On the subject of age, I may say that it has always seemed to me that it is the aim of most people to appear as young as possible—and perhaps even more so—for as long as possible—and perhaps even longer; but then it seems gradually to dawn upon them that there may be as much distinction attached to age as to youth, and those who have been trying to pass themselves off as much younger than they really are turn their attention in the other direction and endeavour to make themselves out to be much older than the number of their years. It is, of course, chiefly in the cottages that the real veterans are to be found—old men and women who take a proper pride in having reached a great if somewhat indefinite age, and in holding in contempt the efforts of a neighbour to rival them in this way. One of the peculiarities of these good folk is to become hilarious over the news of the death of some contemporary. I have seen ancient men chuckle at the notion of their having survived some neighbour who, they averred with great emphasis, was much their junior. The idea seems to strike them as being highly humorous. And so perhaps it may be, humour being so highly dependent upon the standpoint from which it is viewed.

In the cottages the conversation frequently turns upon the probability of an aged inmate being gathered unto his fathers before next harvest or, if in autumn, before the first snow, and the utmost frankness characterises the remarks made on this subject in the presence of the person who might be supposed to be the most interested in the discussion, though, as a matter of fact, he is as little interested in it as the Tichborne claimant acknowledged he was in his trial after it had passed its fortieth day. I was fortunate enough to reach the shelter of a farm cottage before a great storm a few years ago, and on a truckle bed in the warm side of the living room of the family there lay an old man, who nodded to me and quavered out a “good marn.” I asked the woman, who was peeling potatoes sitting on a stool, if he was her father or her husband's father.

“He's Grandpaw Beck; but don't you take any heed o' him, sir, he's dying,” she replied, with the utmost cheerfulness. “Doctor's bin here yestereve, and says he'll be laid out afore a week. But we've everything handylike and ready for'un.”


She pointed to a chair on which some white garments were neatly laid. “I run the iron o'er'em afore settin' to the bit o' dinner,” she explained.

I glanced at the old man. He nodded his approval of her good housekeeping. He clearly thought that procrastination should be discountenanced.

The flashes of lightning and the peals of thunder seemed to me to be by no means extravagant accompaniments to this grim scene (as it appeared in my eyes). I have certainly known far less impressive scenes on the stage thought worthy of the illumination of lightning and the punctuation of thunder claps.

This familiar treatment of the subject of the coming of the grim figure with the scythe prevails in every direction. A friend of mine had a like experience in a cottage in another part of the country. The man of the house—he was a farm labourer—was about to emigrate to Canada, and was anxious to get as good a price as possible for some pieces of old china in his possession, and my friend had called to see them by invitation. He was brought into a bedroom where the plates were to be seen on a dresser; and by way of making conversation on entering the room, he asked the man when he thought of leaving England.

“Oh, very shortly now,” he replied. “Just as soon as feyther there dies” (jerking his head in the direction of a bed), “and he's far gone—he's dying fast—Doctor Jaffray gives us great hope that a week'll finish'un.”

He then went on to talk about the china, explaining that three of the pieces had been brought by his grandmother from the Manor House, where she had been still-room maid for twenty-six years.

“Twenty-eight years—twenty-eight years, Amos,” came a correcting falsetto from the bed.

“You know nowt o' the matter,” cried the son. “This is no business o' yours. We doan't want none o' your jaw. Go on wi' your dying.”

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