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PAGE 2

The Paupers
by [?]

“Far as I can gather, they’ve been minded that way ever since their daughter Jane died, last fall.”

From the stile where they stood they could look down into the village street. And old Jan Trueman was plain to see, in clean linen and his Sunday suit, standing in the doorway and welcoming his guests.

“Come ye in–come ye in, good friends,” he called, as they approached. “There’s cold bekkon, an’ cold sheep’s liver, an’ Dutch cheese, besides bread, an’ a thimble-full o’ gin-an’-water for every soul among ye, to make it a day of note in the parish.”

He looked back over his shoulder into the kitchen. A dozen men and women, all elderly, were already gathered there. They had brought their own chairs. Jan’s wife wore her bonnet and shawl, ready to start at a moment’s notice. Her luggage in a blue handkerchief lay on the table. As she moved about and supplied her guests, her old lips twitched nervously; but when she spoke it was with no unusual tremor of the voice.

“I wish, friends, I could ha’ cooked ye a little something hot; but there’d be no time for the washing-up, an’ I’ve ordained to leave the place tidy.”

One of the old women answered–

“There’s nought to be pardoned, I’m sure. Never do I mind such a gay set-off for the journey. For the gin-an’-water is a little addition beyond experience. The vittles, no doubt, you begged up at the Vicarage, sayin’ you’d been a peck o’ trouble to the family, but this was going to be the last time.”

“I did, I did,” assented Mr. Trueman.

“But the gin-an’-water–how on airth you contrived it is a riddle!”

The old man rubbed his hands together and looked around with genuine pride.

“There was old Miss Scantlebury,” said another guest, a smock-frocked gaffer of seventy, with a grizzled shock of hair. “You remember Miss Scantlebury?”

“O’ course, o’ course.”

“Well, she did it better ‘n anybody I’ve heard tell of. When she fell into redooced circumstances she sold the eight-day clock that was the only thing o’ value she had left. Brown o’ Tregarrick made it, with a very curious brass dial, whereon he carved a full-rigged ship that rocked like a cradle, an’ went down stern foremost when the hour struck. ‘Twas worth walking a mile to see. Brown’s grandson bought it off Miss Scantlebury for two guineas, he being proud of his grandfather’s skill; an’ the old lady drove into Tregarrick Work’us behind a pair o’ greys wi’ the proceeds. Over and above the carriage hire, she’d enough left to adorn the horse wi’ white favours an’ give the rider a crown, large as my lord. Aye, an’ at the Work’us door she said to the fellow, said she, ‘All my life I’ve longed to ride in a bridal chariot; an’ though my only lover died of a decline when I was scarce twenty-two, I’ve done it at last,’ said she; ‘an’ now heaven an’ airth can’t undo it!'”

A heavy silence followed this anecdote, and then one or two of the women vented small disapproving coughs. The reason was the speaker’s loud mention of the Workhouse. A week, a day, a few-hours before, its name might have been spoken in Mr. and Mrs. Trueman’s presence. But now they had entered its shadow; they were “going”–whether to the dim vale of Avilion, or with chariot and horses of fire to heaven, let nobody too curiously ask. If Mr. and Mrs. Trueman chose to speak definitely, it was another matter.

Old Jan bore no malice, however, but answered, “That beats me, I own. Yet we shall drive, though it be upon two wheels an’ behind a single horse. For Farmer Lear’s driving into Tregarrick in an hour’s time, an’ he’ve a-promised us a lift.”

“But about that gin-an’-water? For real gin-an’-water it is, to sight an’ taste.”

“Well, friends, I’ll tell ye: for the trick may serve one of ye in the days when you come to follow me, tho’ the new relieving officer may have learnt wisdom before then. You must know we’ve been considering of this step for some while, but hearing that old Jacobs was going to retire soon, I says to Maria, ‘We’ll bide till the new officer comes, and if he’s a green hand, we’ll diddle ‘en.’ Day before yesterday,’ as you, was his first round at the work; so I goes up an’ draws out my ha’af-crown same as usual, an’ walks straight off for the Four Lords for a ha’af-crown’s worth o’ gin. Then back I goes, an’ demands an admission order for me an’ the missus. ‘Why, where’s your ha’af-crown?’ says he. ‘Gone in drink,’ says I. ‘Old man,’ says he, ‘you’m a scandal, an’ the sooner you’re put out o’ the way o’ drink, the better for you an’ your poor wife.’ ‘Right you are,’ I says; an’ I got my order. But there, I’m wasting time; for to be sure you’ve most of ye got kith and kin in the place where we’m going, and ‘ll be wanting to send ’em a word by us.”