Sidebilder
PDF

“Only Jim Salter, the man that brought you in last night, sir. I told him to wait till I came up.” “I shall be down in one minute,” said Thomas, a hope of his money darting into his mind. He had to pass through the bar to the little room at the back. Against the counter leaned Jim, smoking a short pipe, with his hand upon a pot of beer. When Thomas entered, he touched his cap to him, saying,< Glad to see you lookin' middlin', gov'nor. Is there anything I can do for you to-day ?” “Come into the room here,” said Thomas, “and have something. I’m rather late, you see. I haven't had my breakfast yet.” Salter followed him with his pewter in his hand. Thomas disliked his appearance less than on the preceding evening. What was unpleasant in his face was chiefly owing to the small-pox. He was dirty and looked beery, but there seemed to be no harm in him. He sat down near the door which led to the ladder already mentioned, and put his pot on the window-sill. Thomas asked if he would have a cup of coffee, but he preferred his beer and his 10&. p *you wanted to see me,” said Thomas, opening a conversation. “Oh I nothin' perticlar, gov'nor. I only wanted to see if I could do anything for you,” said Jim. “I was in hopes you had heard of something I lost, but I suppose it's at the bottom of the river,” said Thomas. “Not your watch f" asked Salter, with some appearance of anxious interest. “A great deal worse,” answered Thomas ; “–a pocket-book.” “Much in it 7” asked Jim, with a genuine look of sympathetic discomfiture. “More than I like to think of. Look,” said Thomas, turning out the contents of his pocket, “that is all I have in the world.” “More than ever I had,” returned Salter. “Keep me a month.” Thomas relapsed into thought. This man was the only resemblance of a friend he had left. He did not like to let him go loose in the wilds of London, without the possibility of finding him again. If this man vanished, the only link, Thomas felt, between him and the world of men would be broken. I do not say Thomas thought this. He only felt that he would be absolutely alone when this man left him. Why should he not go away somewhere with him “Where do you live?” he asked. “Stepney way,” answered Jim. “I want to see that part of London. What do you do now I mean what do you work at P” “Oh nothin' perticlar, gov'nor. Take a day at the docks now and then. Any job that turns up. I'm not perticlar. Only I never could stick to one thing. I like to be moving. I had a month in Bermondsey last—in a tan-yard, you know. I knows a bit of everything.” “Well, where are you going now 7" “Nowheres—anywheres you like, gov'nor. If you want to see them parts, as you say, there's nobody knows 'em better than I do, Tiger-bay and all.” “Come then,” said Thomas. But here a thought struck him. “Wouldn't it be better though,” he added,—“they're queer places some of those, ain't they –to put on a workman's clothes 2" Jim looked at him. Thomas felt himself wince under his gaze. But he was relieved when he said with a laugh:— “You won't look much like a workman, gov'nor, put on what you like.” “I can't wear these clothes, anyhow,” said Thomas; “they look so wretchedly shabby after their ducking. Couldn't you take me somewhere, where they'd change them for a suit of fustian I should like to try how they feel for a few days. We're about the same size—I could give them to you when I had done with them.” Jim had been observing him, and had associated this wish of Thomas's with the pocket-book, and his furtive troubled looks. But Jim was as little particular about his company as about anything else, and it was of no consequence to him whether Thomas had or had not deeper reasons than curiosity for seeking to disguise himself. “I tell you what,” he said, “if you want to keep quiet for a day or two, I'm your man. But if you put on a new suit of fustian, you'll be more looked at than in your own clo'es.” Thomas had by this time finished his breakfast : it was not much he could eat. “Well,” he said, rising, “if you've nothing particular to do, I'll give you a day's wages to go with me. Only let's get into Stepney, or away somewhere in that direction, as soon as possible.” He called the landlady, settled his very moderate bill, and then found that his hat must be somewhere about the Nore by this time. Jim ran to a neighbouring shop, and returned with a cloth-cap. They then went out into a long narrow street—Rotherhithe Street, I think—very different in aspect from any he had seen in London before. Indeed it is more like a street in Cologne. Here we must leave him with his misery and Jim Salter, both better companions than Molken.

CHAPTER XLII.
POPPIE CHOOSES A PROFESSION.

WHEN their native red began to bloom again upon the cheeks of Poppie, she began to grow restless, and the heart of the tailor to grow anxious. It was very hard for a wild thing to be kept in a cage against her will, he thought. He did not mind sitting in a cage, but then he was used to it, and frequented it of his own free will ; whereas his child Poppie took after her grandfather—her mother's father, who was a sailor, and never set his foot on shore but he wanted to be off again within the week. He therefore began to reason with himself as to what ought to be done with her. So soon as she was strong again all her wandering habits would return, and he must make some provision for them. It would not only be cruel to try to break her of them all at once, but assuredly fruitless. Poppie would give him the slip some day, return to her Arab life, and render all scaling of the bond between father and daughter impossible. The streets were her home. She was used to them. They made life pleasant to her. And yet it would not do to let her run idle about the streets. He thought and thought what would be best.

Meantime the influence of Mattie had grown upon Poppie. Although there was as yet very little sign of anything like thought in her, the way she deferred to the superior intelligence in their common pursuits proved that she belonged to the body of humanity, and not to unassociated animality Her love of bright colours now afforded the first hold by which to commence her education. Remembering her own childhood, Mattie sought to interest her pupil in dolls, proceeding to dress one, which she called Poppie, in a gorgeous scarlet cloth which the tailor procured for the purpose. And Poppie was interested. The colour drew her to the process. By degrees, she took a part ; first only in waiting on Mattie, then in sewing on a button or string, at which she was awkward enough, as Mattie took more than necessary pains to convince her, learning, however, by slow degrees, to use her needle a little. But what was most interesting to find was, that a certain amount of self-consciousness began to dawn during and apparently from the doll-dressing. Her causative association with the outer being of the doll, led to her turning an eye upon her own outer being; and Poppie's redemption—I do not say regeneration—first showed itself in a desire to be dressed. Consciousness begins with regard to the body first. A baby's first lesson of consciousness lies in his blue shoes. But one may object, “You do not call it a sign of redemption in a baby that, when you ask where baby's shoes are, he holds up his little feet with a smile of triumph.” I answer, It must be remembered, that Poppie had long passed the age when such interest indicates natural development, and therefore she was out of the natural track of the human being, and a return to that track, indicating an awakening of the nature that was in her, may well be called a sign of redemption, And with a delicate instinct of his own, nourished to this particular manifestation by his trade, the tailor detected the interest shown in the doll by Poppie, as a most hopeful sign., ano set himself in the midst of his work to get a dress ready for her, such as she would like. Accustomed, however, only to work in cloth, and upon male subjects, the result was, to say the least of it, remarkable—altogether admirable in Poppie's eyes, though somewhat strange in those of others. She appeared one day in a scarlet jacket of fine cloth, trimmed with black, which fitted her like her skin, and, to complete the dress, in a black skirt, likewise of cloth, which, however picturesque and accordant with the style of Poppie's odd beauty, was at least somewhat peculiar and undesirable in a city like London, which persecutes men's tastes, if it leaves their convictions free. This dress Mr. Spelt had got ready in view of a contemplated walk with Poppie. He was going to take her to Highgate on a Sunday morning, with his Bible in his pocket. I have already said that he was an apparent anomaly, this Mr. Spelt, loving his New Testament, and having no fancy for going to church. How this should have come about, I hardly understand. Not that I do not know several instances of it in most excellent men, but not in his stratum. Yet what was his stratum ? The Spirit of God teaches men in a thousand ways, and Mr. Spelt knew some of the highest truths better than nine out of ten clergymen, I venture to say. Yet Mr. Spelt was inwardly reproached that he did not go to church, and made the attempt several times, with the result that he doubted the truth of the whole thing for half the week after. Some churchgoing reader must not condemn him at least for preferring Highgate to the churchyard-gate. It was a bright frosty morning, full of life and spirit, when the father and daughter—for thus we accept the wilful conviction of the tailor, and say no more about it—set out for Highgate. Poppie was full of spirits, too full for her father's comfort, for, every time she drew her hand from his, and danced away sideways or in front, he feared lest he had seen the last of her, and she would never more return to lay her hand in his. On one of these occasions, it was to dart a hundred yards in advance upon another little girl, who was listlessly standing at a crossing, take the broom from her hand, and begin to sweep vigorously. Nor did she cease sweeping till she had made the crossing clean, by which time her father had come up. She held out her hand to him, received in it a ready penny, and tossed it to the girl. Then she put her hand in his again, and trotted along with him, excited and sedate both at once. “Would you like to sweep a crossing, Poppie P” asked he. “Wouldn't I just, daddie I should get no end o' hopence.” “What would you do with them when you got them P “Give them to poor girls. I don't want them, you see, now I'm a lady.” “What makes a lady of you, then f" “I’ve got a father of my own, all to myself—that makes a lady of me, I suppose. Anyhow I know I'm a lady now. Look at my jacket.” I do not know that Mr. Spelt thought that her contempt of money, or rather want of faith in it, went a good way to make her a very peculiar lady indeed; but he did think that he would buy her a broom the first day he saw the attraction of the streets grow too strong for Guild Court. This day, things did not go quite to the tailor's mind. He took Poppie to a little public-house which he had known for many years, for it was kept by a cousin of his own. There he ordered his half-pint of beer, carried it with him to a little arbour in the garden, now getting very bare of its sheltering leaves, sat down with Poppie, pulled out his Bible, and began to read to her. But he could not get her to mind him. Every other moment she was up and out of the arbour, now after one thing, now after another; now it was a spider busily rolling up a fly in his gluey west; now it was a chicken escaped from the hen-house, and scratching about as if it preferred finding its own living even in an irregular fashion; and now a bird of the air that sowed not nor reaped, and yet was taken care of. “Come along, Poppie,” said her father; “I want you to listen.” “Yes, daddie,” Poppie would answer, returning instantly; but in a moment, ere a sentence was finished, she would be half across the garden. He gave it up in despair. “Why ain't you reading, daddie P’’ she said, after one of these excursions. “Because you won't listen to a word of it, Poppie.” “Oh yes; here I am,” she said. “Come, then ; I will teach you to read.” “Yes,” said Poppie, and was off after another sparrow. “Do you know that God sees you, Poppie 2 " asked Mr. Spelt. “I don't mind,” answered Poppie. He sighed and closed his book, drank the last of his half-pint of beer, and rose to go. Poppie seemed to feel that she had displeased him, for she followed without a word. They went across the fields to Hampstead, and then across more fields to the Finchley road. In passing the old church, the deep notes of the organ reached their ears. “There,” said Poppie ; “I suppose that's God making his thunder. Ain't it, daddie P” “No. It's not that,” answered Spelt. “It's there he keeps it, anyhow,” said Poppie. “I’ve heard it coming out many a time.” “Was you never in one o' thcom churches 2" asked her father. “No,” answered Poppie. “Would you like to go?” he asked again, with the hope that something might take hold of her. “If you went with me.” she said.

« ForrigeFortsett »