deal of this refuse is the remains of imperfect
cooking--masses of soddened cabbage, part of which only is eaten, and the
rest stored for the pig or thrown into the ditch. The place smells of
soaking, saturated cabbage for yards and yards round about.

But it is much easier to condemn the cottage cook than to show her how to
do better. It is even doubtful whether professed scientific cooks could
tell her what to do. The difficulty arises from the rough, coarse taste of
the labourer, and the fact, which it is useless to ignore, that he must
have something solid, and indeed, bulky. Thin clear soups--though proved
to abound with nourishment and of delicious flavour--are utterly beside
his wants. Give him the finest soup; give him _pâtés_, or even more meaty
_entrées_, and his remark will be that it is very nice, but he wants
'summat to eat.' His teeth are large, his jaws strong, his digestive
powers such as would astonish a city man; he likes solid food, bacon,
butcher's meat, cheese, or something that gives him a sense of fulness,
like a mass of vegetables. This is the natural result of his training and
work in the fields. The materials used by the cottage cook are often quite
capable of being made into agreeable dishes, but then those dishes would
not suit the man. All the soups and kickshaws--though excellent in
themselves--in the world are not, for his purpose, equal to a round of
beef or a side of bacon. Let any one go and labour daily in the field, and
they will come quickly to the same opinion. Yet something might certainly
be done in the way of preventing waste. The real secret lies in the
education of the women when young--that is, for the future. But, taking
the present day, looking at things as they actually exist, it is no use
abusing or lecturing the cottage cook. She might, perhaps, be persuaded to
adopt a systematic plan of disposing of the refuse.

The Saturday half-holiday is scarcely so closely observed in rural labour
as in urban. The work closes earlier, that is, so far as the day labourer
is concerned, for he gets the best of this as of other things. But,
half-holiday or not, cows have to be fed and milked, sheep must be looked
after, and the stable attended to, so that the regular men do not get off
much sooner. In winter, the days being short, they get little advantage
from the short time; in summer they do. Compensation is, however, as much
as possible afforded to the settled men who have gardens, by giving them a
half-day now and then when work is slack to attend to them.

On Sunday morning the labourer cleans and polishes his boots (after
digging the potatoes for dinner), puts on a black or dark coat, put his
hands in his pockets--a marked feature this--and rambles down to his
garden or the allotment. There, if it be spring or summer, he is sure to
find some acquaintances likewise 'looking round.' This seems to be one of
the greatest pleasures of the labourer, noting the growth of a cabbage
here, and the promise of potatoes yonder; he does not work, but strolls to
and fro, discussing the vegetable prospect. Then back home in time for
dinner--the great event of Sunday, being often the only day in the week
that he can get a hot dinner in the middle of the day. It is his day at
home, and though he may ramble out he never goes far.

Ladies residing in the country are accustomed to receive periodical
appeals from friends in town asking their assistance in procuring
servants. So frequent are such appeals that there would seem to be a
popular belief that the supply is inexhaustible. The villages are supposed
to be full of girls, all ready to enter service, and, though a little
uncouth in manner, possessed nevertheless of sterling good qualities. The
letter is usually couched in something like the following terms:--'Do you
happen to know of a really good girl that would suit us? You are aware of
the scale on which our household is conducted, and how very modest our
requirements are. All we want is a strong, healthy, honest girl, ready and
willing to work and to learn, and who will take an interest in the place,
and who will not ask too extravagant a price. She can have a good home
with us as long as ever she likes to stay. My dear, you really cannot tell
what a difficulty we experience in getting servants who are not "uppish,"
and who are trustworthy and do not mind working, and if you can find us
one in those pretty villages round you, we shall be so much obliged,' &c.

The fact that a servant from the country is supposed, in the nature of
things, to be honest and willing, hardworking, strong, and healthy, and
almost everything else, speaks well for the general character of the girls
brought up in agricultural cottages. It is, however, quite a mistake to
suppose the supply to be limitless; it is just the reverse; the really
good servants from any particular district are quickly exhausted, and
then, if the friends in town will insist upon a girl from the country,
they cannot complain if they do not get precisely what they want. The
migration, indeed, of servants from the villages to the towns has, for the
time being, rather overdone itself. The best of those who responded to the
first demand were picked out some time since; many of those now to be had
are not of the first class, and the young are not yet grown up. After
awhile, as education progresses--bringing with it better manners--there
may be a fresh supply; meantime, really good country girls are difficult
to obtain. But the demand is as great as ever. From the squire's lady down
to the wife of the small tenant-farmer, one and all receive the same
requests from friends in town. The character of the true country servant
stands as high as ever.

Let us hope that the polish of progress may not too much overlay the solid
if humble virtues which procured that character for her class. Some
efforts are being made here and there to direct the course of young girls
after leaving the village schools--to put them in the right way and give
them the benefit of example. As yet such efforts are confined to
individuals. The object is certainly worth the formation of local
organisations, for, too often, on quitting the school, the young village
girl comes in contact with anything but elevating influences, and,
unfortunately, her own mother is not always the best guide. The position
of a servant in town is well known, the antecedents of a girl before she
reaches town perhaps not so thoroughly, while the lives of those who
remain in the villages drop out of sight of the great world.

As a child, the cottage girl 'roughs' it in the road and in the fields. In
winter she learns to slide, and to endure the cold and rain, till she
often becomes what, to any one accustomed to a more delicate life, seems
positively impervious to weather. The servants in old-fashioned farmhouses
really did not seem to know what it was to feel cold. Even nowadays, a
servant fresh from an outlying hamlet, where her parents probably could
procure but little fuel beyond what was necessary for cooking, at first
cares not an atom whether there be a fire in the kitchen or not. Such
girls are as hardy as the men of their native place. After a time, hot
rooms and a profusion of meat and good living generally saps and
undermines this natural strength. Then they shiver like town-bred people.

The cottage child is often locked out by her parents, who go to work and
leave her in charge of her still smaller brothers and sisters. They play
about the hedges and ditches, and very rarely come to any harm. In autumn
their little fingers are employed picking up the acorns fallen from the
oaks, for which the formers pay so much per bushel. In spring is their
happiest time. The joy of life--the warm sunshine and pleasant breeze of
spring--is not wholly lost upon them, despite their hard fare, and the not
very affectionate treatment they receive at home. Such a girl may then be
seen sitting under a willow beside the brook, with her charges around
her--the little brother that can just toddle, the baby that can but crawl
and crow in the green fresh grass. Between them lies a whole pile of
flowers--dandelion stems made into rings, and the rings joined together so
as to form a chain, rushes plaited, blue-bells, cowslips tied up in balls,
and cowslips loose, their yellow petals scattered over the sward.

The brook flows murmuring by, with an occasional splash, as a water-rat
dives from the bank or a fish rises to an insect. The children weave their
flowers and chant some old doggrel rhymes with little or no meaning. Long
afterwards that girl will retain an unconscious memory of the scene, when,
wheeling her employer's children out on some suburban road, she seeks a
green meadow and makes a cowslip ball for the delighted infants. In summer
they go down to the hay-field, but dare not meddle with the hay, which the
bailiff does not like to see disturbed; they remain under the shadow of
the hedge. In autumn they search for the berries, like the birds, nibbling
the hips and haws, tasting crabs and sloes, or feasting on the fruit of a
hazel-bush.

Be it spring or summer, autumn or winter, wherever the child may be, her
eyes are ever on the watch to find a dead stick or a broken branch, too
heavy to lift, but which may be dragged behind, in order to feed the
cottage fire at night. That is her first duty as a child; if she remains
in the hamlet that will be her duty through life, and to the last, as an
aged woman. So in London, round the purlieus of buildings in the course of
erection--even in the central thoroughfares, in busy Fleet
Street--children hang about the temporary hoardings, and pick up the chips
and splinters of deal. But the latter have not the pleasure of the
blue-bells and cowslips, nor even of the hips and haws, nor does the fresh
pure breeze play upon their foreheads.

Rough though it be, the childhood of the cottage girl is not without its
recompenses, the most valuable of which is sturdy health. Now that good
schools are open to every village, so soon as the children are old enough
to walk the distance, often considerable, they are sent off every morning.
At all events, if it does nothing else, it causes the mothers to give them
a daily tidying up, which is in itself an advantage. They travel under the
charge of the girl; often two or three such small parties join company,
coming from as many cottages. In the warmer months, the lanes and fields
they cross form a long playground for them, and picking flowers and
searching for birds'-nests pass away the time. In winter they have to face
the mire and rain.

When the girl leaves school she is hardly old enough to enter service, and
too often in the year or so that elapses before she 'goes out' much
mischief is done. She is then at an age when the mind is peculiarly
receptive, and the ways of the young labourers with whom she is thrown
into contact are not very refined. Her first essay at 'service' is often
as day-nursemaid at some adjacent farmhouse, taking care of the younger
children in the day, and returning home to sleep. She then wanders with
the children about the same fields she visited long before. This system
used to be common enough, but latterly it has not worked well, because the
parents expect the girl to progress so rapidly. She must be a woman and
receive a woman's wages almost before she has ceased to be a girl. If she
does not disdain to enter a farmhouse as kitchen-maid her wages will
probably be about six pounds a year at first. Of course the exact sum
varies very much in different localities and in different cases. It is but
a small sum of money, yet it is often all she is worth.

The cottage is a poor preparation even for the humblest middle-class home.
Those ladies in towns who have engaged country servants are well aware of
the amount of teaching they require before they can go through the
simplest duties in a satisfactory manner. But most of these girls have
already been out several times before reaching town. What a difficulty,
then, the first farmer's wife must have had in drilling the rudiments of
civilised life into them! Indeed, the vexations and annoyances connected
with servants are no light weight upon the patience of the tenant-farmer.
His wife is perpetually preparing servant girls for the service of other
people.

She is a kind of unpaid teacher, for ever shaping the rough material
which, so soon as it is worth higher wages than a tenant-farmer can
usually pay, is off, and the business has to be begun over again. No one
who had not seen it would believe how clumsy and unthinking such girls are
on first 'going out.' It is, too, the flightiest and giddiest period of
their existence--before the girl sobers down into the woman. In the houses
of the majority of tenant-farmers the mistress herself has to be a good
deal in the kitchen, and therefore comes into close personal contact with
the servants, and feels these things acutely. Except in the case of
gentleman-farmers it may, perhaps, be said that almost all the wives of
farmers have had experience of this kind.

The girls are not nearly so tractable as formerly--they are fully aware of
their own value and put it extremely high; a word is sufficient, and if
not pleased they leave immediately. Wages rise yearly to about the limit
of twelve pounds. In mentioning that sum it is not set down as an exact
figure, for circumstances of course vary in every case. But it is seldom
that servants in farmhouses of the middle class receive more than that.
Until recently few obtained so much. Most of them that are worth anything
never rest till they reach the towns, and take service in the villas of
the wealthy suburban residents. Some few, however, remain in the country
from preference, feeling a strong affection for their native place, for
their parents and friends. Notwithstanding the general tendency to roam,
this love of home is by no means extinct, but shows itself very decidedly
in some of the village girls.

The fogger, or milker, who comes to the farmhouse door in the morning may
not present a very attractive appearance in the eyes of those accustomed
to see well-dressed people; but it may be quite different with the young
girl whose early associations have made her oblivious of dirt. She does
not notice the bits of hay clinging to the smockfrock, the greasy hat and
begrimed face, or the clumsy boots thickly coated with mud. A kiss may be
quite as sweet, despite these mere outside accidents. In her way she is
full of imagination and fancy--what her mistress would call 'giddy.'
Within doors an eye may be on her, so she slips out to the wood-stack in
the yard, ostensibly to fetch a log for the fire, and indulges in a few
moments of flirtation behind the shelter of the faggots. In the summer she
works doubly hard in the morning, and gets everything forward, so that she
may go out to the field haymaking in the afternoon, when she may meet her
particular friend, and also, perhaps, his rival.

On Sundays she gladly walks two or more miles across the fields to church,
knowing full well that some one will be lounging about a certain stile, or
lying on the sward by a gate waiting for her. The practice of coquetry is
as delightful in the country lane as in the saloons of wealth, though the
ways in which it exhibits itself may be rude in comparison. So that love
is sometimes the detaining force which keeps the girl in the country. Some
of the young labourers are almost heirs to property in their eyes. One is
perhaps the son of the carrier, who owns a couple of cottages let out to
tenants; or the son of the blacksmith, at whom several caps are set, and
about whom no little jealousy rages. On the whole, servants in the
country, at least at farmhouses, have much more liberty than they could
possibly get in town.

The work is hard in the morning, but generally much less for the rest of
the day; in the evening there is often scarcely anything to do. So that
the farmhouse servant has much time to herself, and is not too strictly
confined indoors when not at work. There is a good deal of 'company,' too;
men coming to the door, men in the rick-yards and cattle-yards, men in the
barn, labourers passing to their work, and so on. It is not so dull a life
as might appear. Indeed, a farmhouse servant probably sees twice as many
of her own class in the course of a week as a servant in town.

Vanity, of course, is not to be shut out even from so simple an existence:
the girl must have a 'fashionable' bonnet, and a pair of thin tight boots,
let the lanes be never so dirty or the fields never so wet. In point of
education they have much improved of late, and most can now read and
write. But when they write home the letter is often read to the mother by
some friend; the girl's parents being nearly or quite illiterate.
Tenant-farmers' wives are often asked to act as notaries in such cases by
cottage women on the receipt of letters from their children.

When such a girl marries in the village she usually finds the work of the
cottage harder than that of the farmhouse. It is more continuous, and when
children arrive the trouble of nursing has to be added to the other
duties, and to occasional work in the fields. The agricultural labourer's
wife, indeed, has a harder lot than her husband. His toil is for the most
part over when he leaves the field, but the woman's is never finished.
When the man reaches home he does not care, or will not turn his hand to
anything, except, perhaps, to fetch a pail of water, and he is not well
pleased if asked to do that. The want of conveniences like an accessible
water supply is severely felt by the women in many villages and hamlets;
whilst in others there is a quantity running to waste. Many of the men
obtain a more than liberal amount of beer, while the women scarcely get
any at all. While working in the field they are allowed a small quantity
by some farmers; at home they have none.

Very few cottage women are inclined to drink, and they are seldom seen at
'public' or intoxicated. On Saturdays most of them walk into the nearest
town, perhaps five or more miles distant, in order to buy household stuff.
Often a whole bevy of neighbours then meet and return home together, and
that is about the only time when they call at the roadside inn. Laden with
heavy parcels, with a long walk yet before them, and after a hard week's
work, it is not surprising that they should want some refreshment, but the
quantity of ale then purchased is very small. When there are a number of
young children, and the parents endeavour to keep them decent, the woman
works very hard indeed. Many farmers' wives take much interest in such
families, where there is an evident endeavour to go straight, and assist
the women in various ways, as with cast-off clothing for the children. A
basketful of apples even from the farmer's orchard is a treat to the
children, for, though better fed than formerly, their diet is necessarily
monotonous, and such fruit as may be grown in the cottage garden is, of
course, sold.

With the exception of vegetables the cottager now buys almost everything
and produces nothing for home use; no home-spun clothing--not even a
home-baked loaf. Instances have been observed where cottagers have gone to
much expense (for them) to build ovens, and after baking a few batches
abandoned the project. Besides the cheap outfitters in the towns, the
pack-drapers come round visiting every cottage. Such drapers have no
shop-window, and make no display, but employ several men carrying packs,
who work through the villages on foot and range over a wide stretch of
country.

Agricultural women, other than those belonging to the families of
tenant-farmers, may be summed up as employed in the following manner.
Bailiff's wives and daughters: these are not supposed, on extensive farms,
to work in the field. The wife frequently has charge of the small home
dairy, and the daughter assists at the house. Sometimes they also attend
to the poultry, now occasionally kept in large numbers. A bailiff's
daughter sometimes becomes housekeeper to a farmer. Dairymaids of the
ordinary class--not competent to make special cheese--are becoming rarer,
on account of the demand for their services decreasing--the milk trade and
cheap foreign cheese having rendered common sorts of cheese unprofitable.
They are usually cottagers. Of the married labouring women and the indoor
servants something has already been said. In most villages a seamstress or
two may be found, and has plenty of work to do for the farmers' families.
The better class of housekeepers, and those professional dairymaids who
superintend the making of superior cheese, are generally more or less
nearly related to the families of tenant-farmers.



CHAPTER XXIII



THE LOW 'PUBLIC' IDLERS


The wise old saw that good wine needs no bush does not hold true in the
case of the labourer; it would require a very large bush indeed to attract
him to the best of beer offered for sale under legitimate conditions. In
fact, he cares not a rap about good beer--that is, intrinsically good, a
genuine product of malt and hops. He would rather grumble at it, unless,
perchance, it was a gift; and even then would criticise it behind the
donor's back, holding the quart cup aslant so as to see the bottom in one
place, and get a better view of the liquor. The great breweries whose
names are household words in cities, and whose interest it is to maintain
a high standard of quality for the delectation of their million consumers,
do not exalt their garish painted advertisements in gilded letters as tall
as Tom Thumb over the doors of village alehouses. You might call for Bass
at Cairo, Bombay, Sydney, or San Francisco, and Bass would be forthcoming.
But if you knocked the trestle-table with the bottom of a tankard (the
correct way) in a rural public, as a signal to the cellar you might call
for Bass in vain.

When the agricultural labourer drops in on his way home from his work of a
winter evening--heralding his approach by casting down a couple of logs or
bundle of wood which he has been carrying with a thud outside the door--he
does not demand liquor of that character. When in harvest time, after
sundown--when the shadows forbid farther cutting with the fagging hook at
the tall wheat--he sits on the form without, under the elm tree, and feels
a whole pocketful of silver, flush of money like a gold-digger at a
fortunate rush, he does not indulge in Allsopp or Guinness. He hoarsely
orders a 'pot' of some local brewer's manufacture--a man who knows exactly
what he likes, and arranges to meet the hardy digestion of the mower and
the reaper. He prefers a rather dark beer with a certain twang faintly
suggestive of liquorice and tobacco, with a sense of 'body,' a thickness
in it, and which is no sooner swallowed than a clammy palate demands a
second gulp to wash away the relics of the first. Ugh! The second requires
a third swig, and still a fourth, and appetite increasing with that it
feeds on, the stream rushes down the brazen throat that burns for more.

Like the Northern demi-god who drank unwittingly at the ocean from a horn
and could not empty it, but nevertheless caused the ebb of the sea, so our
toper, if he cannot contain the cask, will bring it down to the third hoop
if time and credit will but serve. It would require a ganger's staff to
measure his capacity--in fact, the limit of the labourer's liquor-power,
especially in summer, has never yet been reached. A man will lie on his
back in the harvest field, under a hedge sweet with the June roses that
smile upon the hay, and never move or take his lips away till a gallon has
entered into his being, for it can hardly be said to be swallowed. Two
gallons a day is not an uncommon consumption with men who swing the scythe
or reaping-hook.

This of course is small beer; but the stuff called for at the low public
in the village, or by the road just outside, though indescribably nauseous
to a non-vitiated palate, is not 'small.' It is a heady liquid, which if
anyone drinks, not being accustomed to it, will leave its effects upon him
for hours afterwards. But this is what the labourer likes. He prefers
something that he can feel; something that, if sufficiently indulged in,
will make even his thick head spin and his temples ache next morning. Then
he has had the value of his money. So that really good ale would require a
very large bush indeed before it attracted his custom.

It is a marked feature of labouring life that the respectable inn of the
village at which the travelling farmer, or even persons higher in rank,
occasionally call, which has a decent stable, and whose liquors are of a
genuine character, is almost deserted by the men who seek the reeking tap
of the ill-favoured public which forms the clubhouse of all the vice of
the village. While the farmer or passing stranger, calling at the decent
house really for refreshment, drinks but a glass or two and departs, the
frequenters of the low place never quit their seats till the law compels
them, so that for sixpence spent in the one by men with cheque-books in
their pockets, five shillings are spent in the other by men who have not
got a loaf of bread at home for their half-starving children and pinched
wife. To an unprincipled landlord clearly this sort of custom is decidedly
preferable, and thus it is that these places are a real hardship to the
licensed victualler whose effort it is to keep an orderly house.

The influence of the low public upon the agricultural labourer's life is
incalculable--it is his club, almost his home. There he becomes
brutalised; there he spends his all; and if he awakes to the wretched
state of his own family at last, instead of remembering that it is his own
act, he turns round, accuses the farmer of starvation wages, shouts for
what is really Communism, and perhaps even in his sullen rage descends to
crime. Let us go with him into such a rural den.

Beware that you do not knock your head against the smoke-blackened beams
of the low ceiling, and do not put your elbow carelessly on the deal
table, stained with spilled ale, left uncleaned from last night, together
with little heaps of ashes, tapped out from pipes, and spots of grease
from the tallow candles. The old-fashioned settles which gave so cosy an
air in the olden time to the inn room, and which still linger in some of
the houses, are not here--merely forms and cheap chairs. A great pot hangs
over the fire, for the family cooking is done in the public apartment; but
do not ask to join in the meal, for though the food may be more savoury
than is dreamed of in your philosophy, the two-grained forks have not been
cleaned these many a day. Neither is the butcher's wooden skewer, just
extracted from the meat, an elegant toothpick if you are fastidious.

But these things are trifles when the dish is a plump pheasant, jugged
hare, brown partridges, or trout--perhaps not exactly in season--as the
chance may be; or a couple of boiled fowls, or a turkey, or some similar
toothsome morsel. Perhaps it is the gamey taste thus induced that enables
them to enjoy joints from the butcher which are downright tainted, for it
is characteristic of the place and people on the one hand to dine on the
very best, as above, and yet to higgle over a halfpenny a pound at the
shop. Nowhere else in all the parish, from the polished mahogany at the
squire's mansion to the ancient solid oaken table at the substantial
old-fashioned farmer's, can there be found such a constant supply of food
usually considered as almost the privilege of the rich. Bacon, it is true,
they eat of the coarsest kind; but with it eggs new laid and delicious. In
brief, it is the strangest hodge-podge of pheasant and bread and cheese,
asparagus and cabbage. But somehow, whatever is good, whatever is held in
estimation, makes its appearance in that grimy little back room on that
ragged, dirty table-cloth.

Who pays for these things? Are they paid for at all? There is no licensed
dealer in game in the village nor within many miles, and it seems passing
strange. But there are other things almost as curious. The wood pile in
the back yard is ever high and bulky; let the fire burn never so clear in
the frosty days there is always a regular supply of firewood. It is the
same with coal. Yet there is no copse attached to the place, nor is the
landlord ever seen chopping for himself, nor are the farmers in the habit
of receiving large orders for logs and faggots. By the power of some magic
spell all things drift hitherward. A magnet which will draw logs of timber
and faggots half across the parish, which will pull pheasants off their
perch, extract trout from the deep, and stay the swift hare in midst of
her career, is a power indeed to be envied. Had any enchanter of mediaeval
days so potent a charm?

Perhaps it is the engaging and attractive character of the landlord
himself. He is a tall, lanky man, usually seen in slippers, and trousers
too short for his limbs; he 'sloppets' about in his waistcoat and
shirt-sleeves, hands in pockets, and shoulders forward almost in a hump.
He hangs about the place, now bringing in a log, now carrying a bucket,
now spinning a mop, now slouching down the garden to feed the numerous
fowls that scratch around the stumps of cabbages. Anything, in short, but
work. Sometimes, however, he takes the trap and horse, and is supposed to
be gone on a dealing expedition. Sometimes it is only to carry a jar of
beer up to the men in the field, and to mouch a good armful of fresh-cut
clover for provender from the swathe. He sips gin the live-long day--weak
gin always--every hour from morn till a cruel Legislature compels the
closing of the shutters. He is never intoxicated--it is simply a habit, a
sort of fuel to feed the low cunning in which his soul delights. So far
from intoxication is he, that there is a fable of some hard knocks and ill
usage, and even of a thick head being beaten against the harder stones of
the courtyard behind, when the said thick head was helpless from much ale.
Such matters are hushed up in the dark places of the earth. So far from
intoxication is he, that he has the keenest eye to business.

There is a lone rick-yard up in the fields yonder to which the carters
come from the farm far away to fetch hay, and straw, and so forth. They
halt at the public, and are noticed to enjoy good living there, nor are
they asked for their score. A few trusses of hay, or bundles of straw, a
bushel of corn, or some such trifle is left behind merely out of
good-fellowship. Waggons come up laden with tons of coal for the farms
miles above, far from a railway station; three or four teams, perhaps, one
after the other. Just a knob or two can scarcely be missed, and a little
of the small in a sack-bag. The bundles of wood thrown down at the door by
the labourers as they enter are rarely picked up again; they disappear,
and the hearth at home is cold. The foxes are blamed for the geese and the
chickens, and the hunt execrated for not killing enough cubs, but Reynard
is not always guilty. Eggs and poultry vanish. The shepherds have ample
opportunities for disposing of a few spare lambs to a general dealer whose
trap is handy. Certainly, continuous gin does not chill the faculties.

If a can of ale is left in the outhouse at the back and happens to be
found by a few choice spirits at the hour when the vicar is just
commencing his sermon in church on Sunday, it is by the purest accident.
The turnip and swede greens left at the door, picked wholesale from the
farmers' fields; the potatoes produced from coat pockets by fingers which
have been sorting heaps at the farmstead; the apples which would have been
crushed under foot if the labourers had not considerately picked them
up--all these and scores of other matters scarce worth naming find their
way over that threshold. Perhaps the man is genial, his manners enticing,
his stories amusing, his jokes witty? Not at all. He is a silent fellow,
scarce opening his mouth except to curse the poor scrub of a maid servant,
or to abuse a man who has not paid his score. He slinks in and lights his
pipe, smokes it silently, and slinks out again. He is the octopus of the
hamlet, fastening on the cottage homes and sucking the life-blood from
them. He misses nothing, and nothing comes amiss to him.

His wife, perhaps, then, may be the centre of attraction? She is a short,
stout woman, whose cheeks as she walks wobble with fat, whose face is ever
dirty, and dress (at home) slatternly. But mayhap her heart is in the
right place, and when Hodge is missed from his accustomed seat by the fire
of an evening, when it is bruited abroad that he is down with illness,
hurriedly slips on her bonnet, and saying nothing, carries a basket of
good things to cheer the inner man? Or, when his wife is confined, perhaps
she brings some little delicacies, a breast of pheasant, a bottle of port
wine, and strengthens her with motherly counsel in the hour of her
travail. Is this so? Hodge's wife could tell you that the cottage door has
never been darkened by her presence: that she indeed would not acknowledge
her if passed by chance on the road. For the landlady sails forth to the
adjacent town in all the glory of those fine feathers that proverbially
make the fine bird.

It is a goodly spectacle to see her in rustling ample silk, in costly
sealskin, in a bonnet 'loud' but rich, shading a countenance that glows
ruddy red as a furnace. A gold chain encircles her portly neck, with a
gold watch thereto attached; gold rings upon her fingers, in one of which
sparkles a brilliant diamond; gold earrings, gold brooch, kid gloves
bursting from the fatness of the fingers they encase. The dingy trap and
limping rawboned hack which carry her to the outskirts of the town
scarcely harmonise with so much glory. But at the outskirts she alights,
and enters the street in full dignity. By some potent alchemy the sweat of
Hodge's brow has become condensed into that sparkling diamond, which is
disclosed when the glove is drawn off in the shops, to the admiration of
all beholders.

Or, if not the wife, perhaps it may be the daughter who is the magnet that
draws the very timber across the parish? She is not ill-looking, and might
pass muster in her best dress were it not for a squareness of build, like
the set of a man rather than the full curves associated with woman. She is
rarely seen in the house at all, and neither talks to the men nor the
women who enter. She sallies forth at night, and her friends are the
scampish among the sons of the lower class of tenant-farmers.

This is the family. How strange and yet how undeniable is it that such a
house should attract the men whose self-interest, one would imagine, would
lead them to shun it, and if they must spend their hard-won earnings, at
least to get a good article for their money! It proves that an appeal to
reason is not always the way to manage the working man. Such a low house
is always a nest of agitation: there the idle, drunken, and
ill-conditioned have their rendezvous, there evil is hatched, and from
there men take their first step on the road that leads to the gaol. The
place is often crowded at night--there is scarcely room to sit or stand,
the atmosphere is thick with smoke, and a hoarse roar of jarring voices
fills it, above which rises the stave of a song shouted in one unvarying
key from some corner. Money pours in apace--the draughts are deep, and
long, and frequent, the mugs are large, the thirst insatiate. The takings,
compared with the size and situation of the house, must be high, and yet,
with all this custom and profit, the landlord and his family still grovel.
And grovel they will in dirt, vice, low cunning, and iniquity--as the
serpent went on his belly in the dust--to the end of their days.

Why do these places exist? Because in England justice is ever tempered
with mercy; sometimes with too much mercy. The resident squire and
magistrate knows the extent of the evil only too well. He sees it with his
own eyes in the village; he sees it brought before him on the bench; the
clergyman tells him of it, so do the gamekeeper and the policeman. His
tenants complain of it. He is perpetually reminded of it, and of what it
may ultimately mean as these places become the centres of communistic
propagandas. But though perfectly aware of the evil, to suppress it is
quite another matter.

First, you must find the power, and then, having the power, the question
arises, is it wise to exercise it? Though the men who frequent such dens
are often of the lowest type, or on their way to that condition, they are
not all of that character. Men of a hard-working and honest stamp go there
as well. All have their rights alike--rights and liberties which must be
held sacred even at some disadvantage. In short, the reprobate nature of
the place may be established, but while it is the chosen resort of the
people, or of a section of them, unless some great and manifest harm
arises it cannot be touched. The magistrate will willingly control it as
far as lies in his province, but unless directly instructed by the
Legislature he cannot go farther. The truth is, it lies with the labourer
himself. He is not obliged to visit there. A respectable inn may be found
in every village if he desires that wholesome conviviality which, when it
does not overstep certain bounds, forms a bond between man and man. Were
such low houses suddenly put down, what an outcry would be raised of
favouritism, tyranny, and so on! When the labourer turns against them
himself, he will speedily find powerful friends to assist in attaining the
object.

If ever a man deserved a good glass of beer it is the agricultural
labourer upon the conclusion of his day's work, exposed as he is to the
wear and tear of the elements. After following the slow plough along the
furrows through the mist; after tending the sheep on the hills where the
rain beats with furious energy; after grubbing up the tough roots of
trees, and splitting them with axe and wedge and mallet, a man may
naturally ask for refreshment. And it is equally natural that he should
desire to take it in the society of his fellows, with whom he can
associate freely and speak his mind unchecked. The glass of ale would not
hurt him; it is the insidious temptation proffered in certain quarters to
do evil for an extra quart. Nothing forms so strong a temptation as the
knowledge that a safe receiver is near at hand.

He must not be harshly judged because of the mere quantity he can take,
for a quart of ale to him is really no more than a glass of wine to the
'City' gentleman who lives delicately. He is to be pitied rather than
condemned, and aided out of the blunder rather than chastised. Punishment,
indeed, waits upon him only too doggedly, and overtakes him too quickly in
the shape of sorrows and privations at home. The evil lies not in the ale,
but in the character of the man that sold him the ale, and who is, at the
same time, the worst enemy of the legitimately-trading innkeeper. No one,
indeed, has better cause than the labourer to exclaim, 'Save me from my
friends!' To do the bulk of the labourers bare justice it must be stated
that there is a certain bluff honesty and frankness among them, a rude
candour, which entitles them to considerable respect as a body. There are
also men here and there whose strength of character would certainty have
obtained favourable acknowledgment had their lot been cast in a higher
rank of life. But, at the same time, the labourer is not always so
innocent and free from guile--so lamblike as it suits the purpose of some
to proclaim, in order that his rural simplicity may secure sympathy. There
are very queer black sheep in the flock, and it rather unfortunately
happens that these, in more ways than one, force themselves, sometimes
most unpleasantly, upon the notice of the tenant-farmer and the landlord.

A specimen or two may easily be selected from that circle of choice
manhood whose head-quarters are at the low 'public.' A tall, well-built
man stands forward, and at the first glance a stranger might take him for
a favourable example. He holds himself more upright than most of his
class, he is not ill-looking, and a marked air of deference towards those
who address him conveys rather a pleasing impression. He can read fairly
well and sign his name. This man, who is still young, began life as
carter's lad, in which occupation he had not been long engaged before the
horse-hair carefully accumulated as a perquisite disappeared. Whipcord and
similar small articles next vanished, and finally a handsome new whip.
This last, not being so easily disposed of, was traced to his possession
and procured him a sound thrashing. Some short time afterwards a carthorse
was found in the fields stabbed in several places, though, fortunately,
not severely. Having already the bad name that hangs the dog, he was
strongly suspected of this dastardly act in revenge for the thrashing from
the carter, and threat of dismissal from the employer. No evidence,
however, could be procured, and though he was sent about his business he
escaped punishment. As he grew older he fell in with a tribe of
semi-gipsies, and wandered in their company for a year or two, learning
their petty pilfering tricks. He then returned to agriculture labour, and,
notwithstanding the ill-flavour that clung about his doings, found no
difficulty in obtaining employment.

It is rare in agriculture for a man to be asked much about his character,
unless he is to be put into a position of some trust. In trades and
factories--on railways, too--an applicant for employment is not only
questioned, but has to produce evidence as to his immediate antecedents at
least. But the custom in farming prescribes no such checks; if the farmer
requires a man, the applicant is put on to work at once, if he looks at
all likely. This is especially the case in times of pressure, as when
there is a great deal of hoeing to be done, in harvest, and when extra
hands are wanted to assist in feeding the threshing machine. Then the
first that comes along the road is received, and scarcely a question
asked. The custom operates well enough in one way, since a man is nearly
sure of procuring employment, and encounters no obstacles; on the other
hand, there is less encouragement to preserve a good character. So the
fellow mentioned quickly got work when he applied for it, and went on
pretty steadily for a period. He then married, and speedily discovered the
true use of women--i.e. to work for idle men. The moment he learnt that he
could subsist upon her labour he ceased to make any effort, and passed his
time lounging about.

The wife, though neither handsome nor clever, was a hard-working person,
and supported herself and idle husband by taking in washing. Indignation
has often been expressed at the moral code of savages, which permits the
man to lie in his hammock while the woman cultivates the maize; but,
excepting the difference in the colour of the skin, the substitution of
dirty white for coppery redness, there is really no distinction. Probably
washing is of the two harder work than hoeing maize. The fellow 'hung
about,' and doubtless occasionally put in practice the tricks he had
acquired from his nomad friends.

The only time he worked was in the height of the harvest, when high wages
are paid. But then his money went in drink, and drink often caused him to
neglect the labour he had undertaken, at an important juncture when time
was of consequence. On one such occasion the employer lost his temper and
gave him a piece of his mind, ending by a threat of proceedings for breach
of contract. A night or two afterwards the farmer's rick-yard was ablaze,
and a few months later the incendiary found himself commencing a term of
penal servitude. There he was obliged to work, began to walk upright, and
acquired that peculiarly marked air of deference which at first contrasts
rather pleasantly with the somewhat gruff address of most labourers.
During his absence the wife almost prospered, having plenty of employment
and many kind friends. He signalised his return by administering a
thrashing--just to re-assert his authority--which, however, the poor woman
received with equanimity, remarking that it was only his way. He
recommenced his lounging life, working occasionally when money was to be
easily earned--for the convict stain does not prevent a man getting
agricultural employment--and spending the money in liquor. When tolerably
sober he is, in a sense, harmless; if intoxicated, his companions give him
the road to himself.

Now there is nothing exceptionally characteristic of the agricultural
labourer in the career of such a man. Members of other classes of the
working community are often sent to penal servitude, and sometimes men of
education and social position. But it is characteristic of agricultural
life that a man with the stigma of penal servitude can return and
encounter no overpowering prejudice against him. There are work and wages,
for him if he likes to take them. No one throws his former guilt in his
face. He may not be offered a place of confidence, nor be trusted with
money, as the upper labourers--carters for instance--sometimes are. But
the means of subsistence are open to him, and he will not be driven by the
memory of one crime to commit another.

There is no school of crime in the country. Children are not brought up
from the earliest age to beg and steal, to utter loquacious falsehood, or
entrap the benevolent with sham suffering. Hoary thieves do not keep
academies for the instruction of little fingers in the art of theft. The
science of burglary is unstudied. Though farmhouses are often situate in
the most lonely places a case of burglary rarely occurs, and if it does,
is still more rarely traced to a local resident. In such houses there is
sometimes a good deal of old silver plate, accumulated in the course of
generations--a fact that must be perfectly well known to the labouring
class, through the women indoor-servants. Yet such attempts are quite
exceptional. So, too, are robberies from the person with violence. Serious
crime is, indeed, comparatively scarce. The cases that come before the
Petty Sessions are, for the most part, drunkenness, quarreling, neglect or
absenteeism from work, affiliation, petty theft, and so on.

The fact speaks well for the rural population; it speaks very badly for
such characters as the one that has been described. If he will not turn
into the path of honest labour, that is his own fault. The injury he does
is this, that he encourages others to be idle. Labouring men quit the
field under the influence of temporary thirst, or that desire for a few
minutes' change which is not in itself blameworthy. They enter the low
'public,' call for their quart, and intend to leave again immediately. But
the lazy fellow in the corner opens conversation, is asked to drink, more
is called for, there is a toss-up to decide who shall pay, in which the
idle adept, of course, escapes, and so the thing goes on. Such a man
becomes a cause of idleness, and a nuisance to the farmers.

Another individual is a huge, raw-boned, double-jointed giant of a man,
whose muscular strength must be enormous, but whose weakness is beer. He
is a good workman, and of a civil, obliging disposition. He will commence,
for instance, making drains for a farmer with the greatest energy, and in
the best of tempers. A drain requires some little skill. The farmer visits
the work day by day, and notes with approval that it is being done well.
But about the third or fourth day the clever workman, whose immense
strength makes the employment mere child's play to him, civilly asks for a
small advance of money. Now the farmer has no objection to that, but hands
it to him with some misgiving. Next morning no labourer is to be seen. The
day passes, and the next. Then a lad brings the intelligence that his
parent is just recovering from a heavy drinking bout and will be back
soon. There is the history of forty years!

The same incident is repeated once or twice a month all the year round.
Now it is a drain, now hedge-cutting, now hoeing, now haymaking, and now
reaping. Three or four days' work excellently performed; then a bed in a
ditch and empty pockets. The man's really vast strength carries him
through the prostration, and the knocks and bangs and tumbles received in
a helpless state. But what a life! The worst of it is the man is not a
reprobate--not a hang-dog, lounging rascal, but perfectly honest, willing
to oblige, harmless and inoffensive even when intoxicated, and skilful at
his labour. What is to be done with him? What is the farmer to do who has
only such men to rely on--perhaps in many cases--without this fellow's
honesty and good temper--qualities which constantly give him a lift? It is
simply an epitome of the difficulties too commonly met with in the
field--bright sunshine, good weather, ripe crops, and men half
unconscious, or quite, snoring under a hedge! There is no encouragement to
the tenant to pay high wages in experiences like this.

A third example is a rakish-looking lad just rising into manhood. Such
young men are very much in demand and he would not have the slightest
difficulty in obtaining employment, yet he is constantly out of work. When
a boy he began by summoning the carter where he was engaged for cuffing
him, charging the man with an assault. It turned out to be a trumpery
case, and the Bench advised his parents to make him return and fulfil his
contract. His parents thought differently of it. They had become imbued
with an inordinate sense of their own importance. They had a high idea of
the rights of labour; Jack, in short, was a good deal better than his
master, and must be treated with distinguished respect. The doctrines of
the Union countenanced the deduction; so the boy did not return. Another
place was found for him.

In the course of a few months he came again before the Bench. The
complaint was now one of wrongful dismissal, and a claim for a one pound
bonus, which by the agreement was to have been paid at the end of the year
if his conduct proved satisfactory. It was shown that his conduct had been
the reverse of satisfactory; that he refused to obey orders, that he
'cheeked' the carters, that he ran away home for a day or two, and was
encouraged in these goings on by the father. The magistrates, always on
the side of peace, endeavoured to procure a reconciliation, the farmer
even paid down the bonus, but it was of no use. The lad did not return.

With little variations the same game has continued ever since. Now it is
he that complains, now it is his new master; but any way there is always a
summons, and his face is as familiar in the court as that of the chairman.
His case is typical. What is a farmer to do who has to deal with a rising
generation full of this spirit?

Then there are the regular workhouse families, who are perpetually
applying for parochial relief. From the eldest down to the youngest member
they seem to have no stamina; they fall ill when all others are well, as
if afflicted with a species of paralysis that affects body, mind, and
moral sense at once. If the phrase may be used without irreverence, there
is no health in them. The slightest difficulty is sufficient to send an
apparently strong, hale man whining to the workhouse. He localises his
complaint in his foot, or his arm, or his shoulder; but, in truth, he does
not know himself what is the matter with him. The real illness is weakness
of calibre--a looseness of fibre. Many a labourer has an aching limb from
rheumatism, and goes to plough all the same; many a poor cottage woman
suffers from that prevalent agony, and bravely gets through her task, and
keeps her cottage tidy. But these people cannot do it--they positively
cannot. The summer brings them pain, the winter brings pain, their whole
life is one long appeal _ad misericordiam_.

The disease seems to spread with the multiplication of the family: the
sons have it, and the sons' sons after them, so much so that even to bear
the name is sufficient to stamp the owner as a miserable helpless being.
All human wretchedness is, of course, to be deeply commiserated, and yet
it is exasperating to see one man still doing his best under real trouble,
and another eating contentedly the bread of idleness when there seems
nothing wrong except a total lack of energy. The old men go to the
workhouse, the young men go, the women and the children; if they are out
one month the next sees their return. These again are but broken reeds to
rely upon. The golden harvest might rot upon the ground for all their
gathering, the grass wither and die as it stands, without the touch of the
scythe, the very waggons and carts fall to pieces in the sheds. There is
no work to be got out of them.

The village, too, has its rookery, though not quite in the same sense as
the city. Traced to its beginning, it is generally found to have
originated upon a waste piece of ground, where some squatters settled and
built their cabins. These, by the growth of better houses around, and the
rise of property, have now become of some value, not so much for the
materials as the site. To the original hovels additions have been made by
degrees, and fresh huts squeezed in till every inch of space is as closely
occupied as in a back court of the metropolis. Within the cottages are low
pitched, dirty, narrow, and contracted, without proper conveniences, or
even a yard or court.

The social condition of the inhabitants is unpleasant to contemplate. The
young men, as they grow up, arrive at an exaggerated idea of the value of
their parents' property--the cottage of three rooms--and bitter
animosities arise between them. One is accused of having had his share out
in money; another has got into trouble and had his fine paid for him; the
eldest was probably born before wedlock; so there are plenty of materials
for recrimination. Then one, or even two of them bring home a wife, or at
least a woman, and three families live beneath a single roof--with results
it is easy to imagine, both as regards bickering and immorality. They have
no wish to quit the place and enter cottages with better accommodation:
they might rent others of the farmers, but they prefer to be independent,
and, besides, will not move lest they should lose their rights. Very
likely a few lodgers are taken in to add to the confusion. As regularly as
clockwork cross summonses are taken out before the Bench, and then the
women on either side reveal an unequalled power of abuse and loquacity,
leaving a decided impression that it is six to one and half a dozen to the
other.

These rookeries do not furnish forth burglars and accomplished
pickpockets, like those of cities, but they do send out a gang of lazy,
scamping fellows and coarse women, who are almost useless. If their
employer does not please them--if he points out that a waste of time has
taken place, or that something has been neglected--off they go, for,
having a hole to creep into, they do not care an atom whether they lose a
job or not. The available hands, therefore, upon whom the farmers can
count are always very much below the sum total of the able-bodied
population. There must be deducted the idle men and women, the drunkards,
the never satisfied, as the lad who sued every master; the workhouse
families, the rookery families, and those who every harvest leave the
place, and wander a great distance in search of exceptionally high wages.
When all these are subtracted, the residue remaining is often insufficient
to do the work of the farms in a proper manner. It is got through somehow
by scratch-packs, so to say--men picked up from the roads, aged men who
cannot do much, but whose energy puts the younger fellows to shame, lads
paid far beyond the value of the work they actually accomplish.

Work done in this way is, of course, incomplete and unsatisfactory, and
the fact supplies one of the reasons why farmers seem disinclined to pay
high wages. It is not because they object to pay well for hard work, but
because they cannot get the hard work. There is consequently a growing
reliance upon floating labour--upon the men and women who tramp round
every season--rather than on the resident population. Even in the absence
of any outward agitation--of a strike or open movement in that
direction--the farmer has considerable difficulties to contend with in
procuring labour. He has still further difficulties in managing it when he
has got it. Most labourers have their own peculiar way of finishing a job;
and however much that style of doing it may run counter to the farmer's
idea of the matter in hand, he has to let the man proceed after his own
fashion. If he corrected, or showed the man what he wanted, he would run
the risk of not getting it done at all. There is no one so thoroughly
obstinate as an ignorant labourer full of his own consequence. Giving,
then, full credit to those men whose honest endeavours to fulfil their
duty have already been acknowledged, it is a complete delusion to suppose
that all are equally manly.



CHAPTER XXIV



THE COTTAGE CHARTER. FOUR-ACRE FARMERS


The songs sung by the labourer at the alehouse or the harvest home are not
of his own composing. The tunes whistled by the ploughboy as he goes down
the road to his work in the dawn were not written for him. Green meads and
rolling lands of wheat--true fields of the cloth of gold--have never yet
inspired those who dwell upon them with songs uprising from the soil. The
solitude of the hills over whose tops the summer sun seems to linger so
long has not filled the shepherd's heart with a wistful yearning that must
be expressed in verse or music. Neither he nor the ploughman in the vale
have heard or seen aught that stirs them in Nature. The shepherd has never
surprised an Immortal reclining on the thyme under the shade of a hawthorn
bush at sunny noontide; nor has the ploughman seen the shadowy outline of
a divine huntress through the mist that clings to the wood across the
field.

These people have no myths; no heroes. They look back on no Heroic Age, no
Achilles, no Agamemnon, and no Homer. The past is vacant. The have not
even a 'Wacht am Rhein' or 'Marseillaise' to chaunt in chorus with
quickened step and flashing eye. No; nor even a ballad of the hearth,
handed down from father to son, to be sung at home festivals, as a
treasured silver tankard is brought out to drink the health of a honoured
guest. Ballads there are in old books--ballads of days when the yew bow
was in every man's hands, and war and the chase gave life a colour; but
they are dead. A cart comes slowly down the road, and the labourer with it
sings as he jogs along; but, if you listen, it tells you nothing of wheat,
or hay, or flocks and herds, nothing of the old gods and heroes. It is a
street ditty such as you may hear the gutter arabs yelling in London, and
coming from a music hall.

So, too, in material things--in the affairs of life, in politics, and
social hopes--the labourer has no well-defined creed of race. He has no
genuine programme of the future; that which is put forward in his name is
not from him. Some years ago, talking with an aged labourer in a district
where at that time no 'agitation' had taken place, I endeavoured to get
from him something like a definition of the wants of his class. He had
lived many years, and worked all the while in the field; what was his
experience of their secret wishes? what was the Cottage Charter? It took
some time to get him to understand what was required; he had been ready
enough previously to grumble about this or that detail, but when it came
to principles he was vague. The grumbles, the complaints, and so forth,
had never been codified. However, by degrees I got at it, and very simple
it was:--Point 1, Better wages; (2) more cottages; (3) good-sized gardens;
(4) 'larning' for the children. That was the sum of the cottager's
creed--his own genuine aspirations.

Since then every one of these points has been obtained, or substantial
progress made towards it. Though wages are perhaps slightly lower or
rather stationary at the present moment, yet they are much higher than
used to be the case. At the same time vast importations of foreign food
keep the necessaries of life at a lower figure. The number of cottages
available has been greatly increased--hardly a landlord but could produce
accounts of sums of money spent in this direction. To almost all of these
large gardens are now attached. Learning for the children is provided by
the schools erected in every single parish, for the most part by the
exertions of the owners and occupiers of land.

Practically, therefore, the four points of the real Cottage Charter have
been attained, or as nearly as is possible. Why, then, is it that
dissatisfaction is still expressed? The reply is, because a new programme
has been introduced to the labourer from without. It originated in no
labourer's mind, it is not the outcome of a genuine feeling widespread
among the masses, nor is it the heartbroken call for deliverance issuing
from the lips of the poet-leader of a downtrodden people. It is totally
foreign to the cottage proper--something new, strange, and as yet scarcely
understood in its full meaning by those who nominally support it.

The points of the new Cottage Charter are--(1) The confiscation of large
estates; (2) the subdivision of land; (3) the abolition of the laws of
settlement of land; (4) the administration of the land by the authorities
of State; (5) the confiscation of glebe lands for division and
distribution; (6) the abolition of Church tithes; (7) extension of the
county franchise; (8) education gratis, free of fees, or payment of any
kind; (9) high wages, winter and summer alike, irrespective of season,
prosperity, or adversity. No. 6 is thrown in chiefly for the purpose of an
appearance of identity of interest between the labourer and the tenant
against the Church. Of late it has rather been the cue of the leaders of
the agitation to promote, or seem to promote, a coalition between the
labourer and the dissatisfied tenant, thereby giving the movement a more
colourable pretence in the eyes of the public. Few tenants, however
dissatisfied, have been deceived by the shallow device.

This programme emanated from no carter or shepherd, ploughman or fogger.
It was not thought out under the hedge when the June roses decked the
bushes; nor painfully written down on the deal table in the cottage while
the winter rain pattered against the window, and, coming down the wide
chimney, hissed upon the embers. It was brought to the cottage door from a
distance; it has been iterated and reiterated till at last some begin to
think they really do want all these things. But with the majority even now
the propaganda falls flat. They do not enter into the spirit of it. No. 9
they do understand; that appeals direct, and men may be excused if, with a
view which as yet extends so short a space around, they have not grasped
the fact that wages cannot by any artificial combination whatever be kept
at a high level. The idea of high wages brings a mass of labourers
together; they vote for what they are instructed to vote, and are thus
nominally pledged to the other eight points of the new charter Such a
conception as the confiscation and subdivision of estates never occurred
to the genuine labourers.

An aged man was listening to a graphic account of what the new state of
things would be like. There would be no squire, no parson, no woods or
preserves--all grubbed for cabbage gardens--no parks, no farmers. 'No
farmers,' said the old fellow, 'then who's to pay I my wages?' There he
hit the blot, no doubt. If the first four points of the new charter were
carried into effect, agricultural wages would no longer exist. But if such
a consummation depends upon the action of the cottager it will be a long
time coming. The idea did not originate with him--he cares nothing for
it--and can only be got to support it under the guise of an agitation for
wages. Except by persistent stirring from without he cannot be got to move
even then. The labourer, in fact, is not by any means such a fool as his
own leaders endeavour to make him out. He is perfectly well aware that the
farmer, or any person who stands in the position of the farmer, cannot pay
the same money in winter as in summer.

Two new cottages of a very superior character were erected in the corner
of an arable field, abutting on the highway. As left by the builders a
more uninviting spot could scarcely be imagined. The cottages themselves
were well designed and well built, but the surroundings were like a
wilderness. Heaps of rubbish here, broken bricks there, the ground
trampled hard as the road itself. No partition from the ploughed field
behind beyond a mere shallow trench enclosing what was supposed to be the
garden. Everything bleak, unpromising, cold, and unpleasant. Two families
went into these cottages, the men working on the adjoining farm. The
aspect of the place immediately began to change. The rubbish was removed,
the best of it going to improve the paths and approaches; a quick-set
hedge was planted round the enclosure. Evening after evening, be the
weather what it might, these two men were in that garden at work--after a
long day in the fields. In the dinner hour even they sometimes snatched a
few minutes to trim something. Their spades turned over the whole of the
soil, and planting commenced. Plots were laid out for cabbage, plots for
potatoes, onions, parsnips.

Then having provided necessaries for the immediate future they set about
preparing for extras. Fruit trees--apple, plum, and damson--were planted;
also some roses. Next beehives appeared and were elevated on stands and
duly protected from the rain. The last work was the building of
pigsties--rude indeed and made of a few slabs--but sufficient to answer
the purpose. Flowers in pots appeared in the windows, flowers appeared
beside the garden paths. The change was so complete and so quickly
effected I could hardly realise that so short a time since there had been
nothing there but a blank open space. Persons travelling along the road
could not choose but look on and admire the transformation.

I had often been struck with the flourishing appearance of cottage
gardens, but then those gardens were of old date and had reached that
perfection in course of years. But here the thing seemed to grow up under
one's eyes. All was effected by sheer energy. Instead of spending their
evenings wastefully at 'public,' these men went out into their gardens and
made what was a desert literally bloom. Nor did they seem conscious of
doing anything extraordinary, but worked away in the most matter-of-fact
manner, calling no one's attention to their progress. It would be hard to
say which garden of the two showed the better result. Their wives are
tidy, their children clean, their cottages grow more cosy and homelike day
by day; yet they work in the fields that come up to their very doors, and
receive nothing but the ordinary agricultural wages of the district.

This proves what can be done when the agricultural labourer really wants
to do it. And in a very large number of cases it must further be admitted
that he does want to do it, and succeeds. If any one when passing through
a rural district will look closely at the cottages and gardens he will
frequently find evidence of similar energy, and not unfrequently of
something approaching very nearly to taste. For why does the labourer
train honeysuckle up his porch, and the out-of-door grape up the southern
end of his house? Why does he let the houseleek remain on the roof; why
trim and encourage the thick growth of ivy that clothes the chimney?
Certainly not for utility, nor pecuniary profit. It is because he has some
amount of appreciation of the beauty of flowers, of vine leaf, and green
ivy. Men like these are the real backbone of our peasantry. They are not
the agitators; it is the idle hang-dogs who form the disturbing element in
the village.

The settled agricultural labourer, of all others, has the least inducement
to strike or leave his work. The longer he can stay in one place the
better for him in many ways. His fruit-trees, which he planted years ago,
are coming to perfection, and bear sufficient fruit in favourable years
not only to give him some variety of diet, but to bring in a sum in hard
cash with which to purchase extras. The soil of the garden, long manured
and dug, is twice as fertile as when he first disturbed the earth. The
hedges have grown high, and keep off the bitter winds. In short, the place
is home, and he sits under his own vine and fig-tree. It is not to his
advantage to leave this and go miles away. It is different with the
mechanic who lives in a back court devoid of sunshine, hardly visited by
the fresh breeze, without a tree, without a yard of earth to which to
become attached. The factory closes, the bell is silent, the hands are
discharged; provided he can get fresh employment it matters little. He
leaves the back court without regret, and enters another in a distant
town. But an agricultural labourer who has planted his own place feels an
affection for it. The young men wander and are restless; the middle-aged
men who have once anchored do not like to quit. They have got the four
points of their own genuine charter; those who would infuse further vague
hopes are not doing them any other service than to divert them from the
substance to the shadow.

Past those two new cottages which have been mentioned there runs a road
which is a main thoroughfare. Along this road during the year this change
was worked there walked a mournful procession--men and women on tramp.
Some of these were doubtless rogues and vagabonds by nature and choice;
but many, very many, were poor fellows who had really lost employment, and
were gradually becoming degraded to the company of the professional
beggar. The closing of collieries, mines, workshops, iron furnaces, &c.,
had thrown hundreds on the mercy of chance charity, and compelled them to
wander to and fro. How men like these on tramp must have envied the
comfortable cottages, the well-stocked gardens, the pigsties, the
beehives, and the roses of the labourers!

If the labourer has never gone up on the floodtide of prosperity to the
champagne wages of the miner, neither has he descended to the woe which
fell on South Wales when children searched the dust-heaps for food, nor to
that suffering which forces those whose instinct is independence to the
soup-kitchen. He has had, and still has, steady employment at a rate of
wages sufficient, as is shown by the appearance of his cottage itself, to
maintain him in comparative comfort. The furnace may be blown out, and
strong men may ask themselves, What shall we do next? But still the plough
turns up the earth morning after morning. The colliery may close, but
still the corn ripens, and extra wages are paid to the harvest men.

This continuous employment without even a fear of cessation is an
advantage, the value of which it is difficult to estimate. His wages are
not only sufficient to maintain him, he can even save a little. The
benefit clubs in so many villages are a proof of it--each member
subscribes so much. Whether conducted on a 'sound financial basis' or not,
the fact of the subscriptions cannot be denied, nor that assistance is
derived from them. The Union itself is supported in the same way; proving
that the wages, however complained of, are sufficient, at any rate, to
permit of subscriptions.

It is held out to the labourer, as an inducement to agitate briskly, that,
in time, a state of things will be brought about when every man will have
a small farm of four or five acres upon which to live comfortably,
independent of a master. Occasional instances, however, of labourers
endeavouring to exist upon a few acres have already been observed, and
illustrate the practical working of the scheme. In one case a labourer
occupied a piece of ground, about three acres in extent, at a low rental
paid to the lord of the manor, the spot having originally been waste,
though the soil was fairly good. He started under favourable conditions,
because he possessed a cottage and garden and a pair of horses with which
he did a considerable amount of hauling.

He now set up as a farmer, ploughed and sowed, dug and weeded, kept his
own hours, and went into the market and walked about as independent as any
one. After a while the three acres began to absorb nearly all his time, so
that the hauling, which was the really profitable part of the business,
had to be neglected. Then, the ready money not coming in so fast, the
horses had to go without corn, and pick up what they could along the
roadside, on the sward, and out of the hedges. They had, of course, to be
looked after while thus feeding, which occupied two of the children, so
that these could neither go to school nor earn anything by working on the
adjacent farms. The horses meantime grew poor in condition; the winter
tried them greatly from want of proper fodder; and when called upon to do
hauling they were not equal to the task. In the country, at a distance
from towns, there is not always a good market for vegetables, even when
grown. The residents mostly supply themselves, and what is raised for
export has to be sold at wholesale prices.

The produce of the three acres consequently did not come up to the
tenant's expectation, particularly as potatoes, on account of the disease,
could not be relied on. Meantime he had no weekly money coming in
regularly, and his wife and family had often to assist him, diminishing
their own earnings at the same time; while he was in the dilemma that if
he did hauling he must employ and pay a man to work on the 'farm,' and if
he worked himself he could not go out with his team. In harvest time, when
the smaller farmers would have hired his horses, waggon, and himself and
family to assist them, he had to get in his own harvest, and so lost the
hard cash.

He now discovered that there was one thing he had omitted, and which was
doubtless the cause why he did not flourish as he should have done
according to his calculations. All the agriculturists around kept live
stock--he had none. Here was the grand secret--it was stock that paid: he
must have a cow. So he set to work industriously enough, and put up a
shed. Then, partly by his own small savings, partly by the assistance of
the members of the sect to which he belonged, he purchased the desired
animal and sold her milk. In summer this really answered fairly well while
there was green food for nothing in plenty by the side of little-frequented
roads, whither the cow was daily led. But so soon as the winter approached
the same difficulty as with the horses arose, i.e., scarcity of fodder.
The cow soon got miserably poor, while the horses fell off yet further, if
that were possible. The calf that arrived died; next, one of the horses.
The 'hat' was sent round again, and a fresh horse bought; the spring came
on, and there seemed another chance. What with milking and attending to
the cow, and working on the 'farm,' scarcely an hour remained in which to
earn money with the horses. No provision could be laid by for the winter.
The live stock--the cow and horses--devoured part of the produce of the
three acres, so that there was less to sell.

Another winter finished it. The cow had to be sold, but a third time the
'hat' was sent round and saved the horses. Grown wiser now, the 'farmer'
stuck to his hauling, and only worked his plot at odd times. In this way,
by hauling and letting out his team in harvest, and working himself and
family at the same time for wages, he earned a good deal of money, and
kept afloat very comfortably. He made no further attempt to live out of
the 'farm,' which was now sown with one or two crops only in the same
rotation as a field, and no longer cultivated on the garden system. Had it
not been for the subscriptions he must have given it up entirely long
before. Bitter experience demonstrated how false the calculations had been
which seemed to show--on the basis of the produce of a small
allotment--that a man might live on three or four acres.

He is not the only example of an extravagant estimate being put upon the
possible product of land: it is a fallacy that has been fondly believed in
by more logical minds than the poor cottager. That more may be got out of
the soil than is the case at present is perfectly true; the mistake lies
in the proposed method of doing it.

There was a piece of land between thirty and forty acres in extent,
chiefly arable, which chanced to come into the possession of a gentleman,
who made no pretence to a knowledge of agriculture, but was naturally
desirous of receiving the highest rental. Up to that time it had been
occupied by a farmer at thirty shillings per acre, which was thought the
full value. He did not particularly want it, as it lay separated from the
farm proper, and gave it up with the greatest alacrity when asked to do so
in favour of a new tenant. This man turned out to be a villager--a
blustering, ignorant fellow--who had, however, saved a small sum by
hauling, which had been increased by the receipt of a little legacy. He
was confident that he could show the farmers how to do it--he had worked
at plough, had reaped, and tended cattle, and had horses of his own, and
was quite sure that farming was a profitable business, and that the
tenants had their land dirt cheap. He 'knowed' all about it.

He offered three pounds an acre for the piece at once, which was accepted,
notwithstanding a warning conveyed to the owner that his new tenant had
scarcely sufficient money to pay a year's rent at that rate. But so rapid
a rise in the value of his land quite dazzled the proprietor, and the
labourer--for he was really nothing better, though fortunate enough to
have a little money--entered on his farm. When this was known, it was
triumphantly remarked that if a man could actually pay double the former
rent, what an enormous profit the tenant-farmers must have been making!
Yet they wanted to reduce the poor man's wages. On the other hand, there
were not wanting hints that the man's secret idea was to exhaust the land
and then leave it. But this was not the case--he was honestly in earnest,
only he had got an exaggerated notion of the profits of farming. It is
scarcely necessary to say that the rent for the third half year was not
forthcoming, and the poor fellow lost his all. The land then went begging
at the old price, for it had become so dirty--full of weeds from want of
proper cleaning--that it was some time before any one would take it.

In a third case the attempt of a labouring man to live upon a small plot
of land was successful--at least for some time. But it happened in this
way. The land he occupied, about six acres, was situated on the outskirts
of a populous town. It was moderately rented and of fairly good quality.
His method of procedure was to cultivate a small portion--as much as he
could conveniently manage without having to pay too much for
assistance--as a market garden. Being close to his customers, and with a
steady demand at good prices all the season, this paid very well indeed.
The remainder was ploughed and cropped precisely the same as the fields of
larger farms. For these crops he could always get a decent price. The
wealthy owners of the villas scattered about, some keeping as many horses
as a gentleman with a country seat, were glad to obtain fresh fodder for
their stables, and often bought the crops standing, which to him was
especially profitable, because he could not well afford the cost of the
labour he must employ to harvest them.

In addition, he kept several pigs, which were also profitable, because the
larger part of their food cost him nothing but the trouble of fetching it.
The occupants of the houses in the town were glad to get rid of the refuse
vegetables, &c.; of these he had a constant supply. The pigs, too, helped
him with manure. Next he emptied ash-pits in the town, and sifted the
cinders; the better part went on his own fire, the other on his land. As
he understood gardening, he undertook the care of several small gardens,
which brought in a little money. All the rubbish, leaves, trimmings, &c.,
which he swept from the gardens he burnt, and spread the ashes abroad to
fertilise his miniature farm.

In spring he beat carpets, and so made more shillings; he had also a small
shed, or workshop, and did rough carpentering. His horse did his own work,
and occasionally that of others; so that in half a dozen different ways he
made money independent of the produce of his land. That produce, too, paid
well, because of the adjacent town, and he was able to engage assistance
now and then. Yet, even with all these things, it was hard work, and
required economical management to eke it out. Still it was done, and under
the same conditions doubtless might be done by others. But then everything
lies in those conditions. The town at hand, the knowledge of gardening,
carpentering, and so on, made just all the difference.

If the land were subdivided in the manner the labourer is instructed would
be so advantageous, comparatively few of the plots would be near towns.
Some of the new 'farmers' would find themselves in the centre of Salisbury
Plain, with the stern trilithons of Stonehenge looking down upon their
efforts. The occupier of a plot of four acres in such a position--many
miles from the nearest town--would experience a hard lot indeed if he
attempted to live by it. If he grew vegetables for sale, the cost of
carriage would diminish their value; if for food, he could scarcely
subsist upon cabbage and onions all the year round. To thoroughly work
four acres would occupy his whole time, nor would the farmers care for the
assistance of a man who could only come now and then in an irregular
manner. There would be no villa gardens to attend to, no ash-pits to
empty, no tubs of refuse for the pig, no carpets to beat, no one who
wanted rough carpentering done. He could not pay any one to assist him in
the cultivation of the plot.

And then, how about his clothes, boots and shoes, and so forth? Suppose
him with a family, where would their boots and shoes come from? Without
any wages--that is, hard cash received weekly--it would be next to
impossible to purchase these things. A man could hardly be condemned to a
more miserable existence. In the case of the tenant of a few acres who
made a fair living near a large town, it must be remembered that he
understood two trades, gardening and carpentering, and found constant
employment at these, which in all probability would indeed have maintained
him without any land at all. But it is not every man who possesses
technical knowledge of this kind, or who can turn his hand to several
things. Imagine a town surrounded by two or three thousand such small
occupiers, let them be never so clever; where would the extra employment
come from; where would be the ashpits to empty? Where one could do well, a
dozen could do nothing. If the argument be carried still further, and we
imagine the whole country so cut up and settled, the difficulty only
increases, because every man living (or starving) on his own plot would be
totally unable to pay another to help him, or to get employment himself.
No better method could be contrived to cause a fall in the value of
labour.

The examples of France and China are continually quoted in support of
subdivision. In the case of France, let us ask whether any of our stalwart
labourers would for a single week consent to live as the French peasant
does? Would they forego their white, wheaten bread, and eat rye bread in
its place? Would they take kindly to bread which contained a large
proportion of meal ground from the edible chestnut? Would they feel merry
over vegetable soups? Verily the nature of the man must change first; and
we have read something about the leopard and his spots. You cannot raise
beef and mutton upon four acres and feed yourself at the same time; if you
raise bacon you must sell it in order to buy clothes.

The French peasant saves by stinting, and puts aside a franc by pinching
both belly and back. He works extremely hard, and for long hours. Our
labourers can work as hard as he, but it must be in a different way; they
must have plenty to eat and drink, and they do not understand little
economies.

China, we are told, however, supports the largest population in the world
in this manner. Not a particle is wasted, not a square foot of land but
bears something edible. The sewage of towns is utilised, and causes crops
to spring forth; every scrap of refuse manures a garden. The Chinese have
attained that ideal agriculture which puts the greatest amount into the
soil, takes the greatest amount out of it, and absolutely wastes nothing.
The picture is certainly charming.

There are, however, a few considerations on the other side. The question
arises whether our labourers would enjoy a plump rat for supper? The
question also arises why the Six Companies are engaged in transhipping
Chinese labour from China to America? In California the Chinese work at a
rate of wages absolutely impossible to the white man--hence the Chinese
difficulty there. In Queensland a similar thing is going on. Crowds of
Chinese enter, or have entered, the country eager for work. If the
agriculture of China is so perfect; if the sewage is utilised; if every
man has his plot; if the population cannot possibly become too great, why
on earth are the Chinese labourers so anxious to get to America or
Australia, and to take the white man's wages? And is that system of
agriculture so perfect? It is not long since the Chinese Ambassador
formally conveyed the thanks of his countrymen for the generous assistance
forwarded from England during the late fearful famine in China. The
starvation of multitudes of wretched human beings is a ghastly comment
upon this ideal agriculture. The Chinese yellow spectre has even
threatened England; hints have been heard of importing Chinese into this
country to take that silver and gold which our own men disdained. Those
who desire to destroy our land system should look round them for a more
palatable illustration than is afforded by the great Chinese problem.

The truth in the matter seems to be this. A labourer does very well with a
garden; he can do very well, too, if he has an allotment in addition,
provided it be not too far from home. Up to a quarter of an acre--in some
cases half an acre--it answers, because he can cultivate it at odd times,
and so receive his weekly wages without interruption. But when the plot
exceeds what he can cultivate in this way--when he has to give whole weeks
to it--then, of course, he forfeits the cash every Saturday night, and
soon begins to lose ground. The original garden of moderate size yielded
very highly in proportion to its extent, because of the amount of labour
expended on it, and because it was well manured. But three or four acres,
to yield in like degree, require an amount of manure which it is quite out
of a labourer's power to purchase; and he cannot keep live stock to
produce it. Neither can he pay men to work for him consequently, instead
of being more highly cultivated than the large farms, such plots would not
be kept so clean and free from weeds, or be so well manured and deeply
ploughed as the fields of the regular agriculturist.



CHAPTER XXV



LANDLORDS' DIFFICULTIES. THE LABOURER AS A POWER. MODERN CLERGY


The altered tone of the labouring population has caused the position of
the landlord, especially if resident, to be one of considerable
difficulty. Something like diplomatic tact is necessary in dealing with
the social and political problems which now press themselves upon the
country gentleman. Forces are at work which are constantly endeavouring to
upset the village equilibrium, and it is quite in vain to ignore their
existence. However honestly he may desire peace and goodwill to reign, it
is impossible for a man to escape the influence of his own wealth and
property. These compel him to be a sort of centre around which everything
revolves. His duties extend far beyond the set, formal lines--the easy
groove of old times--and are concerned with matters which were once
thought the exclusive domain of the statesman or the philosopher.

The growth of a public opinion among the rural population is a great fact
which cannot be overlooked. Some analogy may be traced between the awaking
of a large class, hitherto almost silent, and the strange new developments
which occur in the freshly-settled territories of the United States.
There, all kinds of social experiments are pushed to the extreme
characteristic of American energy. A Salt Lake City and civilised
polygamy, and a variety of small communities endeavouring to work out new
theories of property and government, attest a frame of mind escaped from
the control of tradition, and groping its way to the future. Nothing so
extravagant, of course, distinguishes the movement among the agricultural
labourers of this country. There have been strikes; indignation meetings
held expressly for the purpose of exciting public opinion; an attempt to
experimentalise by a kind of joint-stock farming, labourers holding
shares; and a preaching of doctrines which savour much of Communism. There
have been marches to London, and annual gatherings on hill tops. These are
all within the pale of law, and outrage no social customs. But they
proclaim a state of mind restless and unsatisfied, striving for something
new, and not exactly knowing what.

Without a vote for the most part, without an all-embracing
organisation--for the Union is somewhat limited in extent--with few
newspapers expressing their views, with still fewer champions in the upper
ranks, the agricultural labourers have become in a sense a power in the
land. It is a power that is felt rather individually than collectively--it
affects isolated places, but these in the aggregate reach importance. This
power presses on the landlord--the resident country gentleman--upon one
side; upon the other, the dissatisfied tenant-farmers present a rugged
front.

As a body the tenant-farmers are loyal to their landlords--in some cases
enthusiastically loyal. It cannot, however, be denied that this is not
universal. There are men who, though unable to put forth a substantial
grievance, are ceaselessly agitating. The landlord, in view of
unfavourable seasons, remits a percentage of rent. He relaxes certain
clauses in leases, he reduces the ground game, he shows a disposition
to meet reasonable, and even unreasonable, demands. It is useless.
There exists a class of tenant-farmers who are not to be satisfied
with the removal of grievances in detail. They are animated by a
principle--something far beyond such trifles. Unconsciously, no doubt,
in many cases that principle approximates very nearly to the doctrine
proclaimed in so many words by the communistic circles of cities. It
amounts to a total abolition of the present system of land tenure. The
dissatisfied tenant does not go so far as minute subdivisions of land
into plots of a few acres. He pauses at the moderate and middle way which
would make the tenant of three or four hundred acres the owner of the soil.
In short, he would step into the landlord's place.

Of course, many do not go so far as this; still there is a class of
farmers who are for ever writing to the papers, making speeches,
protesting, and so on, till the landlord feels that, do what he may, he
will be severely criticised. Even if personally insulted he must betray no
irritation, or desire to part with the tenant, lest he be accused of
stifling opinion. Probably no man in England is so systematically
browbeaten all round as the country gentleman. Here are two main
divisions--one on each side--ever pressing upon him, and, besides these,
there are other forces at work. A village, in fact, at the present day, is
often a perfect battle-ground of struggling parties.

When the smouldering labour difficulty comes to a point in any particular
district the representatives of the labourers lose no time in illustrating
the cottager's case by contrast with the landlord's position. He owns so
many thousand acres, producing an income of so many thousand pounds.
Hodge, who has just received notice of a reduction of a shilling per week,
survives on bacon and cabbage. Most mansions have a small home farm
attached, where, of course, some few men are employed in the direct
service of the landlord. This home farm becomes the bone of contention.
Here, they say, is a man with many thousands a year, who, in the midst of
bitter wintry weather, has struck a shilling a week off the wages of his
poor labourers. But the fact is that the landlord's representative--his
steward--has been forced to this step by the action and opinion of the
tenant-farmers.

The argument is very cogent and clear. They say, 'We pay a rent which is
almost as much as the land will bear; we suffer by foreign competition,
bad seasons and so on, the market is falling, and we are compelled to
reduce our labour expenditure. But then our workmen say that at the home
farm the wages paid are a shilling or two higher, and therefore they will
not accept a reduction. Now you must reduce your wages or your tenants
must suffer.' It is like a tradesman with a large independent income
giving his workmen high wages out of that independent income, whilst other
tradesmen, who have only their business to rely on, are compelled by this
example to pay more than they can afford. This is obviously an unjust and
even cruel thing. Consequently though a landlord may possess an income of
many thousands, he cannot, without downright injustice to his tenants, pay
his immediate _employés_ more than those tenants find it possible to pay.

Such is the simple explanation of what has been described as a piece of
terrible tyranny. The very reduction of rent made by the landlord to the
tenant is seized as a proof by the labourer that the farmer, having less
now to pay, can afford to give him more money. Thus the last move of the
labour party has been to urge the tenant-farmer to endeavour to become his
own landlord. On the one hand, certain dissatisfied tenants have made use
of the labour agitation to bring pressure upon the landlord to reduce
rent, and grant this and that privilege. They have done their best, and in
great part succeeded, in getting up a cry that rent must come down, that
the landlord's position must be altered, and so forth. On the other hand,
the labour party try to use the dissatisfied tenant as a fulcrum by means
of which to bring their lever to bear upon the landlord. Both together, by
every possible method, endeavour to enlist popular sympathy against him.

There exists a party in cities who are animated by the most extraordinary
rancour against landlords without exception--good, bad, and
indifferent--just because they are landlords. This party welcomes the
agitating labourer and the discontented tenant with open arms, and the
chorus swells still louder. Now the landlords, as a body, are quite aware
of the difficulties under which farming has been conducted of late, and
exhibit a decided inclination to meet and assist the tenant. But it by no
means suits the agitator to admit this; he would of the two rather the
landlord showed an impracticable disposition, in order that there might be
grounds for violent declamation.

Fortunately there is a solid substratum of tenants whose sound common
sense prevents them from listening to the rather enchanting cry, 'Every
man his own landlord.' They may desire and obtain a reduction of rent, but
they treat it as a purely business transaction, and there lies all the
difference. They do not make the shilling an acre less the groundwork of a
revolution; because ten per cent, is remitted at the audit they do not cry
for confiscation. But it is characteristic of common sense to remain
silent, as it is of extravagance to make a noise. Thus the opinion of the
majority of tenants is not heard; but the restless minority write and
speak; the agitating labourer, through his agent, writes and speaks, and
the anti-landlord party in cities write and speak. A pleasant position for
the landlord this! Anxious to meet reasonable wishes he is confronted with
unreasonable demands, and abused all round.

Besides the labour difficulty, which has been so blazed abroad as to
obscure the rest, there are really many other questions agitating the
village. The school erected under the Education Act, whilst it is doing
good work, is at the same time in many cases a scene of conflict. The
landlord can hardly remain aloof, try how he will, because his larger
tenants are so closely interested. He has probably given the land and
subscribed heavily--a school board has been avoided; but, of course, there
is a committee of management, which is composed of members of every party
and religious denomination. That is fair enough, and the actual work
accomplished is really very good. But, if outwardly peace, it is inwardly
contention. First, the agitating labourer is strongly of opinion that,
besides giving the land and subscribing, and paying a large voluntary
rate, the landlord ought to defray the annual expenses and save him the
weekly pence. The sectarian bodies, though neutralised by their own
divisions, are ill-affected behind their mask, and would throw it off if
they got the opportunity. The one thing, and the one thing only, that
keeps them quiet is the question of expense. Suppose by a united
effort--and probably on a poll of the parish the chapel-goers in mere
numbers would exceed the church people--they shake off the landlord and
his party, and proceed to a school board as provided by the Act? Well,
then they must find the annual expenses, and these must be raised by a
rate.

Now at present the cottager loudly grumbles because he is asked to
contribute a few coppers; but suppose he were called upon to pay a heavy
rate? Possibly he might in such a case turn round against his present
leaders, and throw them overboard in disgust. Seeing this possibility all
too clearly, the sectarian bodies remain quiescent. They have no real
grievance, because their prejudices are carefully respected; but it is not
the nature of men to prefer being governed, even to their good, to
governing. Consequently, though no battle royal takes place, it is a
mistake to suppose that because 'education' is now tolerably quiet there
is universal satisfaction. Just the reverse is true, and under the surface
there is a constant undermining process proceeding. Without any downright
collision there is a distinct division into opposing ranks.

Another matter which looms larger as time goes on arises out of the
gradual--in some cases the rapid--filling up of the village churchyards.
It is melancholy to think that so solemn a subject should threaten to
become a ground for bitter controversy; but that much animosity of feeling
has already appeared is well known. Already many village graveyards are
overcrowded, and it is becoming difficult to arrange for the future. From
a practical point of view there is really but little difficulty, because
the landlords in almost every instance are willing to give the necessary
ground. The contention arises in another form, which it would be out of
place to enter upon here. It will be sufficient to recall the fact that
such a question is approaching.

Rural sanitation, again, comes to the front day by day. The prevention of
overcrowding in cottages, the disposal of sewage, the supply of
water--these and similar matters press upon the attention of the
authorities. Out of consideration for the pockets of the ratepayers--many
of whom are of the poorest class--these things are perhaps rather shelved
than pushed forward; but it is impossible to avoid them altogether. Every
now and then something has to be done. Whatever takes place, of course the
landlord, as the central person, comes in for the chief share of the
burden. If the rates increase, on the one hand, the labourers complain
that their wages are not sufficient to pay them; and, on the other, the
tenants state that the pressure on the agriculturist is already as much as
he can sustain. The labourer expects the landlord to relieve him; the
tenant grumbles if he also is not relieved. Outside and beyond the
landlord's power as the owner of the soil, as magistrate and _ex-officio_
guardian, and so on, he cannot divest himself of a personal--a
family--influence, which at once gives him a leading position, and causes
everything to be expected of him. He must arbitrate here, persuade there,
compel yonder, conciliate everybody, and subscribe all round.

This was, perhaps, easy enough years ago, but it is now a very different
matter. No little diplomatic skill is needful to balance parties, and
preserve at least an outward peace in the parish. He has to note the
variations of public opinion, and avoid giving offence. In his official
capacity as magistrate the same difficulty arises. One of the most
delicate tasks that the magistracy have had set them of recent years has
been arbitrating between tenant and man--between, in effect, capital and
labour. That is not, of course, the legal, but it is the true, definition.
It is a most invidious position, and it speaks highly for the scrupulous
justice with which the law has been administered that a watchful and
jealous--a bitterly inimical party--ever ready, above all things, to
attempt a sensation--have not been able to detect a magistrate giving a
partial decision.

In cases which involve a question of wages or non-fulfilment of contract
it has often happened that a purely personal element has been introduced.
The labourer asserts that he has been unfairly treated, that implied
promises have been broken, perquisites withheld, and abuse lavished upon
him. On the opposite side, the master alleges that he has been made a
convenience--the man staying with him in winter, when his services were of
little use, and leaving in summer; that his neglect has caused injury to
accrue to cattle; that he has used bad language. Here is a conflict of
class against class--feeling against feeling. The point in dispute has, of
course, to be decided by evidence, but whichever way evidence leads the
magistrates to pronounce their verdict, it is distasteful. If the labourer
is victorious, he and his friends 'crow' over the farmers; and the farmer
himself grumbles that the landlords are afraid of the men, and will never
pronounce against them. If the reverse, the labourers cry out upon the
partiality of the magistrates, who favour each other's tenants. In both
cases the decision has been given according to law. But the knowledge that
this kind of feeling exists--that he is in reality arbitrating between
capital and labour--renders the resident landlord doubly careful what
steps he takes at home in his private capacity. He hardly knows which way
to turn when a question crops up, desiring, above all things, to preserve
peace.

It has been said that of late there has come into existence in the
political world 'a power behind Parliament.' Somewhat in the same sense it
may be said that the labourer has become a power behind the apparent
authorities of the rural community. Whether directly, or through the
discontented tenant, or by aid of the circles in cities who hold advanced
views, the labourer brings a pressure to bear upon almost every aspect of
country life. That pressure is not sufficient to break in pieces the
existing order of things; but it is sufficient to cause an unpleasant
tension. Should it increase, much of the peculiar attraction of country
life will be destroyed. Even hunting, which it would have been thought
every individual son of the soil would stand up for, is not allowed to
continue unchallenged. Displays of a most disagreeable spirit must be
fresh in the memories of all; and such instances have shown a disposition
to multiply. Besides the more public difficulties, there are also social
ones which beset the landowner. It is true that all of these do not
originate with the labourer, or even concern him, but he it dragged into
them to suit the convenience of others. 'Coquetting with a vote' is an art
tolerably well understood in these days; the labourer has not got a
nominal vote, yet he is the 'power behind,' and may be utilised.

There is another feature of modern rural life too marked to be ignored,
and that is the increased activity of the resident clergy. This energy is
exhibited by all alike, irrespective of opinion upon ecclesiastical
questions, and concerns an inquiry into the position, of the labourer,
because for the most part it is directed towards practical objects. It
shows itself in matters that have no direct bearing upon the Church, but
are connected with the everyday life of the people. It finds work to do
outside the precincts of the Church--beyond the walls of the building.
This work is of a nature that continually increases, and as it extends
becomes more laborious.

The parsonage is often an almost ideal presentment of peace and repose.
Trees cluster about it that in summer cast a pleasant shade, and in winter
the thick evergreen shrubberies shut out the noisy winds. Upon the one
side the green meadows go down to the brook, upon the other the cornfields
stretch away to the hills. Footpaths lead out into the wheat and beside
the hedge, where the wild flowers bloom--flowers to be lovingly studied,
food for many a day-dream. The village is out of sight in the hollow--all
is quiet and still, save for the song of the lark that drops from the sky.
The house is old, very old; the tiles dull coloured, the walls grey, the
calm dignity of age clings to it.

A place surely this for reverie--the abode of thought. But the man within
is busy--full of action. The edge of the great questions of the day has
reached the village, and he must be up and doing. He does not, indeed,
lift the latch of the cottage or the farmhouse door indiscreetly--not
unless aware that his presence will not be resented. He is anxious to
avoid irritating individual susceptibilities. But wherever people are
gathered together, be it for sport or be it in earnest, wherever a man may
go in open day, thither he goes, and with a set purpose beforehand makes
it felt that he is there. He does not remain a passive spectator in the
background, but comes as prominently to the front as is compatible with
due courtesy.

When the cloth is cleared at the ordinary in the market town, and the
farmers proceed to the business of their club, or chamber, he appears in
the doorway, and quietly takes a seat not far from the chair. If the
discussion be purely technical he says nothing; if it touch, as it
frequently does, upon social topics, such as those that arise out of
education, of the labour question, of the position of the farmer apart
from the mere ploughing and sowing, then he delivers his opinion. When the
local agricultural exhibition is proceeding and the annual dinner is held
he sits at the social board, and presently makes his speech. The village
benefit club holds its fête--he is there too, perhaps presiding at the
dinner, and addresses the assembled men. He takes part in the organisation
of the cottage flower show; exerts himself earnestly about the allotments
and the winter coal club, and endeavours to provide the younger people
with amusements that do not lead to evil--supporting cricket and such
games as may be played apart from gambling and liquor.

This is but the barest catalogue of his work; there is nothing that
arises, no part of the life of the village and the country side, to which
he does not set his hand. All this is apart from abstract theology.
Religion, of course, is in his heart; but he does not carry a list of
dogmas in his hand, rather keeping his own peculiar office in the
background, knowing that many of those with whom he mingles are members of
various sects. He is simply preaching the practical Christianity of
brotherhood and goodwill. It is a work that can never be finished, and
that is ever extending. His leading idea is not to check the inevitable
motion of the age, but to lone it.

He is not permitted to pursue this course unmolested; there are parties in
the village that silently oppose his every footstep. If the battle were
open it would be easier to win it, but it is concealed. The Church is not
often denounced from the housetop, but it is certainly denounced under the
roof. The poor and ignorant are instructed that the Church is their
greatest enemy, the upholder of tyranny, the instrument of their
subjection, synonymous with lowered wages and privation, more iniquitous
than the landowner. The clergyman is a Protestant Jesuit--a man of deepest
guile. The coal club, the cricket, the flower show, the allotments, the
village _fête_, everything in which he has a hand is simply an effort to
win the good will of the populace, to keep them quiet, lest they arise and
overthrow the property of the Church. The poor man has but a few shillings
a week, and the clergyman is the friend of the farmer, who reduces his
wages--the Church owns millions and millions sterling. How self-evident,
therefore, that the Church is the cottager's enemy!

See, too, how he is beautifying that church, restoring it, making it light
and pleasant to those who resort to it; see how he causes sweeter music
and singing, and puts new life into the service. This a lesson learnt from
the City of the Seven Hills--this is the mark of the Beast. But the
ultimate aim may be traced to the same base motive--the preservation of
that enormous property.

Another party is for pure secularism. This is not so numerously
represented, but has increased of recent years. From political motives
both of these silently oppose him. Nor are the poor and ignorant alone
among the ranks of his foes. There are some tenant-farmers among them, but
their attitude is not so coarsely antagonistic. They take no action
against, but they do not assist, him. So that, although, as he goes about
the parish, he is not greeted with hisses, the clergyman is full well
aware that his activity is a thorn in the side of many. They once
reproached him with a too prolonged reverie in the seclusion of the
parsonage; now they would gladly thrust him back again.

It may be urged, too, that all his efforts have not produced much visible
effect. The pews are no more crowded than formerly; in some cases the
absence of visible effect is said to be extremely disheartening. But the
fact is that it is yet early to expect much; neither must it be expected
in that direction. It is almost the first principle of science that
reaction is equal to action; it may be safely assumed, then, that after
awhile these labours will bear fruit. The tone of the rising generation
must perforce be softened and modified by them.

There exists at the present day a class that is morally apathetic. In
every village, in every hamlet, every detached group of cottages, there
are numbers of labouring men who are simply indifferent to church and to
chapel alike. They neither deny nor affirm the primary truths taught in
all places of worship; they are simply indifferent. Sunday comes and sees
them lounging about the cottage door. They do not drink to excess, they
are not more given to swearing than others, they are equally honest, and
are not of ill-repute. But the moral sense seems extinct--the very idea of
anything beyond gross earthly advantages never occurs to them. The days go
past, the wages are paid, the food is eaten, and there is all.

Looking at it from the purely philosophic point of view there is something
sad in this dull apathy. The most pronounced materialist has a faith in
some form of beauty--matter itself is capable of ideal shapes in his
conception. These people know no ideal. It seems impossible to reach them,
because there is no chord that will respond to the most skilful touch.
This class is very numerous now--a disheartening fact. Yet perhaps the
activity and energy of the clergyman may be ultimately destined to find
its reaction, to produce its effect among these very people. They may
slowly learn to appreciate tangible, practical work, though utterly
insensible to direct moral teaching and the finest eloquence of the
pulpit. Finding by degrees that he is really endeavouring to improve their
material existence, they may in time awake to a sense of something higher.

What is wanted is a perception of the truth that progress and civilisation
ought not to end with mere material--mechanical--comfort or wealth. A
cottager ought to learn that when the highest wages of the best paid
artisan are readied it is _not_ the greatest privilege of the man to throw
mutton chops to dogs and make piles of empty champagne bottles. It might
almost be said that one cause of the former extravagance and the recent
distress and turbulence of the working classes is the absence of an ideal
from their minds.

Besides this moral apathy, the cottager too often assumes an attitude
distinctly antagonistic to every species of authority, and particularly to
that _prestige_ hitherto attached to property. Each man is a law to
himself, and does that which seems good in his own eyes. He does not pause
to ask himself, What will my neighbour think of this? He simply thinks of
no one but himself, takes counsel of no one, and cares not what the result
may be. It is the same in little things as great. Respect for authority is
extinct. The modern progressive cottager is perfectly certain that he
knows as much as his immediate employer, the squire, and the parson put
together with the experience of the world at their back. He is now the
judge--the infallible authority himself. He is wiser far than all the
learned and the thoughtful, wiser than the prophets themselves. Priest,
politician, and philosopher must bow their heads and listen to the dictum
of the ploughman.

This feeling shows itself most strikingly in the disregard of property.
There used to be a certain tacit agreement among all men that those who
possessed capital, rank, or reputation should be treated with courtesy.
That courtesy did not imply that the landowner, the capitalist, or the
minister of religion, was necessarily in himself superior. But it did
imply that those who administered property really represented the general
order in which all were interested. So in a court of justice, all who
enter remove their hats, not out of servile adulation of the person in
authority, but from respect for the majesty of the law, which it is every
individual's interest to uphold. But now, metaphorically speaking, the
labourer removes his hat for no man. Whether in the case of a manufacturer
or of a tenant of a thousand-acre farm the thing is the same. The cottager
can scarcely nod his employer a common greeting in the morning. Courtesy
is no longer practised. The idea in the man's mind appears to be to
express contempt for big employer's property. It is an unpleasant symptom.

At present it is not, however, an active, but a passive force; a moral
_vis inertiae_. Here again the clergyman meets with a cold rebuff. No
eloquence, persuasion, personal influence even, can produce more than a
passing impression. But here again, perhaps, his practical activity may
bring about its reaction. In time the cottager will be compelled to admit
that, at least, coal club, benefit society, cricket, allotment, &c., have
done him no harm. In time he may even see that property and authority are
not always entirely selfish--that they may do good, and be worthy, at all
events, of courteous acknowledgment.

These two characteristics, moral apathy and contempt of property--i.e., of
social order--are probably exercising considerable influence in shaping
the labourer's future. Free of mental restraint, his own will must work
its way for good or evil. It is true that the rise or fall of wages may
check or hasten the development of that future. In either case it is not,
however, probable that he will return to the old grooves; indeed, the
grooves themselves are gone, and the logic of events must force him to
move onwards. That motion, in its turn, must affect the rest of the
community. Let the mind's eye glance for a moment over the country at
large. The villages among the hills, the villages on the plains, in the
valleys, and beside the streams represent in the aggregate an enormous
power. Separately such hamlets seem small and feeble--unable to impress
their will upon the world. But together they contain a vast crowd, which,
united, may shoulder itself an irresistible course, pushing aside all
obstacles by mere physical weight.

The effect of education has been, and seems likely to be, to supply a
certain unity of thought, if not of action, among these people. The solid
common sense--the law-abiding character of the majority--is sufficient
security against any violent movement. But how important it becomes that
that common sense should be strengthened against the assaults of an
insidious Socialism! A man's education does not come to an end when he
leaves school. He then just begins to form his opinions, and in nine cases
out of ten thinks what he hears and what he reads. Here, in the
agricultural labourer class, are many hundred thousand young men exactly
in this stage, educating themselves in moral, social, and political
opinion.

In short, the future literature of the labourer becomes a serious
question. He will think what he reads; and what he reads at the present
moment is of anything but an elevating character. He will think, too, what
he hears; and he hears much of an enticing but subversive political creed,
and little of any other. There are busy tongues earnestly teaching him to
despise property and social order, to suggest the overthrow of existing
institutions; there is scarcely any one to instruct him in the true lesson
of history. Who calls together an audience of agricultural labourers to
explain to and interest them in the story of their own country? There are
many who are only too anxious to use the agricultural labourer as the
means to effect ends which he scarcely understands. But there are few,
indeed, who are anxious to instruct him in science or literature for his
own sake.



CHAPTER XXVI



A WHEAT COUNTRY


The aspect of a corn-growing district in the colder months is perhaps more
dreary than that of any other country scene. It is winter made visible.
The very houses at the edge of the village stand out harsh and angular,
especially if modern and slated, for the old thatched cottages are not
without a curve in the line of the eaves. No trees or bushes shelter them
from the bitter wind that rushes across the plain, and, because of the
absence of trees round the outskirts, the village may be seen from a great
distance.

The wayfarer, as he approaches along the interminable road, that now rises
over a hill and now descends into a valley, observes it from afar, his
view uninterrupted by wood, but the vastness of the plain seems to shorten
his step, so that he barely gains on the receding roofs. The hedges by the
road are cropped--cut down mercilessly--and do not afford the slightest
protection against wind, or rain, or sleet. If he would pause awhile to
rest his weary limbs no friendly bush keeps off the chilling blast.
Yonder, half a mile in front, a waggon creeps up the hill, always just so
much ahead, never overtaken, or seeming to alter its position, whether he
walks slow or fast. The only apparent inhabitants of the solitude are the
larks that every now and then cross the road in small flocks. Above, the
sky is dull and gloomy; beneath, the earth, except, where some snow
lingers, is of a still darker tint. On the northern side the low mounds
are white with snow here and there. Mile after mile the open level fields
extend on either hand; now brown from the late passage of the plough, now
a pale yellow where the short stubble yet remains, divided by black lines;
the low-cropped hedges bare of leaves. A few small fir copses are
scattered about, the only relief to the eye; all else is level, dull,
monotonous.

When the village is reached at last, it is found to be of considerable
size. The population is much greater than might have been anticipated from
the desert-like solitude surrounding the place. In actual numbers, of
course, it will not bear comparison with manufacturing districts, but for
its situation, it is quite a little town. Compared with the villages
situate in the midst of great pastures--where grass is the all-important
crop--it is really populous. Almost all the inhabitants find employment in
the fields around, helping to produce wheat and barley, oats and roots. It
is a little city of the staff of life--a metropolis of the plough.

Every single house, from that of the landowner, through the rent; that of
the clergyman, through the tithe--down to the humblest cottage, is
directly interested in the crop of corn. The very children playing about
the gaps in the hedges are interested in it, for can they not go gleaning?
If the heralds had given the place a coat of arms it should bear a sheaf
of wheat. And the reason of its comparative populousness is to be found in
the wheat also. For the stubborn earth will not yield its riches without
severe and sustained labour. Instead of tickling it with a hoe, and
watching the golden harvest leap forth, scarifier and plough, harrow and
drill in almost ceaseless succession, compel the clods by sheer force of
iron to deliver up their treasure. In another form it is almost like the
quartz-crushing at the gold mines--the ore ground out from the solid rock.
And here, in addition, the ore has to be put into the rock first in the
shape of manure.

All this labour requires hands to do it, and so--the supply for some time,
at all events, answering the demand--the village teemed with men. In the
autumn comes the ploughing, the couch-picking and burning, often second
ploughing, the sowing by drill or hand, the threshing, &c. In the spring
will come more ploughing, sowing, harrowing, hoeing. Modern agriculture
has increased the labour done in the fields. Crops are arranged to succeed
crops, and each of these necessitates labour, and labour a second and a
third time. The work on arable land is never finished. A slackness there
is in the dead of winter; but even then there is still something
doing--some draining, some trimming of hedges, carting manure for open
field work. But beyond this there are the sheep in the pens to be attended
to as the important time of lambing approaches, and there are the horned
cattle in the stalls still fattening, and leaving, as they reach maturity,
for the butcher.

The arable agriculturist, indeed, has a double weight upon his mind. He
has money invested in the soil itself, seed lying awaiting the genial warm
rain that shall cause it to germinate, capital in every furrow traced by
the plough. He has money, on the other hand, in his stock, sheep, and
cattle. A double anxiety is his; first that his crops may prosper, next
that his stock may flourish. He requires men to labour in the field, men
to attend to the sheep, men to feed the bullocks; a crowd of labourers are
supported by him, with their wives and families. In addition to these he
needs other labour--the inanimate assistance of the steam-engine, and the
semi-intelligent co-operation of the horse. These, again, must be directed
by men. Thus it is that the corn village has become populous.

The original idea was that the introduction of machinery would reduce all
this labour. In point of fact, it has, if anything, increased it. The
steam-plough will not work itself; each of the two engines requires two
men to attend to it; one, and often two, ride on the plough itself;
another goes with the water-cart to feed the boiler: others with the
waggon for coal. The drill must have men--and experienced men--with it,
besides horses to draw it, and these again want men The threshing-machine
employs quite a little troop to feed it; and, turning to the stock in the
stalls, roots will not pulp or slice themselves, nor will water pump
itself up into the troughs, nor chaff cut itself. The chaff-cutter and
pump, and so on, all depend on human hands to keep them going. Such is but
a very brief outline of the innumerable ways in which arable agriculture
gives employment. So the labourer and the labourer's family flourish
exceedingly in the corn tillage. Wages rise; he waxes fat and strong and
masterful, thinking that he holds the farmer and the golden grain in the
hollow of his hand.

But now a cloud arises and casts its shadow over the cottage. If the
farmer depends upon his men, so do the men in equal degree depend upon the
farmer. This they overlooked, but are now learning again. The farmer, too,
is not independent and self-sustained, but is at the mercy of many
masters. The weather and the seasons are one master; the foreign producer
is another; the markets, which are further influenced by the condition of
trade at large, form a third master. He is, indeed, very much more in the
position of a servant than his labourer. Of late almost all these masters
have combined against the corn-growing farmer. Wheat is not only low but
seems likely to remain so. Foreign meat also competes with the dearly-made
meat of the stalls. The markets are dull and trade depressed everywhere.
Finally a fresh master starts up in the shape of the labourer himself, and
demands higher wages.

For some length of time the corn-grower puts a courageous face on the
difficulties which beset him, and struggles on, hoping for better days.
After awhile, however, seeing that his capital is diminishing, because he
has been, as it were, eating it, seeing that there is no prospect of
immediate relief, whatever may happen in the future, he is driven to one
of two courses. He must quit the occupation or he must reduce his
expenditure. He must not only ask the labourer to accept a reduction, but
he must, wherever practicable, avoid employing labour at all.

Now comes the pressure on the corn village. Much but not all of that
pressure the inhabitants have brought upon themselves through endeavouring
to squeeze the farmer too closely. If there had been no labour
organisation whatever when the arable agriculturist began to suffer, as he
undoubtedly has been suffering, the labourer must have felt it in his
turn. He has himself to blame if he has made the pain more acute. He finds
it in this way. Throughout the corn-producing district there has been
proceeding a gradual shrinkage, as it were, of speculative investment.
Where an agriculturist would have ploughed deeper, and placed extra
quantities of manure in the soil, with a view to an extra crop, he has,
instead, only just ploughed and cleaned and manured enough to keep things
going. Where he would have enlarged his flock of sheep, or added to the
cattle in the stalls, and carried as much stock as he possibly could, he
has barely filled the stalls, and bought but just enough cake and foods.
Just enough, indeed, of late has been his watchword all through--just
enough labour and no more.

This cutting down, stinting, and economy everywhere has told upon the
population of the village. The difference in the expenditure upon a
solitary farm may be but a trifle--a few pounds; but when some score or
more farms are taken, in the aggregate the decrease in the cash
transferred from the pocket of the agriculturist to that of the labourer
becomes something considerable. The same percentage on a hundred farms
would amount to a large sum. In this manner the fact of the corn-producing
farmer being out of spirits with his profession reacts upon the corn
village. There is no positive distress, but there is just a sense that
there are more hands about than necessary. Yet at the same moment there
are not hands enough; a paradox which may be explained in a measure by the
introduction of machinery.

As already stated, machinery in the field does not reduce the number of
men employed. But they are employed in a different way. The work all comes
now in rushes. By the aid of the reaping machine acres are levelled in a
day, and the cut corn demands the services of a crowd of men and women all
at once, to tie it up in sheaves. Should the self-binders come into
general use, and tie the wheat with wire or string at the moment of
cutting it, the matter of labour will be left much in the same stage. A
crowd of workpeople will be required all at once to pick up the sheaves,
or to cart them to the rick; and the difference will lie in this, that
while now the crowd are employed, say twelve hours, then they will be
employed only nine. Just the same number--perhaps more--but for less time.
Under the old system, a dozen men worked all the winter through, hammering
away with their flails in the barns. Now the threshing-machine arrives,
and the ricks are threshed in a few days. As many men are wanted (and at
double the wages) to feed the machine, to tend the 'elevator' carrying up
the straw to make the straw rick, to fetch water and coal for the engine,
to drive it, &c. But instead of working for so many months, this rush
lasts as many days.

Much the same thing happens all throughout arable agriculture--from the
hoeing to the threshing--a troop are wanted one day, scarcely anybody the
next. There is, of course, a steady undercurrent of continuous work for a
certain fixed number of hands; but over and above this are the periodical
calls for extra labour, which of recent years, from the high wages paid,
have been so profitable to the labourers. But when the agriculturist draws
in his investments, when he retrenches his expenditure, and endeavours, as
far as practicable, to confine it to his regular men, then the
intermittent character of the extra work puts a strain upon the rest. They
do not find so much to do, the pay is insensibly decreasing, and they
obtain, less casual employment meantime.

In the olden times a succession of bad harvests caused sufferings
throughout the whole of England. Somewhat in like manner, though in a
greatly modified degree, the difficulties of the arable agriculturist at
the present day press upon the corn villages. In a time when the
inhabitants saw the farmers, as they believed, flourishing and even
treading on the heels of the squire, the corn villagers, thinking that the
farmer was absolutely dependent upon them, led the van of the agitation
for high wages. Now, when the force of circumstances has compressed wages
again, they are both to submit. But discovering by slow degrees that no
organisation can compel, or create a demand for labour at any price, there
are now signs on the one hand of acquiescence, and on the other of partial
emigration.

Thus the comparative density of the population in arable districts is at
once a blessing and a trouble. It is not the 'pranks' of the farmers that
have caused emigration, or threats of it. The farmer is unable to pay high
wages, the men will not accept a moderate reduction, and the idle crowd,
in effect, tread on each other's heels. Pressure of that kind, and to that
extent, is limited to a few localities only. The majority have sufficient
common sense to see their error. But it is in arable districts that
agitation takes its extreme form. The very number of the population gives
any movement a vigour and emphasis that is wanting where there may be as
much discontent but fewer to exhibit it. That populousness has been in the
past of the greatest assistance to the agriculturist, and there is no
reason why it should not be so in the future, for it does not by any means
follow that because agriculture is at present depressed it will always be
so.

Let the months roll by and then approach the same village along the same
road under the summer sun. The hedges, though low, are green, and bear the
beautiful flowers of the wild convolvulus. Trees that were scarcely
observed before, because bare of leaves, now appear, and crowds of birds,
finches and sparrows, fly up from the corn. The black swifts wheel
overhead, and the white-breasted swallows float in the azure. Over the
broad plain extends a still broader roof of the purest blue--the landscape
is so open that the sky seems as broad again as in the enclosed
countries--wide, limitless, very much as it does at sea. On the rising
ground pause a moment and look round. Wheat and barley and oats stretch
mile after mile on either hand. Here the red wheat tinges the view, there
the whiter barley; but the prevailing hue is a light gold. Yonder green is
the swede, or turnip, or mangold; but frequent as are the fields of roots,
the golden tint overpowers the green. A golden sun looks down upon the
golden wheat--the winds are still and the heat broods over the corn. It is
pleasant to get under the scanty shadow of the stunted ash. Think what
wealth all that glorious beauty represents. Wealth to the rich man, wealth
to the poor.

Come again in a few weeks' time and look down upon it. The swarthy reapers
are at work. They bend to their labour till the tall corn overtops their
heads. Every now and then they rise up, and stand breast high among the
wheat. Every field is full of them, men and women, young lads and girls,
busy as they may be. Yonder the reaping-machine, with its strange-looking
arms revolving like the vast claws of an unearthly monster beating down
the grain, goes rapidly round and round in an ever-narrowing circle till
the last ears fall. A crowd has pounced upon the cut corn. Behind
them--behind the reapers--everywhere abroad on the great plain rises an
army, regiment behind regiment, the sheaves stacked in regular ranks down
the fields. Yet a little while, and over that immense expanse not one
single, solitary straw will be left standing. Then the green roots show
more strongly, and tint the landscape. Next come the waggons, and after
that the children searching for stray ears of wheat, for not one must be
left behind. After that, in the ploughing time, while yet the sun shines
warm, it is a sight to watch the teams from under the same ash tree,
returning from their labour in the afternoon. Six horses here, eight
horses there, twelve yonder, four far away; all in single file, slowly
walking home, and needing no order or touch of whip to direct their steps
to the well-known stables.

If any wish to see the work of farming in its full flush and vigour, let
them visit a corn district at the harvest time. Down in the village there
scarcely any one is left at home; every man, woman, and child is out in
the field. It is the day of prosperity, of continuous work for all, of
high wages. It is, then, easy to understand why corn villages are
populous. One cannot but feel the strongest sympathy with these men. The
scene altogether seems so thoroughly, so intensely English. The spirit of
it enters into the spectator, and he feels that he, too, must try his hand
at the reaping, and then slake his thirst from the same cup with these
bronzed sons of toil.

Yet what a difficult problem lies underneath all this! While the reaper
yonder slashes at the straw, huge ships are on the ocean rushing through
the foam to bring grain to the great cities to whom--and to all--cheap
bread is so inestimable a blessing. Very likely, when he pauses in his
work, and takes his luncheon, the crust he eats is made of flour ground
out of grain that grew in far distant Minnesota, or some vast Western
State. Perhaps at the same moment the farmer himself sits at his desk and
adds up figure after figure, calculating the cost of production, the
expenditure on labour, the price of manure put into the soil, the capital
invested in the steam-plough, and the cost of feeding the bullocks that
are already intended for the next Christmas. Against these he places the
market price of that wheat he can see being reaped from his window, and
the price he receives for his fattened bullock. Then a vision rises before
him of green meads and broad pastures slowly supplanting the corn; the
plough put away, and the scythe brought out and sharpened. If so, where
then will be the crowd of men and women yonder working in the wheat? Is
not this a great problem, one to be pondered over and not hastily
dismissed?

Logical conclusions do not always come to pass in practice; even yet there
is plenty of time for a change which shall retain these stalwart reapers
amongst us, the strength and pride of the land. But if so, it is certain
that it must be preceded by some earnest on their part of a desire to
remove that last straw from the farmer's back--the last straw of
extravagant labour demands--which have slowly been dragging him down. They
have been doing their very best to bring about the substitution of grass
for corn. And the farmer, too, perhaps, must look at home, and be content
to live in simpler fashion. To do so will certainly require no little
moral courage, for a prevalent social custom, like that of living fully up
to the income (not solely characteristic of farmers), is with difficulty
faced and overcome.



CHAPTER XXVII



GRASS COUNTRIES


On the ground beside the bramble bushes that project into the field the
grass is white with hoar frost at noon-day, when the rest of the meadow
has resumed its dull green winter tint. Behind the copse, too, there is a
broad belt of white--every place, indeed, that would be in the shadow were
the sun to shine forth is of that colour.

The eager hunter frowns with impatience, knowing that though the eaves of
the house may drip in the middle of the day, yet, while those white
patches show in the shelter of the bramble bushes the earth will be hard
and unyielding. His horse may clear the hedge, but how about the landing
on that iron-like surface? Every old hoof-mark in the sward, cut out sharp
and clear as if with a steel die, is so firm that the heaviest roller
would not produce the smallest effect upon it. At the gateways where the
passage of cattle has trodden away the turf, the mud, once almost
impassable, is now hardened, and every cloven hoof that pressed it has
left its mark as if cast in metal. Along the furrows the ice has fallen
in, and lies on the slope white and broken, the shallow water having dried
away beneath it. Dark hedges, dark trees--in the distance they look almost
black--nearer at hand the smallest branches devoid of leaves are clearly
defined against the sky.

As the northerly wind drifts the clouds before it the sun shines down, and
the dead, dry grass and the innumerable tufts of the 'leaze' which the
cattle have not eaten, take a dull grey hue. Sheltered from the blast
behind the thick, high hawthorn hedge and double mound, which is like a
rampart reared against Boreas, it is pleasant even now to stroll to and
fro in the sunshine. The longtailed titmice come along in parties of six
or eight, calling to each other as in turn they visit every tree. Turning
from watching these--see, a redbreast has perched on a branch barely two
yards distant, for, wherever you may be, there the robin comes and watches
you. Whether looking in summer at the roses in the garden, or waiting in
winter for the pheasant to break cover or the fox to steal forth, go where
you will, in a minute or two, a redbreast appears intent on your
proceedings.

Now comes a discordant squeaking of iron axles that have not been greased,
and the jolting sound of wheels passing over ruts whose edges are hard and
frost-bound. From the lane two manure carts enter the meadow in slow
procession, and, stopping at regular intervals, the men in charge take
long poles with hooks at the end and drag down a certain quantity of the
fertilising material. The sharp frost is so far an advantage to the tenant
of meadow land that he can cart manure without cutting and poaching the
turf, and even without changing the ordinary for the extra set of
broad-wheels on the cart. In the next meadow the hedge-cutters are busy,
their hands fenced with thick gloves to turn aside the thorns.

Near by are the hay-ricks and cow-pen where a metallic rattling sound
rises every now and then--the bull in the shed moving his neck and
dragging his chain through the ring. More than one of the hay-ricks have
been already half cut away, for the severe winter makes the cows hungry,
and if their yield of milk is to be kept up they must be well fed, so that
the foggers have plenty to do. If the dairy, as is most probably the case,
sends the milk to London, they have still more, because then a regular
supply has to be maintained, and for that a certain proportion of other
food has to be prepared in addition to the old-fashioned hay. The new
system, indeed, has led to the employment of more labour out-of-doors, if
less within. An extra fogger has to be put on, not only because of the
food, but because the milking has to be done in less time--with a
despatch, indeed, that would have seemed unnatural to the old folk.
Besides which the milk carts to and fro the railway station require
drivers, whose time--as they have to go some miles twice a day--is pretty
nearly occupied with their horses and milk tins. So much is this the case
that even in summer they can scarcely be spared to do a few hours
haymaking.

The new system, therefore, of selling the milk instead of making butter
and cheese is advantageous to the labourer by affording more employment in
grass districts. It is steady work, too, lasting the entire year round,
and well paid. The stock of cows in such cases is kept up to the very
highest that the land will carry, which, again, gives more work. Although
the closing of the cheese lofts and the superannuation of the churn has
reduced the number of female servants in the house, yet that is more than
balanced by the extra work without. The cottage families, it is true, lose
the buttermilk which some farmers used to allow them; but wages are
certainly better.

There has been, in fact, a general stir and movement in dairy districts
since the milk selling commenced, which has been favourable to labour. A
renewed life and energy has been visible on farms where for generations
things had gone on in the same sleepy manner. Efforts have been made to
extend the area available for feeding by grubbing hedges and cultivating
pieces of ground hitherto given over to thistles, rushes, and rough
grasses. Drains have been put in so that the stagnant water in the soil
might not cause the growth of those grasses which cattle will not touch.
Fresh seed has been sown, and 'rattles' and similar plants destructive to
the hay crop have been carefully eradicated. New gales, new carts, and
traps, all exhibit the same movement.

The cowyards in many districts were formerly in a very dilapidated
condition. The thatch of the sheds was all worn away, mossgrown, and bored
by the sparrows. Those in which the cows were placed at calving time were
mere dark holes. The floor of the yard was often soft, so that the hoofs
of the cattle trod deep into it--a perfect slough in wet weather. The cows
themselves were of a poor character, and in truth as poorly treated, for
the hay was made badly--carelessly harvested, and the grass itself not of
good quality--nor were the men always very humane, thinking little of
knocking the animals about.

Quite a change has come over all this. The cows now kept are much too
valuable to be treated roughly, being selected from shorthorn strains that
yield large quantities of milk. No farmer now would allow any such
knocking about. The hay itself is better, because the grass has been
improved, and it is also harvested carefully. Rickcloths prevent rain from
spoiling the rising rick, mowing machines, haymaking machines, and horse
rakes enable a spell of good weather to be taken advantage of, and the hay
got in quickly, instead of lying about till the rain returns. As for the
manure, it is recognised to be gold in another shape, and instead of being
trodden under foot by the cattle and washed away by the rain, it is
utilised. The yard is drained and stoned so as to be dry--a change that
effects a saving in litter, the value of which has greatly risen. Sheds
have been new thatched, and generally renovated, and even new roads laid
down across the farms, and properly macadamised, in order that the milk
carts might reach the highway without the straining and difficulty
consequent upon wheels sinking half up to the axles in winter.

In short, dairy farms have been swept and garnished, and even something
like science introduced upon them. The thermometer in summer is in
constant use to determine if the milk is sufficiently cooled to proceed
upon its journey. That cooling of the milk alone is a process that
requires more labour to carry it out. Artificial manures are spread abroad
on the pastures. The dairy farmer has to a considerable extent awakened to
the times, and, like the arable agriculturist, is endeavouring to bring
modern appliances to bear upon his business. To those who recollect the
old style of dairy farmer the change seems marvellous indeed. Nowhere was
the farmer more backward, more rude and primitive, than on the small dairy
farms. He was barely to be distinguished from the labourers, amongst whom
he worked shoulder to shoulder; he spoke with their broad accent, and his
ideas and theirs were nearly identical.

In ten years' time--just a short ten years only--what an alteration has
taken place! It is needless to say that this could not go on without the
spending of money, and the spending of money means the benefit of the
labouring class. New cottages have been erected, of course on modern
plans, so that many of the men are much better lodged than they were, and
live nearer to their work--a great consideration where cows are the main
object of attention. The men have to be on the farm very early in the
morning, and if they have a long walk it is a heavy drag upon them.
Perhaps the constant intercourse with the towns and stations resulting
from the double daily visit of the milk carts has quickened the minds of
the labourers thus employed. Whatever may be the cause, it is certain that
they do exhibit an improvement, and are much 'smarter' than they used to
be. It would be untrue to say that no troubles with the labourers have
arisen in meadow districts. There has been some friction about wages, but
not nearly approaching the agitation elsewhere. And when a recent
reduction of wages commenced, many of the men themselves admitted that it
was inevitable. But the average earnings throughout the year still
continue, and are likely to continue far above the old rate of payment.
Where special kinds of cheese are made the position of the labourer has
also improved.

Coming to the same district in summer time, the meadows have a beauty all
their own. The hedges are populous with birds, the trees lovely, the brook
green with flags, the luxuriantly-growing grass decked with flowers. Nor
has haymaking lost all its ancient charm. Though the old-fashioned sound
of the mower sharpening his scythe is less often heard, being superseded
by the continuous rattle of the mowing machine, yet the hay smells as
sweetly as ever. While the mowing machine, the haymaking machine, and
horse rake give the farmer the power of using the sunshine, when it comes,
to the best purpose, they are not without an effect upon the labouring
population.

Just as in corn districts, machinery has not reduced the actual number of
hands employed, but has made the work come in spells or rushes; so in the
meadows the haymaking is shortened. The farmer waits till good weather is
assured for a few days. Then on goes his mowing machine and levels the
crop of an entire field in no time. Immediately a whole crowd of labourers
are required for making the hay and getting it when ready on the waggons.
Under the old system the mowers usually got drunk about the third day of
sunshine, and the work came to a standstill. When it began to rain they
recovered themselves, and slashed away vigorously--when it was not wanted.
The effect of machinery has been much the same as on corn lands, with the
addition that fewer women are now employed in haymaking. Those that are
employed are much better paid.

The hamlets of grass districts are not, as a rule, at all populous. There
really are fewer people, and at the same time the impression is increased
by the scattered position of the dwellings. Instead of a great central
village there are three or four small hamlets a mile or two apart, and
solitary groups of cottages near farmhouses. One result of this is, that
allotment gardens are not so common, for the sufficient reason that, if a
field were set apart for the purpose, the tenants of the plots would have
to walk so far to the place that it would scarcely pay them. Gardens are
consequently attached to most cottages, and answer the same purpose; some
have small orchards as well.

The cottagers have also more firewood than is the case in some arable
districts on account of the immense quantity of wood annually cut in
copses and double-mound hedges. The rougher part becomes the labourers'
perquisite, and they can also purchase wood at a nominal rate from their
employers. This more than compensates for the absence of gleaning. In
addition, quantities of wood are collected from hedges and ditches and
under the trees--dead boughs that have fallen or been broken off by a
gale.

The aspect of a grazing district presents a general resemblance to that of
a dairy one, with the difference that in the grazing everything seems on a
larger scale. Instead of small meadows shut in with hedges and trees, the
grazing farms often comprise fields of immense extent; sometimes a single
pasture is as large as a small dairy farm. The herds of cattle are also
more numerous; of course they are of a different class, but, in mere
numbers, a grazier often has three times as many bullocks as a dairy
farmer has cows. The mounds are quite as thickly timbered as in dairy
districts, but as they are much farther apart, the landscape appears more
open.

To a spectator looking down upon mile after mile of such pasture land in
summer from an elevation it resembles a park of illimitable extent. Great
fields after great fields roll away to the horizon--groups of trees and
small copses dot the slopes--roan and black cattle stand in the sheltering
shadows. A dreamy haze hangs over the distant woods--all is large, open,
noble. It suggests a life of freedom--the gun and the saddle--and, indeed,
it is here that hunting is enjoyed in its full perfection. The labourer
falls almost out of sight in these vast pastures. The population is sparse
and scattered, the hamlets are few and far apart; even many of the
farmhouses being only occupied by bailiffs. In comparison with a dairy
farm there is little work to do. Cows have to be milked as well as
foddered, and the milk when obtained gives employment to many hands in the
various processes it goes through. Here the bullocks have simply to be fed
and watched, the sheep in like manner have to be tended. Except in the
haymaking season, therefore, there is scarcely ever a press for labour.
Those who are employed have steady, continuous work the year through, and
are for the most part men of experience in attending upon cattle, as
indeed they need be, seeing the value of the herds under their charge.

Although little direct agitation has taken place in pasture countries, yet
wages have equally risen. Pasture districts almost drop out of the labour
dispute. On the one hand the men are few, on the other the rise of a
shilling or so scarcely affects the farmer (so far as his grass land is
concerned, if he has much corn as well it is different), because of the
small number of labourers he wants.

The great utility of pasture is, of course, the comparatively cheap
production of meat, which goes to feed the population in cities. Numbers
of bullocks are fattened on corn land in stalls, but of late it has been
stated that the cost of feeding under such conditions is so high that
scarcely any profit can be obtained. The pasture farmer has by no means
escaped without encountering difficulties; but still, with tolerably
favourable seasons, he can produce meat much more cheaply than the arable
agriculturist. Yet it is one of the avowed objects of the labour
organisation to prevent the increase of pasture land, to stop the laying
down of grass, and even to plough up some of the old pastures. The reason
given is that corn land supports so many more agricultural labourers,
which is so far true; but if corn farming cannot be carried on profitably
without great reduction of the labour expenses the argument is not worth
much, while the narrowness of the view is at once evident. The proportion
of pasture to arable land must settle itself, and be governed entirely by
the same conditions that affect other trades--i.e.. profit and loss.

It has already been pointed out that the labourer finds it possible to
support the Union with small payments, and also to subscribe to
benefit-clubs. The fact suggests the idea that, if facilities were
afforded, the labourer would become a considerable depositor of pennies.
The Post-office Savings Banks have done much good, the drawback is that
the offices are often too distant from the labourer. There is an office in
the village, but not half the population live in the village. There are
far-away hamlets and things, besides lonely groups of three or four
farmhouses, to which a collective name can hardly be given, but which
employ a number of men. A rural parish is 'all abroad'--the people are
scattered. To go into the Post-office in the village may involve a walk of
several miles, and it is closed, too, on Saturday night when the men are
flush of money.

The great difficulty with penny banks on the other hand is the
receiver--who is to be responsible for the money? The clergyman would be
only too glad, but many will have nothing to do with anything under his
influence simply because he is the clergyman. The estrangement that has
been promoted between the labourer and the tenant farmer effectually shuts
the latter out. The landlord's agent cannot reside in fifty places at
once. The sums are too small to pay for a bank agent to reside in the
village and go round. There remain the men themselves; and why should not
they be trusted with the money? Men of their own class collect the Union
subscriptions, and faithfully pay them in.

Take the case of a little hamlet two, three, perhaps more miles from a
Post-office Savings Bank, where some thirty labourers  work on the farms.
Why should not these thirty elect one of their own number to receive their
savings over Saturday--to be paid in by him at the Post-office? There are
men among them who might be safely trusted with ten times the money, and
if the Post-office cannot be opened on Saturday evenings for him to
deposit it, it is quite certain that his employer would permit of his
absence, on one day, sufficiently long to go to the office and back. If
the men wish to be absolutely independent in the matter, all they have to
do is to work an extra hour for their agent's employer, and so compensate
for his temporary absence. If the men had it in their own hands like this
they would enter into it with far greater interest, and it would take root
among them. All that is required is the consent of the Post-office to
receive moneys so deposited, and some one to broach the idea to the men in
the various localities. The great recommendation of the Post-office is
that the labouring classes everywhere have come to feel implicit faith in
the safety of deposits made in it. They have a confidence in it that can
never be attained by a private enterprise, however benevolent, and it
should therefore be utilised to the utmost.

To gentlemen accustomed to receive a regular income, a small lump sum like
ten or twenty pounds appears a totally inadequate provision against old
age. They institute elaborate calculations by professed accountants, to
discover whether by any mode of investment a small subscription
proportionate to the labourer's wages can be made to provide him with an
annuity. The result is scarcely satisfactory. But, in fact, though an
annuity would be, of course, preferable, even so small a sum as ten or
twenty pounds is of the very highest value to an aged agricultural
labourer, especially when he has a cottage, if not his own property, yet
in which he has a right to reside. The neighbouring farmers, who have
known him from their own boyhood, are always ready to give him light jobs
whenever practicable. So that in tolerable weather he still earns
something. His own children do a little for him. In the dead of the winter
come a few weeks when he can do nothing, and feels the lack of small
comforts. It is just then that a couple of sovereigns out of a hoard of
twenty pounds will tide him over the interval.

It is difficult to convey an idea of the value of these two extra
sovereigns to a man of such frugal habits and in that position. None but
those who have mixed with the agricultural poor can understand it. Now the
wages that will hardly, by the most careful management, allow of the
gradual purchase of an annuity, will readily permit such savings as these.
It is simply a question of the money-box. When the child's money-box is at
hand the penny is dropped in, and the amount accumulates; if there is no
box handy it is spent in sweets. The same holds true of young and old
alike. If, then, the annuity cannot be arranged, let the money-box, at all
events, be brought nearer. And the money-box in which the poor man all
over the country has the most faith is the Post-office.



CHAPTER XXVIII



HODGE'S LAST MASTERS. CONCLUSION


After all the ploughing and the sowing, the hoeing and the harvest, comes
the miserable end. Strong as the labourer may be, thick-set and capable of
immense endurance; by slow degrees that strength must wear away. The limbs
totter, the back is bowed, the dimmed sight can no longer guide the plough
in a straight furrow, nor the weak hands wield the reaping-hook, Hodge,
who, Atlas-like, supported upon his shoulders the agricultural world,
comes in his old age under the dominion of his last masters at the
workhouse. There, indeed, he finds almost the whole array of his rulers
assembled. Tenant farmers sit as the guardians of the poor for their
respective parishes; the clergyman and the squire by virtue of their
office as magistrates; and the tradesman as guardian for the market town.
Here are representatives of almost all his masters, and it may seem to him
a little strange that it should require so many to govern such feeble
folk.

The board-room at the workhouse is a large and apparently comfortable
apartment. The fire is piled with glowing coals, the red light from which
gleams on the polished fender. A vast table occupies the centre, and
around it are arranged seats, for each of the guardians. The chairman is,
perhaps, a clergyman (and magistrate), who for years has maintained
something like peace between discordant elements. For the board-room is
often a battle-field where political or sectarian animosities exhibit
themselves in a rugged way. The clergyman, by force of character, has at
all events succeeded in moderating the personal asperity of the contending
parties. Many of the stout, elderly farmers who sit round the table have
been elected year after year, no one disputing with them that tedious and
thankless office. The clerk, always a solicitor, is also present, and his
opinion is continually required. Knotty points of law are for ever arising
over what seems so simple a matter as the grant of a dole of bread.

The business, indeed, of relieving the agricultural poor is no light
one--a dozen or fifteen gentlemen often sit here the whole day. The
routine of examining the relieving officers' books and receiving their
reports takes up at least two hours. Agricultural unions often include a
wide space of country, and getting from one village to another consumes as
much time as would be needed for the actual relief of a much denser
population. As a consequence, more relieving officers are employed than
would seem at first glance necessary. Each of these has his records to
present, and his accounts to be practically audited, a process naturally
interspersed with inquiries respecting cottagers known to the guardians
present.

Personal applications for out-door relief are then heard. A group of
intending applicants has been waiting in the porch for admission for some
time. Women come for their daughters; daughters for their mothers; some
want assistance during an approaching confinement, others ask for a small
loan, to be repaid by instalments, with which to tide over their
difficulties. One cottage woman is occasionally deputed by several of her
neighbours as their representative. The labourer or his wife stands before
the Board and makes a statement, supplemented by explanation from the
relieving officer of the district. Another hour thus passes. Incidentally
there arise cases of 'settlement' in distant parishes, when persons have
become chargeable whose place of residence was recently, perhaps, half
across the country. They have no parochial rights here and must be
returned thither, after due inquiries made by the clerk and the exchange
of considerable correspondence.

The master of the workhouse is now called in and delivers his weekly
report of the conduct of the inmates, and any events that have happened.
One inmate, an ancient labourer, died that morning in the infirmary, not
many hours before the meeting of the Board. The announcement is received
with regretful exclamations, and there is a cessation of business for a
few minutes. Some of the old farmers who knew the deceased recount their
connection with him, how he worked for them, and how his family has lived
in the parish as cottagers from time immemorial. A reminiscence of a grim
joke that fell out forty years before, and of which the deceased was the
butt, causes a grave smile, and then to business again. The master
possibly asks permission to punish a refractory inmate; punishment is now
very sparingly given in the house. A good many cases, however, come up
from the Board to the magisterial Bench--charges of tearing up clothing,
fighting, damaging property, or of neglecting to maintain, or to repay
relief advanced on loan. These cases are, of course, conducted by the
clerk.

There is sometimes a report, to be read by one of the doctors who receive
salaries from the Board and attend to the various districts, and
occasionally some nuisance to be considered and order taken for its
compulsory removal on sanitary grounds. The question of sanitation is
becoming rather a difficult one in agricultural unions.

After this the various committees of the Board have to give in the result
of their deliberations, and the representative of the ladies' boarding-out
committee presents a record of the work accomplished. These various
committees at times are burdened with the most onerous labours, for upon
them falls the duty of verifying all the petty details of management.
Every pound of soap, or candles, scrubbing-brushes, and similar domestic
items, pass under their inspection, not only the payments for them, but
the actual articles, or samples of them, being examined. Tenders for
grocery, bread, wines and spirits for cases of illness, meat, coals, and
so forth are opened and compared, vouchers, bills, receipts, invoices, and
so forth checked and audited.

The amount of detail thus attended to is something immense, and the
accuracy required occupies hour after hour. There are whole libraries of
account-books, ledgers, red-bound relief-books, stowed away, pile upon
pile, in the house; archives going back to the opening of the
establishment, and from which any trifling relief given or expenditure
inclined years ago can be extracted. Such another carefully-administered
institution it would be hard to find; nor is any proposed innovation or
change adopted without the fullest discussion--it may be the suggested
erection of additional premises, or the introduction of some fresh feature
of the system, or some novel instructions sent down by the Local
Government Board.

When such matters or principles are to be discussed there is certain to be
a full gathering of the guardians and a trial of strength between the
parties. Those who habitually neglect to attend, leaving the hard labour
of administration to be borne by their colleagues, now appear in numbers,
and the board-room is crowded, many squires otherwise seldom seen coming
in to give their votes. It is as much as the chairman can do to assuage
the storm and to maintain an approach to personal politeness. Quiet as the
country appears to the casual observer, there are, nevertheless, strong
feelings under the surface, and at such gatherings the long-cherished
animosities burst forth.

Nothing at all events is done in a corner; everything is openly discussed
and investigated. Every week the visiting committee go round the house,
and enter every ward and store-room. They taste and test the provisions,
and the least shortcoming is certain to be severely brought home to those
who are fulfilling the contracts. They pass through the dormitories, and
see that everything is clean; woe betide those responsible if a spot of
dirt be visible! There is the further check of casual and unexpected
visits from the guardians or magistrates. It is probable that not one
crumb of bread consumed is otherwise than good, and that not one single
crumb is wasted. The waste is in the system--and a gigantic waste it is,
whether inevitable as some contend, or capable of being superseded by a
different plan.

Of every hundred pounds paid by the ratepayers how much is absorbed in the
maintenance of the institution and its ramifications, and how very little
reaches poor deserving Hodge! The undeserving and mean-spirited, of whom
there are plenty in every village, who endeavour to live upon the parish,
receive relief thrice as long and to thrice the amount as the
hard-working, honest labourer, who keeps out to the very last moment. It
is not the fault of the guardians, but of the rigidity of the law. Surely
a larger amount of discretionary power might be vested in them with
advantage! Some exceptional consideration is the just due of men who have
worked from the morn to the very eve of life.

The labourer whose decease was reported to the Board upon their assembling
was born some seventy-eight or seventy-nine years ago. The exact date is
uncertain; many of the old men can only fix their age by events that
happened when they were growing from boys into manhood. That it must have
been nearer eighty than seventy years since is known, however, to the
elderly farmers, who recollect him as a man with a family when they were
young. The thatched cottage stood beside the road at one end of a long,
narrow garden, enclosed from the highway by a hedge of elder. At the back
there was a ditch and mound with elm-trees, and green meadows beyond. A
few poles used to lean against the thatch, their tops rising above the
ridge, and close by was a stack of thorn faggots. In the garden three or
four aged and mossgrown apple-trees stood among the little plots of
potatoes, and as many plum-trees in the elder hedge. One tall pear-tree
with scored bark grew near the end of the cottage; it bore a large crop of
pears, which were often admired by the people who came along the road, but
were really hard and woody. As a child he played in the ditch and hedge,
or crept through into the meadow and searched in the spring for violets to
offer to the passers-by; or he swung on the gate in the lane and held it
open for the farmers in their gigs, in hope of a halfpenny.

As a lad he went forth with his father to work in the fields, and came
home to the cabbage boiled for the evening meal. It was not a very roomy
or commodious home to return to after so many hours in the field, exposed
to rain and wind, to snow, or summer sun. The stones of the floor were
uneven, and did not fit at the edges. There was a beam across the low
ceiling, to avoid which, as he grew older, he had to bow his head when
crossing the apartment. A wooden ladder, or steps, not a staircase proper,
behind the whitewashed partition, led to the bedroom. The steps were
worm-eaten and worn. In the sitting-room the narrow panes of the small
window were so overgrown with woodbine as to admit but little light. But
in summer the door was wide open, and the light and the soft air came in.
The thick walls and thatch kept it warm and cosy in winter, when they
gathered round the fire. Every day in his manhood he went out to the
field; every item, as it were, of life centred in that little cottage. In
time he came to occupy it with his own wife, and his children in their
turn crept through the hedge, or swung upon the gate. They grew up, and
one by one went away, till at last he was left alone.

He had not taken much conscious note of the changing aspect of the scene
around him. The violets flowered year after year; still he went to plough.
The May bloomed and scented the hedges; still he went to his work. The
green summer foliage became brown and the acorns fell from the oaks; still
he laboured on, and saw the ice and snow, and heard the wind roar in the
old familiar trees without much thought of it. But those old familiar
trees, the particular hedges he had worked among so many years, the very
turf of the meadows over which he had walked so many times, the view down
the road from the garden gate, the distant sign-post and the red-bricked
farmhouse--all these things had become part of his life. There was no hope
nor joy left to him, but he wanted to stay on among them to the end. He
liked to ridge up his little plot of potatoes; he liked to creep up his
ladder and mend the thatch of his cottage; he liked to cut himself a
cabbage, and to gather the one small basketful of apples. There was a kind
of dull pleasure in cropping the elder hedge, and even in collecting the
dead branches scattered under the trees. To be about the hedges, in the
meadows, and along the brooks was necessary to him, and he liked to be at
work.

Three score and ten did not seem the limit of his working days; he still
could and would hoe--a bowed back is no impediment, but perhaps rather an
advantage, at that occupation. He could use a prong in the haymaking; he
could reap a little, and do good service tying up the cut corn. There were
many little jobs on the farm that required experience, combined with the
plodding patience of age, and these he could do better than a stronger
man. The years went round again, and yet he worked. Indeed, the farther
back a man's birth dates in the beginning of the present century the more
he seems determined to labour. He worked on till every member of his
family had gone, most to their last home, and still went out at times when
the weather was not too severe. He worked on, and pottered round the
garden, and watched the young green plums swelling on his trees, and did a
bit of gleaning, and thought the wheat would weigh bad when it was
threshed out.

Presently people began to bestir themselves, and to ask whether there was
no one to take care of the old man, who might die from age and none near.
Where were his own friends and relations? One strong son had enlisted and
gone to India, and though his time had expired long ago, nothing had ever
been heard of him. Another son had emigrated to Australia, and once sent
back a present of money, and a message, written for him by a friend, that
he was doing well. But of late, he, too, had dropped out of sight. Of
three daughters who grew up, two were known to be dead, and the third was
believed to be in New Zealand. The old man was quite alone. He had no hope
and no joy, yet he was almost happy in a slow unfeeling way wandering
about the garden and the cottage. But in the winter his half-frozen blood
refused to circulate, his sinews would not move his willing limbs, and he
could not work.

His case came before the Board of Guardians. Those who knew all about him
wished to give him substantial relief in his own cottage, and to appoint
some aged woman as nurse--a thing that is occasionally done, and most
humanely. But there were technical difficulties in the way; the cottage
was either his own or partly his own, and relief could not be given to any
one possessed of 'property' Just then, too, there was a great movement
against, out-door relief; official circulars came round warning Boards to
curtail it, and much fuss was made. In the result the old man was driven
into the workhouse; muttering and grumbling, he had to be bodily carried
to the trap, and thus by physical force was dragged from his home. In the
workhouse there is of necessity a dead level of monotony--there are many
persons but no individuals. The dining-hall is crossed with forms and
narrow tables, somewhat resembling those formerly used in schools. On
these at dinner-time are placed a tin mug and a tin soup-plate for each
person; every mug and every plate exactly alike. When the unfortunates
have taken their places, the master pronounces grace from an elevated desk
at the end of the hall.

Plain as is the fare, it was better than the old man had existed on for
years; but though better it was not his dinner. He was not sitting in his
old chair, at his own old table, round which his children had once
gathered. He had not planted the cabbage, and tended it while it grew, and
cut it himself. So it was, all through the workhouse life. The dormitories
were clean, but the ward was not his old bedroom up the worm-eaten steps,
with the slanting ceiling, where as he woke in the morning he could hear
the sparrows chirping, the chaffinch calling, and the lark singing aloft.
There was a garden attached to the workhouse, where he could do a little
if he liked, but it was not his garden. He missed his plum-trees and
apples, and the tall pear, and the lowly elder hedge. He looked round
raising his head with difficulty, and he could not see the sign-post, nor
the familiar red-bricked farmhouse. He knew all the rain that had fallen
must have come through the thatch of the old cottage in at least one
place, and he would have liked to have gone and rethatched it with
trembling hand. At home he could lift the latch of the garden gate and go
down the road when he wished. Here he could not go outside the
boundary--it was against the regulations. Everything to appearance had
been monotonous in the cottage--but there he did not feel it monotonous.

At the workhouse the monotony weighed upon him. He used to think as he lay
awake in bed that when the spring came nothing should keep him in this
place. He would take his discharge and go out, and borrow a hoe from
somebody, and go and do a bit of work again, and be about in the fields.
That was his one hope all through his first winter. Nothing else enlivened
it, except an occasional little present of tobacco from the guardians who
knew him. The spring came, but the rain was ceaseless. No work of the kind
he could do was possible in such weather. Still there was the summer, but
the summer was no improvement; in the autumn he felt weak, and was not
able to walk far. The chance for which he had waited had gone. Again the
winter came, and he now rapidly grew more feeble.

When once an aged man gives up, it seems strange at first that he should
be so utterly helpless. In the infirmary the real benefit of the workhouse
reached him. The food, the little luxuries, the attention were far
superior to anything he could possibly have had at home. But still it was
not home. The windows did not permit him from his bed to see the leafless
trees or the dark woods and distant hills. Left to himself, it is certain
that of choice he would have crawled under a rick, or into a hedge, if he
could not have reached his cottage.

The end came very slowly; he ceased to exist by imperceptible degrees,
like an oak-tree. He remained for days in a semi-unconscious state,
neither moving nor speaking. It happened at last. In the grey of the
winter dawn, as the stars paled and the whitened grass was stiff with hoar
frost, and the rime coated every branch of the tall elms, as the milker
came from the pen and the young ploughboy whistled down the road to his
work, the spirit of the aged man departed.

What amount of production did that old man's life of labour represent?
What value must be put upon the service of the son that fought in India;
of the son that worked in Australia; of the daughter in New Zealand, whose
children will help to build up a new nation? These things surely have
their value. Hodge died, and the very grave-digger grumbled as he delved
through the earth hard-bound in the iron frost, for it jarred his hand and
might break his spade. The low mound will soon be level, and the place of
his burial shall not be known.





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