The French are a gayer people than the English. Why? Partly from temperament, perhaps; but greatly because they have been accustomed to governments which surrounded the free exercise of thought with danger, and where he only was safe who shut his eyes and ears to public events, and enjoyed the passing pleasure of the day. Within late years, they have had more opportunity of exercising their minds; and within late years, the national character has essentially changed. Never did the French enjoy such a degree of freedom as they do at this moment; and at this moment the French are comparatively a grave people.
What’s that to absolute freedom; such as the very beggars have; to feast and revel here to-day, and yonder to-morrow; next day where they please; and so on still, the whole country or kingdom over? There’s liberty! the birds of the air can take no more.
Since the meeting with the gipsies, which I have related in a former paper, I have observed several of them haunting the purlieus of the Hall, in spite of a positive interdiction of the Squire. They are part of a gang that has long kept about this neighbourhood, to the great annoyance of the farmers, whose poultry-yards often suffer from their nocturnal invasions. They are, however, in some measure patronized by the Squire, who considers the race as belonging to the good old times; which, to confess the private truth, seem to have abounded with good-for-nothing characters.
This roving crew is called “Starlight Tom’s Gang,” from the name of its chieftain, a notorious poacher. I have heard repeatedly of the misdeeds of this “minion of the moon;” for every midnight depredation that takes place in park, or fold or farm-yard, is laid to his charge. Starlight Tom, in fact, answers to his name; he seems to walk in darkness, and, like a fox, to be traced in the morning by the mischief he has done. He reminds me of that fearful personage in the nursery rhyme:
Who goes round the house at night?
None but bloody Tom!
Who steals all the sheep at night?
None but one by one!
In short, Starlight Tom is the scapegoat of the neighbourhood, but so cunning and adroit, that there is no detecting him. Old Christy and the game-keeper have watched many a night, in hopes of entrapping him; and Christy often patrols the park with his dogs, for the purpose, but all in vain. It is said that the Squire winks hard at his misdeeds, having an indulgent feeling towards the vagabond, because of his being very expert at all kinds of games, a great shot with the cross-bow, and the best morris-dancer in the country.