Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE PARK AND THE PADDOCK. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
THE PARK AND THE PADDOCK. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Printed by William Clowes, Duke-street, Lambeth.
THE PARK AND THE PADDOCK.
PRIDE OF PATRIMONY.
The inhabitants of the town of A— were divided in opinion as to whether they ought to be thankful or not for the new road having been brought within a quarter of a mile of their market-place. There were traditions, in the memories of the old people, of their town having once been a place of considerable importance; and a few vestiges of such importance remained to gratify the pride, and fill up the spare hours of two or three antiquarians within its bounds. The old people and these antiquarians agreed in trembling for the fate of their beloved carved gateways and projecting fronts of houses, amidst the brick edifices which were springing up in the neighbourhood, and the new incentives to improvement which had arisen; but they granted that every townsman ought to wish for the increase of his native place in consequence and wealth. There were some who already began to look contemptuously on the streets of low, rambling houses, amidst which their days had been passed, and to expend all their love and admiration on the new inn which flared upon the scarce-finished road, and the sets of red “lodges,” “villas,” and “cottages,” which stood in patches on the western outskirts of the town. The builders of the place, of course, spoke much in praise of improvement, and those whose house-property stood in the half empty streets on the eastern side of A— had no less to say against innovation. There was little dispute, meanwhile, on one point: that the town had always suffered from its being in the centre of a fine sporting country. The dwellings of the gentry were, almost without exception, situated at some distance among the moors or the fells. Even the physicians’ and lawyers’ houses stood by themselves—in gardens or surrounded by walls—in emulation of the mansions and shooting-boxes which might be seen from the church tower; so that this church tower, and the blue slates of a few meeting-houses rose from amidst a congregation of tradesmen’s dwellings. The large old inn, the Turk’s Head, was almost the only handsome house of any respectable age. The town was thought to suffer much in the estimation of strangers from this deficiency; and the inhabitants became the more sensible of it, the more strangers were brought to cast a passing glance upon the place from the new road, or to make a note of what they saw from the balcony of the modern inn, the Navarino, while waiting for horses.
A party of strangers arrived one day, whose opinion of the town was of some consequence, as it might determine or prevent their residence in the neighbourhood. They did not stop either at the Turk’s Head or at the Navarino, but only for two minutes to inquire for the steward of Fellbrow Park, who was found to have preceded the party to their destination. News had circulated for some days past of the arrival of a letter from young Mr. Cranston, declaring his intention of coming to throw open the house, and to examine the estate which had been deserted by his father for many years before his death. The steward was desired not to draw a nail from the gates; and to make no further preparation for the arrival of the heir than having workmen ready to open a way for him into his own court-yard.
Mr. Cranston, the elder, had taken a disgust to this abode, and quitted it on the death of his lady, sixteen years ago. Before he drove away, carrying with him his three little boys and his infant daughter, he superintended the extraordinary ceremony of nailing iron plates over the gates of the court-yard, and took effectual care that no part of the old-fashioned wall which surrounded the house should be left in a state to tempt foot to climb, or eye to look over it. His last charge to his steward had been to see that not a tree was planted or felled,—not so much as a weed pulled up, till further orders. The fish were to be undisturbed in their ponds, and the game in their covers. All the servants left behind were to be sinecurists till a change of policy or of administration should arrive. Till the news of Mr. Cranston’s death, all these directions had been complied with, except in as far as certain instances of connivance might be regarded as breach of orders. If a few aged neighbours were seen now and then helping themselves with firewood from the thickets, and a youth might be descried from afar stealing towards the ponds, or the gamekeeper occasionally found certain of his charge fluttering in springes, no notice was taken, and no remorse followed, as it was decided that both ponds and covers remained as much overstocked as the owner could possibly desire. The first change of management took place when the approach of young Mr. Cranston was announced. The steward was grieved at the thought that the heir should see his estate in so desolate a condition, and took the liberty,—not to fell trees,—but to clear away underwood, and weed and new-gravel the walks which led from the entrance of the park to the house. A little mowing of the grass, and trimming of some patches near the house which were once flower-beds, further improved the aspect of the place, so as to destroy all anticipation of what the family was likely to see within doors.
When the carriages stopped at the park entrance, the steward appeared to pay his respects, and suggest that immediate orders should be sent to one or other of the inns, to provide that accommodation which it was impossible the house should afford. He must venture also to say that the young lady would not find the place fit for her to enter. It would really be better that she should not proceed this afternoon.
Mr. Cranston had been,—not stretched out at length, for no carriage could thus accommodate his length of limb,—but leaning back, reading, till the last moment. He seemed sorry to be roused, even by his arrival at his own estate, and to be greeted by his own steward.
“What do you think, Fanny?” said he to his sister, who was just emerging from a reverie beside him. “Perhaps you had better go back to the inn with Mrs. Day and Maynard till to-morrow.”
Mrs. Day, the respectable elderly personage who had never been exactly Fanny’s nurse, and was now far from being her governess, ventured to say from her corner of the carriage that she really could not think of Fanny’s proceeding to the house till she knew that it had been properly aired. She had been asking, for a week past, what measures had been taken for this end; and could learn nothing that satisfied her that Fanny could go anywhere to-night but to the inn.
Fanny, meanwhile, had given orders to drive on; and before Mrs. Day had done speaking, the carriage was rolling on the gravel within the gates. If Richard had put away his book, and sat upright in preparation for what was approaching, it was not to be expected that she should turn back, she declared.
The phaeton which her brother James was driving had passed the carriage during the consultation with the steward; and Wallace, the youngest of the three brothers, might now be seen pointing out certain things that he perceived in the grass, and in the neighbouring coppice. James flourished his whip, and quickened the pace of his steeds. Their mirth communicated itself to Fanny, and she sprang forward with an exclamation of joy when the next turn of the road disclosed a splendid view, bathed in the sunshine of a bright autumnal afternoon. Mrs. Day had never been more out of love with these wild young people, (as she sometimes called them,) than at the present moment. She did not expect that they should remember the place, or her whose death had occasioned their quitting it; but she really thought that they might show themselves more sensible of what had happened there. Some thought of their parents might be suggested by the scene, which should sober their spirits a little. But she never saw anything like the spirits of these young people. So far from their father having subdued them, it seemed as if he had left them his wildness without his fits of melancholy. Perhaps it was hardly fair to expect that the children of such a parent should be like other people.
The steward, on his grey pony, had trotted past the carriage; and he was now collecting the workmen and their tools in preparation for Mr. Cranston’s order to throw open the gates.
“Come, Richard, you must get out,” cried Wallace, who had alighted from the phaeton. “We are only waiting for you.”
The knocking began. Mrs. Day could not bear it. Every blow went to her heart. She wandered away, thick and damp as was the grass, till she turned an angle of the wall where the noise was deadened, and she was out of sight of the rest of the party. There was a strange mingling of sounds. The high wall of rock which rose on the other side of the stream, to which the lawn sloped down before her, sent back an echo of the workmen’s blows. The rooks were disturbed, and rose from the high trees in a cloud, to add their hoarse music to the din. Daws came fluttering out of the nest of chimneys which was visible above the wall, and pigeons appeared upon the roof, rustling and flapping their wings in prodigious perturbation. Laughter (it was Wallace’s laugh) mingled strangely with the other sounds; and Mrs. Day decided in her own mind that Mr. Cranston, who was never wanting in proper feeling, ought to check such unseasonable mirth. She presently saw that Mr. Cranston was not at hand to interpose such a check. While she had wandered round one way, Fanny and her eldest brother had taken the other, and they might now be seen,—Richard standing in his usual lazy attitude, and Fanny exploring the beds where all the flowers of the garden seemed to have grown into a tangled thicket. Mrs. Day found her pronouncing that such a beautiful spot for a garden was never so wasted before, and that this unaccountable wall round the house must be immediately thrown down, that the coppice, the stream, and the opposite rocks might be seen. Richard listened with an air of resignation, and hoped that James would think his living near enough to allow of his remaining at Fellbrow till all the alterations were completed. Richard would heartily thank anybody who would take the trouble off his hands.
“O, yes; and let you sleep till noon; till the sun is warm enough to let you sit down there by the waterside, reading till dinner; and then let you lounge on the sofa till tea, and then read or listen to us all the evening. That is the life you would like to lead this autumn,” said Fanny.
“Just so,” Richard agreed, looking round to see if there was no seat at hand. The rotten remains of one were just distinguishable among the rank grass, under a moss-grown tree; but there was no hope that it would support Richard’s lazy length.
A shout, and then a screech, with a final clang, now told that the gates would open and shut, and that Richard was wanted. His brothers were in the yard when he joined them, both breast-high in thistles. They would not hear of their sister being kept back by this cause. They carried her through,—or rather over, this wilderness of weeds, and placed her on the steps of the door. They offered to perform the same service for Mrs. Day, but she once more turned away, almost without answering. Fanny thought this the most curious-looking old house she had ever seen, and, in spite of the desolation of its present aspect, she could not help enjoying the romantic prospect which began to open upon her of the kind of life she might lead here. These lattice windows,—so many and so small,—were made to be gently opened, in greeting to the rising moon. That carved wooden seat beside the door should be restored for the sake of the wandering merchant who might wish to open his pack before the eyes of the lady of the house. Those broad eaves were made for the swallows to build under.—When she entered the hall, what a sight was there!
“O, Wallace, stop! Do stand still a minute,” cried she, as Wallace strode before her, dealing destruction right and left among the cobwebs. Never were such cobwebs seen; and it was difficult to imagine what the spiders could be that wove them. They hung like flimsy curtains from the ceiling to the floor, and, as the newly-admitted air waved them in the yellow sunshine which burst in at the door (the windows being wholly obscured by dust) they exhibited a texture of such beauty as it indeed required some resolution to destroy. Wallace would not, however, submit to a long detention. Parting at the stroke of his switch, the delicate fabrics fell, forming a dusty tapestry for the walls.
“Do but look!” cried Wallace, when he had made his way first into the library. “Grass grown to seed on the mantel-piece! Where the deuce did the seed and the soil come from?”
As one and another entered the room, new wonders became apparent. Fanny was surprised to see the shelves full of books. She looked close to see what they were, and was startled by meeting a pair of bright eyes where a space was left between the volumes.
“It is—yes, it is a stuffed owl,” said she to Richard. “But what an odd place to hide it in!”
“A stuffed owl!” cried Wallace, coming up: “we will soon see that;” and he touched the creature with the end of his switch; in answer to which salutation it ruffled its speckled plumage, pecked angrily, and then burst away in the direction of a window which was now perceived to be broken. James decreed that this room should be appropriated to Fanny, and that she should never more be known by any other name than Minerva. Seated here, with her owl and her books, she could never say a foolish thing again.
The young lady was not long in doing something which, in most young ladies, would be called foolish. She kneeled on the stained carpet to draw out a volume or two of the row of mouldy folios next the floor. She was fortunate in finding another curiosity.
“Look, look, Richard! Leave those globes alone, and come here. Here is a skeleton of something. What is it, Wallace? A rabbit? It looks like a rabbit; but there can be no rabbits in this place. That is right; take away the next volume, and the next.” Wallace was doing this, under pretence of wanting more light; for he was vexed at not being able to pronounce in a moment what animal this was the skeleton of.
“How curious! how very pretty!” continued Fanny; “spun all over with cobwebs, and fastened to the wall with cobwebs! But what animal can it be? Something that crouches.”
“Ah, ha!” cried Wallace; “now I see. It is a cat. Here is the skeleton of a rat a little way before it. Plainly a rat, you see, which could get no farther between the books and the wall: this great Josephus stopped it.”
“And it dared not go back for fear of the cat; and the cat could not quite reach it. But what prevented the cat’s going back? Oh, it had forced its way in too far; and the more it crouched, the broader its back would be. How it must have longed to get at the rat! If the rat had had any generosity, it would have gone back and given itself up. It was not jammed, but only barred in behind and before; and when it was certain not to escape, it might as well have been eaten as starved.”
“Perhaps it hoped to be released,” observed James.
“I am sure that cat did, if, as I believe, it is the same that I used to take care of and torment,” said Richard. “I plagued the poor thing terribly, I have no doubt; but she never mewed but I answered her. How she must have wondered what had become of me! How piteously she must have cried for me, while she was starving to death here! One touch of mine to those books would have given her her prey and her liberty. Bring her out, Wallace, and the rat too; I shall have them taken care off.”
“I think James had better make a sermon about them,” Fanny observed; “something about malice, or greediness, and what comes of them.”
“There is matter for many sermons in this room,” observed Richard gravely. The steward touched his hat at this remark, and was uncovered from that moment.
The apartments in which no windows were broken were in better condition, though it was at first difficult to breathe in them, and the green stains on the wall forbade Fanny to hope to be immediately established there. Three westerly rooms,—one of which was the drawing-room,—were in better condition than any others, and it was decided that upon these should the science and art of the tradespeople of A— be first employed.
“Come, come, Fanny, you have been here long enough for to-day,” said Richard. “Do go down before you are quite chilled or suffocated.” Fanny declared herself in no danger of either the one or the other calamity. She was at the moment looking abroad upon the park at her feet, and the mountainous range behind, and feared nothing so much as this being pronounced an unfit residence for her, and her return to London insisted upon. She waited anxiously for the reply to the steward’s question,—
“What do you think of the place, sir? Have you any idea of living in it, now you see what it is?”
“O yes, if you have people at hand who can set it to rights, and if—”
His brothers understood the contortion of his long form, and laughed.
“And if,” said they, “anybody will be master instead of you. Leave it to us.”
Wallace would enjoy nothing so much as such an excuse for making the most of a fine sporting season; and James had no objection to go backwards and forwards between Fellbrow and his new living,—taking what sport he could get at the one place, and perhaps amusing himself with building a house at the other.
“As for the quality of the tradespeople, sir,” said the steward, “you will be better off than if you had happened to come a while ago. Among other things that the new road has brought us, sir, is a number of better workmen than we had before. Some of the old folks, who cannot give up their custom of doing their work as slow as they please, and charging what they like, are apt to stand grumbling at their doors, with their hands in their pockets. But what you have to do with, sir, is the new-comers, in the new part of the town, who will be glad of the opportunity of keeping a-head in the competition, and doing your work out of hand.”
“I had rather employ the old ones who used to work for my father, if they will bestir themselves to serve me properly.”
“I doubt they won’t, sir; and I would not have you think yourself under obligation to employ them. They have made, and are making, provision enough for themselves out of your property already.”
What could this mean? The gentlemen must ask Morse. Morse, the gamekeeper? Then it was meant that the tradesmen and work-people of A— were poachers. But which? It could not surely be meant that glaziers and carpenters, shoemakers and chimney-sweepers, made any hand of poaching. The steward supposed time would show what sort of men the gangs were composed of. This much he knew; that the people he alluded to spoke of the falling off of their business for the sake of new-comers, and of the weight of their taxation, as if they thought it justified their laying hands on a property which they did not consider as a property; which was the case with game all over the world.
Wallace threatened to rectify the notions of the people of A— as to property very speedily, if they ventured to interfere with the present or future sport of himself and his brothers. James, meanwhile, was hoping that the poachers had not, at any time, found the way to the cellars. If the carpets were left on the floors to rot, and the books on the shelves to grow mouldy, it would be very hard that there should be no wine in the cellars to ripen. He proposed that a descent should be effected for purposes of search, and that a supply of any which might be found should be sent to the inn, as it was scarcely likely that wine of a good quality could be met with there. The steward had a word to say in favour of the wine at the Turk’s Head; but added, that he knew the cellars under their feet to be well-stocked, both with ale and wines, which must now be in fine order.
Mrs. Day had more thoughts about the levity of young people when she saw how the family issued from the old mansion, after their first greeting of it. The clergyman seemed to be taking equal care about the conveyance of his sister and some crusted port; and Wallace was vociferating for glasses, as he was bent on trying the ale upon the spot. The steward was nearly as grave as herself; but for him there was the comfort of having employment, and the countenance and encouragement of a master once more. He was relieved from the misery of seeing the property going to ruin; and, after all, as he comforted himself with saying, let these young men be as wild as they will, they can never be so eccentric as their poor father,—at least, not if they had the least touch of their mother in them.
Whatever the steward might have to say in favour of the new workmen of A— over the old, he did not wish the preference to apply in the case of a choice of innkeepers. His old acquaintance, Pritchard, of the Turk’s Head, was warmly patronised by him, in opposition to the upstart at the Navarino, who, with all his show of balconies and a splendid furnishing of his bar, treated his guests with sour wines and cold rooms.
As might be supposed, so rare a party of inmates was indulged with all the luxury that Pritchard could afford. In hopes of diverting them from their intention of taking their sister for a little tour among the lakes while a corner of the house at Fellbrow was being prepared for her, the host of the Turk’s Head took care that she should be worshipped as if she had been a rich ward on her way to Gretna. Every time she moved, the entire household seemed to start to anticipate her wishes. She was made so comfortable at the inn, and she so thoroughly enjoyed the beauties of the park and neighbourhood of Fellbrow, that there was little fear that she would desire to go to the lakes, or anywhere else, while awaiting her reception in what she wished to be her future home. The only circumstance that annoyed her was the notice she excited in the town, or at least in the neighbourhood of the inn. Pritchard shook his head over this, as over a grievance which could only be lamented, when any one could have told that his bragging, and his complacency, and his confidences had given the Cranstons half the consequence which caused them to be watched through shop-windows, way-laid by loungers, and talked over by gossips. A large portion of the remaining half might be ascribed to the extraordinary accession of goods, chattels, and followers which they brought into the place.
The half-deserted street in which Mrs. Barton, the perfumer, lived had not afforded such a sight for many a day as might now be witnessed morning and evening. Maynard, Miss Cranston’s old serving-man, took the young lady’s spaniel out for an airing twice a day; and all the inhabitants who remained in the neighbourhood soon learned to watch for the approach of the curious pair,—the prim beau, with his pig-tail hanging down his back, and the animal, no less spruce in its jacket of the finest flannel, tied with blue ribbons.
“Miss Biggs!—do make haste, Miss Biggs!” cried Mrs. Barton to her shopwoman. “Did you ever see such a fine head for powder as the old gentleman has? Quite one of the old school, I will answer for it;—the school for manners, as I say.”
Miss Biggs smiled sweetly as Maynard came up the street, and pronounced the phenomenon charming. She had not a very distinct idea of what the old school was; for while Mrs. Barton was always praising it, and might therefore be supposed a pupil, she was, in dress, of the very newest school she could get any tidings of, and, in manners, of no school but her own. She had one scholar in Miss Biggs, who had, by this time, learned to hang her head as far to the left as her mistress to the right. She had not Mrs. Barton’s prime requisite—an extremely wide mouth—for smiling; but she did not fall behind her in drawling and universal sympathy.
“It is really a privilege,” said Mrs. Barton, withdrawing her head from between two glasses of wash-balls, “to see such a fine old relic of Church and King, which always has my vote.”
“And mine, I am sure: I am always for Church and King,” replied Miss Biggs. “So different, you see, ma’am, from the upstarts, with not a grain in their hair, that come to the new inn, and are gone! Do you think, ma’am, we shall have the gentleman’s custom for powder? Perhaps if—”
Mrs. Barton was already sailing round the counter, and she reached the door in time to prepare a deep curtsey for Maynard. The old man looked behind him, to make sure that the obeisance was meant for him, and then took off his hat, and offered a bow of the last century. Mrs. Barton did not leave him long uncertain whether he was to pass on or stay. Might she presume to hope that self-love was to be flattered by the stranger’s approbation of the old town?
“Dear ma’am,” interposed Miss Biggs, “how can we expect that strangers should feel as we do towards our old town? Is it reasonable, dear ma’am?”
All were ready to agree in this; but Maynard protested that it was not a town to be despised. He admired enthusiasm in behalf of one’s native place—
O! how good he was to say so!
And independent of this, he saw much to admire in A—. The church-tower was a great ornament; and the market-place was remarkable for a town of the size. He was sorry to see so many shops shut up in this quarter; and that red-brick meeting-house—
“Ah! there—there, sir, you touch a tender point. Our dissenters,—I am ashamed to say it, I assure you,—our dissenters are so—O, dear sir! You cannot think what a weight it is upon our minds,—upon loyal minds, sir, that espouse Church and King.”
“O, sir!” added Miss Biggs, “I hope Church and King is your motto. I am sure you must be loyal.”
Maynard flattered himself that he was so; and he had been put to a pretty strong trial on that head,—so much as he had been in France.
“In France!—in that land of rebellion and conflagration, and blasphemy!” Mrs. Barton shuddered, and Miss Biggs followed her example. They begged pardon,—they did not mean to hurt his feelings,—but, if they set foot in that place, they should expect a judgment to overtake them before they could get back again.
Perhaps so; unless they went in the way of duty, the old gentleman said: but he went in the way of duty,—in the service of his young lady; notwithstanding which, he was very glad to get back again. He had had an idea, before he went, that he should find everybody wearing powder; but, if it used to be so, it was not so now.
Mrs. Barton had once found herself in a precisely similar mistake, which Miss Biggs allowed to be very remarkable. When our gentry began to return after the war, there was really very little more hair-powder issued from her shop than before. She had looked forward to this as a set-off, if Miss Biggs remembered, against the increase of rent which her landlord clapped on in proportion as people came home to live. Heaven knew she was loyal in her heart, and ready to assist the war as long as his Majesty chose to fight; but she could not but feel that she had borne her full share. She had renewed her lease at a higher rent, in the prospect of more custom, and then found that the tax on hair-powder,—a tax laid on to help the war,—had put people off wearing hair-powder!
“And your rent was not low, during the war, I dare say, ma’am. Though you let it be raised afterwards, I dare say it was high enough before. You like these times of low rents much better, I don’t doubt.”
“Better!” cried the ladies, looking piteously at each other.
“Why, let me see. There are a great many empty houses in this street, ma’am. House rent cannot be high here, though you are in the neighbourhood of the market.”
“But my lease, dear sir. Ah! there is the point, you see. When my lease was renewed, this street was the great thoroughfare of the town. It is untold the traffic there was,—it is indescribable the gentlemen’s carriages that used to pass my door, before people went out of their minds, as I say, about the new inn, and all the building that has gone on in that quarter.”
“For my part, I have never countenanced such doings,” said Miss Biggs, “going so far as to take my walk the other way on Sundays. To build new houses, when such as these that you see are standing—but the rage for building exceeds everything.”
“That came of the high rents,” said Maynard. “There was too much building by far, in most places.”
“And the new road. O! the opening of that new road! I shall never forget it. And my lease with six years to run from that very day.”
“It was a bad speculation, indeed, ma’am. Speculators in leases should take care—”
Mrs. Barton looked full of woe at being called a speculator. She had the testimony of her conscience that she did not deserve it.
“I mean no offence, I assure you, ma’am,” continued Maynard. “I mean no more than that every tenant who takes a lease is a speculator. If you agree to pay so much rent, and be answerable for so much tax, for fourteen years, and the tax happens to be presently taken off—”
The bare idea seemed to afford rapture.
“Your bargain turns out a good one; and the same if the neighbourhood improves, so as to render your situation a more desirable one than it was before. Your case, you say, is the reverse. Rent and tax remain as they were, and the neighbourhood is less desirable than it was; and so I say it is a bad speculation to you. ’Tis a pity you can’t take up your house, and carry it to the new road, and set it down there.”
Maynard was easily convinced how clever he should be thought, if he could put the ladies in the way of doing this. Such a very capital idea! the ladies thought it, till told that it was not original;—that in America such a thing had been heard of and seen as the removal of a dwelling on wheels.
The speculation was followed out;—how charming it must be to the owner of the house to be able to put it where it would be sure of bringing a good rent till it was worn out, instead of placing it, as now, where there was no certainty of how much or how little it would be in request twenty years hence.—How charming it would be to the tenant to have the power of wheeling himself into any position he liked, or of obtaining a reduction of rent in case of the desired ground being preoccupied! (for in those circumstances, rent would be precisely proportioned to the advantages of the locality.) How charming, lastly, to the government, to receive the house-tax in a steady proportion which none could dispute: for no house-tax could then be collected unless it were lowered ad valorem. No one who could move away would stay in a poor situation, to pay a tax as high as had been imposed in a favourable locality. Equity would be the order of the day, Mrs. Barton decided, if houses went on wheels; and landlords, tenants, and assessors might be all loyal and harmonious together.—Miss Biggs put her head out at the door to take a survey of the solid front of the dwelling, while her mistress tried the stability of the foundations with her toe. There was little hope that this house could be set upon wheels. The house would be even more difficult to shift than the lease.
Mrs. Barton next declared herself liable to nearly as much sorrow for her neighbours’ afflictions as for her own; during which announcement her companion smiled with arch amiability at Maynard. Mr. Pritchard, at the Turk’s Head, paid prodigiously in the articles of rent and taxes; and how he had suffered from his Navarino rival could only be known to those who had been formerly accustomed to see the sporting gentry throng to his inn at this season. He was once proud of the consequence of his inn, as shown by the charges it had to bear; but now, he talked very differently, poor man, about such charges. He had been heard to say, more than once lately, a thing—a fact—something which he would hardly say to the young gentlemen who were now occupying his best apartments.—What could this be?—After much pressing on the one side, and “Shall I, Miss Biggs?” on the other, it appeared that Pritchard complained of his house having been for years taxed nearly three times as much as Fellbrow itself. No one could believe it, as Mrs. Barton had told the complainant. It was impossible that any one could credit it.
“I can, ma’am,” said Maynard. “I heard a good deal of that matter in London; and I dare say some of the same ridiculous confusion and partiality,—or I should rather say inequality,—may exist in this place. But, halloo, what comes here? Please to let me in, ladies. If you will let me in, and shut the door—I never could abide these packs of those animals,—a very different thing from carrying one quiet little creature like this. There! look how it hugs me, at the very hearing and sight of the pack! Now we shall do!”
Mrs. Barton rejoiced in such an opportunity for hospitality. She became suddenly remarkably afraid of a pack of harriers, and took care that the door was fastened as securely as if harriers had been especially addicted to eating and drinking pomatum and lavender water. Miss Biggs kneeled to the spaniel, and coaxed it till sent by a sign from her mistress to bring a little glass of fine cordial for their guest, whom they declared they should keep fast prisoner till all danger of encountering that dreadful pack of dogs was past. There was an upper window from which their progress could be traced for some distance; and the cook was called from cooking the “little rasher” to take her station at this watch-post. Maynard had so much to say about his young master’s love of sport, and his young mistress’s virtues and graces, and the wealth of them all, that there was little chance of the spaniel having its usual airing this morning. The inventory of Mr. Cranston’s dogs, with the necessary comments, consumed as much time as would have carried Fanny’s favourite a couple of miles on the moor.
The pack and the huntsman were not without their admirers, meanwhile. Among the many who looked knowingly or joyously on them, none were more emphatic than Mr. Taplin,—the lawyer, as he was called before he failed,—the assessor, as he had been generally named since his friends had procured him the appointment. What a fine set of new subjects for assessment had he in this family of the Cranstons! How many servants and carriages! Armorial bearings, of course; and here was the huntsman; and besides this pack, there were Mr. James’s pointers, and Miss Cranston’s spaniel, and the fine terrier of Mr. Wallace. Then there were horses in abundance on the road, he understood. It was a pity the house and window duties could not be made more suitable in amount to such a mansion as that at Fellbrow. He must try, for the sake of justice, as well as of his own pocket, to contrive an increase. He trusted that such wealthy and high-spirited young men would not be troublesome as to the amount of tax they were to pay,—either for their habitations or their pleasures.
He stood watching the picturesque group for some time after it had reached the Paddock,—a place well known to every sporting gentleman who passed through A—. The Paddock was the residence of a noted horse-dealer; and Swallow, the tenant, had had the honour of welcoming to his stables almost every man of note in his particular line in the kingdom. Many a characteristic group might be seen in the shadow of his spacious gateway. Many an honoured voice might be heard in oath or laughter from his range of stables; and many a hero of the field had trod the grass of the ample paddock in the rear. The thresher in Mr. Whitford’s barn sometimes laid aside his flail to watch the curiously-coated and hatted gentry who were let into the sacred enclosure; and the thresher’s son, a shepherd-boy on the sheep-walk above, stood to wonder at the friskiness of the fine animals in Swallow’s field.
Swallow was not sorry that the dogs had come by this road, as it was of importance to him to establish a friendly intercourse with Mr. Cranston’s huntsman; but the present moment was not exactly that which he would have chosen for their arrival. Half an hour later would have been better. A van, on its way to London, was at the door. It could not wait; and certain packages must be put into it whose contents could scarcely fail to be guessed by the huntsman, any more than by the gamekeeper. It was provoking that the girls were out. They would have got the packages in at the back of the van very cleverly, while he was amusing the huntsman with a glass of liquor and conversation. He must try whether George could take the hint.
George was less quick at taking a hint than he would have been if he had not been accustomed to depend much on his sisters. He was not ashamed of being excelled by them, and, in a manner, taken care of by them, they having, as he always said, each a double mind, with which his single one could not pretend to compete. These girls were twins, and more perfectly alike in mind (if possible) than in form and feature. Their brother, still a rough and sadly careless boy, laughed at them, was proud of them, and depended upon them. The book which every horse-dealer is by law obliged to keep open to the inspection of the assessor was left in George’s charge by his father, who had him educated sufficiently to qualify him for making the necessary entries of sales. George was perpetually warned of the heavy penalties to which his father would be liable if the due entries were not made, if the book was not always kept open to the observation of the assessor, and regularly delivered in, every quarter, for examination and discharge; but it is probable that his father would more than once have been compelled to disburse the penalty, if Anne and Sarah had not been on the watch to guard against his carelessness. It was indeed a pity that they were absent now. George was so busy forming friendships with the dogs that his father’s coughs and winks were disregarded; and package after package was brought out and left within sight and scent, while room was being made for each in the van. In vain did Swallow interpose his broad shoulders and offer snuff. The huntsman was mounted, and could see what was passing in the rear; and he was moreover not to be persuaded to take a pinch. Swallow saw that his new acquaintance had picked up a notion at the Paddock which would not be long in reaching the owner of the Fellbrow preserves.
George’s mind had risen a flight too high to be brought down this morning by usual influences. He was off with the harriers, in the midst, and almost as fleet as any of them, before his father’s angry voice roused his ear. He looked back a moment, saw the assessor entering the gateway, supposed his father would find the book if it was wanted, and immediately heard nothing more than the greetings of the dogs.
“There is no knowing now,” growled his father, “when we shall get the lad back again. He had rather kennel with the dogs than come home to his business, any day of the year.—The book! O, it is at your service, I don’t doubt.—Let me see: where can the boy have hid it? My family are all out, you see, sir. If it is equally convenient, I will send one of them with the book, this afternoon.”
“Show it me now, Swallow. I don’t call this keeping the book open for my inspection at all times. Make haste, and find it, if you please. Your boy is not the only one of the family, I fancy, who has the taste you describe,—for sport rather than business. Hey, Swallow? But you will remember the gentlemen are on the spot now, and take care of yourself, I suppose. Remember they are on the spot, I advise you.”
“It would be rather hard to forget it,” replied the horse-dealer; “so many shows as they have brought into this quiet place. There is not a soul in A— but is watching them from morning till night,—except, indeed, the people (and they are not few) that are swarming about the Fellbrow house, like bees building their comb. Here’s the book, sir; and when I have added the sale I made half-an-hour ago—”
While Swallow was laboriously scrawling his two lines, the assessor walked off. There was no room for talk of penalties in his department this day. He would come again when all the Mr. Cranstons’ riding-horses should have arrived, and would want to be discussed. Swallow looked after Mr. Taplin, saying to himself, “Fine talk that, of my taking care of myself against the gentlemen, when he himself is in as deep as any of us! If he threatens me, I can bid him look to his own share.”
October was not half gone before a sufficient portion of the Fellbrow house was made habitable to accommodate the family. Fanny’s rapture was great when the ugly high wall was in process of being demolished, to give place to the light fence which would not exclude such a view as her eyes desired to rest upon as long as the sun was above the horizon. These October mornings were glorious. One especially, when the whole family were anxious for fine weather, equalled any that she had enjoyed in a southern climate. It was to be a morning of fishing,—the first regular fishing party since their arrival; and Fanny was at her window before the rich hues of the sunrise had melted from the northern mountain tops, or the white frost evaporated from the unsunned lawn. The face of the limestone rocks opposite was grey in the shadow, and the stream below was yet black as if it had no bottom; but the rays were abroad which would soon make it gleam at every bend, and paint in it the reflection of the autumn leaves that yet danced above it when the breeze sported in the overhanging coppice on the hither side. Some of the loftiest trees in the park already began to be lighted up; and on a green platform of the retiring rocks, the blue roofs of a little hamlet glistened in the gush of sunshine poured upon them through the chasm which brought the waters from the heights to the cisterns at the doors of the inhabitants. Already might the hind be distinguished, pacing forth warily from the thicket, and looking from side to side, while her fawn bounded past her, breast-high in the hoar grass. Already might the shepherd and his dog be distinguished on the faint track of the sheep-walk, now driving their scudding flock, and now letting them disperse themselves over the upland. Already were lively voices heard below the window, and already were busy hands making a picturesque display of nets and wicker baskets on the grass. Never was there a lovelier morning seen; and Fanny’s spirits were braced to their highest pitch when she threw open her lattice,—(how much more willingly than she would have thrown up the sash!) and sent a greeting down to her brother James who was talking with one of the men.
“Who is going to ride?” she asked, seeing that a groom was leading a saddled horse. “Who wants Diamond this morning, James?”
“I do. Ah! it is a great plague that anybody should want to be buried this morning, of all mornings. But I put the people off before, and I cannot do it again. I can get it over, with what else I have to do, before you have finished your sport, if you will only make me sure where I may find you. That is what I am settling now; and then I am off.”
“But what else have you to do? A marriage or two, perhaps?”
“Very likely; and three or four more funerals. They find they must make the most of me when they can catch me. But the business I mean is, looking about to see where I shall build my house. You ought to be with me for that. If your mare was but here, I would make you give up the fishing for to-day, and ride over with me.”
“I will do that when you know there is to be a wedding or two. The little brides will not object to my seeing them married, I dare say; and I should like to make acquaintance with these mountain brides that you used to talk so finely about before—”
“Before I saw them:—before I knew how confoundedly they would come in the way of sport. I have seen none yet that it would be worth your while to ride seven miles to make acquaintance with. I don’t see how they are better than the Easter-Monday brides in Birmingham, in tawdry shawls and flying ribbons. If they have not such gay shawls, they are ten times more dull and silly: so, if you mean to keep your romance about them, you must keep your distance too. Good-bye: only be so good as not to leave Moystarn before two, unless you see me sooner. I’ll make Diamond do his duty this morning. Good-bye.”
Diamond had no other inclination than to do his duty. Once having cleared the park, he brought all the little children out of the cottages by the sound of his firm and rapid trot on the hard road. Their mothers curtseyed at the doors and windows, inspired with an equal respect for the handsome rider and his sleek steed; and the labourers turned round from their work on the fences and in the fields to smile the vacant smile with which they honoured passengers who took their fancy. It was not Diamond’s fault that he was urged on so nearly over a child as to be obliged to bolt to avoid the sin of manslaughter. It was not his fault that he could not, before he reached the brook, slacken his speed sufficiently to avoid splashing the fair horsewomen who were crossing at the time. For this last offence he received a more severe punishment from his master than for any preceding. The flogging was so vigorous, and Diamond’s resentment of it so strong, that he bolted once more into the water, and there made a splashing which sent the ripples of the clear stream in chase of one another, high and low. The boy on the foot bridge shrank from the wetting, and the horsewomen retired right and left to watch the issue. Each patted her pony’s neck; each laughed as Diamond turned round and round; each prepared to use the switch, when her own pony began to exhibit signs of restlessness. James was so far struck with this amidst his contest with Diamond, that he looked curiously at the pair when he came up finally out of the brook. He was as much amused as surprised at what he beheld. No twins that he had ever seen could compare with these for likeness. It was not only the colour of the eyes and of the hair, and the frame of the features; much less the perfect similarity of their dress, and of the animals they rode. The glance was the very same, revealing an identity of mind. They were now side by side, and he perceived that every touch of the rein was the same. Smiles came and went as if from one heart; and yet they did not look at each other, except to agree which should utter the words that were on the tongues of both. If they had been less pretty than they were, James could not have pushed on his way as before. His curiosity was so amused, that he laughed without restraint; and could scarcely repent having done so when he saw the blush and confused gravity of each little face which filled up its close straw bonnet.
“That boy is like you, though less like than you are to each other,” observed James. “I suppose he is your brother?”
“Yes, sir; our brother George. People think him most like father.”
“And you most like your mother? Your mother must be a very pretty woman. Is not she?”
There was no answer. The girls were too busy trying to help laughing. In order to find out whether this arose from the mother being otherwise than pretty, or from the daughters liking to be complimented, James went on to praise their riding. They took this as a matter of course, having been in the habit of riding almost as regularly as of dining, all their lives. How could they contrive rides for every day?
“We have always some place that we must go to, especially at this time of the year; and sometimes it is a weary round before we can get home. We are going one of our longest rides to-day.”
“To some market, I should have thought, if your pack-saddles had not been empty. Why do you use empty pack-saddles?”
“They will not be empty long, sir. Anne has begun to load her’s, you see.”
“So her name is Anne. What is your’s? Sarah? Very well; I shall know Anne from Sarah by her having a load on her pack-saddle. Pray do your parents know you from each other?”
“Dear, yes, Sir! except just in the twilight.”
“Yet your voices are the same. I would give a crown-piece to know whether one voice ever gets above the other,—whether you ever quarrel. I do not see how you can well help it; for you must often want the same thing at the same time—something that you cannot both have.”
What sort of thing did he mean? Almost everything that could not be divided might be used by them together.
“And do you always wish the same thing, and think the same thing?”
“We do presently, if we don’t directly. Good-bye, sir; we are going down this lane to the farm-house.”
“But you will have to come out upon this road again: there is no other path away from that farm-house. I shall go with you.”
“You must not; they will not want you. We shall not stay two minutes.”
“Then I shall wait for you.”
“Oh, thank you, sir! We will make haste. George has run on already, you see: he goes no farther than here; so we can get on faster than we have been going.”
“Stop! Why should you both go? There is George to take care of one. Anne, do you stay with me, and let the empty saddle go down the lane.”
Left alone with Anne, the gentleman began to animate her with praises of her native district. She agreed that it was a pretty part to ride in for pleasure. She supposed the gentleman rode for pleasure.
“Not exactly so to-day, though I do not pretend that my ride is not a very pleasant one just now. I am going to bury a child. Yes: you need not look so shocked; I did not say I was going to kill a child. You would have children buried when they die, would not you?”
“Yes, sir; but we did not know that you were a clergyman;” and she looked as if she had thoughts of dismounting to make a curtsey.
“O yes, I am a clergyman; and besides burying a child a good deal younger than you, perhaps I may have to marry a girl very little older than you.”
“That will be Catherine Scott, perhaps,” observed Anne; “she was eighteen last July. Do you think she will be married to-day, sir? I think she might have told us, however.”
“You had better ride on with me, and take her by surprise. Come, give your pony the switch a little. Never mind Sarah,” seeing her look back; “she will overtake us presently. Her saddle is not loaded, you know.”
Anne shook her head: Sarah was not in sight; and the faithful twin evidently meditated turning back. If the gentleman would go forward, she said, and not keep the family waiting for the burial, Sarah and she might come up in time to see the marriage, if it should be Catherine Scott’s. James muttered something about being late, and gave her pony such a cut with his whip as sent the animal forward at a rate that Sarah was scarcely likely to surpass; and, by keeping half a length in the rear, he sustained the pony’s panic, and baffled all the damsel’s attempts to check its speed. This lasted till they came within sight of a row of cottages, at the door of one of which was a funeral train, just beginning to form. It would not do, even James perceived, for the mourners to see him galloping to the churchyard in a race with a country girl. He turned her horse, as well as his own, into a field, and then stopped to laugh. In answer to Anne’s reproaches, he declared that he only wanted to make her do something unlike her sister for once. He rode between her and the gate of the field, saying that, before she went, she must tell him whether she did not think this field the very place to build a house upon. If she would only look up at the view to the north, and measure with her eye the distance from the church—
“There’s Sarah!” cried Anne, cleverly wheeling her pony round, and effecting her escape. She was off, like an arrow from a bow; and Sarah might be seen hastening hitherward over a heath, about a mile and a half distant.
“They will come together point-blank, like knights in a single combat,” thought James. “I must be there to pick them up, if they are unhorsed. I must find a gap in the fence, lower down, that these people about the cottages may not be scandalized. I must behave well to-day, when once I have seen what those girls are doing.”
When met, they were pacing side by side, looking equally offended. James could scarcely appear as penitent as he intended, so infinitely amused was he at the perfect resemblance of the twins being preserved and made more striking amidst their change of mood. If Anne looked heated by her violent exercise, Sarah was not less so through fear and resentment. Both glanced away from him; neither would turn the head when he spoke. The tendency to ponder the ground was rather the strongest in Anne: as she had lost out of her glove the sixpence she had brought to pay the turnpike. What turnpike?—where was it? Half a mile beyond the church.—Oh! that would do very well. If they would go on, and wait for him there, he would come to them when his service was done, and take their opinion about where he should build his house, and then Anne should not be left behind for want of a sixpence: they would proceed all together. He heard Anne say to her sister that he would serve her the same trick that he had played Sarah, and that she did not believe he had any child to bury, nor any such thing.
“Only come on and see, Miss Anne,” said he. “You shall get into the grave yourself, if you like, to make sure; only I suppose you would not go in without your sister. But, really now, if you will help me to settle where I shall build my house, I will help you with your business afterwards, if you will only tell me what it is.”
And he looked narrowly at the sacks with which the saddles were provided.
“Picking up poultry,” the girls replied, “to send to London by the van.”
“Poultry! I shall begin to listen for a cock-a-doodle-doo, such as once kept me awake all the way to London, when I went in a stage-coach. Shall we have a cock-a-doodle-doo presently?”
“We take the poultry up dead.”
“Ah! dead. Now, does this belong to a chicken, or a turkey, or what?” drawing out a long pheasant’s feather, whose tip had just peeped out of a hole in the sack. Sarah snatched the feather, and tickled Diamond’s nose with it, so that Diamond’s master had no attention to spare for more questions for some time. There was no doubt that Anne would have done the same, if she had chanced to be next him; for she did not laugh with surprise, but smiled, as at a corroboration of an idea of her own. The act was Sarah’s, however; and she had immediately the advantage of Anne in the gentleman’s estimation. He now saw that there was certainly a something more in the one sister than in the other,—a drollery in the eyes — an archness about the mouth. It was to Sarah’s side that he returned when Diamond was once more subdued. Before he sent them on to the turnpike, he had been almost whispering to her, saving something which Anne had not heard, though she now stooped forward on her saddle, and now leaned over behind her sister, and finally rode round to James’s other side to listen, being as yet unaware that anything would ever be said to either which the other might not share.
“You must go now,” said she, tired at last of not being able to catch what he was saying. “Those people are the weddingers. See to the bride’s silk gown! and it is no more like Catherine Scott—How came you to tell me so?”
When James had explained that he did not pretend to know brides’ names till they asked him to change them, he drew off from his companions, with a final glance in the direction of the turnpike, and directed his horse, with all sobriety of demeanour, towards the vestry. The sisters were at last convinced that he was a clergyman, when they saw the uncovered heads of the men, and the obeisances of the women and children, amidst which he moved to the discharge of his duty.
“There, I knew it would be so! How people do plague one—some with wanting to be married, and some with their squeamish troubles, as if nobody but the parson could do anything for them,” said he to himself when, on reaching the turnpike at last, no horsewomen were to be seen. “To be sure, I don’t know who else should serve the people’s turn hereabouts, unless they would step across the border to the blacksmith, and advertise for a methodist to hear them confess. But here are the blessings of having a living! These pretty creatures are tired of the very idea of me, I don’t doubt, after being kept waiting till they had no patience left.”
He was mistaken; the girls had not waited at all, but gone straight through, rather in a hurry than not, the gatekeeper said. One of them had explained that she had lost her sixpence on the road, and had left her silver thimble in pledge of payment, to be redeemed the next time she should pass that way. James, of course, redeemed the thimble, which he tried on his little finger end before he consigned it to his waistcoat pocket. It betokened as small a finger as need be seen; but that only made it the greater pity that the thimble was not Sarah’s.
The gatekeeper was deplorably stupid about the girls. He did not seem to know which was meant by the pretty one; and could give no further account of them than that they set off, at a brisk trot, along the cross-road to the right. He could not even tell whether they meant to go to the large farm-house that might be seen standing back from this road. There was nothing for it but going to learn on the spot; so James left the situation of his house to be discussed hereafter, and was presently at the gate of the farm.
The farmer knew the girls, he acknowledged; could not deny he had seen them to-day—just for a minute—an hour ago or more;—supposed they were at home by this time;—advised the gentleman to come in and have a snack and a glass of ale, and he would talk to him about ground for his house. James recollected, now that the chase had escaped him, that he really was hungry, and had some miles to ride, at the end of which he might find nothing in the shape of provisions but fish in their dying agonies. It was true, he had refused the hospitality of others of his flock;—of the old schoolmaster, who stood, hat in hand, at his humble door, ready to usher in the clergyman; of the late clerk’s widow, who had taken pains to spread her board for him; of the mourners, who had hoped to receive at home a confirmation of the words of solace which had been spoken at the grave. All this he had declined, on the plea of extreme haste; but this was no reason that he should not now avail himself of the farmer’s cakes and ale. He gave his horse to the boy who had just stopped from swinging on a gate, and entered the dwelling.
“Don’t let me disturb you, I beg, ma’am,” said James to the farmer’s wife, who was hearing her little boy say his letters when her husband and the clergyman entered. “While you go on with your lessons, Mr. Riley will tell me where to look for a piece of land to build upon. Your little boy will be all the sooner ready to say his catechism, you know, if you go on steadily. So do not let me disturb you.”
Mr. Riley bowed; Mrs. Riley blushed, and took up her scissars once more to point with: but apparently little Harry did not appreciate the desirableness of soon knowing his catechism, for he called every letter F, whether it stood at the top, bottom, or middle of the page. According to him, F stood for apple, F for fig, and F for window. He was told to turn his head towards his mamma, instead of quite away from his book; and the head was soon in its right place; but the eyes still wandered off to the extreme left, and F once more stood for pie. Then came loud whispers,—“Who is that gentleman?” “Will that gentleman fly my kite for me?” “May I look through that gentleman’s spyglass?” “Is that the parson that will frown at me if I don’t behave well at church?”
This was too much. Mr. Riley lost the thread of his discourse; Mrs. Riley escaped from the room, and James laughed, while the boy stood staring at him.
“So you have got a kite. Will I help you to fly it? Yes, that I will, some day.” And thus was the guest entertained, till the tray made its appearance, and the cloth was laid for a substantial luncheon.
“My dear sir, make no apologies. Here is quite a feast, I see. By all means, ma’am; a sausage, if you please. Your sausages are irresistible; and especially with such game as this. A leg, if you please, sir. A pheasant’s leg and sausage is the most superb thing in the universe.”
No wonder the Rileys were flattered. The most superb thing in the universe was under their humble roof!
“I will try some day,” James continued, “if I cannot supply you with another luncheon to equal this. I will send you in some game as I pass, the first time I shoot in your neighbourhood. You relish game, I presume, Mrs. Riley?”
Mrs. Riley assented; then hesitated, and hoped Mr. Cranston would not trouble himself to do as he had said. The farmer declared that Mr. Cranston was welcome to shoot over his farm, but they could not accept any game. While James was insisting, little Harry, who had been sent away, ran in crying, and complaining that he had lost his tail, and he could not get another.
“His tail? What sort of tail?”
Mrs. Riley explained that Harry was indulged with the tail feathers of pheasants, and that he therefore disliked the disappearance of game from the pantry.
There were so many this morning, the boy complained, and now they were all gone! There were a great many indeed, hanging all in a row, and Nancy had promised him all the tails. Now there was not one left. “O dear, O dear! what shall I do without my tail?” was the boy’s pathetic lamentation.
“If you will let me carry you on my horse after those young ladies who were here this morning, I dare say they can give us the very tails that were in the pantry,” observed James, looking askance at the farmer as he spoke. “But, Harry, don’t you like fur tails as well as feather tails? If you were a girl, you might make a fur tippet for your doll’s throat of a pretty, soft, white rabbit’s tail.”
Harry made a hop, skip, and jump to a cupboard, and brought out a string of hares’ and rabbits’ tails, tied together with string, which promised to be soon as long as the leech-line of a fisherman.
“I see how it is,” said James, smiling. “I am not the only person, I fancy, Mr. Riley, that you make welcome to shoot over your farm and in your neighbourhood.”
“Why, sir, to speak out, what else can we farmers say to those that help away with the vermin that do us all sorts of mischief?”
“Ah! I suppose the birds plague you with the people they bring upon your ground. I saw one cover, I remember, standing alone in the middle of some very wide fields of yours, with not a hedge near enough to tempt a bird to stray; and I thought I would try my luck there next.”
“You will be sure to find luck there, sir, however many may come before you. You may chance to see three hundred cock pheasants walking about there in one day. But the birds are nothing to the hares, sir; I was very nearly quarrelling with my farm, on account of the hares; and should have done so, if my landlord had not made me an allowance for them.”
“How much does he allow you?”
“Two sacks of wheat per acre, sir.”
“Upon my word, you have a very kind landlord.”
“Not on this head, sir. My loss is much greater than two sacks per acre, I can assure you. Take the year round, and a hare is as expensive as a sheep;—for this reason,—that the hare picks the last particle of vegetation. If my grain springs an eighth of an inch one day, and the vermin nips seven hundred of the sprouts in a day,—what sheep will ever cause me such damage as that? I can stand and see the pheasants picking up their berries and acorns, at this time of the year, without wanting to wring every neck of them; but, if you’ll believe me, sir,—and my wife will bear me out, I never see a hare cross the field I am in without swearing an oath at her.”
Mrs. Riley not only corroborated this, but added that Mr. Riley was still more cross with rabbits.
“The rabbits! And well I may! They do such mischief round the outskirts of my coppices, that the wood will not be so fit to cut at the end of twenty years as it would at the end of sixteen without them. You cannot wonder, sir, that we farmers cannot see poachers. They are a sort of thing we are blind to. If you consider, sir, that there are six hundred acres of wheat land in this parish, and that hares consume, at the least, two sacks per acre, there are twelve hundred sacks of corn taken from men to be given to hares. I cannot think it a great sin, at this rate, to let alone anybody that helps to root out the hares.”
“You should get your landlord to allow you to shoot over your farm.”
“ ’Tis done, sir; and what comes of that? Every labourer in the parish may go and inform, unless I do him some favour that will keep his good-will; and if his liking should be for sport, why, what can we do but let each other alone?”
“Then I am afraid the landlord’s only dependence is on his own servants,—the tenant and poacher being leagued against him.”
“That sort of dependence is but small, especially when gentlemen are not on the spot in all seasons; as I may say to you, sir. There may be such a thing as a league between the poacher and the woodman;—just such a sort of league to break the laws as there was till lately between gentlemen and their woodmen.”
“My dear, what are you saying?” interrupted Mrs. Riley.
“Only what Mr. Cranston knows to be true. He knows that, till the sale of game was allowed by law, gentlemen encouraged their servants to sell the game the gentlemen themselves shot. The woodmen that I have known used to receive a quarter of the money so brought in. And, after a sporting bout, when their masters had company staying with them for the purpose, there was a higher allowance to the woodman, from the consideration of the difficulty of disposing of a large quantity of game at once.”
“I wonder how much a servant might make in this manner?” observed James. “It is a pleasant way enough of making a fortune.”
“You must consider, sir, how many the gains have to be divided amongst. Where poaching is done by gangs, as it is here, there are a great number to share in the first instance. Then there are the coachmen or van-drivers that carry the game up to London, and the poiters that take charge of it there. Then the poulterers must have their commission; double what they have on poultry, on account of the risk. And then there is the waste,—which is more than is easily counted,—what with the game being mangled, and killed out of season, and sent up in a bad state. Pheasants are sent up long after January, and hares with young; and sometimes half a sackfull is good for nothing when it is unpacked. All this can leave but little gain for the woodman’s share.”
“And his gains must be most uncertain, too. When he sends up a fine batch of game, he may chance to find that the market is overstocked. There can be no regularity of supply where it is carried on in an illegal and underhand manner.”
“That is true, sir; and I have heard from people here, disappointed in the way you speak of, that in the very middle of the season, when every dinner-table in the London gentry’s houses had game upon it, full one-third of what was sent up was thrown away. After hawking about what was not quite past cooking, and selling birds for a few pence to anybody that passed by, one poulterer alone threw two thousand partridges into the Thames. This makes our people here so united as they are. They keep up a perfect understanding all the way to London, that there may be the less difficulty in poaching to order,—which is the surest way to make money.”
“To the poulterer’s order?”
“Yes. He sends down a message, perhaps, that he has engaged to furnish some thousand head a week for three weeks, and that he depends upon this district; and then poaching is the order of the day. By the time the job is done, the newspapers begin to cry out. There is often work for the coroner, before all is over; and account is laid for a few going to prison; but where all are banded together in prospect of this, the going to prison is no disgrace, and not much of a hardship; and the manslaughter comes to be looked upon as a matter of course.”
“I shall tell my brother all this,” said James, rising. “Not so as to implicate you,” he added, perceiving that Mr. Riley looked alarmed. “Now is the time, while I am at Fellbrow, to keep a watch over our poaching neighbours. Pray do they meddle with deer?”
“Your gamekeeper can tell you that better than I can,” replied the farmer, now grown wary as to his communications. “Would you like to step abroad, sir, and look at the bit of ground I told you of?”
“Why, yes: if you think the people below have got no more funerals ready by this time.—Yes; let us go,” he added gravely, upon seeing Mrs. Riley’s glance of astonishment. “Mrs. Riley, I owe you thanks for your hospitality. If I have injured your son’s learning, I must do my best to help him to make it up, by and bye, when he may come to church without fear of being frowned at.”
Mrs. Riley pronounced him a pleasant mannered gentleman, as she peeped between the climbers that covered the window to watch him and her husband up the hill at the back of the house.
“You will not be troubled with a heavy groundrent, you see, sir, in a situation like this,—(if you should pitch upon this place, where the land is not to be sold.) You will find the difference between building here, and building near the falls in the hills yonder, where the gentry are rearing their boxes and their villas. Here you will have to pay no great deal more than if the spot of ground was to be under the plough instead of under a roof.”
“Ah! you country folks know little yet of the difference in value of bits of land that measure the same to a hair’s-breadth. A friend of mine has been building a villa at Chiswick lately, and he pays four times as much for the ground as he gets as the ground-rent of a capital house in Winchelsea. This is all very fair. People must pay for good situations; but I dare say you have no idea of such differences here?”
“Enough to wish that the land-tax went a little more according to situation than it does. ’Tis really ridiculous, how one has to pay five times as much as another, without any reason that ever I heard tell.”
“We south people beat you there, too. The very place I was mentioning, Winchelsea, where there are not more than fifty houses that yield the house-tax, pays, within thirty pounds, as much land-tax as Bath; and if you could look down upon Bath as we now do upon your parish, you would see the absurdity of such a taxation. In London, the difference is wider still. I know of two parishes that pay above 9000l. in land-tax, with a rental of 116,000l.; while another parish that has now a rental of 720,000l. pays—how much land-tax, do you think?”
“To be in the same proportion with the parishes you mention, it should be 55,000l.”
“Instead of which it is under 500l. This is the fault of the way the tax was managed at first, and not of anything that is done with it now: but it sets one to inquire, before one begins to build or to purchase. While some parishes pay 2s. 4d. in the pound, and others half a quarter of a farthing, one likes to look into the matter.”
“I see no end to the inequality, sir; that is the worst of it. If a valuation once made is never to be altered, I don’t see but that every improvement, every new bit of waste that is tilled, and every new quarter of a town that is built, must increase the inequality. There is our neighbouring county of Lancaster, with all its fine towns and villages, almost as busy as London itself, paying no more land-tax than some four or five such London parishes as you mentioned just now. You see, its being made perpetual, some five-and-thirty years ago, and allowed to be redeemed, and half of it being redeemed, makes it difficult to touch now.”
“Except to redeem the remainder. That was what Mr. Pitt wanted, no doubt—to have done with this, without loss, and then to be free to lay on a new tax. For my part, I like neither making valuation nor tax perpetual; and to allow redemption is worse still, in principle. The sacrifice made in redeeming a tax is made for ever and ever. See what a scrape we are in now, in the case of this land-tax! The only way of escape the sufferers can think of is by violating the valuation which was declared unalterable. They cry out for a new assessment; leaving the redeemed portions of land exempt, and equalizing the rest at the same rate as formerly—4s. in the pound. They say that this would bring the Government between one and two millions a-year more than at present; and that if the assessment was kept equal, the whole would be gradually redeemed.”
“If the tax is to be got rid of, it may be more easily done now than by and by; and a farmer may be allowed to wish it done with.”
“Why? It does not fall upon you?”
“Ask the assessor, sir, if I do not pay it into his hands, year by year.”
“Yes; but you pay it for your landlord, and you stop it out of your rent. You know, if you run away to-night, the assessor comes upon your landlord for it, instead of running after you. You know it is levied on empty houses. Why, Mr. Riley, I never before heard anybody question that the land-tax falls on the landlords, however much the point might be doubted about the house-tax.”
“I assure you, sir, there is less corn grown, by far, than there would be without this tax; and is not that a bad thing for the farmer, when a tax is the cause?”
“A bad thing for everybody: but this is, so far, only like every other tax. Every tax stints production in its way; yet there must be taxes. If we are to go on taxing classes of people, I do not know that we could have a better tax than this, if it was but made equal.”
“It will never be that, sir.”
“Perhaps so; but a direct tax, like this, is the only kind that can be made equal; so we ought to take care how we quarrel with it, and show a preference for indirect taxes,—a kind which never can be made equal. Besides its capacity of being made equal, it has other good qualities. It is certain. It is levied in a convenient way; and it goes pretty straight to the Treasury. So that, (except that I should like to see a simpler method of taxation, which should save us from laying a burden on one class, and then balancing it with a burden laid upon another class,) I have nothing to say against a properly-managed land-tax.”
“But, sir, how are you to make it equal, while the land is so unequal? If you tax all land at so much per acre, the owner of those bleak hills above will pay much more than his share; and the fine land in our best counties will yield much less than its share. Then, if you tax according to the produce, people will not be long in finding out that your tax is a tithe, sir; and you and I both know what they think of tithe.”
“What should prevent its being levied—not in proportion to surface, or to produce—but to rent? It would be thus thrown on the landlords, as I said before. The exclusive taxation of a particular class is a bad principle to go upon. But, while we do go upon that principle, and while the poorer classes pay so much more taxes than their share, this tax (equalized) is one of the last to be complained of. Rent, you know, is naturally always rising.”
“Then I wonder governments do not maintain themselves on rent. If a government was a great landowner, it might live without taxing anybody.”
“The governments of new countries, where land enough is left without an owner, will be sufficiently wise, perhaps, to see this, in course of time. If a government kept a portion of land, and behaved to its tenants like a good landlord, it would find its revenues perpetually on the increase, (with no other checks than would, at the same time, reduce its expenditure), and not a farthing would be taken from the profits of the farmer or the manufacturer; not a particle from the rewards of anybody’s industry. A fine prospect that, for a new country, is not it?”
“A fine dream, sir.”
“A dream that might as certainly come true as my dream of a white house upon this slope, with a wood behind, and a sheet of water spread out where that stream is now wasted. No spot that I have seen compares with this, certainly. I should set about securing it before I leave the place, but that,”—and he half laughed, as if ashamed of his thought,—“I must bring somebody to see it first.”
“I hear, Mr. Cranston, that your sister—”
“No, not my sister.—But, what were you going to say?”
“Only what you have heard often enough before, I dare say. I hear that your sister is the prettiest and kindliest lady that has ever been seen here since—”
He was going to allude to her mother, but stopped.
“It depends upon how you happen to see her. If you find her in the clouds, you may speak to her ten times before you get an answer; and I doubt whether she looks pretty then. But when she is—I will positively get her a horse from Swallow’s. I am more tired than she is of waiting for her favourite mare. Nobody knows what Fanny is like that has not seen her ride,—seen her hunt. O, yes! I will bring her here when she begins to ride; and she will hear your little boy his alphabet. You should see her with children.”
The hour struck, and the sound came from the church tower below to remind James of his fishing engagement. He had ceased to care about the fishing; but he had some lingering hopes of falling in again with the twins, if he pursued the circuitous road (over moorland and through a park) which they had taken.
Once on his way, he relaxed his speed no more. To judge by the starting and shying of Diamond, Diamond’s master was nervous, or in excessive haste. The moor-hen and her brood fled away uncoveted from beneath the hoofs of the steed. The goats browzed unnoticed, or skipped from point to point of the grey rocks under which the road wound for a part of the way. The startling echo of the sportsman’s fowling-piece, sent back by these fells, only made James look round to see if any timid girls were in sight who might be alarmed by the shock. He was as much startled himself as any timid girl, when he heard, in his passage through the park, a rustling among the underwood and high ferns in just such a corner as the twins might have chosen, for its shade and retirement, to rest in. But it was only a fawn which burst away from his doubtful call, as Sarah had done from his appointment. He was sorry and out of humour at coming so soon in sight of the party he proposed to join.
They did not see him—so busy were they with their sport. The horses, which were loose and grazing near, looked up, tossed their heads, and began to graze again. A boatman, sitting in a skiff that lay in the dark reflection of the oaks and hollies which clothed the island in the middle of the river, touched his hat. But the party about Moy’s-pool (the most promising pool in the whole length of the river) were too much occupied with their sport to look behind them, or to listen for horses’ hoofs. Fish lay heaped and scattered on the grass; and more was being drawn. Richard, who was stretched at length, showed himself interested in as far as he had raised himself on his elbow. Fanny herself had hold of a net; and Wallace and the servants were as active as the occasion of so large a prey required.
“They do not want me,” thought James, half sulkily. “I shall ride on to the Paddock, and see about a horse for Fanny, and—whether those girls are home.”
Diamond’s hoofs made a crash on the small pebbles as he turned back to the road. Fanny had so much to tell and to show, about how long they had been expecting him, how they had wished for him, and what feats they had performed without him, that James dismounted to admire the plumpness of the char, and to verify Wallace’s boast that that fat old fellow that he had just caught weighed two pounds. It was not long before James was trying whether he could not draw one which would weigh two pounds and an ounce.
James was indefatigable in his exertions to get his sister suited with a horse. He was at the Paddock every day for a fortnight; and he would not be satisfied without Fanny’s going there too, to try one and another horse in the fields behind the stables. Sometimes the girls came out, curtseying to the young lady, and giving an opinion when asked. Fanny delighted her brother by a spontaneous exclamation about their beauty, the first time she saw them: but she presently vexed him by being extremely amused at their perfect likeness. If it had not been that a young greyhound was for ever in attendance upon one, Fanny could not have pretended to distinguish them. James told her she had no eyes.
“They are all stupid alike,” muttered he. “That greyhound has more sense than any of them. It is only three days since I gave him to her, and he never mistakes Anne for her, in the dusk or in the daylight. To talk of their eyes being alike! as if colour was everything in eyes! Anne’s are pretty enough; but they never had such a light in them as Sarah’s. And then the blush—I thought Fanny had been fond enough of her garden to know the difference between a folded convolvulus (which is a graceful thing enough in its way) and one that is glowing in dew when the sun has just expanded it.”
A very short dialogue showed Fanny which it was that James preferred. It would not have been necessary, if she had known how Sarah came by the greyhound.
“What a pretty creature Anne is!” observed Fanny, when, with a smile, Anne opened the gate, for her horse to pass into the field.
“Beautiful,” cried James, with enthusiasm. “O, she is a beautiful creature!”
“You think her the prettiest,—you like her the best of the two?”
“No,” said he, with sudden quietness; “I admire Sarah the most.”
This made Fanny turn her head to take another look; but it was Anne who gazed after them. Sarah was busy with her dog Fido.
James was not wrong in his observations on eyes. A new light had fixed itself in Sarah’s; and if he did not perceive something of the same kind in Anne’s, it was perhaps owing to the light being often troubled, and sometimes dimmed. The serenity of both was gone. Sarah did not wish it back again. Anne did; every hour between rising and rest.
They had ceased to move together,—unavoidably, when one had a dog and the other had not,—but neither was yet awake to the fact that they no longer thought and felt alike. One morning they sat, like the reflection of each other, on either side of a work-table: each making herself a frill of the same material; each with her footstool: and that the left foot of the one, and the right of the other was advanced, only made the resemblance more complete. The difference was that Anne attended to her work, while Sarah peered anxiously through the glass door which communicated with the office, where her father might be seen reading a letter. After a while, Anne reared her chin to try on the frill.
“Let me see how yours looks,” said she. “Sarah! here is mine finished; and yours is not done!”
Sarah began to ply her needle, uneasy at being left behind. Anne amused herself with stroking and coaxing the greyhound. She did not think of beginning any other employment till Sarah should be ready.
“I wonder why Mr. Cranston did not give me a greyhound!” observed Anne.
“I dare say my father will,” replied Sarah.
“But I had rather Mr. Cranston had. I am afraid,—I am pretty sure, Mr. Cranston does not like me.”
“O yes, he does.”
“How do you know? Did he tell you so?—Why did not he tell me? He never told me that he liked you.”
A deep blush spread itself over Sarah’s cheeks.
“I never saw anybody like Mr. Cranston,” pursued Anne. “None of the gentlemen that have passed through A— have been the least like him.”
“O, no: nor ever will.”
“His manner is so—I don’t know what. And his voice—”
“You may know it among a hundred;—as far off as you can hear it.”
“It goes through one’s heart.—How dull the day is now when he does not come!”
“But he does come every day.”
“No: not last Wednesday.”
“O yes! he did. But he did not stay very long: and you were in the field with George, looking after the foal. He has never once missed a day yet.”
Anne’s face was crimson while she asked why she had not seen him; why she had not been told: why—she stopped because she could not go on, and Sarah had nothing more to say than that she did not see that there was any particular occasion for telling.
“Where did he come?” demanded Anne. “Was he in this room, or in the paddock, or where?”
“I had my bonnet on, just coming to you in the field,” replied Sarah:—“my bonnet was on; and so I went with him;—he wanted to show me something in the park.”
“Why did not you call me? I could have come in a moment.”
Sarah did not raise her eyes while she said in a low voice that Mr. Cranston did not wish it. She was not very much taken by surprise when she saw Anne, an instant after, in a passion of tears. Her own were streaming immediately, while she hoped Anne was not very angry with her. Indeed she could not help it.—Whatever might be the mixture of feelings which embittered Anne’s tears, she spoke only of her sister’s reserve. Her reproaches were very grievous, till Sarah’s patient sorrow softened her in spite of herself. She had had no comfort of her life, for some time past, she declared. There was always something to expect and be afraid of. She could not help wishing Mr. Cranston to come, and yet she was often glad when he went away. He never came but something disagreeable passed. She did not think he would have been so careful to give her back her thimble, that he had got from the turnpike-house. It had prevented her daring to give him anything, for fear he should refuse it; and yet he had seemed to be very much pleased with the purse Sarah had netted for him. She supposed Sarah had found out that she had felt mortified often lately; for nobody could help seeing that Sarah had taken a great deal upon her lately;—more than anybody could have expected that had always known them.
Sarah tried to speak calmly while she answered that she had never intended to take more upon her than she should. She could truly say she had been more sorry for Anne than she had ever been for any one in her life. She had hoped, every time that Miss Cranston came, that either the eldest Mr. Cranston or Mr. Wallace would come with her, instead of the one that did come:—she was so certain that either of them must like Anne quite as well as the one that did come liked her.
Anne saw that all was over. She declared she did not want to be liked by anybody, sent the dog away from her knee with a rebuke, and left the room.
It was not long before Sarah was again by her side; not to comfort or condole, but to consult with her. She had been so completely thrown out by the failure of what she meant for sympathy, just now, that she did not venture to touch upon any matter of feeling with Anne. She had, in ten minutes, grown almost as much afraid of her as of a stranger: but she felt herself less able than ever to act without Anne’s opinion.
“Do you know, Anne, I do believe there is going to be an expedition to-night or to-morrow night!”
“I dare say there is. I saw my father reading a letter from London; and he sent George out to A—, directly after. Why should not there be an expedition, as there has been often before?”
“It is so different now from what it was before, when the family were not here!”
“Yes: our party will not have all their own way any longer. I suppose the woodmen must take some notice, now; and Mr. Morse has grown violent against the poachers, they say, since there has been some use in keeping up the game, as he says. Alick Morse says his father has as good a mind to dodge a poacher now as a stoat has to dodge a hare.”
“That is a bright thing for Alick Morse to say. But I am afraid of their coming to a fight, Anne.”
“O, I’m not afraid of what would come of a fight. Our party is too strong to take any harm; and they will do none to Alick and the other woodman; and Mr. Morse won’t run himself into danger against the party.”
“I was not thinking of the Morses,” replied Sarah, wondering at her sister’s dulness. “If the Mr. Cranstons mean to do what they say—”
“Ah! to be sure,” cried Anne. “They can’t know what a party they would have to come out against.”
“So, let us go and tell them,” said Sarah, briskly.
Anne stared in astonishment. To go and inform against their family and their neighbours; to provide for the discomfiture of their own party; to prevent their father from executing the orders which brought him in as much as his trade in horses;—to do this confounded all Anne’s notions of right and wrong. Sarah must be out of her mind to think of such a thing. The more vehement she was in saying this, the more inclined Sarah was to go and entreat the family not to enter the woods at night, whatever might be going on there. If she could prevail,—(and if she saw James, she had no doubt of prevailing,)—all danger to both parties might be avoided. If Anne would not accompany her, she thought she should go alone.
“You shall not,” said Anne. “If you think of such a thing, I will run and tell my father.”
“No, you will not,” said Sarah, with quivering lips. “We never told my father of one another in our lives.”
“You never thought of doing such a thing as this in your life. I shall make haste and tell him.”
They did not know that their father had just gone out. The moment Anne had turned her back, Sarah seized her bonnet,—(her field bonnet and gloves, for there was no time to run up for those in which she would have wished to appear at Fellbrow,)—and was gone from under the archway before any one noticed her escape, except Fido, against whom, in her hurry, she had shut the door, but who found his way to his mistress through an open window.
While she was breathlessly crossing a corner of the park, she fell in with Alick Morse, who sheepishly smiled and pulled off his hat.
“O, Alick, I am glad I met you. Can you tell me where the gentlemen are? Are they abroad to-day?”
Alick pointed towards the mansion, as much as to say that they were there. His smile had vanished: for if she was going up there, among the gentry, he could not walk with her, as he was about to offer to do.
“How is your father, as relates to the game?”
“Very cross, Miss Sarah. But now that I catch you alone, by a chance,—for I never had the chance before,—I want to say—”
“But I want to hear about the game and your father.”
“Well, the long and short is, I think he gets no rest for the game, night nor day. The gentlemen,—the two younger,—are after his own heart; for they have him up early every fine morning, after some sport or other; and he likes, as he says, making up for all the years he has been idle. But, dear me! ’tis at night he makes up most for all the sleep he had all those years. There’s not a bough can rustle, nor a gust moan, but he is up, and out to watch.”
“And there has been no cause, lately.—You look sly, as if you thought there soon would be.”
“Perhaps you know as much about it as I, Miss Sarah, and perhaps more. But there is no use in disturbing my father’s mind, if you should chance to meet him. Well now, if there be not—Dear me, I suppose I must go! Who would have thought of any gentry sitting reading out of doors to-day!”
“Yes: it is Mr. Cranston and Miss Cranston. You must go, Alick.”
Alick withdrew within the verge of the wood, and Sarah and Fido advanced to the bench where Richard and Fanny were sitting in the late autumnal sunshine, each with a book, and neither of them reading.—Sarah said that she came to speak to Mr. Cranston, the clergyman; but if he was not at home, she would speak now what she meant to say. Richard was always afraid of the propounding of any matter of business; and was therefore as willing to help her to an interview with James as Fanny was, because she perceived that James was the one whom Sarah wished to see. James had just gone towards the stables, and was coming directly in his gig to take up his sister, whom he was going to drive over to his living. If Sarah went straight from hence towards the stables, she could not miss him.
She did not miss him. He was approaching in his gig; and in another minute, notwithstanding an abundance of protestations, blushes and tremors, Sarah filled Miss Cranston’s place in the vehicle, and a circuitous road was found to the park gates, by which another sight of the reading party was avoided. James never used any ceremony with his sister; he declared she had a sort of pride in not keeping her appointments; so she was fair game. Ten to one, too, that she preferred dawdling with Richard till dinner-time; and Sarah could say what she wanted much better in the gig; and, besides, James had always wished to show her the house he was building, and to see how she liked it; and there could not be a better opportunity than now.
When Sarah returned, hoping, but not assured, that James would leave the poachers to their own devices, her sister asked her no questions as to where she had been all this long time. Anne had also repented, before her father appeared again in the office, of her resolution to inform against her sister. There was peace between them, and they were at liberty to communicate their speculations upon the expedition which they were now certain was intended for to-night. There was more than usual preparation made, as soon as it grew dusk, in stocking the office with bottles and cans, with stools, pipes and tobacco, and sawdust, strewn lest any feet should bring in marks of blood—the blood of man, or of beast or fowl. The girls were sent up to bed earlier than usual. They found it extremely vexatious that their chamber looked towards the street, so that they could not see the poachers drop in through the Paddock. Mr. Taplin, the assessor, called between nine and ten—as they supposed, at a very inconvenient time; and they could imagine how vexed their father must be at his staying so long. He certainly did not go away before they gave over watching for his departure.
Sarah little knew her lover yet if she really confided in his keeping at home when he knew that poachers were abroad. All the evening he was rousing, or trying to rouse, his brother to the due degree of indignation at being despoiled of his property in so provoking a way. He paid as much for every family of pheasants as would bring up ten broods of fowls. Large sums were stopped off his rents for damage done by his hares. His deer were kept within bounds at a great expense. He paid duty for gamekeepers, horses, and dogs used in his sports; and yet the game, for which all this cost was incurred, was to be taken by a set of wretches who would be beneath notice but for their power of doing mischief. If they were stout young men, who came for the frolic of the thing, he should not be so angry; but, as far as he could learn—
Nobody could imagine where and how James managed to learn who and what the poachers were.
That did not matter; he had good authority for what he said,—that one boy, at least, was sent out to set snares—sent out by himself, or with only his father,—not amidst any bustle and frolic, but coolly, and as the agent of a theft. Then, of those who went out at night, some enjoyed the sport; but the greater number joined to get drink and money for their services as guard. The shoemaker, and the chimney-sweeper, and the constable—
Yes. The constable went out to break heads, if need were, in defiance of the law. These men were considered too clumsy to be employed in taking the game: but they could carry bludgeons, for the consideration of a glass of gin, and a dividend from the poulterers; through what hands delivered, his brother might be surprised, some day, to learn.
Richard was willing to wait for that day. As long as they let him alone, they were welcome to anything that was in the park. If they left him deer enough to please his eye as he sat under the trees, and birds enough for his brothers’ sports, his purposes were answered. He was glad they could amuse themselves with his property while he was asleep. This last word brought on him an appeal under the head of morals. Poachers were always utterly corrupted, if their practices were long unchecked; like most people (unless the members of the House of Commons might be excepted) whose work is done at night instead of in the day. Instead of the shoemaker taking up his awl, or the chimney-sweeper his sack, with the spirit that the morning naturally brings with it, these creatures would stagger home at dawn, and be thrown into bed for the day, while their wives must invent lies which their children are to tell, in excuse for their not being seen at their work. Richard could not deny that such an order of affairs was a bad one; but did not see how his arm could arrest a host of poachers; and he could not possibly be answerable for the morals of the shoemakers and constables of A—.
As nothing more was to be made of Richard, his brothers left him, and prepared for a long and wary walk. Mrs. Day turned pale, and Fanny was very grave when the bustle of assembling their home forces began in the hall; when strips of something white were called for to be put round the hats, to distinguish friends from enemies; when pistols gleamed; and when deep voices from the court pronounced it a sharp, starlight night.
“Who is that tall man, James?” whispered Fanny, who was looking on from the stairs. “The one on the steps, I mean.”
“Who are you?” asked James, going up to the person.
It was Richard. Of course, he did not mean to stay behind, if his brothers chose to spoil sport. Thus, Fanny and Mrs. Day were to be left to listen from the windows, without the support of any person qualified to laugh at what was really foolish in their apprehensions. With chattering teeth, with shawls drawn over their heads, did they lean out of the window of the darkened drawing-room, trusting that, if there should be any shot, they should have notice of it from the face of the rock below.
The gentlemen and their servants proceeded first to Morse’s cottage. He was not at home; but Alick was,—looking out of the window, as was the fashion this night. His father had gone out some time ago, he said, fancying, as he did every night, that he heard a noise somewhere. The wonder was that he was not back yet. Alick was pressed into the service to go and seek for him.
Nothing could be more exciting to the young men than their walk through the wood, treading cautiously on the thick strewn leaves, and mistaking every sigh of the gust among the naked boughs for the coming forth of an enemy from ambush. The stars, bright as they were, gave too little light to be of much service amidst the trees; and a guide was appointed from among the servants to lead the way to the woodman’s cottage. When he reached the fence which surrounded it, he turned to whisper,
“They can’t be far off now, sir. There is a man up in that tree. If you will stand where I do, you will see him.”
“Come down, whoever you are!” said James. “Come down, or I’ll fire!”
“For mercy’s sake, sir, don’t!” cried a voice which had nothing very manly in it; and the dark form was seen to be descending with all speed.
“What was he doing there?” asked Richard, as a boy was pulled by the collar into his immediate presence. “Stealing walnuts! What brought you out, you little wretch, to steal walnuts?”
He had been told by his father to stay here till the party came past on their way home, lest he should get a mischief; and he thought he might as well be doing something, like the rest of them. He had tried the hen-roost first; but some of the party had been there before him, and there was nothing left for him but the walnuts; and they were only the gleanings, after the best part of the crop had been gathered. He had news to give of the keeper. He had seen him taken.—Taken?—Ay; skulking behind this cottage, to watch the poachers. It seemed to him that somebody from within had given notice that he was there. However that might be, Morse’s gun was taken from him, and he was carried off. Such was the story told by George Swallow.
The inmate of this cottage was sound asleep, if prodigious snoring might be taken as a test. He was not allowed further repose, but summoned to bring out his gun; and George Swallow was left tenant of the house,—tied by the leg to the bed-post.
If the gentlemen had come out in pursuit of game, they could have started none more tempting than the fine stag which, being roused from its lair, stood for an instant gazing on them from a distance of forty paces. Wallace had a cry of admiration ready as the graceful creature stood in the dim light; but before he could utter it,—before the animal could bound away, a perfectly aimed shot came from some other quarter; and instantly a large body of men crowded round the fallen stag. In vain was the signal of silence given by Mr. Cranston, and most earnestly propagated by Alick and the other woodman. Wallace shouted, James echoed him, and the servants followed. The poachers rushed forward. A gun was fired; by whom, and with what effect, nobody knew at the moment. A second shot ensued, whose consequences were immediately perceived by Mr. Cranston’s party. Alick sunk down with a cry like that of a woman. His father knew the voice, and sprang from among his captors to the side of his son. The fight which ensued was very harmless, the poachers perceiving that they were in no danger from such a handful of enemies. With the most provoking coolness, they retreated, carrying their game with them, and only laughing at the pursuit of their foes. If they would only have been angry, and gone on fighting, there would have been some consolation. But they would fight no more.
Neither did they sport any more; at least, not visibly nor audibly. As it was undesirable that they should be tracked to their place of carouse, and as it was necessary to cut up their venison into a more portable state, they retired behind Whitford’s granary, and there took up a strong position, rightly supposing that the enemy would see no use or safety in watching them for any length of time. While knives were being plied with skill upon the venison, those who were not wanted for the work thought it a pity they should be idle. A sheep of Whitford’s was abstracted from the flock by one detachment, while another sought the place where the granary had been last tapped, and drew a further supply of fine wheat which was pretty sure not to be missed. In these expeditions, it was a rule of morals to employ every man according to his capacity. Those who could neither kill game nor cut it up delicately were very capable of boring a hole in the floor of a loft full of corn, and, when the bag was filled, of stopping up the hole with a cork till next time. This done, all proved themselves capable of swearing fellowship and drinking more or less gin or other spirit in Swallow’s office, whether or not they could sing such songs as frightened the twin sisters from their sleep in the farthest corner of the house.
On this occasion, the sisters were spared the panic suffered by Mrs. Day and Fanny, when a wounded man was brought in to be put to bed, and supposed dying till the surgeon could be summoned to see him. Fanny’s satisfaction at her brothers’ coming home safe was much impaired by the moodiness of their countenances, which seemed to betoken that the strife with their neighbours was not at an end.
Poor Alick Morse died in three days. The brothers did not wait for the event to show their determination to put down the practice of poaching in their neighbourhood. Several suspected persons at A— were brought up before the magistrates, the morning after the adventure; some of them being caught (before they had completely emerged from their drunken fit) with sheep’s wool or grains of corn stuck with blood to their shoe-soles, or their hands blackened with powder, or smelling of venison. George Swallow was committed, with all ceremony; and the county was pledged to prosecute him for his theft of five walnuts. His father offered to whip him to any extent their worships might think proper; but it was decided that he should be consigned to vagabond society in gaol for a couple of months, and cause the county an expense of the requisite number of pounds, in order to his being finally condemned to four days’ imprisonment. When poor Alick died, (after having been removed, by his father’s peremptory desire, to his cottage,) Morse was much cheered by seeing his natural office of avenger of blood so well filled as it was by his two younger masters, who actually dogged the heels of the reluctant constable, to see that he did his duty in taking up the suspected. The only thing that vexed the gamekeeper was Mr. James’s obstinacy in disbelieving that Swallow had anything to do in the affair. There was more reason for arresting Swallow than many another that was marched before their worships: but James quashed every hint in this man’s disfavour; and Swallow might be seen exhibiting himself about his own premises with an air of triumph equally offensive to his accomplices and to him whom some believed him to have most deeply injured.
“Come, come, my poor fellow,” said James to Morse, “let us have no more of this. I cannot listen to an information that has so little in it as yours. Tell me of anything else that I can do for you, Morse. Would it be a satisfaction to you that I should bury your son?”
Morse uncovered his grizzled locks, and a deeper red than usual burned in his jolly cheeks, as he acknowledged the young clergyman’s kindness. He did not think Alick had supposed his young master would do him this honour, though the poor lad had brought himself to ask whether his father believed that a funeral sermon would be preached for him.
“There shall be one, certainly, if it will be any satisfaction to you. I should not wonder at your desiring it; but what could make Alick wish it?”
“He liked the idea that Sarah Swallow would hear him made much of, sir. In fact, sir, he left his silver-topped gin-bottle to the parson, if he made her cry at his funeral sermon. Hope no offence, sir?”
James had an idea that he had a better chance of making Sarah cry than any other parson in the world. He was pretty sure of the gin-bottle, if he chose to try for it: but he was heartily vexed that he had promised the sermon. While he was meditating his next evasion, Morse went on,—
“And since you have been so ready about the sermon, sir, perhaps you have no objection to be accommodating about the text?”
“None in the world,” replied James, hoping that the matter would end in the necessity of making Sarah laugh. “Let me hear.”
“Perhaps you remember, sir, the text about the soul—something about the bird and the snare of the fowler. My son thought that text would tell that the manner of his death was by poachers.”
“As if everybody did not know that already!” muttered James. “Well, Morse; make yourself easy.”
“And you may depend, sir, on having the gin-bottle on the Monday morning.”
“And when is the funeral to be, Morse?”
“Why, sir, they say it must be to-morrow, sir. The undertaker says so, sir; or else—”
“To-morrow! D—n it!” muttered James. “Wallace and I had fixed to-morrow for a morning’s shooting; and it is the last day we shall have this week. Morse, did your master say he could spare you to-morrow?”
“He did, sir. I am as sorry as you can be to spoil sport in such a way. But the undertaker is positive.”
“Then there is no help for it. I am not going back from my word, Morse.”
It was a most delicious morning for sport. James came down with a countenance as black as night. Wallace was making ready to go forth. He only waited to know whether James meant to meet him in A—, some hours hence, on business relating to these poachers. Certainly. James thought he might as well get two irksome engagements fulfilled in one day. He would meet Wallace at the Turk’s Head in the afternoon.
“Bless me! I’m late, I suppose,” cried he. “Here’s poor Morse himself coming to look after me. That punch was so confoundedly strong last night, I could not wake for the life of me this morning. Coming, Morse. I’m sorry if I’m late; but I dare say you have got a methodist or two from A—, and they will entertain your company with a hymn till we get up to beat their cover. Don’t hurry yourself, my poor fellow.”
“By no means, sir. But what I came for was—I hate to spoil sport, sir, and it is a rare morning; and so, sir, if you will make me sure of the sermon, I’ll let you off this morning’s work, and secure you the gin-bottle, all the same.”
“Now I call that kind, Morse.”
“And when I have seen him earthed, sir—”
“Ah! you will hardly know what to do with yourself. Suppose you look for the text you mentioned; and by the time you have found it for me, we shall have something to amuse you with—about what is done with the poachers at A—.”
It did not appear, in the sequel, that looking out texts was precisely the occupation that best suited Morse, even on this occasion. As Fanny and Mrs. Day were walking, a little after noon, in a field at some distance from the park, they saw Morse, with his gun on his arm, and his dog snuffing about at a little distance. Fanny’s feelings for the bereft father would have led her to avoid intruding upon him to-day; but he bent his steps towards her. He evidently meant to accost her, and she therefore broke the ice.
“What brought you here, Morse? Where have you been walking?”
“I’ve been no farther than Lye Wood. I’ve been to my son’s funeral not far from there; and I thought I would try the cover as I came back. Now I’ve happened to meet you, ladies, I am glad I let off the young parson from the funeral. He would have been with me, as I’ve taken the sporting circuit instead of the straight road; and it is of him that I am going to speak. No harm, or no great harm,” said he to Mrs. Day, who had turned pale through some undefined apprehension of evil. “No greater harm, ladies, than his making love down yonder; making love, as all young men do.”
“What do you mean? Making love to whom? What sort of person is she?” hastily inquired Mrs. Day.
“You may guess it is to no unfitting person,” replied Morse; “for my poor son meant to have had her himself, if he had but lived. ’Tis Sarah Swallow that I mean; and all I tell you for is, that he may not make her his lady, as the folks have it he means to do. Her father looks boastful enough to put it into every one’s head; and I myself saw them in the gig together when, it is my belief, she had been to view his new house, where he will be taking her to live, one of these days, if you don’t look to it.”
“I was pretty sure he was in love,” said Fanny. “I have thought so this fortnight past.”
“Breast-high,” observed Morse.
“This young person must be sent away immediately,” declared Mrs. Day. “We must speak to Mr. Cranston directly, Fanny, and get it done.”
“You will hardly manage that,” said Fanny, “unless the girl has done something wrong. How can we send her away? What right have we to quarrel with her having a lover?”
“The scent will lie too strong; you’ll never break it. He will start after her,” solemnly declared Morse.
“But, Fanny, you would not send away your brother; you would not attempt it, if you consider this new living that he has to attend to. Besides, I believe he would not go.”
“Certainly not, if he is in love. Why send away either of them? Why roughen the course of true love?”
“My dear, think of the consequences! You are so strangely wild, Fanny, sometimes. Think of the consequences, if they stay in the same neighbourhood,—one of the Mr. Cranstons marrying the daughter of a country horse-dealer!”
Fanny thought the real wildness and folly was in people’s loving one person and marrying another. If James and Sarah loved each other, she, for one, should not dare to interfere between them. Once convinced of the fact of their attachment, she would offer herself as a sister to Sarah Swallow, even if Sarah were herself a horse-dealer, and rode to the fair at the end of a string of her own quadrupeds.
“I suppose, then, you will be for going to vow sisterhood with this girl, this moment,” said Mrs. Day, with much vexation in her tone. “You will do your best to assist the scandal against your family, Fanny.”
“I shall vow nothing till I know whether they are in love. If they are—(I put it to you, Mrs. Day)—if they are in love, which is the greater scandal—that the wedded in heart should be wedded in hand, or that he should break this poor girl’s heart, and give his hand to somebody else?”
“You do not choose to look into consequences, Fanny; you will not, or you would see what would become of society, if young men of family are to marry in such a way, on pretence of being in love.”
Fanny would not allow the word “pretence.” Pretence is not used to secure disadvantages—of alliance or anything else. She also declared that she did look very far into consequences,—into the cold married life of the lover, and the dreary lot of the deserted, and all the crimes which must be perpetrated on all hands before hearts that cling can be separated.
“But, my dear, only look at what will happen in such a case as this. The—”
“I see,—the endless troubles of a horse-dealer’s daughter in polished society; (for I suppose we Cranstons are more or less polished in London, however wild we may be here.) I grant you all these troubles; but they are better than broken or hardened hearts. Depend upon it, Mrs. Day, these are cases for prevention, not cure.”
“What else have I been saying, Fanny? I want to send her away before it is too late.”
“It is too late, in this case,—always provided that they really love. God has joined them, and I will not help to put them asunder. What I mean about prevention and cure is, that people should be prepared to love in the right place—where there is equality, not of rank, but of mind. Till then, I am for love—true love—leading on to marriage, sooner or later, as naturally as dawn leads on to perfect day.”
“But I have no doubt this is a mere fancy of your brother’s,—a mere pastime while he is in the country.”
“Ah! that is altogether another question. I agree with you that it is far too likely: but in that case, it is particularly necessary that I should make a friend of this good girl; for I am sure she is a good girl.”
“She is, Miss Cranston,” averred Morse.
“I may save her from a bitter disappointment, or prepare her, in some degree, for it,” added Fanny. “But, Mrs. Day, I rather think my brothers, and thousands more, would never dream of such cruel sport—would have no such fancies—if it was a natural and a settled thing that they should marry where they love.”
“So you are going to run down to this young person, and put it into her head that it is her duty and your brother’s that they should marry!”
“If that is not in her head already, Mrs. Day, she will spurn me for trying to put it there, you may be quite sure, if Sarah has the true woman’s heart; and she is too young to have a more sophisticated one. I am going; but I am afraid you will not be my companion.”
“Certainly not, till I have spoken to Mr. Cranston.”
“Poor Richard!” thought Fanny; “it would be rather burdensome to him to have to alter the laws of nature, to evade the talk of our London acquaintance. I don’t think Mrs. Day will persuade him to try.—Good-bye, Mrs. Day. If this news is not true, perhaps I shall be as glad as you; if it is true, I really advise you to try to be as content as I shall be, and (I think I may say) Richard too.”
Of course, Mrs. Day shook her head. She turned back in the direction of Fellbrow; while Fanny proceeded towards the Paddock—not with her usual step, but sometimes lingering under the hedges, and sometimes hastening. Her heart was in a kind of tumult,—now fluttering with pleasure—a new kind of pleasure—at the idea of a brother being in love, (an event which she had long looked for in vain in Richard’s case,) and now full of anxiety lest there should be a lowness of heart and mind, as well as of birth, in Sarah, which should injure or extinguish the love. Fanny was a somewhat partial sister; and she was not aware how essentially vulgar was the mind of him before whom heads were uncovered, as if, because he was a clergyman, he must be a wise and good man.
Fanny was herself surprised at the time she had lost when the church clock of A— gave out the hour, just as she had succeeded in dragging down a lofty hazel-bough, and in obtaining the last nut that danced in the air with it. She reproached herself duly for the divers blackberry stains she had incurred, and crossed the last stile of Whitford’s fields, into the road which led to the Paddock and to A—. Here she walked on with all sobriety, pondering the ground rather than the high hazel-boughs, till she was roused by a shout of many voices—a din which alarmed her. Looking up, she saw the twins, preceded by Fido, flying along the road towards her; while, some way behind them, just at the entrance of the town, appeared a rushing crowd, from which proceeded the clamour. The girls eagerly waved to her to turn back, and were evidently exhausting their own strength in flight. “An over-driven bullock,” thought Fanny, turning, and making for the stile she had crossed. She reached and passed it; and then, supposing herself in a perfectly safe place, she leaned over to make a signal to the girls that here their flight might end. They could not speak when they approached; but they made vehement signs that she must not stand there. It was, indeed, a dog, and not a bullock, that was being chased. She saw the creature making along the road, and could recognize the peculiar carriage which denoted its madness. She was in agony for the exhausted girls, who were actually stumbling amidst their attempts to reach the stile. The dog might take it into his head to fly at them over, or through, the stile; but it was worth any exertion to get them out of the direct path of the animal. She stood on the middle rail, and stretched out her arms to them; while Fido leaped backwards and forwards between her and them. They made another effort, when they heard from her the words—“A barn! here is a barn!” One reached and threw herself upon her, was dragged over, and fell on the grass; the other, Sarah, was somewhat stronger, and helped to lift up Anne, and pull her towards the barn, whose wide doors stood open. The thresher was wondering what all this could mean, when he stopped work, so as to hear something besides his own flail. The dog appeared, leaping through the stile, and explained everything. The girls were rudely pushed into the barn, and the doors closed upon them. Fido would not come in. “Tie him up! tie him up!” cried Sarah through the door. “Ay, ay,” answered the thresher from without. They hoped that Fido was safe at the back of the building; and were spared the sight of the dashing out of the mad creature’s brains by the flail of the thresher.
“Do give us air,” cried Fanny, when he put his head in to tell them all was safe. “These girls seem suffocating. May we have the doors open?”
Each pretty creature lay panting on the great heap of straw, while their friend fanned them with her hat; they looking as if they would intreat her not to trouble herself, if they could but find voice. How fresh came in the cool air,—how bright did the pale sunshine look,—when the doors were once more thrown wide! When the crowd were convinced that nothing more was to be expected from the dog, and that the best chance of amusement lay in finding out how many people he might have bitten in the town, the field was presently cleared, and the thresher returned to the barn.
While wiping his flail, preparatory to using it again, he growled and grumbled about the danger from mad dogs, and its increase of late. In his young days, nobody thought of dogs being mad later in the year than September. We should soon be subject to them all the year round, he supposed.
Fanny supposed this individual dog had been driven mad by some particular accident or ill-usage. As for the rest, how was it to be helped? Did the thresher mean to say that it was any body’s fault that there were more mad dogs than formerly?
“Ay, ay,” replied the thresher. “If dogs were taxed as they should be, they would not swarm as they do in the dog-days.”
“But I thought there was abundance of taxation of dogs: I am sure my brothers pay as much for theirs as would maintain a poor man’s family. There is a duty of six-and-thirty pounds on their pack of hounds, in the first place; and then fourteen shillings a-head on all their other dogs, which are not a few.”
“Very well—very right,” observed the thresher. “Your brothers are not the gentlemen to grumble at paying for luxuries, I dare say, any more than these young ladies have hitherto grudged their pound a year for the pretty creature behind there,” nodding towards the back of the barn. The girls looked at one another, not having been aware that the possession of Fido would bring upon Sarah or her father the expense of a pound a year duty.
Fanny thought nothing could be more proper than that her brothers should pay duty for their luxuries, whether of dogs, horses, or any thing else. If they grew displeased with the expense, they had only to give up the indulgence, which was more than the poor man could do in regard to the taxed articles used by him. She only mentioned what her brothers paid because the thresher seemed to think dogs were not sufficiently taxed.
The thresher thought so still. He did not want that dogs used for such real and useful service as his boy’s dog on the sheep-walk above should be taxed. When Mr. Taplin had tried to make out, last appeal day, that that dog belonged to Mr. Whitford, and ought to pay duty, the thresher had successfully opposed him, and the Commissioners had decided that a shepherd’s dog used in the shepherd’s business, should be exempt. But it was a very different thing, allowing dogs to go free of duty because they belong to the poor; and letting a vast number go unaccounted for in compounding for taxes. If poor men keep dogs for a luxury, let them pay more or less for this luxury, since it is one that brings mischief after it if too extensively used; and it is not difficult to draw the line between these dogs and those which help the poor man in his occupation,—such as butchers’ and drovers’ dogs.
“I am sure,” said Fanny, “I have seen hundreds of dogs in London, whose masters can pay no tax, to judge by the plight of the poor animals.”
“Just so, ma’am. Half-starved and neglected as they are, they roam the streets just in a condition to turn mad as soon as hot weather comes; and as this is a sort of luxury that cannot be left to the poor man with safety to his neighbours, it is only fair, in my opinion, to put some restraint upon it. I would let the charge of eight shillings a year lie on all the inferior kinds of dogs but those used in business; and to make sure, every dog should by law have a collar with his master’s name upon it, and the place where the duty is paid. If this was done, and the constables had power to destroy all dogs that have no collars, and that are not owned after due notice, we should hear little more of deaths from mad dogs, and the government would find its profit,—and a fair profit,—from such a plan.”
“There would be more to pay the duty, you think, as well as fewer to keep dogs?”
“No doubt of it, ma’am. Mr. Taplin says the number of dogs accounted for to the assessors in this country is between three and four hundred thousand, besides packs of hounds,—which are about seventy. Now it is pretty sure that, of the many thousands more that the assessors cannot touch, some good number would pay duty, instead of all being put out of the way.”
“There would be a prodigious slaughter of lurchers, I fancy,” said Fanny, “to the great displeasure of poachers, and of some who make their dogs do business, though the business may not be accounted for to the assessor. One cannot go ten yards in this neighbourhood without seeing a lurcher. I suppose it is that dog’s cunning that makes it so common near gentlemen’s seats, and in poor men’s service.”
The thresher turned suddenly to his work again; and the girls arose. They were all the sooner ready to go for poaching having been mentioned.
“If you will just tell me where you tied up my dog,” said Sarah, after duly thanking the thresher.
“O, just behind there; you can’t miss him. I dare say he is dead and half-cold by this time.”
“Dead!” murmured both the girls. The thresher turned round quickly.
“Why, you bade me tie him up, did not you? What would you have?”
“He has hanged the dog!” cried Fanny. “O, how could you do so?”
The thresher was all amazement. He had supposed that the young ladies were afraid of their own dog after it had been in company with the mad one, and he had saved them the trouble of hanging it; that was all.—A kind of trouble he seemed disposed to save the constable, Fanny thought. Had he drowned any pups, this day?—He could not say but he had,—before he came to work in the morning.—If the thresher went on at this rate, drowning pups in the morning, and slaying two dogs at noon, this district was likely to be pretty safe during his life. Fanny would take good care, however, to keep her spaniel out of reach of his cruel hands.
“O, his cruel hands!” repeated Sarah, catching the last words as she reappeared from behind the barn, whither she and her sister had run to see if poor Fido had any life left in him. The first glance at the suspended animal, in an attitude of convulsion, was too much for Sarah. Anne ran on to cut him down with a sickle she had seized in the barn. Sarah returned, and threw herself at length on the straw, hiding her face, and sobbing till even the thresher’s soul was moved.
Lord love her! how her fright about the mad dog must have shaken her! There is no mischief that may not be mended, more or less, wise folks say; and he would get her another greyhound, if she would not take on so. Nothing easier than to get a pretty pup of a greyhound for her; and he would christen it Fido, like the last. He would christen it himself: for all he was known not to be overfond of encouraging dogs.
“You!” cried Sarah, with flashing eyes. “You bring me a dog! It shall go straight into the pond if you do.—But it was all my own fault,—for letting you touch him.—I wish—I wish he had been bitten, and that he had bitten me again, before I asked you to touch him.—I will never have another dog as long as I live!”
“O, yes, you will,” whispered Fanny; “you will take another from the same hand that gave you this.”
“O, Miss Cranston,” wept poor Sarah, “he will never give me another; and I shall have no heart to take it, after having used this in such a way.—How shall I tell him?—I’m sure I hope he will not come to the Paddock to-day.”
“Yes, he will. Let us go and be ready for him.”
“Did he say he should come? Did he tell you—”—Sarah’s blushing face now looked infinitely less miserable.
“You must tell me,—yes, everything,” said Fanny, smiling. “There is nobody in the field now. Come and take a walk with me.”
The thresher was furiously at work as they left the barn without remembering to say another word to him. He swore to himself that the young gentlemen were welcome to try to please pretty girls, if they chose. He had had enough of it. There was nothing to be got but abuse for doing just what they desired.
Anne was the next person to be discontented. When she had completely tired herself with attempts to resuscitate Fido, with a vague idea in her mind that she was doing something generous, she came back to her companions, with a heavy heart and a faltering tongue, to tell that poor Fido was irrecoverable. She found Sarah smiling consciously, and looking the picture of happiness, while Miss Cranston’s arm was round her waist, and it was plain that neither of them was in any want of her, or in any distress about Fido. She was about to turn in and scold the thresher, as the most natural way of letting off her wrath, when Miss Cranston called her.
“Come, Anne, we want you. You are Sarah’s only sister. We want your leave that she may have another.”
“O, Anne!” said her sister, in sorrowful reproach, when Anne silently turned her head away to disperse her tears.
“Indeed, I don’t mean—,”—Anne declared,—“I was only taken by surprise. We did not know, Miss Cranston, what it was right to expect,—what you might think—”
Miss Cranston did not answer for any one but herself. How matters were to stand with her she did not leave doubtful. If James had taken Sarah to see the new house, and learn her wishes about its arrangements, she could not be wrong in taking Sarah thither once more, to hear what had been planned, and how she might help to advance everybody’s wishes.
How rapid are the changes of feeling that all are subject to; and how the most interesting communion of friends may be instantly transformed into a mere contagion of mirth! An exclamation escaped from all the three girls, as a hare burst from the dry ditch beside which they were walking, and made across the field. On passing the barn, she seemed to be taken possession of by a sudden thought. She turned and sprang in upon the very heap of straw on which Sarah and her sister had reposed from their terrors of the chase.—At that moment, two pointers sprang through the hedge, and followed precisely on her track, while Wallace appeared in a gap, and James’s voice was heard behind the fence.
With quivering lips, Sarah entreated that nothing might be said of Fido; and she was assured in return that James would be too eager about this hare to remember the greyhound, so that she might keep the topic for some occasion when she could privately explain the whole to James, and when she would be better able to bear the subject than at present. James had no attention to spare for the ladies till he had ascertained why his dogs fidgetted about the barn in so strange a manner. He seemed to be peremptory with the thresher as to which way the hare was gone, while the man looked more sulky than ever. Instead of wasting words upon him, Wallace made bold to search; and in a minute, the poor animal was exhibited,—its skull having been fractured with his very handy and diligent flail, and the carcase pushed in beneath the straw. The poor thresher seemed likely to have no rest from animadversion this day. One brother now threatened him with an information for killing the animal sacred to the qualified, while the other heaped curses upon him for spoiling the sport. No wonder the thresher pronounced his neighbours hard to please. He was not even allowed to keep the hare,—“to roast the game that he had killed.” James wanted it,—of course for Sarah’; and then came a race about the field, he trying to throw the carcase, as if it had been a tippet, over her shoulders, and she naturally wishing to escape such an adornment. She was happily looking away in a struggle to escape, when he said—
“You had better have brought Fido with you. He would have carried your game home. As it is, you see I shall be obliged to go with you myself. Now, don’t you think that is very hard?”
Fanny explained that she was going to carry off Sarah from Fellbrow for a long ride, instead of letting her go home with her game. James must now be satisfied why he found the three girls together like sisters; and it was not long before he was walking between Fanny and Sarah, talking of his new house.
“Do you know, Fanny,” said he,—“(hold your tongue Sarah, I told you I would make them laugh at you;) do you know, Fanny, she would have my house built after the fashion of a shopkeeper’s house in the city. She thought of nothing but a room or two on the ground-floor, and others built over them,—and more piled up till we had got as many as we wanted; with a window stuck here and there wherever we could not possibly do without one. That is Sarah’s notion of a house.”
Sarah declared that she did not wish the house to be anything but what Mr. Cranston liked. She was only looking for the house being something like the new ones on the new road.
“Not knowing the why and because of the case, my dear. Houses run up like maypoles where ground rents are high: (which is reason enough, Fanny, why the house-tax should not proceed upon a measurement of square feet, as some would have it;) and, as for windows, what can be the reason, do you suppose, that there are not as many in our new houses as at Fellbrow, where the walls are chequered with lattices? Is it because Fellbrow is particularly ugly, do you think?”
Sarah had little to say in praise of the beauty of either the many-windowed Fellbrow mansion, or the new houses where a window appeared here and there amidst an expanse of red brick.
We might all think there was most beauty in a proportion between the two, Fanny conjectured, if all were at liberty to consult their taste. But Richard had told her that it was owing to the window-tax that those architects were the most popular who put the smallest possible number of windows into their plans for building. Thus, we might arrive in time at a national preference for dead wall. But Fanny could not bear the idea of English streets looking like those of Damascus and other eastern cities, where you may walk for a mile in an avenue of blank edifices.
James laughed at the notion of such an evasion of taxes as this. The people of England must become poor indeed, if they denied themselves light and air to avoid a duty of sixteen shillings and sixpence upon the lowest,—viz., a house of eight windows,—and of no more than thirty pounds upon the palace of a hundred windows. The people must, before this, become as poor as Sarah must suppose him to be, judging from her anxiety to have his house as dark as she could persuade him to make it.
Sarah had had no such thought as of his being poor. She only judged from the way that houses were often built now. It must be very bad for the poor, (who are seldom disposed to be too cleanly,) to be stinted in air and light. She wished the days would return when houses might be half made of glass, like that at Fellbrow.
“I do not,” said James: “for there was a worse tax then. The window-tax indeed was laid on to relieve us from that. There was a tax of two shillings on every hearth, Sarah. Only think of the bore of having a tax-gatherer come round, insisting upon going into every room, to see how many hearths there were! It struck somebody that if windows were made to pay, instead of hearths, the tax-gatherer might walk round the outside to count them; which was infinitely less disagreeable than his presence within. At that time, the poor were not very heavily burdened by it, and now they are not so burdened at all. Houses with no more than seven windows then paid twopence a window; and now they pay nothing. So, for once, you may spare your pity for the poor on account of a tax. This does not touch them.”
“Then I call it a good tax,” declared Fanny. “Richard shall pay his share without any murmurs, as he does for his hounds and his horses, if he means to begin his housekeeping with a good grace. It makes me quite uncomfortable to think that we pay no more tax upon every pound of soap or sugar than the poorest of Whitford’s labourers. There is some comfort in paying for something,—even if it be light and air,—which may come to them free. I like this window-tax. It seems, too, as if it must be fair towards those on whom it does fall, if it rises with the number of windows.”
“It is not so, however. A tenant who takes a 10l. house in A—, an old-fashioned house in one of those half-deserted streets, may have to pay for sixteen windows, while a London shopkeeper, in a 70l. house, in a first-rate situation, may have to pay only for ten windows. This is not fair. I like the tax in so far as it is direct,—a prime virtue in a tax,—and because it falls on none below the middling classes; but I cannot call it equal.”
“Why, no: the London shopkeeper ought to pay more instead of less (whether his house be modern or old-fashioned) for living in a good situation. But, to be sure, he does this in his rent, and, I suppose, in his house-tax. And yet it seems as if the landlord must at last pay both the house-tax and the window-tax. How is it? It is a great puzzle.”
“Not at all. When a man is choosing a house, he takes the expense of the whole into consideration,—the rent, and the house-tax, and the window-tax. The tenant of the house with many windows in A— would have taken a house with fewer windows, if he had not been tempted by the lowness of the rent; and the London shopkeeper finds himself able to pay a higher rent for his house than he could have done if it had been more abundant in windows. Thus, though the tenants may pay the tax into the collector’s hand, it falls upon the landlords. The one landlord obtains a lower rent because his windows are many; and the other a higher rent because his windows are few.”
“Then, if this tax were to be taken off, it would relieve the landlords, not the tenants?”
“When the tenant’s leases had expired. Till then, the tenant would pocket the amount of the tax; but, the lease expired, the rent would rise. If the tenant could before afford to pay so much to live in this particular house, he will pay it again rather than quit a situation which suits him. But there is one way in which the tenant will gain. He can have more air and light.”
“And families who live in their own old houses in the country,—families who are not rich enough to afford themselves many luxuries,—would find the relief great. If Fellbrow had been left to fall into ruins because we were poor, and not because we were wild,—if we had come back to live cheap,—we should have found the window-tax a great burden, and should be glad to be rid of it.”
“Yes: it is not nearly so good a tax as its companion, the house-tax.”
“I hope, however,” said Sarah, “some other tax that falls upon the poor will be taken off first. It is a pity that landlords should pay unequally for their windows; but I think it is far worse that the poor should pay as much for some things as any landlord. But I suppose these taxes will make your house worth more than it would be worth without them.”
“In general, the value of houses must be raised by these taxes, because it will not be worth while to build till the ground-rent is high enough to pay the taxes as well as remunerate the landlord. But much depends upon situation, you see. The ground-rent of my new house is very low, because it stands in a situation that nobody cares about but myself; and the ground-rent of a house in the Strand is very high, because people bid against one another for the advantage of living in the Strand. If the taxes were taken off to-morrow, the value of the houses in the Strand would not be lowered till the Strand began to be deserted for some other great thoroughfare.”
“But if the taxes were to be taken off to-morrow, the value of your house would be lowered.”
“If I had not secured my bargain with the ground-landlord. If we were only beginning our negotiation, he would say, ‘You will be at so much less expense for your house than you calculated upon and can afford; and you must therefore pay me more for your ground.’ But Sarah knows that my house is too far advanced for any such speech to be made to me.”
“Besides that the taxes remain.”
“For how long? You know what an outcry there is about them in London?”
“From landlords or tenants?”
“From tenants chiefly;—from shopkeepers who will pocket the amount of tax for the time their leases have to run, and will then be just where they are now.”
“But they ought not to be indulged, while so many worse burdens are pressing on a larger and more suffering class. They surely ought not to be indulged.”
“Not as to the repeal of the house-tax, which is, if people would but examine and judge, perhaps the very best tax we have. But then, it wants to be equalized. The London shopkeepers are right enough in saying that. But its being unequally laid on is no reason for its being taken off altogether.”
“How does it want to be made equal? between houses of a different rank in London? or between houses of the same rank in London and in the country?”
“Chiefly between houses of a different rank, in London and in the country. It seems to me ridiculous to make such prodigious complaints as we hear about the enormous amount levied on London in comparison with the country. London may measure no more miles than there may be seen lying below my new house; but the property of London is more than our whole county; and the property on which the tax is levied is the question; not the space within which it is levied. The number of houses assessed in London and Middlesex is above 116,000; and in the county of Rutland 240.”
“People must pay for the privilege of living in London,—for the thousands of comforts and conveniences which are to be had there only. Here, if people want to send letters a few miles, two or three times a-day, they must dispatch two or three messengers, for want of a twopenny post. If they want to buy meat, they must go a good way to a butcher, and take the chance of getting what they want, if it be not market-day, instead of having an universally-stocked market at hand every day of the week. If they want to ride any distance, they must hire horses, for want of omnibuses and stages; and they have none of the luxuries of fine buildings, inexhaustible libraries, and the best of pictures, and of music, and of theatrical and other exhibitions at hand. O, people ought to pay for living in London.”
“And the most natural way is to pay in rent, and therefore in house-tax also. In as far as the country improves,—as provincial towns approach more nearly to the glory of London,—rents and house-tax will rise much more certainly than by any law that shall attempt to equalize them with the metropolis. I would not interfere between the shop-owner of Charing-Cross and the shop-owner of A—. The real grievance lies between the noblemen of Charing-Cross and of Yorkshire, and the landlord of a shop in the Strand. While the shop-owner pays a house-duty of 80l. a-year, and the peer in the park no more, and another peer in his country palace less than half, there is certainly ample room for complaint.”
“Without proving that the tax itself is bad. I should think some test of value, other than the rent they would bring, might be found out for those country palaces which, with all their splendour and convenience, might be difficult to let. Very rich men would not mind having the value of one article of their property ascertained, in order to be taxed, however disagreeable the inquisition may be to a less wealthy man, whose credit depends on the amount of his property. The house-tax would become a property-tax in this way.”
“It is a property-tax already; and therefore a tax of the best kind; and therefore to be parted with only when swallowed up in a general property-tax. Yet I am afraid it will be parted with, on account of the clamour of people who live near enough to the Treasury to make their clamour seem very terrible. If the sum which will then be taken off—”
“The house and window taxes together are between two and three millions.”
“That would go a great way towards relieving the poor of some really bad taxes, and particularly if great houses were taxed as they should be, so as to allow of more reduction in a right place.”
“Besides that the excise,—the really bad taxes, some of which press so heavily on the poor,—cost such an amazing deal to collect, that the saving in taking them off would be much more than the amount that comes into the Treasury.”
“If the house-tax is taken off,” said Fanny, “I shall persuade Richard to rebel at not being asked for it, as vehemently as some people in London threaten to rebel for a contrary reason. I should like to see a higher tax laid upon Fell-brow. I think we do not pay our share.”
“You have nothing to do but to give Mr. Taplin a hint to that effect. He will be very thankful for it.”
“He will gain a per centage upon the increase. These surveyors of the assessed taxes have so much per cent. upon all that they can lay hold of, which would not have been paid but for their exertions.”
“That is what makes Mr. Taplin so disliked,” Sarah observed. “He squeezes every shilling he can get from people who do not know how to answer him, or resist him.”
“Let them come to Richard,” cried Fanny. “He knows the law. He will help them, I am sure.”
“He cannot,” said James. “There is nothing for it but applying in person to the Commissioners; and many people do not think the matter is mended by going to the Commissioners at all.”
“But Richard might keep Mr. Taplin in awe.”
“That depends on whether Taplin has most reason to wish to stand well with Richard or to have his per centage on increases. He will soon be taxing you for Fido, Sarah. I will answer for it he has Fido down in his memorandum-book already.”
Fanny dreaded a burst of grief from Sarah; but she did not know Sarah’s power of self-command, or appreciate the strength of the motive to keep back the sad tale till the lovers should be alone. Wallace had sauntered near them, so as to hear the last sentence, and be struck with a bright idea in consequence.
“What do you think I have a good mind to do?” said he to Anne. “It would be capital fun to send an anonymous letter,—very solemn,—to Taplin, to bid him look to your sister’s dog, and tell him of half a hundred more taxable articles that she never had or will have.”
“O, don’t do it, Mr. Wallace! You will make him so angry, and my father, too!”
“And then,” pursued Wallace, “she will have to come before the Commissioners to tell her story, and—”
“O, Mr. Wallace, pray do not!” entreated Anne.
The more alarmed she looked, the more Wallace was amused with the idea of bringing up, not only Sarah, but half the neighbourhood, before the Commissioners. He suspected that Taplin’s avarice about his per centages would carry him a great way in demanding what he had no right to. In answer to her “Pray do not,” Anne obtained a “Well, well,” which satisfied her. In all innocence, she allowed him to extract from her everything she knew about the little concerns of her acquaintance among the small housekeepers of A—, and the cottages on Whitford’s lands. She was charmed by Mr. Wallace’s close interest in such trifles, and so engrossed by it that her father’s voice startled her when he called to her over the hedge. He was mounted, leading a string of horses which he was conducting to a fair at some distance. As George was otherwise engaged, it was necessary for the girls to be at home to keep the books, he said, and they had been out a very long time. Where was Sarah?
When Anne looked round, Sarah and her companions were not to be seen. Till lately, nothing so wonderful had ever happened as that the one sister should not know where the other was, or should have to go home alone. Wallace’s gallantry was exhausted. After explaining the improbability of Anne’s meeting another mad dog this day, he loaded his piece, and declared he must have a turn through yonder cover before he showed himself in A—, though the hour for business appointed by himself was already past. He supposed James was there; and he would serve the purpose at present. If James was gone elsewhere after his amusement, why the people at A— must wait a little.
BATTLES AT NAVARINO.
“Who said James was at his living?” asked Fanny of her brother Richard, as she sat at a window of the Navarino, waiting till he should have settled his business with the surveyor and the commissioners, and be at liberty to finish his walk with her. “Who said James was at his house this morning?”
“Not I,” said Richard. “I know nothing about him. Where is he?”
“Riding over the moor with the Lees. You may see them from this window. Now look? Just turning down towards Bray Fells. He wants to show Mary Lee that ride under the crags; and they could not have a finer morning.”
“When did the Lees come? I heard nothing of their being here.”
“They only arrived yesterday; and they will be off to town again in a month. They spend Christmas here, that is all. Mary Lee little expected such weather as this,—little expected any rides so near Christmas, I should think.”
“James will take care that she has one every day, I dare say, while the roads are in their present state. He will make the most of a party of friends while they are to be had. How long are we to be kept here, I wonder?”
“There is no knowing. There is quite a little crowd below, and more are coming up every minute. If all these people are here on business, like you, there is no telling when it will be done.” Leaning forward to whisper, she added, “The Swallows are here, I see. Let me ask the girls to this window. I want you to see Sarah. I don’t call it seeing her, to sit in the park, and take a curtsey from her as she passes.”
Nor did Richard: but he did not wish to be aiding and abetting in deceiving the poor girl. From this hour James’s head would be full of Miss Lee—
“Of Mary Lee! he never cared for her in London.”
“Because he was taken up with other things then. At Fellbrow, he fell in love for want of better amusement—”
“If I thought that—”—cried Fanny.
“I do not mean but that he would be as angry as you, if he heard me say so. He is fully persuaded,—at least he was yesterday,—that he has lost his heart in that direction,” glancing towards the girls; “but before Christmas-day, he will find that he has it to lose again.”
Fanny spoke not another word. She repeated again and again to herself how glad she was that she had warned Sarah against the infirmity of some of James’s purposes, though she had believed as fully as Sarah herself that he was really in love. She had prepared Sarah for his house never being finished,—for his betaking himself to the turf when he should be tired of the field,—for his putting a curate into his living, and carrying Sarah to London, never perhaps to visit A—again: but that he would give up Sarah,—that is, that he did not really love her, was a danger that Fanny herself had not anticipated since she had witnessed the courtship. Her spirits were sunk fathoms deep in a moment.
It was Sarah who had said that James was to be at his living this morning. She could not go with him, because she had to appear before the commissioners to plead against paying duty for the dog she had lost. She was now not in the best spirits. The errand hither was not a pleasant one: her grief for Fido was still fresh; and a strange trouble connected with him was in her mind. James had not been half so angry, or half so sorry, as she had expected, when she told him, the day before, of Fido’s fate. She had dreaded his anger so much that she was not sorry that he had been detained by his clerical duties all Sunday, and that Monday was a pouring rain, so that she did not see him. Yet on Tuesday, when she told him, she was as much surprised at his indifference as he was at her tears. He could easily get her another dog, he said; and she had been almost as much offended at the words as when the thresher had said the same thing. As if another could be the first gift! She was not much cheered at this moment by what she saw from the window,—the riding party lightly winning its way over the moor towards the very rocks whose echoes—O, what had not been confided to those echoes! But he was coming this afternoon, to consult her about a Christmas feast he was planning for the poor people in his parish, and then she should hear who these gentry were, and why he was obliged to ride with them. What a bustle there was below!
The Navarino indeed looked something like the rallying point of a host of hoaxed persons. When the commissioners arrived, they saw at a glance that to-day they must not dawdle about for a quarter of an hour, hat in hand, and yawn, and go away again, but prepare for the transaction of real business. Was there a rebellion against Taplin and his customary charges? or had an informer been stimulating Taplin to make new charges which were to be resisted?
“Let Swallow speak first,” said Richard. “His time is more precious than mine.”
“Whose is not?” asked his sister, laughing.
It ended in every body’s business being dispatched before Richard’s. His main occupation,—that of observing men and manners,—proceeded, however, to his satisfaction.
“Mine is a very extraordinary case, gentlemen,” pleaded Swallow. “The surveyor fixes the assessment of my premises at 70l. Gentlemen, I was never asked for more than 20l. till now.”
Taplin thought he ought to be very thankful for escaping the larger payment so long. His ranges of stables,—all his large back premises,—had been hitherto overlooked, and the house alone charged for.
The plan of the premises was produced. Swallow insisted that there was no connexion whatever between the house and the back premises;—merely that the house-door opened under the gateway. No witnesses could be heard as to the supposed value of the property compared with the neighbouring houses, or as to any of the points Swallow wished to establish. The rent of the entire estate was sworn to, and that the house was not considered separate from the back premises on any occasion but when the house-tax was to be levied. Swallow’s case was pronounced a bad one. He must pay the 70l. Swallow was very cross,—declaring that taxation was enough to ruin any man. No man was more burdened than he. His very calling was taxed. Who else, he wondered, but horse-dealers, paid 12l. 10s. a-year for following their business?
“Come, come; that won’t do,” said Taplin. “We all know well enough that it is your customers that pay that tax, and your interest upon your 12l. 10s. ’Tis a very good tax; and you won’t succeed in making people discontented with it. If every thirteen thousand pounds of tax was as pleasantly raised as that, we assessors should hear few complaints.”
“Move off, sir, unless you have any other complaint to make,” said one of the commissioners to Swallow.
“I have, sir. Here is a charge of a pound for a dog of my daughter’s. Neither of my daughters has a dog; as they are both here to testify.”
“A pound charged! A greyhound then. Will these young ladies swear that they have not been in possession of a greyhound?”
“That is the point,” declared Taplin. “The young ladies will not deny that a greyhound, by name Fido—”
“Never mind the name,” said the commissioner.
“But he is dead,” murmured Sarah. “I had him only—only—”
“O, you grant you had one: then you must pay.”
Swallow muttered that if his daughter had had the impertinence to deny, or equivocate, or battle the matter with the surveyor, she might have got off. He now vented his displeasure upon the girls, desiring them to accept of no more dogs; unless somebody else could be found to pay the duty: for he could not and would not.
Yet it was owing to Sarah that he escaped a far heavier and more expensive vexation. Horse-dealers are bound to deliver in accounts of the exercise of their trade (as they do not take out licenses) once a quarter, to the assessor. Partly from his having delivered the book into George’s keeping, and having a short memory for what was not before his eyes, and partly from the hurry and bustle consequent on George’s commitment, and his own narrow escape, Swallow had forgotten all about this quarterly report. It was Sarah who remembered it, just in time, and saved the fine. Swallow took occasion, in the midst of his wrath, to ask the surveyor if he was not grievously disappointed that this fine of 50l. remained safe in the horse-dealer’s pocket. The surveyor declared it was no concern of his.
Mrs. Barton! the loyal Mrs. Barton! what could she be here for? She might have been expected to pay the last half of her last cup of tea in tax, if the king had been graciously pleased to call for it. What could bring her here?
A very aggravated distress about windows. She and Miss Biggs could use no more than one window each to look out of; and when the maid had appropriated a third, far more remained than were necessary for the ventilation of Mrs. Barton’s small house. Four windows had for years been shut up. The surveyor had now taken it into his head to charge for these windows. He pretended to suppose that these windows might be opened the day after he had turned his back. Such a dreadful supposition! that Mrs. Barton would cheat the king! She,—the most devoted to Church and King—
“Please to tell us, ma’am, how these windows are closed up.”
“Sir, the shutters are put to, and painted black, sir; and then there is lath and plaster erected within; so that not the minutest particle of light—not the most piercing eye—O, who could suspect me? But I cannot, you see, gentlemen, when the commerce of the place has so fallen off, and such a revolution and transition is going on; and when four windows are in question—”
Taplin only knew that he had received information that Mrs. Barton’s dead windows could let in any convenient portion of light upon occasion. As for her business falling off, everybody knew that she had fresh customers for hair-powder—”
“What is that to us, Taplin?” said the surveyor. “Do keep to business. It is the least you can do, after bringing all these people about us to-day.”
“They brought me; not I them, gentlemen. If they had chosen to pay at once, there would have been none of this trouble. But her selling more hair-powder has to do with business. She cannot deny that she has starch in her house.”
“I!—Bless me! Starch in my house!” cried Mrs. Barton, looking from side to side, as if not knowing whether to admit or deny that she had starch in her house.
“Remember your oath. You have sworn to speak the truth, remember,” said Taplin, terrifically. “Your having starch gives me a strong impression that I shall find alabaster there, one of these days.”
“We have nothing to do with strong impressions,” declared the commissioners. “If you have nothing more to say about these windows, Taplin,—if you cannot overthrow Mrs. Barton’s evidence of their being completely shut up, we must decide in her favour.”
“What is all this about starch, and alabaster, and strong impressions?” asked Fanny of her brother.
“Those who sell hair-powder (which is made of alabaster and starch) are prohibited from keeping alabaster in their houses. Taplin chooses to suppose Mrs. Barton has alabaster, because he is told she has starch. But that is an excise inquiry, and has nothing to do with the assessed taxes, as he knows. He only wants to frighten her, and make her give up about the windows.”
“They assess Maynard’s white head, however.”
“Yes, I have had to pay 1l. 3s. 6d. for your serving man’s white head.”
“Must I make him leave off powder?”
“Not unless you wish to send him to his grave. No, government shall have the advantage of Maynard’s taste in dress as long as the old fellow lives with us. How Mrs. Barton’s head shakes! How triumphant she looks! I am afraid she will grow disloyal, after all. The commissioners are offering her a direct premium on resistance to—”
“Ah! to what? To Taplin, not to taxation. I am sure it must be a very bad thing for a government to have such servants as Taplin,—so prying,—so grasping!”
“There will be such till people grow as honest about paying their taxes as their other liabilities.”
“Stay, ma’am, we have not done with you yet,” said Taplin to Mrs. Barton. “There is a gentleman below, that I find travels for your house,—a commercial traveller, ma’am; 1l. 10s. is the tax, ma’am, which I hope he brings you orders enough to enable you to pay. I shall by no means give up the claim for the windows, but refer it to the six judges: but I conceive you will hardly contest the traveller.”
“If you mean Mr. Taylor, who brought me a message from cousin Becky that she wanted some eau de Cologne, I am happy to tell you that gentleman never rode a mile out of his way for me.” And Mrs. Barton related that Mr. Taylor and her cousin were engaged, and that Mr. Taylor, being a commercial traveller, called on Mrs. Barton as he passed through A—, to give her news of Becky; but she offered to swear that he never took an order for her, or paid her any money, in his life. Some wag had imposed upon Taplin. Everybody laughed. Mrs. Barton had better have stopped here. Emboldened by the success of her eloquence, she went on to complain of the distresses of the times to commercial people, and of the favour shown to the agricultural class over that to which she belonged. She was afraid his Majesty forgot that kings formerly lived upon the land, and at the expense of those who held it. It was quite an innovation, their now living upon their trading subjects. Farmers had no house-tax to pay. There were actually near 137,000 farm-houses in England and Wales exempt from the house-tax. Farmers’ horses were to pay no tax, forsooth; and her friend Mr. Whitford had insured his farm-stock, and been charged nothing for the stamp. If a rich man’s wealth did but happen to be land, he was not charged the inventory and legacy duties; and so it was in these degenerate days, that traders, the most useful set of subjects the king could have—
“You say so because you are a trader, and not a farmer, Mrs. Barton,” observed her friend, Mr. Whitford. “If you had to pay such burdens as I have, or even such a charge as I am here about now—”
“Come, let us hear it, Mr. Whitford,” said the Commissioners.
“Of all unconscionable things, the surveyor wants to charge me for my market-cart.”
“Because you use it to ride in, I suppose?”
“The horse cannot go to market without somebody to drive him; but we have a gig for our pleasure; and that I pay for.”
“Your gig for pleasure, and your cart for convenience, I suppose. Does nobody ever ride in your cart for convenience?”
Whitford could not deny that if his wife and he wanted to go into A—, or to the village of M—, they took the opportunity of a lift when the good wife and her boy were going with mutton, eggs, and butter; but the cart was a market-cart, and he already paid for a gig. It came out, however, that the cart was painted so as to look very pretty; and there was a seat which could be strapped on, to make the vehicle convenient for more persons than could be wanted to drive it to market.—The assessment was confirmed.
Whitford hoped Mrs. Barton perceived that agriculture was not too much considered. She saw the treatment he met with to-day; and if she was aware how Taplin was on the watch whenever the farm-horses went to drink, to find out that they were used for some purpose which might justify a charge,—if she knew how nearly he prevailed with the Commissioners last time to tax Whitford for his shepherd’s dog, she would to think trade particularly aggrieved.
Taplin declared that Whitford’s horses went to drink oftener than any horses at the Navarino or the Turk’s Head thought of drinking. It had become quite a joke, Whitford’s horses going to drink; and the dog was certainly seen feeding off one of Whitford’s sheep.
Because the sheep happened to die, Whitford declared. In that case, the Commissioners had done justice to agriculture.
“These people are a specimen of how people talk, the wide world over,” observed Richard to his sister. “You see how they argue upon the vast interests of vast bodies from the temporary aspect of their own little affairs. Agriculture is protected or oppressed, according as Whitford has to pay thirty shillings more or less; and Mrs. Barton’s windows are to be the test how trade is regarded by King, Lords, and Commons.”
“I wonder how King, Lords, and Commons are ever to know what to depend upon, if all interests are urged in this partial way,” observed Fanny.
“There are always principles to be depended upon in this matter of taxation, as in everything else; and there can be no other safe guides. Amidst the inconsistent, the bewildering representations offered, a certain number must be in accordance with true principles; and it is these which must be professedly acted upon.”
“But if foolish representations abound, and wise ones are scarce, what must Government do then?”
“The last thing it ought to do is to ground its proceedings on the ignorance of the people,—to yield them that which they will hereafter despise the donors for granting them.”
“The house-tax, for instance, which some people in London are clamouring to be rid of.”
“The house-tax, indeed, is an instance. The house-tax is one of the best taxes that ever was imposed. It is one of the very few which falls only on the wealthy and substantial—on none below the owners of houses. It is a direct tax, and might be made an equal one; and is particularly convenient as to the time and mode of payment, to all who are not such babies as to prefer having their money taken from them without their knowing it. This tax is unpopular with a portion of a particular class; and an immense proportion of the nation knows nothing, and has nothing to say, about it. This gives a favourable opportunity to the highest classes, who have not paid their due share, to get rid together of the question and the odium of not paying then share; and thus the Government is tempted to silence clamour and please the aristocracy, on the plea of yielding to the popular wish. But if the Government yields to this temptation,—if it takes off the best-principled tax we have, and leaves the worst,—I hope it is preparing itself for that retribution which, sooner or later, overtakes every government which founds its measures on popular ignorance.”
“But what can be done? Is not its unpopularity a sufficient reason for the abolition of a tax, when some tax is to be abolished?”
“Its general unpopularity. But, in this instance, the opposition, though harassing, is partial, and only such as might easily be diverted, by equalizing the pressure of the tax. If it were now to be thus equalized, and if any pains whatever were taken to exhibit to the people the comparative qualities of this duty, and of any one of our worst excise taxes, the very shopkeepers of London would soon worship the footsteps of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for preferring to their dictation the unurged interests of the many.”
“The taxes that have been in question to-day have none of them fallen on the poor.”
“None of the direct taxes do; yet they are so few, that the poorer classes pay five times as much as the classes above them. Now, mark our consistency. We admit (because nobody can deny) that an equitable taxation leaves all parties in the same relative position in which it found them. We know (or might know) that the poorer classes are made, by indirect taxation, to pay five times as much as others; and yet, as soon as there is a tax to take off, we leave the excise untouched, and relieve the upper classes of the very heaviest which bears particularly on them, and the very fairest which our long list can exhibit. This injustice could not be perpetrated if the poor had their rights, either of enlightenment or of parliamentary representation.”
“I do wonder that these assessed taxes are so unpopular, even among those who pay them; for, however disagreeable it may be to have the tax-gatherer come and take a certain sum, which the owner would like to keep for some other purpose, the tax-payer is, at least, master of his own house and his own business. The brewer, and the paper-maker, and the glass-manufacturer have much more reason to complain, liable as they are to be watched and persecuted by excisemen, and insulted by anybody who chooses to inform.”
“These direct taxes are difficult to evade; and this, which is a real virtue in a tax, makes it disliked by those who entertain ‘an ignorant impatience of taxation.’ But it ought to be known that the most ingenious person that ever evaded the payment of his share of tax would part with less of his money by manly payment, under a system of direct taxation, than by paying no more than he could possibly help under an excise and customs’ system. Mr. Pitt lowered the duty on tea in 1784; and, to make up for the deficiency to Government, laid on an additional window-tax. What happened? The same classes who had to pay an additional window-duty found that they had more money than before to spend on tea. The consumption of tea increased so marvellously, that the amount of revenue it brought in was not much less than before; and Government was, on the whole, a great gainer, and the people not losers. Less was lost between the people’s pockets and the Treasury. If we could but take a lesson from this event, and go on diminishing our indirect and increasing our direct taxation, both Government and people might be astonished at the apparent creation of wealth to them both. It is grievous to think of 2,000,000l. being levied on our own manufactures, and 6,000,000l. on the raw materials in the country, while only five millions and a quarter are raised by direct taxation, while the cost of collection of the one is three times that of the other. If, out of this five millions and a quarter, the house-tax is yet to be taken, we must bear to be taunted with ‘the wisdom of our ancestors,’ and be sure that our posterity will not have much to say in praise of ours.”
“And yet people talk of absentees being brought home by the doing away of direct taxes.”
“The absentees will hardly talk of coming home for any such reason. They see that there is now a smaller proportion of direct taxation in this country than in any other in Europe; and they know that out of our government revenue of between forty and fifty millions, scarcely one million and a half is raised on expenditure peculiar to the rich, and that they did not go abroad to escape this very slight burden. If they did not go abroad to escape it, they will not be brought back by a small reduction of their small share.”
“And if they could be brought back, their return is not for a moment to be set against any advantage given to the lower and more heavily-burdened classes.—But see! there are some poor people standing before the Commissioners; some really poor people, Richard.”
“Who can yet afford some luxury which Mr. Taplin has got scent of, perhaps.”
“Do you know, I think some informer has been busy among us. Mr. Taplin can never have had the wit to find out so suddenly all these liabilities.”
“There are informers for profit, and informers for fun, Fanny. I have seen somebody enjoying the joke as the tax-payers came up to appeal; and the more cross they look, the more he enjoys the fun. He is a good deal annoyed, I fancy, at our sitting here so quietly, waiting to let my case be the last.”
“Wallace! Do you think he would connect himself with Mr. Taplin?”
“Anonymous letters would serve the purpose. But I will not forgive him for wasting the time of these poor people, if they are not liable; and I cannot think they can be liable.”
The group consisted of a poor woman and her two sons, the elder of whom resembled her in his evident dread of being sworn, while the younger seemed likely to fail in nothing for want of courage. The mother might safely swear, however, that the mule for which she was to be taxed, if Mr. Taplin was to have his way, was given by Mr. Whitford to her elder lad, and that it was too young to be used yet; and when it should be strong enough, it would not pay its own tax of half a guinea. If she might be let off now, she would get rid of the beast before night, if the gentlemen pleased. Any of them should be welcome to the mule, which was of no use to her, but only cropped its living along the lanes. Mr. Taplin was made duly ashamed of this charge.
Perhaps the being upon oath tied the tongue of the elder lad; for he would not say that he had not carried a gun any day this last season; that he had not, in any manner, knocked down a hare or a rabbit; that he had not been seen coursing when Mr. Cranston’s harriers were in the field. He declared that he was there merely as a spectator; that he had no dogs; and that he was returning on horseback from an errand on which he had been sent by his master, and had merely joined the sport because the horse he rode wished to do so. These excuses were not admitted: he was requested to pay 3l. 13s. 6d.; on hearing which request, he turned as white as ashes, and looked apprehensively at his mother. It was clear that they could not raise the money.
“For God’s sake, Richard, tell me how I may get this poor fellow off,” said Wallace, coming up to his brother, in much perturbation.
“Suppose you pay the fine. It is hardly fair that the Government should not have something out of your pocket to-day, when you have managed to extract more or less from almost every body else. I do wonder you could bring yourself to waste the valuable time of these poor people; and pray observe how their consciences are racked about the oath. I fancy a little bold swearing would have brought off that good lad. Stop, Wallace!” as Wallace was darting towards his victim. Wallace returned. “I am pretty sure the Commissioners are wrong here. You can offer to refer the case to the six judges, if you think proper: I feel sure they will give it against the Commissioners.”
“You must make the offer, Richard; I will take all the trouble, I faithfully promise you. But you would not have me be thanked by these people, when they do not know that I brought them into this scrape: you must speak up for them.”
Richard did so; and Wallace whispered to them that, happen what might, they would have nothing to pay. The younger lad swore to all and everything that was convenient, in order to escape what his brother had been threatened with. He had not carried a gun. Well, if he had, it was only to shoot crows. O yes; he had shot at something besides crows,—he had brought down a paper kite that had stuck in a tree. That which he brought home in his bag was a weasel, which his master thanked him for destroying. Thus did he get rid of every question; and he evidently took credit to himself for his superiority over his brother in cleverness. Fanny thought it all very bad, and was glad to be convinced that the fault lay, not in the principle of the taxes in question, but in the methods of managing their collection. Even now, all this was far less disagreeable and pernicious than the management of the excise and customs’ duties; and the remedy would certainly arrive whenever the race of tax-gatherers should improve, which will be whenever the people shall learn their duty in respect of paying taxes. When all shall be done openly, and persons shall subscribe to government as they subscribe to any other institution, as a condition of sharing the privileges, there will be an end of secret informations and of perjury. Till then, as it is clear that there is far less of these grievances and crimes under a system of direct than indirect taxation, let those who dislike underhand enmity and false swearing advocate the utmost possible simplification of the system,—the imposition of few and direct, in place of many and complicated, taxes.
It was a sad necessity for Mr. Pritchard of the Turk’s Head to have to appear in the house of his rival of the Navarino; but it was necessary, not only to show himself, but to lose his cause. The Expedition stage-coach had started from the Turk’s Head from the time when Pritchard was the smartest of young innkeepers till now, when he was losing his energy and going out of fashion; and, during many a year, had he, the proprietor, paid the tax upon the two coaches which daily passed each other on the road. It had now suddenly occurred to Mr. Taplin that there must be a third coach always ready for use, in case of any accident happening to the other two. No protestations of the impossibility of more than two being wanted were of any use. The existence of the third could not be denied, nor its having been seen on the road within a month. Pritchard was compelled to pay for three.
And now was Richard’s turn. He happened to have a seal with a horse’s head and his initials upon it. Taplin charged him for armorial bearings. Richard paid for these on his carriages, and he thought this enough. He stoutly argued his point about crests and coats of arms; and even went so far as to talk of appealing to the six judges if the commissioners decided against him. It was in vain. He threw down his 2l. 8s. at last, to save further trouble to himself and other people, and sighed over the seal, with the use of which he should indulge himself no more while in Mr. Taplin’s neighbourhood. He had nothing to say against the tax. There could hardly be a better, particularly as it was improving in productiveness; but he could not submit to use a seal in so expensive a way.
“It rather gives one pleasure to see you suffer,” observed Fanny, “when one considers a surcharge on ourselves as a kind of reparation to the poor for their bearing, as a class, so much more than we do. It is a comfort to think that Mr. Taplin has not laid a finger on one poor person to-day, except—”
“Except the poor fellow whose suffering, if inflicted, would have been ultimately owing to our game-laws. Those game-duties are fair enough while our gentry go on preserving their game, and bringing upon their heads the blood and moral destruction of the hundreds and thousands that are lost for their indulgence.”
Fanny observed that she had never thought so much about the old French nobility as since the gaol at A— had been tenanted by offenders against Richard’s game.
“I cannot bear it,” said Richard. “I must go through with the affair, now it is begun, I suppose, for the sake of the country gentlemen in the neighbourhood: but it is the last time poor men shall first be tempted by me into what they do not consider crime, and then punished in a way which makes them criminal. I feel already as if I must be answerable for all the real crime and all the misery which must result from these men being separated from their families and their employments, and thrown into the corruption of a prison. I cannot bear it.”
“What will you do?”
“Leave off preserving my game; give it up as property; do anything rather than foster night meetings of poachers, and cause an annual transformation of some of them into burglars, or lawless wretches of some proscribed class or another. Ah! I know James and Wallace will be very angry. But let them go and sport elsewhere, if they must sport. They shall not have my countenance in spoiling my neighbourhood. When they have to go a long way to find a bird, and have tried in vain to start a hare, they may invite themselves somewhere else, and leave me with my rooks, which I like better than my pheasants, after all.”
“But is it not rather a pity?” Fanny had some regrets.
“Certainly it will require some self-denial, even in me, who am careless about sport: but are we rich people so very sorely exercised in self-denial that, living in a country where food is the one scarce thing, we must forbid the half-starved labourer to touch the tempting flesh and fowl that spring from beneath his feet, as he walks where no eyes see him?—flesh and fowl which he regards as common property, because they are by nature wild? Be the labourer right or wrong in his notion, as long as his want and his notion co-exist, I will surrender to the weakness of his condition what I am not at all sure that I should deny to the strength of his arguments. No man shall in my time go to gaol for offences against the Fellbrow game. Maynard may teach Mrs. Barton to set springes if he pleases; and Swallow may carry away his dozen hares in broad day, instead of at night. If George comes out no worse a boy than he went in, his pretty sisters shall hold him at his post in the office for me. We must think of some way of keeping Morse’s heart from breaking. That is the thing most to be dreaded. He cares more for the pheasants than for poor Alick, I believe.”
“Those game-duties must be given up, if every gentleman followed your example. But, to be sure, there are more important things involved in the question than the game-duties.”
“Taxes on luxury are excellent things, when that part which is paid in money is all. But when reputation, innocence, the comfort of some entire families, and the actual subsistence of others, are the tax paid for one factitious luxury enjoyed by those who revel in luxuries, the cost is too great. James says that one of our neighbours will be transported; that he has evidence of something worse than the mere poaching. For my part, I conclude that most of those concerned will be either transported or hanged, sooner or later. Such is the common issue of poaching.”
“One would think some man-hater had ingeniously planned this method by which to slide from mere carelessness or frolic into crime. Here is just the intermediate step between honesty and dishonesty, without which many an one would never have transgressed. Here is a property which is so peculiar as not to be considered a property by those who are tempted to take it. Punish them as for taking property, and they become wilful thieves, and all is over. But who is the one neighbour James means?”
“You will be surprised to learn; but it is a secret at present. Now, shall we walk?”
“As soon as Mrs. Barton is gone from before the door. I think she will never have done talking to Maynard.”
“Not till you go down. She is waiting to speak to you, and you may as well take it graciously.”
“O, but I bought some lavender water of her only yesterday.”
“Never mind! I dare say she has something new to say to you to-day about Church and King.”
LOUNGING AND LISTENING.
“I never said anything so decidedly to you before, James, but you must stay,” said Richard to his brother, the clergyman, who was lounging from window to window of the library.
“Such a place to keep one shut up in, in the midst of winter!” muttered James. “It is enough to make one melancholy to look at that black frozen water under the rocks, and all the trees within sight loaded with snow, and not a twig stirring to shake off so much as a flake. ’Tis so desolate when one compares it with London, I declare my spirits won’t stand it.”
“One week cannot make much difference. It was all your doing that any stir was made about these poachers at all, and you must stay a few days longer to carry the matter through. What difference can one week make?”
“All the difference in the world. The journey up to town with the Lees signifies more than any thing I shall meet with when I get there. The happiness of my whole life may depend on those three days of travelling—”
“How little you know of yourself, James,” said his sister, “if you think that anything that can happen in three days can make you happy!”
“You can make me preciously unhappy, I know, if you keep me three days longer in this miserable place. Why, ’tis a place only fit for a hermit to live in, in winter.”
And he glanced at a green stain which was still conspicuous on the ceiling. It was convenient to overlook the thick new carpet, the roaring fire, and the ample provision of books, whose arrangement had been just completed under his own eye. “It is very strange if you cannot transport a man without my help. I am sure I wish Taplin had gone on thumbing his Ready Reckoner for many a night to come before I had meddled with him. It will end in my being full as much punished as he, or any of his gang.”
“Thumbing his what?” asked Fanny of Richard.
“The Ready Reckoner. Taplin has been the head of the poaching gang. It has been organized by him,—made into a kind of club, sworn to co-operate. Taplin administered the oath; and his excuse is, that the men were sworn, not on a Testament, but on the Ready Reckoner. We have evidence enough to transport Taplin. It was James that obtained it; (you had better ask him how;) and now he wants to be off to London, at the critical moment, (you had better ask him why,) and leave me to manage the matter in which I have never stirred, except in as far as I was forced by him.”
“I know the how and the why,” observed Fanny, gravely. “The greatest wonder of all is to hear him talk of the happiness of his future life, with such a how and why lying on his conscience.”
“Now, you just show, at this moment, the folly of meddling in other people’s affairs, and preaching about other people’s consciences,” said James, turning round from the window. “I can tell you that Sarah Swallow is going to be married. I know it for fact; for her intended told me of it himself. Indeed, he asked me to marry them. What do you think of this, Fanny?”
“I think just as I did before. If Sarah proved herself as light-minded and fickle as yourself,—if she so injured and betrayed the interests of her sex,—how does that excuse your treachery to—”
“Now, if you say another word about the sanctity of the church, and the dignity of the clerical character, and all that, I will never set foot in my living again to the end of my days.”
“I was not going to make any appeal to you which I know to be so useless. The clerical character has no dignity in your keeping; and you take care that the church shall have no sanctity in the eyes of your people.”
“That is not my fault.”
“I know it. You can no more be a clergyman than you can be a musician or a sculptor. Your misfortune and that of your people is that you are called a clergyman.”
“Ah! I saw two old women dreadfully scandalized, the last time I came from the hunt. They thought I was over the ears in a pitcher of ale; but I heard them say, ‘There’s our parson, with not a thread of black on him but his neckcloth.’ ”
“The sin of the case lies with the church that makes a point of a black coat while she tempts in—”
“Hearts that must needs come out black from being steeped in the hypocrisy of a professed sanctity.”
“I am sure I never professed any sanctity.”
“Therefore your heart is not of the deepest black of all. But what has been your only alternative? Leading your people to think that no sanctity exists.”
“That is the fault of the system,—not mine. The system made it a matter of course that I should be a clergyman. Here I am. I must either set my face at its full length, and play a damned deep part when I talk of righteousness, and temperance, and—and all that—”
“And judgment to come,” said Richard, gravely.
“Or, if the people see I am thinking of anything but what I am saying, they can hardly believe that such threats signify much. You should lay the blame on those that put me into the church.”
“They would plead that you were put there as a matter of course;—that you were born to it. They would refer the blame farther back; where, indeed, it ought to rest. The day must come when faithless parents must be arraigned by their injured children: and then will your people, among a countless multitude besides, rise up in judgment against mother-church for having made an elaborate provision for, not only desecrating the gospel, but generating infidelity towards both God and man.”
“That may be all very true; but I cannot help my share of it now.”
“You can stop the spread of the mischief which has sprung up through you. Come out of the church. You look more astonished than there is any occasion for. Remember—”
“Remember, sister, how it is with other professions. A bad physician does not give up practice; nor does an ignorant lawyer, because of incapacity.”
“Remember that the physician and lawyer who are as well known to be as unfit for their business as you are for yours, are not employed. In the profession of the church alone are the incapable sure of their occupation and its recompense. But no one is more aware than you that the days are coming when, if the unqualified do not step out of the church, they will be plucked out; or, if time be promised them to die out, it will be a chance whether the impatience of the long-betrayed people will not unroof the sanctuary from over their heads. You well know this, James. Your duty to your church, then, requires that you vacate your place: that at least one—”
“Knave? Hypocrite? Come. Out with it!”
“At least one unqualified person may give place to a true-hearted one who may help to restore what has been laid waste. If you owe no duty to your church, you do to your people; and both the one and the other require you to vacate.”
“And Mary Lee forbids. If you had said all this a month ago —”
“Then Sarah Swallow would have forbidden. Your people must be betrayed in order to enable you to marry, while, at the same time, you cannot make up your mind whom to marry. You will persuade yourself, when you have been married a month, that you have made the wrong choice, after all. If you would give up your living, and work with your conscience in some other employment, instead of sporting with it in this, you might find at last that you had a heart, and that there was some one person who alone could satisfy it. You might be happy, James, after all.”
“There is no use in that sort of thing now,” urged James. “Sarah is disposed of, and Mary Lee—”
“Disposed of!” said Fanny, fixing her eyes upon him so that his were immediately turned away.
“Upon my honour, I had nothing to do with it. It was all their own doing. It was as much news to me as to anybody when Morse came to ask me to marry him.”
“I believe you. I acquit you of providing for the prostitution of one whose innocent heart you had just gained, and found it convenient to throw away.”
“But the winning and casting off led to the rest,” observed Richard.
“I tell you, she threw herself away. The old man sought her because his son loved her,—not because I did. But he is a good old fellow; and after all—”
“Silence!” cried Fanny. “Go on, if you dare, to say that to be the slave of an ignorant old man,—the household drudge of a being she despises for marrying her almost as much as she despises herself for marrying him,—say, if you dare, that this is a good enough lot for one whom you yourself taught to feel that she had a mind and a heart, to be free in action, and devoted in affection—”
Her eyes rained tears, and her voice trembled so that she could not go on to say that with which her heart was overfull. James began to ask himself whether he had not committed a great mistake in deserting one for whom Fanny seemed to feel so passionate an affection. In the midst of her agitation, Fanny saw his misapprehension.
“It is for my sex,—it is for our nature, that I feel it so much,” she struggled to say. “That no more should be understood of what love is by those who are acting in the very name of love! That any one should dare to open only to darken,—to expand only to crush! Anne says, ‘I did say a great deal, but Sarah is so much cleverer now than I am, that I dare not say all that was in my mind. She sees how foolish many things are that we never used to doubt of, and that I do not understand any better now.’ Nothing can be truer. The whole being of the one sister has been awakened, in order to be tortured; and the other can no longer console.”
To carry off some emotion which could not be helped, James began to jest. He thought it was only fair,—for the purpose of restoring the sympathy between the sisters,—that he should flirt a little with Anne.
“Try;” Fanny said; and she spoke no more.
James next made an attempt upon Richard.
“I am sure you ought to thank me, Richard. You wanted to have Morse’s heart kept from breaking, if you should give up preserving your game. The thing is done, you see, thanks to me.”
Richard took no notice.
“I never saw such a brother and sister in my life,” cried James, with a heavy tread up and down the room. “I believe you do not care for anything that happens to me.”
“We do,” said Richard; “but we are bound to care for others too.”
“And for your future self,” added Fanny. “James, do promise that you will not seek Mary Lee. I do not know why you should look amazed. You must know that she would not think of you, if she knew all; and that you cannot make her life happy, if you could persuade her that you love her now. Do not crush another heart.”
James was, of course, quite sure that he loved Miss Lee, and pretty confident that he could attach her, and absolutely certain that they should make one another perfectly happy. He should go now, and learn whether her departure could by no stratagem be deferred till he could accompany her; if not, he should fly after her the very hour that sentence should be pronounced on Taplin.
He returned in two hours, very much out of humour. The Lees were going the next morning. He should hasten to Brighton, or somewhere, till the spring; any where (after Fellbrow) except London. He hated London at this time of year almost as much as in the autumn. He should speak to Riley about getting so much of the new house ready as should fit it for the residence of a curate. It might as well go on so far, now it was begun; but he could not think what had possessed him to begin building in such a place.
Sarah seemed quite disposed to allow Morse’s plea that a long courtship was not so suitable to his years as it might have been to those of his poor boy. She left him the choice of the day, and called on her sister to assist her in speeding the necessary preparations. Anne humbly obeyed all directions. She might wonder,—she was indeed lost in wonder, at all she heard and saw; but Anne was by this time persuaded that she was very stupid in comparison with Sarah, and that she had been very wicked in envying Sarah a happiness which Sarah had parted with so much more easily,—with so much a better grace than Anne herself could have done. She was angry with herself, too, for not respecting and liking good Mr. Morse as she had done. The more love-letters Sarah threw into her lap to be read, the more presents Mr. Morse brought for Sarah, and the more carefully he spread them out to be admired, the less did she like him; and she could not sit quiet, like Sarah, under his jokes and pretty speeches, while she remembered things that Mr. Cranston had said. She wished Sarah would not laugh when people said it would be Anne’s turn next, and when they talked about the new tax-collector,—of his honesty and civility, and his wish to be comfortably settled;—as if that was any business of hers. She had seen enough of love and marriage. She was not very fond of the bustle there always was about the Paddock, and she should find living there very forlorn when Sarah would be half a mile off; but she would be content with her lot; and she now knew how to deal with any Mr. Cranstons that might come in her way.
When the wedding-party had encountered a good many acquaintances who had accidentally happened to take their walk, on the bridal morning, past the gamekeeper’s cottage and towards the church—when they had slipped past Mrs. Barton at the moment when she was relieving Maynard from the charge of the spaniel, and had received Mr. Pritchard’s smiling bow, and heard his promise to drink their healths after dinner, they fell in, at a cross path, with James himself, who was riding to the church in company with his curate, to whom he introduced the bridal party.
“I should have said,” observed James, walking his horse by Anne’s side, “that—You remember that you were the first I became acquainted with,—when your sister rode down the lane, and left you with me;—you remember?”
“Yes, sir, I remember.”
“Well, I should have said then that you were likely to be the first to be seen at the altar. I am sure it must be your own fault that you are not. I cannot think what you are to do without your sister.”
Anne was vexed that tears would spring.
“Ah! It will be sadly lonely. I am quite sorry for you. You shall have a dog to keep you company. No better company than a dog, when one is melancholy! You shall have a spaniel as pretty as my sister’s; and I dare say you will take better care of it than your sister did of hers. I will bring it myself in a day or two.
Anne said she should be busier than ever after her sister’s departure, and should have no time for dogs or visiters. She showed no regret when he talked of going away; no pleasure at his doubt whether he might not be induced to stay. She looked up, as for an explanation, when he sighed about misunderstanding and precipitation, and the blindness of some people to their own attractions. How Anne wished, at that moment, that Sarah had ever happened to look full in the face of her late admirer, and seen how he could be confused by such silent questioning!
James put as little sanctity into the service as could be desired by the strongest foe to hypocrisy, or lamented by his astonished curate. Why Morse should be so proud as he was of being married by anybody who could marry him in such a manner as this, was more than a stranger could comprehend. In the midst, the cry of hounds was heard. The clergyman stopped a moment, and went on uneasily. Another cry followed, and he halted again. Morse made bold to step forward and whisper.
“If there had been no other clergyman here, I don’t know that I should have offered such a thing as to put our affair off till to-morrow; but perhaps that gentleman—I think it is a pity, sir, you should lose the hunt, sir, on our account; that’s all. But you are the best judge, sir.”
In another minute, James had leaped upon his horse at the church-door, and his curate had taken his place at the altar,—so discomposed as to find it difficult to proceed as if nothing had happened. When all was done, Sarah was still pale with the sense of insult, while her husband was congratulating himself on his own good-breeding in not standing in the way of his young master’s pleasure.
This was the last marriage service attempted by James, except in the instances of gay friends, who liked to be helped through the ceremony by one resembling themselves. He was better known, as a clergyman, in the newspapers than in any other way. Mrs. Barton now and then read a paragraph to Miss Biggs which showed that “our young clergyman” was still in existence, and still a clergyman; and Mr. Pritchard’s guests were on such occasions enlightened as to James’s connexions, and the family estate, and the tenure of the living in the vicinity. But thus alone was James heard and spoken of among the neighbours of those who would have been happy to forget that they had ever seen him. He never gave his curate any trouble about the living, or cared about Fellbrow when better sporting was to be had elsewhere.
London: Printed by William Clowes, Duke-street, Lambeth.
CHARLES FOX, 67, PATERNOSTER-ROW.
Printed by William Clowes,
CHARLES FOX, 67, PATERNOSTER-ROW.