Ha'penny Jack

Some time after the 14-18 war Jack lived alone on a smallholding at West Wick. He'd had, as they say, a bad war, surviving a submarine accident in which the rest of the crew were poisoned by fumes. There was just enough strangeness about the way he looked intensely at you, that made people afraid to know him. Nobody enquired about his business or health and he lived a solitary marshland existence.

In those days money was tight and a war pension didn't go far. One day he went to the Pavilion cinema in Burnham, and gave the cashier a washer instead of a threepenny bit. The lady crossly gave him his money back and told him never to come back else he'd go straight to the police station.

At that time of day word got around as the tide fills the creeks. Many had seen him pass a sixpence some even a shilling. There must have been more people in that cinema than attended the Jubilee parade! So when next week he went to the post office, the post mistress very carefully checked Jack's money and gave him all halfpennies as change. She said to a friend that it wouldn't pay him to make fake halfpences and so she had done good by removing temptation. The tide of gossip was in full flood now and soon everyone knew him as Ha'penny Jack. Children called after him in the street and shopkeepers, try as they might to be humane to a veteran, couldn't help but be careful with each coin.

One Sunday afternoon a month or so later he shot his dog and drowned himself in Wick Brook. There were some itchy collars when the news got around - the full tide of suspicion now had nowhere else to go, and there was a nagging feeling in the back of peoples minds that a little more kindness might have been shown. Everyone waited for the inquest so the incident could be forgotten.

About a week after Jack killed himself, a lady arrived at Burnham station. Lanky Lollins the station porter told her the story, by way of adding local colour. No doubt dressed up but not so dainty. Unfortunately the stranger was Jack's sister come to survey the scene of her brother's misfortune. The station master's wife caught on directly, took the poor lady in charge and did her best, fired by the shame of Lanky's stupidity, to look after Jack's sister.

By talking to her, it turned out that Jack's eyes had been damaged by the chlorine fumes from the submarine battery and the feeling in his fingers wasn't much good either - so what happened in the dim cinema box-office was a simple mistake. The tide turned but left a rather horrible stain rather high up. This explains why a marshlander would look uncomfortable if you gave him a ha'penny instead of two farthings, and why children never called people names in the street after that.

You may have heard the phrase 'Salter's silence'. This came about when the coroner, the famous Dr. Salter, judged these events at the inquest. He started by saying "I am charged by law with enquiring into the causes of deaths. If there are circumstances, the possible recurrence of which would be injurious to public health or safety, the law requires that I sit with a jury." He paused. The public who had come to listen became excited for a moment, but then he continued. "A jury being composed of respectable persons having no interest in the events surrounding the death." He paused again and looked keenly around the room, resting his gaze on each person for a moment as if looking for volunteers, but no eyes would meet his." The silence grew as each person fidgeted with their uncomfortable consciences. "Perhaps in this case" he continued slowly, "that would not be desirable." That's how the cute Dr. Salter proved the medicine that leaves a nasty taste does the most good, and where the phrase Salter's silence comes from.

1 penny = 2 Half pennies (Ha'pennies) = 4 Farthings

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