Troy–not for the first time in its history–is consumed with laughter; laughter which I deprecate, while setting down as an impartial chronicler the occasion and the cause of it.
You must know that our venerable and excellent squire, Sir Felix Felix-Williams, has for some years felt our little town getting, as he puts it, ‘beyond him.’ He remembers, in his father’s time, the grass growing in our streets. The few vessels that then visited the port brought American timber-props for the mines out of which the Felix-Williams estate drew its royalties, and shipped in exchange small cargoes of emigrants whom, for one reason or another, that estate was unable to support. It was a simple system, and Sir Felix has often in talk with me lamented its gradual strangulation, in his time, by the complexities of modern commerce.–You should hear, by the way, Sir Felix pronounce that favourite phrase of his ‘in my time’; he does it with a dignified humility, as who should say, ‘Observe, I am of the past indeed, but I have lent my name to an epoch.’
As a fact the access of a railway to our little port, the building of jetties for the china-clay trade, the development of our harbour which now receives over 300,000 tons of shipping annually–all these have, in ways direct and indirect, more than doubled the old gentleman’s income. But to do him justice, he regards this scarcely at all. He sets it down–and rightly–to what he has taken to call on public occasions ‘the expansion of our Imperial Greatness’; but in his heart of hearts he regrets his loosening hold on a population that was used to sit under his fig-tree and drink of his cistern. With their growth the working classes have come to prefer self-help to his honest regulation of their weal. There has been no quarrel: we all love Sir Felix and respect him, though now and then we laugh at him a good deal.
There has been no quarrel, I repeat. But insensibly we have lost the first place in his affections, which of late years have concentrated themselves more and more upon the small village of Kirris-vean, around a corner of the coast. By its mere beauty, indeed, any one might be excused for falling in love with Kirris-vean. It lies, almost within the actual shadow of Sir Felix’s great house, at the foot of a steep wooded coombe, and fronts with diminutive beach and pier the blue waters of our neighbouring bay. The cottages are whitewashed and garlanded with jasmine, solanum, the monthly rose. Fuchsias bloom in their front gardens; cabbages and runner beans climb the hillside in orderly rows at their backs. The women curtsey to a stranger; the men touch their hats; and the inhabitants are mostly advanced in years, for the young men and maidens leave the village to go into ‘good service’ with testimonials Sir Felix takes a delight to grant, because he has seen that they are well earned. If you were to stand at the cross-roads in the middle of Eaton Square and say ‘Kirris-vean!’ in a loud voice, it is odds (though I will not promise) that a score of faces would arise from underground and gaze out wistfully through area-railings. For no one born in Kirris-vean can ever forget it. But Kirris-vean itself is inhabited by grandparents and grandchildren (these last are known in Eaton Square as ‘Encumbrances’). It has a lifeboat in which Sir Felix takes a peculiar pride (but you must not launch it unless in fine weather, or the crew will fall out). It has also a model public-house, The Three Wheatsheaves, so named from the Felix-Williams’ coat of arms. The people of Troy believe–or at any rate assert–that every one in Kirris-vean is born with a complete suit of gilt buttons bearing that device.