Hodge and His Masters
Richard Jefferies

Part 3 out of 6

stray curl allowed to wander from its stern bands, nature rigidly
repressed, decorum--'Society'--in every flounce and trimming. You feel
that you have committed a solecism coming on foot, and so carrying the
soil on your boots from the fields without into so elegant an apartment
Visitors are obviously expected to arrive on wheels, and in correct trim
for company. A remark about the crops falls on barren ground; a question
concerning the dairy, ignorantly hazarded, is received with so much
_hauteur_ that at last you see such subjects are considered vulgar. Then a
touch of the bell, and decanters of port and sherry are produced and our
wine presented to you on an electro salver together with sweet biscuits.
It is the correct thing to sip one glass and eat one biscuit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Who to?' she asks eagerly.

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

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

'He has plenty of money,' suggests Jack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Full Books