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Hodge and His Masters by Richard Jefferies

Part 4 out of 6

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the hedge was used to thrash the boughs within reach, and so to knock down
any that remained.

A sack half filled was on the ground close to the trunk of the oak, and by
it was a heap of dead sticks, to be presently carried home to boil the
kettle. Two brown urchins assisted them, and went where the women could
not go, crawling under the thorns into the hedge, and creeping along the
side of the steep bank, gathering acorns that had fallen into the mouths
of the rabbit holes, or that were lying under the stoles. Out of sight
under the bushes they could do much as they liked, looking for fallen nuts
instead of acorns, or eating a stray blackberry, while their mothers
rooted about among the grass and leaves of the meadow. Such continual
stooping would be weary work for any one not accustomed to it. As they
worked from tree to tree they did not observe the colours of the leaves,
or the wood-pigeons, or the pheasant looking along the edge of the ditch
on the opposite side of the field. If they paused it was to gossip or to
abuse the boys for not bringing more acorns to the sack.

But when the boys, hunting in the hedge, descried the curate in the
distance and came back with the news, the two women were suddenly
interested. The pheasants, the wood-pigeons, or the coloured leaves were
not worthy of a glance. To see a gentleman up to his ankles in mud was
quite an attraction. The one stood with her lap half-full of acorns; the
other with a basket on her arm. The two urchins lay down on the ground,
and peered from behind a thorn stole, their brown faces scarcely
distinguishable from the brown leaves, except for their twinkling eyes.
The puddle was too wide to step across, as the women had said, nor was
there any way round it.

The curate looked all round twice, but he was not the man to go back. He
tucked up his troupers nearly to the knee--he wore them short always--and
stepped into the water. At this the urchins could barely suppress a shout
of delight--they did, however, suppress it--and craned forward to see him
splash. The curate waded slowly to the middle, getting deeper and deeper,
and then suddenly found firmer footing, and walked the rest of the way
with the water barely over his boots. After he was through he cleansed his
boots on a wisp of grass and set off at a good pace, for the ground past
the pool began to rise, and the lane was consequently drier. The women
turned again to their acorns, remarking, in a tone with something like
respect in it, 'He didn't stop for the mud, you: did a'?'

Presently the curate reached the highway with its hard surface, and again
increased his pace. The hedges here were cut each side, and as he walked
rapidly, leaning forward, his shovel-hat and shoulders were visible above
them, and his coat tails floated in the breeze of his own progress. His
heavy boots--they were extremely thick and heavy, though without
nails--tramped, tramped, on the hard road. With a stout walking-stick in
one hand, and in the other a book, he strode forward, still more swiftly
as it seemed at every stride. A tall young man, his features seemed thin
and almost haggard; out of correspondence with a large frame, they looked
as if asceticism had drawn and sharpened them. There was earnestness and
eagerness--almost feverish eagerness--in the expression of his face. He
passed the meadows, the stubble fields, the green root crops, the men at
plough, who noticed his swift walk, contrasting with their own slow
motion; and as he went his way now and then consulted a little slip of
paper, upon which he had jotted memoranda of his engagements. Work, work,
work--ceaseless work. How came this? What could there be to do in a
sparely-populated agricultural district with, to appearance, hardly a
cottage to a mile?

After nearly an hour's walking he entered the outskirts of a little
country town, slumbering outside the railway system, and, turning aside
from the street, stopped at the door of the ancient vicarage. The resident
within is the ecclesiastical head of two separate hamlets lying at some
miles' distance from his own parish. Each of these hamlets possesses a
church, though the population is of the very sparsest, and in each he
maintains a resident curate. A third curate assists him in the duties of
the home parish, which is a large one, that is, in extent. From one of
these distant hamlets the curate, who struggled so bravely through the
mire, has walked in to consult with his superior. He is shown into the
library, and sinks not unwillingly into a chair to wait for the vicar, who
is engaged with a district visitor, or lay sister.

This part of the house is ancient, and dates from medieval times. Some
have conjectured that the present library and the adjoining rooms (the
partitions being modern) originally formed the refectory of a monastic
establishment. Others assign it to another use; but all agree that it is
monastic and antique. The black oak rafters of the roof, polished as it
were by age, meet overhead unconcealed by ceiling. Upon the wall in one
place a figure seems at the first glance to be in the act to glide forth
like a spectre from the solid stone. The effect is caused by the subdued
colouring, which is shadowy and indistinct. It was perhaps gaudy when
first painted; but when a painting has been hidden by a coat or two of
plaster, afterwards as carefully removed as it was carelessly laid on, the
tints lose their brilliancy. Some sainted woman in a flowing robe, with
upraised arm, stands ever in the act to bless. Only half one of the
windows of the original hall is in this apartment--the partition wall
divides it. There yet remain a few stained panes in the upper part; few as
they are and small, yet the coloured light that enters through them seems
to tone the room.

The furniture, of oak, is plain and spare to the verge of a gaunt
severity, and there is not one single picture-frame on the wide expanse of
wall. On the table are a few books and some letters, with foreign
postmarks, and addressed in the crabbed handwriting of Continental
scholars. Over the table a brazen lamp hangs suspended by a slender chain.
In a corner are some fragments of stone mouldings and wood carvings like
the panel of an ancient pew. There are no shelves and no bookcase. Besides
those on the table, one volume lies on the floor, which is without carpet
or covering, but absolutely clean: and by the wall, not far from the
fireplace, is an open chest, ancient and ponderous, in which are the works
of the Fathers. The grate has been removed from the fireplace and the
hearth restored; for in that outlying district there is plenty of wood.
Though of modern make, the heavy brass fire-irons are of ancient shape.
The fire has gone out--the logs are white with the ash that forms upon
decaying embers; it is clear that the owner of this bare apartment, called
a library, but really a study, is not one who thinks of his own personal
comfort. If examined closely the floor yonder bears the marks of feet that
have walked monotonously to and fro in hours of thought. When the eye has
taken in these things, as the rustle of the brown leaves blown against the
pane without in the silence is plainly audible, the mind seems in an
instant to slip back four hundred years.

The weary curate has closed his eyes, and starts as a servant enters
bringing him wine, for the vicar, utterly oblivious of his own comfort, is
ever on the watch for that of others. His predecessor, a portly man, happy
in his home alone, and, as report said, loving his ease and his palate,
before he was preferred to a richer living, called in the advice of
architects as to converting the ancient refectory to some use. In his time
it was a mere lumber-room, into which all the odds and ends of the house
were thrown. Plans were accordingly prepared for turning one part of it
into a cosy breakfast parlour, and the other into a conservatory. Before
any steps, however, were taken he received his preferment--good things
flow to the rich--and departed, leaving behind him a favourable memory. If
any inhabitant were asked what the old vicar did, or said, and what work
he accomplished, the reply invariably was, 'Oh! hum! he was a very good
sort of man: he never interfered with anybody or anything!'

Accustomed to such an even tenour of things, all the _vis inertiae_ of the
parish revolted when the new vicar immediately evinced a determination to
do his work thoroughly. The restless energy of the man alone set the
stolid old folk at once against him. They could not 'a-bear to see he
a-flying all over the parish: why couldn't he bide at home?' No one is so
rigidly opposed to the least alteration in the conduct of the service as
the old farmer or farmer's wife, who for forty years and more has listened
to the same old hymn, the same sing-song response, the same style of
sermon. It is vain to say that the change is still no more than what
was--contemplated by the Book of Common Prayer. They naturally interpret
that book by what they have been accustomed to from childhood. The vicar's
innovations were really most inoffensive, and well within even a narrow
reading of the rubric. The fault lay in the fact that they were
innovations, so far as the practice of that parish was concerned. So the
old folk raised their voices in a chorus of horror, and when they met
gossiped over the awful downfall of the faith. All that the vicar had yet
done was to intone a part of the service, and at once many announced that
they should stay away.

Next he introduced a choir. The sweet voices of the white-robed boys
rising along the vaulted roof of the old church melted the hearts of those
who, with excuses for their curiosity to their neighbours, ventured to go
and hear them. The vicar had a natural talent, almost a genius, for music.
There was a long struggle in his mind whether he might or might not permit
himself an organ in his library. He decided it against himself, mortifying
the spirit as well as the flesh, but in the service of the Church he felt
that he might yield to his inclination. By degrees he gathered round him
the best voices of the parish; the young of both sexes came gladly after
awhile to swell the volume of song. How powerful is the influence of holy
music upon such minds as are at all inclined to serious devotion! The
church filled more and more every Sunday, and people came from the
farthest corners of the parish, walking miles to listen. The young people
grew enthusiastic, and one by one the old folk yielded and followed them.

At the same time the church itself seemed to change. It had been cold and
gloomy, and gaunt within, for so many generations, that no one noticed it.
A place of tombs, men hurried away from it as quickly as possible. Now,
little touches here and there gradually gave it the aspect of habitation.
The new curtains hung at the door of the vestry, and drawn, too, across
the main entrance when service began, the _fleur-de-lys_ on the crimson
ground gave an impression of warmth. The old tarnished brazen fittings of
the pews were burnished up, a new and larger stove (supplied at the
vicar's expense) diffused at least some little heat in winter. A curate
came, one who worked heart and soul with the vicar, and the service became
very nearly choral, the vicar now wearing the vestment which his degree
gave him the strict right to assume. There were brazen candlesticks behind
the altar, and beautiful flowers. Before, the interior was all black and
white. Now there was a sense of colour, of crimson curtains, of polished
brass, of flowers, and rich-toned altar cloth. The place was lit up with a
new light. After the first revolt of the old folk there was little
opposition, because the vicar, being a man who had studied human nature
and full of practical wisdom as well as learning, did all things
gradually. One thing as introduced at a time, and the transition--after
the first start--was effected imperceptibly. Nor was any extravagant
ritual thrust upon the congregation; nor any suspicious doctrine broached.

In that outlying country place, where men had no knowledge of cathedrals,
half the offices of the Church had been forgotten. The vicar brought them
back again. He began early morning services; he had the church open all
day for private prayer. He reminded the folk of Lent and Eastertide,
which, except for the traditional pancakes, had almost passed out of their
lives. Festivals, saints' days, midnight service, and, above all, the
Communion, were insisted upon and brought home to them. As in many other
country districts, the Communion had nearly dropped into disuse. At first
he was alone, but by-and-by a group of willing lay helpers grew up around
him. The churchwardens began to work with him; then a few of the larger
tenant farmers. Of the two great landed proprietors, one was for him from
the first, the other made no active opposition, but stood aloof. When, in
the autumn, the family of the one that was for him came home, a fresh
impetus was given. The ladies of the mansion came forward to join in the
parish and Church work, and then other ladies, less exalted, but fairly
well-to-do, who had only been waiting for a leader, crowded after.

For the first time in the memory of man the parish began to be 'visited.'
Lay sisters accepted the charge of districts; and thus there was not a
cottage, nor an old woman, but had the change brought home to her.
Confirmation, which had been almost forgotten, was revived, and it was
surprising what a number of girls came forward to be prepared. The Bishop,
who was not at all predisposed to view the 'movement' with favour, when he
saw the full church, the devotional congregation, and after he had visited
the vicarage and seen into what was going on personally, expressed openly
a guarded approval, and went away secretly well pleased. Rightly or
wrongly, there was a 'movement' in the parish and the outlying hamlets:
and thus it was that the curate, struggling through the mire, carried in
his face the expression of hard work. Work, work, work; the vicar, his
three curates and band of lay helpers, worked incessantly.

Besides his strictly parochial duties, the vicar wrote a manual for use in
the schools, he attended the Chambers of Agriculture, and supported
certain social movements among the farmers; he attended meetings, and,
both socially and politically, by force of character, energy, and the gift
of speech, became a power in the country side. Still striving onwards, he
wrote in London periodicals, he published a book, he looked from the
silence of his gaunt study towards the great world, and sometimes dreamed
of what he might have done had he not been buried in the country, and of
what he might even yet accomplish. All who came in contact with him felt
the influence of his concentrated purpose: one and all, after they had
worked their hardest, thought they had still not done so much as he would
have done.

The man's charm of manner was not to be resisted; he believed his office
far above monarchs, but there was no personal pretension. That gentle,
pleasing manner, with the sense of intellectual power behind it, quite
overcame the old folk. They all spoke with complacent pride of 'our
vicar'; and, what was more, opened their purses. The interior of the
church was restored, and a noble organ built. When its beautiful notes
rose and fell, when sweet voices swelled the wave of sound, then even the
vicar's restless spirit was soothed in the fulfilment of his hope. A large
proportion of the upper and middle class of the parish was, without a
doubt, now gathered around him; and there was much sympathy manifested
from adjacent parishes with his objects, sympathy which often took the
form of subscriptions from distant people.

But what said Hodge to it all? Hodge said nothing. Some few young cottage
people who had good voices, and liked to use them, naturally now went to
church. So did the old women and old men, who had an eye to charity. But
the strong, sturdy men, the carters and shepherds, stood aloof; the bulk
and backbone of the agricultural labouring population were not in the
least affected. They viewed the movement with utter indifference. They
cleaned their boots on a Sunday morning while the bells were ringing, and
walked down to their allotments, and came home and ate their cabbage, and
were as oblivious of the vicar as the wind that blew. They had no present
quarrel with the Church; no complaint whatever; nor apparently any old
memory or grudge; yet there was a something, a blank space as it were,
between them and the Church. If anything, the 'movement' rather set them
against going.

Agricultural cottagers have a strong bias towards Dissent in one form or
another; village chapels are always well filled. Dissent, of course, would
naturally rather dislike a movement of the kind. But there was no active
or even passive opposition. The cottage folk just ignored the Church;
nothing more and nothing less. No efforts were spared to obtain their
good-will and to draw them into the fold, but there was absolutely no
response. Not a labourer's family in that wide district was left
unvisited. The cottages were scattered far apart, dotted here and there,
one or two down in a narrow coombe surrounded on three sides by the green
wall of the hills. Others stood on the bleak plains, unsheltered by tree
or hedge, exposed to the keen winds that swept across the level, yet
elevated fields. A new cottage built in modern style, with glaring red
brick, was perched on the side of a hill, where it was visible miles away.
An old thatched one stood in a hollow quite alone, half a mile from the
highway, and so hidden by the oaks that an army might have ravaged the
country and never found it. How many, many miles of weary walking such
rounds as these required!

Though they had, perhaps, never received a 'visitor' before, it was
wonderful with what skill the cottage women especially--the men being
often away at work--adapted themselves to the new _regime_. Each time they
told a more pitiful tale, set in such a realistic framing of hardship and
exposure that a stranger could not choose but believe. In the art of
encouraging attentions of this sort no one excels the cottage women; the
stories they will relate, with the smallest details inserted in the right
place, are something marvellous. At first you would exclaim with the
deepest commiseration, such a case of suffering and privation as this
cannot possibly be equalled by any in the parish; but calling at the next
cottage, you are presented with a yet more moving relation, till you find
the whole population are plunged in misery and afflicted with incredible
troubles. They cannot, surely, be the same folk that work so sturdily at
harvest. But when the curate has administered words of consolation and
dropped the small silver dole in the palm, when his shovel-hat and black
frock-coat tails have disappeared round the corner of the copse, then in a
single second he drops utterly out of mind. No one comes to church the
more. If inquiries are made why they did not come, a hundred excuses are
ready; the rain, a bad foot, illness of the infant, a cow taken ill and
requiring attention, and so on.

After some months of such experience the curate's spirits gradually
decline; his belief in human nature is sadly shaken. Men who openly
oppose, who argue and deny, are comparatively easy to deal with; there is
the excitement of the battle with evil. But a population that listens, and
apparently accepts the message, that is so thankful for little charities,
and always civil, and yet turns away utterly indifferent, what is to be
done with it? Might not the message nearly as well be taken to the cow at
her crib, or the horse at his manger? They, too, would receive a wisp of
sweet hay willingly from the hand.

But the more bitter the experience, the harder the trial, the more
conscientiously the curate proceeds upon his duty, struggling bravely
through the mire. He adds another mile to his daily journey: he denies
himself some further innocent recreation. The cottages in the open fields
are comparatively pleasant to visit, the sweet fresh air carries away
effluvia. Those that are so curiously crowded together in the village are
sinks of foul smell, and may be of worse--places where, if fever come, it
takes hold and quits not. His superior requests him earnestly to refrain
awhile and to take rest, to recruit himself with a holiday--even orders
him to desist from overmuch labour. The man's mind is in it, and he cannot
obey. What is the result?

Some lovely autumn day, at a watering-place, you may perchance be
strolling by the sea, with crowds of well-dressed, happy people on the one
side, and on the other the calm sunlit plain where boats are passing to
and fro. A bath-chair approaches, and a young man clad in black gets out
of it, where some friendly iron railings afford him a support for his
hand. There, step by step, leaning heavily on the rails, he essays to walk
as a child. The sockets of his joints yield beneath him, the limbs are
loose, the ankle twists aside; each step is an enterprise, and to gain a
yard a task. Thus day by day the convalescent strives to accustom the
sinews to their work. It is a painful spectacle; how different, how
strangely altered, from the upright frame and the swift stride that
struggled through the miry lane, perhaps even then bearing the seeds of
disease imbibed in some foul village den, where duty called him!

His wan, white face seems featureless; there is nothing but a pair of
deep-set eyes. But as you pass, and momentarily catch their glance, they
are bright and burning still with living faith.



In glancing along the street of a country town, a house may sometimes be
observed of a different and superior description to the general row of
buildings. It is larger, rises higher, and altogether occupies more space.
The facade is stylish, in architectural fashion of half a century since.
To the modern eye it may not perhaps look so interesting as the true old
gabled roofs which seem so thoroughly English, nor, on the other hand, so
bright and cheerful as the modern suburban villa. But it is substantial
and roomy within. The weather has given the front a sombre hue, and the
windows are dingy, as if they rarely or never knew the care of a
housemaid. On the ground floor the windows that would otherwise look on to
the street are blocked to almost half their height with a wire blind so
closely woven that no one can see in, and it is not easy to see out. The
doorway is large, with stone steps and porch--the doorway of a gentleman's
house. There is business close at hand--shops and inns, and all the usual
offices of a town--but, though in the midst, this house wears an air of
separation from the rest of the street.

When it was built--say fifty years ago, or more--it was, in fact, the
dwelling-house of an independent gentleman. Similar houses may be found in
other parts of the place, once inhabited by retired and wealthy people.
Such persons no longer live in towns of this kind--they build villas with
lawns and pleasure grounds outside in the environs, or, though still
retaining their pecuniary interest, reside at a distance. Like large
cities, country towns are now almost given over to offices, shops,
workshops, and hotels. Those who have made money get away from the streets
as quickly as possible. Upon approaching nearer to this particular
building the street door will be found to be wide open to the public, and,
if you venture still closer, a name may be seen painted in black letters
upon the side of the passage wall, after the manner of the brokers in the
courts off Throgmorton Street, or of the lawyers in the Temple. It is, in
fact, the office of a country solicitor--most emphatically one of Hodge's
many masters--and is admirably suited for his purpose, on account of its
roomy interior.

The first door within opens on the clerks' room, and should you modestly
knock on the panels instead of at once turning the handle, a voice will
invite you to 'Come in.' Half of the room is partitioned off for the
clerks, who sit at a long high desk, with a low railing or screen in front
of them. Before the senior is a brass rail, along which he can, if he
chooses, draw a red curtain. He is too hard at work and intent upon some
manuscript to so much as raise his head as you enter. But the two younger
men, eager for a change, look over the screen, and very civilly offer to
attend to your business. When you have said that you wish to see the head
of the firm, you naturally imagine that your name will be at once shouted
up the tube, and that in a minute or two, at farthest, you will be ushered
into the presence of the principal. In that small country town there
cannot surely be much work for a lawyer, and a visitor must be quite an
event. Instead, however, of using the tube they turn to the elder clerk,
and a whispered conversation takes place, of which some broken sentences
may be caught--'He can't be disturbed,' 'It's no use,' 'Must wait.' Then
the elder clerk looks over his brass rail and says he is very sorry, but
the principal is engaged, the directors of a company are with him, and it
is quite impossible to say exactly when they will leave. It may be ten
minutes, or an hour. But if you like to wait (pointing with his quill to a
chair) your name shall be sent up directly the directors leave.

You glance at the deck, and elect to wait. The older clerk nods his head,
and instantly resumes his writing. The chair is old and hard--the stuffing
compressed by a generation of weary suitors; there are two others at equal
distances along the wall. The only other furniture is a small but solid
table, upon which stands a brass copying-press. On the mantelpiece there
are scales for letter-weighing, paper clips full of papers, a county
Post-office directory, a railway time-table card nailed to the wall, and a
box of paper-fasteners. Over it is a map, dusty and dingy, of some estate
laid out for building purposes, with a winding stream running through it,
roads passing at right angles, and the points of the compass indicated in
an upper corner.

On the other side of the room, by the window, a framed advertisement hangs
against the wall, like a picture, setting forth the capital and reserve
and the various advantages offered by an insurance company, for which the
firm are the local agents. Between the chairs are two boards fixed to the
wall with some kind of hook or nail for the suspension of posters and
printed bills. These boards are covered with such posters, announcing
sales by auction, farms to be let, houses to be had on lease, shares in a
local bank or gasworks for sale, and so on, for all of which properties
the firm are the legal representatives. Though the room is of fair size
the ceiling is low, as in often the case in old houses, and it has, in
consequence, become darkened by smoke and dust, therein, after awhile,
giving a gloomy, oppressive feeling to any one who has little else to gaze
at. The blind at the window rises far too high to allow of looking out,
and the ground glass above it was designed to prevent the clerks from
wasting their time watching the passers-by in the street. There is,
however, one place where the glass is worn and transparent, and every now
and then one of the two younger clerks mounts on his stool and takes a
peep through to report to his companion.

The restraint arising from the presence of a stranger soon wears off; the
whisper rises to a buzz of talk; they laugh, and pelt each other with
pellets of paper. The older clerk takes not the least heed. He writes
steadily on, and never lifts his head from the paper--long hours of labour
have dimmed his sight, and he has to stoop close over the folio. He may be
preparing a brief, he may be copying a deposition, or perhaps making a
copy of a deed; but whatever it is, his whole mind is absorbed and
concentrated on his pen. There must be no blot, no erasure, no
interlineation. The hand of the clock moves slowly, and the half-heard
talk and jests of the junior clerks--one of whom you suspect of making a
pen-and-ink sketch of you--mingle with the ceaseless scrape of the
senior's pen, and the low buzz of two black flies that circle for ever
round and round just beneath the grimy ceiling. Occasionally noises of the
street penetrate; the rumble of loaded waggons, the tramp of nailed shoes,
or the sharp quick sound of a trotting horse's hoofs. Then the junior
jumps up and gazes through the peephole. The directors are a very long
time upstairs. What can their business be? Why are there directors at all
in little country towns?

Presently there are heavy footsteps in the passage, the door slowly opens,
and an elderly labourer, hat in hand, peers in. No one takes the least
notice of him. He leans on his stick and blinks his eyes, looking all
round the room; then taps with the stick and clears his throat--'Be he in
yet?' he asks, with emphasis on the 'he.' 'No, he be not in,' replies a
junior, mocking the old man's accent and grammar. The senior looks up,
'Call at two o'clock, the deed is not ready,' and down goes his head
again. 'A main bit o' bother about this yer margidge' (mortgage), the
labourer remarks, as he turns to go out, not without a complacent smile on
his features for the law's delays seem to him grand, and he feels
important. He has a little property--a cottage and garden--upon which he
is raising a small sum for some purpose, and this 'margidge' is one of the
great events of his life. He talked about it for two or three years before
he ventured to begin it; he has been weeks making up his mind exactly what
to do after his first interview with the solicitor--he would have been
months had not the solicitor at last made it plain that he could waste no
more time--and when it is finally completed he will talk about it again to
the end of his days. He will be in and out asking for 'he' all day long at
intervals, and when the interview takes place it will be only for the
purpose of having everything already settled explained over to him for the
fiftieth time. His heavy shoes drag slowly down the passage--he will go to
the street corner and talk with the carters who come in, and the old
women, with their baskets, a-shopping, about 'this yer law job.'

There is a swifter step on the lead-covered staircase, and a clerk
appears, coming from the upper rooms. He has a telegram and a letter in
one hand, and a bundle of papers in the other. He shows the telegram and
the letter to his fellow clerks--even the grave senior just glances at the
contents silently, elevates his eyebrows, and returns to his work. After a
few minutes' talk and a jest or two the clerk rushes upstairs again.

Another caller comes. It is a stout, florid man, a young farmer or
farmer's son, riding-whip in hand, who produces a red-bound rate-book from
a pocket in his coat made on purpose to hold the unwieldy volume. He is a
rate-collector for his parish, and has called about some technicalities.
The grave senior clerk examines the book, but cannot solve the
difficulties pointed out by the collector, and, placing it on one side,
recommends the inquirer to call in two hours' time. Steps again on the
stairs, and another clerk comes down leisurely, and after him still
another. Their only business is to exchange a few words with their
friends, for pastime, and they go up again.

As the morning draws on, the callers become more numerous, and it is easy
to tell the positions they occupy by the degree of attention they receive
from the clerks. A tradesman calls three or four times, with short
intervals between--he runs over from his shop; the two juniors do not
trouble to so much as look over the screen, and barely take the trouble to
answer the anxious inquiry if the principal is yet disengaged. They know,
perhaps, too much about his bills and the state of his credit. A builder
looks in--the juniors are tolerably civil and explain to him that it is no
use calling for yet another hour at least. The builder consults his watch,
and decides to see the chief clerk (who is himself an attorney, having
passed the examination), and is forthwith conducted upstairs. A burly
farmer appears, and the grave senior puts his head up to answer, and
expresses his sorrow that the principal is so occupied. The burly farmer,
however, who is evidently a man of substance, thinks that the chief clerk
can also do what he wants, and he, too, is ushered upstairs. Another
farmer enters--a rather rougher-looking man--and, without saying a word,
turns to the advertisement boards on which the posters of farms to be let,
&c., are displayed. These he examines with the greatest care, pointing
with his forefinger as he slowly reads, and muttering to himself.
Presently he moves to go. 'Anything to suit you, sir?' asks the senior
clerk. 'Aw, no; I knows they be too much money,' he replies, and walks

A gentleman next enters, and immediately the juniors sink out of sight,
and scribble away with eager application; the senior puts down his pen and
comes out from his desk. It is a squire and magistrate. The senior
respectfully apologises for his employer being so occupied. The gentleman
seems a little impatient. The clerk rubs his hands together deprecatingly,
and makes a desperate venture. He goes upstairs, and in a few minutes
returns; the papers are not ready, but shall be sent over that evening in
any case. With this even the squire must fain be satisfied and depart. The
burly farmer and the builder come downstairs together amicably chatting,
and after them the chief clerk himself. Though young, he has already an
expression of decision upon his features, an air of business about him; in
fact, were he not thoroughly up to his work he would not remain in that
office long. To hold that place is a guarantee of ability. He has a bundle
of cheques, drafts, &c., in his hand, and after a few words with the grave
senior at the desk, strolls across to the bank.

No sooner has the door closed behind him than a shoal of clerks come
tripping down on tip-toe, and others appear from the back of the house.
They make use of the opportunity for a little gossip. Voices are heard in
the passage, and an aged and infirm labouring man is helped in by a woman
and a younger man. The clerks take no notice, and the poor old follow
props himself against the wall, not daring to take a chair. He is a
witness. He can neither read nor write, but he can recollect 'thuck ould
tree,' and can depose to a fact worth perhaps hundreds of pounds. He has
come in to be examined; he will be driven in a week or two's time from the
village to the railway station in a fly, and will talk about it and his
visit to London till the lamp of life dies out.

A footman calls with a note, a groom brings another, the letters are
carelessly cast aside, till one of the juniors, who has been watching from
the peephole, reports that the chief clerk is coming, and everybody
scuttles back to his place. Callers come still more thickly; another
solicitor, well-to-do, and treated with the utmost deference; more
tradesmen; farmers; two or three auctioneers, in quick succession; the
well-brushed editor of a local paper; a second attorney, none too well
dressed, with scrubby chin and face suspiciously cloudy, with an odour of
spirits and water and tobacco clinging to his rusty coat. He belongs to a
disappearing type of country lawyer, and is the wreck, perhaps, of high
hopes and good opportunities. Yet, wreck as he is, when he gets up at the
Petty Sessions to defend some labourer, the bench of magistrates listen to
his maundering argument as deferentially as if he were a Q.C. They pity
him, and they respect his cloth. The scrubby attorney whistles a tune, and
utters an oath when he learns the principal is engaged. Then he marches
out, with his hat on one side of his head, to take another 'refresher.'

Two telegrams arrive, and are thrown aside; then a gentleman appears, whom
the senior goes out to meet with an air of deference, and whom he actually
conducts himself upstairs to the principal's room. It is a local banker,
who is thus admitted to the directors' consultation. The slow hand of the
clock goes round, and, sitting wearily on the hard chair, you wonder if
ever it will be possible to see this much-sought man. By-and-by a door
opens above, there is a great sound of voices and chatting, and half a
dozen gentlemen--mostly landed proprietors from their appearance--come
downstairs. They are the directors, and the consultation is over. The
senior clerk immediately goes to the principal, and shortly afterwards
reappears and asks you to come up.

As you mount the lead-covered stairs you glance down and observe the
anxious tradesman, the ancient labourer, and several others who have
crowded in, all eyeing you with jealous glances. But the senior is holding
the door open--you enter, and it closes noiselessly behind you. A hand
with a pen in it points to a chair, with a muttered 'Pardon--half a
moment' and while the solicitor just jots down his notes you can glance
round the apartment. Shelves of calf-bound law books; piles of japanned
deed-boxes, some marked in white letters 'Trustees of,' or 'Executors of'
and pigeon-holes full of papers seem to quite hide the walls. The floor is
covered with some material noiseless to walk on (the door, too, is double,
to exclude noise and draught); the furniture is solid and valuable; the
arm-chair you occupy capacious and luxurious. On the wall hangs a section
of the Ordnance map of the district. But the large table, which almost
fills the centre of the room, quickly draws the attention from everything

It is on that table that all the business is done; all the energies of the
place are controlled and directed from thence. At the first glance it
appears to support a more chaotic mass of papers. They completely conceal
it, except just at the edge. Bundles of letters tied with thin red tape,
letters loose, letters unopened; parchment deeds with the seals and
signature just visible; deeds with the top and the words, 'This
indenture,' alone glowing out from the confusion; deeds neatly folded;
broad manuscript briefs; papers fastened with brass fasteners; papers
hastily pinned together; old newspapers marked and underlined in red ink;
a large sectional map, half unrolled and hanging over the edge; a small
deed-box, the lid open, and full of blue paper in oblong strips; a tall
porcupine-quill pen sticking up like a spire; pocket-books; books open;
books with half a dozen papers in them for markers; altogether an utter
chaos. But the confusion is only apparent; the master mind knows the exact
position of every document, and can lay his hand on it the moment it is

The business is such that even the master mind can barely keep pace with
it. This great house can hardly contain it; all the clerks we saw rushing
about cannot get through the work, and much of the mechanical copying or
engrossing goes to London to be done. The entire round of country life
comes here. The rolling hills where the shepherd watches his flock, the
broad plains where the ploughman guides the share, the pleasant meadows
where the roan cattle chew the cud, the extensive parks, the shady woods,
sweet streams, and hedges overgrown with honeysuckle, all have their
written counterpart in those japanned deed-boxes. Solid as is the land
over which Hodge walks stolid and slow, these mere written words on
parchment are the masters of it all. The squire comes here about intricate
concerns of family settlements which in their sphere are as hard to
arrange as the diplomatic transactions of Governments. He comes about his
tenants and his rent; he comes to get new tenants.

The tenants resort to the solicitor for farms, for improvements,
reductions, leases, to negotiate advances, to insure for the various
affairs of life. The clergyman comes on questions that arise out of his
benefice, the churchyard, ecclesiastical privileges, the schools, and
about his own private property. The labourer comes about his cottage and
garden--an estate as important to him as his three thousand acres to the
squire--or as a witness. The tradesman, the builder, the banker come for
financial as well as legal objects. As the town develops, and plots are
needed for houses and streets, the resort to the solicitor increases
tenfold. Companies are formed and require his advice. Local government
needs his assistance. He may sit in an official position in the County
Court, or at the bench of the Petty Sessions. Law suits--locally great--
are carried through in the upper Courts of the metropolis; the counsel's
name appears in the papers, but it is the country solicitor who has
prepared everything for him, and who has marshalled that regiment of
witnesses from remote hamlets of the earth. His widening circle of
landlord clients have each their attendant circles of tenants, who feel
confidence in their leader's legal adviser. Parochial officers come to
him; overseer, rate-collector, church warden, tithing-man. The
all-important work of registering voters fills up the space between one
election and another. At the election his offices are like the
head-quarters of an army. He may represent some ancient college, or
corporation with lands of vast extent. Ladies with a little capital go
home content when he has invested their money in mortgage of real
property. Still the work goes on increasing; additional clerks have to be
employed; a fresh wing has to be built to the old house. He has, too, his
social duties; he is, perhaps, the head or mainspring of a church
movement--this is not for profit, but from conviction. His lady is carried
to and fro in the brougham, making social visits. He promotes athletic
clubs, reading-rooms, shows, exhibitions. He is eagerly seized upon by
promoters of all kinds, because he possesses the gift of organisation. It
becomes a labour merely to catalogue his engagements like this. Let the
rain rain, or the sun shine, the pen never stays work.

Personally he is the very antithesis is of what might be predicated of the
slow, comfortable, old-fashioned lawyer. He is in the prime of life,
physically full of vigour, mentally persevering with untiring
perseverance, the embodiment of energy, ever anxious to act, to do rather
than to delay. As you talk with him you find his leading idea seems to be
to arrange your own half-formed views for you; in short, to show you what
you really do want, to put your desire into shape. He interprets you. Many
of the clients who come to him are the most impracticable men in the
world. A farmer, for instance, with a little money, is in search of a
farm. Find him twenty farms just the size for his capital, he will visit
them all and discover a fault in each, and waver and waver till the proper
season for entering on possession is past. The great problem with country
people is how to bring them to the point. You may think you have got all
your witnesses ready for the train for London, and, as the bell rings,
find that one has slipped away half a mile to talk with the blacksmith
about the shoeing of his mare. Even the squire is trying when, he talks of
this or that settlement. Of course, as he is educated, no lengthy and
oft-repeated explanations are needed; but the squire forgets that time is
valuable, and lingers merely to chat. He has so much time to spare, he is
apt to overlook that the solicitor has none. The clergyman will talk,
talk, talk in rounded periods, and nothing will stop him; very often he
drives his wife in with him from the village, and the wife must have her
say. As for Hodge and his mortgage, ten years would not suffice for his
business, were he allowed to wander on. The problem is to bring these
impracticable people to the point with perfect courtesy. As you talk with
him yourself, you feel tempted to prolong the interview--so lucid an
intellect exercises an indefinable charm.

Keen and shrewd as he is, the solicitor has a kindly reputation. Men say
that he is slow to press them, that he makes allowances for circumstances;
that if the tenant is honestly willing to discharge his obligation he need
fear no arbitrary selling up. But he is equally reputed swift of
punishment upon those who would take shelter behind more shallow pretence,
or attempt downright deceit. Let a man only be straightforward, and the
solicitor will wait rather than put the law in force. Therefore, he is
popular, and people have faith in him. But the labour, the incessant
supervision, the jotting down of notes, the ceaseless interviews, the
arguments, the correspondence, the work that is never finished when night
comes, tell even upon that physical vigour and mental elasticity. Hodge
sleeps sound and sees the days go by with calm complacency. The man who
holds that solid earth, as it were, in the japanned boxes finds a nervous
feeling growing upon him despite his strength of will. Presently nature
will have her way; and, weary and hungry for fresh air, he rushes off for
awhile to distant trout-stream, moor, or stubble.



The monthly sitting of the County Court in a country market town is an
event of much interest in all the villages around, so many of the causes
concerning agricultural people. 'County-Court Day' is looked upon as a
date in the calendar by which to recollect when a thing happened, or to
arrange for the future.

As the visitor enters the doorway of the Court, at a distance the scene
appears imposing. Brass railings and red curtains partition off about a
third of the hall, and immediately in the rear of this the Judge sits high
above the rest on a raised and carpeted dais. The elevation and isolation
of the central figure adds a solemn dignity to his office. His features
set, as it were, in the wig, stand out in sharp relief--they are of a
keenly intellectual cast, and have something of the precise clearness of
an antique cameo. The expression is that of a mind in continuous
exercise--of a mind accustomed not to slow but to quick deliberation, and
to instant decision. The definition of the face gives the eyes the aspect
of penetration, as if they saw at once beneath the surface of things.

If the visitor looks only at the Judge he will realise the dignity of the
law; the law which is the outcome and result of so many centuries of
thought. But if he glances aside from the central figure the impression is
weakened by the miserable, hollow, and dingy framing. The carpet upon the
dais and the red curtains before it ill conceal the paltry substructure.
It is composed of several large tables, heavy and shapeless as benches,
placed side by side to form a platform. The curtains are dingy and
threadbare the walls dingy; the ceiling, though lofty, dingy; the boxes on
either side for Plaintiff and Defendant are scratched and defaced by the
innumerable witnesses who have blundered into them, kicking their shoes
against the woodwork. The entire apparatus is movable, and can be taken to
pieces in ten minutes, or part of it employed for meetings of any
description. There is nothing appropriate or convenient; it is a
makeshift, and altogether unequal to the pretensions of a Court now
perhaps the most useful and most resorted to of any that sit in the

Quarter sessions and assizes come only at long intervals, are held only in
particular time-honoured places, and take cognisance only of very serious
offences which happily are not numerous. The County Court at the present
day has had its jurisdiction so enlarged that it is really, in country
districts, the leading tribunal, and the one best adapted to modern wants,
because its procedure is to a great extent free from obsolete forms and
technicalities. The Plaintiff and the Defendant literally face their
Judge, practically converse with him, and can tell their story in their
own simple and natural way. It is a fact that the importance and
usefulness of the country County Court has in most places far outgrown the
arrangements made for it. The Judges may with reason complain that while
their duties have been enormously added to, their convenience has not been
equally studied, nor their salaries correspondingly increased.

In front, and below the Judge's desk, just outside the red curtain, is a
long and broad table, at which the High Bailiff sits facing the hall. By
his side the Registrar's clerk from time to time makes notes in a
ponderous volume which contains a minute and exact record of every claim.
Opposite, and at each end, the lawyers have their chairs and strew the
table with their papers.

As a rule a higher class of lawyers appear in the County Court than before
the Petty Sessional Bench. A local solicitor of ability no sooner gets a
'conveyancing' practice than he finds his time too valuable to be spent
arguing in cases of assault or petty larceny. He ceases to attend the
Petty Sessions, unless his private clients are interested or some
exceptional circumstances induce him. In the County Court cases often
arise which concern property, houses and lands, and the fulfilment of
contracts. Some of the very best lawyers of the district may consequently
be seen at that table, and frequently a barrister or two of standing
specially retained is among them.

A low wooden partition, crossing the entire width of the hall, separates
the 'bar' from the general public, Plaintiff and Defendant being admitted
through a gangway. As the hall is not carpeted, nor covered with any
material, a new-comer must walk on tip-toe to avoid raising the echo of
hollow boards, or run the risk of a reproof from the Judge, anxiously
endeavouring to catch the accents of a mumbling witness. Groups of people
stand near the windows whispering, and occasionally forgetting, in the
eagerness of the argument, that talking is prohibited. The room is already
full, but will be crowded when the 'horse case' comes on again. Nothing is
of so much interest as a 'horse case.' The issues raised concern almost
every countryman, and the parties are generally well known. All the idlers
of the town are here, and among them many a rascal who has been, through
the processes, and comes again to listen and possibly learn a dodge by
which to delay the execution of judgment. Some few of the more favoured
and respectable persons have obtained entrance to the space allotted to
the solicitors, and have planted themselves in a solid circle round the
fire, effectually preventing the heat from benefiting anyone else. Another
fire, carefully tended by a bailiff, burns in the grate behind the Judge,
but, as his seat is so far from it, without adding much to his comfort. A
chilly draught sweeps along the floor, and yet at the same time there is a
close and somewhat fetid atmosphere at the height at which men breathe.
The place is ill warmed and worse ventilated; altogether without
convenience, and comfortless.

To-day the Judge, to suit the convenience of the solicitors engaged in the
'horse case,' who have requested permission to consult in private, has
asked for a short defended cause to fill up the interval till they are
ready to resume. The High Bailiff calls 'Brown _v_. Jones,' claim 8_s_.
for goods supplied. No one at first answers, but after several calls a
woman in the body of the Court comes forward. She is partly deaf, and
until nudged by her neighbours did not hear her husband's name. The
Plaintiff is a small village dealer in tobacco, snuff, coarse groceries,
candles, and so on. His wife looks after the little shop and he works with
horse and cart, hauling and doing odd jobs for the farmers. Instead of
attending himself he has sent his wife to conduct the case. The Defendant
is a labourer living in the same village, who, like so many of his class,
has got into debt. He, too, has sent his wife to represent him. This is
the usual course of the cottagers, and of agricultural people who are
better off than cottagers. The men shirk out of difficulties of this kind
by going off in the morning early to their work with the parting remark,
'Aw, you'd better see about it; I don't knaw nothing about such jobs.'

The High Bailiff has no easy task to swear the Plaintiff's representative.
First, she takes the book and kisses it before the formula prescribed has
been repeated. Then she waits till the sentence is finished and lifts the
book with the left hand instead of the right. The Registrar's clerk has to
go across to the box and shout an explanation into her ear. 'Tell the
truth,' says the old lady, with alacrity; 'why, that's what I be come
for.' The Judge asks her what it is she claims, and she replies that that
man, the Registrar's clerk, has got it all written down in his book. She
then turns to the Defendant's wife, who stands in the box opposite, and
shouts to her, 'You knows you ain't paid it.'

It is in vain that the Judge endeavours to question her, in vain that the
High Bailiff tries to calm her, in vain that the clerk lays his hand on
her arm--she is bent on telling the Defendant a bit of her mind. The Court
is perforce compelled to wait till it is over, when the Judge, seeing that
talking is of no avail, goes at once to the root of the matter and asks to
see her books. A dirty account-book, such as may be purchased for
threepence, is handed up to him; the binding is broken, and some of the
leaves are loose. It is neither a day-book, a ledger, nor anything
else--there is no system whatever, and indeed the Plaintiff admits that
she only put down about half of it, and trusted to memory for the rest.
Here is a date, and after it some figures, but no articles mentioned,
neither tea nor candles. Next come some groceries, and the price, but no
one's name, so that it is impossible to tell who had the goods. Then there
are pages with mysterious dots and strokes and half-strokes, which
ultimately turn out to mean ounces and half-ounces of tobacco. These have
neither name nor value attached. From end to end nothing is crossed off,
so that whether an account be paid or not cannot be ascertained.

While the Judge laboriously examines every page, trying by the light of
former experience to arrive at some idea of the meaning, the Defendant's
wife takes up her parable. She chatters in return at the Plaintiff, then
she addresses the High Bailiff, who orders her to remain quiet, and,
finally, turns round and speaks to the crowd. The Judge, absorbed in the
attempt to master the account-book, does not for the moment notice this,
till, as he comes to the conclusion that the book is utterly valueless, he
looks up and finds the Defendant with her back turned gesticulating and
describing her wrongs to the audience. Even his command of silence is with
reluctance obeyed, and she continues to mutter to herself. When order is
restored the Judge asks for her defence, when the woman immediately
produces a receipt, purporting to be for this very eight shillings' worth.
At the sight of this torn and dirty piece of paper the Plaintiff works
herself into a fury, and speaks so fast and so loud (as deaf people will)
that no one else can be heard. Till she is made to understand that she
will be sent out of Court she does not desist. The Judge looks at the
receipt, and finds it correct; but still the Plaintiff positively declares
that she has never had the money. Yet she admits that the receipt is in
her handwriting. The Judge asks the Defendant who paid over the cash, and
she replies that it was her husband. The account-book contains no
memorandum of any payment at all. With difficulty the Judge again obtains
silence, and once more endeavours to understand a page of the account-book
to which the Plaintiff persists in pointing. His idea is now to identify
the various articles mentioned in the receipt with the articles put down
on that particular page.

After at least three-quarters of an hour, during which the book is handed
to and fro by the clerk from Judge to Plaintiff, that she may explain the
meaning of the hieroglyphics, some light at last begins to dawn. By dint
of patiently separating the mixed entries the Judge presently arrives at a
partial comprehension of what the Plaintiff has been trying to convey. The
amount of the receipted bill and the amount of the entries in the page of
the account-book are the same; but the articles entered in the book and
those admitted to be paid for are not. The receipt mentions candles; the
account-book has no candles. Clearly they are two different debts, which
chanced to come to the same figure. The receipt, however, is not dated,
and whether it is the Defendant who is wilfully misrepresenting, or
whether the Plaintiff is under a mistaken notion, the Judge for the time
cannot decide. The Defendant declares that she does not know the date and
cannot fix it--it was a 'main bit ago,' and that is all she can say.

For the third time the Judge, patient to the last degree, wades through
the account-book. Meanwhile the hands of the clock have moved on. Instead
of being a short case, this apparently simple matter has proved a long
one, and already as the afternoon advances the light of the dull winter's
day declines. The solicitors engaged in the 'horse case,' who retired to
consult, hoping to come to a settlement, returned into Court fully an hour
ago, and have since been sitting at the table waiting to resume. Besides
these some four or five other lawyers of equal standing are anxiously
looking for a chance of commencing their business. All their clients are
waiting, and the witnesses; they have all crowded into the Court, the
close atmosphere of which is almost intolerable.

But having begun the case the Judge gives it his full and undivided
attention. Solicitors, clients, witnesses, cases that interest the public,
causes that concern valuable property, or important contracts must all be
put aside till this trifling matter is settled. He is as anxious as any,
or more so, to get on, because delay causes business to accumulate--the
adjourned causes, of course, having to be heard at next Court, and thus
swelling the list to an inordinate length. But, impatient as he may be,
especially as he is convinced that one or other of the parties is keeping
back a part of the truth, he is determined that the subject shall be
searched to the bottom. The petty village shopkeeper and the humble
cottager obtain as full or fuller attention than the well-to-do Plaintiffs
and Defendants who can bring down barristers from London.

'What have you there?' the Registrar's clerk demands of the Plaintiff
presently. She has been searching in her pocket for a snuff-box wherewith
to refresh herself, and, unable to immediately discover it, has emptied
the contents of the pocket on the ledge of the witness-box. Among the rest
is another little account-book.

'Let me see that,' demands the Judge, rather sharply, and no wonder. 'Why
did you not produce it before?'

'Aw, he be last year's un; some of it be two years ago,' is the reply.

Another long pause. The Judge silently examines every page of the
account-book two years old. Suddenly he looks up. 'This receipt,' he says,
'was given for an account rendered eighteen months ago. Here in this older
book are the entries corresponding with it. The present claim is for a
second series of articles which happened to come to the same amount, and
the Defendant, finding that the receipt was not dated, has endeavoured to
make it do duty for the two.'

'I tould you so,' interrupts the Plaintiff. 'I tould you so, but you
wouldn't listen to I.'

The Judge continues that he is not sure he ought not to commit the
Defendant, and then, with a gesture of weary disgust, throws down his pen
and breaks off in the middle of his sentence to ask the High Bailiff if
there are any other judgments out against the Defendant. So many years'
experience of the drifts, subterfuges, paltry misrepresentations and
suppressions--all the mean and despicable side of poor humanity--have
indeed wearied him, but, at the same time, taught forbearance. He
hesitates to be angry, and delays to punish. The people are poor,
exceedingly poor. The Defendant's wife says she has eight children; they
are ignorant, and, in short, cannot be, in equity, judged as others in
better circumstances. There are two other judgments against the Defendant,
who is earning about 12s. a week, and the verdict is 1s. a month, first
payment that day three weeks.

Then the solicitor for the Plaintiff in the 'horse case' rises and informs
the Judge that the parties cannot settle it, and the case must proceed.
The Plaintiff and Defendant take their places, and some thirty witnesses
file through the gangway to the witness-room to be out of Court. The
bailiffs light the gas as the gloom deepens, and the solicitor begins his
opening speech. The Judge has leant back in his chair, closed his eyes,
and composed himself to listen. By the time two witnesses have been
examined the hour has arrived when the Judge can sit no longer. He must
leave, because on the morrow he has to hold a Court in another part of the
county. The important 'horse case' and the other causes must wait a
month.. He sits to the very last moment, then hastily stuffs deeds,
documents, papers of all descriptions into a portmanteau already
overflowing, and rushes to his carriage.

He will go through much the same work to-morrow; combating the irritating
misrepresentations, exposing suppressors, discovering the truth under a
mountain of crass stupidity and wilful deceit. Next day he will be again
at work; and the same process will go on the following week. In the month
there are perhaps about five days--exclusive of Sundays--upon which he
does not sit. But those days are not holidays. They are spent in patiently
reading a mass of deeds, indentures, contracts, vouchers, affidavits,
evidence of every description and of the most voluminous character. These
have been put in by solicitors, as part of their cases, and require the
most careful attention. Besides causes that are actually argued out in
open Court, there are others which, by consent of both parties, are placed
in his hands as arbitrator. Many involve nice points of law, and require a
written judgment in well-chosen words.

The work of the County Court Judge at the present day is simply enormous;
it is ceaseless and never finished, and it demands a patience which
nothing can ruffle. No matter how much falsehood may annoy him, a Judge
with arbitrary power entrusted to him must not permit indignation alone to
govern his decision. He must make allowances for all.

For the County Court in country districts has become a tribunal whose
decisions enter, as it were, into the very life of the people. It is not
concerned with a few important cases only; it has to arrange and finally
settle what are really household affairs. Take any village, and make
inquiries how many householders there are who have not at one time or
other come under the jurisdiction of the County Court? Either as
Plaintiff, or Defendant, or as witness, almost every one has had such
experience, and those who have not have been threatened with it. Beside
those defended cases that come before the Judge, there are hundreds upon
hundreds of petty claims, to which no defence is offered, and which are
adjudicated upon by the Registrar at the same time that the Judge hears
the defended causes.

The labourer, like so many farmers in a different way, lives on credit and
is perpetually in debt. He purchases his weekly goods on the security of
hoeing, harvest, or piece work, and his wages are continually absorbed in
payment of instalments, just as the tenant-farmer's income is too often
absorbed in the payment of interest and instalments of his loans. No one
seems ever to pay without at least a threat of the County Court, which
thus occupies a position like a firm appointed to perpetually liquidate a
vast estate. It is for ever collecting shillings and half-crowns.

This is one aspect of the County Court; the other is its position with
respect to property. It is the great arbitrator of property--of houses and
land, and deeds and contracts. Of recent years the number of the owners of
land has immensely increased--that is, of small pieces--and the litigation
has correspondingly grown. There is enough work for a man of high legal
ability in settling causes of this character alone, without any 'horse
case' with thirty witnesses, or any dispute that involves the conflict of
personal testimony.



The most imposing building in a certain country market town is the old
Bank, so called familiarly to distinguish it from the new one. The
premises of the old Bank would be quite unapproached in grandeur, locally,
were it not for the enterprise of the new establishment. Nothing could be
finer than the facade of the old Bank, which stands out clear and elegant
in its fresh paint among the somewhat dingy houses and shops of the main
street. It is rather larger in size, more lofty, and has the advantage of
being a few yards nearer to the railway station. But the rival institution
runs it very close. It occupies a corner on the very verge of the
market-place--its door facing the farmer as he concludes his deal--and it
is within a minute of the best hotels, where much business is done. It is
equally white and clean with fresh paint, and equally elegant in design.

A stranger, upon a nice consideration of the circumstances, might find a
difficulty in deciding on which to bestow his patronage; and perhaps the
chief recommendation of the old establishment lies in the fact that it is
the older of the two. The value of antiquity was never better understood
than in these modern days. Shrewd men of business have observed that the
quality of being ancient is the foundation of credit. Men believe in that
which has been long established. Their fathers dealt there, they deal
themselves, and if a new-comer takes up his residence he is advised to do

A visitor desirous of looking on the outside, at least of country banking,
would naturally be conducted to the old Bank. If it were an ordinary day,
_i.e._ not a market or fair, he might stand on the pavement in front
sunning himself without the least inconvenience from the passenger
traffic. He would see, on glancing Up and down the street, one or two aged
cottage women going in or out of the grocer's, a postman strolling round,
and a distant policeman at the farthest corner. A sprinkling of boys
playing marbles at the side of the pavement, and two men loading a waggon
with sacks of flour from a warehouse, complete the scene as far as human
life is concerned. There are dogs basking on doorsteps, larger dogs
rambling with idleness in the slow sway of their tails, and overhead black
swifts (whose nests are in the roofs of the higher houses) dash to and
fro, uttering their shrill screech.

The outer door of the bank is wide open--fastened back--ostentatiously
open, and up the passage another mahogany door, closed, bears a polished
brazen plate with the word 'Manager' engraved upon it. Everything within
is large and massive. The swing door itself yields with the slow motion of
solidity, and unless you are agile as it closes in the rear, thrusts you
forward like a strong gale. The apartment is large and lofty: there is
room for a crowd, but at present there is no one at the counter. It is
long enough and broad enough for the business of twenty customers at once;
so broad that the clerks on the other side are beyond arm's reach. But
they have shovels with which to push the gold towards you, and in a small
glass stand is a sponge kept constantly damp, across which the cashier
draws his finger as he counts the silver, the slight moisture enabling him
to sort the coin more swiftly.

The fittings are perfect, as perfect as in a London bank, and there is an
air of extreme precision. Yonder open drawers are full of pass-books; upon
the desks and on the broad mantelpiece are piles of cheques, not scattered
in disorder but arranged in exact heaps. The very inkstands are heavy and
vast, and you just catch a glimpse round the edge of the semi-sentry box
which guards the desk of the chief cashier, of a ledger so huge that the
mind can hardly realise the extent of the business which requires such
ponderous volumes to record it. Then beyond these a glass door, half open,
apparently leads to the manager's room, for within it is a table strewn
with papers, and you can see the green-painted iron wall of a safe.

The clerks, like the place, are somewhat imposing; they are in no hurry,
they allow you time to look round you and imbibe the sense of awe which
the magnificent mahogany counter and the brazen fittings, all the
evidences of wealth, are so calculated to inspire. The hollow sound of
your footstep on the floor does not seem heard; the slight 'Ahem!' you
utter after you have waited a few moments attracts no attention, nor the
rustling of your papers. The junior clerks are adding up column after
column of figures, and are totally absorbed; the chief cashier is
pondering deeply over a letter and annotating it. By-and-by he puts it
down, and slowly approaches. But after you have gone through the
preliminary ceremony of waiting, which is an institution of the place, the
treatment quite changes. Your business is accomplished with practised
ease, any information you may require is forthcoming on the instant, and
deft fingers pass you the coin. In brief, the whole machinery of banking
is here as complete as in Lombard Street. The complicated ramifications of
commercial transactions are as well understood and as closely studied as
in the 'City.' No matter what your wishes, provided, of course, that your
credentials are unimpeachable, they will be conducted for you
satisfactorily and without delay.

Yet the green meadows are within an arrow shot, and standing on the
threshold and looking down a cross street you can see the elms of the
hedgerows closing in the prospect. It is really wonderful that such
conveniences should he found in so apparently insignificant a place. The
intelligence and courtesy of the officials is most marked. It is clear,
upon reflection, that such intelligence, such manners, and knowledge not
only of business but of men (for a banker and a banker's agent has often
to judge at a moment's notice whether a man be a rogue or honest), cannot
be had for nothing. They must be paid for, and, in so far at least as the
heads are concerned, paid liberally. It is known that the old Bank has
often paid twenty and twenty-five per cent, to its shareholders. Where
does all this money come from? From Hodge, toiling in the field and
earning his livelihood in the sweat of his brow? One would hardly think so
at first, and yet there are no great businesses or manufactories here.
Somehow or other the money that pays for this courtesy and commercial
knowledge, for these magnificent premises and furniture, that pays the
shareholders twenty-five per cent., must be drawn from the green meadows,
the cornfields, and the hills where the sheep feed.

On an ordinary day the customers that come to the bank's counter may be
reckoned on the fingers. Early in the morning the Post-Office people come
for their cash and change; next, some of the landlords of the principal
inns with their takings; afterwards, such of the tradesmen as have cheques
to pay in. Later on the lawyers' clerks, or the solicitors themselves drop
in; in the latter case for a chat with the manager. A farmer or two may
call, especially on a Friday, for the cash to pay the labourers next day,
and so the morning passes. In the afternoon one or more of the local
gentry or clergy may drive up or may not--it is a chance either way--and
as the hour draws near for closing some of the tradesmen come hurrying in
again. Then the day, so far as the public are concerned, is over.
To-morrow sees the same event repeated.

On a market-day there is a great bustle; men hustle in and out, with a
bluff disregard of conventional politeness, but with no intention of
rudeness. Through the open doors comes the lowing of cattle, and the
baaing of sheep; the farmers and dealers that crowd in and out bring with
them an odour of animals that exhales from their garments. The clerks are
now none too many, the long broad counter none too large; the resources of
the establishment are taxed to the utmost. The manager is there in person,
attending to the more important customers.

In the crush are many ladies who would find their business facilitated by
coming on a different day. But market-day is a tradition with all classes;
even the gentry appear in greater numbers. If you go forth into the
Market-place you will find it thronged with farmers. If you go into the
Corn Hall or Exchange, where the corndealers have their stands, and where
business in cereals and seeds is transacted; if you walk across to the
auction yard for cattle, or to the horse depository, where an auction of
horses is proceeding; everywhere you have to push your way through groups
of agriculturists. The hotels are full of them (the stable-yards full of
their various conveyances), and the restaurant, the latest innovation in
country towns, is equally filled with farmers taking a chop, and the inner
rooms with ladies discussing coffee and light refreshments.

Now every farmer of all this crowd has his cheque-book in the breast
pocket of his coat. Let his business be what it may, the purchase of
cattle, sheep, horses, or implements, seed, or any other necessary, no
coin passes. The parties, if the transaction be private, adjourn to their
favourite inn, and out comes the cheque-book. If a purchase be effected at
either of the auctions proceeding it is paid for by cheque, and, on the
other hand, should the farmer be the vendor, his money comes to him in the
shape of a cheque. With the exception of his dinner and the ostler, the
farmer who comes to market carries on all his transactions with paper. The
landlord of the hotel takes cash for the dinner, and the ostler takes his
shilling. For the rest, it is all cheques cheques, cheques; so that the
whole business of agriculture, from the purchase of the seed to the sale
of the crop, passes through the bank.

The toll taken by the bank upon such transactions as simple buying and
selling is practically _nil_; its profit is indirect. But besides the
indirect profit there is the direct speculation of making advances at high
interest, discounting bills, and similar business. It might almost be said
that the crops are really the property of the local banks, so large in the
aggregate are the advances made upon them. The bank has, in fact, to study
the seasons, the weather, the probable market prices, the import of grain
and cattle, and to keep an eye upon the agriculture of the world. The
harvest and the prices concern it quite as much as the actual farmer who
tills the soil. In good seasons, with a crop above the average, the
business of the bank expands in corresponding ratio. The manager and
directors feel that they can advance with confidence; the farmer has the
means to pay. In bad seasons and with short crops the farmer is more
anxious than ever to borrow; but the bank is obliged to contract its
sphere of operations.

It usually happens that one or more of the directors of a country bank are
themselves farmers in a large way--gentlemen farmers, but with practical
knowledge. They are men whose entire lives have been spent in the
locality, and who have a very wide circle of acquaintances and friends
among agriculturists. Their forefathers were stationed there before them,
and thus there has been an accumulation of local knowledge. They not only
thoroughly understand the soil of the neighbourhood, and can forecast the
effect of particular seasons with certainty, but they possess an intimate
knowledge of family history, what farmer is in a bad way, who is doubtful,
or who has always had a sterling reputation. An old-established country
bank has almost always one or more such confidential advisers. Their
assistance is invaluable.

Since agriculture became in this way, through the adoption of banking, so
intimately connected with commerce, it has responded, like other
businesses, to the fluctuations of trade. The value of money in
Threadneedle Street affects the farmer in an obscure hamlet a hundred
miles away, whose fathers knew nothing of money except as a coin, a token
of value, and understood nothing of the export or import of gold. The
farmer's business is conducted through the bank, but, on the other hand,
the bank cannot restrict its operations to the mere countryside. It is
bound up in every possible manner with the vast institutions of the
metropolis. Its private profits depend upon the rate of discount and the
tone of the money market exactly in the same way as with those vast
institutions. A difficulty, a crisis there is immediately felt by the
country bank, whose dealings with its farmer customers are in turn

Thus commerce acts upon agriculture. _Per contra_, the tradesmen of the
town who go to the bank every morning would tell you with doleful faces
that the condition of agriculture acts upon trade in a most practical
manner. Neither the farmer, nor the farmer's wife and family expend nearly
so much as they did at their shops, and consequently the sums they carry
over to the bank are much diminished in amount. The local country
tradesman probably feels the depression of agriculture all but as much as
the farmer himself. The tradesman is perhaps supported by the bank; if he
cannot meet his liabilities the bank is compelled to withdraw that

Much of this country banking seems to have grown up in very recent times.
Any elderly farmer out yonder in the noisy market would tell you that in
his young days when he first did business he had to carry coin with him,
especially if at a distance from home. It was then the custom to attend
markets and fairs a long way off, such markets being centres where the
dealers and drovers brought cattle. The dealers would accept nothing but
cash; they would not have looked at a cheque had such a thing been
proffered them. This old Bank prides itself upon the reputation it
enjoyed, even in those days. It had the power of issuing notes, and these
notes were accepted by such men, even at a great distance, the bank having
so good a name. They were even preferred to the notes of the Bank of
England, which at one time, in outlying country places, were looked on
with distrust, a state of things which seems almost incredible to the
present generation.

In those days men had no confidence. That mutual business understanding,
the credit which is the basis of all commerce of the present time, did not
exist. Of course this only applies to the country and to country trading;
the business men of cities were years in advance of the agriculturists in
this respect. But so good was the reputation of the old Bank, even in
those times, that its notes were readily accepted. It is, indeed,
surprising what a reputation some of the best of the country banks have
achieved. Their names are scarcely seen in the money articles of the daily
press. But they do a solid business of great extent, and their names in
agricultural circles are names of power. So the old Bank here, though
within an arrow shot of the green meadows, though on ordinary days a
single clerk might attend to its customers, has really a valuable

Of late years shrewd men of business discovered that the ranks of the
British farmer offered a wonderful opportunity for legitimate banking. The
farmer, though he may not be rich, must of necessity be the manager, if
not the actual owner, of considerable capital. A man who farms, if only a
hundred acres, must have some capital. It may not be his own--it may be
borrowed; still he has the use of it. Here, then, a wide field opened
itself to banking enterprise. Certainly there has been a remarkable
extension of banking institutions in the country. Every market town has
its bank, and in most cases two--branches of course, but banks to all
intents and purposes. Branches are started everywhere.

The new Bank in this particular little town is not really new. It is
simply a branch set up by a well-established bank whose original centre
may perhaps be in another county. It is every whit as respectable as the
other, and as well conducted. Its branch as yet lacks local antiquity, but
that is the only difference. The competition for the farmer's business
between these branches, scattered all over the length and breadth of the
country, must of necessity be close. When the branch, or new Bank, came
here, it was started in grand premises specially erected for it, in the
most convenient situation that could be secured.

Till then the business of the old Bank had been carried on in a small and
dingy basement. The room was narrow, badly lit, and still worse
ventilated, so that on busy days both the clerks and the customers
complained of the stuffy atmosphere. The ancient fittings had become worn
and defaced; the ceiling was grimy; the conveniences in every way
defective. When it was known that a new branch was to be opened the
directors of the old Bank resolved that the building, which had so long
been found inadequate, should be entirely renovated. They pulled it down,
and the present magnificent structure took its place.

Thus this little country town now possesses two banks, whose facades could
hardly be surpassed in a city. There is perhaps a little rivalry between
the managers of the two institutions, in social as well as in business
matters. Being so long established there the old Bank numbers among its
customers some of the largest landed proprietors, the leading clergy, and
solicitors. The manager coming into contact with these, and being himself
a man of intelligence, naturally occupies a certain position. If any
public movement is set on foot, the banks strive as to which shall be most
to the fore, and, aided by its antiquity, the old Bank, perhaps, secures a
social precedence. Both managers belong to the 'carriage people' of the

Hodge comes into the place, walking slowly behind cattle or sheep, or
jolting in on a waggon. His wife comes, too, on foot, through the roughest
weather, to fetch her household goods. His daughter comes into the hiring
fair, and stands waiting for employment on the pavement in the same spot
used for the purpose from time immemorial, within sight of the stately
facades of the banks. He himself has stood in the market-place with
reaping hook or hoe looking for a master. Humble as he may be, it is clear
that the wealth in those cellars--the notes and the gold pushed over the
counters in shovels--must somehow come from the labour which he and his
immediate employer--the farmer--go through in the field.

It is becoming more and more the practice for the carter, or shepherd, who
desires a new situation, to advertise. Instead of waiting for the chance
of the hiring fair, he trudges into the market town and calls at the
office of the oldest established local paper. There his wishes are reduced
to writing for him, he pays his money, and his advertisement appears. If
there is an farmer advertising for a man, as is often the case, he at the
same time takes the address, and goes over to offer his services. The
farmer and the labourer alike look to the advertisement columns as the
medium between them.

The vitality and influence of the old-fashioned local newspaper is indeed
a remarkable feature of country life. It would be thought that in these
days of cheap literature, these papers, charging twopence, threepence, and
even fourpence per copy, could not possibly continue to exist. But,
contrary to all expectation, they have taken quite a fresh start, and
possess a stronger hold than ever upon the agricultural population. They
enter into the old homesteads, and every member of the farmer's family
carefully scans them, certain of finding a reference to this or that
subject or person in whom he takes an interest.

Some such papers practically defy competition. In the outlying towns,
where no factories have introduced a new element, it is vain for the most
enterprising to start another. The squire, the clergyman, the lawyer, the
tenant-farmer, the wayside innkeeper stick to the old weekly paper, and
nothing can shake it. It is one of the institutions of agriculture.

The office is, perhaps, in a side street of the quiet market-town, and
there is no display to catch the casual purchaser. No mystery surrounds
the editor's sanctum; the visitor has but to knock, and is at once
admitted to his presence. An office could scarcely be more plainly
furnished. A common table, which has, however, one great virtue--it does
not shake when written on--occupies the centre. Upon one side is a large
desk or bureau; the account-books lying open show that the editor, besides
his literary labour, has to spend much time in double entry. Two chairs
are so completely hidden under 'exchanges' that no one can sit upon them.
Several of these 'exchanges' are from the United States or Australia, for
the colonists are often more interested and concerned about local affairs
in the old country than they are with the doings in the metropolis.
Against the wall, too, hangs a picture of a fine steamer careering under
sail and steam, and near it a coloured sectional map of some new township
marked out in squares. These are the advertisements of an Atlantic or
Australian line, or of both; and the editor is their agent. When the young
ploughman resolves to quit the hamlet for the backwoods of America or the
sheepwalks of Australia, he comes here to engage his berth. When the young
farmer wearies of waiting for dead men's shoes--in no other way can he
hope to occupy an English farm--he calls here and pays his passage-money,
and his broad shoulders and willing hands are shipped to a land that will
welcome him. A single shelf supports a few books, all for reference, such
as the 'Clergy List,' for the Church is studied, and the slightest change
that concerns the district carefully recorded.

Beneath this, the ponderous volumes that contain the file of the paper for
the last forty years are piled, their weight too great for a shelf resting
on the floor. The series constitutes a complete and authentic local
history. People often come from a distance to consult it, for it is the
only register that affords more than the simple entry of birth and death.

There is a life in the villages and hamlets around, in the little places
that are not even hamlets, which to the folk who dwell in them is fully as
important as that of the greatest city. Farmhouses are not like the villas
of cities and city suburbs. The villa has hardly any individuality; it is
but one of many, each resembling the other, and scarcely separated. To-day
one family occupies it, tomorrow another, next year perhaps a third, and
neither of these has any real connection with the place. They are
sojourners, not inhabitants, drawn thither by business or pleasure; they
come and go, and leave no mark behind. But the farmhouse has a history.
The same family have lived in it for, perhaps, a hundred years: they have
married and intermarried, and become identified with the locality. To them
all the petty events of village life have a meaning and importance: the
slow changes that take place and are chronicled in the old newspaper have
a sad significance, for they mark that flux of time which is carrying
them, too, onwards to their rest.

These columns of the file, therefore, that to a stranger seem a blank, to
the old folk and their descendants are like a mirror, in which they can
see the faces of the loved ones who passed away a generation since. They
are the archives of the hamlets round about: a farmer can find from them
when his grandfather quitted the old farm, and read an account of the
sale. Men who left the village in their youth for the distant city or the
still more distant colonies, as they grow in years often feel an
irresistible desire to revisit the old, old place. The home they so fondly
recollect is in other hands, and yet in itself but little changed. A few
lines in the plainest language found in the file here tell to such a
greybeard a story that fills his eyes with tears. But even a stranger who
took the trouble to turn over the folios would now and then find matter to
interest him: such as curious notes of archaeological discovery, accounts
of local customs now fallen into disuse, and traditions of the past. Many
of these are worthy of collection in more accessible form.

There is hardly anything else in the room except the waste basket under
the table. As the visitor enters, a lad goes out with a roll of manuscript
in his hand, and the editor looks up from his monotonous task of
proof-reading, for he has that duty also to perform. Whatever he is doing,
some one is certain to call and break off the thread of his thought. The
bailiff or farm-steward of a neighbouring estate comes in to insert an
advertisement of timber for sale, or of the auction of the ash-poles
annually felled. A gamekeeper calls with a notice not to sport or trespass
on certain lands. The editor has to write out the advertisement for these
people, and for many of the farmers who come, for countrymen have the
greatest dislike to literary effort of any kind, and can hardly be
persuaded to write a letter. Even when they have written the letter they
get the daughter to address the envelope, lest the Post Office should
smile at their rude penmanship. The business of preparing the
advertisement is not quickly concluded, for just as it is put down to
their fancy, they recollect another item which has to be added. Then they
stand and gossip about the family at the mansion and the affairs of the
parish generally, totally oblivious of the valuable time they are wasting.
Farmers look in to advertise a cottage or a house in the village to let,
and stay to explain the state of the crops, and the why and the wherefore
of So-and-so leaving his tenancy.

The largest advertisers invariably put off their orders till the morning
of the paper going to press, from sheer inattention. On that busy morning,
auctioneers' clerks rush in with columns of auction sales of cattle,
sheep, horses, hay, or standing crops (according to the season of the
year), and every species of farm produce. After them come the solicitors'
clerks, with equally important and lengthy notices of legal matters
concerning the effects of farmers who have fallen into difficulties, of
parochial or turnpike affairs, or 'Pursuant to an Act intitled "An Act to
further amend the Law and to Relieve Trustees."' These notices have been
lying on their desks for days, but are perversely sent down at the last
moment, and upset the entire make-up of the paper.

Just as the editor has arranged for these, and is in the act to rush up
into the press-room, a timid knock announces a poor cottage girl, who has
walked in from a hamlet six or seven miles away to inquire the address of
a lady who wants a servant. This advertisement appeared at least three
weeks since, for country folk could in no wise make up their minds to
apply under three weeks, and necessitates a search back through the file,
and a reference to divers papers. He cannot in common courtesy leave the
poor girl to wait his convenience, and meantime the steam is up and the
machine waiting. When the address is discovered, the girl thinks she
cannot remember it, and so he has to write it down on a piece of paper for

He has no highly organised staff to carry on the routine work; he has to
look after every department as well as the purely editorial part. Almost
every one who has a scrap of news or gossip looks in at the office to chat
about it with him. Farmers, who have driven in to the town from distant
villages, call to tell him of the trouble they are having over the new
schools, and the conflict in the parish as to whether they shall or shall
not have a school board. Clergymen from outlying vicarages come to mention
that a cottage flower show, a penny reading, a confirmation, or some such
event, is impending, and to suggest the propriety of a full and special
account. Occasionally a leading landed proprietor is closeted with him,
for at least an hour, discussing local politics, and ascertaining from him
the tone of feeling in the district.

Modern agricultural society insists upon publicity. The smallest village
event must be chronicled, or some one will feel dissatisfied, and inquire
why it was not put in the paper. This continual looking towards the paper
for everything causes it to exercise a very considerable amount of
influence. Perhaps the clergy and gentry are in some things less powerful
than the local newspaper, for, from a variety of causes, agricultural
society has become extremely sensitive to public opinion. The temperate
and thoughtful arguments put forward by a paper in which they have
confidence directly affect the tenant-farmers. On the other hand, as
expressing the views of the tenant-farmers, the paper materially
influences the course taken by the landed proprietors.

In country districts the mere numerical circulation of a weekly
publication is no measure of its importance. The position of the
subscribers is the true test. These old-established papers, in fact,
represent property. They are the organs of all who possess lands, houses,
stock, produce; in short, of the middle class. This is evident from the
advertising columns. The lawyer, the auctioneer, the land agent, the
farmer, all who have any substance, publish their business in this medium.
Official county advertisements appear in it. The carter and the shepherd
look down the column of situations vacant as they call at the village inn
for a glass of ale, or, if they cannot read, ask some one to read for
them. But they do not purchase this kind of newspaper. The cottager spells
over prints advocating the disestablishment of the Church, the division of
great estates, and the general subversion of the present order of things.
Yet when the labourer advertises, he goes to the paper subscribed to by
his master. The disappearance of such an obsolete and expensive paper is
frequently announced as imminent; but the obsolete and expensive print,
instead of disappearing, nourishes with renewed vitality. Solid matter,
temperate argument, and genuine work, in the long ran, pay the best. An
editor who thus conducts his paper is highly appreciated by the local
chiefs of his party, and may even help to contribute to the success of an

The personal labour involved in such editing must be great from the
absence of trained assistance, and because the materials must be furnished
by incompetent hands. Local news must be forwarded by local people,
perhaps by a village tailor with literary tastes. Such correspondents
often indulge in insinuations, or fulsome flattery, which must be
carefully eliminated. From another village an account of some event comes
from the schoolmaster--quite an important person nowadays!--who writes in
a fair, round hand and uses the finest language and the longest words. He
invariably puts 'hebdomadal' for 'weekly.' A lawyer's clerk writes a
narrative of some case, on blue foolscap, and, after the manner of legal
documents, without a single stop from beginning to end.

Once a year comes the labour of preparing the sheet almanac. This useful
publication is much valued by the tenants of the district, and may be
found pinned against the wall for ready reference in most farmhouses.
Besides the calendar it contains a list of county and other officials,
dates of quarter sessions and assizes, fair days and markets, records of
the prices obtained at the annual sales of rams or shorthorns on leading
farms, and similar agricultural information.

The editor has very likely been born in the district, and has thus grown
up to understand the wants and the spirit of the farming class. He is
acquainted with the family history of the neighbourhood, a knowledge which
is of much advantage in enabling him to avoid unnecessarily irritating
personal susceptibilities. His private library is not without interest. It
mainly consists of old books picked up at the farmhouse sales of thirty
years. At such disposals of household effects volumes sometimes come to
light that have been buried for generations among lumber. Many of these
books are valuable and all worth examination. A man of simple and retiring
habits, his garden is perhaps his greatest solace, and next to that a
drive or stroll through the green meadows around. Incessant mental labour
has forced him to wear glasses before his time, and it is a relief and
pleasure to the eyes to dwell on green sward and leaf. Such a man performs
a worthy part in country life, and possesses the esteem of the country



In the daytime the centre of a certain village may be said to be the shop
of the agricultural machinist. The majority of the cottagers are away in
the fields at work, and the place is elsewhere almost quiet. A column of
smoke and a distant din guide the visitor to the spot where the hammers
are clattering on the anvils.

Twisted iron, rusty from exposure, lies in confusion on the blackened
ground before the shed. Coal-dust and the carbon deposited from volumes of
thick smoke have darkened the earth, and coated everything with a black
crust. The windows of the shed are broken, probably by the accidental
contact of long rods of iron carelessly cast aside, and some of the slates
of the roof appear gone just above the furnace, as if removed for
ventilation and the escape of the intense heat. There is a creaking of
stiff leather as the bellows rise and fall, and the roar of the blast as
it is forced up through the glowing coals.

A ceaseless hum of wheels in motion comes from the rear, and the peculiar
crackling sound of a band in rapid revolution round the drum of the engine
and the shaft. Then the grinding scrape of sharp steel on iron as the edge
of the tool cuts shavings from the solid metal rotating swiftly in the
lathe. As blow follows blow the red-hot 'scale,' driven from the surface
of the iron on the anvil by the heavy sledge, flies rattling against the
window in a spray of fire. The ring of metal, the clatter, the roaring,
and hissing of steam, fill the air, and through it rises now and then the
shrill quick calls of men in command.

Outside, and as it seems but a stone's throw distant, stands the old grey
church, and about it the still, silent, green-grown mounds over those who
once followed the quiet plough.

Bound the corner of the village street comes a man with a grimy red flag,
and over the roofs of the cottages rises a cloud of smoke, and behind it
yet another. Two steam ploughing engines are returning from their work to
their place beside the shed to wait fresh orders. The broad wheels of the
engines block up the entire width of the street, and but just escape
overthrowing the feeble palings in front of the cottage doors. Within
those palings the children at play scarcely turn to look; the very infants
that can hardly toddle are so accustomed to the ponderous wonder that they
calmly gnaw the crusts that keep them contented. It requires a full hour
to get the unwieldy engines up the incline and round the sharp turns on to
the open space by the workshop. The driver has to 'back,' and go-a-head,
and 'back' again, a dozen times before he can reach the place, for that
narrow bye-way was not planned out for such traffic. A mere path leading
to some cottages in the rear, it was rarely used even by carts before the
machinist came, and it is a feat of skill to get the engines in without,
like a conqueror, entering by a breach battered in the walls. When, at
last, they have been piloted into position, the steam is blown off, and
the rushing hiss sounds all over the village. The white vapour covers the
ground like a cloud, and the noise re-echoes against the old grey church,
but the jackdaws do not even rise from the battlements.

These engines and their corresponding tackle are the chief stock-in-trade
of the village machinist. He lets them out to the farmers of the district,
which is principally arable; that is, he contracts to do their ploughing
and scarifying at so much per acre. In the ploughing seasons the engines
are for ever on the road, and with their tackle dragging behind them take
up the highway like a train. One day you may hear the hum and noise from a
distant field on the left; in a day or two it comes from another on the
right; next week it has shifted again, and is heard farther off
northwards, and so all round the compass.

The visitor, driving about the neighbourhood, cannot but notice the huge
and cumbrous-looking plough left awhile on the sward by the roadside.
One-half of the shares stand up high in the air, the other half touch the
ground, and it is so nicely balanced that boys sometimes play at see-saw
on it. He will meet the iron monster which draws this plough by the bridge
over the brook, pausing while its insatiable thirst is stayed from the
stream. He will see it patiently waiting, with a slight curl of steam over
the boiler, by the wayside inn while its attendants take their lunch.

It sometimes happens in wet weather that the engines cannot be moved from
the field where they have been ploughing. The soil becomes so soft from
absorbing so much water that it will not bear up the heavy weight. Logs
and poles are laid down to form a temporary way, but the great wheels sink
too deeply, and the engines have to be left covered with tarpaulins. They
have been known to remain till the fresh green leaves of spring on the
hedges and trees almost hid them from sight.

The machinist has another and lighter traction engine which does not
plough, but travels from farm to farm with a threshing machine. In autumn
it is in full work threshing, and in winter drives chaff-cutters for the
larger farmers. Occasionally it draws a load of coal in waggons or trucks
built for the purpose. Hodge's forefathers knew no rival at plough time;
after the harvest they threshed the corn all the winter with the flail.
Now the iron horse works faster and harder than he.

Some of the great tenant-farmers have sets of ploughing-engines and tackle
of their own, and these are frequently at the machinist's for repairs. The
reaping, mowing, threshing, haymaking, hoeing, raking, and other machines
and implements also often require mending. Once now and then a bicyclist
calls to have his machine attended to, something having given way while on
a tour. Thus the village factory is in constant work, but has to encounter
immense competition.

Country towns of any size usually possess at least one manufactory of
agricultural implements, and some of these factories have acquired a
reputation which reaches over sea. The visitor to such a foundry is shown
medals that have been granted for excellence of work exhibited in Vienna,
and may see machines in process of construction which will be used upon
the Continent; so that the village machinist, though apparently isolated,
with nothing but fields around him, has in reality competitors upon every

Ploughing engines, again, travel great distances, and there are firms that
send their tackle across a county or two. Still the village factory, being
on the spot, has plenty of local work, and the clatter of hammers, the
roar of the blast, and the hum of wheels never cease at the shed. Busy
workmen pass to and fro, lithe men, quick of step and motion, who come
from Leeds, or some similar manufacturing town, and whose very step
distinguishes them in a moment from the agricultural labourer.

A sturdy ploughboy comes up with a piece of iron on his shoulder; it does
not look large, but it is as much as he can carry. One edge of it is
polished by the friction of the earth through which it has been forced; it
has to be straightened, or repaired, and the ploughboy waits while it is
done. He sits down outside the shed on a broken and rusty iron wheel,
choosing a spot where the sun shines and the building keeps off the wind.
There, among the twisted iron, ruins and fragments of machines, he takes
out his hunch of bread and cheese, and great clasp knife, and quietly
enjoys his luncheon. He is utterly indifferent to the noise of the
revolving wheels, the creak of the bellows, the hiss of steam; he makes no
inquiry about this or that, and shows no desire to understand the wonders
of mechanics. Something in his attitude--in the immobility, the almost
animal repose of limb; something in the expression of his features, the
self-contained oblivion, so to say, suggests an Oriental absence of
aspiration. Only by negatives and side-lights, as it were, can any idea be
conveyed of his contented indifference. He munches his crust; and, when he
has done, carefully, and with vast deliberation, relaces his heavy shoe.
The sunshine illumines the old grey church before him, and falls on the
low green mounds, almost level with the sward, which cover his ancestors.

These modern inventions, this steam, and electric telegraph, and even the
printing-press have but just skimmed the surface of village life. If they
were removed--if the pressure from without, from the world around, ceased,
in how few years the village and the hamlet would revert to their original

On summer afternoons, towards five or six o'clock, a four-wheel
carriage--useful, but not pretentious--comes slowly up the hill leading to
the village. The single occupant is an elderly man, the somewhat wearied
expression of whose features is caused by a continuous application to
business. The horse, too well fed for work, takes his own time up the
hill, and when at the summit the reins are gently shaken, makes but an
idle pretence to move faster, for he knows that his master is too
good-natured and forbearing to use the whip, except to fondly stroke his
back. The reins are scarcely needed to guide the horse along the familiar
road to a large farmhouse on the outskirts of the village, where at the
gate two or more children are waiting to welcome 'papa.'

Though a farmhouse, the garden is laid out in the style so often seen
around detached villas, with a lawn for tennis and croquet, parterres
bright with summer flowers, and seats under the pleasant shade of the
trees. Within it is furnished in villa fashion, and is in fact let to a
well-to-do tradesman of the market town a few miles distant. He has wisely
sent his family for the summer months to inhale the clear air of the
hills, as exhilarating as that of the sea. There they can ride the pony
and donkeys over the open sward, and romp and play at gipsying. Every
evening he drives out to join them, and every morning returns to his
office. The house belongs to some large tenant-farmer, who has a little
freehold property, and thus makes a profit from it.

This practice of hiring a village home for the summer has become common of
recent years among the leading tradesmen of country towns. Such visitors
are welcome to the cottage folk. They require the service of a labourer
now and then; they want fresh eggs, and vegetables from the allotment
gardens. The women have the family washing to do, and a girl is often
needed to assist indoors, or a boy to clean the knives and shoes. Many
perquisites fall to the cottage people--cast aside dresses, and so on;
besides which there are little gifts and kindnesses from the lady and her

Towards November, again, the congregation in the old church one Sunday
morning find subject for speculation concerning a stranger who enters a
certain well-appointed pew appropriated to The Chestnuts. He is clearly
the new tenant who has taken it for the hunting season. The Chestnuts is a
mansion built in modern style for a former landowner. As it is outside the
great hunting centres it is let at a low rental compared with its
accommodation. The labourers are glad to see that the place is let again,
for although the half-pay officer--the new occupant--who has retired,
wounded and decorated, from the service of a grateful country, has
probably not a third the income of the tradesman, and five times the
social appearance to maintain, still there will be profit to be got from

What chance has such a gentleman in bargaining with the cottagers? How
should he know the village value of a cabbage? How should he understand
the farmyard value of a fowl? It may possibly strike him as odd that
vegetables should be so dear when, as he rides about, he sees whole fields
green with them. He sees plenty of fowls, and geese, and turkeys, gobbling
and cackling about the farmyards, and can perhaps after awhile faintly
perceive that they are the perquisites of the ladies of the tenants'
households, who drive him a very hard bargain. He, too, has cast aside
suits, shoes, hats, and so forth, really but little worn, to give away to
the poor. If married, his family require some help from the cottage women;
and there are odd jobs, well paid for, on the place for the men. Thus the
cottagers are glad of the arrival of their new masters, the one in the
summer, the other in the winter months.

The 'chapel-folk' of the place have so increased in numbers and affluence
that they have erected a large and commodious building in the village.
Besides the cottagers, many farmers go to the chapel, driving in from the
ends of the parish. It is a curious circumstance that many of the largest
dealers in agricultural produce, such as cheese, bacon, and corn, and the
owners of the busiest wharves where coal and timber, slate, and similar
materials are stored, belong to the Dissenting community. There are some
agricultural districts where this class of business is quite absorbed by
Dissenters--almost as much as money-changing and banking business is said
to be the exclusive property of Jews in some Continental countries. Such
dealers are often substantial and, for the country, even wealthy men. Then
there are the Dissenting tradesmen of the market town. All these together
form a species of guild. The large chapel in the village was built by
their united subscriptions. They support each other in a marked manner in
times of difficulty, so that it is rare for a tenant-farmer of the
persuasion to lose his position unless by wilful misconduct. This mutual
support is so very marked as to be quite a characteristic fact.

The cottagers and their families go to chapel with these masters. But
sometimes the cottager, as he approaches the chapel door, finds upon it
(as in the church porch) a small printed notice affixed there by the
overseers. If the labourer is now recognised as a person whose opinion is
to be consulted, on the other hand he finds that he is not without
responsibilities. The rate-collector knocks at the cottage door as well as
at the farmer's. By gradual degrees village rates are becoming a serious
burden, and though their chief incidence may be upon the landlord and the
tenant, indirectly they begin to come home to the labourer. The school
rate is voluntary, but it is none the less a rate; the cemetery, the
ancient churchyard being no more available, has had to be paid for, and,
as usual, probably cost twice what was anticipated. The highways, the
sanitary authority, not to speak of poor relief, all demand a share. Each
in itself may be only a straw, but accumulated straws in time fill a

One side of the stable of the village inn, which faces the road, presents
a broad surface for the country bill-sticker. He comes out from the market
town, and travels on foot for a whole day together, from hamlet to hamlet.
posting up the contents of his bag in the most outlying and lonely
districts. Every villager as he passes by reads the announcements on the
wall: the circus coming to the market town, some jeweller's marvellous
watches, the selling off of spring or summer goods by the drapers at an
immense reduction, once now and then a proclamation headed V.R., and the
sales of farm stock (the tenants leaving) and of large freehold

These latter are much discussed by the callers at the inn. A carter comes
along perhaps with a loaded waggon from some distance, and as he stays to
drink his quart talks of the changes that are proceeding or imminent in
his locality. Thus the fact that changes are contemplated is often widely
known before the actual advertisement is issued. The labourers who hear
the carter's story tell it again to their own employer next time they see
him, and the farmer meeting another farmer gossips over it again.

There has grown up a general feeling in the villages and agricultural
districts that the landed estates around them are no longer stable and
enduring. A feeling of uncertainty is abroad, and no one is surprised to
hear that some other place, or person, is going. It is rumoured that this
great landlord is about to sell as many farms as the family settlements
will let him. Another is only waiting for the majority of his son to
accomplish the same object. Others, it is said, are proceeding abroad to
retrench. Properties are coming into the market in unexpected directions,
and others are only kept back because the price of land has fallen, and
there is a difficulty in selling a large estate. If divided into a number
of lots, each of small size, land still fetches its value, and can be
readily sold; but that is not always convenient, and purchasers hesitate
to invest in extensive estates. But though kept back, efforts are being
made to retrench, and, it is said, old mansions that have never been let
before can now be hired for the season. Not only the tenant-farmers, but
the landowners are pacing through a period of depression, and their tenure
too is uncertain. Such is the talk of the country side as it comes to the
village inn.

Once a week the discordant note of a horn or bugle, loudly blown by a man
who does not understand his instrument, is heard at intervals. It is the
newspaper vendor, who, like the bill-sticker, starts from the market town
on foot, and goes through the village with a terrible din. He stops at the
garden gate in the palings before the thatched cottage, delivers his print
to the old woman or the child sent out with the copper, and starts again
with a flourish of his trumpet. His business is chiefly with the
cottagers, and his print is very likely full of abuse of the landed
proprietors as a body. He is a product of modern days, almost the latest,
and as he goes from cottage door to cottage door, the discordant uproar of
his trumpet is a sign of the times.

In some districts the osier plantations give employment to a considerable
number of persons. The tall poles are made into posts and rails; the
trunks of the pollard trees when thrown are cut into small timber that
serves many minor purposes; the brushwood or tops that are cut every now
and then make thatching sticks and faggots; sometimes hedges are made of a
kind of willow wicker-work for enclosing gardens. It is, however, the
plantations of withy or osier that are most important. The willow grows so
often in or near to water that in common opinion the association cannot be
too complete. But in the arrangement of an osier-bed water is utilised,
indeed, but kept in its place--i.e. at the roots, and not over the stoles.
The osier should not stand in water, or rise, as it were, out of a
lake--the water should be in the soil underneath, and the level of the
ground higher than the surface of the adjacent stream.

Before planting, the land has to be dug or ploughed, and cleared; the
weeds collected in the same way as on an arable field. The sticks are then
set in rows eighteen inches apart, each stick (that afterwards becomes a
stole) a foot from its neighbours of the same row. At first the weeds
require keeping down, but after awhile the crop itself kills them a good
deal. Several willows spring from each planted stick, and at the end of
twelve months the first crop is ready for cutting. Next year the stick or
stole will send up still more shoots, and give a larger yield.

The sorts generally planted are called Black Spanish and Walnut Leaf. The
first has a darker bark, and is a tough wood; the other has a light yellow
bark, and grows smoother and without knots, which is better for working up
into the manufactured article. Either will grow to nine feet high--the
average height is six or seven feet. The usual time for cutting is about
Good Friday--that is, just before the leaf appears. After cutting, the
rods are stacked upright in water, in long trenches six inches deep
prepared for the purpose, and there they remain till the leaf comes out.
The power of growth displayed by the willow is wonderful--a bough has only
to be stuck in the earth, or the end of a pole placed in the brook, for
the sap to rise and shoots to push forth.

When the leaf shows the willows are carried to the 'brakes,' and the work
of stripping off the bark commences. A 'brake' somewhat resembles a pair
of very blunt scissors permanently fixed open at a certain angle, and
rigidly supported at a convenient height from the ground. The operator
stands behind it, and selecting a long wand from the heap beside him
places it in the 'brake,' and pulls it through, slightly pressing it
downwards. As he draws it towards him, the edges of the iron tear the bark
and peel it along the whole length of the stick. There is a knack in the
operation, of course, but when it is acquired the wand is peeled in a
moment by a dexterous turn of the wrist, the bark falls to the ground on
the other side of the brake, and the now white stick is thrown to the
right, where a pile soon accumulates. The peel is handy for tying up, and
when dried makes a capital material for lighting fires. This stripping of
the osiers is a most busy time in the neighbourhood of the large
plantations--almost like hop-picking--for men, women, and children can all
help. It does not require so much strength as skill and patience.

After the peeling the sticks have to be dried by exposure to the sun; they
are then sorted into lengths, and sold in bundles. If it is desired to
keep them any time they must be thoroughly dried, or they will 'heat' and
rot and become useless. This willow harvest is looked forward to by the
cottagers who live along the rivers as an opportunity for earning extra
money. The quantity of osier thus treated seems immense, and yet the
demand is said to be steady, and as the year advances the price of the
willow rises. It is manufactured into all kinds of baskets--on farms,
especially arable farms, numbers of baskets are used. Clothes baskets,
market baskets, chaff baskets, bassinettes or cradles, &c., are some few
of the articles manufactured from it. Large quantities of willow, too, are
worked up unpeeled into hampers of all kinds. The number of hampers used
in these days is beyond computation, and as they are constantly wearing
out, fresh ones have to be made. An advantage of the willow is that it
enables the farmer to derive a profit from land that would otherwise be
comparatively valueless. Good land, indeed, is hardly fitted for osier; it
would grow rank with much pith in the centre, and therefore liable to
break. On common land, on the contrary, it grows just right, and not too
coarse. Almost any scrap or corner does for willow, and if properly tended
it speedily pays for the labour.

The digging and preparation of the ground gives employment, and afterwards
the weeding and the work required to clean the channels that conduct water
round and through the beds. Then there is the cutting and the peeling, and
finally the basket-making; and thus the willow, though so common as to be
little regarded, finds work for many hands.



The labourer working all the year round in the open air cannot but note to
some degree those changes in tree and plant which coincide with the
variations of his daily employment. Early in March, as he walks along the
southern side of the hedge, where the dead oak leaves still cumber the
trailing ivy, he can scarcely avoid seeing that pointed tongues of green
are pushing up. Some have widened into black-spotted leaves; some are
notched like the many-barbed bone harpoons of savage races. The hardy
docks are showing, and the young nettles have risen up. Slowly the dark
and grey hues of winter are yielding to the lively tints of spring. The
blackthorn has white buds on its lesser branches, and the warm rays of the
sun have drawn forth the buds on one favoured hawthorn in a sheltered
nook, so that the green of the coming leaf is visible. Bramble bushes
still retain their forlorn, shrivelled foliage; the hardy all but
evergreen leaves can stand cold, but when biting winds from the north and
east blow for weeks together even these curl at the edge and die.

The remarkable power of wind upon leaves is sometimes seen in May, when a
strong gale, even from the west, will so beat and batter the tender
horse-chestnut sprays that they bruise and blacken. The slow plough
traverses the earth, and the white dust rises from the road and drifts
into the field. In winter the distant copse seemed black; now it appears
of a dull reddish brown from the innumerable catkins and buds. The
delicate sprays of the birch are fringed with them, the aspen has a load
of brown, there are green catkins on the bare hazel boughs, and the
willows have white 'pussy-cats.' The horse-chestnut buds--the hue of dark
varnish--have enlarged, and stick to the finger if touched; some are so
swollen as to nearly burst and let the green appear. Already it is
becoming more difficult to look right through the copse. In winter the
light could be seen on the other side; now catkin, bud, and opening leaf
have thickened and check the view. The same effect was produced not long
since by the rime on the branches in the frosty mornings; while each
smallest twig was thus lined with crystal it was not possible to see
through. Tangled weeds float down the brook, catching against projecting
branches that dip into the stream, or slowly rotating and carried
apparently up the current by the eddy and back-water behind the bridge. In
the pond the frogs have congregated in great numbers; their constant
'croo-croo' is audible at some distance.

The meadows, so long bound by frost and covered with snow, are slowly
losing their wan aspect, and assuming a warmer green as the young blades
of grass come upwards. Where the plough or harrow has passed over the
clods they quickly change from the rich brown of fresh-turned soil to a
whiter colour, the dryness of the atmosphere immediately dissipating the
moisture in the earth. So, examine what you will, from the clod to the
tiniest branch, the hedge, the mound, the water--everywhere a step forward
has been taken. The difference in a particular case may be minute; but it
is there, and together these faint indications show how closely spring is

As the sun rises the chaffinch utters his bold challenge on the tree; the
notes are so rapid that they seem to come all at once. Welcome, indeed, is
the song of the first finch. Sparrows are busy in the garden--the hens are
by far the most numerous now, half a dozen together perch on the bushes.
One suddenly darts forth and seizes a black insect as it flies in the
sunshine. The bee, too, is abroad, and once now and then a yellow
butterfly. From the copse on the warmer days comes occasionally the deep
hollow bass of the wood pigeon. On the very topmost branch of an elm a
magpie has perched; now he looks this way, and then turns that, bowing in
the oddest manner, and jerking his long tail up and down. Then two of them
flutter across the field--feebly, as if they had barely strength to reach
the trees in the opposite hedge. Extending their wings they float slowly,
and every now and then the body undulates along its entire length. Rooks
are building--they fly and feed now in pairs; the rookery is alive with
them. To the steeple the jackdaws have returned and fly round and round;
now one holds his wings rigid and slides down at an angle of sixty degrees
at a breakneck pace, as if about to dash himself in fragments on the
garden beneath.

Sometimes there come a few days which are like summer. There is an almost
cloudless sky, a gentle warm breeze, and a bright sun filling the fields
with a glow of light. The air, though soft and genial, is dry, and perhaps
it is this quality which gives so peculiar a definition to hedge, tree,
and hill. A firm, almost hard, outline brings copse and wood into clear
relief; the distance across the broadest fields appears sensibly
diminished. Such freedom from moisture has a deliciously exhilarating
effect on those who breathe so pure an atmosphere. The winds of March
differ, indeed, in a remarkable manner from, the gales of the early year,
which, even when they blow from a mild quarter, compel one to keep in
constant movement because of the aqueous vapour they carry. But the true
March wind, though too boisterous to be exactly genial, causes a joyous
sense of freshness, as if the very blood in the veins were refined and
quickened upon inhaling it. There is a difference in its roar--the note is
distinct from the harsh sound of the chilly winter blast. On the lonely

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