The Drawn Blind, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
Silver trumpets sounded a flourish, and the javelin-men came pacing
down Tregarrick Fore Street, with the sheriff's coach swinging behind
them, its panels splendid with fresh blue paint and florid blazonry.
Its wheels were picked out with yellow, and this scheme of colour
extended to the coachman and the two lackeys, who held on at the back
by leathern straps. Each wore a coat and breeches of electric
blue, with a canary waistcoat, and was toned off with powder and
flesh-coloured stockings at the extremities. Within the coach, and
facing the horses, sat the two judges of the Crown Court and Nisi
Prius, both in scarlet, with full wigs and little round patches of
black plaister, like ventilators, on top; facing their lordships sat
Sir Felix Felix-Williams, the sheriff, in a tightish uniform of the
yeomanry with a great shako nodding on his knees, and a chaplain bolt
upright by his side. Behind trooped a rabble of loafers and small
boys, who shouted, "Who bleeds bran?" till the lackeys' calves itched
I was standing in the archway of the Packhorse Inn, among the maids
and stable-boys gathered to see the pageant pass on its way to hear
the Assize sermon. And standing there, I was witness of a little
incident that seemed to escape the rest.
At the moment when the trumpets rang out, a very old woman, in a blue
camlet cloak, came hobbling out of a grocer's shop some twenty yards
up the pavement, and tottered down ahead of the procession as fast as
her decrepit legs would move. There was no occasion for hurrying to
avoid the crowd; for the javelin-men had barely rounded the corner
of the long street, and were taking the goosestep very seriously
and deliberately. But she went by the Packhorse doorway as if swift
horsemen were after her, clutching the camlet cloak across her bosom,
glancing over her shoulder, and working her lips inaudibly. I could
not help remarking the position of her right arm. She held it bent
exactly as though she held an infant to her old breast, and shielded
it while she ran.
A few paces beyond the inn-door she halted on the edge of the kerb,
flung another look up the street, and darted across the roadway. There
stood a little shop—a watchmaker's—just opposite, and next to the
shop a small ope with one dingy window over it. She vanished up the
passage, at the entrance of which I was still staring idly, when, half
a minute later, a skinny trembling hand appeared at the window and
drew down the blind.
I looked round at the men and maids; but their eyes were all for the
pageant, now not a stone's-throw away.
"Who is that old woman?" I asked, touching Caleb, the head ostler, on
Caleb—a small bandy-legged man, with a chin full of furrows, and the
furrows full of grey stubble—withdrew his gaze grudgingly from the
"She that went by a moment since."
"She in the blue cloak, d'ee mean?—an old, ancient, wisht-lookin'
"A timmersome woman, like?"
"Well, her name's Cordely Pinsent."
The procession reclaimed his attention. He received a passing wink
from the charioteer, caught it on the volley and returned it with a
solemn face; or rather, the wink seemed to rebound as from a blank
wall. As the crowd closed in upon the circumstance of Justice, he
turned to me again, spat, and went on—
"—Cordely Pinsent, widow of old Key Pinsent, that was tailor to
all the grandees in the county so far back as I can mind. She's
eighty-odd; eighty-five if a day. I can just mind Key Pinsent—a
great, red, rory-cumtory chap, with a high stock and a wig like King
George—'my royal patron' he called 'en, havin' by some means got
leave to hoist the king's arms over his door. Such mighty portly
manners, too—Oh, very spacious, I assure 'ee! Simme I can see the old
Trojan now, with his white weskit bulgin' out across his doorway like
a shop-front hung wi' jewels. Gout killed 'en. I went to his buryin';
such a stretch of experience does a young man get by time he reaches
my age. God bless your heart alive, I can mind when they were hung
"Who were hung?"
"People," he answered vaguely; "and young Willie Pinsent."
"This woman's son?"
"Ay, her son—her ewe-lamb of a child. 'Tis very seldom brought up
agen her now, poor soul! She's so very old that folks forgits about
it. Do 'ee see her window yonder, over the ope?"
He was pointing across to the soiled white blind that still looked
blankly over the street, its lower edge caught up at one corner by a
"I saw her pull it down."
"Ah, you would if you was lookin' that way. I've a-seed her do 't a
score o' times. Well, when the gout reached Key Pinsent's stomach and
he went off like the snuff of a candle at the age of forty-two, she
was left unprovided, with a son of thirteen to maintain or go 'pon the
parish. She was a Menhennick, tho', from t'other side o' the Duchy—a
very proud family—and didn't mean to dip the knee to nobody, and all
the less because she'd demeaned hersel', to start with, by wedding a
tailor. But Key Pinsent by all allowance was handsome as blazes, and
well-informed up to a point that he read Shakespeare for the mere
"Well, she sold up the stock-in-trade an' hired a couple o' rooms—the
self-same rooms you see: and then she ate less 'n a mouse an' took in
needle-work, plain an' fancy: for a lot o' the gentry's wives round
the neighbourhood befriended her—though they had to be sly an' hide
that they meant it for a favour, or she'd ha' snapped their heads off.
An' all the while, she was teachin' her boy and tellin' 'en, whatever
happened, to remember he was a gentleman, an' lovin' 'en with all the
strength of a desolate woman.
"This Willie Pinsent was a comely boy, too: handsome as old Key, an'
quick at his books. He'd a bold masterful way, bein' proud as ever his
mother was, an' well knowin' there wasn' his match in Tregarrick for
head-work. Such a beautiful hand he wrote! When he was barely turned
sixteen they gave 'en a place in Gregory's Bank—Wilkins an' Gregory
it was in those aged times. He still lived home wi' his mother,
rentin' a room extra out of his earnin's, and turnin' one of the
bedrooms into a parlour. That's the very room you're lookin' at. And
when any father in Tregarrick had a bone to pick with his sons, he'd
advise 'em to take example by young Pinsent—'so clever and good, too,
there was no tellin' what he mightn't come to in time.'
"Well-a-well, to cut it short, the lad was too clever. It came out,
after, that he'd took to bettin' his employers' money agen the rich
men up at the Royal Exchange. An' the upshot was that one evenin',
while he was drinkin' tea with his mother in his lovin' light-hearted
way, in walks a brace o' constables, an' says, 'William Pinsent,
young chap, I arrest thee upon a charge o' counterfeitin' old
Gregory's handwritin', which is a hangin' matter!'
"An' now, sir, comes the cur'ous part o' the tale; for, if you'll
believe me, this poor woman wouldn' listen to it—wouldn' hear a word
o't. 'What! my son Willie,' she flames, hot as Lucifer—'my son Willie
a forger! My boy, that I've missed, an' reared up, an' studied,
markin' all his pretty takin' ways since he learn'd to crawl!
Gentlemen,' she says, standin' up an' facin' 'em down, 'what mother
knows her son, if not I? I give you my word it's all a mistake.'
"Ay, an' she would have it no other. While her son was waitin' his
trial in jail, she walked the streets with her head high, scornin' the
folk as she passed. Not a soul dared to speak pity; an' one afternoon,
when old Gregory hissel' met her and began to mumble that 'he
trusted,' an' 'he had little doubt,' an' 'nobody would be gladder than
he if it proved to be a mistake,' she held her skirt aside an' went by
with a look that turned 'en to dirt, as he said. 'Gad!' said he, 'she
couldn' ha' looked at me worse if I'd been a tab!' meanin' to say
'instead o' the richest man in Tregarrick.'
"But her greatest freak was seen when th' Assizes came. Sir, she
wouldn' even go to the trial. She disdained it. An' when, that
mornin', the judges had driven by her window, same as they drove
to-day, what d'ee think she did?
"She began to lay the cloth up in the parlour yonder, an' there set
out the rarest meal, ready for her boy. There was meats, roasted
chickens, an' a tongue, an' a great ham. There was cheese-cakes that
she made after a little secret of her own; an' a bowl of junket,
an inch deep in cream, that bein' his pet dish; an' all kind o'
knick-knacks, wi' grapes an' peaches, an' apricots, an' decanters o'
wine, white an' red. Ay, sir, there was even crackers for mother an'
son to pull together, with scraps o' poetry inside. An' flowers—the
table was bloomin' with flowers. For weeks she'd been plannin' it: an'
all the forenoon she moved about an' around that table, givin' it
a touch here an' a touch there, an' takin' a step back to see how
beautiful it looked. An' then, as the day wore on, she pulled a chair
over by the window, an' sat down, an' waited.
"In those days a capital trial was kept up till late into the night,
if need were. By-an'-by she called up her little servin' gal that was
then (she's a gran'mother now), an' sends her down to the court-house
to learn how far the trial had got, an' run back with the news.
"Down runs Selina Mary, an' back with word—
"'They're a-summin'-up,' says she.
"Then Mrs. Pinsent went an' lit eight candles. Four she set 'pon the
table, an' four 'pon the mantel-shelf. You could see the blaze out
in the street, an' the room lit up, wi' the flowers, an' fruit, an'
shinin' glasses—red and yellow dahlias the flowers were, that bein'
the time o' year. An' over each candle she put a little red silk
shade. You never saw a place look cosier. Then she went back an'
waited: but in half-an-hour calls to Selina Mary agen:
"'Selina Mary, run you back to the courthouse, an' bring word how far
"So the little slip of a maid ran back, and this time 'twas—
"'Missis, the judge has done; an' now they're considerin' about Master
"So the poor woman sat a while longer, an' then she calls:
"'Selina Mary, run down agen, an' as he comes out, tell 'en to hurry.
They must be finished by now.'
"The maid was gone twenty minutes this time. The evenin' was hot an'
the window open; an' now all the town that wasn' listenin' to the
trial was gathered in front, gazin' cur'ously at the woman inside. She
was tittivatin' the table for the fiftieth time, an' touchin' up the
flowers that had drooped a bit i' the bowls.
"But after twenty minutes Selina Mary came runnin' up the street, an'
fetched her breath at the front door, and went upstairs slowly and
'pon tip-toe. Her face at the parlour door was white as paper; an'
while she stood there the voices o' the crowd outside began to take
all one tone, and beat into the room like the sound o' waves 'pon a
"'Oh, missis—' she begins.
"'Have they finished?'
"The poor cheald was only able to nod.
"'Then, where's Willie? Why isn't he here?'
"'Oh, missis, they're goin' to hang 'en!'
"Mrs. Pinsent moved across the room, took her by the arm, led her
downstairs, an' gave her a little push out into the street. Not a word
did she say, but shut the door 'pon her, very gentle-like. Then she
went back an' pulled the blind down slowly. The crowd outside watched
her do it. Her manner was quite ord'nary. They stood there for a
minute or so, an' behind the blind the eight candles went out, one by
one. By the time the judges passed homeward 'twas all dark, only the
blind showin' white by the street lamp opposite. From that year to
this she has pulled it down whenever a judge drives by."