Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

was straight-ways placed in his hands, with a mere memorandum, or in many cases without any voucher whatever.

A considerable sum became invested by this means in his hands; he had no commercial use for it, and as he was implicitly trusted, he converted it into a source of household festivity; money was always coming in, and in place of examining his own resources, and confining his expenditure within the prudential line, he unscrupulously availed himself of this trust-fund; and thus, year after year had flown away, and "Honest John' had lived and enjoyed himself, and was considered as the most respectable man in the parish.

At the time of his death, his affairs had of course to be looked into, and it was found that a long course of carelessness had done its work; notice being given for the purpose, a host of persons, who had placed money in " Honest John's” hands, made their appearance, and an amount was soon ascertained to be due to them which made the family almost pennyless. Land did not then sell as it has since done, and when all was valued and disposed of but the Shawes, this was their sole resource.

The blow was a sad, and certainly an unmerited one to the widow and children. The Shawes too had been left to John, the eldest son, other property being assigned to the rest of the family, so that their prospects were gloomy enough-none of them had been accustomed to work, and there were no means within their reach of obtaining a livelihood.

John, the present head of the family, was the child of the late Mr. Manford's second wife, whom he had married-for what end nobody, as is usual, could conceive. She had been a dependant on his first spouse, as half companion, half slave; and, though very pretty, was, to some extent, simple and idiotic. He had, however, loved her fondly; and on her premature death, had transferred his affection to her child. This was called after himself—John, and soon gave signs that he inherited, to some degree, his mother's intellectual imbecility.

Nevertheless, he grew up a strong lad, and the darling of his father, who made him his constant companion. Little Johnny, as he was called, although showing unequivocally his mental defect, in his speech and countenance, was, in many things, singularly shrewd and penetrating. He soon learned the value of money, which he hoarded with the care and secrecy of an experienced miser. He was also oddly persevering, and had a quickness in discovering character rather remarkable. He had, however, a most sovereign contempt for clothing, and it had required all his father's care and authority to make him wear either coat or hat. His ideas of decency in manners were also very slight; and had it not been for the kindness and attention incessantly paid to him, he would have sunk into absolute idiotism.

This character had grown with his growth, and with all his defects on his head, he was now the principal man in his paternal home. With the utmost generosity he at once offered to divide with his brothers and sisters the sole remnant of property vested in himself. But even this did not satisfy the desires of the younger brothers.

So long as their father had lived, all in the house had gone “merry as a marriage bell,” and the different and conflicting elements of which the family was composed, consisting of the children of three wives, had been kept in order.

The old man had lived in undisputed authority, and had, moreover, a very sufficient opinion of himself, which his children had never dreamt of disputing; his power over them had been omnipotent. But he was gone, and the binding link

was removed. Poverty and approaching distress are also bad family counsellors; so that a few days made it quite obvious that some change was at hand.

It was on the day on which our tale opens that things had come to a crisis: the family had met to think over and arrange their shattered affairs;—but bitter words were spoken against Johnny, a stormy quarrel followed, and eventually two of the brothers left the house in anger, with a determination of seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

The family, thus left, consisted of John, Mrs. Manford, still a youngish woman, one daughter of her own, one daughter' of a former wife, and a younger brother.

Nothing was now to be done, but to make the best of their means. The farming of his patrimonial acres was, indeed, likely to be a poor resourcebut there was no other. John and his brother worked hard; two cows were added to the stock, and the strictest economy practised within doors.

After a short time the sisters joined their labours to those of their brothers. At first they hung back, a flash of natural pride making them unwilling to sink down into occupations, the drudgery of which they had been used to superintend, but never to share in. There was, however, no choice—the female servants were dismissed; they milked the cows, made butter and cheese, and one of them had the fortitude to appear regularly at market.

After this, things went on better; the females employed themselves, at their leisure hours, in spinning: the distaff and the wheel were busy night and morning, and by great efforts they managed, amongst them, to earn just enough to keep them fairly above want.

Shawe House, a mansion of considerable size, and respectable in appearance, was undergoing

changes in unison with the diminished fortunes of its inmates. It was one of those half-house, halfcastle-like mansions, built at once for residence and for defence in times of need. Its walls were massy, with narrow windows and loop-holes, and it harmonized well with the general features of the landscape, and with the noble oaks which surrounded it.

In the time of the father, the house had been kept in excellent repair. The large hall, occupying the lower part of the building, had been a scene of eating, drinking, and merry making; and scarcely a day passed without witnessing some jollity,— when the

“quip and crank, and wreathed smile"

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

were mingled with the loud song, and the noisy chorus; when the seniors sat in pleasant mood quaffing their nut-brown October, and the young people amused themselves with restepastimes, the very names of which are already nearly forgotten.

Now, however, first one huge schimney toppled down, and then another; the hall was filled with flax or cotton, and spinning wheels; and the joyous sports, which it had once witnessed, were gonem and with them the loud laugh, and merry jest.

The friends of the family also withdrew themselves, not so much on account of their altered circumstances, as their feelings and sympathies we too sincere and unsophisticated to permit of such desertion, but the Manfords, who were painfully sensible of their inability to continue their wonted hospitality, separated themselves as quietly as possible from their acquaintances—thus Shawe House and its owners, showed too plainly that they were poor; and that the Manfords had fallen from their hig! state, and were reduced nearly to a level with the cotters around them.

CHAPTER II.

FARTHER CHANGES THE FIRST FACTORIES.

“ Men's fortunes result from accident or observation.”

Temple.

Such was the state of things with the Manfords, in the year 1786; their ancient patrimony was gone, and there appeared little or no chance of their emerging from the toil and poverty of their present lot.

Events were, however, at work, which in a few years produced no slight change in their condition. It was about

this period that the cotton manufacture received its first grand impulse; the disco-, very, of new, and improved methods of making varn and cloth, and the high price paid for these, gave a stimulus to this branch of industry, which was working a complete revolution in it. The district of which Manchester might be called the centre, was particularly alert in taking advantage of these improvements, and capital poured into it in consequence, and labourers flocked to it from all quarters. Wealth was acquired by the early manufacturers, as if by magic, and the oint of the Dervise, in the Eastern tale, was not more potent in the discovery of money, than cotton spinning.

The picturesque country, of which the Shawes formed part, was distant some eight or ten miles from Manchester, and was singularly fitted, by its natural advantages, for the purpose of this manu

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »