THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE TWO LANDLORDS. (From the Agricultural Gazette.) One of the most dilapidated estates in the southern counties, thirty years ago, ■was that of Mr. Bleauclerc Chisel, of Compton. It was impossible to pass through Compton without observing the signs of a sad impoverishment. The poverty of the great proprietor must be always felt as a misfortune in a country parish, and it was a still greater calamity thirty years ago than it can be now. When, by accident or bad management, capital passed away from a great estate thirty years ago, the bulk of the population were at once plunged into poverty and its attendant evils. The unemployed laborers, instead of migrating, as they would do at the present time, were cast upon society under conditions which soon changed them—for a time, at, least—from honest and industrious men into ill-con-ditioned wolves and jackals. And such was the change that fell on Compton. It should be a happy thought for Christmas time when all hearts are warmed by a more than common sentiment of benevolence—that when in this changing life affairs are at the worst, as the affairs of agriculturalists must be at the present time, they often begin to mend. They did so suddenly at Compton, whose sun of prosperity, ten years or more eclipsed, broke from behind the obscuring shadow unexpectedly, almost in an instant. CHAPTER I. The turn of fortune in the case of Compton came, as we have said, suddenly. At the end of a July day in 1849, an unknown gentleman, passing through the village, pulled up before one of the two village inns, which is called, as you may read upon the signboard, “ The Dew Drop Inn”—a name derived, perhaps, from the hospitable invocation, “ do drop in”—and the stranger, observing the comfortable appearance of the house, and desiring to refresh his horse, gave the reins to his groom and dropped in accordingly. The other inn, existing now no longer as an inn, and then called “The Bull,” was kept by a Mrs. Thornback, an industrious, respectable woman,prickly in temper ns in name. Considering the low ebb of affairs at Compton, the amount of patronage extended to the Bull by the laboring people of the parish was surprising. At that particular time, on the stranger’s visit, the active employment afforded by the hay harvest may explain by what mystery or method Mrs. Thornback’s thirsty customers could possibly afford, or hope to pay, the long scores they were running up. And if we look into the Bull Inn kitchen, while the stranger at the Dew Drop is enjoying his eggs and bacon, and preparing to remain the night, the conversation of the laborers will perhaps throw further light on the same subject. Two candles, placed on the rough, oaken table, for lighting pipes, the moon and some remaining day-light struggled with the tobacco clouds in Mrs. Thornback’s kitchen. Cups were circulating, pipes were being puffed, the evening was advancing, and all the laborers, as a rule, talked together, except when some marked men gained the general ear by the spell of his eloquence and fame. Such a man was William Root. Up spake William Root—- “ I’ll tell you what;” and then he put his pipe in his mouth again and went on smoking. There was a general stir. The man of ideas is always welcome in any company, and William, it is felt, was about to introduce some new topic of conversation, .. the previous subject having been disposed of. ‘ ‘ Hark to Bill,” said one. “ Bill’s going to speak,” said another. “Hear Bill,” cried another. Mr. Root accordingly scratched his ear with his short black pipe, and spoke as follows in a slow voice, with his head on one side. “I never know’d but one man as threshed clean in all my born days. ” Here another laborer spoke,— “ Threshed clean, did un ? Poor devil!” “Yes,” said William Root. “Poor devil ! He were transported, boys, twenty year ago. ” ‘ “ Of course he were, poor devil !” was echoed round the room. Mike was another man of magic, who was always listened to with attention. “ I’ll tell you what I know for a fact,” said Mike. “ I know’d a man as worked in a barn, and did not thresh clean.” “ Hear, hear !” shouted the laborers. “ Healths all round. We’ve heard of that man before. Mike." Mike’s story was on old one, which the company had heard many times, and still they cheered the conclusion as a novelty. “ No, my lads,” continued Mike, “ he did not thresh clean : and more than that, he always kept a pig ; and strange to say, my lads, this pig of his’n, every three months, got fat enough to bust himself.” The company waited for the catastrophe pots in hand.—“ Then he bought another one, Mike, eh 2” Mike puffed three or four more puff's, and then continued : —“ Yes, he bought another one every three months, and fatted four a year up to the bustin’ point; and one he eat and three he sold.” “Hooray !” cried the company. “ And how much did he spend for barley meal, Mike 2” “Not a penny. It was a solemn thing, lads, how he fatted them four pigs.” “ Done by magic, Mike, eh 2” “It certainly looked uncommon like it. This was all he did. Every night when he got home he pulled off his boots and shook ’em over the pig’s head ; and then there used to be a crunchin 1 , just for all the world like a hog crokin’ up peas or what not.” “ What sort o’ shoes did ’un wear, Mike 2 “ Uncommon roomy ones,” said Mike. This was the catastrophe, and the men , roared over the simple story as if it was , the best joke they had ever heard. Your agricultural laborer is a genial , fellow, fond of society, and therefore, , speaking more particularly of pothouse ; parishes like Compion, he sought amuse- ] ment at his only cluh-room—the village ; inn. J The cost of an extravagant amusement cannot be defended, but in the case of a ; farm laborer it was much less than might £ have been supposed, and your highly j educated gentleman, with his well filled mind, often spends as much in a few hours, at a club in Pall Mall, as all c Mrs. Thornback’s customers expended in v a week. There were extenuating circum- y stances for the folly of tne laborers, seeing ] that Compton, up till twenty years ago, had been, for a country place, a pen of 0 misery. g As inns were not then closed at any particular hour by law, pothouse revellers p were accustomed to retire when they found ‘ themselves fuddled up to concert pitch, p according to the custom of the time. That q time of night approached at the Bull, and g conversation had become almost an inces- e sant roar of voices. t! “What’s the use!” asked several laborers, “ what’s the use of wages when g everything’s so dear, you can’t buy nothing q with ’em when you’ve got ’em !” C( “ What’s the use seeing beef and mutton a-going along the road to market when you can’t buy a bit of meat ?” A laborer here claimed a hearing, and a partial silence was restored while he te spoke. fo “I’ll tell you what, he said ” ; “just fo look here, now.” Here the orator or stretched out his mug and desired Mrs. ol
Thornback to fill it. “ See, now,” he , continued, “ what a land we live in. u. Look at the weather for the time of year ; we have fine hay-making, and, according to all appearance, we are just going to begin harvest.” Here he received his mug of beer and drank “ Healths round.” “ Just look at Old England, my friends ; in just look at the sights there is to see, my 3 ’ friends.” At this point of his odd dis}t course a near neighbor shouted out, “ Stop a bit,” which seemed to scatter his 16 ideas. Shaking his head, he stretched out 16 his mug, dropped it on the floor, and then ’ e subsiding into himself he fell asleep. T The slow voice of a man of authority y was here heard. “ The question is,” said William Root—and here he paused and thumped the table. “ The question is the jG rate of wages. Now, look here : what I say upon that point is this—if the farmers 'y can’t afford a pound a week it’s a pity. ” :d “So say I,” cried a day man, raising y his right arm, and preparing to strike the 3t table. n “ Stop a bit,” shouted another day man, 111 the same who had shouted “ Stop a bit ” V" before, and he too raised his right arm. There was here a general cry of “ Stop a bit!” and the whole of the company raised their right arms. *y “ This conversation was brought up, gentlemen,” began one of the company,— fe “ Who brought it up 1” asked “ Stop-a- ---" bit,” fiercely. “ What say you to a song, gentlemen 2” said a meek man in the y corner. Every fist here thumped the n table, and a song -was voted by general ach clamation. w The stranger at the Dew Drop, finding it as comfortable a specimen of an English village inn as that in which Coningsby >f passed a pleasant evening with Sidonia and T • enjoyed eggs and bacon, had resolved to remain during the night, and was spende ing an hour in the parlor with the general 0 company there assembled. It was a mixed 7 company, including the highest class in P Crompton below the doctor—the squire’s e bailiff, his gardener, a young man named d Sam who dropped in late, and others. e It was well known to all present that ° the stranger was a gentleman with a groom 3 in the kitchen and a horse worth a hundred guineas in the stable, nevertheless everyr body felt perfectly at ease. In all grades of society simple manners, open speech, and sympathy, deserve the confidence they r win. Conversation at the Dew Drop f flowed on in the usual strain, and the - gardiuer, with a special grievance on his ' mind, spoke as follows on a topic which t was somewhat urgent twenty years ago, on account of the extravagant habits of ? society. t “ The dress the women wear nowadays,” 8 quoth the gardnor, “is their ruin. ” r “ Yes,” said the Isndlady, a stout and 3 prosperous person dressed in green and 3 yellow, ‘ ‘ they put more on their head t now than they used to wear all over. ” 1 “ There’s nothing beats a tuck apron,” > said the gardener, “for keeping young I women out of trouble. ” 3 “ And pattens,” added the lady. “Yes,” said the gardener, “a tuck apron and pattens for females, and round > frooks for men.” ' The gardener here emptied his glass, f and remarked he anticipated a revolution. ■ “It mayn’t be in my time,” he said ; » “ but there’ll be a row some day, you’ll 3 see. I well remember what my poor old j father said to me in this very room. ‘ ‘John,’ he said, ‘if you live till you are * forty-five, England will begin to go 3 back.”’ “ Then it must have been going back some time, John,” observed a smart hook 1 nosed young man, named Sam, who had 3 a fox terrier on his knee, f “ Certainly. Temptations and machinery 3 together are ruining everybody ; the ■ country’s going downhill fast. There was > a time when you could tell who people were when you met ’em in the street.” ? “So you can now,” said the plainspeaking popular young man, whom the company called Sam. “You can tell a r gentleman by his looks. There’s never no 1 mistake about a real gentleman, let him 1 go where he will, and wear what he likes. ” 1 “ That may be, Sam,” said the gardiner. “ I’ll allow you can’t mistake a gentleman when he,s a real gentleman ; but suppose, : Sam, he’s only a sham. I mean to say that you can’t tell a gentleman as isn’t a r gentleman when he wears ’zactly the same r toggery as a gentleman as is a gentleman. You understand me, Sam ! ” 1 “ Now you speak plain, I do. You mean to say that a sham won’t wash, and a real 1 gentleman will wash. That’s what you mean, John.” “ Yes, Sam ; that’s ’zactly what I mean. A shamraff feller can’t stand lookin’ into, and a gentleman can. One’ll stand inspection and the other won’t.” The squire’s land-agent’s clerk, a de-vout-looking gentleman in spectacles and white necktie, hadconfided to the stranger,' early in the evening, that he had met a friend in a neighboring town, and felt himself a little inebriated. “ The proper thing to do on these occasions,” he remarked, “ is to be cautious as to conversation, and to confine yourself to gin and water, and then you don’t expose your- ] self.” He had sat silent all the evening, smiling all round the room and then looked suddenly solemn, and drinking gin-and- ( water. Having been drawn into conversation on the subject of a cricket match between Compton and an adjoining village, he broke through his rule of silence and burst into instant eloquence. He had seen cricket before that day, and knew what cricket was. 1 ‘ When every ball that was bowled ims a ball,” said the cautious clerk ; “a ball and no mistake, pitched just where it ought to pitch ” —here he bowled several imaginary balls at the landlady—“ and b when it came in like a shot from a cannon,” he called that cricket. A cricketer who had shown a quarrelsome spirit which had 0 culminated in blows, was blamed by several of the company for his conduct. Some persons had blamed the beverage in which he had been indulging, but the company 11 exonerated the beverage and blamed the cricketer. The gardener had never, in the whole ti course of his life, known beer to begin a quarrel. “ Beer,” he said, “ tells you what a man is. A quarrelsome man drinks a pot or two of beer, and knocks a man down afterwards, and then they blame the beer ; but that's a great mistake, for,” said the gardener, “ conduct is bred in a j man’s breast and not in his beer. ” r A man might pick a quarrel before or after beer, but only when there had been a previous conclusion to that effect working in his mind. “ If,” said the gardener, turning towards his friend Sam, “if there is a conclusion working in his mind beforehand, when he’s sober, Sam, you understand, why then, Sam, it’s sure to come out when he’s drunk. ” The company proved to be unanimous on this point, and a general order was ipj given for mugs round. The gardener resumed ; “ my motto’s the same,” he said, “as the volunteers, ‘ Defence, not Defiance. ’ I defy any man to enter my house when the wind blows. The Prince of Wales is only a man, is he Sam ? Very well then, I defy him to enter my house against my consent, when the wind blows.” “ Suppose it don’t blow 2” inquired Sam, rising at the same moment, and drinking the gardener’s health, and the company’s.
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 102, 20 May 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 102, 20 May 1880
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