Attorney Sneak

Sharp like a tyrant, timid like a slave,
A little man, with yellow, bloodless cheek;
A snappish mingling of the fool and knave,
Resulting in the hybrid compound — Sneak.

Put execution in on Mrs. Hart —
If people will be careless, let them smart:
Oh, hang her children! just the common cry!
Am I to feed her family? Not I.
I'm tender-hearted, but I dare be just, —
I never go beyond the law, I trust;
I've work'd my way, plotted and starved and plann'd,
Commenced without a penny in my hand,
And never howl'd for help, or dealt in sham —
No! I'm a man of principle, I am.

What's that you say? Oh, father has been here?
Of course, you sent him packing? Dear, oh, dear!
When one has work'd his weary way, like me,
To comfort and respectability,
Can pay his bills, and save a pound or two,
And say his prayers on Sunday in a pew,
Can look the laws of England in the face.
'Tis hard, 'tis hard, 'tis shame, and 'tis disgrace,
That one's own father — old and worn and gray —
Should be the only hindrance in his way.
Swore, did he? Very pretty! Threaten'd? Oh!
Demanded money? You, of course, said " No"?
'Tis hard — my life will never be secure —
He'll be my ruin some day, I am sure.
I don't deny my origin was low —
All the more credit to myself, you know:
Mother (I never saw her) was a tramp,
Father half tramp, half pedlar, and whole scamp,
Who travell'd over England with a pack,
And carried me about upon his back,
Trudging from door to door, to feasts and fairs,
Cheating the silly women with his wares,
Stealing the farmers' ducks and hens for food,
Pilfering odds and ends where'er he could,
And resting in a city now and then,
Till it became too hot, — and off again.
Beat me? No, he knew better. I confess
He used me with a sort of tenderness;
But would have warp'd my nature into sin,
Had I been weak, for lack of discipline.
Why, even now, I shudder to the soul,
To think how oft I ate the food he stole.
And how I wore upon my back the things
He won by cheats and lawless bargainings.
Oh, he had feelings, that I freely say;
But, without principle, what good are they?
He swindled and he stole on every hand,
And I was far too young to reprimand;
And, for the rest, why, he was circumspect,
And might have been committed for neglect.

Ah! how I managed, under stars so ill,
To thrive at all, to me is mystery still.
In spite of father, though, I got along,
And early learn'd to judge the right from wrong;
At roadsides, when we stopp'd to rest and feed,
He gave me lessons how to write and read,
I got a snack of schooling here and there,
And learn'd to sum by instinct, as it were.
Then, latterly, when I was seventeen,
All sorts of evil I had heard and seen;
Knew father's evil ways, bemoan'd my fate,
Long'd to be wealthy, virtuous, and great;
Swore, with the fond ambition of a lad,
To make good use of what poor gifts I had.

At last, tired, sick, of wandering up and down,
Hither I turn'd my thoughts, — to London town;
And finally, with little doubt or fear,
Made up my mind to try my fortune here.
Well, father stared at first, and shook his head;
But when he found I held to what I said,
He clasp'd me tight, and hugg'd me to his heart,
And begg'd and pray'd that I would not depart;
Said I was all for whom he had to care,
His only joy in trudging here and there;
Vow'd, if I ever left him, he would die, —
Then, last of all, of course, began to cry.
You know how men of his position feel?
Selfish, at best, even when it is real!
I tried to smooth him over, and, next day,
I pack'd what things I had, and ran away.

I need not tell you all my weary fight,
To get along in life, and do aright —
How often people, when I sought a place,
Still push'd my blessed father in my face;
Until, at last, when I was almost stark,
Old Lawyer Hawk made me his under clerk;
How from that moment, by avoiding wrong,
Possessing principle, I got along;
Read for the law, plotted, and dream'd, and plann'd,
Until — I reach'd the height on which I stand.

'Twas hard, 'twas hard! Just as my business grows,
In father pops his miserable nose,
Steps in, not sober, in a ragged dress,
And worn tenfold with want and wickedness;
Calls me hard names because I wish'd to rise;
Here, in the office, like a baby cries;
Smothers my pride with shame and with disgrace,
Till, red as fire, I coax'd him from the place.
What could I do under so great a blow?
I gave him money, tried to make him go;
But ah! he meant to rest, I plain could see,
His ragged legs 'neath my mahogany!
No principle! When I began complaining,
How he would be my ruin by remaining,
He turn'd upon me, white and wild, and swore,
And would have hit me, had I utter'd more?
" Tommy," he dared to say, " you've done amiss;
I never thought to see you come to this.
I would have stopp'd you early on the journey,
If I had ever thought you'd grow attorney,
Sucking the blood of people here in London;
But you have done it, and it can't be undone.
And, Tommy, I will do my best to see
You don't at all disgrace yourself and me.

I rack'd my brains, I moan'd and tore my hair,
Saw nothing left but ruin and despair;
Father at hand, why, all would deem me low:
" Sneak's father? humph!" — the business would go.
The labour of long years would come to nought!
At last I hit upon a happy thought:
Why should not father, if he pleased to be,
Be decent and respectable like me;
He would be glad and grateful, if a grain
Of principle were settled in his brain.
I made the offer, — proud he seem'd and glad. —
There rose a hope he'd change to good from bad,
Though, " Tommy, 'tis a way of getting bread
I never thought to come upon," he said;
And so I placed him in the office here,
A clerk at five and thirty pounds a year.

I put it to you, could a man do more?
I felt no malice, did not close my door,
Gave him the chance to show if he was wise:
He had the world before him, and could rise.

Well, for a month or more, he play'd no tricks,
Writ-drawing, copying, from nine to six,
Not smart, of course, or clever, like the rest,
But trying, it appear'd, to do his best;
But by and by he changed — old fire broke out —
He snapp'd when seniors order'd him about —
Came late to office, tried to loaf and shirk —
Would sit for precious hours before his work,
And scarcely lift a pen, but sleepily stare
Out through the window at the empty air,
And watch the sunshine lying in the lane,
Or the bluebottles buzzing on the pane,
And look as sad and worn and grieved and strange
As if he ne'er had had a chance to change;
Came one day staggering in a drunken fit;
Flatly refused one day to serve a writ.
I talk'd, appeal'd, talk'd of my honest name,
He stared, turn'd pale, swore loud, and out it came:
He hated living with that monkey crew,
Had tried his best and found it would not do;
He could not bear, forsooth, to watch the tears
Of people with the Law about their ears,
Would rather steal his meals from place to place,
Than bring the sorrow to a poor man's face —
In fact, you see, he hated all who pay,
Or seek their moneys in the honest way;
Moreover, he preferr'd a roadside crust,
To cleanly living with the good and just:
Old, wild, and used to roaming up and down,
He could not bear to stagnate in a town;
To stick in a dark office in a street,
Was downright misery to a man with feet;
Serving the law was more than he could bear,
Give him his pack, his freedom, and fresh air.

Mark that! how base, ungrateful, gross, and bad!
His want of principle had made him mad.
I gave him money, sent him off by train,
And trusted ne'er to see his face again.

But he came back. Of course, Look'd wan and ill,
More ragged and disreputable still.
Despairing, groaning, wretchedest of men,
I granted him another trial then.
Still the old story — the same vacant stare
Out through the window at the empty air,
More watching of the sunshine in the lane,
And the bluebottles buzzing on the pane,
Then more of tipsiness and drunken dizziness,
And rage at things done in the way of business.
I saw the very office servants sneer,
And I determined to be more severe.
At last, one winter morn, I went to him,
And found him sitting, melancholy, grim,
Sprawling like any schoolboy on his seat,
And scratching drawings on a foolscap sheet;
Here, an old hag, with half-a-dozen chits,
Lash'd with a cat-o'-nine-tails, labell'd " Writs ;"
There, a young rascal, ragged as a daw,
Drinking a cup of poison, labell'd " L AW ;
Elsewhere, the Devil, looking o'er a pile
Of old indictments with a crafty smile,
And sticking Lawyers on an office file!
And in a corner, wretchedly devised,
A shape in black, that kick'd and agonised,
Strung by a pauper to a gallows great,
And underneath it written, " T OMMIE'S FATE !"
I touch'd his arm, conducted him aside,
Produced a bunch of documents, and cried:
" Now, father, no more nonsense! You must be
No more a plague and a disgrace to me —
If you won't work like others, you must quit;
See, here are two subpaenas, there a writ,
Serve these on Such-a-one and So-and-so.
Be sharp, — and mind your conduct, or you go."
He never said a word, but with a glare
All round him, drew his thin hand through his hair,
Turn'd white, and took the paper silently,
Put on his hat, and peep'd again at me.
Then quietly, not like a man in ire,
Threw all the precious papers on the fire!
And turning quickly, crying with a shout,
" You, and your documents, be damn'd! " went out.

He came again! Ay, after wandering o'er
The country as of old, he came once more.
I gave him money, off he went; and then,
After a little year, he came again;
Ay, came, and came, still ragged, bad, and poor,
And he will be my ruin, I am sure.
He tells the same old tale from year to year,
How to his heart I ever will be dear;
Or oft into a fit of passion flies,
Calls me ungrateful and unkind, — then cries,
Raves of his tenderness and suffering,
And mother's too — and all that sort of thing!
He haunts me ever like a goblin grim,
And — to be candid — I 'm afraid of him;
For, ah! all now is hopeless, to my cost, —
Through want of principle the man is lost.

— That's Badger, is it? He must go to Vere,
The Bank of England clerk. The writ is here.
Say, for his children's sake, we may relent,
If he 'll renew at thirty-five per cent.
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