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sound of strong nails tapping sharply reached the ear of Mr. Spelt and his friend. The sound came from a window just over the archway, hence at right angles to Mr. Spelt's workshop. It was very dingy with dust and smoke, allowing only the outline of a man's figure to be seen from the court. This much Poppie saw, and taking the tapping to be intended for her, fled from the court on soundless feet. But Mattie rose at once from her corner, and, laying aside cuttings and doll, stuck her needle and thread carefully in the bosom of her frock, saying,
“That's my father a wanting of me. I wonder what he wants now. I'm sure I don't know how he would get on without me. And that is a comfort. Poor man ! he misses my mother more than I do, I believe. He's always after me. Well, I'll see you again in the afternoon, if I can. And, if not, you may expect me about the same hour to-morrow.”
While she thus spoke she was let down from the not very airy height of the workshop on to the firm pavement below, the tailor stretching his arms with her from above, like a bird of prey with a lamb in his talons. The last words she spoke from the ground, her head thrown back between her shoulders that she might look
the tailor in the face, who was stooping over her like an angel from • a cloud in the family bible.
“Very well, Mattie," returned Mr. Spelt; “ you know your own corner well enough by this time, I should think.”
So saying, he drew himself carefully into his shell, for the place was hardly more, except that he could just work without having to get outside of it first. A soft half-smile glimmered on his face; for although he was so used to Mattie's old-fashioned ways, that they scarcely appeared strange to him now, the questions that she raised were food for the little tailor's meditation-all day long, upon occasion. For some tailors are given to thinking, and when they are they have good opportunity of indulging their inclinations. And it is wonderful what a tailor's thinking may come to, especially if he reads his New Testament. Now, strange perhaps to tell, though Mr. Spelt never went to church, he did read his New Testament. And the little tailor was a living soul. He was one of those few who seem to be born with a certain law of order in themselves, a certain tidiness of mind, as it were, which would gladly see all the rooms or regions of thought swept and arranged ; and not only makes them orderly, but prompts them to search after the order of the universe. They would gladly believe in the harmony of things; and although the questions they feel the necessity of answering take the crudest forms and the most limited and individual application, they yet are sure to have something to do with the laws that govern the world. Hence it was that the partial misfit of a pair of moleskin or fustian trowsers—for seldom did his originality find nobler material to exercise itself upon-would make him quite miserable, even though the navvy or dock-labourer might be perfectly satisfied with the result, and ready to pay the money for them willingly. But it was seldom, too, that he had even such a chance of indulging in the creative element of the tailor's calling, though he might have done something of the sort, if he would, in the way of altering. Of that branch of the trade, however, he was shy, knowing that it was most frequently in request with garments unrighteously come by; and Mr. Spelt's thin hands were clean.
He had not sat long after Mattie left him, before she reappeared from under the archway.
"No, no, mother,” she said, “ I ain't going to perch this time. But father sends his compliments, and will you come and take a dish of tea with him this afternoon ?”.
“ Yes, Mattie ; if you will come and fetch me when the tea's ready."
“Well, you had better not depend on me ; for I shall have a herring to cook, and a muffin to toast, besides the tea to make and set on the hob, and the best china to get out of the black cupboard, and no end o' things to see to."
“But you needn't get out the best china for me, you know.”
“Well, I like to do what's proper. And you just keep your eye on St. Jacob's, Mr. Spelt, and at five o'clock, when it has struck two of them, you get down and come in, and you'll find your tea a waiting of you. There !”
With which conclusive form of speech, Mattie turned and walked back through the archway. She never ran, still less skipped as most children do, but held feet and head alike steadily progressive, save for the slightest occasional toss of the latter, which, as well as her mode of speech, revealed the element of conceit which had its share in the oddity of the little damsel.
MATTIE'S FATHER, WHEN two strokes of the five had sounded in the ears of Mr. Spelt, he laid his work aside, took his tall hat from one of the corners where it hung on a peg, leaped lightly from his perch into the court, shut his half of the door, told the shoemaker below that he was going to Mr. Kitely's to tea, and would be obliged if he would fetch him should any one want him, and went through the archway. There was a door to Mr. Kitely's house under the archway, but the tailor preferred going round the corner to the shop-door in Bagot Street. By this he entered Jacob Kitely's domain, an old book-shop, of which it required some previous knowledge to find the way to the back premises. For the whole cubical space of the shop was divided and subdivided into a labyrinth of book-shelves, those in front filled with decently if not elegantly bound books, and those
behind with a multitude innumerable of books in all conditions of dinginess, mustiness, and general shabbiness. Amongst these Jacob Kitely spent his time patching and mending them, and drawing up catalogues of them. He was not one of those booksellers who are so fond of their books that they cannot bear to part with them, and therefore when they are fortunate enough to lay their hands upon a rare volume, the highest pleasure they know in life, justify themselves in keeping it by laying a manuscript price upon it, and considering it so much actual property. Such men, perhaps, know something about the contents of their wares; but while few surpassed Jacob in a knowledge of the outsides of books, from the proper treatment of covers in the varying stages of dilapidation, and of leaves when water-stained or mildewed or dry-rotted, to the different values of better and best editions, cut and uncut leaves, tall copies, and folios shortened by the plough into doubtful quartos, he never advanced beyond the title-page, except when one edition differed from another, and some examination was necessary to determine to which the copy belonged. And not only did he lay no fancy-prices upon his books, but he was proud of selling them under the market value-which he understood well enough, though he used the knowledge only to regulate his buying. The rate at which he sold was determined entirely by the rate at which he bought. Do not think, my reader, that I have the thinnest ghost of a politicaleconomy-theory under this; I am simply and only describing character. Hence he sold his books cheaper than any other bookseller in London, contenting himself with a profit proportioned to his expenditure, and taking his pleasure in the rapidity with which the stream of books flowed through his shop. I have known him take threepence off the price he at first affixed to a book, when he found that he had not advertised it, and therefore it had not to bear its share of the expense of the catalogue.
Mr. Spelt made his way through the maze of books into the back shop, no one confronting him, and there found Mr. Kitely busy over his next catalogue, which he was making out in a schoolboy's hand.
“How are you, Spelt?” he said in an alto voice, in which rung a certain healthy vigour, amounting to determination. “Just in time, I believe. My little woman has been busy in the parlour for the last hour, and I can depend upon her to the minute. Step in."
“ Don't let me interrupt you,” suggested Mr. Spelt, meekly, and reverentially even, for he thought Mr. Kitely must be a very learned man indeed to write so much about books, and had at home a collection of his catalogues complete from the year when he first occupied the nest in the passage. I had forgot to say that Mr. Kitely was Mr. Spelt's landlord, and found him a regular tenant, else he certainly would not have invited him to tea
“Don't let me interrupt you," said Mr. Spelt. “Not at all," returned Mr. Kitely. “I'm very happy to see you, Spelt. You're very kind to my Mattie, and it pleases both of us to have you to tea in our humble way."
His humble way was a very grand way indeed to poor Speltand Mr. Kitely knew that. Spelt could only rub his nervous delicate hands in token that he would like to say something in reply if he could but find the right thing to say. What hands those were, instinct with life and expression to the finger nails! No hands like them for fine-drawing. He would make the worst rent look as if there never had been a rough contact with the nappy surface.
The tailor stepped into the parlour, which opened out of the back shop sideways, and found himself in an enchanted region. A firewe always see the fire first, and the remark will mean more to some people than to others-a most respectable fire burned in the grate, and if the room was full of the odour of red herrings, possibly objectionable per se, where was the harm when they were going to partake of the bloaters ? A consequential cat lay on the hearth-rug. A great black oak cabinet, carved to repletion of surface, for which a pre-Raphaelite painter would have given half the price of one of his best pictures, stood at the end of the room. This was an accident, for Mr. Kitely could not appreciate it; but neither would he sell it when asked to do so. He was not going to mix trades, for that was against his creed ; the fact being that he had tried so many things in his life that he now felt quite respectable from having settled to one for the rest of his days. But the chief peculiarity of the room was the number of birds that hung around it in cages of all sizes and shapes, most of them covered up now that they might go to sleep.
After Mattie had bestowed her approbation upon Mr. Spelt for coming exactly to the hour, she took the brown tea-pot from the hob, the muffin from before the fire, and three herrings from the top of it, and put them all one after another upon the table. Then she would have placed chairs for them all, but was prevented by the gallantry of Mr. Spelt, and only succeeded in carrying to the head of the table her own high chair, on which she climbed up, and sat enthroned to pour out the tea. It was a noteworthy triad. On opposite sides of the table sat the meek tailor and the hawkexpressioned bookseller. The latter had a broad forehead and large clear light eyes. His nose-I never think a face described when the nose is forgotten : Chaucer never omits it-rose from between his eyes as if intending to make the true Roman arch, but having reached the key-stone, held on upon the same high level, and did not descend but ceased. He wore no beard, and bore his face in front of him like a banner. A strong pediment of chin, and a long thin-lipped mouth completed an expression of truculent good nature. Plenty of clear-voiced speech, with a breezy defiance of nonsense in every tone, bore in it as well a certain cold but fierce friendliness, which would show no mercy to any weakness you might vaunt, but would drag none to the light you abstained from parading. Opposite to him sat the thoughtful thin-visaged small man, with his hair on end ; and between them the staid old-maidenly child, with her hair in bands on each side of the smooth solemnity of her face, the conceit of her gentle nature expressed only in the turn-up of her diminutive nose. The bookseller behaved to her as if she had been a grown lady.
“Now, Miss Kitely," he said, “we shall have tea of the right sort, sha'n't we?”
“ I hope so," answered Mattie, demurely. “Help Mr. Spelt to a herring, father.”
“ That I will, my princess. There, Mr. Spelt! There's a herring with a roe worth millions. To think now that every one of those eggs would be a fish like that, if it was only let alone !”
“It's a great waste of eggs, ain't it, father?” said Mattie.
“Mr. Spelt won't say so, my princess," returned Mr. Kitely, laughing. “He likes 'em.”
“I do like them," said the tailor.
“Well, I dare say they're good for him, and it don't hurt them much,” resumed Mattie, reflectively.
“They'll go to his brains, and make him clever," said Kitely. “And you wouldn't call that a waste, would you, Mattie ?"
“Well, I don't know. I think Mr. Spelt's clever enough already. He'stoo much for me sometimes. I confess I can't always follow him.”
The father burst into a loud roar of laughter, and laughed till the tears were running down his face. Spelt would have joined him but for the reverence he had for Mattie, who sat unmoved on her throne at the head of the table, looking down with calm benignity on her father's passion as if laughter were a weakness belonging to grown-up men, in which they were to be condescendingly indulged by princesses, and little girls in general.
“Well, how's the world behaving to you, Spelt?” asked the bookseller, after various ineffectual attempts to stop his laughter by the wiping of his eyes.
“ The world has never behaved ill to me, thank God," answered the tailor.
“Now, don't you trouble yourself to say that. You've got nobody to thank but yourself.”
“But I like to thank God,” said Mr. Spelt, apologetically. “I forgot that you wouldn't like it."
“Pshaw ! pshaw! I don't mind it from you, for I believe you're fool enough to mean what you say. But tell me this, Speltdid you thank God when your wife died ?”
“ I tried hard not. I'm afraid I did though,"answered Spelt, and sat staring like one who has confessed, and awaits his penance.
The bookseller burst into another loud laugh, and slapped his hand on his leg.