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INHABITANTS OF A COUNTRY TOWN.
BY MISS MITFORD.
No. I.-A GREAT MAN IN RETIREMENT. The greatest man in these parts (I use the word in the sense of Louis le Gros, not Louis le Grand), the greatest man hereabouts, by at least a stone, is our worthy neighbour Stephen Lane, the grazier-ex-butcher of B Nothing so big hath been seen since Lambert the gaoler or the Durham ox.
When he walks he overfills the pavement, and is more difficult to pass than a link of full-dressed misses, or a chain of becloaked dandies. Indeed a malicious attorney, in drawing up a paving bill for the ancient borough of B , once inserted a clause confining Mr. Lane to the middle of the road, together with waggons, vans, stage-coaches, and other heavy articles. Chairs crack under him,-couches rock,-bolsters groan,-and floors tremble. He hath been stuck in a staircase and jammed in a doorway, and has only escaped being ejected from an omnibus by its being morally and physically impossible that he should get in. His passing the window has something such an effect as an eclipse, or as turning outward the opaque side of that ingenious engine of mischief, a dark lantern. He puts out the light like Othello. A small wit of our town, by calling a supervisor, who dabbles in riddles, and cuts no inconsiderable figure in the Poet's Corner of the county newspaper, once perpetrated a conundrum on his person, which as relating to so eminent and well-known an individual, (for almost every reader of the “ H shire Herald” hath, at some time or other, been a customer of our butcher's,) had the honour of puzzling more people at the Sunday morning breakfast-table, and of engaging more general attention than had ever before happened to that respectable journal. A very horrible murder, (and there was that week one of the very first water,) two shipwrecks, an enlèvement, and an execution, were all passed over as trifles compared with the interest excited by this literary squib and cracker. A trifling quirk it was to keep Mr. Stacy, the surveyot, a rival bard, fuming over his coffee until the said coffee grew cold; or to hold Miss Anna Maria Watkins, the mantua-maker, in pleasant though painful efforts at divination until the bell rang for church, and she had hardly time to undo her curl-papers and arrange her ringlets ;' a flimsy quirk it was of a surety, an inconsiderable quiddity! Yet since the courteous readers of the “H- shire Herald ” were amused with pondering over it, so perchance may be the no less courteous and far more courtly readers of the “ New Monthly.” I insert it, therefore, for their edification, together with the answer, which was not published in the “ Herald” until the H- shire public had remained an entire week in suspense :-" Query-Why is Mr. Stephen Lane like Rembrandt ?" -“ Answer-Because he is famous for the breadth of his shadow."
The length of his shadow, although by no means in proportion to the width,—for that would have recalled the days when giants walked the land, and Jack, the famous Jack, who borrowed his surname from his occupation, slew them,-was yet of pretty fair dimensions. He stood
six feet two inches without his shoes, and would have been accounted a tall man if his intolerable fatness had not swallowed up all minor distinctions. That magnificent beau ideal of a human mountain, “ the fat woman of Brentford,” for whom Sir John Falstaff passed not only undetected, but unsuspected, never crossed my mind's eye but as the feminine of Mr. Stephen Lane. Tailors, although he was a liberal and punctual paymaster, dreaded his custom. They could not, charge how they might, contrive to extract any profit from his “ huge rotundity.” It was not only the quantity of material that he took, and yet that cloth universally called broad was not broad enough for him,-it was not only the stuff, but the work—the sewing, stitching, plaiting, and button-holing without end. The very shears grew weary of their labours : two fashionable suits might have been constructed in the time, and from the materials consumed in the fabrication of one for Mr. Stephen Lane. Two, did I say? Aye, three or four, with a sufficient allowance of cabbage,-a perquisite never to be extracted from his coats or waistcoasts, no not enough to cover a penwiper. Let the cutter cut his cloth ever so largely, it was always found to be too little. All their measures put together would not go round him; and as to guessing at his proportions by the eye, a tailor might as well attempt to calculate the dimensions of a seventy-four-gun ship,-as soon try to fit a three-decker. Gloves and stockings were made for his especial use. Extras and double extras failed utterly in his case ;-as the dapper shopman spied at the first glance of his huge paw, a fist which might have felled an ox, and somewhat resembled the dead ox-flesh, commonly called beef, in texture and colour.
To say the truth, his face was pretty much of the same complexionand yet it was no uncomely visage either; on the contrary, it was a bold, bluff, massive, English countenance, such as Holbein would have liked to paint, in which great manliness and determination were blended with much good humour, and a little humour of another kind; so that even when the features were in seeming repose, you could foresee how the face would look when a broad smile, and a sly wink, and a knowing nod, and a demure smoothing down of his straight shining hair on his broad forehead gave his wonted cast of drollery to the blunt but merry tradesman, to whom might have been fitly applied the Chinese compliment, “ Prosperity is painted on your countenance."
Stephen Lane, however, had not always been so prosperous, or so famous for the breadth of his shadow. Originally a foundling in the streets of B- , he owed his very name, like the “ Richard Monday" of one of Crabbe's finest delineations, to the accident of his having been picked up, when apparently about a week old, in a by-lane close to St. Stephen's churchyard, and baptized by order of the vestry after the scene of his discovery. Like the hero of the poet, he also was sent to the parish workhouse ; but, as unlike to Richard Monday in character as in destiny, he won, by the real or fancied resemblance to a baby whom she had recently lost, the affection of the matron, and was by her care shielded not only from the physical dangers of infancy, in such an abode, but from the moral perils of childhood.
Kindly yet roughly reared, Stephen Lane was even as a boy eminent for strength, and hardihood, and invincible good humour. At ten years old he had fought with ånd vanquished every lad under fifteen, not only in the workhouse proper, but in the immediate purlieus of that respectable domicile, and would have got into a hundred scrapes had hę not been shielded in the first place by the active protection of his original patroness, the wife of the superintendent and master of the establishment, whose pet he continued to be; and in the second by his own bold and decided, yet kindly and affectionate temper. Never had a boy of ten years old more friends than the poor foundling of Șt. Stephen's workhouse. There was hardly an inmate of that miscellaneous dwelling, who had not profited, at some time or other, by the good-humoured lad's delightful alertness in obliging, his ready services, his gaiety, his intelligence, and his resource. From mending Master Hunt's crutch, down to rocking the cradle of Dame Green's baby-from fetching the water for the general wash, a labour which might have tried the strength of Hercules, down to leading out for his daily walk the half-blind, half-idiot, halfcrazy David Hood, a task which would have worn out the patience of Job, nothing came amiss to him. All was performed with the same cheerful good-will; and the warm-hearted gratitude with which he received kindness was even more attaching than his readiness to perform good offices to others. I question if ever there were a happier childhood than that of the deserted parish-boy. Set aside the pugnaciousness which he possessed in common with other brave and generous animals, and which his protectress, the matron of the house, who had enjoyed in her youth the advantage of perusing some of those novels,-now, alas! no more,—where the heroes, originally foundlings, turn out to be lords and dukes in the last volume, used to quote in confirmation of her favourite theory: to wit, his being nobly born, as proofs of his innate high blood ;--set aside the foes made by his propensity to single combat, which could not fail to exasperate the defeated champions, and Stephen had not an enemy in the world.
At ten years of age, however, the love of independence, and the desire to try his fortunes in the world, began to stir in the spirited lad; and his kind friend and confidant, the master's wife, readily promised her assistance to set him forth in search of adventures, though she was not a little scandalized to find his first step in life likely to lead him into a butcher's shop, he having formed an acquaintance with a journeyman slayer of cattle in the neighbourhood, who had interceded with his master to take him on trial as errand-boy, with an understanding that if he showed industry and steadiness, and liked the craft, he might, on easy terms, be accepted as an apprentice. This prospect, which Stephen justly thought magnificent, shocked the lady of the workhouse, who had set her heart on his choosing a different scene of slaughter-killing men, not oxen--going forth as a soldier, turning the fate of a battle, marrying some king's daughter or emperor's niece, and returning in triumph to his native town, a generalissimo at the very least.
Her husband, however, and the parish-overseers were of a different opinion. They were much pleased with the proposal, and were (for overseers) really liberal in their manner of meeting it. So that a very few days saw Stephen in bļue sleeves and a blue apron-the dress which he still loves best-parading through the streets of B- , with a tray of meat upon his head, and a huge mastiff called Boxer-whose warlike name matched his warlike nature-following at his heels as if part and parcel of himself. A proud boy was Stephen on that first day of his promotion. Hentet finns i V.
ut one pol marito cristal de ces
Years wore away and found the errand-boy transmuted into the apprentice, and the apprentice ripened into the journeyman, with no diminution of industry, intelligence, steadiness, and good humour. As a young man of two or three and twenty, he was so remarkable for feats of strength and activity, for which his tall and athletic person, not at that period encumbered by flesh, particularly fitted him, as to be the champion of the town and neighbourhood; and large bets have been laid and won on his sparring, and wrestling, and lifting weights all but incredible. He has walked to London and back (a distance of above sixty miles) against time, leaping in his way all the turnpike-gates that he found shut, without even laying his hand upon the bars. He has driven a flock of sheep against a shepherd by profession, and has rowed against a bargeman; and all this without suffering these dangerous accomplishments to beguile him into the slightest deviation from his usual sobriety and good conduct. So that, when at six-and-twenty he became, first, head man to Mr. Jackson, the great butcher in the Butter-market; then married Mr. Jackson's only daughter; then, on his father-in-law's death, succeeded to the business and a very considerable property; and, finally, became one of the most substantial, respectable, and influential inhabitants of B--, every one felt that he most thoroughly deserved his good fortune; and although his prosperity has continued to increase with his years, and those who envied have seldom had the comfort of being called on to condole with him on calamities of any kind, yet, such is the power of his straight-forward fair-dealing, and his enlarged liberality, that his political adversaries, on the occasion of a contested election, or some such trial of power, are driven back to the workhouse and St. Stephen's lane, to his obscure and ignoble origin (for the noble parents whom his poor old friend used to prognosticate have never turned up) to find materials for party malignity.
Prosperous, most prosperous, has Stephen Lane been through life; but by far the best part of his good fortune (setting pecuniary advantages quite out of the question) was his gaining the heart and hand of such a woman as Margaret Jackson. In her youth she was splendidly beau. tiful-of the luxuriant and gorgeous beauty in which Giorgione revelled and now, in the autumn of her days, amplified, not like her husband, but so as to suit her matronly character, she seems to me almost as delightful to look upon as she could have been in her earliest spring. I do not know a prettier picture than to see her sitting at her own door, on a summer afternoon, surrounded by her children and her grand-children, all of them handsome, gay, and cheerful, with her knitting on her knee, and her sweet face beaming with benevolence and affection, smiling on all around, and seeming as if it were her sole desire to make every one about her as good and as happy as herself. One cause of the long endurance of her beauty is undoubtedly its delightful expression. The sunshine and harmony of mind depicted in her countenance would have made plain features pleasing, and there was an intelligence, an enlargement of intellect, in the bright eyes and the fair, expanded forehead, which mingled well with the sweetness that dimpled round her lips. Butcher's wife and butcher's daughter though she were, yet was she a graceful and gracious woman,-one of nature's gentlewomen in look and in thought. All her words were candid—all her actions liberal-all her pleasures unselfish-though, in her great pleasure of giving, I am not quite sure that she was so--she took such extreme delight in it. All the poor of the parish and of the town came to her as a matter of course : that is always the case with the eminently charitable; but children also ap. plied to her for their little indulgences, as if by instinct. All the boys in the street used to come to her to supply their several desires; to lend them knives and give them string for kites, or pencils for drawing, or balls for cricket, as the matter might be. Those huge pockets of her's were a perfect toy-shop, and so the urchins knew. And the little damsels, their sisters, came to her also for materials for doll's dresses, or odd bits of ribbon for pincushions, or coloured silks to embroider their needle-cases, or any of the thousand-and-one nick-knacks which young girls fancy they want. However out of the way the demand might seem, there was the article in Mrs. Lane's great pocket. She knew the tastes of her clients, and was never unprovided. And in the same ample receptacle, mixed with knives, and balls, and pencils for the boys, and doll's dresses, and sometimes even a doll itself, for the girls, might be found sugar-plums, and cakes, and apples, and gingerbread-nuts for the "toddling wee things,” for whom even dolls have no charms. There was no limit to Mrs. Lane's bounty, or to the good-humoured alacrity with which she would interrupt a serious occupation to satisfy the claims of the small people. Oh, how they all loved Mrs. Lane!
Another and a very different class also loved the kind and generous inhabitant of the Butter-market—the class who, having seen better days, are usually averse to accepting obligations from those whom they have been accustomed to regard as their inferiors. With them Mrs. Lane's delicacy was remarkable. Mrs. Lucas, the curate's widow, often found some unbespoken luxury, a sweetbread, or so forth, added to her slender order; and Mr. Hughes, the consumptive young artist, could never manage to get his bill. Our good friend the butcher had his full share in the benevolence of these acts, but the manner of them belonged wholly to his wife.
Her delicacy, however, did not, fortunately for herself and for her husband, extend to her domestic habits. She was well content to live in the coarse plenty in which her father lived, and in which Stephen revelled; and by this assimilation of taste, she not only insured her own comfort, but preserved, unimpaired, her influence over his coarser but kindly and excellent disposition. It was, probably, to this influence that her children owed an education which, without raising them in the slightest degree above their station or their home, yet followed the spirit of the age, and added considerable cultivation and plain but useful knowledge, to the strong manly sense of their father, and her owu sweet and sunny temperament. They are just what the children of such parents ought to be. The daughters, happily married in their own rank of life; the sons, each in his different line, following the footsteps of their father, and amassing large fortunes, not by paltry savings, or dar, ing speculations, but by well-grounded and judicious calculation by sound and liberal views-by sterling sense and downright honesty..
Universally as Mrs. Lane was beloved, Stephen had his enemies. He was a politician-a Reformer-a Radical, in those days in which reform was not so popular as it has been lately; he loved to descant on liberty, and economy, and retrenchment, and reform, and carried his theory into practice, in a way exceedingly inconyenient to the Tory member, whom