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The Penance Of John Emmet
by [?]

I have thought fit in this story to alter all the names involved and disguise the actual scene of it: and have done this so carefully that, although the story has a key, the reader who should search for it would not only waste his time but miss even the poor satisfaction of having guessed an idle riddle. He whom I call Parson West is now dead. He was an entirely conscientious man; which means that he would rather do wrong himself than persuade or advise another man–above all, a young man–to do it. I am sure therefore that in burying the body of John Emmet as he did, and enlisting my help, he did what he thought right, though the action was undoubtedly an illegal one. Still, the question is one for casuists; and remembering how modest a value my old friend set on his own wisdom, I dare say that by keeping his real name out of the narrative I am obeying what would have been his wish. His small breach of the law he was (I know) prepared to answer for cheerfully, should the facts come to light. He has now gone where their discovery affects him not at all.

Parson West, then, when I made his acquaintance in 188-, had for thirty years been vicar of the coast-parish of Lansulyan. He had come to it almost fresh from Oxford, a young scholar with a head full of Greek, having accepted the living from his old college as a step towards preferment. He was never to be offered another. Lansulyan parish is a wide one in acreage, and the stipend exiguous even for a bachelor. From the first the Parson eked out his income by preparing small annotated editions of the Classics for the use of Schools and by taking occasional pupils, of whom in 188- I was the latest. He could not teach me scholarship, which is a habit of mind; but he could, and in the end did, teach me how to win a scholarship, which is a sum of money paid annually. I have therefore a practical reason for thinking of him with gratitude: and I believe he liked me, while despising my Latinity and discommending my precociousness with tobacco.

His pupils could never complain of distraction. The church-town–a single street of cottages winding round a knoll of elms which hide the Vicarage and all but the spire of St. Julian’s Church–stands high and a mile back from the coast, and looks straight upon the Menawhidden reef, a fringe of toothed rocks lying parallel with the shore and half a mile distant from it. This reef forms a breakwater for a small inlet where the coombe which runs below Lansulyan meets the sea. Follow the road downhill from the church-town and along the coombe, and you come to a white-washed fishing haven, with a life-boat house and short sea-wall. The Porth is its only name. On the whole, if one has to live in Lansulyan parish the Porth is gayer than the church-town, where from the Vicarage windows you look through the trees southward upon ships moving up or down Channel in the blue distance and the white water girdling Menawhidden; northward upon downs where herds of ponies wander at will between the treeless farms, and a dun-coloured British earthwork tops the high sky-line. Dwellers among these uplands, wringing their livelihood from the obstinate soil by labour which never slackens, year in and year out, from Monday morning to Saturday night, are properly despised by the inhabitants of the Porth, who sit half their time mending nets, cultivating the social graces, and waiting for the harvest which they have not sown to come floating past their doors. By consequence, if a farmer wishes to learn the spiciest gossip about his nearest neighbour, he must travel down to the Porth for it.