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OPEN SESAME.

    Interested strangers who tried to talk to Mr. Trembath
about the West Country were apt to be disappointed because,
although he had many memories, he found it difficult at the
moment to get hold of the proper end. If you happen to be on
Trevenen Quay towards the end of September you may see
fishermen home from the North Sea groping in the hold of a
lugger for the tail of a herring net. When found it is pulled
out, not in yards, but in miles. So with Mr. Trembath’s
memories. A chance word more often than not apparently
irrelevant, put the thread into his hand, and you found it just
as well to sit down while the grey man in a toneless voice
reeled you off a whole warp of his life. Only—to pursue the
simile—in his case you had not only the net but all the fish as
well; bright and curious, so vivid and explicit that if you had
any imagination you tasted the brine on your lips, and saw
the little cows over the ash-tops climbing the flank of Carn
Leskys. Like the ancient mariner, Mr. Trembath found relief
rather than pleasure in telling his reminiscences; indeed, it is
probable that he craved forgetfulness. They did their best in
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Packer’s Rents to make him forget, but an inheritance of six
centuries is perhaps not the best preparation for a countryman
coming to live in London. The traditions of six hundred
years, and the flower soft though ineffaceable impressions of
sixty others by moor and sea tend to use up a man’s acquisi-
tive powers, so that the facts of to-day, however striking, are
not properly assimilated, and are always novel.

    Thus, after five years, Mr. Trembath still talked about
the wonderful things they did in London Churchtown. If
he had been capable of expressing himself clearly, or even of
retaining a definite idea in his nebulous mind, he would have
told you that the most surprising things in London were the
milk and the children. He never found fault with the milk;
it was just too perplexing for that. Mr. Trembath took in
the milk because Mable Elsie, his daughter-in-law, found his
invincible innocence a convenient barrier to importunate
creditors. Every day when the milk had been thrown from
the measure into the jug with that masterly “plop” which
only the London milkman can achieve, Mr. Trembath peered
into the ostentatiously foaming fluid and muttered “Well well,”
much as if he had seen a cat with wings. Every day he
meant to look for the machinery by which the milk was made,
but forgot in the fresh wonder of its appearance. He never
got so far as criticism, partly from courtesy, party because
the milkman was gone before he reached the verbal stage of
his meditations. The one thing that would have startled him
into speech was the information that the milk came from real
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cows.

    The children, and there were a great many children in
Packer’s Rents, affected him differently. Besides wonder he
had an uncomfortable feeling of responsibility about them
He never could get rid of the idea that “somebody ought to be
told;” and might often have been seen lifting up a baby out
of the gutter or stooping to wipe a small nose with his red
pocket-handkerchief. He had come to believe that they were
human children because Mabel Elsie shamelessly discussed
their incidence with her friend Mrs. Ellis in his hearing. In
spite of his general haziness he remembered to be glad that he
had no grandchildren in Packer’s Rents, and frequently said so
aloud, with embarrassing disregard for Mabel Elsie’s presence.

    Mr. Trembath never quarrelled with his daughter-in-law.
She made him wonder, but not more than when fourteen years
ago his son brought her home with her voice and her clothes
to Rosewithan. Most personal matters, things to be glad or
sorry about, were so far off now that Mr. Trembath had
ceased to grieve over the relationship. He sometimes addressed
her as “my dear,” and then would pull up short with a pathetic
look of non-recognition. Could this be the woman his son had
chosen for bed and board? The incredible idea caused him to
forget his manners, and, staring at Mabel Elsie, to observe
aloud in a mildly deprecating voice:

    “Well, what a woman, eh?”

    Then Mabel Elsie would throw back her head and scream
with laughter.

    “Just like the green woodpeckers down to Rosewithan,
my dear,” he would say, and go on to discuss a matter which
had long troubled his conscience. Years ago, tempted by the
green and scarlet, he had shot a woodpecker—here he would
illustrate “and a good shot it was, my dear”—in the mating
season. The bird had built in one of the elms which stood
in front of his door, and ever afterwards the round black hole
haunted him like an empty eye-socket in which he himself had
quenched the fire of life. Then Mabel Elsie would laugh again
more loudly, whereat Mr. Trembath would shrink and pain-
fully try to show her how the women laughed down to Rose-
withan. But Mabel Elsie only called him a “silly ole man”
for his pains.

    For Mr. Trembath’s daughter-in-law had a proper sense
of practical benefits, and was not easily wounded. A weak
minded old gentleman whose only interest in his life annuity
was to sign the quarterly cheques, was worth indulging in his
conversation. When Mr. Trembath’s only son migrated to
London he acquired habits, including Mabel Elsie, which did
not make for material prosperity. Love of the land was not
enough to make life worth while to his mother after he had
left her roof and she presently died, if not of a broken heart,
at least in a moral vacuum. For a time Mr. Trembath tried
to forget his loneliness in his farm, but dairy farming without
a mistress is a rather forlorn industry. At last the craven
letters of his son who daily sank lower under the circum-
stances of his choice, confirmed Mr. Trembath in his disastrous
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opinion that he ought to leave Rosewithan to “see what he
could do for John.” So he came to London, but only in time
to learn that the only thing he could do for John was to bury
him. Having dropped the lease which his ancestors had held
under the same landlords for six hundred years, Mr. Trembath
remained in London to look after John’s wife.

    Mabel Elsie would have put it the other way, and indeed,
she was eminently able to take care of herself. She certainly
managed Mr. Trembath’s income. Money so easily come by
was naturally not handled in a narrow spirit of economy;
hence the friendship of Mrs. Ellis and others; for the less
recreative consideration of daily bread, as also for appearances,
Mabel Elsie worked in a box factory. On the fluctuating
margin of these economies, and to enable him to sign the
quarterly cheques, Mr. Trembath was badly fed, worse clad,
and allowed to do pretty much as he liked.

    What he liked was usually not inconvenient to the general
disorder of Packer’s Rents. But with the progressive cloud-
ing of his mind to the immediate present and recent past,
Mr. Trembath’s memories of Rosewithan became clearer
though less coherently related. This would not have mattered
if he had been able to indulge his fancies at will, but they were
rather thrust upon him like the gift of prophecy, and you never
knew when a careless word would set him going. Sometimes,
too, the urgency of his recollections and his inability to place
them in point of time, drove him to action. He would get up
very early in the morning and disturb the house looking for
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his gaiters, because in the night there had been borne in upon
him the pressing necessity to cut furze. The spectacle of a
tall, thin old man with a vacant eye stalking down Tarbuck
Street armed with a furze hook naturally caused people to
intimate to Mabel Elsie that she ought to take more care of
her father-in-law in the interests of the general public.

    Mr. Trembath also suffered from the obsession of market
day. Packer’s Rents came to spending Thursday between
the doorstep and sharing pints on the off chance of Mr. Trem-
bath being run in. Greengrocers were apt to misunderstand
his motives in selecting samples of their wares “to show to
friend Trevorrow,” and he once came perilously near horse-
stealing. Loitering in the neighbourhood of the “Duke of
York” he recognised his own horse and gig standing at the
street corner. A clock striking five warned him that it was
time to be driving home to Rosewithan. He crossed the road,
and giving twopence to the boy who held the horse, patted
him on the head, bade him be a good lad, and was preparing
to climb into the gig when it’s owner came out of the “Duke
of York.” This man failed to appreciate Mr. Trembath’s
courteous offer of a lift, and was for haling him to the police
station. Luckily Bill Ellis was attracted by the little crowd,
and with difficulty set matters right by explaining that Mr.
Trembath was “a bit barmy.”

    Mr. Trembath was indebted to Bill in more ways than
one, for it was through little Elfred Ellis that he came to grips
with his memory, and made smooth his way to the Rosewithan
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of his dreams. As Blondel to the Captive Richard, Elfred
revealed his proper self by whistling “We wont go home till
morning.” That belonged to Rosewithan sure enough; how
and why Mr. Trembath could not at first remember. He saw
something in Elfred’s face which reminded, but with observa-
tion, escaped him. When the teasing recollection at last found
words Mr. Trembath gripped Elfred by the arm and said,
somewhat testily for him:—

    Yes, yes, that was the tune, but he didn’t whistle it; he
played it on some sort of instrument; it was a—no” he loosed
his hold and shook his head; “you must excuse me, but I
can’t remember.” Nor did Mr. Trembath appreciate the ironical
fact that it was John’s perseverance in the spirit of the song
which brought him to an early grave and himself to Packer’s
Rents.

    Elfred for his part was attracted by the old man’s courtly
gravity so different from anything in Packer’s Rents; the
discovery that, like all men of his native place, Mr. Trembath
could play marbles cemented their friendship and freshly
vindicated Mabel Elsie’s opinion that her father-in-law was
“a silly ole man.”

    Thus Elfred became a link between the past and the
present. Mr. Trembath talked to him familiarly about Rose-
withan affairs, Sally’s calf and the relative merits of Tango
and Spot as hunting dogs, and Elfred remembered; so that
the old man and the little child reached a common ground in
the forgetfulness of the one, the ignorance of the other of the
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distance in time and place. Very naturally it happened one
morning that Mr. Trembath took Elfred by the hand and pro-
posed that they should go and look for bull gurnards in the
pullans. Elfred thought they were a long time getting to the
sea, but kept implicit faith in Mr. Trembath until his aimless
conduct at a crossing attracted the notice of a policeman.
Then the youngster began to howl dismally, though it was
from him rather than his elder that the man in blue discovered
whence they came.

    When the two, Elfred still blubbering, appeared at the
corner of Packer’s Rents, Mrs. Ellis was in the act of telling
how much she gave for Elfred’s button boots to a group of
sympathisers who speculated exactly how long Bill would get
for bashing her when he learned that his offspring was
missing. It was the sudden change in her voice from woe to
piercing anger which caused the others to turn their heads. In
a moment Elfred was being shaken to pieces. Whenever
Mrs. Ellis paused for breath a supporter yelled in the boy’s ear
what he would get supposing he were her child. Until Mrs.
Ellis in a dangerously quiet voice reminded all and sundry
that she owned a monopoly in Elfred. The little group already
cheated of a sensation trailed away sniffing their sentiments.

    Then Mrs. Ellis turned her attention to Mr. Trembath,
who was patiently trying to make out what all the noise was
about. As a result of her communicated views about himself,
his appearance, his family and his family’s failings, Mabel
Elsie and Mrs. Ellis did not speak for several weeks, and Mr.
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Trembath and Elfred were deprived of each other’s society.

    The approach of August Monday however, mended all that.
After five reconciliatory jugs contributing to the decision that
Hampstead and Greenwich were both played out, Mr. Trem-
bath was told that if he “kep out of mischief and didn’t cause
no more rows” he should be taken to the Crystal Palace.
Mr. Trembath was moved, but with an emotion more pressing
than gratitude.

    “Yes, my dear,” he said, nodding. “Now I’ll tell you
about that. If you’ll look upon the left hand side of the cove
just above the boulders you’ll see a square block of granite all
finished off beautifully. That was made for the pedestal of an
obelisk or monument, if you will, weighing eighteen tons and
taken out of the Rosewithan Quarry to be sent to the Great
Exhibition of ‘5i. The obelisk was sent, but the pedestal
never followed because old Cap’n Hosken who leased the
quarry went scat.”

    Oh, chuck it!” cried Mabel Elsie. “Who wants to
hear your mouldy stories.”

    But my dear,” said Mr. Trembath patiently, “this is
important, because it was the only time I ever went to law
with any man. Cap’n Hosken had hired horses of me, and
seeing that his affairs were in the Court I thought it only just
to put forward my claim. They awarded me—”

    “For Gawd’s sake,” said Mabel Elsie in desperation, “go
along to the corner for a quart and don’t muddle your silly ole
‘ead with drinking out of the jug.”

    This was Mabel Elsie favourite joke, and invariably
recalled her father-in-law to his dignity.

    You know, my dear,” he said, “we are all Rechabites
down to Rosewithan and don’t belong to touch anything except
perhaps a little sloe or blackberry wine hot and with sugar, at
Christmas time. That is good for the system and cheerful as
well.”

    Mr. Trembath was infected with the excitement of August
Monday, though he had a very hazy notion of what was going
forward. Long before Mabel Elsie had finished curling her
hair he had shaved and brushed his clothes, and stood in
everybody’s way consulting his watch. Though he did not
realise that he paid the score, he still was persuaded that he
was in command of the party. Bill Ellis good humouredly
undertook to keep the old man out of mischief, leaving his wife
and Mabel Elsie free to celebrate or to quarrel as their fancy
led them. Bill, who perfectly recognised the distance between
himself and Mr. Trembath, regarded him vaguely as a thing
which might be broken he always addressed him as “Sir,”
and with the extraordinary gestures and grimaces which every
Englishman knows are necessary to reach the intelligence of
the foreigner.

    Mr. Trembath caused some trouble in the train by insist-
ing that they had passed Exeter and must presently come to
the sea; but on the whole behaved tolerably well. At the
Palace, however, he became a nuisance. Misled by certain
objects he remembered, or thought he remembered, from ’51 he
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wanted to act as showman, though, as Mabel Elsie said, she
had’nt come to see things or to be preached to, but to enjoy
herself, which apparently meant laughing very loud without
visible reason, and taking varied refreshments with the still
more varied acquaintances of half an hour. Bill Ellis as a
distinct personality grew vaguer and vaguer, and finally was
absorbed into a beery crowd. To the relief of the women
Mr. Trembath actually did find the obelisk and asked nothing
better than to be left beside it. Here he sat with the pathetic
air of an unaccustomed traveller clinging to his luggage, but
with something of proprietorship as well. Quite a number of
people were interested in the dignified old man, and went away
persuaded that he was an unusually affable official told off for
the special convenience of visitors.

    Sitting half asleep under the great stone Mr. Trembath
dreamed vivid but incoherent pictures of the valley when, with
a jerk, they fell into relation like the pieces of glass in a
kaleidoscope. Somewhere out of sight someone was haltingly
playing a familiar air as if of the upper notes of a harmonium.
It was the one emotional touch wanting, bringing everything
into focus, yet Mr. Trembath could not place the sound either
in time or character. It was familiar, yet so familiar that he
felt he had not taken due note of it at the time, as a man may
be at a loss when suddenly asked the colour of his friend’s
eyes. Then other noises intervened, and the painfully groped
for memory was lost. Yet the germ of it must have remained,
for in the brutal rush for the station, something glittering on a
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stall caught Mr. Trembath’s eye. He hesitated, felt in his
pocket, but was swept away. Bill Ellis, who had emerged
from the crowd morally and physically the least happy version
of himself, was clamouring for a policeman; not, as he care-
fully explained, because he bore any ill-will to the force, but
because he felt an urgent desire to confide in one particular
member, and resented his absence.

    During the journey home Mr. Trembath was quiet, but
with so shining a face that Mabel Elsie and Mrs. Ellis
exchanged uneasy glances, and the former cautiously questioned
him:

    “Well, father, enjoyed yourself?”

    His answer, all about heather, was not illuminating, and
Mabel Elsie cut him short with “Garn you silly ‘ole man” in
a tone of great relief.

    Mr. Trembath had found out what he wanted, and with
a definite need he grew very cunning. Mabel Elsie held that
he was not fit to be trusted with pocket money, and his oppor-
tunity seemed a long while coming, but one Saturday evening
he found sixpence on the corner of the dresser. Too instinct-
ively honest to justify himself with the argument that it was
his own money, he pounced upon it without hesitation. A
theft so artless was certain to be discovered, but Mabel Elsie
forgot her anger before this glaring vindication of her apparent
harshness. She made the most of her opportunity, and called
in witnesses to prove that nobody but Mr. Trembath had
access to the coin, but for once the old man turned stubborn.
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Though he did not deny the accusation he would neither pro-
duce the sixpence, nor say what he had done with it. It was
a fine moment for his daughter-in-law, and won her floods of
sympathy.

    She soon had genuine cause for anxiety, for Mr. Trem-
bath’s health began rapidly to decline. He seemed very con-
tented, but kept his own room and refused society. As Mabel
Elsie confided to Mrs. Ellis over a quart of bitter, he could not
live for ever, and with him the annuity ended. Not that she
minded that, for she was prepared to swear before any Court
in the land that she never saved a penny out of her father-in-
law—which was perfectly true—let alone his pilfering habits;
but there was the funeral to be considered. If Mr. Trembath
died between two quarter days, when the one cheque was well
disposed of on his behalf, the next would never be paid. That
she understood, was the iniquitous rule; and she left it to
Mrs. Ellis’ judgment how awkward it would be for her to have
to bury him at her own expense.

    “Thenks; if its me you’re meaning,” said Mrs. Ellis
bitterly; “I’m sure I’ve no wish to be beholden to anybody for
what the Doctor orders me; and I’m not one to be over fond
of a glass but the spirit in which it is offered, Misses Trim-
bath.” Mabel Elsie hastened to assure her, to the extent of
another jug, that nothing of the sort was implied, but that she
trusted she knew her duty better than to allow Packer’s Rents
an opening for criticism when her father-in-law was taken.
Ultimately Mrs. Ellis was dissolved to a correct appreciation
                                                                                            25

of Mabel Elsie’s grievance.

    “The mean ole scut to go and take to ‘is bed after all you
done for ‘im,” she said, and assured her hostess that let her
hear any nasty talk among the neighbours she would have a
word to say in the matter.

    With the dismal foresight of their class the neighbours
discussed Mr. Trembath’s death as a fact accomplished.
Packer’s Rents was not superstitious, but the presence of a
man who already might be considered dead aroused a morbid
interest which presently became whispering.

    There were the noises. One hinted, another swore that
while Mabel Elsie was at the box factory things went on in
number seventeen which could not be explained on any human
grounds. Mrs. McGrath was frankly of the opinion that
Mr. Trembath had celestial visions, and announced her fervent
desire to visit his chamber on behalf of her daughter three
years in Purgatory. For some time consideration for Mabel
Elsie kept the whispering under a forcing pot, as it were; until
the tales engendered were too horrible, and heads began to
shake. Finally Mrs. Ellis out with it and declared that while
she had a tongue in her head no neighbour of hers should have
her character taken away, and tearfully made her way to
Mabel Elsie’s door. Mabel Elsie took it the wrong way.

    A pack of scandal mongering hussies. Hadn’t her father-
in-law all that a man could want, and didn’t she hope she
might drop dead where she stood if she had ever touched a
penny of his dirty money beyond what was her lawful due from
    26

a troublesome lodger? Father-in-law or no father-in-law, she
should like to know which among them would have refrained
from prosecuting when the very change out of their Saturday’s
shopping was stolen from the dresser? It was time folks
looked nearer home, and talking of that, how could Mrs. Ellis
afford a new sofa out of Bill’s wages and him always at the
corner?

    “And I’m sure I never breathed a word,” panted Mrs.
Ellis, “and if you ask me its more a matter for the parson
than the police”; and a sympathetic murmur went up about
the judgment of God. All this took place in the passage down
stairs, and in the midst of it came a thin sound from Mr.
Trembath’s bedroom. The women drew together; but all
agreed that though they were sorry for Mabel Elsie it couldn’t
have happened at a better moment. Mabel Elsie’s jaw dropped,
and she turned white and red.

    One suggested that it was like a child singing, though
Mrs. McGrath, as the mother of seven, firmly asserted that no
earthly babe could make a noise like that. She was for going
upstairs, but Bill Ellis happened to come in the nick of time.

    “W’y its a ‘cordian!” he cried. “Listen, the ole juggins
is tryin’ to play ‘We wont go ‘ome till mornin”;” and with
uplifted finger he hoarsely sang the words. Some time was
wasted in argument, and the sound brokenly ended. At last
Bill took his courage in both hands, and with a great deal of
unnecessary noise ascended the stairs. But when he reached
Mr. Trembath’s room he found the grey man lying dead,
                                                                                            27

clasping in his hand a sixpenny mouth organ. From his
peaceful expression it may be surmised that the morning had
come.

                                                          CHARLES MARRIOTT.

MLA citation:

Marriott, Charles. “Open Sesame.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 1, 1903, pp. 13-28. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://beta.1890s.ca/venturev1-marriott-sesame/.