by Charles Reade
MY dear lamented brother William Barrington Reade was first a sailor, then a soldier, then a country squire, and had from his youth an eye for character and live facts worth noting by sea or land. He furnished me from his experiences several tidbits that figure in my printed works; for instance, in "Hard Cash," the character and fate of Maxley, and the maneuvers of the square-rigged vessel attacked by the schooner; also the mad yachtsman, and his imitation of piracy, in "The Jilt," etc. So now I offer the public his little study of a real character in rural life.
Indeed, such quiet things may serve to relieve the general character of my work; for pen in hand, I am fond of hot passions and pictorial incidents, and, like the historians, care too little for the "middle of humanity."
George Moore, a shoemaker, with a shock head of black hair, a new wife, half a hundred of leather, and two sovereigns, came over from Ewelme to Ipsden, and applied to my father for a cottage on Scott's Common. It was a very large cottage; the kitchen between twenty and thirty feet long; old style--smoked rafters, diamond panes, etc.
A shed, pigsty, and two paddocks went with the tenement. Rent of the lot, £11. Moore became the tenant, made boots and shoes incessantly for years, and sold them at Henley, Reading, or Wallingford market.
He would carry in a sackful on his back, stand behind them in the market-place, and if he got rid of them, would often buy a pig or a cow, or even a pony, with such excellent judgment that he always made a profit; and when he bought at a fair he often sold his purchase on the road, for the nimble shilling tempted him. One of his declared axioms was, "Quick come and safe keep."
In 1849 my brother inherited the Ipsden estates, and a year or two afterward occupied an old house of his near Scott's Common, and so he became Mr. Moore's neighbor. He soon found out to his delight that this shoemaker was a character, his leading traits ostentatious parsimony, humorous avarice, and jolly dissatisfaction; his phraseology a curious mixture of rural dialect and metropolitan acumen.
As many of his sayings sounded like proverbs, my brother once, to gratify him doubly, said, "Mr. Moore, neighbors should be neighborly," and set him to measure his growing family for shoes. He might as well have given the order to Procrustes: Moore made shoes for shops; he expected feet to fit his shoes; and, after all, live leather is more yielding than dead.
The bill was settled one half-penny short. From that day, although Moore's conversations with my brother rambled over various topics, they always ended one way--"Beg pardon, sir, but there was a half-penny to come last account."
Then the humorist would fumble for this half-penny, but never find it. He used it as a little seton.
Moore once related to him his visit to a road-side hotel in the old coaching days.
"I came in mortal hungry, squire, and there was a table spread. Don't know as ever I saw so much vittles all at one time. Found out afterward it was for the passengers' dinner. Sets me down just before the beautifulest ham--a picture--takes the knife and fork, and sets there with my fistes" (pronounced mediævally "fistys") "on the table, and the knife and fork in 'em. 'Landlerd,' says I to a chap in a parson's tie, 'be you the landlerd?' No; he was the waiter. 'Then,' says I, 'you tell the landlerd I wants to speak to 'un very particular;' so presently the landlord comes as round as a bar'l mostly. 'Landlerd,' says I, with my fistes on the table, and the knife p'inting uppards, 'I must know what the reckoning ool be afer I sticks my ferk into't.'"
Somebody with whom he traded wanted one shilling and tenpence more than his due in a, considerable transaction. Moore made the parish ring.
However, he appears in this case to have thought he owed mankind in general, and Scott's Common in particular, an explanation, so he gave it to the gamekeeper, Will Johnstone, Johnstone retailed it at the "Black Horse," and round it came to my humorist, viâ the gardener.
"Ye may say one shilling and tenpence is a very little sum. Here's Moore running all over the parish after one ten. But it's a beginning. A text is a little thing; but parson can make half an hour's sermon on't."
Rustic Oxfordshire has never within the memory of man accepted that peevish rule of the grammarians, "Two negatives make an affirmative." We have a grammatical creed, worth two of that. We hold that less than two negatives might be taken for an affirmative, or at least for an assent.
A Cambridge man, whom his college, St. John's, transplanted into my county as an incumbent, declared to me once that he heard a native of my county address a band of workmen thus: "Ha'n't never a one of you chaps seen nothing of no hat?"
Moore accumulated negatives as if they were half-pence. A neighbor to whom he had now and then lent a spade, or a frying-pan, or a fagot, offended him, and they slanged each other heartily over the palings. Moore wound up the controversy thus: "Don't you never come to my house for nothing no more, for ye won't get it."
The population of Scott's Common is sparse, but the dialogue being both long and loud, seven girls had collected, from four to thirteen years old. With this assembly Moore shared his triumph. "There, you gals, I have sewed up his stocking," said George Moore.
Scott's Farm was a small holding surrounded by woods, flat enough when you got up to it, but on very high ground. Not a drop of well-water for miles. The men drank no liquid but beer; the women, tea and tadpoles.
None of the larger tenants would be bothered with "Scott's." But small farmers are poor farmers and unsuccessful. One or two failed on it, and it was vacant. The homestead was a picture to look at, and in the farmyard a natural cart shed, perhaps without its fellow, an old oak tree twenty-seven feet in girth, and of enormous age. The top was gone entirely; so was the inside. Nothing stood but a large hollow stem with three or four vertical chasms, one so broad that a cart could pass into the wooden funnel. Yet that shell put out the greenest oak leaves in all the countryside. An artist could have lived at Scott's Farm and made money. But the acres attached to the delightful residence made it a bad bargain to farmers; for the acres and the low rent tempted the tenants to farm.
Now you must understand that for a long time past Ireland has been telling England a falsehood, and England swallowing it for a self-evident truth,, and building rotten legislation on it, viz., that the rent is the principal expense of a farm.
It is not one-fifth the expense of a well-tilled farm; and of an ill-cultivated farm not one-tenth, for it is the last thing paid.
Scott's Farm was one out of a hundred examples I have seen. The rent of seventy-five acres, plus a charming house and homestead, was fifty pounds. Yet one bad farmer after another broke on it, and grumbled at the rent, though it could not have been the rent that hurt him, for he never paid it.
Well, Mr. Moore called on my brother, and offered to rent Scott's Farm.
My brother stared with amazement, then said, dryly, "Did you ever do me an injury?"
"Not as I know on, squire; nor don't mean to."
"Then why should I do you one? Scott's? Why, they all break on it."
"Oh!" said Moore, "folk as ha'n't got no head-piece, nor no money neither, are bound to break on a farm. 'Tain't to say George Moore is agoing to break."
My brother replied: "Oh, I know you are a good judge of live stock, and I dare say you have picked up a notion of farming. But you see it requires capital."
"Well, squire," said the shoemaker, "I'm not a thousand-pound man, but I'm a nine-hundred pound man. I'll show you some on't," and he actually pulled out of his breeches-pocket £700 in bank-notes, and presented them as his references. In short, he rented Scott's Farm.
But my brother could never bear anybody who amused him to come to grief, and so for a time he was in anxiety lest Moore should lose the money he had acquired by his industry and kept by his economy. However, the new tenant stocked the farm, which his predecessors had not done, and let fall remarks indicating prosperity, as that a farmer had no business to go to his barn-door for rent, and that he could make a living anywhere. Besides, the rising ricks spoke for themselves.
I believe he had been tenant nine months when, one day, my brother, seeing him smoking a pipe over his farmyard gate, dismounted expressly to talk to him.
Mr. Moore's first sentence betrayed that he was no longer a shoemaker.
"Look 'ee here, squire, a farmering man wants to have four eyes, and three hands: two for work, one is always wanted in his pocket--rent, tithe, labor, taxes, rates. Why, the parish tapped me three times last month. My wife got behind in her washing through wasting of her time counting out the money I had to pay away. As to my men, I be counted sharp, but I must be split in two to be sharp enough for they."
"I was afraid you would find the rent heavy," said my brother, innocently.
"The rent!" cried Mr. Moore; "I don't vally it that!" and he snapped his fingers at it. "But how about the labor--men and horses, and women; and the three crops of weeds on one field, through me coming after tipplers and fools as left the land foul for Moore to clean after they. And then--" He paused, and jerking his thumb over his shoulder, added, "THE BLACK SLUG THAT EATS UP THE TENTH OF THE LAND."
My brother did not understand the simile one bit till he followed the direction of Mr. Moore's thumb, and beheld a beneficed clergyman crossing the common like a lamb, all unconscious of the injurious metaphor shot after him by oppressed agriculture.
Having suppressed a grin with some difficulty, my brother said, gravely: "I'll tell ye what it is, Moore; if you went to church a little oftener, you would find out that the clergy are worth their money to those who go by their advice in this world, and so learn not to forget the next. Come, now; our parson has no tithes, and only a very small stipend, yet I never see you at church. Surely you might go once on a Sunday."
Now I must premise that Mr. A----, justly dissatisfied with the morals of that parish, preached sermons which were in fact philippics.
"Why, squire," answered Moore, "I have tried 'un. But I do take after my horses: I can't stand all whip and no carn."
Undaunted by the comparison, his landlord gravely reminded him that there were prayers as well as a sermon, and prayers full of charity, and fitted to all conditions of life.
"Well, squire," said the farmer, half apologetically, "I'll tell you the truth; I never was a hog at prayers."
It was a pity he could not add he never was greedy of this world's goods.
One day my brother heard his voice rather loud in the yard, and found him bargaining with a lad in a smock-frock-- a stranger.
At sight of the squire the injured farmer appealed to him. "Look at 'un," said he, "a-standing there." The lad remained impassive as the gate-post under the scrutiny thus dramatically invited.
"A wants ten shilling a week, and three pound Michaelmas." Then turning from my brother to the lad: "Now what did you have at your last place--without a lie?"
"Six shillings, and a pound at Michaelmas," said the young fellow, calmly.
"And you thinks to rise me ten shillings! Now, tell 'ee what it is, young man, you hire yourself to keep the mildew out o' my wheat, and the rot out o' my sheep, or else draa no wages out o' me. You make me safe as my horses shan't go broken-winded, nor blind, nor lame, while you be driving on 'em, nor my cows shan't slip their calves, nor my sows shan't lay over their litters and smother 'em. I maunt have no fly in my turmots under you, my barley and wuts must come to the rick nice and dry and bright, and then I'll pay you half a sovereign a week." With sudden friendliness--"Where did 'ee come from?"
"How ever did 'ee find your way all up here?"
The lad said it was only six miles; he had found his way easy enough.
"Then you'll find it easier back. Good-morning."
And off he went. The lad put his hands in his breeches-pockets and strolled away unmoved in another direction; and my brother retired swiftly to take down every syllable of this inimitable dialogue. It afterward appeared that his was the only genuine exit; the other two were examples of what the French dramatists call fausse sortie. For the very next day this Cholsey lad was at work for Mr. Moore.
"Halloo!" said my brother. "Why, you parted never to meet again--far as the poles asunder. Ha! ha!"
"Oh, that is how we begins!" explained Moore, with a grin. "Bought him at my own price. But"(with sudden gloom) "a wool have two pound Michaelmas, the risolute To-a-d."
Moore had a cur his wife implored him to hang out of her way. "Well," said he, "anything for a quiet life. You find the card; I'll find the labor."
Ere a cord was found Moore caught sight of the good easy squire; he came out and told him Toby had been poaching on his own account, and had better be tied up except when wanted. Offered him for three half-crowns, praised him up to the skies.
Squire Easy submitted to the infliction, and Toby was sent to the kennel.
Next week, Moore had made a bad bargain. "I let 'ee have Toby too cheap; I hear of all sides as he's the best rabbiter you ha' got, a regular hexpeditious good dog."
He gave his landlord a piece of advice which, to tell the truth, that gentleman needed sorely; for he was never known to make one good bargain in all his life. Said Mr. Moore: "Don't you never listen to a chap as won't say aforehand how much he'll give or take to a farthing, or a halfpenny at the very outside. When that there humbug says to you, 'Oh, we shan't quarrel,' says you, 'I'll take care of that, for down you puts it to a farthing.' When he says, 'Oh, I'll not hurt you,' says you, 'Oh, yes, ye will, if I give you a chance; put it down to a farthing, or I'm off.'"
He let his parlor and a bedroom to a lodger for fifteen shillings a week, a sum unheard of in those parts.
This transpired in a few months, and my brother congratulated him.
Here is his reply ad verbum:
"Why, squire, it doesn't all stick to me. There's my missus, she is took off her work to attend to he. Then there's a great hearty gal I'm fossed to hire. There goes eighteen-pence a week and her vittels. I tried to get a sickly one as wouldn't eat my head off, but there warn't a sickly one as 'ud come. Feared of a little work! Now" (with sudden severity) "do I get half a guinea out of he?" Then with a shout: "No!" Then with the sudden calmness of unalterable conviction: "Not by sixpence."
This seems a tough man, not to be easily moved, a wary man, not to be outwitted; yet misfortune befell him, and rankled for years.
My brother left Oxfordshire and settled in a milder climate. During his long sojourn there a vague report reached him that bad money had been passed on Moore, and he had made the district ring.
When after seven years my brother returned to his native woods, he looked in at Scott's Farm, and there was Moore, the only familiar face about which did not seem a day older. After other friendly inquiries my brother said:
"But how about the bad money that was passed on you? Tell me all about it."
"That I wool," said Moore, delighted to find a good listener to a grievance which to him was ever new, though the circumstance was five years old. "I was at dung-cart most of that day, and then I washed and tried to get a minute to milk the cow; but bless your heart, they never will let me milk her afore sunset. It's Moore here, and Moore there, from half a dozen of 'em; and Mr. Moore here, and Mr. Moore there, from the one or two as have learned manners, which very few of 'em have in these parts; and between 'em they allus contrive to keep me from my own cow till dusk. Well, sir, I had got leave to milk her, hurry-scurry as usual, and night coming on, when a man I had sold a fat hog to came into the yard to pay. 'Wait a minute,' says I. But no, he was like the rest, couldn't let me milk her in peace; wanted to settle and drive the bacon home. So I took my head out o' the cow, and I went to him without so much as letting my smock down, and he gave me the money, £6 17s. I took the gold in one hand so, and the silver in t'other so, and I went across the yard to the house, and I asked the missus to get a light, and then I told the money before her, six sovereigns and seventeen shillings, and left her to scratch him a receipt, while I went back to my cow, and I thought to milk her in peace at last. But before I had drained her as should be, out comes my missus, and screams fit to wake the dead: 'George! George!' 'I be coming,' says I; so I up with the milk-pail and goes to her. 'Whose cat's dead now?' says I, 'for mercy's sake.'
"'Come in, come in,' says she. 'George, whoever is that man? He have paid us a bad shilling; look at that.' Well, we tried that there shilling on the table first, and then on the hearth: 'twas bad; couldn't be wus. 'Run after him,' says she; 'run this moment.' 'Lard,' says I, 'they be half way to Wallingford by this time. Here, give me a scrap of paper. I'll carry it about in my fob; he goes to all the markets; he will change it, you may be sure.'
"Well, the very next Friday as ever was I met him at Wallingford market, pulls out the paper, shows him the shilling, tells him it warn't good. He looks at it and agreed with me. 'Then change it, if you please,' says I. 'What for?' says he. 'I don't want no bad shillings no more nor you do.' 'But,' says I, 'price of hog was six seventeen, and you only paid six sixteen in money.' 'Yes, I did,' says he. 'I gave you six seventeen.' 'No, ye didn't.' 'Yes, I did.' 'No, ye didn't; you gave me six sixteen, and this. Now, my man,' says I, 'act honest and pay me t'other shilling.' No he wouldn't. There was a crowd by this time, so I said, 'Look here, gentlemen, I sold this man a hog, and he gave me this in part pay, which it ain't a real shilling, and mine was a genuine hog;' so they all said it warn't a shilling at all. When the man heard that he was for slipping off, but I stepped after him, with half the market at my heels. 'Will you pay me my shilling?' 'I don't owe you no shilling,' says he. 'You do,' says I; 'and pay me my shilling you shall.' 'I won't.' 'You shall; I'll pison your life else.'
"Next time of asking, as the saying is, was Reading market. Catches him cheapening a calf. Takes out shilling. 'Now,' says I, 'here's your bad shilling as you gave me for my hog--which it is a warning to honest folk with calves to sell,' says I. 'Be you going to change it?' 'No, I bain't.' 'You bain't?' says I. 'You shall, then,' says I. 'Time will show,' says he, and bid me good-day, ironical. I let him get a little way, and then I stepped after him. 'Hy, stop that gentleman,' I hallooed. 'He have given me a bad shilling.' You might hear me all over the market. Then he threatened defanation or summat; I didn't keer; I bawled him out o' Reading market that there afternoon.
"Met him at Henley next; commenced operations--took out the shilling. He crossed over directly, I after 'un, and held out the shilling.' 'Tain't no use,' says I. 'You shan't do no business in this here county till you have changed this here shilling. Come, my man, 'tis only a shilling; what is all this here to do about a shilling?' says I; 'act honest and give me my shilling, and take this here keep-sake back.' 'I won't,' says he. 'You won't?' says I; 'then I'll hunt you out of every market in England. I'll hunt ye into the wilderness and the hocean wave.'
"He got very sick of me in a year or two's marketing, I can tell you; for I never missed a market now, because of the shilling. He had to give up trade and go home whenever he saw my shilling and me acoming."
"And so you tired him out?"
"That I did."
"And got your shilling?"
"That I did not. He found a way to cheat me after all" (with a sudden yell of reprobation). "He went and died--and here's the shilling!"
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