Hodge and His Masters
Richard Jefferies

Part 1 out of 6





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


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

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

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.


































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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



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

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

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

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

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.



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

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

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

'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.'



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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



'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 _entree_ 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 facade 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

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


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