The pestilence had passed away. But the labors of the Rector and his staff rather increased than diminished at this particular point. To say nothing of those vile wretches who seem to spring out of such calamities as putrid matter breeds vermin, and who use them as opportunities for plunder, there were a good many people to be dealt with of a lighter shade of demoralization,—people who had really suffered, and whose daily work had been unavoidably stopped, but to whom idleness was so pleasant, and the fame of their misfortunes so gratifying, that they preferred to scramble on in dismantled homes, on the alms extracted by their woes, to setting about such labor as would place them in comfort. Then that large class—the shiftless— was now doubly large, and there were widows and orphans in abundance, and there was hardly a bed or a blanket in the place.
“I have come,” said Mr. Ammaby, joining the Rector as he sat at breakfast, “to beg you, in the interests of the village, to check the flow of that fount of benevolence which springs eternal in the clerical pocket. You will ruin us with your shillings and half crowns.”
“Bless my soul, Ammaby,” said the Rector, pausing with an eggshell transfixed upon his spoon, “shillings and half crowns don’t go far in the present condition of our households. There are not ten families whose beds are not burnt. What do you propose to do?”
“I’ll tell you, when I have first confessed that my ideas are not entirely original. I have been studying political economy under that hard-headed Sandy, our friend the doctor. In the first place, from to-morrow, we must cease to give any thing whatever, and both announce that determination and stick to it.”
“And then, my dear sir?” said the Rector, smiling; and nursing his black gaiter.
“And then, my dear sir,” said Mr. Ammaby, “I shall be able to get some men to do some work about my place, and those people at a distance who have widows here will relieve them (at least the widows will look up their well-to-do relatives), and the Church, in your person, will not be charged. And some of the widows will consent to scrub for payment, instead of sitting weeping in your kitchen—also for payment. They will, furthermore, compel their interesting sons to mind pigs, or scare birds, instead of hanging about the Heart of Oak, begging of the visitors who now begin to invade us. Do you know that the very boys won’t settle to work, that the children are taking to gutter-life and begging, that the women won’t even tidy up their houses, and that the men are retailing the horrors of the fever in every alehouse in the county, instead of getting in the crops? I give you my word, I had to go down to the inn yesterday, and a lad of eleven or twelve, who didn’t recognize me in Chuter’s dark kitchen, came up and began to beg with a whine that would have done credit to a professional mendicant. I stood in the shadow and let him tell his whole