“Who were hung?”
“People,” he answered vaguely; “and young Willie Pinsent.”
“This woman’s son?”
“Ay, her son–her ewe-lamb of a child. ‘Tis very seldom brought up agen her now, poor soul! She’s so very old that folks forgits about it. Do ‘ee see her window yonder, over the ope?”
He was pointing across to the soiled white blind that still looked blankly over the street, its lower edge caught up at one corner by a dusty geranium.
“I saw her pull it down.”
“Ah, you would if you was lookin’ that way. I’ve a-seed her do ‘t a score o’ times. Well, when the gout reached Key Pinsent’s stomach and he went off like the snuff of a candle at the age of forty-two, she was left unprovided, with a son of thirteen to maintain or go ‘pon the parish. She was a Menhennick, tho’, from t’other side o’ the Duchy–a very proud family–and didn’t mean to dip the knee to nobody, and all the less because she’d demeaned hersel’, to start with, by wedding a tailor. But Key Pinsent by all allowance was handsome as blazes, and well-informed up to a point that he read Shakespeare for the mere pleasure o’t.
“Well, she sold up the stock-in-trade an’ hired a couple o’ rooms–the self-same rooms you see: and then she ate less ‘n a mouse an’ took in needle-work, plain an’ fancy: for a lot o’ the gentry’s wives round the neighbourhood befriended her–though they had to be sly an’ hide that they meant it for a favour, or she’d ha’ snapped their heads off. An’ all the while, she was teachin’ her boy and tellin’ ‘en, whatever happened, to remember he was a gentleman, an’ lovin’ ‘en with all the strength of a desolate woman.
“This Willie Pinsent was a comely boy, too: handsome as old Key, an’ quick at his books. He’d a bold masterful way, bein’ proud as ever his mother was, an’ well knowin’ there wasn’ his match in Tregarrick for head-work. Such a beautiful hand he wrote! When he was barely turned sixteen they gave ‘en a place in Gregory’s Bank–Wilkins an’ Gregory it was in those aged times. He still lived home wi’ his mother, rentin’ a room extra out of his earnin’s, and turnin’ one of the bedrooms into a parlour. That’s the very room you’re lookin’ at. And when any father in Tregarrick had a bone to pick with his sons, he’d advise ‘em to take example by young Pinsent–’so clever and good, too, there was no tellin’ what he mightn’t come to in time.’
“Well-a-well, to cut it short, the lad was too clever. It came out, after, that he’d took to bettin’ his employers’ money agen the rich men up at the Royal Exchange. An’ the upshot was that one evenin’, while he was drinkin’ tea with his mother in his lovin’ light-hearted way, in walks a brace o’ constables, an’ says, ‘William Pinsent, young chap, I arrest thee upon a charge o’ counterfeitin’ old Gregory’s handwritin’, which is a hangin’ matter!’
“An’ now, sir, comes the cur’ous part o’ the tale; for, if you’ll believe me, this poor woman wouldn’ listen to it–wouldn’ hear a word o’t. ‘What! my son Willie,’ she flames, hot as Lucifer–’my son Willie a forger! My boy, that I’ve missed, an’ reared up, an’ studied, markin’ all his pretty takin’ ways since he learn’d to crawl! Gentlemen,’ she says, standin’ up an’ facin’ ‘em down, ‘what mother knows her son, if not I? I give you my word it’s all a mistake.’
“Ay, an’ she would have it no other. While her son was waitin’ his trial in jail, she walked the streets with her head high, scornin’ the folk as she passed. Not a soul dared to speak pity; an’ one afternoon, when old Gregory hissel’ met her and began to mumble that ‘he trusted,’ an’ ‘he had little doubt,’ an’ ‘nobody would be gladder than he if it proved to be a mistake,’ she held her skirt aside an’ went by with a look that turned ‘en to dirt, as he said. ‘Gad!’ said he, ’she couldn’ ha’ looked at me worse if I’d been a tab!’ meanin’ to say ‘instead o’ the richest man in Tregarrick.’