Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

great black

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 firem we 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.

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 hoh, 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 á 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 laughte

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.

were

* You have me there, I grant, Spelt."

But his face grew sober as he added, in a lower but still loud voice,

“I was thinking of my wife, not of yours. Folk say she was a rum un."

“ She was a splendid woman,” said the tailor. “She weighed twice as much as I do, and her fist-" Here he doubled up his own slender hand, laid it on the table, and stared at it, with his mouth full of muffin. Then, with a sigh, he added,

She was rather too much for me, sometimes. She was a splendid woman, though, when she was sober.”

“And what was she when she was drunk ?” This giated a little on the tailor's feelings, and he answered with spirit,

“A match for you or any man, Mr. Kitely."
The bookseller said, “ Bravo, Spelt !" and said no more.
They went on with their tea for some moments in silence.

“Well, princess !” said Mr. Kitely at last, giving an aimless poke to the conversation,

“Well, Mr. Kitely !" responded Mattie.

Whereupon her father turned to Spelt and said, as if resuming what had passed before,

“Now tell me honestly, Spelt, do you believe there is a God ?” “I don't doubt it."

“And I do. Will you tell me that, if there was a God, he would have a fool like that in the church over the way there, to do nothing but read the service, and a sermon he bought for eighteenpence, and"

“From you ?" asked Spelt, with an access of interest.

“No, no. I was too near the church for that. But he bought it of Spelman, in Holywell Street.-Well, what was I saying ?"

“ You was telling us what Mr. Potter did for his money." “Yes, yes. I don't know anything else he does but stroke his Piccadilly weepers, and drawr it. Don't tell me there's a God, when he puts a man like that in the pulpit. To hear him haw-haw!"

The bookseller's logic was, to say the least of it, queer. But Spelt was no logician. He was something better, though in a feeble way. He could jump over the dry-stone fences and the crossditches of the logician. He was not one of those who stop to answer arguments against going home, instead of making haste to kiss their wives and children.

" I've read somewhere-in a book I dare say you mayn't have in your collection, Mr. Kitely—they call it the New Testament"

There was not an atom of conscious humour in the tailor as he said this. He really thought Mr. Kitely might have conscientious scruples as to favouring the sale of the New Testament. Kitely smiled, but said nothing.

“I've read”-the tailor went on" that God winked at some people's ignorance. I dare say He may wink at Mr. Potter's.”

Anyhow, I wouldn't like to be Mr. Potter," said the bookseller.

No, nor 1,” returned Spelt. “But just as I let that poor creature, Dolman, cobble away in my ground-floor-though he has never paid me more than half his rent since ever he took the place—".

“Is that the way of it? Whew !” said Mr. Kitely.

“About and about it," answered the tailor. “ But that's not the point."

“What a fool you are then, Spelt, 60--"

“Mr. Kitely," interposed the tailor, with dignity,“ do I pay your rent?

“You've got my receipts, I believe," answered the bookseller, offended in his turn.

“Then I may make a fool of myself if I please,” returned Spelt, with a smile which took all offence out of the remark. “I only wanted to say that perhaps God lets Mr. Potter hold the living of St. Jacob's in something of the same way that I let poor Dolman cobble in my ground-floor. No offence, I hope.”

“ None whatever. You're a good-natured, honest fellow, Spelt ; and don't distress yourself, you know, for a week or so. Have half a herring more? I fear this is a soft roe.”

“No more, I thank you, Mr. Kitely. But all the clergy ain't like Mr. Potter. Perhaps he talks such nonsense because there's nobody there to hear it."

There's plenty not there to do something for, for his money," said Kitely.

“That's true," returned the tailor. “But seeing I don't go to church myself, I don't see I've any right to complain. Do you go to church, Mr. Kitely?”

“I should think not,answered the bookseller. “But there's some one in the shop.”

So saying, he started up and disappeared. Presently voices were heard, if not in dispute, yet in difference.

“You won't oblige me so far as that, Mr. Kitely ?"

“No, I won't. I never pledge myself. I've been too often taken in. No offence. A man goes away and forgets. Send or bring the money and the book is yours. Or come to-morrow. I daresay it won't be gone. But I won't promise to keep it. There!”

“Very well, I won't trouble you again in a hurry.” “That is as you please, sir," said the bookseller, and no reply followed.

“That's Mr. Worboise," said Mattie. “I wish Mr. Kitely wouldn't be so hard upon him.”

"I don't like that young man," said Kitely, re-entering. “My opinion is that he's a humbug."

“ Miss Burton does not think so," said Mattie, quietly.

66

Eh! what, princess ? ” said her father. “Eh ! ah ! Weil ! well !” “ You don't give credit, Mr. Kitely ?" said the tailor.

No, not to my own father. I don't know, though, if I had the old boy back again, now he's dead. I didn't behave over well to him, I'm afraid. I wonder if he's in the moon, or where he is, Mr. Spelt, eh? I should like to believe in God now, if it were only for the chance of saying to my father, ' I'm sorry I said so-and-so to you, old man. Do you think he'll have got over it by this time, Spelt? You know all about those things. But I won't have a book engaged and left and not paid for. I'd rather give credit and lose it, and have done with it. If young Worboise wants the book, he may come for it to-morrow."

He always pays me--and pleasantly,” said Spelt. “Of course," said Mattie.

“ I don't doubt it," said her father ; " but I like things neat and clean. And I don't like him. He thinks a deal of himself.”

Surely he's neat and clean enough," said Spelt. • Now, you don't know what I mean. A man ought always to know what another man means before he makes his remarks. I mean, I like a book to go out of my sight, and the price of it to go into my pocket, right slick off. But here's Dolman come to fetch you, Spelt,” said the bookseller, as the cobblez made his appearance at the half-open door of the parlour.

No, I ain't,” said Dolman. “I only come to let the guvner know as I'm a goin' home.'

Where may that be ?” asked Kitely. "Leastways, I mean goin' home with a pair o' boots," answered Dolman, evasively, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

Ab !" said the bookseller.

CHAPTER IX.

A POOR ADVENTURE.

It is but justice to Thomas Worboise to mention that he made no opportunities of going to his “ governor's” house after this. But the relations of the families rendered it impossible for him to avoid seeing Mary Boxall sometimes. Neither did he make any great effort to evade such meetings; and it must be confessed that it was not without a glow of inward satisfaction that he saw her confusion and the rosy tinge that spread over her face and deepened the colour of her eyes when they thus happened to meet. For Mary was a soft-hearted and too impressible girl. “I never said anything to her," were the words with which he would now and then apply an

« ForrigeFortsett »