Mr. McQueen was a good farmer, but at the time he lived in Ireland, farmers could not own their farms.
The land was all owned by rich landlords, who did not do any work themselves. These landlords very often lived away in England or France, and did not know much about how the poor people lived at home, or how hard they had to work to get the money for the rent of their farms.
Sometimes, when they did know, they did n't care. What they wanted was all the money they could get, so they could live in fine houses and wear beautiful clothes, and go where they pleased, without doing any work.
When the landlords were away, they had agents to collect the rents for them. The business of these agents was to get all the rent money they could, and they made life very hard for the farmers.
Sometimes when the farmers could n't pay all the rent, the agent would turn them out of their houses. This was called "evicting" them. The farm that Mr. McQueen lived on, as well as the village and all the country roundabout, was owned by the Earl of Elsmore, who lived most of the year in great style in England. The agent who collected rents was Mr. Conroy. Nobody liked Mr. Conroy very much, but everybody was afraid of him, because he could do so much to injure them.
So one morning when Mr. McQueen came back very early from his potato-field, he was not glad to see Mr. Conroy's horse standing near his door, and Mr. Conroy himself, leaning on the farmyard fence looking at the fowls.
"How are you, McQueen?" said Mr. Conroy, when Mr. McQueen came up.
"Well enough, Mr. Conroy," said Mr. McQueen.
"And you 're doing well with the farm, too, it seems," said Mr. Conroy. "Those are good-looking fowls you have, and the pig is fine and fat. How many cows have you, now?"
"Two, and a heifer," said Mr. McQueen.
"You drained that field over by the bog this year, did n't you, and have it planted to turnips?" went on Mr. Conroy. "I 'm glad to see you so prosperous, McQueen. Of course, now, the farm is worth more than it was when you first took it, and so you 'll not be surprised that I 'm raising the rent on you."
"If the farm is worth more, 't is my work that has made it so," said Mr. McQueen, "and I should n't be punished for that. The house is none too good at all, and the place is not worth more. Last year was the drought and all manner of bad luck, and next year may be no better. Truly, Mr. Conroy, if you press me, I don't know how I can scrape more together than I 'm paying now."
"Well, then," said Mr. Conroy. "You must just find a way, for this is one of the best farms about here, and you should pay as much as any one."
"You can't get money by shaking a man with empty pockets," said Mr. McQueen.
But Mr. Conroy only laughed and said:
"You 'll have five pounds in yours when next rent day comes around, or 't will be the worse for you. You would n't like to be evicted, I 'm sure."
Then he mounted his horse and rode away.
Mr. McQueen went into the house with a heavy heart, and told his wife the bad news.
"Faith," said Mrs. McQueen, "I 'd not be in that man's shoes for all you could offer. It 's grinding down the faces of the poor he is, and that at the telling of some one else! Not even his badness is his own! He does as he 's bid."
"He gets fat on it," said Mr. McQueen.
"Faith, we 'll get along somehow," said Mrs. McQueen. 'We always have, though 't is true it 's been scant fare we 've had now and again."
Mr. McQueen did n't answer. He went back to his work in the fields. Mrs. McQueen got the Twins started off to school, with their lunch in a little tin bucket, and began her washing, but she did not sing at her work that day as she sometimes did.
Larry and Eileen knew that something was wrong, though their Father and Mother had not said anything to them about it.
They had seen Mr. Conroy talking with their Father in the yard. "And it 's never a sign of anything good to see Mr. Conroy," Eileen said.
Larry was thinking the same thing, for he said:—
"When I 'm a man, I 'm going to be rich, and then I 'll give you and Mother and Dada a fine house, and fine clothes, and things in plenty."
"However will you get the money?" asked Eileen.
"Oh! Giants or something," Larry answered, "or maybe being an Alderman."
"Blathers!" said Eileen. "I 've a better plan in my head. You know Dada and Mother said we could have Diddy for our very own, because we found her ourselves."
"I do," said Larry.
"Well, then," said Eileen, "I know it 's about the rent they are bothered, for it always is the rent that bothers them. Now, when the Fair-time comes we 'll coax Dada to let us take Diddy to the Fair. She 'll be nice and fat by that time, and we 'll sell her, and give the money to Dada for the rent!"
"Sure, it will be hard parting with Diddy, that 's been like one of our own family since the day we found her crying in the bog," said Larry.
"Indeed, and it will," said Eileen, "but we think more of our parents than of a pig, surely."
"But however will we get her to the Fair to sell her?" said Larry.
"We 'll get Dada to take her for us, but we'll never tell him we mean the money to go for the rent until we put it in his hands," Eileen answered, "and we won't tell any one else at all. It 's a Secret."
"I 'd like to be telling Dennis, maybe," said Larry."
"We can tell Dennis and Grannie Malone, but no one else at all," Eileen agreed.