One of the greatest curses attending absenteeism is the facility with which a dishonest and oppressive agent can maintain a system of misrepresentation and falsehood, either to screen his own delinquency or to destroy the reputation of those whom he hates or fears. An absentee landlord has no guarantee beyond the honor and integrity of the man to whom he entrusts the management of his property, and consequently he ought to know that his very residence abroad presents strong temptations to persons, who, in too many instances, are not possessed of any principle strong enough to compete with their rapacity or cruelty. Valentine M’Clutchy was one of those fellows in whom the heart was naturally so hard and selfish that he loved both wealth and the infliction of oppression, simply on account of the pleasure which they afforded him. To such a man, and they formed too numerous a class, the estate of an absentee landlord presented an appropriate, and generally a safe field for action. The great principle of his life was, in every transaction that occurred, to make the interest of the landlord on one hand, and of the tenant on the other, subservient to his own. This was their rule, and the cunning and adroitness necessary to carry it into practical effect, were sometimes scarcely deemed worth concealment, so strong was their sense of impunity, and their disregard of what seldom took place—retribution. Indeed, the absence of the landlord gave them necessarily, as matters were managed, an unlimited power over the people, and gratified that malignant vigilance which ever attends upon suspicion and conscious guilt. Many of the tenants, for instance, when driven to the uttermost depths of distress and misery, have been desperate enough to appeal to the head landlords, and almost in every case the agent himself was enabled to show them their own letters, which the absentee had in the meantime transmitted to the identical party whose tyranny had occasioned them.
The appointment of Phil to the under agency was felt even more strongly than the removal of Mr. Hickman or Val’s succession to that gentleman; for there was about honest Val something which the people could not absolutely despise. His talents for business, however, prostituted as they were to such infamous purposes, only rendered him a greater scourge to the unhappy tenantry over whom he was placed. As for Phil, he experienced at their hands that combined feeling of hatred and contempt with which we look upon a man who has every disposition to villany but not the ability to accomplish its purposes in a masterly manner.