"But we have already told you, that we are as much indebted for your interference as if you had put a whole herd of furious cattle to death. For my part, I am perfectly satisfied with the introduction as it is."
"Then we may consider ourselves friends?" I enquired, gradually becoming less embarrassed by the manner of the unknown.
"Certainly—I tell you we shall never forget your gallant interference. It is strange we never met with such an adventure before; for Amy and I come very often here."
"Indeed?—It is certainly very strange that I have never seen you before; for I am here almost every day."
"Why, if you keep your eyes constantly on the ground, you have no great chance of seeing any thing but the grass. We have seen you often."
"And you know my name, of course?"
"Henry Rayleigh, of Rayleigh Court. Oh! we know all about you."
"And I—I am ashamed to say, I have not the same advantage with regard to your style and title—I feel sure it must be a beautiful name."
"You had better guess."
"Flora? Edith? Rebecca?"
"We must go home now," said the little one.
"Isabella? Brenda? Minna?"
"No—you will never find it out."
"Then you will surely tell me."
"Oh no!—that would spoil the romance of our acquaintance."
"And am I never to find out who you are?"
"Probably not, if you bury yourself in the woods all your life. I have been your neighbour for half a year, and you have never seen me."
"My eyes must have been blinded; but I will bury myself no more. Do tell me your name, and where you live, for I am very ill qualified to be a discoverer."
"I shall certainly not destroy the charm of mystery. Let it be enough that you know me by sight. The name is of no consequence—but if you really wish to know it"——
"I do indeed."
"Call me Lucy Ashton, and that will remind you of the service you did me to-day. In the mean time do not follow us. I should wish this meeting kept a secret—come, Amy."
And so saying, and taking her sister by the hand, she walked rapidly away, leaving me with the pleasing expression which is commonly attributed to a stuck pig, gazing at her graceful motion, and half inclined to consider the whole interview a delusion of the fancy, or at least a dream.
Lucy Ashton!—a charming idea!—and I the master of Ravenswood! My neighbour for half a year—and often in the Wilderness! Then of course she will come often here again. I will find out who she is. I will sit no longer in the deep recess of an old pew at church, which is hidden from all the rest of the congregation. I will even go down and call on the clergyman. He must surely have observed the most beautiful girl in the world. He can't have been such a mole as I have been. I will find out all about her; and astonish her next time we meet, by telling her the result of my enquiries.
On these exploratory thoughts intent, I took my homeward way. The old turrets of the house rose before me, more distressingly symptomatic of poverty and decay than ever. I crossed the noble quadrangle, which was overgrown with grass, and betook myself to the great dark-wainscoted old library, utterly disgusted at the folly or extravagance of my ancestors, in having reduced me to such a condition. I began to think that my father was not so much to blame in lamenting our fallen state as before;—and that night I fell asleep, wondering if Lucy Ashton's father was a governor of the Bank of England, or if she was as poor and portionless a being as myself.
Next day I walked down to the parsonage. It was in Rayleigh village, and the living had once belonged to our family, but among the diminishing possessions was the first to be disposed of. It was held by Mr Dobble, to whom I was hardly known except by sight—and the reverend gentleman was no little astonished when my name was announced. He was a little short man, about fifty years of age, very polite and very talkative; but who seemed always to recollect something or other in the middle of a speech, and end on quite a different subject from what he had begun.
"My dear sir," he began, "I am truly glad to see you. By the by, I don't think I have ever seen you in the parsonage before."
"I have lived very retired—we never move from home—my father sees no company."
"Ah, very true—the more's the pity! I shall always be delighted if you will come in at any time. By the by, are you fond of fishing?"
"Yes, I sometimes fish."
"Your father keeps you a great deal too much boxed up for a young man of your time of life. You should be forming a stock of friends just now, to last you your lifetime. By the by, are you a judge of wine?"
"No, I never taste it."
"No?—for I was going to observe that a young man should act like a young housekeeper—lay in his friends as the other does his cellar; and always keep up the stock—particularly pleasant men and port-wine. They improve"——
"My stock is certainly very limited," I said.
"You should enlarge it at once. By the by, there are a great many new residents in this parish since I was inducted."
"So I believe."
"Ah, just so!—never called on them, of course—By the by, will you have any lunch?"
"No, I thank you. I have never called on any of the new-comers. I don't even know their names."
"That's odd! But it isn't of so much consequence now, for they are all getting bought out. By the by, would you like to see the repairs in the chancel?"
"No, I thank you. Are they getting bought out?"
"Not a doubt of it. All the old farms and manor-houses, which had been converted into comfortable modern dwelling-houses by the different proprietors, are nearly all in one owner's hands again—as they used to be, in ancient times, in your ancestors' hands. The whole estate nearly is reunited, and the purchaser is restoring things as much as he can to their ancient condition. He gave Mr Juffles thirty thousand pounds for the Grange about six months ago; and all the Juffles family is to be off in six weeks. By the by, you are not acquainted with the Juffleses?—they haven't been here more than five years."
"No, I don't know them—are they a numerous family?"
"Sons and daughters by the dozen. By the by, weren't you at college for some time?"
"Yes, for a few terms. How many sons has Mr Juffles?"
"Seven or eight—John, Thomas, Abraham, Alexander, George, Hookey, and another; but whether his name is Richard or Robert I don't recollect. By the by, was it Oxford or Cambridge?"
"And the daughters?" I said, not attending to his question—"he has many daughters, you said, as well as sons."
"Oh, seven or eight of them too—Susan, Martha, Elizabeth, a younger one, I don't recollect her name, Anne, Sophia, and some little ones. By the by, the Indian mail is very interesting—have you seen the news?"
"No, I never see a newspaper. Is there a young lady among Mr Juffles's family of the pretty name of Amy?"
"Amy?—Amy?—'pon my word I don't recollect. And yet I think I do. I think I have heard the governess call one of the children Amy. By the by, we have had charming weather of late."
"Charming. How old is the governess?"
"A young person—too young, I should say, for such a charge; seventeen, perhaps."
"And you are sure you have heard her call one of them Amy?"
"Yes, I think I may say I am sure. By the by, the French seem very unsteady. I admire Louis Philippe."
"Is the governess pretty?"
"I should say so—yes, I should say decidedly pretty. By the by, he seems inclined to dismiss M. Thiers."
"Blue eyes, beautiful mouth, sweet smile, and musical voice?"
"Who, my good sir?—Louis Philippe and M. Thiers? By the by, weren't you asking me about Mr Juffles's——? Ah! now I recollect. The governess—yes, she has blue eyes, and sings beautifully."
"And walks out with Amy?"
"Of course. By the by, do you hunt?"
"No, I have no horse. And how old are Mr Juffles's other daughters?"
"All ages, from twenty-three downwards. By the by"——
"Is there one about seventeen?"
"Yes, I should say the pretty one—I forget her name, Elizabeth, I think—was just about that age. You should be introduced. But, by the by, it would be of little use. They leave the Grange in a few weeks, if indeed they are not gone already; for they were to be ready at a day's notice, and I haven't seen them since Sunday week. By the by, Russia seems very discontented. Do you think they meditate an invasion?"
"I never read politics. Are any of the other neighbours about to remove also?"
"Oh yes! Mr Poggs, the rich West Indian who bought Hartley Mead, that used to be a part of your park a hundred years ago, and fitted up the Gothic cottage at such an immense expense. He's bought out—fifteen thousand pounds for two hundred acres, and he is to remove next Michaelmas. By the by, which style of architecture do you prefer?"
"I know nothing of the subject. Has Mr Poggs a family?"
"Two daughters, but I scarcely know them. Old Poggs is half a dissenter. By the by"——
"How old are the daughters?"
"'Pon my word, my young friend, you would do for an inquisitor."
"I have a very particular reason for asking these questions."
"Ah I see!" said Mr Dobble, "young men will be curious about their neighbours' children. By the by, have you seen the Bishop of London's charge?"
"No, I see nothing new. How old are Mr Poggs's daughters?"
"One, the eldest, a tall handsome girl, I should say about seventeen; the other six or seven."
"Do you know the younger one's name?"
"No, I don't think I ever heard it. Do you know the young ladies?"
"I have told you already, that I have not the happiness of knowing any of the neighbours;—and I regret very much to hear that they are going away before I have had the opportunity of making their acquaintance."
"Oh no, not all! They are not all going. Mr Jeeks himself will be constantly resident. By the by, are you fond of shooting?"
"Has he any family?"
"A son—yes, I know he has a son, but I am not sure of any daughters. In fact, between ourselves, I don't think he has any daughters,—and it is no great loss it they were any thing like the son. No, I know he has no daughters. By the by, he talks of coming home from college this month."
"How old is the son?"
"About one or two and twenty. Very stupid or very idle, I am afraid. He can't take his degree."
I got up to go away. I felt that the object of my mission was unattained.
"Don't go, my dear sir; don't go. 'Pon my word I did not mean any thing in what I said. He may be very clever, and very admirable in every respect, though he does not take his degree. By the by, did you see Brougham's speech on the poor-law? He should be called the poor-lawyer par excellence, as the French say. You'll call on me soon again, I hope. By the by, are you fond of tulips? I have a beautiful bed just in bloom."
O Poggs!—O Juffles!—O nameless governess! which of you all was Lucy Ashton?—I waited all that day in the Wilderness, but nobody came. The long shadows began to point eastward; the pigs were all driven in; the world was left to silence and to me; and I walked slowly and disconsolately home.
On getting inside the great door of the court-yard, I heard voices—loud, angry voices. I recognized my father's tones, and was about to go round by the inner wall, when, hurrying rapidly towards me, I saw three persons—my father was one of them. The elder of the others was a man about sixty years of age—brown, almost black in the complexion, with nankin trousers a world too large for his long legs; an immense broad-brimmed straw-hat on his head, and a large gold-headed cane in his hand. The other was a little sharp-eyed, thin-featured man, about my own age, but with the appearance of twenty times the shrewdness I could ever muster—one of the prematurely sagacious youths who seem as if they had been born attorneys, and are on the look-out for sharp practice.
"I have already told you, sir, that your intrusion is insulting," said my father: "relieve me of your presence."
"Jist as you like, that's matter of course," said the old man; "but the time will come when you'll repent this here unpoliteness. I never see sich a thing from a real gentleman to another in all my born days."
"It's because he ain't master of the philosophy of good manners," squeaked the younger.
"Why, what in hearth," continued the senior, "is there to be angry about? I want to buy your land—it ain't any sich enormous property ater all—and offer you about three times the vallyation of a respectable surveyor; what's that to set up your back about? Come now, there's a good gentleman, think better over it. The money is all ready at the bank."
"Do you wish to drive me to violent measures—to throw you into the river?" asked my father in a voice of concentrated passion that made me feel very uncomfortable.
"By no manner of means—by no means whatsomever."
"As to that," interposed the shrill voice of the youth, "two can play at that game; but it ain't philosophical to talk of sich matters—father makes you a fair offer."
"And I make you another," I said; "namely, one minute's time to leave this house. If you are found one instant beyond the minute, by Heaven, you and your father make but one step from this spot into the centre of the brook!"
"Oh! ha! who are you, sir?" the youth began, but paused when he saw some convulsive twitching taking possession of my hands; and an expression far removed from either philosophy or politeness spreading around my eyes.
"This here is young Rayleigh," said the old man, "and p'r'aps he'll be more open to reason and twenty-seven thousand five hundred pounds."
"Thirty seconds are elapsed," I said, going forward to the young man; "you have but thirty more." My hand advanced, but, luckily before the thirty seconds were exhausted, the door had closed on the hateful presence, and my father held out his hand.
"Thank you, Henry—I am obliged to you, Henry," he said; and I had never heard him call me by my name since the memorable character bestowed on me by the head of St John's. He looked me all over, as he spoke, from head to foot: he seemed surprised and pleased at the result of his survey.
"They are vulgar people," he said, "and have irritated me past endurance by their insulting offers. They have never ventured to present themselves here till now; and, from the reception we have given them, I hardly think they will repeat their visit."
"I am sorry, sir, you allowed them to chafe you."
"I will not do so in future. You will be beside me, Henry; the father and son together can offer a bold face to the world in spite of these crumbling walls. We can despise the dross of that vile Croesus, and keep the Rayleigh mansion-house in the Rayleigh name."
"Who is he?"
"The possessor of every other portion of the estate but this; his name is Jeeks, and the young fellow is his son—his only child, I believe—very rich, and very disgusting. Let us think of them no more."
That evening we had a long and confidential talk; and I perceived that, though he had finally given up all intention of getting me into the church, in the hopes of patching up the holes in the old roof with a mitre, he had fully made up his mind on the subject of a widow. I rejoiced that Mrs Coutts was already disposed of. He talked a long time of jointures, three per cents, India stock; and I—O youth! O hope!—I mused all the time on the beautiful eyes and sweet smiles of my unknown enchantress, and made pious resolutions to betake myself, like some ancient anchorite, to the Wilderness, for the purpose of worship and meditation.
Lucy Ashton was under the tree—Amy, like a sensible child, busily employed at a little distance gathering flowers; the sun shining, the bees humming, the birds chirruping.
"You made me wretched all yesterday," I said.
"Indeed! had the worthy Caleb no device to cheer the young master's solitude?"
"Impossible, even for Caleb's ingenuity, to supply the want of society as he contrives to hide the absence of silver plate. Ah, why did you not come?"
"I don't recollect having promised to expose poor Amy again to the assaults of a wild boar."
"Or yourself to the conversation of a person like me."
"Oh! I have told you, over and over again, I am delighted to have seen you; and I like your conversation amazingly: you are very different indeed from what I expected."
"In Heaven's name, what did you expect?" I said. "Who ever spoke of me to you, that knew me?"
"Nobody that knew you; but you are a good deal spoken of, notwithstanding. I was curious to see if they were correct."
"And what did they say? I will endeavour to correct them if they are mistaken."
"They said you and your father moped so continually in the old house, that you had grown (like Quasimodo) to have a resemblance to brick and mortar yourselves. I expect to see you like a gable-end, with a couple of mullioned windows for eyes, and a mouth. I was astonished to see you so nearly human."
"Ah! you will humanize me still more if you laugh at me as you do; do take pity on me, and don't let me settle down into a wall."
"With all my heart, for I have no turn for architecture; and, by all the descriptions I hear of the old court, you don't seem to be Palladios."
"There may be other reasons besides a want of skill and inclination," I said, with a sad feeling of the anti-architectural condition of our exchequer.
"Oh! you mean poverty. Then, why don't you sell the old place?"
"It would kill my father to think of it."
"But it would not have so dreadful an effect on you? I know you could get it sold if you like."
"An old impudent fellow of the name of Jeeks wishes to force us into a sale. I will see him and all his race at the bottom of the Red Sea first."
"Would you sell it then?" she said.
"No—but, fair Lucy Ashton, why do you ask?"
"Because if you parted with one brick of the old house, one blade of grass of the old park, one leaf of one old tree in the old wood, our acquaintance would end as rapidly as it began."
"Then it shall suffer no decay," I said, and took her hand, which she held out to me with honest warmth; "and now let me find out, if I can, who it is that gives me such admirable advice. I called on Mr Dobble yesterday."
"He told you a great many things, by the by, did he?" she said.
"You know him, I see, and he knows you." As I said this, I looked with the air of a man who has discovered a portentous secret; but she bore my look with the same celestial open smile as ever.
"What a happy man he must be in knowing so first-rate a parishioner. Did he boast much of our acquaintance?"
"He seemed to know more of your brothers and sisters," I said.
"Oh, which of them did he like best? How many did he say I had?"
This was a puzzler; for I was quite undecided whether to consider her a daughter of the house of Juffles with fourteen children, or Poggs with only two.
"Amy seemed a great favourite," I replied.
"But, my brothers—what did he say of my brothers?"
"He said—but perhaps it was in confidence—so I will not mention all he told me. He spoke highly of the whole family of Mr Poggs."
"And very properly too. We are all pleasant people in this neighbourhood; and, indeed, I wonder he can make any distinction in the degrees of amiability between the Poggses, Juffleses, Higginsons, Jeekses, Wilcoxes, and all the late and present occupiers of the Rayleigh estates."
"Higginsons? Wilcoxes? he never mentioned them; but as to the Jeekses, pray don't speak of those detestable wretches. I hope you despise young Jeeks as heartily as I do."
"Not quite, perhaps."
"No?" I looked at her. Gracious powers! is it possible this beautiful creature can be so blinded by the fortune of the wretched animal, as to look upon him without disgust. "Are you intimate with him?" I enquired.
"Oh yes! we are all very social down here; no ceremony between neighbours. He is a great sportsman."
"Oh, then, it must be your brothers that are his friends, not you!"
"I certainly don't go out shooting with him—in fact, I have no time. I am engaged educating Amy so many hours, that I could not practise enough to be able to hit a bonassus, like a celebrated marksman of my acquaintance; far less a partridge."
"And you educate Amy? and yet you have brothers? and don't despise young Jeeks? and know every body?"
"And like them all," she added.
"All equally?" I enquired.
"With a difference, as a body may say."
"And Amy is your sister?"
"We call ourselves so."
"Then, by Heavens, you are Miss Poggs!"
"Well, is that any thing to swear about? There have been Misses Poggs in the world before, I suppose."
"But you talked of educating her; devoting your time to her."
"So I do."
"Then you are the governess in Mr Juffles' family."
"Why not? You don't think worse of a person for being able to give a little information to a little girl of seven years old, do you?"
"Think worse of her? Ah, Lucy Ashton! I could not think worse of you, if you were able to teach the Head of a college."
"You could not think worse of me? Do you mean worse of me than you think already? In that case I must retire."
"No, no; don't go! I have not found out yet who you are."
"I thought you had found out I was two. You can't surely be wrong in both."
"I suspect I am. You spoke of your brothers. Now, I make a guess you have seven. I could tell you their names."
"You mistake your role, or rather confuse it. You are the master of Ravenswood, not Frank Osbaldistone. I am not Di Vernon."
"You are a puzzle; an Urganda the unknown."
"That means that you are the Bel Tenebroso. You will perhaps be disenchanted soon."
"Only if you leave the country."
"Why, won't you have the Poggses, Jeekses, Juffleses, though I find another situation? you can make their acquaintance whenever you please. You will be re-enchanted again, I assure you."
"By Heavens, I believe you are making a fool of me all this time! You are the third Miss Juffles yourself."
"Swearing again? What would Mr Dobble say, by the by? I never denied that I was either the third or fourth Miss Juffles. Are you happy now?" she said with a smile.
"I can't be any thing else so near to Lucy Ashton."
"Oh, cry you mercy; you are back again at Wolf's Crag! And I assure you, I like you better in the character of its inhabitant than as the Inquisitor-general and particular too—which you have acted all to-day. Let there be a truce between us in question and answer, and all will be delightful. We have hitherto been like Mrs Marcet's chemistry, all whys and becauses."
The truce was signed, and an hour passed away, composed of sixty minutes of enjoyment, as if it had all been one second; and I felt that there was only one woman in the whole world that could ever keep me from being wretched; and that was a beautiful young girl in a straw bonnet—name, parentage, and every thing about her, totally unknown.
At the end of the time she took Amy's hand and left me. I did not follow her—I had promised I would not; but I had exacted a promise in return, that she would meet me again. And so she did again and again. I never asked who she was; I did not even care to know. Five weeks passed on, and I was as irrecoverably in love as if I had known she was a duchess, with fortune enough to buy back the whole estate.
All this time my father was very kind in his manner; and was constantly dwelling on the advantages of a wealthy match. My heart bled for him when I reflected how bitter would be his disappointment when he found out the dreadful truth, that every woman in existence was hateful to me except one poor penniless girl; at the best, one of fourteen children, and perhaps a governess without a sou. But I would not destroy his dreams before there was occasion—and sat silent and unresisting, as he poured forth his matrimonial schemes for my aggrandizement.
But Lucy at last was unpunctual in her visits to the Wilderness. One day I had waited from an early hour, and had strained my eyes to catch the first glimpse of her glorious figure as she tripped among the trees. I had at last sat down beneath the accustomed oak, and was fancying all manner of reasons for her not making her appearance, when all of a sudden I heard a rustle at my side, and, starting up, saw before me the pragmatical visage of young Mr Jeeks.
"Servant, sir," he squeaked in his shrill unmusical tones, "Oho! this is the philosophy of it—is it?"
"What do you mean, sir, and what do you want here? Are you aware that this forms as yet no part of your father's land."
"It will soon, p'r'aps—but I want just to say a few words. I hope not to lose my temper, as I unfortunately did last time I dropped in to see you and your governor; for why should gentlemen quarrel? It ain't philosophic."
"I should think what gentlemen do, whether they quarrel or not, is a matter in which you can have no personal experience. Say on, sir."
"I am just agoing to begin; and I only hope I shall not get exasperated, and misbehave myself, as I certainly feel I did the last time we had a talk."
"Go on; I don't think you'll get exasperated, whatever else may happen to you."
"You think, p'r'aps, that your goings on, young Mr Rayleigh, ar'n't known; but they are though."
"In what respect, sir? What do you allude to?"
"Petticoats—that's what I allude to; and I come just to give you a friendly warning, that the seven young Juffleses are all six feet high."
"Your information is totally undesired."
"I know it is—it's uncommon unpleasant information; and, if I was you, I would give up the chase. She's certainly a very pretty girl is Betsy Juffles—but not fit for you or me, you know. She has no blood."
"As I don't know whom you allude to, of course I can give you no answer; but, as you seem to be giving me advice, I will favour you with a very decided piece of it in return; which is, to hold your tongue on any subject connected with me, or the consequences to yourself will be such as you will hardly like."
"Thank ye for your friendliness—I am rather fond of advice than otherwise, though it's certainly one of the things that it's more blessed to give than to receive; and I will just give you a hint that may do you good—Betsy's a very good-natured girl, but fickle—very."
"Oh yes!—she is indeed—she made great advances to me once; but I rather checked her. A very clever girl too—and speaks French; but she has no philosophy. She went to the last assizes, and fell in with some dragoon officers at a ball. She's all for the redcoats now, or at least was till lately—but since then she"——
Here the little animal winked.
"Oh!" I said, willing to hear what the creature would say.
"I have scarcely spoke to her for a long time; but I hear some of her proceedings," he continued.
"You do?—from whom, pray?"
"Why, it can't be supposed I never hear Amy talking about how often she goes out with Betsy. I'm very much against Amy seeing her at all. Her steady stupid sister would be a far safer companion than such a wild sort of girl as Betsy Juffles."
"You say she once made advances to you," I said, with a horrid suspicion at my heart that I had been an egregious fool.
"Didn't she? You should have seen her looks. She always sat a little behind her mother's chair, so as to be out of the old lady's eye, and did cast such preternatural glances across the room to me, and smiled, and smirked, and sidled, and shook her curls—it was wonderful to behold, but she had no philosophy, and I looked cold"——
"And chilled her?"
"Exactly. I could have tumbled her into the railway, and been off to Gretna, by only holding up my finger—but I wouldn't. She bore it pretty well, considering the disappointment; and first consoled herself by flirting at a ball with a set of ensigns and cornets, and then took to you."
"To me? I don't understand you, Mr Jeeks."
"You are an insolent jackanapes"——
"I'm not—come, I am trying to keep my temper; but p'r'aps you think Betsy a good speck? Bah! she'll not have five hundred pounds; and your bumptious old governor won't buy back many of the old acres with a dribble like that."
This time I did not give him a minute's grace: my hand was on his collar in a moment; I shook him till his teeth rattled audibly, like dice in a box; I kicked him, pushed him, and, as the gratification grew with what it fed on, at one dread reckoning I paid off the horror I experienced from his account of the girl I had worshipped, and his insolent mention of my father. I took a fiendish delight in prolonging his agonies. Another minute's indulgence in the punishment would have raised the tiger that lies sleeping, but always awakable, in every man's heart, and I might have killed him outright; but luckily we got near the boundary hedge. It was of strong old thorns, very thick and high, and very wide at top. I seized my victim with both hands, and swung him on to the summit of the hedge, where, after wriggling a short time in every variety of ridiculous contortions, and squeaking as he sank deeper and deeper among the thorns, he threw himself by a great effort to the other side, and rolled into the ditch.
Some people seem to take naturally to a thrashing, as others do the small-pox. In a few minutes I perceived him emerge from the ditch and walk—though rather stiffly—across the field. "Thank Heaven," I said, "if I have been a dupe I am not a murderer!"
Next day I waited again—and the next, and the next; and no Lucy Ashton, or rather no Betsy Juffles, came. The next day was Friday—my birthday. I had much to do; my father was resolved to celebrate the great event by a solemn dinner tete-a-tete, during which he was to communicate his final decision with respect to my future pursuits. I hurried to the Wilderness in the morning—no success—and in despair betook myself once more to Mr Dobble. That gentleman's dovetailed observations were by no means elucidatory on the point I came to clear up. He did not know the names of all the members of any of the families—he had never heard of any persons of the name of Higginson or Wilcox—he knew nothing of the colour of people's eyes—and did not recollect whether any one member of his flock had red hair or black. How difficult to take the commonest observations in the cold northern latitude of forty-five! But one thing at last I discovered; the Juffleses were to leave on the following day—the Poggses had been gone since Tuesday.
"By the by," he said, after this information; "you are much indebted to your cousin, young Jeeks—I never knew till lately he had the honour to be a relation."
"I never knew it, sir; and certainly make no claim."
"But you ought, my good sir, after the service he did you on Monday"——
"What service, sir? I am not aware of any."
"Indeed? That's most extraordinary! I understood he interfered, and saved you from a personal assault."
"Yes! And he certainly bears marks of his efforts on your behalf. By the by, the Ministry seems tottering."
"I thought you said, Mr Dobble, this Mr Jeeks pretends to be my relation. Did he ever tell you by what means, or in what degree?
"Yes; but I am no herald. Some old lady long ago married a person who had a daughter, who had another daughter, who had a son who is the father of old Mr Jeeks, who made an immense fortune at Canton. Opium, I am afraid—more opium than tea."
"It does not seem alarmingly near, at all events; and I beg to assure you that the interference he talks of on my behalf, was of such a nature, that it is of my gratitude he bears the emblems which he attributes to his friendly zeal."
I hurried from the parsonage. I had not an hour to spare; but an irresistible attraction drew me to the wood—and there, in the rural seat, was Lucy Ashton once more! She saw some change in my countenance, and spoke in a different tone from what I had ever heard her before.
"I am afraid I have been very imprudent, Mr Rayleigh, in carrying on our acquaintance so long; but I am come to bid you farewell—probably for ever!"
I looked at the moistening eyes of the fair speaker—but steeled my heart against her arts.
"You have tried to break me in to the loss of your society by degrees; you have not come here for three days."
"I was busy—disagreeable things occurred at home—I had no opportunity. But it is better as it is—we must now part, and I hope you will forget me"——
"Forget you! That is impossible. But I shall try to find methods of enduring the separation."
"I trust you will—I did not mean to part from you in unkindness: your voice is altered—your eyes are changed"——
"Because I am Edgar Ravenswood no longer; nor you Lucy Ashton. You made me know, for the first time in my life, what it was to have a true and absorbing attachment. I worshipped you with the fervour of a boy—I loved you with the sincerity of a man. You played me off for the gratification of your paltry triumph over affections that were too valuable to be wasted on a flirt. I have heard of the assize ball—I have heard of young Jeeks—I have unmasked you, and you are Betsy Juffles."
A glance—bright and sparkling, but instantly subdued—appeared for a moment in her eyes, which now swam in tears.
"Be it so, then. If I were to stay longer in this part of the world, I might perhaps try to set myself right in your eyes; but as it is"——she paused, and sighed.
"You go then soon?"
"I go to-morrow."
There could no longer be a doubt. Mr Dobble had told me the Juffleses removed on Saturday. I saw what a consummate actress I was opposed to, and hardened my heart more and more. We had come by this time to the gate into the field; I held it open for her as she passed, but said not a word: I then rushed back to the place we had so often met, threw myself on the ground, and cursed Poggses, Jeekses, and Juffleses, with as much earnest devotion as my father himself could have required.
But in the midst of all these maledictions rose up every now and then a doubt—was she Betsy Juffles?—was she a flirt?—had she ogled young Jeeks?—had she made a fool of me?—or was she indeed the bright pure captivating Lucy Ashton I had known, the clever, the warm-hearted, the good? Oh, if she was, and I had cast her off, and made myself a cold iron-hearted brute, at the whisper of a wretch like Jeeks! I made a vow that, if I found he had deceived me, I would finish the sacrifice commenced on Monday, and tear him limb from limb. That night and many nights—a month, a quarter of a year—passed in earnest consultations with my father. I read, but no longer the Waverley Novels: I attended to the farm—I was busy—useful; I felt I could get over Euclid if I chose, but I hated him and all his propositions. The winter came: I worked hard; I had found my deficiencies in conversation with my fascinating deceiver—and the more my mind enlarged, the more it dwelt on the thousand charms of thought and expression that had passed unheeded at the time. I could recall every look, every smile, every tone; and when the early leaves began to bud, when the grass was green again, and the snow had disappeared from the highest hills, I had made up my mind that without Betsy Juffles, flirt or no flirt, life was not worth having; and I resolved to find her out, wherever she was, and tell her so. Mr Dobble informed me that Mr Juffles resided in a bow-windowed villa near Bushy Park, called Verbena Lodge; and thither I determined to go. My father wished me to go to London to make arrangements for beginning the study of the law, and in the early weeks of March I found myself in the great city; but though I saw St Paul's, Westminster Abbey, and the Temple and the Tower, with my bodily eyes, my thoughts dwelt for ever on the bow-windowed villa near Bushy Park. I left the smoke, the noise, and all chances of the wealth of modern Rome, behind me, and installed myself in a comfortable lodging at Hampton Wick. I became one of the rangers of Bushy Park, without the queen's signature to my appointment. I passed and repassed Verbena Lodge, but saw nobody at the windows; I meditated even on the expediency of making my way into the house, on pretence of a message from Mr Dobble; when——once upon a time in the merry month of May, beneath a stately tree, musing and alone, I say, in the heart of Bushy Park, the unmistakable figure—the unmistakable face of Lucy Ashton, radiant, smiling, beautiful as of old.
"I thought you wouldn't forget me quite," she said, and held out her hand.
"I was an ass—a fool!" I began.
"But you have grown wiser now?" she enquired.
"Yes, wise enough to despise balls, Jeekses, officers—and throw myself at once and for ever at the feet of Lucy Ashton."
"What will Betsy Juffles say?"
"I hope she'll say yes."
"Well, perhaps I may answer for her—I don't see what right she has to object to any thing that pleases me."
"She's a charming girl, and I hope you will be guided by her in every thing."
"Such as?"—she asked with a smile that made us feel we had never quarreled, never parted, but were at home in the Wilderness. I need not tell the answer. I had got quit of my bashfulness on the subject of Gretna Green and postchaises with a vengeance; and then and there I suggested a trip to that delectable region, and scorned all the objections she attempted to make about our respective fathers, and family quarrels, and all the chimeras that disappear before the breath of true love like mists before the sun. We met every day for a week, and I so surprisingly improved in eloquence, that I should certainly have forced my way to the woolsack if I had employed one half of it at the bar. At all events, I succeeded in my object with Lucy Ashton so far, that she agreed to accept me for better or worse; and then, for the first time, it occurred to me, I ought to make my father acquainted with the great step I intended to take in prosecution of my legal studies.
"Ah, Edgar, don't write letters! half an hour's conversation will explain every thing better than twenty reams of paper. Go down to Rayleigh, and tell him all."
"All what? you forget I have nothing to tell."
"Tell him you are resolved to marry a girl who will make you happy."
"And your family?" I said; "he can't endure the very name of Juffles."
"Say nothing about them. Ask leave for me to go down and see him: I feel sure he will like me, and forgive you all."
I resolved to obey; and with infinite regret tore myself away, and seated myself in the railway carriage. I was only to be absent two days; but two days in such circumstances are a century. The bell rang, the train began imperceptibly to move, when two tardy passengers jumped into the coach; and in the first I recognised my friend, young Mr Jeeks. If I had had it in my power, I would have left the carriage; for I was in no frame of mind to be pestered by a popinjay.
"Goodness me! how odd!" he said; "Quite a family party this is. My cousin Mr Rayleigh, Mr Shookers—Mr Shookers, my cousin Mr Rayleigh. It's quite pleasant to be among one's relations."
The other man, answering to the name of Mr Shookers, bowed at this introduction, and showed his teeth and a large portion of the gums in the amplitude of his smile. He was a short stout man, with a very broad face, which was still further distended by a forest of red whiskers on each cheek. I took no notice of his salutation, but looked as indignantly as I could at the insufferable Jeeks.
"You don't seem very friendly, which is highly against the rules or philosophy," he continued; "but p'r'aps you don't know much of your own genealogical tree. My friend Shookers has studied heraldry, and knows very well how nearly related we are."
"Did you address any of your observations to me, sir?"
"Didn't I? to be sure I did. There was a certain Arabella Rayleigh in Temp. Geo. Prim., that means in the time of George I. or II., I forget which—but it is ages ago—that married Martin Hicks, and had a daughter, who married in Temp. of another of the Geos John Smith, and had a daughter; which married James Brown, and had a daughter; which married grandfather, Thomas Jeeks, in Temp. Geo. Tert.—which makes us cousins; and that's the reason why father thinks it so hard your old governor won't part with the rest of the lands. Isn't it too bad, Mr Shookers?"
"It seems very unfriendly in old Rayleigh to keep such a hold on the property, when Mr Jeeks is willing to buy him off."
"Are you aware, sir, in whose presence you allow yourself such vulgar and insulting language? I am Mr Rayleigh's son."
"Well, and I'm his cousin," interposed young Jeek; "and it's rather hard if a man can't stand a word or two about his relations. I don't care what Shookers may say about my cousin. I have too much philosophy to care."
Mr Shookers, however, took the hint, and made no further observation on the subject. I looked out of the window, and endeavoured to abstract my thoughts from the conversation of my companions; but it was impossible. I kept my looks turned to the window; but I soon began to listen with all my ears.
"You'll find it uncommon hot at Singapore," said Mr Jeeks. "It's always the dog-days there; but all the Juffleses can stand fire like reg'lar bricks, as they are."
"I like it," replied Mr Shookers; "and I am very much obligated to your father."
"He's a trump, is the old fellow—he's out of business himself—wound all up at Canton; but his interest will do great things for you at Singapore."
"Oh! I consider my fortune made; and I am sure we shall both be grateful to him till the end of time."
"Ah, you're a lucky chap to get such a girl persuaded to go with you so far! But I always said Betsy had all the pluck of the family."
I half looked round—and Mr Jeeks favoured me with a wink, which implied that he would keep the secret of my acquaintance with the Juffles's family a secret from his friend.
"She's full of spirit," replied Mr Shookers.
"And so clever, too," added Mr Jeeks; "so sentimental and all that. No end of walks in woods. I wonder she hasn't tired poor Amy to death. She's taken to it as bad as ever lately again, and takes no end of rambles in Bushy Park. You're a lucky fellow, Shookers; for I'm sure she's thinking of you all the time she's pacing up and down among the trees."
"She had better take as much as she can of the trees," answered the lover; "there's no great temptation to ramble in Singapore. She won't have much more of it, for we must sail in the next ship."
"I always said Betsy Juffles would make a good marriage after all—though she's such a comical girl, I shouldn't be surprised if she carried on her jokes to the very last, and pretended to care about some of her old admirers even now."
"She's very welcome," said Mr Shookers; "it's reg'lar good fun seeing her trot out a spoony. How she makes us laugh, to be sure!"
The two gentlemen seemed so overcome with the facetiousness of their recollections, that they broke into a laugh that lasted nearly a mile.
I felt somewhat in the situation of Scrub. "Could they be laughing at me? Was I again the victim of a consummate actress?"
"Old Juffles comes it handsome, I hope?" said Mr Jeeks.
"I'm perfectly satisfied at all events," replied his friend. "He gives me a trifle on the wedding-day, and makes a good settlement besides."
"When is the wedding?"
"It is fixed for this day month, the fourteenth of May. We embark on the next day, and drop down to Gravesend. Aren't you asked to attend?"
"Oh, we're all coming—governor and all! I don't see why my cousin opposite should not get an invite too. But he has been looking out of the window so hard, he hasn't heard a word of what we've said. Oh, of course not!"
"If you would like to come to it, sir," said Mr Shookers, who sat on the same side with me, vis-a-vis with his friend, "I shall be very glad; and I feel sure I can answer for Betsy too, sir."
"Don't be too sure of that," interrupted Mr Jeeks. "It takes a deal of philosophy to do things of the kind."
"You seem to be asking me to some meeting, sir. May I beg you to understand, once for all, that I have nothing whatever to say to this most contemptible poltroon, Mr Jeeks, nor to any of his friends."
"I was going to ask you to my marriage, sir; and if you had been a gentleman, or behaved as such"——
I felt my hands clutching with an irrepressible desire to seize Mr Shookers by the throat; but I had no time. Before he had an opportunity to complete his speech, a sound, as of an avalanche and earthquake, all in one, was heard—a shock, as of contending thunderbolts, shook the train, and the last thing I saw was the head and body of Mr Jeeks propelled, with the force and velocity of a rocket, against the expansive countenance of Mr Shookers. My own forehead was dashed against the opposite side, and I was insensible. There had been a collision between two trains. I recollect no more.
When I recovered my consciousness, I was in my own room at Rayleigh Court. I looked round, and gradually a recollection of all that had happened dawned upon me. I thought of my journey down—the conversation between Mr Jeeks and Shookers—the new light that had been thrown on the behaviour of the once cherished, but now, for the second time, detested Lucy Ashton; and I turned round on the bed, and wished to relapse into insensibility for ever. A light step at the side of the couch attracted my notice. "Thank God," I heard a voice say, "my boy will live!" It was my father. I turned round, and opened my eyes. He took my hand, and looked at me a long, long time, with an expression of interest and affection that I had not seen for many years.
"You are better, Henry, but don't exert yourself to speak. The slightest effort may be fatal; therefore, for my sake, for all our sakes, be quiet."
He sat down, and put his finger on his lips.
"In a day or two, now that your health has taken a favourable turn, you will be able to able as many questions as you choose. In the mean time be perfectly composed, and all will be well."
My father was in mourning.
"You are dressed in black," I whispered.
"We have lost a relation," he answered, "a distant relation; and we must pay him the compliment of a black coat—but hush! my dear boy; if you utter another word I must leave the room."
Under the care and uninterrupted attentions of my father, I rapidly got well. In a week I could sit up; in a fortnight I moved into the library. The sun was clear and warm. I sat at the open window, and looked out upon the park, and beyond it to the tops of the trees in the Wilderness. It gave me a blow that I could scarcely bear. I rose up and tottered to the sofa. The weekly newspaper was lying on the table. I took it up, and the first paragraph that met my eyes was this—"Married at Verbena Lodge, on Wednesday last, Alfred Shookers, Esq. of Singapore, to Elizabeth, third daughter of Jeremiah Juffles, Esq., late of Ryleigh Grange."
I thought I had banished her from my heart for ever; but the suddenness of the announcement was too much for me. The paper fell from my hand, and I fainted.
"Poor boy, the change is too much for him!" I heard my father say. "He must not leave his room again till he is stronger."
I soon returned to my senses, and by a great effort recovered my spirits at the same time. I laughed and talked, and listened well pleased to my father's glowing picture of the possibility of our retrieving our fortunes by a marriage. I promised him I would sacrifice myself on the hymeneal altar for the good of my family; that I would marry the ugliest, oldest widow he could fix on; that I was anxious to be a benedict on favourable terms; and at all my protestations my father laughed aloud, and patted me on the shoulder. I could not believe it was the same man who had snubbed and bullied me all my life. All of a sudden he looked at his watch.
"Excuse me, my dear boy," he said, "I have engaged to dine with poor Jeeks at five o'clock."
"With whom?" I asked, shuddering at the sound of the name.
"With our neighbour, poor Jeeks," he said. "He has had a terrible dispensation, and is very much softened and improved."
"Ah! I forgot: I was not to let you know. His poor son! he never recovered the accident. Two or three of Mr Shookers's teeth fastened in his head. He has been dead these five weeks: a most promising young man."
I was amazingly shocked at the intelligence.
"Is it for him we are in mourning?" I enquired.
My father nodded.
"Then he was our cousin, after all?"
"There certainly seems to have been a relationship in the Temp. of some of the Geos., as he called it. At all events the acknowledgment of it does not cost much, and poor old Jeeks is delighted. Good-by. Take care of yourself."
And so saying, he left me to my cogitations.
When once a favourable crisis, as it is called, takes place, the amendment in the health of a man of twenty-two is very speedy. I was aided also by seeing my father in such spirits. From day to day I picked up strength, and at the end of a week I felt I could venture out.
It was June again—the poet's leafy month of June—the anniversary of the very day on which I had so heroically enacted the part of the Master of Ravenswood against the pigs. I sauntered through the park; a fate was upon me; and I directed my steps, by some secret impulse against which I struggled in vain, to the Wilderness. "I may as well see the spot where I was so deluded," I thought, and recognized every object—alas! with what different feelings—as I drew near the trysting-tree.
"It was there," thought, "I saw Amy for the first time, as she was flying for protection; it was there I rushed forward to save her; it was there, under the oak"——As I directed my eyes to the spot, my heart leaped as if I had seen a spirit; for there, on the identical turf, with a work-basket on her lap, sat Lucy Ashton, or rather Mrs Shookers.
"So you've come at last!" she said. "Well, better late than never. Here's your seat all ready. I have expected you a long time."
"Are you a woman, or a fiend in human shape?" I began.
"Oh! a fiend by all means, if you like; but what has kept you all this time from Bushy Park? I am afraid your father won't give his consent; you would have come to me sooner if he had. But come, sit down and tell me all."
So saying, she went on with her knitting. She was lovelier than ever. She was dressed in a black silk gown, and wore a long black mantilla over her head. I had never heard any thing so musical as her voice, nor seen any thing so beautiful as her smile.
"I shall certainly not be your dupe any longer," I said; "and, believe me, the coquetry that might be captivating in Miss Elizabeth Juffles, is simply disgusting in Mrs Shookers of Singapore."
"Had not you better send out your opinion by the next India mail? Betsy has sailed by this time, and will just get out in time to receive your letter."
"Then, if you are not Betsy Juffles, tell me, in Heaven's name, who and what you are?"
"I'm a young girl of nineteen, who promised once to accept the hand of a young gentleman of the name of Rayleigh, who told me a hundred times he did not care about my family—that it was myself only he cared for: and he even went down to tell his father of the resolution he had taken, without making enquiry as to either my birth, parentage, or education. A wild young man he was, and rather changeable; for sometimes he would have made sonnets to my eyebrows, if he had had the gift of verse; sometimes he would have stabbed me to the heart, if he had had a dagger; sometimes I was his adorable Lucy Ashton; then his tantalizing Miss Poggs; then his hated Betsy; whereas, all the time, I was nothing but the selfsame anonymous but fascinating creature, who under all these names, and in spite of all these variations in his humour, loved him very truly, and has no doubt whatever of being his wife."
"You!—it would be safer to marry an incarnate demon!"
"Ah, safer perhaps; but not so respectable! Come, do sit down; what's the use of ceremony among friends and neighbours? Has your father consented to the match?"
"Do you think I asked him?"
"Why not? you don't like Gretna Green better, do you?"
"By no means—my intentions are changed."
"But you forget that I am neither Betsy Juffles nor Miss Poggs; I am nothing but Lucy Ashton."
"I wish you had never been any thing else," I said, beginning to soften; for who could resist such a voice and such eyes?
"Well, I tell you I am not changed—will that not satisfy you? Imagine that all that has passed since we parted here is a dream; that Verbena Lodge has no existence, and that Mr Dobble is an ass! Won't you sit down beside me, Edgar?"
I threw myself upon the turf, and she went on.
"I grant I have been a little capricious, Edgar, but there were reasons for it, believe me."
"What reason could there be for all these mysteries?"
"Why, in the first place, it was very amusing; in the next place, you did not know your own mind; in the next place, it was romantic; in the next place, I wanted to try you if your love was really sincere."
"And you found it wanting," I said in a tone of self-reproach.
"Not a bit," she replied, with a look that showed she knew my heart a great deal better than I did myself.
"At this moment I believe your affection for me rises triumphant above the horrors of Betsy Juffles or Miss Poggs; and so I think I shall reward you at last with an open explanation of who I am."
"No, dearest Lucy Ashton!" I said, taking her hand, "not before I swear that it is yourself only I care for—that I love you more than words can tell."
"Then you'll marry the gal of course," said a voice; and at the same moment the head of old Mr Jeeks was popped round from the other side of the tree. I sprang to my feet in a moment; and beside Mr Jeeks, scarcely able to restrain his laughter, stood my father.
"Matters have certainly gone too far," he said in his usual grave and sombre tones, "for either party to recede."
"Nobody wants it, I'm sure," replied old Jeeks.
"And I have no wish of the kind," returned my father.
"Then, if the young ones are agreed, I don't see what there is to forbid the bans," remarked Mr Jeeks.
"The sooner the better," returned the other; while, in a state of intense wonder, I looked at the speakers.
"What is the meaning of all this?" I asked Lucy Ashton, who had returned very sedulously to her knitting.
"The truth is this, Henry," said my father; "my friend and relative, Mr Jeeks, having lost his only son, has determined on making his eldest daughter Harriet, the young lady before you, the heiress of his house. By marrying her to you, the object of his ambition—the reunion, namely, of the divided portions of our ancestral estate—is gained; and as it appears you have no personal objection to the fair Harriet herself, I don't see why the addition of the Rayleigh manors should make her disagreeable."
A month settled every thing to the satisfaction of all parties. Mr Jeeks has settled himself in London; my father resides in Hartley Mead; and every day my wife and I go over to see the progress of the alterations and improvements we are making in the old house, which we are restoring to its original grandeur under the superintendence of Mr Barry.
IRELAND.—THE LANDLORD AND TENANT QUESTION.
Unfortunately for the cause of truth, and the welfare of that country, Ireland has lately become the stock in trade of every political writer: "monster pamphlets" and "monster paragraphs" succeed each other with astonishing rapidity—all alike remarkable for the "monstrous" assertions they contain, and for the "monstrous" ignorance they display of the subject on which they profess to enlighten us.
English tourists, Scotch agents, and German adventurers, flock like birds of prey, and swarm over the devoted country. They go there, not for the purpose of enquiring into the real state of things, or the real causes of the admitted misery of the people; but in order to write what will be most productive to themselves—not with the philanthropic or patriotic motive of endeavouring to elucidate a subject of so much importance; but with the determination to compile as many pages as they can, in as short a given period as possible. They draw the most absurd caricatures; and, pandering to the prevailing public opinion, they relate only what tends to strengthen it in its errors, and to misdirect and mislead those who consult them for information, or rely on them as authorities. Their numerous errors are detected and pointed out by the newspapers, according as they tell against the political interests of their respective parties. There is but one topic on which they are all agreed—that is, in their unanimous and unsparing abuse of the Irish landlords; and, however much they may be condemned as disentitled to belief on other subjects, on this their assertions are taken, by all parties, as authorities "true as holy writ."
It requires no witch to tell us that Ireland is in a condition in which she ought not to be; but it does require some industry, and an intimate knowledge of the habits and character of the people, to assign this state of things to the proper causes. In their love for the marvellous, most writers on Ireland have overlooked facts; they have not condescended to enquire into particulars, or to use that unquestionable information which is actually in existence. We therefore propose to supply this omission, and to state the case of the landlord and tenant question as it really is; and, although many acts of oppression and harshness may have been perpetrated by individuals, we trust we shall be able to show, from authentic documents, that nothing can be more unjust than the exaggerated charges brought against the present Irish landlords as regards the exorbitance of their rents, and nothing more fallacious than to attribute the misery of the people to the want of tenure, or due security in the occupation of their lands. The last census, taken by the police under the direction of government, gives us the actual rental of Ireland as returned by the occupiers themselves. This information is therefore derived from a source on which little doubt can be thrown; and although we may justly suspect (from the desire of the Irish peasant to make the most of his miseries) that the rent may have been in many instances exaggerated, we may rest perfectly assured that in no instance was it underrated. Founded on the results of this enquiry, a very useful and instructive sheet (entitled Ireland at a Glance) has been compiled and published, in which, amongst other statistical information, the average rent of land in each county is given, and on the correctness of which we may safely rely. Had the conduct of the Irish aristocracy, some forty or fifty years ago, attracted but a small portion of the public attention that has latterly been bestowed upon it, no doubt great good would have been effected. Then, unquestionably, the landlord could do almost any thing; then, no doubt, he could with impunity set the law at defiance. The Catholic, degraded as he was, durst not complain; but the establishment of the petty sessions courts, and the agitation which preceded emancipation, altered the matter altogether. The Catholic Association employed active and intelligent attorneys. Those men were everywhere: the petty sessions courts were regularly attended by them; for the slightest transgression of the law the magistrate was hauled up; and the poor man was shown that he had only to bring his case fairly before the tribunals to obtain justice. While the Association existed, he was fully protected at its expense: by the time it was dissolved, he had acquired a thorough knowledge of his own rights; and he had ready agents in the country attorneys, who were always at hand, and always but too happy, for their own interest, to undertake any cause in which they anticipated success. This, so far as the administration of justice was concerned, the publicity of their proceedings, and the unwillingness of men to expose themselves to actions for the misconduct of some members of their body, effectually checked magisterial delinquency: where any violation of the law did occur, there could be no doubt as to the punishment.
Had the conduct of the Irish proprietors (in their character of landlords) been taken to task at the same period, no question they were deeply to be condemned. Then, and always before, the practice of the landlord was—to lease large tracts at an easy rent to the most solvent person he could find, or to set in copartnership, (that is, by creating a joint tenancy in all the inhabitants of any particular town-land, making the rich accountable for the debt of the poor.) His only object was to secure his income; so that was accomplished, he cared little for the welfare of the inhabitants, or the cultivation of the estate. The peace came—prices fell,—the middlemen not occupying, were in most cases unable to pay their rents when they could not enforce them from those in possession, whom they had ruined by their extortion; the consequence was, they were too happy to abandon their interests, and leave the landlord to deal with the paupers they had created. In a few years after the peace, the middleman system had ceased to exist; the owner of the soil, coming into immediate contact with the tenantry, saw the monstrous injustice and the destructive tendencies of the copartnership plan—and it was discontinued. Yet such is the passion for legislation, that both systems are now about to be disinterred, to be taken from the oblivion to which their own iniquities long since consigned them, and to be set up in the preamble of an act of Parliament, in order that Mr Sharman Crawfurd may have the opportunity of again prostrating them by legislative enactments. We are certain that, for the last ten years, no instance can be shown in which any landlord set, or any tenant took, land on determinable leases, for the purpose of subletting; or any single instance in which the landlords practised, or permitted, the copartnership system on their estates; and yet the public time is to be wasted, and the public attention to be occupied, by the introduction of laws to restrain practices which are no longer in operation. It is true, some of those leases where the middleman held on very easy terms, and was able to pay the rent himself during the great depression, are still in existence; but they are daily dropping out: and it is the treatment of those properties, when they come upon the owners' hands, that has latterly attracted so much attention. From 1818, a total revolution in the management of land took place in Ireland: the proprietors became in most instances the managers of their own estates; and, as each year advanced, the necessity of attending strictly to their duties became more manifest to them. From 1830 to 1843, more was done, and is still continuing to be done, in improving or in endeavouring to improve, the condition of the people, than was ever done before. The large owners of land employed Scotch stewards to instruct their tenantry in the most improved system of husbandry; and their neighbours profited by the example. Green-cropping increased in a most astonishing degree; agricultural societies were formed in almost every county; and the country was advancing steadily and rapidly in the march of prosperity, when the baneful agitation again started into existence. To disconnect the peasantry from the landlords, who could not be induced to join in the senseless and mischievous cry for Repeal, now became the object of the agitators: the most unjust charges were made against the gentry; and even their exertions to promote the growth of turnips, or to teach the people the proper mode of cultivation, were turned into ridicule and treated with contempt, in the public speeches of some of the Roman Catholic bishops. The floodgates of abuse were thrown open; the most incredible acts of violence and atrocity were imputed to them; generalities were dealt in—except in a few instances, in which it was fondly believed the facts would have borne out the assertions. But when investigation fully exonerated the accused from the charges brought against them, still the agitators persevered: the accusations being general, it was not the duty of any individual to contradict them. From their frequent reassertion, the English press accorded them credit; the English newspapers became the advocates of those they believed to be oppressed; no story was too ridiculous to obtain insertion; anonymous correspondents heaped obloquy on the best and most pains-taking landlords; while any attempt at their vindication was sure to be discountenanced—a tyrannical act of one man was seized on, and blazoned forth as proof positive of the guilt of all.
The conduct of the Irish landlords was assailed just at the time when it was commencing to become meritorious; and they were almost literally deprived (by public opinion) of all control, just at the period when (for the first time) they were exercising the influence which their position ought to give them, for the benefit and the advantage of the people.
From the manner in which the laws regulating the connexion between landlord and tenant in Ireland are spoken of, and from the frequent demands made for their alteration and improvement, one would naturally suppose that they differed essentially from those which regulate the connexion between the same parties in this country. Yet such is not the fact: so far as the law goes, it is the same on both sides the Channel. By law, the Irish landlord can only eject a tenant holding by lease after he owes a year's rent; and then the tenant has six months for redemption. He can only put out a tenant-at-will by giving him six months' notice, (the six months to expire on or before the day on which the tenancy commenced;) and afterwards by ejecting him, if he refuse to give up possession. He can only distrain after the rent becomes due. Those powers the law also gives to the English landlord: so far as legislative enactments go, the landlords of both countries stand precisely in the same position. But the English proprietor can do much which the Irish one durst not attempt: he may prevent the fences on his estate from being torn down, or the trees and hedge-rows he has planted from being cut: he may prevent his land from being damaged by bad husbandry, or a succession of the same crops being taken from it until it is rendered useless;—all this he may do by enforcing his covenants, and no one blames him. An Irish landlord may put the most stringent clauses in his leases; but he cannot use the power which their enforcement would give him: public opinion, (always in favour of the delinquent,) and the dread of the assassin, restrain him. The late Mr Hall let a farm in fine condition: the tenant, contrary to his engagements, tore up the land, burned it, and set it in con-acre. The unfortunate gentleman endeavoured to prevent this violation of an agreement. He went to the ground and threatened to put his covenant in force; and, for doing so, he was murdered in the open day in the presence of numbers of people: the assassins were allowed quietly to walk off; and it was only when one of the hired murderers, tempted by a large reward, peached on his accomplices in crime, that any of them were brought to justice.
There is an act of Parliament in force in Ireland for the prevention of burning land, which imposes heavy penalties; yet it cannot stop this mischievous practice—and why? Because, by having recourse to it, the tenant (until he quite exhausts the soil) can raise better crops with more ease to himself; it is a much less troublesome process than that of collecting manure from the scourings of his ditches or his moor land, or burning lime; and it enables him to spend the winter months in idleness and amusement, when he ought to be providing for his next year's crops. If an English tenant cannot meet his engagements, he surrenders his land as a matter of course: if an Irish tenant be turned out, even after owing many years' rent, he considers himself an ill-used man, (and so do his neighbours too;) and no man complains so loudly of the extortion of his landlord as he who pays no rent at all. The Irish landlord has the advantage of being able to bring his ejectment at the courts of quarter-sessions, and at less expense than it can be done in this country, provided the rent be under L50 a-year. But this may be considered, and with justice, of equal benefit to the tenant: if he redeem within the six months allowed by law, the costs the landlord can put upon him will only amount to L2, 10s; whereas, with the superior courts, it would be at least L14. Yet some of the patriotic Irish journals have required, as an improvement in the law, that ejectment at quarter-sessions should be abolished, and that the landlord should, in every case, be sent to the superior courts for redress. To make such an alteration in the law would be unjust towards the landlord—as it would compel him to expend a large sum in regaining possession of his land, in addition to the loss of his rent, (if he had a pauper to deal with;) and it would be injurious to the interests of the tenant, as t would give a tyrannical and oppressive landlord the power of overwhelming the poor but honest man, who only wanted time to redeem, by the load of law-costs he would be enabled to put upon him.
Having shown that the law gives the Irish landlord no power incompatible with justice, or unnecessary for the due maintenance of his rights—in fact that, in respect of it, he is much more restricted than the mercantile man—we are at a loss to see how the law can be altered, and at the same time the rights of property be preserved. It may be said, the Irish tenant has no claim at the termination of his lease for any improvements he may have effected; neither has the English tenant, if he possess a lease. Although, in point of fact, so far as the small Irish farmer is concerned, this is quite an ideal grievance; for he never makes any improvement, or if he does, and pays his rent, he is never disturbed—still an amendment in the law in this respect, may stimulate to industry, and may be effected with advantage to all parties. Against the gentlemen farmers, injustice of this kind may sometimes be perpetrated, and therefore legislation on the subject would be of use; but the poor man who meets his engagements, is never, unless under extraordinary circumstances, removed; and where such is the case, he is almost invariably amply remunerated. Solitary instances of contrary conduct pursued towards him, may no doubt be adduced; but they are too few in any way to account for the present state of dissatisfaction so universally prevalent.
The Irish landlord, then, has no power which he can legally employ for the oppression of his tenant, which is not possessed by all other British landlords. If he violate the law, of course the legal tribunals will afford redress. And are we to be told that that redress would not be sought for; that the wardens and priests, the leading agitators, or the people themselves, would not report their sufferings; and that the power, and influence, and money of the Association, would not be used in their defence?
The outcry raised by Mr O'Connell and his supporters against the landlords, on account of the number of persons "turned out, and left to die by the road-side," will, we have no doubt, turn out (if possible) to be more unfounded than even his other assertions. The present Commission has ample powers to ascertain this fact at least: and we will venture to assert, that not one instance of starvation will have been proven before it; and that out of the hundreds of thousands who were reported to have been mercilessly turned adrift to perish at the backs of ditches, forty-nine fiftieths will be found well and hearty, and in the occupation of those lands from which they were said to have been expelled. That ejectment-processes were served, and decrees obtained, which, if followed up and enforced, would have put many persons out of possession, we do not deny; but nine-tenths of those are compromised by the payment of part of the rent before the day of trial comes on, and of the decrees obtained, the great majority are never put in execution. Accurate information on this point can easily be obtained from the sheriffs and clerks of the peace for the different counties; those officers have been amongst the first witnesses examined before Lord Devon. We would only ask the public to suspend its judgment, and those well-meaning but mistaken individuals, who, though they reject Mr O'Connell and the priests as authorities on most other subjects, take their assertions on this as proven facts, to reserve their indignation and wrath until the result of this testimony can be known. Ejectment-processes are the most effective and the cheapest means by which the landlord can enforce the payment of the rent due, and as such they are generally had recourse to: before they can be acted on, at least three months must have elapsed after the year's rent (which is the least sum they can be issued for) has become due.
Perhaps nothing has contributed more to foment, certainly nothing has assisted more to continue, the agrarian disturbances in Ireland, than the statements, made so flippantly by journalists and pamphleteers, of the great excess of rent exacted in Ireland over that paid by the English tenantry. Those writers have invariably assumed the truth of the assertions made in this particular; yet nothing can be further from the fact.
There is no statistical account of England recently published, that we can discover, which would give us any correct idea of the present average rent of land in this country; but we think, from all the information we have been able to acquire, by enquiries directed to competent and well-informed persons, that it cannot be set down at less than 25s. an acre. From the last Irish census we learn, that Ireland contains 20,399,608 statute acres, and that the estimated rental is L12,715,478—yielding a trifle over 12s. as the average rent. When it is taken into consideration that the English tenant pays tithes—which, in many localities, amount to more than the entire average rent produced by Irish ground; that he pays the poor-rates, and that he is heavily taxed with turnpikes and other local assessments: and that the Irish tenant pays no tithe, and only half the poor-rates; that no turnpikes exist, except solitary ones in the neighbourhood of cities or very large towns; that, in fact, the only tax he pays is the county cess, varying in different counties from tenpence to one and sixpence the acre half-yearly; and that this assessment is being considerably reduced by the new grand-jury enactments, under which the towns and gentlemen's houses are valued and taxed;—when, we say, all those things are taken into consideration, and besides, that the land in Ireland is naturally better and more productive than the English soil, we think we have satisfactorily disposed of one grave charge against the Irish landlords; and that we have shown that it cannot be the exorbitance of the pecuniary burdens under which he groans, that causes the vast difference between the social condition of the Irish and the English occupier.
It will no doubt be said—"Ah, but the English tenant is housed, and his farm kept in repair, by the landlord, while the Irishman is obliged to do all this himself!" This is true; but certainly the outlay of the Irish tenant on his farm, makes but a small addition to his other engagements. Gates and fences he has, comparatively speaking, none; and, if they be erected for him, they are soon suffered to go to ruin. He requires few outhouses; for in the poor and disturbed districts (and it is those which we are now attending to) he uses his domicile as a receptacle for his pig and his cow, as a matter of choice; we say as a matter of choice—for, if he had the inclination, all writers admit he has abundance of unoccupied time to construct habitations for them. Now, though it is a just cause of regret that we do not see better homesteads and better fences in Ireland, still we cannot admit that the tenant's being obliged to keep such as exist in repair, can be any great hardship in a pecuniary point of view, as he lays out scarcely any thing on them: he does not even expend his own labour on their improvement; and his time, which might be profitably occupied in this way, is wasted in useless idleness, in swelling the train, or cheering the ferocious sentiments, of some mercenary agitator.
Having shown, as correctly as it is possible to do, the relative amount of rents paid in England and in Ireland, let us compare the amount of rents paid in each of the Irish provinces. For this purpose we shall take a maritime and an inland county from each.
Maritime. L s. d. Inland. L s. d.
Ulster—Down, average rent, 0 16 0 Tyrone, average rent, 0 14 6 Munster—Clare, do. do. 0 11 0 Tipperary, do. do. 0 17 8-1/2 Leinster—Wexford, do. 0 14 0 Longford, do. do. 0 12 3 Connaught—Mayo, do. 0 8 6 Roscommon, do. 0 13 0
It is well known that the quality of the land in the north of Ireland is far inferior to that in either of the other provinces: yet we see, in the maritime counties, that the rich and fertile lands of Clare and Wexford are let much cheaper than the northern counties; and that Mayo, inhabited by unquestionably the poorest and most miserable population in Ireland, is rented at nearly half the amount paid by the independent yeomanry of Down; while, amongst the inland counties, the splendid plains of Roscommon, and the productive lands of Longford, yield less income than the cold and, comparatively speaking, sterile soil of Tyrone. Now, it is not too much (indeed it is under the mark) to say, that two acres in any of those counties we have quoted, in Leinster, Munster, or Connaught, will feed more cattle, and grow more corn, than three acres in either of the northern ones; and yet the tenantry in the north, who pay those comparatively high rents, are contented, and the landlords are considered good. Those statements are founded not on our own opinions, but on incontrovertible facts; and, after having read them, we would ask any dispassionate man if the disturbed condition of the west and south of Ireland can be, with any justice, attributed to the rents imposed by the landlords. In the north, where the highest rents are charged, the people are well housed and well clothed, the ground well tilled, and the rents as well paid as in any part of England. Here, if a tenant wishes to dispose of his right in even a tenancy-at-will, he gets some ten or twelve years' purchase for it; and the answers to Lord Devon's enquiries were, in many instances, that the interference of the commission was not required. While in the south and west, from whence the loudest complaints against the landowners proceed; where the peasant exists in rags, and the gentlemen in a state of semi-starvation; where the people are idle, and their ground untilled; where squalid misery offends the eye and merciless murders shock the feelings; where the terror of the assassin supersedes the power of the landlord, and protects the tenant against all law; there, in the counties so overwhelmed with poverty and debased by crime, the lands are held on terms (the relative value being taken into consideration) by the half easier than in the prosperous and peaceable province of Ulster.
Dublin, Limerick, Meath, and Tipperary, do average a trifle more than the northern counties; but the one is the metropolitan county, and the quality of the land in the others is so superior to any in England or Ireland, that even at the small advance of two shillings an acre, they may justly be considered as more cheaply rented than any other counties.
To understand a people properly, their national character must be attentively studied; and this can only be done by a long residence and a close connexion with them. We cannot therefore be much surprised, that those who undertake to write on a country which they have never seen, or to prescribe remedies for the defects in the social condition of a people amongst whom they have never resided, should be led into grievous mistakes, and that they should be unsafe guides to direct the enquiries of others. Employment, hard work, large wages, and good living, form the objects of the Englishman and the Scotchman's ardent desire; while coarse food, bad lodging, and half clothing, are quite agreeable to the Irishman, if they be combined with independence—in other words, if by using them he may avoid labour, and enjoy those amusements to which he is passionately addicted, and in which he indulges unrestrainedly. We firmly believe, that if a choice of roast beef and loaf bread, accompanied by the labour necessary to earn them, were offered to "Pat" at home, or potatoes and milk, with liberty to frequent the horse-races, cock-fights, and dances, in his neighbourhood, he would unhesitatingly accept the latter. This may seem strange to an Englishman; but there is no accounting for taste. That the potato is coarse food, cannot be doubted; that it is wholesome, is abundantly proved by the stalwart men who subsist on it, and by the ruddy health of the chubby, merry urchins who have, perhaps, never tasted any thing else. Pity it is that the former should be so negligent of, or so indifferent to, their own advantage; or that the latter should have been (until lately) suffered to grow up in that ignorance which almost secures a continuance in the same courses which proved the bane and misfortune of their fathers. No peasant in Europe devotes so much of his time to amusement as does the Irishman. Go to the places of public amusement, or to the fairs and markets, in the busiest and most hurried seasons, and how many thousands will you see, who have no earthly business there but to meet their friends, to laugh and to chat, and (before Father Mathew reformed them) to drink and to fight!
To suppose, as some influential writers here do, that there is no alternative between the possession of land and absolute starvation, is one of those imaginary fictions often conjured up by those who wish to indulge in what they believe to be powerful, and wish to be pathetic, appeals to the feelings; but it betrays great ignorance of the subject on which they propound their opinions. The condition of the rural labourer, constantly employed by the gentleman or wealthy farmer, is generally much superior to that of the small landholder. Those men are bound by agreements which they must fulfill—they work continually; and although their wages are in some instances nominally very low, and in all much lower than we could wish, still their allowances—in house-rent, grazing, and con-acre—enable them not only to live comfortably, but sometimes to amass considerable sums of money. You always see good pigs, and very often more than two good cows, at their doors. It may not be amiss to say, that, in all instances, they get the feeding of those cows for a rent varying from one guinea per year, when the nominal wages are low, to three shillings a-year, when tenpence a-day is given; thus, at the very highest price, getting for three shillings that accommodation for which Mr Cobden charges his workman twelve pounds! Yet the great object of those men is to get land and become farmers, although they almost invariably suffer by the change. They were before compelled to work to meet their engagements; having become their own masters, they in very many instances neglect their business, and devote the time which ought to be employed in the cultivation of their farms, to the discussion of politics and to the attendance on popular assemblies.
To say that the Irish are unemployed, not from inclination, but from necessity, is absurd; this may sometimes be the case in the towns where the worst class of agricultural labourers reside—men who will not be employed while others can be had. A stranger meets able-bodied men walking about; he is told, and he sees, that there are no resident gentry in the neighbourhood to afford them work; he compassionates their condition; concocts a paragraph, and imputes the misery he witnesses to absenteeism. Let them accompany the idler to his home, and inspect his farm: he will find, out of a holding of from three to four Irish acres, perhaps an acre on which there was no attempt made at all to raise a crop, independent of untilled headlands, amounting to at least fifth of the ground under cultivation in each field. Why does he not employ himself on this land? If he has a lease, there can be no excuse; but even supposing him but tenant-at-will, it can in this instance be no justification. The land unused is not waste land, requiring an expenditure of labour and money, for which he might afterwards reap no advantage from the cupidity of his landlord. This is no such land: it is good, sound, arable land—perhaps the very best he has; and waste, purely and solely for the want of expending on it the labour necessary to prepare it for crop. He pays for it—yet he won't work it: he complains of want of employment, and he walks about with plenty to engage him beneficially for his own interests at home: he takes con-acre, for which he pays high, while he could raise his food on his own farm, if he only took the trouble of collecting manure, or devoting his time to its improvement.
Adjoining mountains and bogs, where the poorest class of the population generally reside, and where there is abundance of ground attached rent-free to each farm, and capable of being rendered profitable at a very little expense—in fact, without any other outlay than the labour required to open drains, and level it—we see scarcely any efforts made at improvement. A Scotchman, or an Englishman, would consider the possession of the land rent-free for three or five years, according to the difficulty of the undertaking, as a sufficient recompense for his trouble; although his time is much more valuable, on account of the higher rate of wages paid him. But an Irishman will consider a twenty-one years' lease as too short a tenure, to justify him in expending the time which he wastes gossiping with his neighbours, or sunning himself at the backs of the ditches, in the profitable employment of adding to what ought to be, if he had industry, his already too small holding. Here is a case in which we conceive legislation might operate much good. If every man who reclaimed ground which did not before pay rent, was guaranteed its possession by law for ten years after the first crop, at a nominal rent of one shilling the acre, it might be an inducement to the tenant to labour: it could be no loss to the landlord, as, if still left in a state of nature it would be useless to him, and after the expiration of the time guaranteed the tenant as remuneration for his trouble, the benefit would be his exclusively. In the case of a tenant-at-will, an arrangement could easily be effected, by which the tenant, if removed from the farm before the expiration of the stipulated term, might receive a just and reasonable compensation for the improvements which he had effected, or an allowance for the loss of the crops which, had he remained, he would still have been entitled to: and thus, without any government outlay, encouragement would be given for the reclamation of that part of the Irish waste lands which would be worth the trouble or expense of cultivation.