Silver trumpets sounded a flourish, and the javelin-men came pacing down Tregarrick Fore Street, with the sheriff’s coach swinging behind them, its panels splendid with fresh blue paint and florid blazonry. Its wheels were picked out with yellow, and this scheme of colour extended to the coachman and the two lackeys, who held on at the back by leathern straps. Each wore a coat and breeches of electric blue, with a canary waistcoat, and was toned off with powder and flesh-coloured stockings at the extremities. Within the coach, and facing the horses, sat the two judges of the Crown Court and Nisi Prius, both in scarlet, with full wigs and little round patches of black plaister, like ventilators, on top; facing their lordships sat Sir Felix Felix-Williams, the sheriff, in a tightish uniform of the yeomanry with a great shako nodding on his knees, and a chaplain bolt upright by his side. Behind trooped a rabble of loafers and small boys, who shouted, “Who bleeds bran?” till the lackeys’ calves itched with indignation.
I was standing in the archway of the Packhorse Inn, among the maids and stable-boys gathered to see the pageant pass on its way to hear the Assize sermon. And standing there, I was witness of a little incident that seemed to escape the rest.
At the moment when the trumpets rang out, a very old woman, in a blue camlet cloak, came hobbling out of a grocer’s shop some twenty yards up the pavement, and tottered down ahead of the procession as fast as her decrepit legs would move. There was no occasion for hurrying to avoid the crowd; for the javelin-men had barely rounded the corner of the long street, and were taking the goosestep very seriously and deliberately. But she went by the Packhorse doorway as if swift horsemen were after her, clutching the camlet cloak across her bosom, glancing over her shoulder, and working her lips inaudibly. I could not help remarking the position of her right arm. She held it bent exactly as though she held an infant to her old breast, and shielded it while she ran.
A few paces beyond the inn-door she halted on the edge of the kerb, flung another look up the street, and darted across the roadway. There stood a little shop–a watchmaker’s–just opposite, and next to the shop a small ope with one dingy window over it. She vanished up the passage, at the entrance of which I was still staring idly, when, half a minute later, a skinny trembling hand appeared at the window and drew down the blind.
I looked round at the men and maids; but their eyes were all for the pageant, now not a stone’s-throw away.
“Who is that old woman?” I asked, touching Caleb, the head ostler, on the shoulder.
Caleb–a small bandy-legged man, with a chin full of furrows, and the furrows full of grey stubble–withdrew his gaze grudgingly from the sheriff’s coach.
“She that went by a moment since.”
“She in the blue cloak, d’ee mean?–an old, ancient, wisht-lookin’ body?”
“A timmersome woman, like?”
“Well, her name’s Cordely Pinsent.”
The procession reclaimed his attention. He received a passing wink from the charioteer, caught it on the volley and returned it with a solemn face; or rather, the wink seemed to rebound as from a blank wall. As the crowd closed in upon the circumstance of Justice, he turned to me again, spat, and went on–
“–Cordely Pinsent, widow of old Key Pinsent, that was tailor to all the grandees in the county so far back as I can mind. She’s eighty-odd; eighty-five if a day. I can just mind Key Pinsent–a great, red, rory-cumtory chap, with a high stock and a wig like King George–‘my royal patron’ he called ‘en, havin’ by some means got leave to hoist the king’s arms over his door. Such mighty portly manners, too–Oh, very spacious, I assure ‘ee! Simme I can see the old Trojan now, with his white weskit bulgin’ out across his doorway like a shop-front hung wi’ jewels. Gout killed ‘en. I went to his buryin’; such a stretch of experience does a young man get by time he reaches my age. God bless your heart alive, I can mind when they were hung for forgery!”