Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VI.: BATTLES AT NAVARINO. - 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.
Chapter VI.: BATTLES AT NAVARINO. - 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.
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.”