« AnteriorContinuar »
and the Abruzzi, whose fingers, by the way, are more familiar with the trigger of a musket, than the handle of a plough.
There was in my neighbourhood a farm-house which was remarkable, as well for the peculiarity of its structure, as the very beautiful country by which it was surrounded. It was a very extensive building, and of a style of architecture quite distinct from any that prevails in houses of that description. It presented (I know not if I shall make myself understood by the terms I use) he appearance of three gables in front, on the centre one of which rose a staff or spire, very much resembling a sceptre. Hence, I suppose, originated a tradition, current in the country, that the structure was formerly the residence of a Saxon prince. I am not sufficient of an antiquarian to venture an opinion upon the correctness of the hypothesis, but certain it is, the building was a very ancient one. The principal apartment on the ground floor was a spacious brick-paved hall, extending from the front of the house to the back, and communicating with other rooms on either side. It was decorated with the horns of the stag and the buck, which had grown black with age, and the smoke proceeding from a very large fire-place, graced by brand irons, to support the wood which was the only description of fuel consumed throughout the house. The upper rooms opened into a long gallery or corridor, ornamented by some very antique and curious carved work in black oak, of which the pannels and flooring were generally composed. The surrounding buildings, appropriated as barns and stables, were of comparatively recent erection. There were two fish-ponds, apparently of ancient formation, within a few hundred yards of the house: one of them was tolerably stocked, the other was nearly dry. The circumjacent scenery was chiefly of a sylvan character, occasionally opening into vistas of an undulating and highly cultivated country; the effect of which was considerably heightened by the windings of a rapid and clear stream, celebrated for the fineness and abundance of its trout.
The farm was of considerable extent, and formed part of the estate of a nobleman who had large possessions in the county, but who rarely visited them. As a young man, he was conspicuous for the generosity of his disposition, a nice sense of honour, and the mildness and affability of his manners. His classical and intellectual attainments were of a high order; and his wit, like Yorick's, was wont to "set the table in a roar." He formed an attachment to a young lady, who, a month before the day fixed for their union, suddenly, and without assigning a reason for the alteration in her sentiments, married a nobleman of higher rank. He received the intelligence of her faithlessness without uttering a syllable, or betraying an indication of anger or sorrow; nor was he ever known to allude to the subject: but, from that hour, he was a changed man. He withdrew entirely from female society, and became a member of a fashionable club, where a great portion of his time was passed. He engaged for a season in play; but, although his losses were insignificant, he soon grew disgusted with the pursuit and his companions. He then plunged deeply into polities, and was constant in his attendance at the House; but the vacuum in his mind was too vast to be filled by such expedients. He then quitted England, and travelled rapidly through France, Italy, and Germany, but could not outstrip the phantom that pursued him. At length he took up his residence entirely on the Continent, and thus his talents were lost to his country, whose senate he had so often charmed by his eloquence, and enlightened by his wisdom.
The management of his estates, in the meantime, was confided to his steward, Mr Giles Jenkins; a man who, although he would have made a grenadier among Lilliputians, was but a Lilliputian among grenadiers, being in stature exactly five feet two inches. His sallow complexion and forbidding aspect were by no means improved by an obliquity of vision, and a red nose, which latter decoration was obtained at the expense of his temperance. He had been originally bred to the law, to the tortuosities of which his mind was admirably adapted. Diminutive as was his person, there was room enough in his bosom for the operation of some of the fiercest passions that deform humanity. His indomitable arrogance, grasping avarice, and insatiable revenge, made him the terror of all who were subjected to his influence, particularly of the tenants among whom he exercised the most tyrannical sway. He was, moreover, a consummate hypocrite, and, as far as regarded his master, a successful one.
The farm, at the period of which I am writing, was tenanted by Andrew Hodson, whose ancestors had cultivated the same soil for more than a century.
Andrew had passed his fiftieth year; but the temperance of his habits, and the healthful nature of his employment, had protected him, in a great degree, from the inroads of time, and gave him the appearance of being much younger. His complexion exhibited the ruddy hue of health; and, although naturally fair, was imbrowned by the sun of many summers. His hair, as I have often remarked in persons engaged in agricultural pursuits, was somewhat scanty; a circumstance which, as it imparted a semblance of greater expansiveness to his forehead, improved rather than detracted from the general effect of his fine countenance. He was tall and well formed, although, probably from having in his early days taken an active share in the labours of the field, he had contracted a slight stoop in his shoulders. His eye, though of a light blue, which is generally considered indicative rather of vivacity than sense, was not deficient in intelligence; while it added to the expression of that benevolence which had its home in his heart. His usual dress was a gaberdine, or linen frock, which was, however, laid aside on a Sunday for more befitting habiliments.
Andrew's wife, who had been pretty, and was then a very comely dame, was somewhat younger than himself. Her domestic virtues and acquirements were admirably adapted for a farmer's wife; and, although a shrewd, she was a very kind-hearted woman. They had two children, a son and a daughter; the former about one and twenty, and the latter two years younger.
Frank Hodson, very like his father in person, was an industrious, good humoured lad; and, when dressed in a smart green riding frock, light corduroy breeches, and long leather gaiters, or leggings, as they are called, was a very likely object to draw a second look from the village maidens, or even from dames of higher degree, as, mounted on his rough-coated forester, he passed on his way to the market town.
Of Amy Hodson, I fear I shall be able to give but an inadequate description. I am, at best, but a sorry hand at depicting female beauty, and I know I shall fail in the portraiture of hers. Although I have not a larger share of modesty than my neighbours, I know not how it is, but 1 never could look a lady long enough in the face to catch such an idea of her beauty, as to bring a description of it within any thing like an approximation to the original. I am not, it would seem, altogether singular in this particular, with regard to Amy Hodson; for even the sun, who, by his heathen alias, was not conspicuous for the unobtrusive quality I have named, had not turned his glances with sufficient pertinacity on her countenance, to sully the delicacy of the lily which Nature had there planted by the rose.
Those who, in their estimate of a rustic belle, are unable to separate the idea of vulgarity from the character, would do gross injustice to Amy Hodson, both as regards the style of her beauty, and the gentleness of manner by which it was graced. Nature is no respecter of persons; and, in the formation of our race, has little reference to the stations we are destined to fill; since she as often bestows the fair heritage of beauty on the child of a peasant as on the heiress of a peer. Nor am I aware of any thing in the habits or occupation of a farmer's daughter, which has not a tendency rather to improve than to impair the symmetry of the form. Amy rose with the lark, breathing as sweet a hymn to the portals of heaven, and returning the first glance of Aurora with an eye as bright, and a smile as rosy as her own. Nor is Nature always aristocratic in dispensing understanding, and Amy's was an excellent one, on which the few advantages she had derived in point of education had not been thrown away.
The family, parents and children, were bound together, not only by links of the strongest affection, but by the firmer bands of religion, of which they had all a deep and influential sense. The voice of contention was never heard in their dwelling.
Andrew Hodson for many years had prospered in the world, but on the expiration of the lease, which had descended to him from his father, a reluctance to quit a spot which so many recollections had endeared to him, induced him to take the farm at a rent above its value; so that, instead of saving money every year as he was wont to do, he began to find it a losing concern. At length, however, the failure of a provincial banker deprived him of the few hundreds he had laid by, and placed him in circumstances of much difficulty. Thus it happened, that, in lieu of having his homestead surrounded by wheat-stacks, the growth of former years, his sheaves were transferred directly from the harvest-field to the thrashing-floor, and the produce was sent to market, under all the disadvantages of a forced sale, to meet his Michaelmas rent. Again, if a horse died, or was worn out, he was unable, for want of money, to supply its place; and thus the strength on his farm became gradually so much reduced, that many acres of his land, which might have been made productive, remained uncultivated.
Andrew and his family met this reverse of fortune as became them, by the sacrifice of very many comforts, in which, under more prosperous circumstances, they were warranted in indulging. The old man exchanged his favourite hackney for a cart-horse, and superintended the operations on his farm on foot. Frank gave up his forest galloway to the harrow and light plough; and poor Amy's pony was sold to a gentleman in the neighbourhood, who had taken a fancy to it for his daughter. The privation, however, which they most lamented was the necessity of contracting, not only the scale of their hospitality, but the sphere of their charity. It is true, the wayfaring man never passed their door unrefreshed, nor the houseless wanderer unrelieved; and their hearth still shed its genial warmth upon the poor dependant, whom they had not the heart to displace from his seat in the chimney corner; but there were many who were left bitterly to regret that the liberal hand should ever be closed by the pressure of calamity.
Under the influence of all these inauspicious events, they had sources of comfort of which the world could not deprive them. The sound of the dance, and the voice of innocent hilarity were no longer heard in their hall, but the still small voice of an approving conscience consoled them for the loss. Where a family are thus united, their home, although it were a hovel, cannot be desolate. Instead of sitting down in despair under their misfortune, each strove to cheer and support the other beneath its weight. They had all been early taught to look up to their God, and to put their trust in His mercy and wisdom under every dispensation; nor, at the morning and evening sacrifice, were their hearts less fervent in their thanksgivings for the blessings which were left to them, than when they were showered down with a profuser hand. Another source of consolation was supplied to them in the uniform respect of those around them, who regarded their calamity with that silent sympathy which is worth all the condolence that proud prosperity ever dinged into the ears of the unfortunate. Often would the neighbouring farmers, aware of the difficulties he laboured under for want of strength upon his land, club together, each contributing a horse, and thus furnish him with the use of a team for several days, in the busy seasons of seed-time and harvest.
One evening, towards the close of the summer, as Andrew Hodson and his family were sitting at the window, they observed a horseman riding along the road which lay within a few yards of the house. Frank, whose admiration of a fine horse was in no degree diminished by the circumstance of his no longer possessing one, exclaimed to his sister, "Look, Amy! is not that a fine creature? what action he has! and see how he throws his feet out: a little ewe-necked, to be sure, but that is a sign of blood."
In the meantime, the traveller had arrived nearly opposite to the house. He was rather tall, somewhat in years, but sat very erect on his horse, whose appearance justified the encomiums which Frank had bestowed on it. The gentleman's dress consisted of a blue coat, not remarkable for its lustre, and of a fashion almost coeval with the wearer; it was buttoned close up to his throat. His legs were encased in riding boots, and his intermediate habiliment was of buckskin, which however did not fit its present proprietor quite so tightly as it did its deceased one.
"I wish, Frank," said the farmer, "you would keep that dog tied up," alluding to a small terrier which ran out at the gate, and barked at the heels of the traveller's horse. The animal reared in consequence, and then, in plunging, one of its feet alighted on a rolling-stone; it stumbled and fell, throwing its rider to the ground with considerable violence. The steed was soon on its legs again; its master rose more slowly, approached his horse, pnssed hjs I 18 *-«»•»