Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the tomb of Richard Watts, with the effigy of worthy Master Richard starting out of it like a ship's figurehead; and I had felt that I could do no less, as I gave the Verger his fee, than inquire the way to Watts's Charity. The way being very short and very plain, I had come prosperously to the inscription and the quaint old door.

“Now,” said I to myself, as I looked at the knocker, “I know I am not a Proctor; I wonder whether I am a Rogue !”

Upon the whole, though Conscience reproduced two or three pretty faces which might have had smaller attraction for a moral Goliath than they had had for me, who am but a Tom Thumb in that way, I came to the conclusion that I was not a Rogue. So beginning to regard the establishment as in some sort my property, bequeathed to me and divers co-legatees, share and share alike, by the Worshipful Master Richard Watts, I stepped backward into the road to survey my inheritance.

I found it to be a clean, white house, of a staid and venerable air, with the quaint old door already three times mentioned (an arched door), choice little long low lattice windows, and a roof of three gables. The silent High Street of Rochester is full of gables, with old beams and timbers carved into strange faces. It is oddly garnished with a queer old clock that projects over the pavement out of a grave red brick building, as if Time carried on business there, and hung out his sign. Sooth to say, he did an active stroke of work in Rochester, in the old days of the Romans, and the Saxons, and the Normans; and down to the times of King John, when the rugged Castle - I will not undertake to say how many hundreds of years old then was abandoned to the centuries of weather which have so defaced the dark apertures in its walls that the ruin looks as if the rooks and daws had picked its eyes out.

I was very well pleased, both with my property and its situation. While I was yet surveying it with growing content, I espied, at one of the upper lattices which stood open, a decent body, of a wholesome matronly appearance, whose eyes I caught inquiringly addressed to mine. They said so plainly, “Do you wish to see the house?” that I answered aloud, “Yes, if you please.” And within a minute the old door opened, and I bent my head, and went down two steps into the entry.

“This,” said the matronly presence, ushering me into a low room on the right, “ is where the Travellers sit by the fire, and cook what bits of suppers they buy with their fourpences.”

“Oh! Then they have no Entertainment?” said I. For the inscription over the outer door was still running in my head, and I was mentally repeating, in a kind of tune, “ Lodging, entertainment, and four

pence each."

They have a fire provided for 'em,” returned the matron, - a mighty civil person, not, as I could make out, overpaid; "and these cooking utensils. And this what's painted on a board is the rules for their behavior. They have their fourpences when they get their tickets from the steward over the way, for I don't admit 'em myself, they must get their tickets first, - and sometimes one buys a rasher of bacon, and another a herring, and another a pound of potatoes, or what not. Sometimes two or three of 'em will club their fourpences together, and make a

לל

supper that way. But not much of anything is to be got for fourpence, at present, when provisions is so dear."

“True, indeed," I remarked. I had been looking about the room, admiring its snug fireside at the upper end, its glimpse of the street through the low mullioned window, and its beams overhead. “It is very comfortable,” said I.

"Ill-conwenient,” observed the matronly presence.

I liked to hear her say so; for it showed a commendable anxiety to execute in no niggardly spirit the intentions of Master Richard Watts. But the room was really so well adapted to its purpose that I protested, quite enthusiastically, against her disparagement.

Nay, ma'am,” said I, “I am sure it is warm in winter and cool in summer. It has a look of homely welcome and soothing rest. It has a remarkably cosy fireside, the very blink of which, gleaming out into the street upon a winter night, is enough to warm all Rochester's heart. And as to the convenience of the Six Poor Travellers ”

“I don't mean them,” returned the presence. I speak of its being an ill-conwenience to myself and my daughter, having no other room to sit in of a night,"

This was true enough, but there was another quaint room of corresponding dimensions on the opposite side of the entry; so I stepped across to it, through the open doors of both rooms, and asked what this chamber was for.

This,” returned the presence, “is the Board Room; where the gentlemen meet when they come here."

66

the presence,

Let me see.
I had counted from the street six

up per windows besides these on the ground-story. Making a perplexed calculation in my mind, I rejoined, “ Then the Six Poor Travellers sleep upstairs ?”

My new friend shook her head. “They sleep,' she answered, “in two little outer galleries at the back, where their beds has always been, ever since the Charity was founded. It being so very ill-conwenient to me as things is at present, the gentlemen are going to take off a bit of the back-yard, and make a slip of a room for 'em there, to sit in before they go to bed.”

"And then the Six Poor Travellers," said I, “ will be entirely out of the house?

“ Entirely out of the house," assente comfortably smoothing her hands.

66 Which is considered much better for all parties, and much more conwenient."

I had been a little startled, in the Cathedral, by the emphasis with which the effigy of Master Richard Watts was bursting out of his tomb; but I began to think, now, that it might be expected to come across the High Street some stormy night, and make a disturbance here.

Howbeit, I kept my thoughts to myself, and accompanied the presence to the little galleries at the back. I found them on a tiny scale, like the galleries in old inn-yards; and they were very clean. While I was looking at them, the matron gave me to understand that the prescribed number of Poor Travellers were forthcoming every night from year's end to year's end; and that the beds were always occupied. My questions upon this, and her replies, brought us back to the Board Room so essential to the dignity of “the gentlemen,” where she showed me the printed

accounts of the Charity hanging up by the window. From them I gathered that the greater part of the property bequeathed by the Worshipful Master Richard Watts for the maintenance of this foundation was, at the period of his death, mere marsh-land; but that, in course of time, it had been reclaimed and built upon, and was very considerably increased in value. I found, too, that about a thirtieth part of the annual revenue was now expended on the

purposes commemorated in the inscription over the door; the rest being handsomely laid out in Chancery, law expenses, collectorship, receivership, poundage, and other appendages of management, highly complimentary to the importance of the Six Poor Travellers. In short, I made the not entirely new discovery that it may be said of an establishment like this, in dear old England, as of the fat oyster in the American story, that it takes a good many men to swallow it whole.

“ And pray, ma'am,” said I, sensible that the blankness of my face began to brighten as a thought occurred to me,

6 could one see these Travellers ? " “ Well!” she returned dubiously, "no!” “Not to-night, for instance ?” said I.

“ Well!” she returned more positively, “no. Nobody ever asked to see them, and nobody ever did see them.”

As I am not easily balked in a design when I am set upon it, I urged to the good lady that this was Christmas Eve; that Christmas comes but once a year, — which is unhappily too true, for when it begins to stay with us the whole year round we shall make this earth a very different place ; that I was possessed by the desire to treat the Travellers to a supper and a temperate glass of hot Wassail ; that the voice of Fame

وو

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »