Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[graphic][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small][subsumed]

"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 Spelt-and 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 fire-we always see the fire first, and the remark will mean more to some people than to others-a most respectable fire barned 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 80. 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 hawk-expressioned 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, a breezy defiance of nonsense in every tone, bore in it 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 forcing into notice. 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.

66

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.

66

"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's too 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, Spelt-did you thank God when your wife died?"

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

"9

"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 grated 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

"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.

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

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

But his face grew sober as he added, in a lower favouring the sale of the New Testament. Kitely but still loud voice, smiled, but said nothing.

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

"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

""

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

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

66

no more.

They went on with their tea for some moments in the bookseller, offended in his turn. silence.

"You've got my receipts, I believe," answered

"Then I may make a fool of myself if I please,"

"Well, princess!" said Mr. Kitely at last, giving returned Spelt, with a smile which took all offence an aimless poke to the conversation. out of the remark. "I only wanted to say that perhaps God lets Mr. Potter hold the living of

"Well, father," returned Mattie.

Whereupon her father turned to Spelt and said, St. Jacob's in something of the same way that I let as if resuming what had passed before, poor Dolman cobble in my ground-floor. No offence,

"Now tell me honestly, Spelt, do you believe I hope." there is a God?"

"I don't doubt it."

"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

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

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

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

"That's true," returned the tailor. "But seeing I don't go to church myself, I don't see I've any

66

"You was telling us what Mr. Potter did for his right to complain. Do you go to church, Mr. money.'

99

Kitely?"

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

. Yes, yes. I don't know anything else he does but stroke his Piccadilly weepers, and draw his salary. Only I suppose they have some grand name for salary nowadays, out of the Latin Grammar or the Roman Antiquities, or some such, to make it respectable. Don't tell me there's a God, when he puts a man like that in the pulpit. To hear him haw-haw!"

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

[ocr errors]

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."

fessed 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

"Very well, I won't trouble you again in a girl. "I never said anything to her," were the hurry." words with which he would now and then apply an

"That is as you please, sir," said the bookseller, unction to his soul, compounded of self-justification and no reply followed. and self-flattery. But he could not keep an outward

"I don't like that young man," said Kitely, reentering. "My opinion is that he's a humbug." "Miss Burton does not think so," said Mattie, quietly.

"That's Mr. Worboise," said Mattie. "I wish appearance of coolness correspondent to the real father wouldn't be so hard upon him." coldness of his selfish heart, and the confusion which was only a dim reflection of her own was sufficient to make poor Mary suppose that feelings similar to her own were at work in the mind of the handsome youth. Why he did not say anything to her had

"Eh! what, princess?" said her father. "Eh! not yet begun to trouble her, and her love was as yet satisfied with the ethereal luxuries of dreaming

ah! Well! well!"
"You don't give credit, Mr. Kitely?" said the and castle-building.
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."

It had been arranged between Amy Worboise and the Boxall girls, that if Christmas-Day were fine, they would persuade their fathers to go with them to Hampstead Heath in the morning. How much of this arrangement was owing to sly suggestion on the part of Mary in the hope of seeing Tom, I do not know. I believe Jane contrived that Charles Wither should have a hint of the possibility. It is enough that the plan was accepted by the parents, and that the two families, with the exception of Mrs. Boxall, who could not commit the care of the Christmas dinner to the servants, and the invalid Mrs. Worboise, who, indeed, would always have preferred the chance of a visit from Mr. Simon to the certainty of sunshine and extended prospect, found themselves, after morning-service, on the platform of the Highbury railway-station, whence they soon reached Hampstead.

The walk from the station, up the hill to the top of the heath, was delightful. It was a clear day, the sun shining overhead, and the ground sparkling with frost under their feet. The keen, healthy air brought colour to the cheeks and light to the eyes of all the party, possibly with the sole exception of Mr. Worboise, who, able to walk uncovered in the keenest weather, was equally impervious to all the gentler influences of Nature. He could not be said to be a disbeliever in Nature, for he had not the smallest idea that she had any existence beyond an

"Where's that?" asked Kitely.

"Leastways, I mean going home with a pair o' boots," answered Dolman, evasively, wiping his Dose with the back of his hand.

"No, I ain't," said Dolman. "I only come to allegorical one. What he did believe in was the let the guv'ner know as I'm a going home." law, meaning by that neither the Mosaic nor the Christian, neither the law of love nor the law of right, but the law of England, as practised in her courts of justice. Therefore he was not a very interesting person to spend a Christmas morning with, and he and Mr. Boxall, who was equally a believer in commerce, were left to entertain each other.

"Ah!" said the bookseller.

"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 cobbler made his appearance at the half-open door of the parlour.

CHAPTER VI.-THE MORNING OF CHRISTMAS-DAY.

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. Nor did he make any great effort to evade such meetings; and it must be con

Mary Boxall was especially merry; Amy Worboise roguish as usual; Jane Boxall rather silent, but still bright-eyed, for who could tell whom she might meet upon the heath? And with three such girls Tom could not be other than gay, if not brilliant. True, Lucy was alone with her old grandmother in dingy Guild Court; but if she loved him, was not

« ForrigeFortsett »