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THE THREE SQUIRES.-PART I.
THERE was a village, called Banton, in which there stood an old manor-house. The village was not a very large one, and the inhabitants used to look upon this house as the chief source of their employment. It was not merely that the various tradesmen had a direct profit in supplying the great house, but the money which each earned gave to him the means of employing one or other of his neighbours. The carpenter had nearly constant work at the old hall, or some of its outbuildings; he therefore lived very comfortably, and was a good customer to the butcher, baker, and grocer. They all, in their turn, being prosperous in their trades, found jobs for the carpenter and bricklayer, and the still poorer inhabitants had their share in the general prosperity. Many were employed at the hall, and by the gamekeeper and other servants, who lived in cottages in the park. Besides this, the tradesmen, being well off, kept their cow or their pony, or took pride in their garden; and all this brought work in various ways into the village, so that it was a common saying, that at Banton no one need be idle except those who were too lazy to work.
This was the state of the village when the old squire died. As he had no children the property passed into other hands. The squire who took possession of it was a man very thoughtless and extravagant. He gave himself entirely up to his own pleasures, and thought nothing about the village or its inhabitants, except so far as they were necessary to
his amusements. He kept a great number of horses and dogs, and saw a great deal of wild company This at first produced an increase of business in the village. There were extensive alterations in the stables, which supplied a great quantity of work to carpenters and bricklayers; and the number of guests and servants continually at the hall kept up a constant demand at the various shops in the village. All this made the new squire very popular, particularly as it was soon seen that he was not at all particular as to the quantity of things he ordered, or the price he paid for them. But some of the wiser among the village folk said, that this was not the best way for honest tradesmen; the bad would take advantage, and the good would get nothing by their fair dealing. And it soon began to be seen that at least as many people of bad character were employed at the hall as good. The ways of the new servants and company did much harm. There was a great deal of drunkenness and rioting; and several of the younger men of the village learned to follow the bad example set them, and Banton was far from being the quiet place which it had been in olden times. It was observed, too, that notwithstanding all the waste of money, the poor did not get much relief at the hall. The servants would neither give themselves, nor trouble their master with applications; and the squire himself, though he would readily throw a shilling to a wayside beggar, took no trouble to find out and relieve real cases of distress. Still for some time the village appeared to flourish. There was more vice and misery, but the respectable portion of the inhabitants, having plenty of work, continued to
thrive; and though they could have no respect for their squire, they had little personally to complain of.
But after a year or two the tradesmen began to find it difficult to get their money. They had to apply again and again without success; and at last some of the more independent among them declined. to continue to serve the hall. There were, however, still many who dared not risk offending the squire, and were obliged to content themselves with receiving occasional sums upon account. But as all in this way had less money at command than before, they were obliged to contract their own expenses. The grocer never employed the carpenter, except it was absolutely necessary; and the carpenter's wife, by strict economy, considerably lessened her account with the grocer. This soon began to tell throughout the village; and it was no uncommon thing in Banton for a poor man to be obliged to seek parish relief, though he was able and willing to work, but no work was to be had. For some time things went on worse and worse, till at last it was known in the village that the squire was obliged to leave the country on account of his debts.
The hall was now shut up, the creditors were paid in part, and the village left to get on as it might. All the inhabitants of Banton felt the loss of a resident family at the hall. The carpenter and bricklayer found their work so much diminished, that they left the village, and established themselves in a more favourable spot. The old shopkeeper had, fortunately for himself, retired. There was still a shop on the same premises, but of a very inferior kind. Many labourers emigrated, and the village began
to adapt itself to its altered circumstances. Things might yet have gone on tolerably well at Banton, had it not been for the misery which vice always brings with it. The idle and worthless, who had been partly maintained by the dissipation of the hall, found their resources at once cut off; and, as it is always very hard to unlearn bad habits, there was a number of poor and wretched families, who were only kept from starvation by parish relief, and the little assistance which the charitable amongst their neighbours were able to afford.
This was the state of Banton when, at the end of five years, the squire found it necessary to sell the property. It was purchased by a benevolent man, who at his first visit was shocked by the misery and want he saw around him. His house was soon assailed by applicants for relief, and all these attributed their misfortunes to the faults of the former squire, and his absence from among them. Anxious to put an end to their distress, the new squire resolved to spend his whole income upon relieving the poor. He had no family, so he contented himself with furnishing two rooms in a very simple way, and lived with only two servants in a most frugal manner. His benevolent intentions being known, there was no lack of persons to take advantage of them. All the needy folk of the village had their tales of want, and it was evident that they were in great distress. The squire soon found out that they were neither good managers nor deserving people. Still he could not let them starve; and thinking that their vices had arisen from their poverty, he hoped that by relieving them he should in time make them better. They all
took his good advice with fair professions, but he did not find that they really profited by it. At the end of a year they wore the same miserable appearance as when the squire first came; and he would sometimes find children starving from want, because their parents had spent the money he had given them in drinking at the alehouse.
Nor was this the worst of it. The squire's character was soon known throughout the neighbourhood, and a number of idle, worthless people came and settled in and about Banton, in hopes of getting a share of his bounty. Not wishing to spend a farthing upon pleasure, he had dismissed his parkkeepers and gamekeepers; and some of the bad people in the village took advantage of this to break into his plantations, destroy the game, and steal wood. Other thefts, too, became common: farmers lost their chickens, and sometimes even a sheep; and, notwithstanding that the squire spent his whole income in charity, the parish was called upon to support numerous paupers. The increased poorrates pressed hard upon the respectable and industrious inhabitants, to whom the squire gave no employment, because he fancied he could not afford to do so.
The state of the parish was now become miserable, and the squire found that he had entirely failed to improve the condition even of the very poorest. Disheartened by his failure, he was willing to sell the property at a great sacrifice, and the old hall once more changed hands.