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Interlopers at the Knap
by [?]

‘Well done, little Sal!’ said her brother, brightening and looking up at her with a smile. ‘I ought to have written; but perhaps I have thought of you all the more. But let me get out of sight. I would rather go and jump into the river than be seen here. But have you anything I can drink? I am confoundedly thirsty with my long tramp.’

‘Yes, yes, we will bring something upstairs to you,’ said Sally, with grief in her face.

‘Ay, that will do nicely. But, Sally and mother–‘ He stopped, and they waited. ‘Mother, I have not told you all,’ he resumed slowly, still looking on the floor between his knees. ‘Sad as what you see of me is, there’s worse behind.’

His mother gazed upon him in grieved suspense, and Sally went and leant upon the bureau, listening for every sound, and sighing. Suddenly she turned round, saying, ‘Let them come, I don’t care! Philip, tell the worst, and take your time.’

‘Well, then,’ said the unhappy Phil, ‘I am not the only one in this mess. Would to Heaven I were! But–‘

‘O, Phil!’

‘I have a wife as destitute as I.’

‘A wife?’ said his mother.


‘A wife! Yes, that is the way with sons!’

‘And besides–‘ said he.

‘Besides! O, Philip, surely–‘

‘I have two little children.’

‘Wife and children!’ whispered Mrs. Hall, sinking down confounded.

‘Poor little things!’ said Sally involuntarily.

His mother turned again to him. ‘I suppose these helpless beings are left in Australia?’

‘No. They are in England.’

‘Well, I can only hope you’ve left them in a respectable place.’

‘I have not left them at all. They are here–within a few yards of us. In short, they are in the stable.’


‘In the stable. I did not like to bring them indoors till I had seen you, mother, and broken the bad news a bit to you. They were very tired, and are resting out there on some straw.’

Mrs. Hall’s fortitude visibly broke down. She had been brought up not without refinement, and was even more moved by such a collapse of genteel aims as this than a substantial dairyman’s widow would in ordinary have been moved. ‘Well, it must be borne,’ she said, in a low voice, with her hands tightly joined. ‘A starving son, a starving wife, starving children! Let it be. But why is this come to us now, to-day, to-night? Could no other misfortune happen to helpless women than this, which will quite upset my poor girl’s chance of a happy life? Why have you done us this wrong, Philip? What respectable man will come here, and marry open- eyed into a family of vagabonds?’

‘Nonsense, mother!’ said Sally vehemently, while her face flushed. ‘Charley isn’t the man to desert me. But if he should be, and won’t marry me because Phil’s come, let him go and marry elsewhere. I won’t be ashamed of my own flesh and blood for any man in England–not I!’ And then Sally turned away and burst into tears.

‘Wait till you are twenty years older and you will tell a different tale,’ replied her mother.

The son stood up. ‘Mother,’ he said bitterly, ‘as I have come, so I will go. All I ask of you is that you will allow me and mine to lie in your stable to-night. I give you my word that we’ll be gone by break of day, and trouble you no further!’

Mrs. Hall, the mother, changed at that. ‘O no,’ she answered hastily; ‘never shall it be said that I sent any of my own family from my door. Bring ’em in, Philip, or take me out to them.’

‘We will put ’em all into the large bedroom,’ said Sally, brightening, ‘and make up a large fire. Let’s go and help them in, and call Rebekah.’ (Rebekah was the woman who assisted at the dairy and housework; she lived in a cottage hard by with her husband, who attended to the cows.)