Favorite authors in prose and poetry online

. (page 11 of 66)
Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 11 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ers to join them at every farm they visited ; or the sudden
appearance and disappearance of these large bodies, who
sometimes remained together to the amount of several hun-
dreds for many days, and sometimes dispersed, one scarcely
knew how, in a few hours ; their daylight marches on the
high road, regular and orderly as those of an army, or
their midnight visits to lonely houses, lawless and terrific as
the descent of pirates or the incursions of banditti ; all
brought close to us a state of things which we never thought
to have witnessed in peaceful and happy England. In the
sister island, indeed, we had read of such horrors, but now
they were brought home to our very household hearths ; we


tasted of fear, the bitterest cup that an imaginative woman
can taste, in all its agonizing varieties ; and felt, by sad
experience, the tremendous difference between that distant
report of danger, with which we had &o often fancied that
we sympathized, and the actual presence of danger itself.
Such events are salutary, inasmuch as they show to the
human heart its own desperate self-deceit. I could not but
smile at the many pretty letters of condolence and fellow-
feeling which I received from writers who wrote far too well
to feel anything, who most evidently felt nothing ; but the
smile was a melancholy one, for I recollected how often,
not intending to feign, or suspecting that I was feigning, I
myself had written such.

Nor were the preparations for defence, however neces-
sary, less shocking than the apprehensions of attack. The
hourly visits of bustling parish officers, bristling with impor-
tance (for our village, though in the centre of the insur-
gents, continued uncontaminated, " faithful amidst the un-
faithful found," and was, therefore, quite a rallying-point
for loyal men and true) ; the swearing in of whole regi-
ments of petty constables ; the stationary watchmen, who
every hour, to prove their vigilance, sent in some poor
wretch, beggar or match-seller, or rambling child, under the
denomination of suspicious persons ; the mounted patrol,
whose deep " All 's well ! " which ought to have been consola-
tory, was about the most alarming of all alarming sounds ;
the soldiers, transported from place to place in carts the bet-
ter to catch the rogues, whose local knowledge gave them
great advantage in a dispersal ; the grave processions of
magistrates and gentlemen on horseback j and above all,
the nightly collecting of arms and armed men within our
own dwelling, kept up a continual sense of nervous inquie-

Fearful, however, as were the realities, the rumors were
a hundred-fold more alarming. Not an hour passed, but.


from some quarter or other, reports came pouring in of mobs
gathering, mobs assembled, mobs marching upon us. Now
the high roads were blockaded by the rioters, travellers
murdered, soldiers defeated, and the magistrates, who had
gone out to meet and harangue them, themselves surrounded
and taken by the desperate multitude. Now the artisans
the commons, so to say, of B. had risen to join the peas-
antry, driving out the gentry and tradespeople, while they
took possession of their houses and property, and only de-
taining the mayor and aldermen as hostages. Now that
illustrious town held loyal, but was besieged. Now the mob
had carried the place ; and arti.-ans, constables, tradespeople,
soldiers, and magistrates, the mayor and corporation included,
were murdered to a man, to say nothing of women and chil-
dren ; the market-place running with blood, and the town-
hall piled with dead bodies. This last rumor, which was
much to the taste of our villagers, actually prevailed for
several hours ; terrified maid-servants ran shrieking about
the house, and every corner of the village street realized
Shakespeare's picture of " a smith swallowing a tailor's

So passed the short winter's day. With the approach of
night came fresh sorrows ; the red glow of fires gleaming on
the horizon, and mounting into the middle sky ; the tolling
of bells ; and the rumbling sound of the engines clattering
along from place to place, and often, too often, rendered
useless by the cutting of the pipes after they had begun to
play. a dreadful aggravation of the calamity, since it
proved that among those who assembled, professedly to help,
were to be found favorers and abettors of the concealed in-
cendiaries. O the horrors of those fires, breaking forth
night after night, sudden, yet expected, always seeming
nearer than they actually were, and always said to have
been more mischievous to life and property than they actu-
ally had been ! Mischievous enough they were, Heaven


knows ! A terrible and unholy abuse of the most beau-
tiful and comfortable of the elements! a sinful destruc-
tion of the bounties of Providence ! an awful crime
against God and man ! Shocking it was to behold the
peasantry of England becoming familiarized with this
tremendous power of evil, this desperate, yet most cow-
\rdly sin !

The blow seemed to fall, too, just where it might least have
een looked for, on the unoffending, the charitable, the
\ma ; on those who were known only as the laborer's friends ;
*u impoverish whom was to take succor, assistance and pro-
ttiCiioii irom the poor. One of the objects of attack in our
uvrn immediate neighborhood was a widow lady, between
eignty and ninety, the best of the good, the kindest of the
kind. Occvarences like this were in every way dreadful.
They made us fear (and such fear is a revengeful passion,
and comes ne^r to hate) the larger half of our species
They weakened our faith in human nature.

The revulsion was, however, close at hand. A time came
which changed the current of our feelings, a time of ret-
ribution. The fired weie quenched ; the riots were put-
down ; the chief of the rwters were taken. Examination
and commitment were the older of the day ; the crowded
jails groaned with their overload of wretched prisoners ; sol-
diers were posted at every avenue to guard against possible
escape; and every door was watched night and day by
miserable women, the wives, mothers, or daughters of the
culprits, praying for admission to their unfortunate relatives.
The danger was fairly over, and pity had succeeded to

Then, above all, came the special commission : the judges
in threefold dignity ; the array of counsel ; the crowded
court ; the solemn trial ; the awful sentence ; all the more
impressive from the merciful feeling which pervaded the
government, the counsel, and the court. My father, a very


old magistrate, being chairman of the bench, as well as one
of the grand jury, and the then high sheriff, with whom it
is every way an honor to claim acquaintance, being his inti-
mate friend, I saw and knew more of the proceedings of
this stirring time than usually falls to the lot of women, and
took a deep interest in proceedings which had in them a
thrilling excitement, as far beyond acted tragedy as truth
is beyond fiction.

I shall never forget the hushed silence of the auditors, a
dense mass of human bodies, the heads only visible, ranged
tier over tier to the very ceiling of the lofty hall ; the rare
and striking importance which that silence and the awful-
ness of the occasion gave to the mere official forms of a
court of justice, generally so hastily slurred over and slightly
attended to; the unusual seriousness of the counsel; the
watchful gravity of the judges; and, more than all, the
appearance of the prisoners themselves, belonging mostly to
the younger classes of the peasantry, such men as one is
accustomed to see in the fields, on the road, or the cricket-
ground, with sunburnt faces, and a total absence of reflection
or care, but who now, under the influence of a keen and bit-
ter anxiety, had acquired not only the sallow paleness proper
to a prison, but the look of suffering and of thought, the
brows contracted and brought low over the eyes, the general
sharpness of feature and elongation of countenance, which
give an expression of intellect, a certain momentary eleva-
tion, even to the commonest and most vacant of human faces.
Such is the power of an absorbing passion, a great and en-
grossing grief. One man only amongst the large number
whom I heard arraigned (for they were brought out by tens
and by twenties) would, perhaps, under other circumstances,
have been accounted handsome ; yet a painter would at that
moment have found studies in many.

I shall never forget, either, the impression made on my
mind by one of the witnesses. Several men had been ar-


raigned together for machine-breaking. All but one of them
had employed counsel for their defence, and under their
direction had called witnesses to character, the most respect-
able whom they could find, the clergy and overseers of
their respective parishes, for example, masters with whom
they had lived, neighboring farmers or gentry, or even
magistrates, all that they could muster to grace or credit
their cause. One poor man alone had retained no counsel,
offered no defence, called no witness, though the evidence
against him was by no means so strong as that against his
fellow-prisoners ; and it was clear that his was exactly the
case in which testimony to character would be of much
avail. The defences had ended, and the judge was begin-
ning to sum up, when suddenly a tall, gaunt, upright figure,
with a calm, thoughtful brow, and a determined but most
respectful demeanor, appeared in the witnesses' box. He
was dressed in a smock-frock, and was clean and respect-
able in , appearance, but evidently poor. The judge inter-
rupted himself in his charge to inquire the man's business ;
and hearing that he was a voluntary witness for the unde-
fended prisoner, proceeded to question him, when the fol-
lowing dialogue took place. The witness's replies, which
seemed to me then, and still do so, very striking from their
directness and manliness, were delivered with the same
humble boldness of tone and manner that characterized the

Judge. " You are a witness for the prisoner, an unsum-
moned witness ? "

" I am, my lord. I heard that he was to be tried to-day,
and have walked twenty miles to speak the truth of him, as
one poor man may do of another."
" What is your situation in life ? "
" A laborer, my lord ; nothing but a day-laborer."
" How long have you known the prisoner ? "
"As long as I have known anything. We were play-


mates together, went to the same school, have lived in the
same parish. I have known him all my life."

" And what, character has he borne ? "

"As good a character, my lord, as a man need work

It is pleasant to add, that this poor man's humble testi-
mony was read from the judge's notes, and mentioned in the
judge's charge, with full as much respect, perhaps a little
more, than the evidence of clergymen and magistrates for
the rest of the accused; and that, principally from this
direct and simple tribute to his character, the prisoner in
question was acquitted.

To return,* Tiowever, from my evil habit of digressing (if
I may use an Irish phrase) before I begin, and making my
introduction longer than my story, a simple sin to which in
many instances, and especially in this, I am fain to plead
guilty; to come back to my title and my subject. I
must inform my courteous readers, that the case of arson
which attracted most attention and excited most interest in
this part of the country, was the conflagration of certain
ricks, barns, and farm-buildings, in the occupation of Rich-
ard Mayne ; and that, not so much from the value of the
property consumed (though that value was considerable), as
on account of the character and situation of the prisoner,
whom, after a long examination, the magistrates found them-
selves compelled to commit for the offence. I did not hear
this trial, the affair having occurred in the neighboring coun-
ty, and do not, therefore, vouch for " the truth, the whok'
truth, and nothing but the truth," as one does when an ear-
witness ; but the general outline of the story will suffice for
our purpose.

Richard Mayne was a wealthy yeoman of the old school,
sturdy, boisterous, bold, and kind, always generous, and gen-
erally good-natured, but cross-grained and obstinate by fits,
and sometimes purse-proud, after the fashion of men who


have made monej by their own industry and shrewdness,
He had married late in life, and above him in station, and
had now been for two or three years a widower, with one
only daughter, a girl of nineteen, of whom he was almost as
fond as of his greyhound Mayfly, and for pretty much the
same reason, that both were beautiful and gentle, and his
own, and both admired and coveted by others, that May
ny had won three cups, and that Lucy had refused four

A sweet and graceful creature was Lucy Mayne. Her
mother, a refined and cultivated woman, the daughter of an
unbeneficed clergyman, had communicated, perhaps uncon-
sciously, much of her own taste to her daughter. It is true,
that most young ladies, even of her own station, would have
looked with great contempt on Lucy's acquirements, who
neither played nor drew, and was wholly, in the phrase of
the day, unaccomplished; but then she read Shakespeare
and Milton, and the poets and prose-writers of the Jameses'
and Charleses' times, with a perception and relish of their
beauty very uncommon in a damsel under twenty; and
when her father boasted of his Lucy as the cleverest as well
as the prettiest lass within ten miles, he was not so far
wrong as many of his hearers were apt to think him.

After all, the person to whom Lucy's education owed
most was a relation of her mother's, a poor relation, who,
being left a widow with two children almost totally destitute,
was permitted by Richard Mayne to occupy one end of a
small farm-house, about a mile from the old substantial
manorial residence which he himself inhabited, whilst he
farmed the land belonging to both. Nothing could ex-
ceed his kindness to the widow and her family ; and Mrs.
Owen, a delicate and broken-spirited woman, who had known
better days, and was now left with a sickly daughter and a
promising son dependent on the precarious charity of rela-
tives and friends, found in the free-handed and open-heaited


farmer and his charming little girl her only comfort. He
even restored to her the blessing of her son's society, who
had hitherto earned his living by writing for an attorney in
the neighboring town, but whom her wealthy kinsman now
brought home to her, and established as the present assist-
ant and future successor of the master of a well-endowed
grammar-school in the parish, Farmer Mayne being one
of the trustees, and all-powerful with the other function-
aries joined in the trust, and the then schoolmaster in so
wretched a state of health as almost to insure a speedy

In most instances, such an exertion of an assumed rather
than a legitimate authority, would have occasioned no small
prejudice against the party protected ; but Philip Owen was
not to be made unpopular, even by the unpopularity of his
patron. Gentle, amiable, true, and kind, kind, both in
word and deed, it was found absolutely impossible to dis-
like him. He was clever, too, very clever, with a remark-
able aptitude for teaching, as both parents and boys soon
found to their mutual satisfaction ; for the progress of one
half-year of his instruction equalled that made hi a twelve-
month under the old regime. He must also, one should
think, have been fond of teaching, for, after a hard day's
fagging at Latin and English, and writing, and accounts,
and all the drudgery of a boys' school, he would make a
circuit of a mile and a half home in order to give Lucy
Mayne a lesson in French or Italian. For a certain-
ty, Philip Owen must have had a strong natural turn for
playing the pedagogue, or he never would have gone so far
out of his way just to read Fenelon and Alfieri with Lucy

So for two happy years matters continued. At the expi-
ration of that time, just as the old schoolmaster, who de-
clared that nothing but Philip's attention had kept him alive
so long, was evidently on his death-bed, Farmer Maj-,e sud-


denly turned Mrs. Owen, her son, and her sick daughter out
of the house, which, by his permission, they had hitherto
occupied ; and declared publicly, that whilst he held an
acre of land in the parish, Philip Owen should never be
elected master of the grammar-school, a threat which
there was no doubt of his being able to carry into effect.
The young man, however, stood his ground ; and sending
off his mother and sister to an uncle in Wales, who had
lately written kindly to them, hired a room at a cottage in
the village, determined to try the event of an election, which
the languishing state of the incumbent rendered inevitable.

The cause of Farmer Mayne's inveterate dislike to one
whom he had so warmly protected, and whose conduct, man-
ners, and temper had procured him friends wherever lie was
known, nobody could assign with any certainty. Perhaps
he had unwittingly trodden on Mayfly's foot, or had opposed
some prejudice of her master's, but his general careful-
ness not to hurt anything, or offend anybody, rendered either
of these conjectures equally improbable ; perhaps he had
been found only too amiable by the farmer's other pet,
those lessons in languages were dangerous things ! and
when Lucy was seen at church with a pale face and red
eyes, and when his landlord Squire Hawkins's blood-hunter
was seen every day at Farmer Mayne's door, it became cur-
rently reported and confidently believed, that the cause oi
the quarrel was a love affair between the cousins, which the
farmer was determined to break off, in order to bestow his
daughter on the young lord of the manor.

Affairs had been in this posture for about a fortnight, and
the old schoolmaster was just dead, when a fire broke out in
the rick-yard of Farley Court, and Philip Owen was appre-
hended and committed as the incendiary ! The astonish-
ment of the neighborhood was excessive ; the rector and
half the farmers of the place offered to become bail ; but the
offence was not bailable ; and the only consolation left for


the friends '>i the unhappy young man, was the knowledge
that the trial would speedily come on, and their internal
conviction that an acquittal was certain.

As time wore on, however, their confidence diminished.
The evidence against him was terribly strong. He had been
observed lurking about the rick-yard with a lantern, in
which a light was burning, by a lad in the employ of
Farmer Mayne, who had gone thither for hay to fodder his
cattle, about an hour before the fire broke out. At eleven
o'clock the haystack was on fire, and at ten Robert Doyle
had mentioned to James White, another boy in Farmer
Mayne's service, that he had seen Mr. Philip Owen behind
the great rick. % Farmer Mayne himself had met him at
half past ten (as he was returning from B. market) in the
lane leading from the rick-yard towards the village, and had
observed him throw something he held in his hand into the
ditch. Humphry Harris, a constable employed to seek for
evidence, had found the next morning a lantern, answering
to that described by Robert Doyle, in the part of the ditch
indicated by Farmer Mayne, which Thomas Brown, the vil-
lage shopkeeper, in whose house Owen slept, identified as
having lent to his lodger in the early part of the evening.
A silver pencil, given to Owen by the mother of one of his
pupils, and bearing his full name on the seal at the end, was
found close to where the fire was discovered ; and, to crown
all, the curate of the village, with whom the young man's
talents and character had rendered him a deserved favorite,
had unwillingly deposed that he had said "it might be in his
power to take a great revenge on Farmer Mayne," or words
to that effect ; whilst a letter was produced from the accused
to the farmer himself, intimating that one day he would be
sorry for the oppression which he had exercised towards
him and his. These two last facts were much relied upon
as evincing malice, and implying a purpose of revenge from
the accused towards the prosecutor; yet there were many


who thought that the previous circumstances might well
account for them without reference to the present occur-
rence, and that the conflagration of the ricks and farm-
buildings might, under the spirit of the time (for fires were
raging every night in the surrounding villages), be merely a
remarkable coincidence. The young man himself simply
denied the fact of setting fire to any part of the property or
premises ; inquired earnestly whether any lives had been
lost, and still more earnestly after the health of Miss Lucy ;
and on finding that she had been confined to her bed by
fever and delirium, occasioned, as was supposed, by the
fright, ever since that unhappy occurrence, relapsed into a
gloomy silence, and seemed to feel no concern or interest in
the issue of the trial.

His friends, nevertheless, took kind and zealous measures
for his defence, engaged counsel, sifted testimony, and
used every possible means, in the assurance of his innocence,
to trace out the true incendiary. Nothing, however, could
be discovered to weaken the strong chain of circumstantial
evidence, or to impeach the credit of the witnesses, who, with
the exception of the farmer himself, seemed all friendly to
the accused, and most distressed at being obliged to bear tes-
timony against him. On the eve of the' trial, the most zeal-
ous of his friends could find no ground of hope, except in
the chances of the day ; Lucy, for whom alone the prisoner
asked, being still confined by severe illness.

The judges arrived, the whole terrible array of the
special commission ; the introductory ceremonies were gone
through ; the cause was called on, and the case proceeded
with little or no deviation from the evidence already cited.
When called upon for his defence, the prisoner again asked
if Lucy Mayne were in court ? and hearing that she was
ill in her father's house, declined entering into any defence
whatsoever. Witnesses to character, however, pressed foi
ward, his old master, the attorney, the rector and curate


of (he parish, half the fanners of the village, everybody, in
short, who ever had an opportunity of knowing him, even
his reputed rival, Mr. Hawkins, who, speaking, he said, on
the authority of one \\ ho knew him well, professed himself
confident that he could not be guilty of a bad action, a
piece of testimony that seemed to strike and affect the pris-
oner more than anything that had passed ; evidence to
character crowded into court; but all was of no avail
against the strong chain of concurrent facts ; and the judge
was preparing to sum up, and the jury looking as if they
had already condemned, when suddenly a piercing shriek
was heard in the hall, and pale, tottering, dishevelled,
Lucy Mayne "rushed into her father's arms, and cried
out, with a shrill, despairing voice, that " she was the only
guilty ; that she had set fire to the rick ; and that if they
killed Philip Owen for her crime, they would be guilty of

The general consternation may be imagined, especially
that of the farmer, who had left his daughter almost insen-
sible with illness, and still thought her light-headed. Medi-
cal assistance, however, was immediately summoned, and it
then appeared that what she said was most true ; that the
lovers, for such they were, had been accustomed to deposit
letters in one corner of that unlucky hay-rick ; that having
seen from her chamber-window Philip Owen leaving the
yard, she had flown with a taper in her hand to secure the
expected letter, and, alarmed at her father's voice, had ran
away so hastily, that she had, as she now remembered, left
the lighted taper amidst the hay ; that then the fire came,
and all was a blank to her, until, recovering that morning
from the stupor succeeding to delirium, she had heard that
Philip Owen was to be tried for his life from the effect of
her carelessness, and had flown to save him she knew not
how !

The sequel may be guessed ; Philip was, of course, ac-


quitted ; everybody, even the very judge, pleaded for the

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 11 of 66)