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It occurred, that on the same evening, the stranger, pleading increased lameness, kept his apartment, into which Amy carried his tea. He remarked that her air was that of deep dejection, and that she had recently been in tears. On one occasion their eyes met, and she beheld him gazing upon her with an expression of kindness and sympathy, of which she had scarcely believed his rigid countenance susceptible. "What has happened, my pretty maid, that you look so sorrowful?" said he, in a tone of almost paternal tenderness. "Alas, sir!" said the afflicted girl, "my poor father has long been struggling with hard times and a heavy rent, and, being unable to raise the sum due at the last quarter, they are going to put an execution, I think they call it, on the premises, and turn him out of the house. 1 do not care so much for myself, but for my poor father and mother to be cast upon the wide world, in their old age, without a shilling, and, it may be> without a friend to help them—oh, sir! it is hard, it is very hard |" and she burst into tears.
The stranger drew out his handkerchief, and, passing it over his face, complained of the closeness of the evening, and walked to the window for air; then, returning to Amy, he took her hand. "Nay, my poor girl," continued he," be comforted; things may not come to so bad a pass as you anticipate; your landlord, from all that I know and have heard of his character, is not a man to push matters to extremities with so old and honest a tenant as your father." "Alas, sir!" rejoined Amy, "the landlord, though they say he is far from being a bad-hearted man, lives abroad, and cannot, at that distance, know an honest tenant from a dishonest one. Besides, he leaves every thing to his steward, and he is a very wicked man, sir.''
She was proceeding unreservedly to describe to him the situation of her father, and the motives and conduct of the steward, when the door was opened, and Robert Hawkhurst entered the room. He started on perceiving the stranger seated by the side of his Amy, holding her hand, and wiping the tears from her cheeks with his handkerchief. "I beg pardon, I intrude," said the young man, as his brow became flushed, and he was precipitately quitting the room, when the stranger exclaimed, "Stop, sir!" in a tone of voice which startled Amy, while it arrested Robert in his progress towards the door.
The stranger walked across the room, with a firmness of step which did not quite agree with his recent plea of increased lameness, and, taking the young man by the arm, he drew, or rather dragged him, towards the window, and said, " I pray you, sir, to take the benefit of the little daylight that is left, and tell me if you do not think me a very likely personage to inspire the tender passion in the heart of a'pretty damsel of nineteen. No, no, sir, my limbs are too old and too stiff, to lead so young a partner down the dance of life." Then, perceiving that the young gentleman was somewhat ashamed of the unfounded, though very natural suspicion that had crossed his mind, the senior added, "Go to, thou jealouspated boy! surely an old man may offer consolation to a fair maiden in her distress, although he may not be so successful in the attempt as a young one whom I could name. Come, come, I know all about it: the next time you make love under my window, do not talk quite so loudly as you did the other night."
The stranger then quitted the room, pleading a desire to breathe a little fresh air before he retired to bed. On his return, in passing through the hall, he saw Andrew Hodson upon his knees, with an open book before him, and his fine countenance lifted towards heaven in the act of prayer, while his family and domestics were kneeling around him. Unwilling to disturb them, the stranger did not advance into the room so as to be seen; but, as he contemplated the group, he could not help thinking that there must surely be something more in religion than his philosophy had ascribed to it, since it could inspire with calmness, and even thankfulness and resignation, a family who were upon the brink of ruin, and who might on the morrow, like the Saviour in whom they trusted, have not where to lay their heads. "And these," thought he, " are they whom, under circumstances in which I should rather have been grateful to providence for the preservation of my life, I stung with reproaches for what they could neither foresee nor prevent."
As he was passing on towards his bed-room, at the conclusion of the prayers, the farmer came up to him, and informed him of the calamity which was impending, intimating that it would be advisable for the stranger to depart early in the morning, as his horse would be included in the seizure which was expected to be made, under the execution, about noon. "I thank you, Mr Hodson," was the reply, " for your friendly caution, but never mind the horse. You sheltered me in my misfortune, and I will not desert you in yours. I cannot help you out in the payment of your rent, for my purse, you see," continued he, producing it, "is somewhat of the lightest; but I will wait the event, and, if I cannot avert the storm, I will try to comfort you under it. By the way, farmer, a word with you: these retainers of the law will make clean work of it when they come. That steward, if report belie him not, has the eye and the rapacity of a hawk. They will not leave you so much as a wooden ladle. Now I see you have some valuable articles of plate;—that vase, for instance." "Sir!" exclaimed Andrew inquiringly, having never before heard of such a thing. "1 mean the cup and cover there," explained the other. "Ay," replied Andrew, "it was won by my grandfather at a ploughing match: it will grieve me to part from it." "No doubt it would," said the stranger; "there are those tankards, too,—that ladle,—those massive old-fashioned spoons: they are all very portable." "Well, sir?" said the farmer, not understanding the stranger's drift. "How dull you are!" rejoined the other, touching him with his elbow. "How easy would it be to get these things out of the way. You could confide them to some friend, or relative—your mother earth, for instance—until the sweeping hurricane of the law has blown over. You understand me now, do you not?" "Sir," replied the farmer, "you mean well enough, 1 dare say, but you do not know old Andrew Hodson, or you would not have made such a proposal to him." "Tush, man! the thing is done every day.'' "I am sorry for it, sir, because the world must be much worse than I took it to be. The debt is just, though my creditor is a hard one, and 1 will pay him as far as the things will go." "But I maintain that the debt is not a just one. Is not the rent much higher than is warranted by the value of the land?" said the stranger. "No matter, 1 agreed to pay it." "You are too scrupulous by half." "Now, what do you suppose, sir, my neighbours would think of me, if I were to follow your advice?" "Tut, tut, who will know any thing of the matter but you and I?" "God Almighty, sir!" said the farmer. "But consider, my good man," continued the stranger, "there may be enough to pay your rent without these articles, the value of which would set you up in the world again; for remember, these harpies will take every thing away from you." "No, they won't: they can't take my wife, nor my children, nor my good name; and I would not part with one of them for all the gold that was ever coined." "You will not be guided by my counsel, then, and remove the plate?" said the stranger. "No, not a teaspoon of it," was the positive reply. "Then I can only say," added the other, snatching up his candle, and hastening to bed, "that you are, without exception, the most obstinate, impracticable, honest old man I ever met with, and I must forswear your company."
The morning arrived on which the storm, which had been so long gathering, was to break over the heads of the devoted farmer and his family, who were stirring unusually early. In fact, the expectation of the catastrophe had allowed them to sleep but little, as their looks, when they assembled at the breakfast-table, plainly indicated. The stranger also had quitted his bed an hour before his wont, and betrayed great restlessness in his manner, for he walked to the window, which commanded the road, every five minutes, as if watching for the arrival of the expected but unwelcome visitors.
Giles Jenkins was in advance of his myrmidons a quarter of an hour's march, and, taking the farmer apart, said to him, " Master Hodson, I did not threaten you without the power to execute. The officers will be here in a few minutes, which you will do well to use in reconsidering my proposal. Give me your daughter, and not only shall every thing about you remain as it is, but the possession of it shall be secured to you for many years.'' The farmer, losing his patience at the repetition of the insulting proposal, shook off the tempter (who in his earnestness had taken him by the arm), and said, " Villain, do your worst, for not for all you are going to take away from me—no, not for all your master's money, twice told, will I sell my lamb to the wolf." "Dotard," rejoined the steward, "you have pronounced your doom, and I go to fulfil it;" and, quitting the farmer, he conferred with his followers, who by this time had joined him, and they proceeded in their duty by taking an inventory of the farming stock, before they began upon the household furniture.
Robert Hawkhurst arrived shortly afterwards, and assisted the stranger in his endeavours to console the afflicted family. One of the domestics at length informed them that the officers were coming into the house to finish their task, when the stranger betrayed some little agitation, and retired to that part of the room in which he was least likely to attract observation. He had scarcely time to effect this, before the steward and his retainers, entered, and proceeded in their ungracious office without the slightest respect to the feelings of the sufferers. Giles Jenkins, in particular, appeared to exult in the exercise of his authority, and to take a pleasure in witnessing the distress which his cruelty had occasioned. The silver vase, before alluded to, was standing on a kind of sideboard in the apartment. The steward, who was about to remove it, had no sooner laid his fingers on it, than the voice of the stranger was heard exclaiming, " JUr Jenkins, I'll thank you to let that cup alone, for I like it very well where it is."
The steward withdrew his hand from the vessel, as if it had been of heated iron. He turned as pale as death, his red nose,like alive ember on a heap of ashes, adding to the ghastliness of his countenance. In the language of the poet,
"Steteruntque comae, etvox faucibus hsesit;"
and he looked about in all directions, as if he thought the person, from whom the voice proceeded, was as likely to drop from the clouds, or start out of the earth, as to make his appearance from any other quarter. The stranger at last arose from his seat, and with a dignity which none of the family had before observed him to assume, he advanced into the middle of the room, and confronted the steward; who, somewhat recovering from his surprise, and glancing at the other's bandaged leg, said, with an affectation of great concern, " My lord, I grieve to see your lordship so lame." "You mistake, you abominable old hypocrite and measureless liar," said the earl; "a fortnight's residence in this house has cured me of my lameness, and my blindness too, and, having recovered the use of my own eyes, I shall have no further occasion for yours." "My lord!" stammered the steward. "Your lord no longer," said the earl, interrupting him: "how dared you, sir, for the gratification of your diabolical passions, abuse the powers with which I intrusted you, and oppress this worthy man, in direct contravention of my injunction that you should, on no account, distrain upon a tenant, unless he were a fraudulent one. Now, be pleased to relieve me of your presence, taking with you these two worthy associates; and, do you hear me, sir, let your accounts be made up with all despatch, for I shall shortly reckon with you." Then, addressing himself to the farmer, he continued: *' Mr Hodson, I am very sorry for the trouble which this unfortunate affair has occasioned you. It was necessary, however, that I should have such evidence of that man's baseness. For yourself, I can only say, that your arrear is remitted, your present lease shall be cancelled, and substituted by another, at such a rent, that it shall not be my fault if you do not thrive again. I owe you thus much for the lesson you have taught me of resignation under unmerited calamity, as well as for the instance you have given me of uncompromising integrity, under circumstances of temptation that very few would have withstood. I pray you to forgive me for the experiment I made on your honour in the matter of the plate. It is refreshing to me, in my old age, to meet with such examples in a world which, I fear, I have hitherto regarded on the darker side. Your kindness, Mrs Hodson, and yours, Amy, to a petulant old man, I shall not forget; nor your honourable adherence to your mistress and her family in their adversity, Mr Robert. Of you, Frank, I have a favour to beg; you must give me that terrier of yours, to which I am primarily indebted for my introduction to this house, and for the advantages which have resulted to me from it."
The earl, after taking a kind leave of the circle he had thus made happy, mounted his horse and departed to his mansion, from which he had been so long absent, and to which he was returning when he met with the accident already related. The occurrences which followed so unauspicious an event, produced a most beneficial effect