Page:Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.djvu/400

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CHAPTER XXXVI

The End

About the middle of December there was a heavy fall of snow followed by a hard frost lasting several days. At ten o'clock one night a policeman found a man lying unconscious in the middle of a lonely road. At first he thought he was drunk, and after dragging him on to the footpath out of the way of passing vehicles he went for the stretcher. They took the man to the station and put him into a cell, already occupied by a man who had been caught in the act of stealing swede turnips from a barn. When the police surgeon came he pronounced the supposed drunken man to be dying from bronchitis and starvation; and further said that there was nothing to indicate that the man was addicted to drink. At the inquest the coroner remarked that it was the third case of death from destitution that had occurred in the town within six weeks.

The evidence showed that the man was a plasterer, who had walked from London with the hope of finding work somewhere in the country. He had no money in his possession when he was found by the policeman, all that his pockets contained being several pawn-tickets and a letter from his wife. The day before the inquest was held, the man who had been arrested for stealing the turnips had been taken before the magistrates. The poor wretch's defence was that he was starving, but Alderman Grinder, after telling him that starvation was no excuse for dishonesty, sentenced him to pay a fine of seven shillings and costs, or go to prison for seven days with hard labour. As the convict had neither money nor friends he went to jail, where he was, after all, better off than most of those who were still outside because they lacked either the courage or the opportunity to steal.

As time went on the long continued privation began to tell upon Owen and his family. Owen's cough grew worse, his eyes became deeply sunken and of remarkable brilliancy,

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