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Hodge and His Masters by Richard Jefferies

Part 5 out of 6

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highway at night, when other noises are silent, the March breeze rushes
through the tall elms in a wild cadence. The white clouds hasten over,
illuminated from behind by a moon approaching the full; every now and then
a break shows a clear blue sky and a star shining. Now a loud roar
resounds along the hedgerow like the deafening boom of the surge; it
moderates, dies away, then an elm close by bends and sounds as the blast
comes again. In another moment the note is caught up and repeated by a
distant tree, and so one after another joins the song till the chorus
reaches its highest pitch. Then it sinks again, and so continues with
pauses and deep inspirations, for March is like a strong man drawing his
breath full and long as he starts to run a race.

The sky, too, like the earth, whose hedges, trees, and meadows are
acquiring fresher colours, has now a more lovely aspect. At noon-day, if
the clouds be absent, it is a rich azure; after sunset a ruddy glow
appears almost all round the horizon, while the thrushes sing in the wood
till the twilight declines. At night, when the moon does not rise till
late, the heavens are brilliant with stars. In the east Arcturus is up;
the Great Bear, the Lesser Bear, and Cassiopeia are ranged about the Pole.
Procyon goes before the Dog; the noble constellation of Orion stretches
broad across the sky; almost overhead lucent Capella looks down. Aries
droops towards the west; the Bull follows with the red Aldebaran, and the
Pleiades. Behind these, Castor and Pollux, and next the cloudlike,
nebulous Cancer. Largest of all, great Sirius is flaming in the south,
quivering with the ebb and flow of his light, sometimes with an emerald
scintillation like a dewdrop on which a sunbeam glances.

The busy summer, with its haymaking, reaping, and continuous succession of
harvest work, passes too swiftly for reflection both for masters and men.
But in the calm of autumn there is time again to look round. Then white
columns of smoke rise up slowly into the tranquil atmosphere, till they
overtop the tallest elms, and the odour of the burning couch is carried
across the meadows from the lately-ploughed stubble, where the weeds have
been collected in heaps and fired. The stubble itself, short and in
regular lines, affords less and less cover every year. As the seed is now
drilled in, and the plants grow in mathematically straight lines, of
course when the crop is reaped, if you stand at one side of the field you
can see right across between the short stubbs, so that a mouse could
hardly find shelter. Then quickly come the noisy steam ploughing engines,
after them the couch collectors, and finally the heaps are burnt, and the
strong scent of smoke hangs over the ground. Against these interruptions
of their haunts and quiet ways what are the partridges to do? Even at
night the place is scarcely their own, for every now and then as the
breeze comes along, the smouldering fires are fanned into bright flame,
enough to alarm the boldest bird.

In another broad arable field, where the teams have been dragging the
plough, but have only just opened a few furrows and gone home, a flock of
sheep are feeding, or rather picking up a little, having been, turned in,
that nothing might be lost. There is a sense of quietness--of repose; the
trees of the copse close by are still, and the dying leaf as it drops
falls straight to the ground. A faint haze clings to the distant woods at
the foot of the hills; it is afternoon, the best part of an autumn day,
and sufficiently warm to make the stile a pleasant resting-place. A dark
cloud, whose edges rise curve upon curve, hangs in the sky, fringed with
bright white light, for the sun is behind it, and long, narrow streamers
of light radiate from the upper part like the pointed rays of an antique
crown. Across an interval of blue to the eastward a second massive cloud,
white and shining as if beaten out of solid silver, fronts the sun, and
reflects the beams passing horizontally through the upper ether downwards
on the earth like a mirror.

The sparrows in the stubble rise in a flock and settle down again. Yonder
a solitary lark is singing. Then the sun emerges, and the yellow autumn
beams flood the pale stubble and the dark red earth of the furrow. On the
bushes in the hedge hang the vines of the bryony, bearing thick masses of
red berries. The hawthorn leaves in places have turned pale, and are
touched, too, towards the stalk with a deep brown hue. The contrast of the
two tints causes an accidental colour resembling that of bronze, which
catches the eye at the first glance, but disappears on looking closer.
Spots of yellow on the elms seem the more brilliant from the background of
dull green. The drooping foliage of the birch exhibits a paler yellow; the
nut-tree bushes shed brown leaves upon the ground. Perhaps the beech
leaves are the most beautiful; two or three tints are blended on the
topmost boughs. There is a ruddy orange hue, a tawny brown, and a bright
green; the sunlight comes and mingles these together. The same leaf will
sometimes show two at least of these colours--green shading into brown, or
into a ruddy gold. Later on, the oaks, in a monochrome of buff, will rival
the beeches. Now and then an acorn drops from the tree overhead, with a
smart tap on the hard earth, and rebounds some inches high. Some of these
that fall are already dark--almost black--but if opened they will be found
bored by a grub. They are not yet ripe as a crop; the rooks are a good
guide in that respect, and they have not yet set steadily to work upon
this their favourite autumn food. Others that have fallen and been knocked
out of the cup are a light yellow at the base and green towards the middle
and the point; the yellow part is that which has been covered by the cup.
In the sward there is a small hole from out of which creeps a wasp at
intervals; it is a nest, and some few of them are still at work. But their
motions are slow and lack vivacity; before long, numbers must die, and
already many have succumbed after crawling miserably on the ground which
they spurned a short while since, when with a brisk buzz they flew from
apple to plum.

In the quiet woodland lane a covey of partridges are running to and fro on
the short sward at the side, and near them two or three pheasants are
searching for food. The geometrical spiders--some of them look almost as
big as a nut--hang their webs spun to a regular pattern on the bushes. The
fungi flourish; there is a huge specimen on the elm there, but the flowers
are nearly gone.

A few steps down the lane, upon looking over a gate into a large arable
field where the harrow has broken up the clods, a faint bluish tinge may
be noticed on the dull earth in the more distant parts. A second glance
shows that it is caused by a great flock of woodpigeons. Some more come
down out of the elms and join their companions; there must be a hundred
and fifty or two hundred of them. The woodpigeon on the ground at a
distance is difficult to distinguish, or rather to define individually--the
pale blue tint seems to confuse the eye with a kind of haze. Though the
flock take little notice now--knowing themselves to be far out of
gunshot--yet they would be quickly on the alert if an attempt were made to
approach them.

Already some of the elms are becoming bare--there are gaps in the foliage
where the winds have carried away the leaves. On the bramble bushes the
blackberries cluster thickly, unseen and ungathered in this wild spot. The
happy hearts that go a-blackberrying think little of the past: yet there
is a deep, a mournful significance attached to that joyous time. For how
many centuries have the blackberries tempted men, women, and children out
into the fields, laughing at scratched hands and nettles, and clinging
burrs, all merrily endured for the sake of so simple a treasure-trove.
Under the relics of the ancient pile-dwellings of Switzerland, disinterred
from the peat and other deposits, have been found quantities of blackberry
seeds, together with traces of crabs and sloes; so that by the dwellers in
those primeval villages in the midst of the lakes the wild fruits of
autumn were sought for much as we seek them now; the old instincts are
strong in us still.

The fieldfares will soon be here now, and the redwings, coming as they
have done for generations about the time of the sowing of the corn.
Without an almanack they know the dates; so the old sportsmen used to
declare that their pointers and setters were perfectly aware when
September was approaching, and showed it by unusual restlessness. By the
brook the meadows are green and the grass long still; the flags, too, are
green, though numbers of dead leaves float down on the current. There is
green again where the root crops are flourishing; but the brown tints are
striving hard, and must soon gain the mastery of colour. From the barn
comes the clatter of the winnowing machine, and the floor is covered with
heaps of grain.

After the sun has gone down and the shadows are deepening, it is lighter
in the open stubbles than in the enclosed meadows--the short white stubbs
seem to reflect what little light there is. The partridges call to each
other, and after each call run a few yards swiftly, till they assemble at
the well-known spot where they roost. Then comes a hare stealing by
without a sound. Suddenly he perceives that he is watched, and goes off at
a rapid pace, lost in the brooding shadow across the field. Yonder a row
of conical-roofed wheat-ricks stand out boldly against the sky, and above
them a planet shines.

Still later, in November, the morning mist lingers over gorse and heath,
and on the upper surfaces of the long dank grass blades, bowed by their
own weight, are white beads of dew. Wherever the eye seeks an object to
dwell on, there the cloud-like mist seems to thicken as though to hide it.
The bushes and thickets are swathed in the vapour; yonder, in the hollow,
it clusters about the oaks and hangs upon the hedge looming in the
distance. There it no sky--a motionless, colourless something spreads
above; it is, of course, the same mist, but looking upwards it apparently
recedes and becomes indefinite. The glance finds no point to rest on--as
on the edges of clouds--it is a mere opaque expanse. But the air is dry,
the moisture does not deposit itself, it remains suspended, and waits but
the wind to rise and depart. The stillness is utter: not a bird calls or
insect buzzes by. In passing beneath the oaks the very leaves have
forgotten to fall. Only those already on the sward, touched by the frost,
crumble under the footstep. When green they would have yielded to the
weight, but now stiffened they resist it and are crushed, breaking in

A creaking and metallic rattle, as of chains, comes across the arable
field--a steady gaze reveals the dim outline of a team of horses slowly
dragging the plough, their shapes indistinctly seen against the hedge. A
bent figure follows, and by-and-by another distinct creak and rattle, and
yet a third in another direction, show that there are more teams at work,
plodding to and fro. Watching their shadowy forms, suddenly the eye
catches a change in the light somewhere. Over the meadow yonder the mist
is illuminated; it is not sunshine, but a white light, only visible by
contrast with the darker mist around. It lasts a few moments, and then
moves, and appears a second time by the copse. Though hidden here, the
disk of the sun must be partly visible there, and as the white light does
not remain long in one place, it is evident that there is motion now in
the vast mass of vapour. Looking upwards there is the faintest suspicion
of the palest blue, dull and dimmed by mist, so faint that its position
cannot be fixed, and the next instant it is gone again.

But the teams at plough are growing momentarily distinct--a breath of air
touches the cheek, then a leaf breaks away from the bough and starts forth
as if bent on a journey, but loses the impetus and sinks to the ground.
Soon afterwards the beams of the sun light up a distant oak that glows in
the hedge--a rich deep buff--and it stands out, clear, distinct, and
beautiful, the chosen and selected one, the first to receive the ray.
Rapidly the mist vanishes--disappearing rather than floating away; a
circle of blue sky opens overhead, and, finally, travelling slowly, comes
the sunshine over the furrows. There is a perceptible sense of warmth--the
colours that start into life add to the feeling. The bare birch has no
leaf to reflect it, but its white bark shines, and beyond it two great
elms, the one a pale green and the other a pale yellow, stand side by
side. The brake fern is dead and withered; the tip of each frond curled
over downwards by the frost, but it forms a brown background to the dull
green furze which is alight here and there with scattered blossom, by
contrast so brilliantly yellow as to seem like flame. Polished holly
leaves glisten, and a bunch of tawny fungus rears itself above the grass.

On the sheltered sunny bank lie the maple leaves fallen from the bushes,
which form a bulwark against the north wind; they have simply dropped upon
the ivy which almost covers the bank. Standing here with the oaks overhead
and the thick bushes on the northern side it is quite warm and genial; so
much so that if is hard to realise that winter is at hand. But even in the
shortest days, could we only get rid of the clouds and wind, we should
find the sunshine sufficiently powerful to make the noontide pleasant. It
is not that the sun is weak or low down, nor because of the sharp frosts,
that winter with us is dreary and chill. The real cause is the prevalence
of cloud, through which only a dull light can penetrate, and of
moisture-laden winds.

If our winter sun had fair play we should find the climate very different.
Even as it is, now and then comes a break in the masses of vapour
streaming across the sky, and if you are only sheltered from the wind (or
stand at a southern window), the temperature immediately rises. For this
reason the temperatures registered by thermometers are often far from
being a correct record of the real weather we have had. A bitter frost
early in the morning sends the mercury below zero, but perhaps, by eleven
o'clock the day is warm, the sky being clear and the wind still. The last
register instituted--that of the duration of sunshine, if taken in
connection with the state of the wind--is the best record of the
temperature that we have actually felt. These thoughts naturally arise
under the oaks here as the bright sunlight streams down from a sky the
more deeply blue from contrast with the brown, and buff, and yellow leaves
of the trees.

Hark! There comes a joyous music over the fields--first one hound's, note,
then two, then three, and then a chorus; they are opening up a strong
scent. It rises and falls--now it is coming nearer, in a moment I shall
see them break through the hedge on the ridge--surely that was a shout!
Just in the very moment of expectation the loud tongues cease; I wait,
listening breathlessly, but presently a straggling cry or two shows that
the pack has turned and are spread wide trying to recover. By degrees the
sounds die away; and I stroll onwards.

A thick border of dark green firs bounds the copse--the brown leaves that
have fallen from the oaks have lodged on the foliage of the firs and are
there supported. In the sheltered corner some of the bracken has partly
escaped the frost, one frond has two colours. On one side of the rib it is
green and on the other yellow. The grass is strewn with the leaves of the
aspen, which have turned quite black. Under the great elms there seems a
sudden increase of light--it is caused by the leaves which still remain on
the branches; they are all of the palest yellow, and, as you pass under,
give the impression of the tree having been lit up--illuminated with its
own colour. From the bushes hang the red berries of the night shade, and
the fruit on the briars glistens in the sun. Inside the copse stand
innumerable thistles shoulder high, dead and gaunt; and a grey border
running round the field at the bottom of the hedge shows where the tall,
strong weeds of summer have withered up. A bird flutters round the topmost
boughs of the elm yonder and disappears with a flash of blue--it is a jay.
Here the grass of the meadow has an undertone of grey; then an arable
field succeeds, where six strong horses are drawing the heavy drill, and
great bags of the precious seed are lying on the furrows.

Another meadow, where note a broken bough of elder, the leaves on which
have turned black, while still on its living branches they are green, and
then a clump of beeches. The trunks are full of knot-holes, after a dead
bough has fallen off and the stump has rotted away, the bark curls over
the orifice and seemingly heals the wound more smoothly and completely
than with other trees. But the mischief is proceeding all the same,
despite that flattering appearance; outwardly the bark looks smooth and
healthy, but probe the hole and the rottenness is working inwards. A
sudden gap in the clump attracts the glance, and there--with one great
beech trunk on this side and another on that--is a view opening down on
the distant valley far below. The wood beneath looks dwarfed, and the
uneven tops of the trees, some green, some tinted, are apparently so close
together as to hide aught else, and the shadows of the clouds move over it
as over a sea. A haze upon the horizon brings plain and sky together
there; on one side, in the far distance a huge block, a rude vastness
stands out dusky and dimly defined--it is a spur of the rolling hills.

Out in the plain, many a mile away, the sharp, needle-like point of a
steeple rises white above the trees, which there shade and mingle into a
dark mass--so brilliantly white as to seem hardly real. Sweeping the view
round, there is a strange and total absence of houses or signs of
habitation, other than the steeple, and now that, too, is gone. It has
utterly vanished--where, but a few moments before it glowed with
whiteness, is absolutely nothing. The disappearance is almost weird in the
broad daylight, as if solid stone could sink into the earth. Searching for
it suddenly a village appears some way on the right--the white walls stand
out bright and clear, one of the houses is evidently of large size, and
placed on a slight elevation is a prominent object. But as we look it
fades, grows blurred and indistinct, and in another moment is gone. The
whole village has vanished--in its place is nothing; so swift is the
change that the mind scarcely credits the senses.

A deep shadow creeping towards us explains it. Where the sunlight falls,
there steeple or house glows and shines; when it has passed, the haze that
is really there, though itself invisible, instantly blots out the picture.
The thing may be seen over and over again in the course of a few minutes;
it would be difficult for an artist to catch so fleeting an effect. The
shadow of the cloud is not black--it lacks several shades of that--there
is in it a faint and yet decided tint of blue. This tone of blue is not
the same everywhere--here it is almost distinct, there it fades; it is an
aerial colour which rather hints itself than shows. Commencing the descent
the view is at once lost, but we pass a beech whose beauty is not easily
conveyed. The winds have scarcely rifled it; being in a sheltered spot on
the slope, the leaves are nearly perfect. All those on the outer boughs
are a rich brown--some, perhaps, almost orange. But there is an inner mass
of branches of lesser size which droop downwards, something after the
manner of a weeping willow; and the leaves on these are still green and
show through. Upon the whole tree a flood of sunshine pours, and over it
is the azure sky. The mingling, shading, and contrast of these colours
give a lovely result--the tree is aglow, its foliage ripe with colour.

Farther down comes the steady sound of deliberate blows, and the upper
branches of the hedge falls beneath the steel. A sturdy labourer, with a
bill on a pole, strikes slow and strong and cuts down the hedge to an even
height. A dreadful weapon that simple tool must have been in the old days
before the advent of the arquebus. For with the exception of the spike,
which is not needed for hedge work, it is almost an exact copy of the
brown bill of ancient warfare; it is brown still, except where sharpened.
Wielded by a sinewy arm, what, gaping gashes it must have slit through
helm and mail and severed bone! Watch the man there--he slices off the
tough thorn as though it were straw. He notes not the beauty of the beech
above him, nor the sun, nor the sky; but on the other hand, when the sky
is hidden, the sun gone, and the beautiful beech torn by the raving winds
neither does he heed that. Rain and tempest affect him not; the glaring
heat of summer, the bitter frost of winter are alike to him. He is built
up like an oak. Believe it, the man that from his boyhood has stood
ankle-deep in the chill water of the ditch, patiently labouring with axe
and bill; who has trudged across the furrow, hand on plough, facing sleet
and mist; who has swung the sickle under the summer sun--this is the man
for the trenches. This is the man whom neither the snows of the North nor
the sun of the South can vanquish; who will dig and delve, and carry
traverse and covered way forward in the face of the fortress, who will lie
on the bare ground in the night. For they who go up to battle must fight
the hard earth and the tempest, as well as face bayonet and ball. As of
yore with the brown bill, so now with the rifle--the muscles that have
been trained about the hedges and fields will not fail England in the hour
of danger.

Hark!--a distant whoop--another, a blast of a horn, and then a burst of
chiding that makes the woods ring. Down drops the bill, and together,
heedless of any social difference in the common joy, we scramble to the
highest mound, and see the pack sweep in full cry across the furrows.
Crash--it is the bushes breaking, as the first foam-flecked, wearied horse
hardly rises to his leap, and yet crushes safely through, opening a way,
which is quickly widened by the straggling troop behind. Ha! down the lane
from the hill dashes another squadron that has eroded the chord of the arc
and comes in fresher. Ay, and a third is entering at the bottom there, one
by one, over the brook. Woods, field, and paths, but just before an empty
solitude, are alive with men and horses. Up yonder, along the ridge,
gallops another troop in single file, well defined against the sky, going
parallel to the hounds. What a view they must have of the scene below! Two
ladies who ride up with torn skirts cannot lift their panting horses at
the double mound. Well, let us defy 'wilful damage' for once. The gate,
jealously padlocked, is swiftly hoisted off its hinges, and away they go
with hearty thanks. We slip the gate on again just as some one hails to us
across the field to wait a minute, but seeing it is only a man we calmly
replace the timber and let him take his chance. He is excited, but we
smile stolidly. In another minute the wave of life is gone; it has swept
over and disappeared as swiftly as it came. The wood, the field, and lane
seem painfully--positively painfully--empty. Slowly the hedger and ditcher
goes back to his work, where in the shade under the bushes even now the
dew lingers.

So there are days to be enjoyed out of doors even in much-abused November.
And when the wind rises and the storm is near, if you get under the lee of
a good thick copse there is a wild pleasure in the frenzy that passes
over. With a rush the leaves stream outwards, thickening the air, whirling
round and round; the tree-tops bend and sigh, the blast strikes them, and
in an instant they are stripped and bare. A spectral rustling, as the
darkness falls and the black cloud approaches, is the fallen leaves in the
copse, lifted up from their repose and dashed against the underwood. Then
a howl of wrath descends and fills the sense of hearing, so that for the
moment it is hard to tell what is happening. A rushing hiss follows, and
the rain hurtles through the branches, driving so horizontally as to pass
overhead. The sheltering thorn-thicket stirs, and a long, deep, moaning
roar rises from the fir-trees. Another howl that seems to stun--to so fill
the ears with sound that they cannot hear--the aerial host charges the
tree-ranks, and the shock makes them tremble to the root. Still another
and another; twigs and broken boughs fly before it and strew the sward;
larger branches that have long been dead fall crashing downwards; leaves
are forced right through the thorn-thicket, and strike against the face.
Fortunately, so fierce a fury cannot last; presently the billows of wind
that strike the wood come at longer intervals and with less vigour; then
the rain increases, and yet a little while and the storm has swept on. The
very fury--the utter _abandon_--of its rage is its charm; the spirit rises
to meet it, and revels in the roar and buffeting. By-and-by they who have
faced it have their reward. The wind sinks, the rain ceases, a pale blue
sky shows above, and then yonder appears a majesty of cloud--a Himalaya of
vapour. Crag on crag rises the vast pile--such jagged and pointed rocks as
never man found on earth, or, if he found, could climb--topped with a peak
that towers to the heavens, and leans--visibly leans--and threatens to
fall and overwhelm the weak world at its feet. A gleam as of snow glitters
on the upper rocks, the passes are gloomy and dark, the faces of the
precipice are lit up with a golden gleam from the rapidly-sinking sun. So
the magic structure stands and sees the great round disk go down. The
night gathers around those giant mounts and dark space receives them.



The pale beams of the waning moon still cast a shadow of the cottage,
when the labourer rises from his heavy sleep on a winter's morning.
Often he huddles on his things and slips his feet into his thick
'water-tights'--which are stiff and hard, having been wet over night--by
no other light than this. If the household is comparatively well managed,
however, he strikes a match, and his 'dip' shows at the window. But he
generally prefers to save a candle, and clatters down the narrow steep
stairs in the semi-darkness, takes a piece of bread and cheese, and steps
forth into the sharp air. The cabbages in the garden he notes are covered
with white frost, so is the grass in the fields, and the footpath is hard
under foot. In the furrows is a little ice--white because the water has
shrunk from beneath it, leaving it hollow--and on the stile is a crust of
rime, cold to the touch, which he brushes off in getting over. Overhead
the sky is clear--cloudless but pale--and the stars, though not yet fading,
have lost the brilliant glitter of midnight. Then, in all their glory, the
idea of their globular shape is easily accepted; but in the morning, just
as the dawn is breaking, the absence of glitter comes the impression of
flatness--circular rather than globular. But yonder, over the elms, above
the cowpens, the great morning star has risen, shining far brighter, in
proportion, than the moon; an intensely clear metallic light--like
incandescent silver.

The shadows of the trees on the frosted ground are dull. As the footpath
winds by the hedge the noise of his footstep startles the blackbird
roosting in the bushes, and he bustles out and flies across the field.
There is more rime on the posts and rails around the rickyard, and the
thatch on the haystack is white with it in places. He draws out the broad
hay-knife--a vast blade, wide at the handle, the edge gradually curving to
a point--and then searches for the rubber or whetstone, stuck somewhere in
the side of the rick. At the first sound of the stone upon the steel the
cattle in the adjoining yard and sheds utter a few low 'moos,' and there
is a stir among them. Mounting the ladder he forces the knife with both
hands into the hay, making a square cut which bends outwards, opening from
the main mass till it appears on the point of parting and letting him fall
with it to the ground. But long practice has taught him how to balance
himself half on the ladder, half on the hay. Presently, with a truss
unbound and loose on his head, he enters the yard, and passes from crib to
crib, leaving a little here and a little there, for if he fills one first,
there will be quarrelling among the cows, and besides, if the crib is too
liberally filled, they will pull it out and tread it under foot. The
cattle that are in the sheds fattening for Christmas have cake as well,
and this must be supplied in just proportion.

The hour of milking, which used to be pretty general everywhere, varies
now in different places, to suit the necessities of the milk trade. The
milk has, perhaps, to travel three or four miles to the railway station;
near great towns, where some of the farmers deliver milk themselves from
house to house, the cows are milked soon after noonday. What would their
grandfathers have said to that? But where the old customs have not much
altered, the milker sits down in the morning to his cow with the stars
still visible overhead, punching his hat well into her side--a hat well
battered and thickly coated with grease, for the skin of the cow exudes an
unctuous substance. This hat he keeps for the purpose. A couple of milking
pails--they are of large size--form a heavy load when filled. The milker,
as he walks back to the farmhouse, bends his head under the yoke--whence
so many men are round-shouldered--and steps slowly with a peculiar swaying
motion of the body, which slight swing prevents it from spilling.

Another man who has to be up while the moon casts a shadow is the carter,
who must begin to feed his team very early in order to get them to eat
sufficient. If the manger be over-filled they spill and waste it, and at
the same time will not eat so much. This is tedious work. Then the lads
come and polish up the harness, and so soon as it is well light get out to
plough. The custom with the horses is to begin to work as early as
possible, but to strike off in the afternoon some time before the other
men, the lads riding home astride. The strength of the carthorse has to be
husbanded carefully, and the labour performed must be adjusted to it and
to the food, i.e. fuel, consumed. To manage a large team of horses, so as
to keep them in good condition, with glossy coats and willing step, and
yet to get the maximum of work out of them, requires long experience and
constant attention. The carter, therefore, is a man of much importance on
a farm. If he is up to his duties he is a most valuable servant; if he
neglects them he is a costly nuisance, not so much from his pay, but
because of the hindrance and disorganisation of the whole farm-work which
such neglect entails.

Foggers and milkers, if their cottages are near at hand, having finished
the first part of the day's work, can often go back home to breakfast,
and, if they have a good woman in the cottage, find a fire and hot tea
ready. The carter can rarely leave his horses for that, and, therefore,
eats his breakfast in the stable; but then he has the advantage that up to
the time of starting forth he is under cover. The fogger and milker, on
the other hand, are often exposed to the most violent tempests. A gale of
wind, accompanied with heavy rain, often readies its climax just about the
dawn. They find the soil saturated, and the step sinks into it--the
furrows are full of water; the cow-yard, though drained, is a pool, no
drain being capable of carrying it off quick enough. The thatch of the
sheds drips continually; the haystack drips; the thatch of the stack,
which has to be pulled off before the hay-knife can be used, is wet; the
old decaying wood of the rails and gates is wet. They sit on the
three-legged milking-stool (whose rude workmanship has taken a dull polish
from use) in a puddle; the hair of the cow, against which the head is
placed, is wet; the wind blows the rain into the nape of the neck behind,
the position being stooping. Staggering under the heavy yoke homewards,
the boots sink deep into the slush and mire in the gateways, the weight
carried sinking them well in. The teams do not usually work in very wet
weather, and most of the out-door work waits; but the cattle must be
attended to, Sundays and holidays included. Even in summer it often
happens that a thunderstorm bursts about that time of the morning. But in
winter, when the rain is driven by a furious wind, when the lantern is
blown out, and the fogger stumbles in pitchy darkness through mud and
water, it would be difficult to imagine a condition of things which
concentrates more discomfort.

If, as often happens, the man is far from home--perhaps he has walked a
mile or two to work--of course he cannot change his clothes, or get near a
fire, unless in the farmer's kitchen. In some places the kitchen is open
to the men, and on Sundays, at all events, they get a breakfast free. But
the kindly old habits are dying out before the hard-and-fast money system
and the abiding effects of Unionism, which, even when not prominently
displayed, causes a silent, sullen estrangement.

Shepherds, too, sometimes visit the fold very early in the morning, and in
the lambing season may be said to be about both day and night. They come,
however, under a different category to the rest of the men, because they
have no regular hours, but are guided solely by the season and the work. A
shepherd often takes his ease when other men are busily labouring. On the
other hand, he is frequently anxiously engaged when they are sleeping. His
sheep rule his life, and he has little to do with the artificial divisions
of time.

Hedgers and ditchers often work by the piece, and so take their own time
for meals; the ash woods, which are cut in the winter, are also usually
thrown by the piece. Hedging and ditching, if done properly, is hard work,
especially if there is any grubbing. Though the arms get warm from
swinging the grub-axe or billhook, or cleaning out the ditch and
plastering and smoothing the side of the mound with the spade, yet feet
and ankles are chilled by the water in the ditch. This is often dammed up
and so kept back partially, but it generally forces its way through. The
ditcher has a board to stand on; there is a hole through it, and a
projecting stick attached, with which to drag it into position. But the
soft soil allows the board to sink, and he often throws it aside as more
encumbrance than use. He has some small perquisites: he is allowed to
carry home a bundle of wood or a log every night, and may gather up the
remnants after the faggoting is finished. On the other hand, he cannot
work in bad weather.

Other men come to the farm buildings to commence work about the time the
carter has got his horses fed, groomed, and harnessed, and after the
fogger and milker have completed their early duties. If it is a frosty
morning and the ground firm, so as to bear up a cart without poaching the
soil too much, the manure is carried out into the fields. This is plain,
straightforward labour, and cannot be looked upon as hard work. If the
cattle want no further attention, the foggers and milkers turn their hands
after breakfast to whatever may be going on. Some considerable time is
taken up in slicing roots with the machine, or chaff-cutting--monotonous
work of a simple character, and chiefly consisting in turning a handle.

The general hands--those who come on when the carter is ready, and who are
usually young men, not yet settled down to any particular branch--seem to
get the best end of the stick. They do not begin so early in the morning
by some time as the fogger, milker, carter, or shepherd; consequently, if
the cottage arrangements are tolerable, they can get a comfortable
breakfast first. They have no anxieties or trouble whatever; the work may
be hard in itself, but there is no particular hurry (in their estimation)
and they do not distress themselves. They receive nearly the same wages as
the others who have the care of valuable flocks, herds, and horses; the
difference is but a shilling or two, and, to make up for that, they do not
work on Sundays. Now, the fogger must feed his cows, the carter his horse,
the shepherd look to his sheep every day; consequently their extra wages
are thoroughly well earned. The young labourer--who is simply a labourer,
and professes no special branch--is, therefore, in a certain sense, the
best off. He is rarely hired by the year--he prefers to be free, so that
when harvest comes he may go where wages chance to be highest. He is an
independent person, and full of youth, strength, and with little
experience of life, is apt to be rough in his manners and not overcivil.
His wages too often go in liquor, but if such a young man keeps steady
(and there are a few that do keep steady) he does very well indeed, having
no family to maintain.

A set of men who work very hard are those who go with the steam-ploughing
tackle. Their pay is so arranged as to depend in a measure on the number
of acres they plough. They get the steam up as early as possible in the
morning, and continue as late as they can at night. Just after the
harvest, when the days are long, and, indeed, it is still summer, they
work for extremely long hours. Their great difficulty lies in getting
water. This must be continually fetched in carts, and, of course, requires
a horse and man. These are not always forthcoming in the early morning,
but they begin as soon as they can get water for the boiler, and do not
stop till the field be finished or it is dark.

The women do not find much work in the fields during the winter. Now and
then comes a day's employment with the threshing-machine when the farmer
wants a rick of corn threshed out. In pasture or dairy districts some of
them go out into the meadows and spread the manure. They wear gaiters, and
sometimes a kind of hood for the head. If done carefully, it is hard work
for the arms--knocking the manure into small pieces by striking it with a
fork swung to and fro smartly.

In the spring, when the great heaps of roots are opened--having been
protected all the winter by a layer of straw and earth--it is necessary to
trim them before they are used. This is often done by a woman. She has a
stool or log of wood to sit on, and arranges a couple of sacks or
something of the kind, so as to form a screen and keep off the bitter
winds which are then so common--colder than those of the winter proper.
With a screen one side, the heap of roots the other, and the hedge on the
third, she is in some sense sheltered, and, taking her food with her, may
stay there the whole day long, quite alone in the solitude of the broad,
open, arable fields.

From a variety of causes, the number of women working in the fields is
much less than was formerly the case; thus presenting precisely the
reverse state of things to that complained of in towns, where the clerks,
&c., say that they are undersold by female labour. The contrast is rather
curious. The price of women's labour has, too, risen; and there does not
appear to be any repugnance on their part to field-work. Whether the
conclusion is to be accepted that there has been a diminution in the
actual number of women living in rural places, it is impossible to decide
with any accuracy. But there are signs that female labour has drifted to
the towns quite as much as male--especially the younger girls. In some
places it seems rare to see a young girl working in the field (meaning in
winter)--those that are to be found are generally women well advanced in
life. Spring and summer work brings forth more, but not nearly so many as
used to be the case.

Although the work of the farm begins so soon in the morning, it is, on the
other hand, in the cold months, over early. 'The night cometh when no man
can work' was, one would think, originally meant in reference to
agricultural labour. It grows dusk before half-past four on a dull
winter's day, and by five is almost, if not quite, dark. Lanterns may be
moving in the cowyards and stables; but elsewhere all is quiet--the
hedger and ditcher cannot see to strike his blow, the ploughs have ceased
to move for some time, the labourer's workshop--the field--is not lighted
by gas as the rooms of cities.

The shortness of the winter day is one of the primary reasons why, in
accordance with ancient custom, wages are lowered at that time. In summer,
on the contrary, the hours are long, and the pay high--which more than
makes up for the winter reduction. A labourer who has any prudence can, in
fact, do very well by putting by a portion of his extra summer wages for
the winter; if he does not choose to exercise common sense, he cannot
expect the farmer (or any manufacturer) to pay the same price for a little
work and short time as for much work and long hours. Reviewing the work
the labourer actually does in winter, it seems fair and just to state that
the foggers, or milkers, i.e. the men who attend on cattle, the carters,
and the shepherds, work hard, continuously, and often in the face of the
most inclement weather. The mere labourers, who, as previously remarked,
are usually younger and single men, do not work so hard, nor so long. And
when they are at it--whether turning the handle of a winnowing machine in
a barn, cutting a hedge, spreading manure, or digging--it must be said
that they do not put the energy into it of which their brawny arms are

'The least work and the most money,' however, is a maxim not confined to
the agricultural labourer. Recently I had occasion to pass through a busy
London street in the West-end where the macadam of the roadway was being
picked up by some score of men, and, being full of the subject of labour,
I watched the process. Using the right hand as a fulcrum and keeping it
stationary, each navvy slowly lifted his pick with the left half-way up,
about on a level with his waistcoat, when the point of the pick was barely
two feet above the ground. He then let it fall--simply by its own
weight--producing a tiny indentation such as might be caused by the kick
of one's heel It required about three such strokes, if they could so
called strokes, to detach one single small stone. After that exhausting
labor the man stood at ease for a few minutes, so that there were often
three or four at once staring about them, while several others lounged
against the wooden railing placed to keep vehicles back.

A more irritating spectacle it would be hard to imagine. Idle as much
agricultural labour is, it is rarely so lazy as that. How contractors get
their work done, if that is a sample, it is a puzzle to understand. The
complaint of the poor character of the work performed by the agricultural
labourer seems also true of other departments, where labour--pure and
simple labour of thews and sinews--is concerned. The rich city merchant,
who goes to his office daily, positively works harder, in spite of all his
money. So do the shopmen and assistants behind their counters; so do the
girls in drapers' shops, standing the whole day and far into the evening
when, as just observed, the fields have been dark for hours; so, indeed,
do most men and women who earn their bread by any other means than mere
bodily strength.

But the cattle-men, carters, and shepherds, men with families and settled,
often seem to take an interest in their charges, in the cows, horses, or
sheep; some of them are really industrious, deserving men. The worst
feature of unionism is the lumping of all together, for where one man is
hardly worth his salt, another is a good workman. It is strange that such
men as this should choose to throw in their lot with so many who are
idle--whom they must know to be idle--thus jeopardising their own position
for the sake of those who are not worth one-fifth the sacrifice the
agricultural cottager must be called upon to make in a strike. The
hard-working carter or cattle-man, according to the union theory, is to
lose his pay, his cottage, his garden, and get into bad odour with his
employer, who previously trusted him, and was willing to give him
assistance, in order that the day labourer who has no responsibilities
either of his own or his master's, and who has already the best end of the
stick, should enjoy still further opportunities for idleness.



In the coldest weather one or more of the labourer's children are sure to
be found in the farmyard somewhere. After the mother has dressed her boy
(who may be about three or four years old) in the morning, he is at once
turned out of doors to take care of himself, and if, as is often the case,
the cottage is within a short distance of the farmyard, thither he toddles
directly. He stands about the stable door, watching the harnessing of the
great carthorses, which are, from the very first, the object of his
intense admiration. But he has already learnt to keep out of the way,
knowing that his presence would not otherwise be tolerated a moment, and
occupies a position which enables him to dart quickly behind a tree, or a

When the horses are gone he visits the outhouse, where the steam-engine is
driving the chaff-cutter, or peers in at the huge doors of the barn, where
with wide wooden shovel the grain is being moved. Or he may be met with
round the hay-ricks, dragging a log of wood by a piece of tar cord, the
log representing a plough. As you come upon him suddenly he draws up to
the rick as if the hay was his natural protector, and looks up at you with
half-frightened, half-curious gaze, and mouth open. His hat is an old one
of his father's, a mile too big, coming down over his ears to his
shoulders, well greased from ancient use--a thing not without its
advantage, since it makes it impervious to rain. He wears what was a white
jacket, but is now the colour of the prevailing soil of the place; a belt;
and a pair of stumping boots, the very picture in miniature of his
father's, heeled and tipped with iron. His naked legs are red with the
cold, but thick and strong; his cheeks are plump and firm, his round blue
eyes bright, his hair almost white, like bleached straw.

An hour or two ago his skin was clean enough, for he was sent out well
washed, but it is now pretty well grimed, for he has been making himself
happy in the dirt, as a boy should do if he be a boy. For one thing it is
clean dirt, nothing but pure mother earth, and not the nasty unctuous
filth of city courts and back lanes. If you speak to him he answers you
sturdily--if you can catch the meaning of his words, doubly difficult from
accent and imperfect knowledge of construction. But he means well, and if
you send him on an errand will run off to find 'measter' as fast as his
short stature will allow. He will potter about the farmyard the whole
morning, perhaps turning up at home for a lunch of a slice of bread well
larded. His little sister, not so old as himself, is there, already
beginning her education in the cares of maternity, looking after the
helpless baby that crawls over the wooden threshold of the door with bare
head, despite the bitter cold. Once during the day he may perhaps steal
round the farmhouse, and peer wistfully from behind the tubs or buckets
into the kitchen, when, if the mistress chances to be about, he is pretty
certain to pick up some trifle in the edible line.

How those prosperous parents who dwell in highly-rented suburban villas,
and send out their children for a walk with a couple of nurses, and a
'bow-wow' to run beside the perambulator, would be eaten up with anxiety
did their well-dressed boys or girls play where this young son of toil
finds his amusement! Under the very hoofs of the carthorses--he will go
out to them when they are loose in the field, three or four in a group,
under a tree, when it looks as if the slightest movement on their part
must crush him; down to the side of the deep broad brook to swim sticks in
it for boats, where a slip on the treacherous mud would plunge him in, and
where the chance of rescue--everybody being half a mile away at
work--would be absolutely _nil_. The cows come trampling through the yard;
the bull bellows in the meadow; great, grunting sows, savage when they
have young, go by, thrusting their noses into and turning up the earth for
food; steam ploughing engines pant and rumble about; carts are continually
coming and going; and he is all day in the midst of it without guardian of
any kind whatsoever. The fog, and frost, and cutting winter winds make him
snivel and cry with the cold, and yet there he is out in it--in the
draughts that blow round the ricks, and through the hedge bare of leaves.
The rain rushes down pitilessly--he creeps inside the barn or shed, and
with a stick splashes the puddles. The long glaring days of summer see him
exposed to the scorching heat in the hay, or the still hotter harvest
field. Through it all he grows stout and strong, and seems happy enough.

He is, perhaps, more fortunate than his sister, who has to take part in
the household work from very early age. But the village school claims them
both after awhile; and the greater number of such schools are well filled,
taking into consideration the long distances the children have to come and
the frequent bad state of the roads and lanes. Both the employers and the
children's own parents get them to school as much as possible; the former
put on a mild compulsion, the latter for the most part are really anxious
for the schooling, and have even an exaggerated idea of the value of
education. In some cases it would seem as if the parents actually educated
themselves in some degree from their own children, questioning them as to
what they have been told. But, on the other hand, the labourer objects to
paying for the teaching, and thinks the few coppers he is charged a
terrible extortion.

The lads, as they grow older and leave school, can almost always find
immediate employment with their father on the same farm, or on one close
by. Though they do not now go out to work so soon, yet, on the other hand,
when they do commence they receive higher weekly wages. The price paid for
boys' labour now is such that it becomes a very important addition to the
aggregate income of the cottager. When a man has got a couple of boys out,
bringing home so much per week, his own money, of course, goes very much

The girls go less and less into the field. If at home, they assist their
parents at harvest time when work is done by the acre, and the more a man
can cut the better he is off; but their aim is domestic service, and they
prefer to be engaged in the towns. They shirk the work of a farmhouse,
especially if it is a dairy, and so it has come to be quite a complaint
among farmers' wives, in many places, that servants are not to be
obtained. Those that are available are mere children, whose mothers like
them to go out anywhere at first, just to obtain an insight into the
duties of a servant. The farmer's wife has the trouble and annoyance of
teaching these girls the rudiments of household work, and then, the moment
they are beginning to be useful, they leave, and almost invariably go to
the towns. Those that remain are the slow-witted, or those who are tied in
a measure by family difficulties--as a bedridden mother to attend to; or,
perhaps, an illegitimate child of her own may fetter the cottage girl.
Then she goes out in the daytime to work at the farmhouse, and returns to
sleep at home.

Cottage girls have taken to themselves no small airs of recent years--they
dress, so far as their means will go, as flashily as servants in cities,
and stand upon their dignity. This foolishness has, perhaps, one good
effect--it tends to diminish the illegitimate births. The girls are
learning more self-respect--if they could only achieve that and eschew the
other follies it would be a clear gain. It may be questioned whether
purely agricultural marriages are as common as formerly. The girl who
leaves her home for service in the towns sees a class of men--grooms,
footmen, artisans, and workmen generally--not only receiving higher wages
than the labourers in her native parish, but possessing a certain amount
of comparative refinement. It is not surprising that she prefers, if
possible, to marry among these.

On the other hand, the young labourer, who knows that he can get good
wages wherever he likes to go, has become somewhat of a wanderer. He roams
about, not only from village to village, but from county to county;
perhaps works for a time as a navvy on some distant railway, and thus
associates with a different class of men, and picks up a sort of coarse
cynicism. He does not care to marry and settle and tie himself down to a
routine of labour--he despises home pleasures, preferring to spend his
entire earnings upon himself. The roaming habits of the rising generation
of labourers is an important consideration, and it has an effect in many
ways. Statistics are not available; but the impression left on the mind is
that purely rural marriages are not so frequent, notwithstanding that
wages at large have risen. When a young man does marry, he and his wife
not uncommonly live for a length of time with his parents, occupying a
part of the cottage.

Had any one gone into a cottage some few years back and inquired about the
family, most probably the head of the house could have pointed out all his
sons and daughters engaged in or near the parish. Most likely his own
father was at work almost within hail. Uncles, cousins, various relations,
were all near by. He could tell where everybody was. To-day if a similar
inquiry wore made, the answer would often be very different. The old
people might be about still, but the younger would be found scattered over
the earth. One, perhaps, went to the United States or Canada in the height
of the labourers' agitation some years ago, when agents were busy
enlisting recruits for the Far West. Since then another has departed for
Australia, taking with him his wife. Others have migrated northwards, or
to some other point of the compass--they are still in the old country, but
the exact whereabouts is not known. The girls are in service a hundred
miles away--some married in the manufacturing districts. To the
middle-aged, steady, stay-at-home labourer, the place does not seem a bit
like it used to. Even the young boys are restless, and talking of going
somewhere. This may not be the case with every single individual cottage
family, but it is so with a great number. The stolid phalanx of
agricultural labour is slowly disintegrating.

If there yet remains anything idyllic in the surroundings of rural cottage
life, it may be found where the unmarried but grown-up sons--supposing
these, of course, to be steady--remain at home with their parents. The
father and head of the house, having been employed upon one farm for the
last thirty years or more, though nominally carter, is really a kind of
bailiff. The two young men work on at the same place, and lodge at home,
paying a small weekly sum for board and lodging. Their sister is probably
away in service; their mother manages the cottage. She occasionally bears
a hand in indoor work at the farmhouse, and in the harvest time aids a
little in the field, but otherwise does not labour. What is the result?
Plenty to eat, good beds, fairly good furniture, sufficient fuel, and some
provision for contingencies, through the benefit club. As the wages are
not consumed in drink, they have always a little ready money, and, in
short, are as independent as it is possible for working men to be,
especially if, as is often the case, the cottage and garden is their own,
or is held on a small quit-rent. If either of the sons in time desires to
marry, he does not start utterly unprovided. His father's influence with
the farmer is pretty sure to procure him a cottage; he has some small
savings himself, and his parents in the course of years have accumulated
some extra furniture, which is given to him.

If a cottage, where the occupants are steady like this, be visited in the
evening, say towards seven o'clock, when dinner is on the table (labourers
dining or supping after the conclusion of the day's work), the fare will
often be found of a substantial character. There may be a piece of
mutton--not, of course, the prime cut, but wholesome meat--cabbages,
parsnips, carrots (labourers like a profusion of vegetables), all laid out
in a decent manner. The food is plain, but solid and plentiful. If the
sister out in service wishes to change her situation, she has a home to go
to meanwhile. Should any dispute occur with the employer the cottage is
still there, and affords a shelter till the difficulty is settled or other
work obtained. In towns the workman who has been earning six or even ten
shillings a day, and paying a high rent (carefully collected every week),
no sooner gets his discharge than he receives notice to quit his lodgings,
because the owner knows he will not be paid. But when the agricultural
labourer has a quit-rent cottage, or one of his own, he has a permanent
resource, and can look round for another engagement.

The cooking in the best cottages would not commend itself to the student
of that art: in those where the woman is shiftless it would be deemed
simply intolerable. Evidence of this is only too apparent on approaching
cottages, especially towards the evening. Coming from the fresh air of the
fields, perhaps from the sweet scent of clover or of new-mown grass, the
odour which arises from the cottages is peculiarly offensive. It is not
that they are dirty inside--the floor may be scrubbed, the walls brushed,
the chairs clean, and the beds tidy; it is from outside that all the
noisome exhalations taint the breeze. The refuse vegetables, the washings,
the liquid and solid rubbish generally is cast out into the ditch, often
open to the highway road, and there festers till the first storm sweeps it
away. The cleanest woman indoors thinks nothing disgusting out of doors,
and hardly goes a step from her threshold to cast away indescribable
filth. Now, a good deal of this refuse is the remains of imperfect
cooking--masses of soddened cabbage, part of which only is eaten, and the
rest stored for the pig or thrown into the ditch. The place smells of
soaking, saturated cabbage for yards and yards round about.

But it is much easier to condemn the cottage cook than to show her how to
do better. It is even doubtful whether professed scientific cooks could
tell her what to do. The difficulty arises from the rough, coarse taste of
the labourer, and the fact, which it is useless to ignore, that he must
have something solid, and indeed, bulky. Thin clear soups--though proved
to abound with nourishment and of delicious flavour--are utterly beside
his wants. Give him the finest soup; give him _pates_, or even more meaty
_entrees_, and his remark will be that it is very nice, but he wants
'summat to eat.' His teeth are large, his jaws strong, his digestive
powers such as would astonish a city man; he likes solid food, bacon,
butcher's meat, cheese, or something that gives him a sense of fulness,
like a mass of vegetables. This is the natural result of his training and
work in the fields. The materials used by the cottage cook are often quite
capable of being made into agreeable dishes, but then those dishes would
not suit the man. All the soups and kickshaws--though excellent in
themselves--in the world are not, for his purpose, equal to a round of
beef or a side of bacon. Let any one go and labour daily in the field, and
they will come quickly to the same opinion. Yet something might certainly
be done in the way of preventing waste. The real secret lies in the
education of the women when young--that is, for the future. But, taking
the present day, looking at things as they actually exist, it is no use
abusing or lecturing the cottage cook. She might, perhaps, be persuaded to
adopt a systematic plan of disposing of the refuse.

The Saturday half-holiday is scarcely so closely observed in rural labour
as in urban. The work closes earlier, that is, so far as the day labourer
is concerned, for he gets the best of this as of other things. But,
half-holiday or not, cows have to be fed and milked, sheep must be looked
after, and the stable attended to, so that the regular men do not get off
much sooner. In winter, the days being short, they get little advantage
from the short time; in summer they do. Compensation is, however, as much
as possible afforded to the settled men who have gardens, by giving them a
half-day now and then when work is slack to attend to them.

On Sunday morning the labourer cleans and polishes his boots (after
digging the potatoes for dinner), puts on a black or dark coat, put his
hands in his pockets--a marked feature this--and rambles down to his
garden or the allotment. There, if it be spring or summer, he is sure to
find some acquaintances likewise 'looking round.' This seems to be one of
the greatest pleasures of the labourer, noting the growth of a cabbage
here, and the promise of potatoes yonder; he does not work, but strolls to
and fro, discussing the vegetable prospect. Then back home in time for
dinner--the great event of Sunday, being often the only day in the week
that he can get a hot dinner in the middle of the day. It is his day at
home, and though he may ramble out he never goes far.

Ladies residing in the country are accustomed to receive periodical
appeals from friends in town asking their assistance in procuring
servants. So frequent are such appeals that there would seem to be a
popular belief that the supply is inexhaustible. The villages are supposed
to be full of girls, all ready to enter service, and, though a little
uncouth in manner, possessed nevertheless of sterling good qualities. The
letter is usually couched in something like the following terms:--'Do you
happen to know of a really good girl that would suit us? You are aware of
the scale on which our household is conducted, and how very modest our
requirements are. All we want is a strong, healthy, honest girl, ready and
willing to work and to learn, and who will take an interest in the place,
and who will not ask too extravagant a price. She can have a good home
with us as long as ever she likes to stay. My dear, you really cannot tell
what a difficulty we experience in getting servants who are not "uppish,"
and who are trustworthy and do not mind working, and if you can find us
one in those pretty villages round you, we shall be so much obliged,' &c.

The fact that a servant from the country is supposed, in the nature of
things, to be honest and willing, hardworking, strong, and healthy, and
almost everything else, speaks well for the general character of the girls
brought up in agricultural cottages. It is, however, quite a mistake to
suppose the supply to be limitless; it is just the reverse; the really
good servants from any particular district are quickly exhausted, and
then, if the friends in town will insist upon a girl from the country,
they cannot complain if they do not get precisely what they want. The
migration, indeed, of servants from the villages to the towns has, for the
time being, rather overdone itself. The best of those who responded to the
first demand were picked out some time since; many of those now to be had
are not of the first class, and the young are not yet grown up. After
awhile, as education progresses--bringing with it better manners--there
may be a fresh supply; meantime, really good country girls are difficult
to obtain. But the demand is as great as ever. From the squire's lady down
to the wife of the small tenant-farmer, one and all receive the same
requests from friends in town. The character of the true country servant
stands as high as ever.

Let us hope that the polish of progress may not too much overlay the solid
if humble virtues which procured that character for her class. Some
efforts are being made here and there to direct the course of young girls
after leaving the village schools--to put them in the right way and give
them the benefit of example. As yet such efforts are confined to
individuals. The object is certainly worth the formation of local
organisations, for, too often, on quitting the school, the young village
girl comes in contact with anything but elevating influences, and,
unfortunately, her own mother is not always the best guide. The position
of a servant in town is well known, the antecedents of a girl before she
reaches town perhaps not so thoroughly, while the lives of those who
remain in the villages drop out of sight of the great world.

As a child, the cottage girl 'roughs' it in the road and in the fields. In
winter she learns to slide, and to endure the cold and rain, till she
often becomes what, to any one accustomed to a more delicate life, seems
positively impervious to weather. The servants in old-fashioned farmhouses
really did not seem to know what it was to feel cold. Even nowadays, a
servant fresh from an outlying hamlet, where her parents probably could
procure but little fuel beyond what was necessary for cooking, at first
cares not an atom whether there be a fire in the kitchen or not. Such
girls are as hardy as the men of their native place. After a time, hot
rooms and a profusion of meat and good living generally saps and
undermines this natural strength. Then they shiver like town-bred people.

The cottage child is often locked out by her parents, who go to work and
leave her in charge of her still smaller brothers and sisters. They play
about the hedges and ditches, and very rarely come to any harm. In autumn
their little fingers are employed picking up the acorns fallen from the
oaks, for which the formers pay so much per bushel. In spring is their
happiest time. The joy of life--the warm sunshine and pleasant breeze of
spring--is not wholly lost upon them, despite their hard fare, and the not
very affectionate treatment they receive at home. Such a girl may then be
seen sitting under a willow beside the brook, with her charges around
her--the little brother that can just toddle, the baby that can but crawl
and crow in the green fresh grass. Between them lies a whole pile of
flowers--dandelion stems made into rings, and the rings joined together so
as to form a chain, rushes plaited, blue-bells, cowslips tied up in balls,
and cowslips loose, their yellow petals scattered over the sward.

The brook flows murmuring by, with an occasional splash, as a water-rat
dives from the bank or a fish rises to an insect. The children weave their
flowers and chant some old doggrel rhymes with little or no meaning. Long
afterwards that girl will retain an unconscious memory of the scene, when,
wheeling her employer's children out on some suburban road, she seeks a
green meadow and makes a cowslip ball for the delighted infants. In summer
they go down to the hay-field, but dare not meddle with the hay, which the
bailiff does not like to see disturbed; they remain under the shadow of
the hedge. In autumn they search for the berries, like the birds, nibbling
the hips and haws, tasting crabs and sloes, or feasting on the fruit of a

Be it spring or summer, autumn or winter, wherever the child may be, her
eyes are ever on the watch to find a dead stick or a broken branch, too
heavy to lift, but which may be dragged behind, in order to feed the
cottage fire at night. That is her first duty as a child; if she remains
in the hamlet that will be her duty through life, and to the last, as an
aged woman. So in London, round the purlieus of buildings in the course of
erection--even in the central thoroughfares, in busy Fleet
Street--children hang about the temporary hoardings, and pick up the chips
and splinters of deal. But the latter have not the pleasure of the
blue-bells and cowslips, nor even of the hips and haws, nor does the fresh
pure breeze play upon their foreheads.

Rough though it be, the childhood of the cottage girl is not without its
recompenses, the most valuable of which is sturdy health. Now that good
schools are open to every village, so soon as the children are old enough
to walk the distance, often considerable, they are sent off every morning.
At all events, if it does nothing else, it causes the mothers to give them
a daily tidying up, which is in itself an advantage. They travel under the
charge of the girl; often two or three such small parties join company,
coming from as many cottages. In the warmer months, the lanes and fields
they cross form a long playground for them, and picking flowers and
searching for birds'-nests pass away the time. In winter they have to face
the mire and rain.

When the girl leaves school she is hardly old enough to enter service, and
too often in the year or so that elapses before she 'goes out' much
mischief is done. She is then at an age when the mind is peculiarly
receptive, and the ways of the young labourers with whom she is thrown
into contact are not very refined. Her first essay at 'service' is often
as day-nursemaid at some adjacent farmhouse, taking care of the younger
children in the day, and returning home to sleep. She then wanders with
the children about the same fields she visited long before. This system
used to be common enough, but latterly it has not worked well, because the
parents expect the girl to progress so rapidly. She must be a woman and
receive a woman's wages almost before she has ceased to be a girl. If she
does not disdain to enter a farmhouse as kitchen-maid her wages will
probably be about six pounds a year at first. Of course the exact sum
varies very much in different localities and in different cases. It is but
a small sum of money, yet it is often all she is worth.

The cottage is a poor preparation even for the humblest middle-class home.
Those ladies in towns who have engaged country servants are well aware of
the amount of teaching they require before they can go through the
simplest duties in a satisfactory manner. But most of these girls have
already been out several times before reaching town. What a difficulty,
then, the first farmer's wife must have had in drilling the rudiments of
civilised life into them! Indeed, the vexations and annoyances connected
with servants are no light weight upon the patience of the tenant-farmer.
His wife is perpetually preparing servant girls for the service of other

She is a kind of unpaid teacher, for ever shaping the rough material
which, so soon as it is worth higher wages than a tenant-farmer can
usually pay, is off, and the business has to be begun over again. No one
who had not seen it would believe how clumsy and unthinking such girls are
on first 'going out.' It is, too, the flightiest and giddiest period of
their existence--before the girl sobers down into the woman. In the houses
of the majority of tenant-farmers the mistress herself has to be a good
deal in the kitchen, and therefore comes into close personal contact with
the servants, and feels these things acutely. Except in the case of
gentleman-farmers it may, perhaps, be said that almost all the wives of
farmers have had experience of this kind.

The girls are not nearly so tractable as formerly--they are fully aware of
their own value and put it extremely high; a word is sufficient, and if
not pleased they leave immediately. Wages rise yearly to about the limit
of twelve pounds. In mentioning that sum it is not set down as an exact
figure, for circumstances of course vary in every case. But it is seldom
that servants in farmhouses of the middle class receive more than that.
Until recently few obtained so much. Most of them that are worth anything
never rest till they reach the towns, and take service in the villas of
the wealthy suburban residents. Some few, however, remain in the country
from preference, feeling a strong affection for their native place, for
their parents and friends. Notwithstanding the general tendency to roam,
this love of home is by no means extinct, but shows itself very decidedly
in some of the village girls.

The fogger, or milker, who comes to the farmhouse door in the morning may
not present a very attractive appearance in the eyes of those accustomed
to see well-dressed people; but it may be quite different with the young
girl whose early associations have made her oblivious of dirt. She does
not notice the bits of hay clinging to the smockfrock, the greasy hat and
begrimed face, or the clumsy boots thickly coated with mud. A kiss may be
quite as sweet, despite these mere outside accidents. In her way she is
full of imagination and fancy--what her mistress would call 'giddy.'
Within doors an eye may be on her, so she slips out to the wood-stack in
the yard, ostensibly to fetch a log for the fire, and indulges in a few
moments of flirtation behind the shelter of the faggots. In the summer she
works doubly hard in the morning, and gets everything forward, so that she
may go out to the field haymaking in the afternoon, when she may meet her
particular friend, and also, perhaps, his rival.

On Sundays she gladly walks two or more miles across the fields to church,
knowing full well that some one will be lounging about a certain stile, or
lying on the sward by a gate waiting for her. The practice of coquetry is
as delightful in the country lane as in the saloons of wealth, though the
ways in which it exhibits itself may be rude in comparison. So that love
is sometimes the detaining force which keeps the girl in the country. Some
of the young labourers are almost heirs to property in their eyes. One is
perhaps the son of the carrier, who owns a couple of cottages let out to
tenants; or the son of the blacksmith, at whom several caps are set, and
about whom no little jealousy rages. On the whole, servants in the
country, at least at farmhouses, have much more liberty than they could
possibly get in town.

The work is hard in the morning, but generally much less for the rest of
the day; in the evening there is often scarcely anything to do. So that
the farmhouse servant has much time to herself, and is not too strictly
confined indoors when not at work. There is a good deal of 'company,' too;
men coming to the door, men in the rick-yards and cattle-yards, men in the
barn, labourers passing to their work, and so on. It is not so dull a life
as might appear. Indeed, a farmhouse servant probably sees twice as many
of her own class in the course of a week as a servant in town.

Vanity, of course, is not to be shut out even from so simple an existence:
the girl must have a 'fashionable' bonnet, and a pair of thin tight boots,
let the lanes be never so dirty or the fields never so wet. In point of
education they have much improved of late, and most can now read and
write. But when they write home the letter is often read to the mother by
some friend; the girl's parents being nearly or quite illiterate.
Tenant-farmers' wives are often asked to act as notaries in such cases by
cottage women on the receipt of letters from their children.

When such a girl marries in the village she usually finds the work of the
cottage harder than that of the farmhouse. It is more continuous, and when
children arrive the trouble of nursing has to be added to the other
duties, and to occasional work in the fields. The agricultural labourer's
wife, indeed, has a harder lot than her husband. His toil is for the most
part over when he leaves the field, but the woman's is never finished.
When the man reaches home he does not care, or will not turn his hand to
anything, except, perhaps, to fetch a pail of water, and he is not well
pleased if asked to do that. The want of conveniences like an accessible
water supply is severely felt by the women in many villages and hamlets;
whilst in others there is a quantity running to waste. Many of the men
obtain a more than liberal amount of beer, while the women scarcely get
any at all. While working in the field they are allowed a small quantity
by some farmers; at home they have none.

Very few cottage women are inclined to drink, and they are seldom seen at
'public' or intoxicated. On Saturdays most of them walk into the nearest
town, perhaps five or more miles distant, in order to buy household stuff.
Often a whole bevy of neighbours then meet and return home together, and
that is about the only time when they call at the roadside inn. Laden with
heavy parcels, with a long walk yet before them, and after a hard week's
work, it is not surprising that they should want some refreshment, but the
quantity of ale then purchased is very small. When there are a number of
young children, and the parents endeavour to keep them decent, the woman
works very hard indeed. Many farmers' wives take much interest in such
families, where there is an evident endeavour to go straight, and assist
the women in various ways, as with cast-off clothing for the children. A
basketful of apples even from the farmer's orchard is a treat to the
children, for, though better fed than formerly, their diet is necessarily
monotonous, and such fruit as may be grown in the cottage garden is, of
course, sold.

With the exception of vegetables the cottager now buys almost everything
and produces nothing for home use; no home-spun clothing--not even a
home-baked loaf. Instances have been observed where cottagers have gone to
much expense (for them) to build ovens, and after baking a few batches
abandoned the project. Besides the cheap outfitters in the towns, the
pack-drapers come round visiting every cottage. Such drapers have no
shop-window, and make no display, but employ several men carrying packs,
who work through the villages on foot and range over a wide stretch of

Agricultural women, other than those belonging to the families of
tenant-farmers, may be summed up as employed in the following manner.
Bailiff's wives and daughters: these are not supposed, on extensive farms,
to work in the field. The wife frequently has charge of the small home
dairy, and the daughter assists at the house. Sometimes they also attend
to the poultry, now occasionally kept in large numbers. A bailiff's
daughter sometimes becomes housekeeper to a farmer. Dairymaids of the
ordinary class--not competent to make special cheese--are becoming rarer,
on account of the demand for their services decreasing--the milk trade and
cheap foreign cheese having rendered common sorts of cheese unprofitable.
They are usually cottagers. Of the married labouring women and the indoor
servants something has already been said. In most villages a seamstress or
two may be found, and has plenty of work to do for the farmers' families.
The better class of housekeepers, and those professional dairymaids who
superintend the making of superior cheese, are generally more or less
nearly related to the families of tenant-farmers.



The wise old saw that good wine needs no bush does not hold true in the
case of the labourer; it would require a very large bush indeed to attract
him to the best of beer offered for sale under legitimate conditions. In
fact, he cares not a rap about good beer--that is, intrinsically good, a
genuine product of malt and hops. He would rather grumble at it, unless,
perchance, it was a gift; and even then would criticise it behind the
donor's back, holding the quart cup aslant so as to see the bottom in one
place, and get a better view of the liquor. The great breweries whose
names are household words in cities, and whose interest it is to maintain
a high standard of quality for the delectation of their million consumers,
do not exalt their garish painted advertisements in gilded letters as tall
as Tom Thumb over the doors of village alehouses. You might call for Bass
at Cairo, Bombay, Sydney, or San Francisco, and Bass would be forthcoming.
But if you knocked the trestle-table with the bottom of a tankard (the
correct way) in a rural public, as a signal to the cellar you might call
for Bass in vain.

When the agricultural labourer drops in on his way home from his work of a
winter evening--heralding his approach by casting down a couple of logs or
bundle of wood which he has been carrying with a thud outside the door--he
does not demand liquor of that character. When in harvest time, after
sundown--when the shadows forbid farther cutting with the fagging hook at
the tall wheat--he sits on the form without, under the elm tree, and feels
a whole pocketful of silver, flush of money like a gold-digger at a
fortunate rush, he does not indulge in Allsopp or Guinness. He hoarsely
orders a 'pot' of some local brewer's manufacture--a man who knows exactly
what he likes, and arranges to meet the hardy digestion of the mower and
the reaper. He prefers a rather dark beer with a certain twang faintly
suggestive of liquorice and tobacco, with a sense of 'body,' a thickness
in it, and which is no sooner swallowed than a clammy palate demands a
second gulp to wash away the relics of the first. Ugh! The second requires
a third swig, and still a fourth, and appetite increasing with that it
feeds on, the stream rushes down the brazen throat that burns for more.

Like the Northern demi-god who drank unwittingly at the ocean from a horn
and could not empty it, but nevertheless caused the ebb of the sea, so our
toper, if he cannot contain the cask, will bring it down to the third hoop
if time and credit will but serve. It would require a ganger's staff to
measure his capacity--in fact, the limit of the labourer's liquor-power,
especially in summer, has never yet been reached. A man will lie on his
back in the harvest field, under a hedge sweet with the June roses that
smile upon the hay, and never move or take his lips away till a gallon has
entered into his being, for it can hardly be said to be swallowed. Two
gallons a day is not an uncommon consumption with men who swing the scythe
or reaping-hook.

This of course is small beer; but the stuff called for at the low public
in the village, or by the road just outside, though indescribably nauseous
to a non-vitiated palate, is not 'small.' It is a heady liquid, which if
anyone drinks, not being accustomed to it, will leave its effects upon him
for hours afterwards. But this is what the labourer likes. He prefers
something that he can feel; something that, if sufficiently indulged in,
will make even his thick head spin and his temples ache next morning. Then
he has had the value of his money. So that really good ale would require a
very large bush indeed before it attracted his custom.

It is a marked feature of labouring life that the respectable inn of the
village at which the travelling farmer, or even persons higher in rank,
occasionally call, which has a decent stable, and whose liquors are of a
genuine character, is almost deserted by the men who seek the reeking tap
of the ill-favoured public which forms the clubhouse of all the vice of
the village. While the farmer or passing stranger, calling at the decent
house really for refreshment, drinks but a glass or two and departs, the
frequenters of the low place never quit their seats till the law compels
them, so that for sixpence spent in the one by men with cheque-books in
their pockets, five shillings are spent in the other by men who have not
got a loaf of bread at home for their half-starving children and pinched
wife. To an unprincipled landlord clearly this sort of custom is decidedly
preferable, and thus it is that these places are a real hardship to the
licensed victualler whose effort it is to keep an orderly house.

The influence of the low public upon the agricultural labourer's life is
incalculable--it is his club, almost his home. There he becomes
brutalised; there he spends his all; and if he awakes to the wretched
state of his own family at last, instead of remembering that it is his own
act, he turns round, accuses the farmer of starvation wages, shouts for
what is really Communism, and perhaps even in his sullen rage descends to
crime. Let us go with him into such a rural den.

Beware that you do not knock your head against the smoke-blackened beams
of the low ceiling, and do not put your elbow carelessly on the deal
table, stained with spilled ale, left uncleaned from last night, together
with little heaps of ashes, tapped out from pipes, and spots of grease
from the tallow candles. The old-fashioned settles which gave so cosy an
air in the olden time to the inn room, and which still linger in some of
the houses, are not here--merely forms and cheap chairs. A great pot hangs
over the fire, for the family cooking is done in the public apartment; but
do not ask to join in the meal, for though the food may be more savoury
than is dreamed of in your philosophy, the two-grained forks have not been
cleaned these many a day. Neither is the butcher's wooden skewer, just
extracted from the meat, an elegant toothpick if you are fastidious.

But these things are trifles when the dish is a plump pheasant, jugged
hare, brown partridges, or trout--perhaps not exactly in season--as the
chance may be; or a couple of boiled fowls, or a turkey, or some similar
toothsome morsel. Perhaps it is the gamey taste thus induced that enables
them to enjoy joints from the butcher which are downright tainted, for it
is characteristic of the place and people on the one hand to dine on the
very best, as above, and yet to higgle over a halfpenny a pound at the
shop. Nowhere else in all the parish, from the polished mahogany at the
squire's mansion to the ancient solid oaken table at the substantial
old-fashioned farmer's, can there be found such a constant supply of food
usually considered as almost the privilege of the rich. Bacon, it is true,
they eat of the coarsest kind; but with it eggs new laid and delicious. In
brief, it is the strangest hodge-podge of pheasant and bread and cheese,
asparagus and cabbage. But somehow, whatever is good, whatever is held in
estimation, makes its appearance in that grimy little back room on that
ragged, dirty table-cloth.

Who pays for these things? Are they paid for at all? There is no licensed
dealer in game in the village nor within many miles, and it seems passing
strange. But there are other things almost as curious. The wood pile in
the back yard is ever high and bulky; let the fire burn never so clear in
the frosty days there is always a regular supply of firewood. It is the
same with coal. Yet there is no copse attached to the place, nor is the
landlord ever seen chopping for himself, nor are the farmers in the habit
of receiving large orders for logs and faggots. By the power of some magic
spell all things drift hitherward. A magnet which will draw logs of timber
and faggots half across the parish, which will pull pheasants off their
perch, extract trout from the deep, and stay the swift hare in midst of
her career, is a power indeed to be envied. Had any enchanter of mediaeval
days so potent a charm?

Perhaps it is the engaging and attractive character of the landlord
himself. He is a tall, lanky man, usually seen in slippers, and trousers
too short for his limbs; he 'sloppets' about in his waistcoat and
shirt-sleeves, hands in pockets, and shoulders forward almost in a hump.
He hangs about the place, now bringing in a log, now carrying a bucket,
now spinning a mop, now slouching down the garden to feed the numerous
fowls that scratch around the stumps of cabbages. Anything, in short, but
work. Sometimes, however, he takes the trap and horse, and is supposed to
be gone on a dealing expedition. Sometimes it is only to carry a jar of
beer up to the men in the field, and to mouch a good armful of fresh-cut
clover for provender from the swathe. He sips gin the live-long day--weak
gin always--every hour from morn till a cruel Legislature compels the
closing of the shutters. He is never intoxicated--it is simply a habit, a
sort of fuel to feed the low cunning in which his soul delights. So far
from intoxication is he, that there is a fable of some hard knocks and ill
usage, and even of a thick head being beaten against the harder stones of
the courtyard behind, when the said thick head was helpless from much ale.
Such matters are hushed up in the dark places of the earth. So far from
intoxication is he, that he has the keenest eye to business.

There is a lone rick-yard up in the fields yonder to which the carters
come from the farm far away to fetch hay, and straw, and so forth. They
halt at the public, and are noticed to enjoy good living there, nor are
they asked for their score. A few trusses of hay, or bundles of straw, a
bushel of corn, or some such trifle is left behind merely out of
good-fellowship. Waggons come up laden with tons of coal for the farms
miles above, far from a railway station; three or four teams, perhaps, one
after the other. Just a knob or two can scarcely be missed, and a little
of the small in a sack-bag. The bundles of wood thrown down at the door by
the labourers as they enter are rarely picked up again; they disappear,
and the hearth at home is cold. The foxes are blamed for the geese and the
chickens, and the hunt execrated for not killing enough cubs, but Reynard
is not always guilty. Eggs and poultry vanish. The shepherds have ample
opportunities for disposing of a few spare lambs to a general dealer whose
trap is handy. Certainly, continuous gin does not chill the faculties.

If a can of ale is left in the outhouse at the back and happens to be
found by a few choice spirits at the hour when the vicar is just
commencing his sermon in church on Sunday, it is by the purest accident.
The turnip and swede greens left at the door, picked wholesale from the
farmers' fields; the potatoes produced from coat pockets by fingers which
have been sorting heaps at the farmstead; the apples which would have been
crushed under foot if the labourers had not considerately picked them
up--all these and scores of other matters scarce worth naming find their
way over that threshold. Perhaps the man is genial, his manners enticing,
his stories amusing, his jokes witty? Not at all. He is a silent fellow,
scarce opening his mouth except to curse the poor scrub of a maid servant,
or to abuse a man who has not paid his score. He slinks in and lights his
pipe, smokes it silently, and slinks out again. He is the octopus of the
hamlet, fastening on the cottage homes and sucking the life-blood from
them. He misses nothing, and nothing comes amiss to him.

His wife, perhaps, then, may be the centre of attraction? She is a short,
stout woman, whose cheeks as she walks wobble with fat, whose face is ever
dirty, and dress (at home) slatternly. But mayhap her heart is in the
right place, and when Hodge is missed from his accustomed seat by the fire
of an evening, when it is bruited abroad that he is down with illness,
hurriedly slips on her bonnet, and saying nothing, carries a basket of
good things to cheer the inner man? Or, when his wife is confined, perhaps
she brings some little delicacies, a breast of pheasant, a bottle of port
wine, and strengthens her with motherly counsel in the hour of her
travail. Is this so? Hodge's wife could tell you that the cottage door has
never been darkened by her presence: that she indeed would not acknowledge
her if passed by chance on the road. For the landlady sails forth to the
adjacent town in all the glory of those fine feathers that proverbially
make the fine bird.

It is a goodly spectacle to see her in rustling ample silk, in costly
sealskin, in a bonnet 'loud' but rich, shading a countenance that glows
ruddy red as a furnace. A gold chain encircles her portly neck, with a
gold watch thereto attached; gold rings upon her fingers, in one of which
sparkles a brilliant diamond; gold earrings, gold brooch, kid gloves
bursting from the fatness of the fingers they encase. The dingy trap and
limping rawboned hack which carry her to the outskirts of the town
scarcely harmonise with so much glory. But at the outskirts she alights,
and enters the street in full dignity. By some potent alchemy the sweat of
Hodge's brow has become condensed into that sparkling diamond, which is
disclosed when the glove is drawn off in the shops, to the admiration of
all beholders.

Or, if not the wife, perhaps it may be the daughter who is the magnet that
draws the very timber across the parish? She is not ill-looking, and might
pass muster in her best dress were it not for a squareness of build, like
the set of a man rather than the full curves associated with woman. She is
rarely seen in the house at all, and neither talks to the men nor the
women who enter. She sallies forth at night, and her friends are the
scampish among the sons of the lower class of tenant-farmers.

This is the family. How strange and yet how undeniable is it that such a
house should attract the men whose self-interest, one would imagine, would
lead them to shun it, and if they must spend their hard-won earnings, at
least to get a good article for their money! It proves that an appeal to
reason is not always the way to manage the working man. Such a low house
is always a nest of agitation: there the idle, drunken, and
ill-conditioned have their rendezvous, there evil is hatched, and from
there men take their first step on the road that leads to the gaol. The
place is often crowded at night--there is scarcely room to sit or stand,
the atmosphere is thick with smoke, and a hoarse roar of jarring voices
fills it, above which rises the stave of a song shouted in one unvarying
key from some corner. Money pours in apace--the draughts are deep, and
long, and frequent, the mugs are large, the thirst insatiate. The takings,
compared with the size and situation of the house, must be high, and yet,
with all this custom and profit, the landlord and his family still grovel.
And grovel they will in dirt, vice, low cunning, and iniquity--as the
serpent went on his belly in the dust--to the end of their days.

Why do these places exist? Because in England justice is ever tempered
with mercy; sometimes with too much mercy. The resident squire and
magistrate knows the extent of the evil only too well. He sees it with his
own eyes in the village; he sees it brought before him on the bench; the
clergyman tells him of it, so do the gamekeeper and the policeman. His
tenants complain of it. He is perpetually reminded of it, and of what it
may ultimately mean as these places become the centres of communistic
propagandas. But though perfectly aware of the evil, to suppress it is
quite another matter.

First, you must find the power, and then, having the power, the question
arises, is it wise to exercise it? Though the men who frequent such dens
are often of the lowest type, or on their way to that condition, they are
not all of that character. Men of a hard-working and honest stamp go there
as well. All have their rights alike--rights and liberties which must be
held sacred even at some disadvantage. In short, the reprobate nature of
the place may be established, but while it is the chosen resort of the
people, or of a section of them, unless some great and manifest harm
arises it cannot be touched. The magistrate will willingly control it as
far as lies in his province, but unless directly instructed by the
Legislature he cannot go farther. The truth is, it lies with the labourer
himself. He is not obliged to visit there. A respectable inn may be found
in every village if he desires that wholesome conviviality which, when it
does not overstep certain bounds, forms a bond between man and man. Were
such low houses suddenly put down, what an outcry would be raised of
favouritism, tyranny, and so on! When the labourer turns against them
himself, he will speedily find powerful friends to assist in attaining the

If ever a man deserved a good glass of beer it is the agricultural
labourer upon the conclusion of his day's work, exposed as he is to the
wear and tear of the elements. After following the slow plough along the
furrows through the mist; after tending the sheep on the hills where the
rain beats with furious energy; after grubbing up the tough roots of
trees, and splitting them with axe and wedge and mallet, a man may
naturally ask for refreshment. And it is equally natural that he should
desire to take it in the society of his fellows, with whom he can
associate freely and speak his mind unchecked. The glass of ale would not
hurt him; it is the insidious temptation proffered in certain quarters to
do evil for an extra quart. Nothing forms so strong a temptation as the
knowledge that a safe receiver is near at hand.

He must not be harshly judged because of the mere quantity he can take,
for a quart of ale to him is really no more than a glass of wine to the
'City' gentleman who lives delicately. He is to be pitied rather than
condemned, and aided out of the blunder rather than chastised. Punishment,
indeed, waits upon him only too doggedly, and overtakes him too quickly in
the shape of sorrows and privations at home. The evil lies not in the ale,
but in the character of the man that sold him the ale, and who is, at the
same time, the worst enemy of the legitimately-trading innkeeper. No one,
indeed, has better cause than the labourer to exclaim, 'Save me from my
friends!' To do the bulk of the labourers bare justice it must be stated
that there is a certain bluff honesty and frankness among them, a rude
candour, which entitles them to considerable respect as a body. There are
also men here and there whose strength of character would certainty have
obtained favourable acknowledgment had their lot been cast in a higher
rank of life. But, at the same time, the labourer is not always so
innocent and free from guile--so lamblike as it suits the purpose of some
to proclaim, in order that his rural simplicity may secure sympathy. There
are very queer black sheep in the flock, and it rather unfortunately
happens that these, in more ways than one, force themselves, sometimes
most unpleasantly, upon the notice of the tenant-farmer and the landlord.

A specimen or two may easily be selected from that circle of choice
manhood whose head-quarters are at the low 'public.' A tall, well-built
man stands forward, and at the first glance a stranger might take him for
a favourable example. He holds himself more upright than most of his
class, he is not ill-looking, and a marked air of deference towards those
who address him conveys rather a pleasing impression. He can read fairly
well and sign his name. This man, who is still young, began life as
carter's lad, in which occupation he had not been long engaged before the
horse-hair carefully accumulated as a perquisite disappeared. Whipcord and
similar small articles next vanished, and finally a handsome new whip.
This last, not being so easily disposed of, was traced to his possession
and procured him a sound thrashing. Some short time afterwards a carthorse
was found in the fields stabbed in several places, though, fortunately,
not severely. Having already the bad name that hangs the dog, he was
strongly suspected of this dastardly act in revenge for the thrashing from
the carter, and threat of dismissal from the employer. No evidence,
however, could be procured, and though he was sent about his business he
escaped punishment. As he grew older he fell in with a tribe of
semi-gipsies, and wandered in their company for a year or two, learning
their petty pilfering tricks. He then returned to agriculture labour, and,
notwithstanding the ill-flavour that clung about his doings, found no
difficulty in obtaining employment.

It is rare in agriculture for a man to be asked much about his character,
unless he is to be put into a position of some trust. In trades and
factories--on railways, too--an applicant for employment is not only
questioned, but has to produce evidence as to his immediate antecedents at
least. But the custom in farming prescribes no such checks; if the farmer
requires a man, the applicant is put on to work at once, if he looks at
all likely. This is especially the case in times of pressure, as when
there is a great deal of hoeing to be done, in harvest, and when extra
hands are wanted to assist in feeding the threshing machine. Then the
first that comes along the road is received, and scarcely a question
asked. The custom operates well enough in one way, since a man is nearly
sure of procuring employment, and encounters no obstacles; on the other
hand, there is less encouragement to preserve a good character. So the
fellow mentioned quickly got work when he applied for it, and went on
pretty steadily for a period. He then married, and speedily discovered the
true use of women--i.e. to work for idle men. The moment he learnt that he
could subsist upon her labour he ceased to make any effort, and passed his
time lounging about.

The wife, though neither handsome nor clever, was a hard-working person,
and supported herself and idle husband by taking in washing. Indignation
has often been expressed at the moral code of savages, which permits the
man to lie in his hammock while the woman cultivates the maize; but,
excepting the difference in the colour of the skin, the substitution of
dirty white for coppery redness, there is really no distinction. Probably
washing is of the two harder work than hoeing maize. The fellow 'hung
about,' and doubtless occasionally put in practice the tricks he had
acquired from his nomad friends.

The only time he worked was in the height of the harvest, when high wages
are paid. But then his money went in drink, and drink often caused him to
neglect the labour he had undertaken, at an important juncture when time
was of consequence. On one such occasion the employer lost his temper and
gave him a piece of his mind, ending by a threat of proceedings for breach
of contract. A night or two afterwards the farmer's rick-yard was ablaze,
and a few months later the incendiary found himself commencing a term of
penal servitude. There he was obliged to work, began to walk upright, and
acquired that peculiarly marked air of deference which at first contrasts
rather pleasantly with the somewhat gruff address of most labourers.
During his absence the wife almost prospered, having plenty of employment
and many kind friends. He signalised his return by administering a
thrashing--just to re-assert his authority--which, however, the poor woman
received with equanimity, remarking that it was only his way. He
recommenced his lounging life, working occasionally when money was to be
easily earned--for the convict stain does not prevent a man getting
agricultural employment--and spending the money in liquor. When tolerably
sober he is, in a sense, harmless; if intoxicated, his companions give him
the road to himself.

Now there is nothing exceptionally characteristic of the agricultural
labourer in the career of such a man. Members of other classes of the
working community are often sent to penal servitude, and sometimes men of
education and social position. But it is characteristic of agricultural
life that a man with the stigma of penal servitude can return and
encounter no overpowering prejudice against him. There are work and wages,
for him if he likes to take them. No one throws his former guilt in his
face. He may not be offered a place of confidence, nor be trusted with
money, as the upper labourers--carters for instance--sometimes are. But
the means of subsistence are open to him, and he will not be driven by the
memory of one crime to commit another.

There is no school of crime in the country. Children are not brought up
from the earliest age to beg and steal, to utter loquacious falsehood, or
entrap the benevolent with sham suffering. Hoary thieves do not keep
academies for the instruction of little fingers in the art of theft. The
science of burglary is unstudied. Though farmhouses are often situate in
the most lonely places a case of burglary rarely occurs, and if it does,
is still more rarely traced to a local resident. In such houses there is
sometimes a good deal of old silver plate, accumulated in the course of
generations--a fact that must be perfectly well known to the labouring
class, through the women indoor-servants. Yet such attempts are quite
exceptional. So, too, are robberies from the person with violence. Serious
crime is, indeed, comparatively scarce. The cases that come before the
Petty Sessions are, for the most part, drunkenness, quarreling, neglect or
absenteeism from work, affiliation, petty theft, and so on.

The fact speaks well for the rural population; it speaks very badly for
such characters as the one that has been described. If he will not turn
into the path of honest labour, that is his own fault. The injury he does
is this, that he encourages others to be idle. Labouring men quit the
field under the influence of temporary thirst, or that desire for a few
minutes' change which is not in itself blameworthy. They enter the low
'public,' call for their quart, and intend to leave again immediately. But
the lazy fellow in the corner opens conversation, is asked to drink, more
is called for, there is a toss-up to decide who shall pay, in which the
idle adept, of course, escapes, and so the thing goes on. Such a man
becomes a cause of idleness, and a nuisance to the farmers.

Another individual is a huge, raw-boned, double-jointed giant of a man,
whose muscular strength must be enormous, but whose weakness is beer. He
is a good workman, and of a civil, obliging disposition. He will commence,
for instance, making drains for a farmer with the greatest energy, and in
the best of tempers. A drain requires some little skill. The farmer visits
the work day by day, and notes with approval that it is being done well.
But about the third or fourth day the clever workman, whose immense
strength makes the employment mere child's play to him, civilly asks for a
small advance of money. Now the farmer has no objection to that, but hands
it to him with some misgiving. Next morning no labourer is to be seen. The
day passes, and the next. Then a lad brings the intelligence that his
parent is just recovering from a heavy drinking bout and will be back
soon. There is the history of forty years!

The same incident is repeated once or twice a month all the year round.
Now it is a drain, now hedge-cutting, now hoeing, now haymaking, and now
reaping. Three or four days' work excellently performed; then a bed in a
ditch and empty pockets. The man's really vast strength carries him
through the prostration, and the knocks and bangs and tumbles received in
a helpless state. But what a life! The worst of it is the man is not a
reprobate--not a hang-dog, lounging rascal, but perfectly honest, willing
to oblige, harmless and inoffensive even when intoxicated, and skilful at
his labour. What is to be done with him? What is the farmer to do who has
only such men to rely on--perhaps in many cases--without this fellow's
honesty and good temper--qualities which constantly give him a lift? It is
simply an epitome of the difficulties too commonly met with in the
field--bright sunshine, good weather, ripe crops, and men half
unconscious, or quite, snoring under a hedge! There is no encouragement to
the tenant to pay high wages in experiences like this.

A third example is a rakish-looking lad just rising into manhood. Such
young men are very much in demand and he would not have the slightest
difficulty in obtaining employment, yet he is constantly out of work. When
a boy he began by summoning the carter where he was engaged for cuffing
him, charging the man with an assault. It turned out to be a trumpery
case, and the Bench advised his parents to make him return and fulfil his
contract. His parents thought differently of it. They had become imbued
with an inordinate sense of their own importance. They had a high idea of
the rights of labour; Jack, in short, was a good deal better than his
master, and must be treated with distinguished respect. The doctrines of
the Union countenanced the deduction; so the boy did not return. Another
place was found for him.

In the course of a few months he came again before the Bench. The
complaint was now one of wrongful dismissal, and a claim for a one pound
bonus, which by the agreement was to have been paid at the end of the year
if his conduct proved satisfactory. It was shown that his conduct had been
the reverse of satisfactory; that he refused to obey orders, that he
'cheeked' the carters, that he ran away home for a day or two, and was
encouraged in these goings on by the father. The magistrates, always on
the side of peace, endeavoured to procure a reconciliation, the farmer
even paid down the bonus, but it was of no use. The lad did not return.

With little variations the same game has continued ever since. Now it is
he that complains, now it is his new master; but any way there is always a
summons, and his face is as familiar in the court as that of the chairman.
His case is typical. What is a farmer to do who has to deal with a rising
generation full of this spirit?

Then there are the regular workhouse families, who are perpetually
applying for parochial relief. From the eldest down to the youngest member
they seem to have no stamina; they fall ill when all others are well, as
if afflicted with a species of paralysis that affects body, mind, and
moral sense at once. If the phrase may be used without irreverence, there
is no health in them. The slightest difficulty is sufficient to send an
apparently strong, hale man whining to the workhouse. He localises his
complaint in his foot, or his arm, or his shoulder; but, in truth, he does
not know himself what is the matter with him. The real illness is weakness
of calibre--a looseness of fibre. Many a labourer has an aching limb from
rheumatism, and goes to plough all the same; many a poor cottage woman
suffers from that prevalent agony, and bravely gets through her task, and
keeps her cottage tidy. But these people cannot do it--they positively
cannot. The summer brings them pain, the winter brings pain, their whole
life is one long appeal _ad misericordiam_.

The disease seems to spread with the multiplication of the family: the
sons have it, and the sons' sons after them, so much so that even to bear
the name is sufficient to stamp the owner as a miserable helpless being.
All human wretchedness is, of course, to be deeply commiserated, and yet
it is exasperating to see one man still doing his best under real trouble,
and another eating contentedly the bread of idleness when there seems
nothing wrong except a total lack of energy. The old men go to the
workhouse, the young men go, the women and the children; if they are out
one month the next sees their return. These again are but broken reeds to
rely upon. The golden harvest might rot upon the ground for all their
gathering, the grass wither and die as it stands, without the touch of the
scythe, the very waggons and carts fall to pieces in the sheds. There is
no work to be got out of them.

The village, too, has its rookery, though not quite in the same sense as
the city. Traced to its beginning, it is generally found to have
originated upon a waste piece of ground, where some squatters settled and
built their cabins. These, by the growth of better houses around, and the
rise of property, have now become of some value, not so much for the
materials as the site. To the original hovels additions have been made by
degrees, and fresh huts squeezed in till every inch of space is as closely
occupied as in a back court of the metropolis. Within the cottages are low
pitched, dirty, narrow, and contracted, without proper conveniences, or
even a yard or court.

The social condition of the inhabitants is unpleasant to contemplate. The
young men, as they grow up, arrive at an exaggerated idea of the value of
their parents' property--the cottage of three rooms--and bitter
animosities arise between them. One is accused of having had his share out
in money; another has got into trouble and had his fine paid for him; the
eldest was probably born before wedlock; so there are plenty of materials
for recrimination. Then one, or even two of them bring home a wife, or at
least a woman, and three families live beneath a single roof--with results
it is easy to imagine, both as regards bickering and immorality. They have
no wish to quit the place and enter cottages with better accommodation:
they might rent others of the farmers, but they prefer to be independent,
and, besides, will not move lest they should lose their rights. Very
likely a few lodgers are taken in to add to the confusion. As regularly as
clockwork cross summonses are taken out before the Bench, and then the
women on either side reveal an unequalled power of abuse and loquacity,
leaving a decided impression that it is six to one and half a dozen to the

These rookeries do not furnish forth burglars and accomplished
pickpockets, like those of cities, but they do send out a gang of lazy,
scamping fellows and coarse women, who are almost useless. If their
employer does not please them--if he points out that a waste of time has
taken place, or that something has been neglected--off they go, for,
having a hole to creep into, they do not care an atom whether they lose a
job or not. The available hands, therefore, upon whom the farmers can
count are always very much below the sum total of the able-bodied
population. There must be deducted the idle men and women, the drunkards,
the never satisfied, as the lad who sued every master; the workhouse
families, the rookery families, and those who every harvest leave the
place, and wander a great distance in search of exceptionally high wages.
When all these are subtracted, the residue remaining is often insufficient
to do the work of the farms in a proper manner. It is got through somehow
by scratch-packs, so to say--men picked up from the roads, aged men who
cannot do much, but whose energy puts the younger fellows to shame, lads
paid far beyond the value of the work they actually accomplish.

Work done in this way is, of course, incomplete and unsatisfactory, and
the fact supplies one of the reasons why farmers seem disinclined to pay
high wages. It is not because they object to pay well for hard work, but
because they cannot get the hard work. There is consequently a growing
reliance upon floating labour--upon the men and women who tramp round
every season--rather than on the resident population. Even in the absence
of any outward agitation--of a strike or open movement in that
direction--the farmer has considerable difficulties to contend with in
procuring labour. He has still further difficulties in managing it when he
has got it. Most labourers have their own peculiar way of finishing a job;
and however much that style of doing it may run counter to the farmer's
idea of the matter in hand, he has to let the man proceed after his own
fashion. If he corrected, or showed the man what he wanted, he would run
the risk of not getting it done at all. There is no one so thoroughly
obstinate as an ignorant labourer full of his own consequence. Giving,
then, full credit to those men whose honest endeavours to fulfil their
duty have already been acknowledged, it is a complete delusion to suppose
that all are equally manly.



The songs sung by the labourer at the alehouse or the harvest home are not
of his own composing. The tunes whistled by the ploughboy as he goes down
the road to his work in the dawn were not written for him. Green meads and
rolling lands of wheat--true fields of the cloth of gold--have never yet
inspired those who dwell upon them with songs uprising from the soil. The
solitude of the hills over whose tops the summer sun seems to linger so
long has not filled the shepherd's heart with a wistful yearning that must
be expressed in verse or music. Neither he nor the ploughman in the vale
have heard or seen aught that stirs them in Nature. The shepherd has never
surprised an Immortal reclining on the thyme under the shade of a hawthorn
bush at sunny noontide; nor has the ploughman seen the shadowy outline of
a divine huntress through the mist that clings to the wood across the

These people have no myths; no heroes. They look back on no Heroic Age, no
Achilles, no Agamemnon, and no Homer. The past is vacant. The have not
even a 'Wacht am Rhein' or 'Marseillaise' to chaunt in chorus with
quickened step and flashing eye. No; nor even a ballad of the hearth,
handed down from father to son, to be sung at home festivals, as a
treasured silver tankard is brought out to drink the health of a honoured
guest. Ballads there are in old books--ballads of days when the yew bow
was in every man's hands, and war and the chase gave life a colour; but
they are dead. A cart comes slowly down the road, and the labourer with it
sings as he jogs along; but, if you listen, it tells you nothing of wheat,
or hay, or flocks and herds, nothing of the old gods and heroes. It is a
street ditty such as you may hear the gutter arabs yelling in London, and
coming from a music hall.

So, too, in material things--in the affairs of life, in politics, and
social hopes--the labourer has no well-defined creed of race. He has no
genuine programme of the future; that which is put forward in his name is
not from him. Some years ago, talking with an aged labourer in a district
where at that time no 'agitation' had taken place, I endeavoured to get
from him something like a definition of the wants of his class. He had
lived many years, and worked all the while in the field; what was his
experience of their secret wishes? what was the Cottage Charter? It took
some time to get him to understand what was required; he had been ready
enough previously to grumble about this or that detail, but when it came
to principles he was vague. The grumbles, the complaints, and so forth,
had never been codified. However, by degrees I got at it, and very simple
it was:--Point 1, Better wages; (2) more cottages; (3) good-sized gardens;
(4) 'larning' for the children. That was the sum of the cottager's
creed--his own genuine aspirations.

Since then every one of these points has been obtained, or substantial
progress made towards it. Though wages are perhaps slightly lower or
rather stationary at the present moment, yet they are much higher than
used to be the case. At the same time vast importations of foreign food
keep the necessaries of life at a lower figure. The number of cottages
available has been greatly increased--hardly a landlord but could produce
accounts of sums of money spent in this direction. To almost all of these
large gardens are now attached. Learning for the children is provided by
the schools erected in every single parish, for the most part by the
exertions of the owners and occupiers of land.

Practically, therefore, the four points of the real Cottage Charter have
been attained, or as nearly as is possible. Why, then, is it that
dissatisfaction is still expressed? The reply is, because a new programme
has been introduced to the labourer from without. It originated in no
labourer's mind, it is not the outcome of a genuine feeling widespread
among the masses, nor is it the heartbroken call for deliverance issuing
from the lips of the poet-leader of a downtrodden people. It is totally
foreign to the cottage proper--something new, strange, and as yet scarcely
understood in its full meaning by those who nominally support it.

The points of the new Cottage Charter are--(1) The confiscation of large
estates; (2) the subdivision of land; (3) the abolition of the laws of
settlement of land; (4) the administration of the land by the authorities
of State; (5) the confiscation of glebe lands for division and
distribution; (6) the abolition of Church tithes; (7) extension of the
county franchise; (8) education gratis, free of fees, or payment of any
kind; (9) high wages, winter and summer alike, irrespective of season,
prosperity, or adversity. No. 6 is thrown in chiefly for the purpose of an
appearance of identity of interest between the labourer and the tenant
against the Church. Of late it has rather been the cue of the leaders of
the agitation to promote, or seem to promote, a coalition between the
labourer and the dissatisfied tenant, thereby giving the movement a more
colourable pretence in the eyes of the public. Few tenants, however
dissatisfied, have been deceived by the shallow device.

This programme emanated from no carter or shepherd, ploughman or fogger.
It was not thought out under the hedge when the June roses decked the
bushes; nor painfully written down on the deal table in the cottage while
the winter rain pattered against the window, and, coming down the wide
chimney, hissed upon the embers. It was brought to the cottage door from a
distance; it has been iterated and reiterated till at last some begin to
think they really do want all these things. But with the majority even now
the propaganda falls flat. They do not enter into the spirit of it. No. 9
they do understand; that appeals direct, and men may be excused if, with a
view which as yet extends so short a space around, they have not grasped
the fact that wages cannot by any artificial combination whatever be kept
at a high level. The idea of high wages brings a mass of labourers
together; they vote for what they are instructed to vote, and are thus
nominally pledged to the other eight points of the new charter Such a
conception as the confiscation and subdivision of estates never occurred
to the genuine labourers.

An aged man was listening to a graphic account of what the new state of
things would be like. There would be no squire, no parson, no woods or
preserves--all grubbed for cabbage gardens--no parks, no farmers. 'No
farmers,' said the old fellow, 'then who's to pay I my wages?' There he
hit the blot, no doubt. If the first four points of the new charter were
carried into effect, agricultural wages would no longer exist. But if such
a consummation depends upon the action of the cottager it will be a long
time coming. The idea did not originate with him--he cares nothing for
it--and can only be got to support it under the guise of an agitation for
wages. Except by persistent stirring from without he cannot be got to move
even then. The labourer, in fact, is not by any means such a fool as his
own leaders endeavour to make him out. He is perfectly well aware that the
farmer, or any person who stands in the position of the farmer, cannot pay
the same money in winter as in summer.

Two new cottages of a very superior character were erected in the corner
of an arable field, abutting on the highway. As left by the builders a
more uninviting spot could scarcely be imagined. The cottages themselves
were well designed and well built, but the surroundings were like a
wilderness. Heaps of rubbish here, broken bricks there, the ground
trampled hard as the road itself. No partition from the ploughed field
behind beyond a mere shallow trench enclosing what was supposed to be the
garden. Everything bleak, unpromising, cold, and unpleasant. Two families
went into these cottages, the men working on the adjoining farm. The
aspect of the place immediately began to change. The rubbish was removed,
the best of it going to improve the paths and approaches; a quick-set
hedge was planted round the enclosure. Evening after evening, be the
weather what it might, these two men were in that garden at work--after a
long day in the fields. In the dinner hour even they sometimes snatched a
few minutes to trim something. Their spades turned over the whole of the
soil, and planting commenced. Plots were laid out for cabbage, plots for
potatoes, onions, parsnips.

Then having provided necessaries for the immediate future they set about
preparing for extras. Fruit trees--apple, plum, and damson--were planted;
also some roses. Next beehives appeared and were elevated on stands and
duly protected from the rain. The last work was the building of
pigsties--rude indeed and made of a few slabs--but sufficient to answer
the purpose. Flowers in pots appeared in the windows, flowers appeared
beside the garden paths. The change was so complete and so quickly
effected I could hardly realise that so short a time since there had been
nothing there but a blank open space. Persons travelling along the road
could not choose but look on and admire the transformation.

I had often been struck with the flourishing appearance of cottage
gardens, but then those gardens were of old date and had reached that
perfection in course of years. But here the thing seemed to grow up under
one's eyes. All was effected by sheer energy. Instead of spending their
evenings wastefully at 'public,' these men went out into their gardens and
made what was a desert literally bloom. Nor did they seem conscious of
doing anything extraordinary, but worked away in the most matter-of-fact
manner, calling no one's attention to their progress. It would be hard to
say which garden of the two showed the better result. Their wives are
tidy, their children clean, their cottages grow more cosy and homelike day
by day; yet they work in the fields that come up to their very doors, and
receive nothing but the ordinary agricultural wages of the district.

This proves what can be done when the agricultural labourer really wants
to do it. And in a very large number of cases it must further be admitted
that he does want to do it, and succeeds. If any one when passing through
a rural district will look closely at the cottages and gardens he will
frequently find evidence of similar energy, and not unfrequently of
something approaching very nearly to taste. For why does the labourer
train honeysuckle up his porch, and the out-of-door grape up the southern
end of his house? Why does he let the houseleek remain on the roof; why
trim and encourage the thick growth of ivy that clothes the chimney?
Certainly not for utility, nor pecuniary profit. It is because he has some
amount of appreciation of the beauty of flowers, of vine leaf, and green
ivy. Men like these are the real backbone of our peasantry. They are not
the agitators; it is the idle hang-dogs who form the disturbing element in
the village.

The settled agricultural labourer, of all others, has the least inducement
to strike or leave his work. The longer he can stay in one place the
better for him in many ways. His fruit-trees, which he planted years ago,
are coming to perfection, and bear sufficient fruit in favourable years
not only to give him some variety of diet, but to bring in a sum in hard
cash with which to purchase extras. The soil of the garden, long manured
and dug, is twice as fertile as when he first disturbed the earth. The
hedges have grown high, and keep off the bitter winds. In short, the place
is home, and he sits under his own vine and fig-tree. It is not to his
advantage to leave this and go miles away. It is different with the
mechanic who lives in a back court devoid of sunshine, hardly visited by
the fresh breeze, without a tree, without a yard of earth to which to
become attached. The factory closes, the bell is silent, the hands are
discharged; provided he can get fresh employment it matters little. He
leaves the back court without regret, and enters another in a distant
town. But an agricultural labourer who has planted his own place feels an
affection for it. The young men wander and are restless; the middle-aged
men who have once anchored do not like to quit. They have got the four
points of their own genuine charter; those who would infuse further vague
hopes are not doing them any other service than to divert them from the

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