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Interlopers at the Knap
by [?]

Sally was in advance of her mother, who had remained standing by the fire. She now tried to discern the visitor across the candles.

‘Why–mother,’ said Sally faintly, turning back to Mrs. Hall. ‘It is Phil, from Australia!’

Mrs. Hall started, and grew pale, and a fit of coughing seized the man with the ragged clothes. ‘To come home like this!’ she said. ‘O, Philip–are you ill?’

‘No, no, mother,’ replied he impatiently, as soon as he could speak.

‘But for God’s sake how do you come here–and just now too?’

‘Well, I am here,’ said the man. ‘How it is I hardly know. I’ve come home, mother, because I was driven to it. Things were against me out there, and went from bad to worse.’

‘Then why didn’t you let us know?–you’ve not writ a line for the last two or three years.’

The son admitted sadly that he had not. He said that he had hoped and thought he might fetch up again, and be able to send good news. Then he had been obliged to abandon that hope, and had finally come home from sheer necessity–previously to making a new start. ‘Yes, things are very bad with me,’ he repeated, perceiving their commiserating glances at his clothes.

They brought him nearer the fire, took his hat from his thin hand, which was so small and smooth as to show that his attempts to fetch up again had not been in a manual direction. His mother resumed her inquiries, and dubiously asked if he had chosen to come that particular night for any special reason.

For no reason, he told her. His arrival had been quite at random. Then Philip Hall looked round the room, and saw for the first time that the table was laid somewhat luxuriously, and for a larger number than themselves; and that an air of festivity pervaded their dress. He asked quickly what was going on.

‘Sally is going to be married in a day or two,’ replied the mother; and she explained how Mr. Darton, Sally’s intended husband, was coming there that night with the groomsman, Mr. Johns, and other details. ‘We thought it must be their step when we heard you,’ said Mrs. Hall.

The needy wanderer looked again on the floor. ‘I see–I see,’ he murmured. ‘Why, indeed, should I have come to-night? Such folk as I are not wanted here at these times, naturally. And I have no business here–spoiling other people’s happiness.’

‘Phil,’ said his mother, with a tear in her eye, but with a thinness of lip and severity of manner which were presumably not more than past events justified; ‘since you speak like that to me, I’ll speak honestly to you. For these three years you have taken no thought for us. You left home with a good supply of money, and strength and education, and you ought to have made good use of it all. But you come back like a beggar; and that you come in a very awkward time for us cannot be denied. Your return to-night may do us much harm. But mind–you are welcome to this home as long as it is mine. I don’t wish to turn you adrift. We will make the best of a bad job; and I hope you are not seriously ill?’

‘O no. I have only this infernal cough.’

She looked at him anxiously. ‘I think you had better go to bed at once,’ she said.

‘Well–I shall be out of the way there,’ said the son wearily. ‘Having ruined myself, don’t let me ruin you by being seen in these togs, for Heaven’s sake. Who do you say Sally is going to be married to–a Farmer Darton?’

‘Yes–a gentleman-farmer–quite a wealthy man. Far better in station than she could have expected. It is a good thing, altogether.’