The tap-room presented its usual evening appearance when the agent entered. The curate and lawyer were deep in a discussion on the beauties of the new poor-law; the farmers grumbling at the weather; the landlady quietly seated behind the bar, while the bar-maid, a smart, coquettish girl of nineteen, carried the ale and brandy around to the thirsty customers, and all the usual concomitants of a scene then common, but, what we must now call of the olden time, though half a century has scarce passed away since it occurred. The agent was a great man there, few liked him—in fact, all hated him, for though generally a just man, he was entirely a man of business; punctuality was his deity—there was no excuse with him for not meeting rent or bills when due; he did not overcharge or wrong anyone, but he must have his bond, like Shylock, without his ferocity. If money was due it must be paid; sickness, bad crops, death itself was nothing to him; if not, he proceeded legally; oh, what a world of anguish! what a number of crimes, crying aloud to Heaven for justice and retribution, are committed under the cloak of Man’s legality. The type was forged in Hell that stamped the letter of the law.
The agent, after exchanging courtesies, lip-deep, with the principal farmers, the curate, etc., walked up to the bar and entered into conversation with Mrs. Ally, as she was usually called.
’His lordship has desired me, Mrs. Ally, to put this notice up in a conspicuous place in your tavern, perhaps you will oblige me by placing it in a proper position.’ So saying, he handed her the paper containing the reward, etc., offered for the apprehension of Hunter.
’You may stick it up yourself on the parish pump, Mr. Lambert, if you like, but my bar is no station-house or cage; give it to the town crier,’ said the dame bristling, for she hated the agent, and feared him not.
‘Dang my buttons!’ said a burly farmer, ’Mrs. Ally ha the agent dumbfoundered—what be the matter?’
‘It is simply this, good friends,’ said the agent: ’his lordship has offered a reward of L500;—L500,’ said the agent, slowly repeating the sum, ’for the apprehension of the notorious poacher, Horace Hunter, who has threatened his life, and will visit with his gravest displeasure any one who harbors him, or in any way countenances him; if a tenant he shall be discharged; and Mrs. Ally here, refuses to let me place the notice in her bar, thereby showing great disregard for my lord’s wishes, to say the least.’
The farmers mostly shrunk back on this speech; the name of a lord, and that lord their landlord, appalled them. They knew the bitter wrong he had heaped upon Hunter’s devoted head; they well could sympathize with him; they had known him a gay and thriving farmer, their lord’s especial favorite—fatal favor—the companionship of the tiger and the deer. The beauty of Hunter’s sister had struck the libidinous eye of the aristocratic