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Where The Treasure Is
by [?]

As he threw up the sash Elder Penno caught sight of Tom Hancock, the school attendance officer, lounging against a post on the quay below.

“You’re the very man I want,” said the Elder. “Isn’t that Tregenza’s grandchild over yonder?”

“Looks like her,” said the A.O., withdrawing a short clay pipe from his mouth, and spitting.

“Then why isn’t she at school at this hour?”

“‘Tis a hopeless case, if you ask me.” The A.O. announced this with a fine air of resignation. His pay was 2s. 6d. a week, and he never erred on the side of zeal.

“Better fit you was lookin’ up such cases than idlin’ here and wastin’ baccy. That’s if you ask me,” retorted the Elder.

“I’ve a-talked to the maid, an’ I’ve a-talked to her gran’father, till I’m tired,” said Hancock, and spat again. “She’ll be fourteen next May, an’ then we can wash our hands of her.”

“A nice look-out it’d be if the eddication of England was left in your hands,” said the Elder truthfully, if obviously.

“You can’t do nothin’ with her.” The A.O. was used to censure and wasted no resentment on it. “Nothin’. I give ‘ee leave to try.”

The Elder stood for a moment watching the small figure across the sands. Then, with a snort of outraged propriety, he closed the window, reached down his hat from its peg, marched out of his office–through the shop– and forth upon the sunny quay. A flight of stone stairs led down to the bed of the harbour, now deserted by the tide; and across this, picking his way among the boats and their moorings, he made for the beach where the sea broke and glittered on the firm sand in long curves of white.

A tonic northerly breeze was blowing, just strongly enough to lift the breakers in blue-green hollows against the sunshine and waft a delicate film of spray about the figure of the child moving forlornly on the edge of the foam. She was not playing or running races with the waves, but walking soberly and anon halting to scan the beach ahead. Her legs were bare to the knee, and she had hitched up her short skirt high about her like a cockle-gatherer’s. In the roar and murmur of the surf she did not hear the Elder approaching, but faced around with a start as he called to her.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

For answer she held up a billet of wood, bleached and frayed with long tossing on the seas, worthless except for firewood, and almost worthless for that. The Elder frowned. “Look here,” he said, “you ought to be in school at this moment instead of minchin[1] idle after a few bits o’ stick, no good to anyone. A girl of your age, too! What’s your name?”

“Please, sir, Liz,” the child stammered, looking down.

“You’re Sam Tregenza’s grandchild, hey?”

“Please, sir.”

“Then do you go home an’ tell your grandfather, with my compliments, he ought to know better than to allow it. It’s robbin’ the ratepayers, that’s what it is.”

“Yes, sir,” she murmured, glancing down dubiously at the piece of wood in her hand.

“You don’t understand me,” said the Elder. “The ratepayers spend money on a school here that the children of Ardevora mayn’t grow up into little dunces. Now, if the children go to school as they ought, the Government up in London gives the ratepayers–me, for instance–some of their money back: so much money for each child. If a child minches, the money isn’ paid. ‘Tisn’ the wood you pick up–that’s neither here nor there–but the money you’re takin’ out of folks’ pockets. Didn’ you know that?”

“No, sir.”

“Your grandfather knows it, anyway–not,” went on the Elder with sudden anger in his voice, “that Sam Tregenza cares what folks he robs!” He pulled himself up, slightly ashamed of this outburst. The child, however, did not appear to resent it, but stood thoughtful, as if working out the logic of his argument.