’Oh! send ’em away!’ bawled Mr Pinsent. ’Send ’em away before their husbands come home from work and raise a riot!’ Then he recollected himself. ’No, fetch ’em all in here, from the street,’ said he, dropping into a chair and taking his head in both hands. ’Fetch ’em all in, and let me deal with ’em!’
The town, when it laughed over the story next day, found the cream of the joke in this—Bester Pinsent, in promising Mrs Halloran that her boy should but share punishment with the rest, had forgotten in his agitation of mind to stipulate that the reward should also be divided. As it was, he had paid her the full five shillings, and the rest of the women (there were twenty-four) would be content with nothing less.
But it was really little Mr Lupus, the schoolmaster, that—all unconsciously—had the last word. Trotting past Butcher Trengrove’s shop next morning, on his way to open school, Mr Lupus caught sight of his Worship standing within the doorway, halted, and came across the street with a nervous flush on his face.
’Mr Mayor, sir, if I may have a word with you? Begging your pardon, sir, but it lies on my conscience—all night, sir, it has been troubling me—that I boasted to you yesterday of my boys’ good attendance. Indeed, sir, it has been good in the past. But yesterday afternoon! Oh, sir, I fear that you were right, after all, and something serious is amiss with the boys of this town!’
I regret that I cannot report here the precise words of Mr Pinsent’s reply.
Troy—not for the first time in its history—is consumed with laughter; laughter which I deprecate, while setting down as an impartial chronicler the occasion and the cause of it.
You must know that our venerable and excellent squire, Sir Felix Felix-Williams, has for some years felt our little town getting, as he puts it, ‘beyond him.’ He remembers, in his father’s time, the grass growing in our streets. The few vessels that then visited the port brought American timber-props for the mines out of which the Felix-Williams estate drew its royalties, and shipped in exchange small cargoes of emigrants whom, for one reason or another, that estate was unable to support. It was a simple system, and Sir Felix has often in talk with me lamented its gradual strangulation, in his time, by the complexities of modern commerce.—You should hear, by the way, Sir Felix pronounce that favourite phrase of his ’in my time’; he does it with a dignified humility, as who should say, ’Observe, I am of the past indeed, but I have lent my name to an epoch.’