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The Birthright

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I am writing this story at the wish of many friends, who tell me it is my duty so to do. Certain stories have been afloat, which are anything but true, and it has been urged upon me again and again to set down in plain terms the true history of events which have set people's tongues wagging. I must confess that, in spite of the pleasure I have in recalling the memories of past years, it is with great diffidence that I at last commence my work. Not because I have any difficulty in remembering what took place. My memory, thank God, is as good as ever, and the principal scenes in my history are as clear to me as if they happened yesterday. It is not that. The truth is I was never clever at putting things on paper, and somehow, while the facts are clear enough in my mind, I feel a great difficulty in relating those facts in a way that is clear and understandable. You see I have lived an open-air life, and have spent more hours with the bridle-reins in my hands than the pen, and although I had a fair amount of schooling I was never considered a quick learner.

Still, as John Major said to me only yesterday, it seems a duty to clear up certain matters which are altogether misunderstood, and what is more, to clear my name from scandal. Moreover, as he truly insisted, there are others besides myself upon whom clouds rest, and one especially about whom the truth ought to be told.

"People are saying," asserted John Major, "that the land you call yours is not yours by right, and that in order to get your will you were in league with the devil. It is also said that you broke the laws of God and man in your dealings with your relations, and that Parson Inch refuses to give you the right hand of fellowship until you can prove in a fair and straightforward way that you are not the man some take you to be."

Now I am quite aware that many things have happened to me which happen to but few men. I know, too, that I have had experiences which, to say the least of them, are strange, neither am I sure that I can explain certain matters to Parson Inch's satisfaction. At the same time I am not afraid of the light, and so I am determined to set down truthfully, to the best of my ability, the true account of those events in my life which are misunderstood, so that no stigma shall rest upon those who are as dear to me as my own heart's blood.

Let it be understood, however, that I make no pretence at fine writing, neither must it be expected that I, who never boasted great learning, can explain that which has puzzled Parson Grigg, who was in the parish before Mr. Inch came—aye, even puzzled the Bishop himself who came to visit the rectory some years since. All I undertake to do is to put down in plain, homely words the story of my life, in so far as it affects my good name and the good name of those who are associated with me. It may be that I shall have to touch upon matters peculiar to the part of the country in which I was born and reared, and to which I am proud to belong. As far as I can I will make them clear; but even concerning these I will make no great promises.

To begin at the beginning then, for I must do this to make everything clear, and I desire above everything to make matters plain. My father, Jasper Pennington, died when I was nineteen, leaving me as I thought Elmwater Barton, a farm of about three hundred acres. I am called Jasper too; indeed, for generations back there has always been a Jasper Pennington. Elmwater Barton is by no means a bad farm. Nearly all the land is under cultivation, and the house is roomy and substantial. You must not imagine, however, that the Barton is the principal place in the parish of St. Eve. Far from it. The parish contains twelve thousand acres, and is, on the whole, the richest parish in Cornwall, and so three hundred acres do not count much. Up to the time of my father living at Elmwater Barton the place had always been held by a family of yeomen by the name of Quethiock, respectable people, of course, but not regarded as gentry. No, the principal house in St. Eve is Pennington, which, when my father died, was owned by Richard Tresidder....