It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
Thomas Robinson rose from his sleepless bed an altered man; altered above all in this that his self-confidence was clean gone. "How little I knew myself," said he, "and how well his reverence knew me! I am the weakest fool on earth--he saw that and told me what to do. He provided help for me--and I, like an ungrateful idiot, never once thought of obeying him; but from this hour I see myself as I am and as he used to call me--a clever fool. I can't walk straight without some honest man to hold by. Well, I'll have one, though I give up everything else in the world for it."
Then he went to his little box and took out the letter to George Fielding. He looked at it and reproached himself for forgetting it so long. "A letter from the poor fellow's sweetheart, too. I ought to have sent it by the post if I did not take it. But I will take it. I'll ask Mr. Miles's leave the moment he comes home, and start that very day." Then he sat down and read the tract again, and as he read it was filled with shame and contrition.
By one of those freaks of mind which it is so hard to account for, every good feeling rushed upon him with far greater power than when he was in ---- Prison, and, strange to say, he now loved his reverence more and took his words deeper to heart than he had done when they were together. His flesh crept with horror at the thought that he had been a criminal again, at least in intention, and that but for Heaven's mercy he would have been taken and punished with frightful severity, and above all would have wounded his reverence to the heart in return for more than mortal kindness, goodness and love. And, to do Robinson justice, this last thought made his heart sicken and his flesh creep more than all the rest. He was like a man who had fallen asleep on the brink of an unseen precipice--awoke--and looked down.
The penitent man said his prayers this morning and vowed on his knees humility and a new life. Henceforth he would know himself; he would not attempt to guide himself; he would just obey his reverence. And to begin, whenever a temptation came in sight he would pray against it then and there and fly from it, and the moment his master returned he would leave the town and get away to honest George Fielding with his passport--Susan's letter.
With these prayers and these resolutions a calm complacency stole over him; he put his reverence's tract and George's letter in his bosom and came down into the kitchen.
The first person he met was the housemaid, Jenny.
"Oh, here is my lord!" cried she. "Where were you last night?"
Robinson stammered out, "Nowhere in particular. Why?"
"Oh, because the master was asking for you, and you weren't to be found high or low."
"What, is he come home?"
"Came home last night."
"I'll go and take him his hot water."
"Why, he is not in the house, stupid. He dressed the moment he came home and went out to a party. He swore properly at your not being in the way to help him dress."
"What did he say?" asked Robinson, a little uneasy.
The girl's eyes twinkled. "He said, 'How ever am I to lace myself now that scamp is not in the way?'"
"Come, none of your chaff, Jenny."
"Why you know you do lace him, and pretty tight, too."
"I do nothing of the kind."
"Oh, of course you won't tell on one another. Tell me our head scamp does not wear stays! A man would not be as broadshouldered as that and have a waist like a wasp and his back like a board without a little lacing, and a good deal, too."
"Well, have it your own way, Jenny. Won't you give me a morsel of breakfast?"
"Well, Tom, I can give you some just for form's sake; but bless you, you won't able to eat it."
"Gents that are out all night bring a headache home in the morning in place of an appetite."
"But I was not out all night. I was at home soon after twelve."
"Those that ain't clever enough to hide secrets should trust them to those that are."
"I don't know what you mean, my lass."
"Oh, nothing; only I sat up till halfpast one in the kitchen, and I listened till three in my room.
"You took a deal of trouble on my account."
"Oh, it was more curiosity than regard," was the keen reply.
"So I should say."
The girl colored and seemed nettled by this answer. She set demurely about the work of small vengeance. "Now," said she with great cordiality, "you tell me what you were doing all night and why you broke into the house like a--a--hem! instead of coming into it like a man, and then you'll save me the trouble of finding it out whether you like or not."
These words chilled Robinson. What! had a spy been watching him--perhaps for days--and above all a female spy--a thing with a velvet paw, a noiseless step, an inscrutable countenance, and a microscopic eye.
He hung his head over his cup in silence. Jenny's eye was scanning him. He felt that without seeing it. He was uneasy under it, but his self-reproach was greater than his uneasiness.
At this juncture the street door was opened with a latch-key. "Here comes the head scamp,' said Jenny, with her eye on Robinson. The next moment a bell was rung sharply. Robinson rose.
"Finish your breakfast," said Jenny, "I'll answer the bell," and out she went. She returned in about ten minutes with a dressing-gown over her arm and a pair of curling-irons in her hand. "There," said she, "you are to go in the parlor, and get up the young buck; curl his nob and whiskers. I wish it was me, I'd curl his ear the first thing I'd curl."
"What, Jane, did you take the trouble to bring them down for me?"
"They look like it," replied the other tartly, as if she repented the good office.
Robinson went in to his master. He expected a rebuke for being out of the way; but no! he found the young gentleman in excellent humor and high spirits. "Help me off with this coat, Tom."
"Oh! not so rough, confound you. Ah! Ugh!"
"Coat's a little too tight, sir."
"No it isn't--it fits me like a glove but I am stiff and sore. There, now, get me a shirt."
Robinson came back with the shirt, and aired it close to the fire; and this being a favorable position for saying what he felt awkward about, he began:
"Mr. Miles, sir."
"I am going to ask you a favor."
"Out with it!"
"You have been a kind master to me."
"I should think I have, too. By Jove, you won't find such another in a hurry."
"No, sir, I am sure I should not, but there is an opening for me of a different sort altogether. I have a friend, a squatter, near Bathurst, and I am to join him if you will be so kind as to let me go."
"What an infernal nuisance!" cried the young gentleman, who was like most boys, good-natured and selfish. "The moment I get a servant I like he wants to go to the devil."
"Only to Bathurst, sir," said Robinson deprecatingly, to put him in a good humor.
"And what am I to do for another?"
At this moment in came Jenny with all the paraphernalia of breakfast. "Here, Jenny," cried he, "here's Robinson wants to leave us. Stupid ass!"
Jenny stood transfixed with the tray in her hand. "Since when?" asked she of her master, but looking at Robinson.
"This moment. The faithful creature greeted my return with that proposal."
"Well, sir, a servant isn't a slave and suppose he has a reason?"
"Oh! they have always got a reason, such as it is. Wants to go and squat at Bathurst. Well, Tom, you are a fool for leaving us, but of course we shan't pay you the compliment of keeping you against your will, shall we?" looking at Jane.
"What have I to do with it?" replied she, opening her gray eyes. "What is it to me whether he goes or stays?"
"Come, I like that. Why you are the housemaid and he is the footman, and those two we know are always"--and the young gentleman eked out his meaning by whistling a tune.
"Mr. Miles," said Jenny, very gravely, like an elder rebuking a younger, "you must excuse me, sir, but I advise you not to make so free with your servants. Servants are encroaching, and they will be sure to take liberties with you in turn; and," turning suddenly red and angry, "if you talk like that to me I shall leave the room."
"Well, if you must! you must! but bring the tea-kettle back with you. That is a duck!"
Jenny could not help laughing, and went for the tea-kettle. On her return Robinson made signals to her over the master's head, which he had begun to frizz. At first she looked puzzled, but following the direction of his eye she saw that her master's right hand was terribly cut and swollen. "Oh!" cried the girl. "Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
"Eh?" cried Mr. Miles, "what is the row?"
"Look at your poor hand, sir!"
"Oh, ay! isn't it hideous. Met with an accident. Soon get well."
"No, it won't, not of itself; but I have got a capital lotion for bruises, and I shall bathe it for you."
Jenny brought in a large basin of warm water and began to foment it first, touching it so tenderly. "And his hand that was as white as a lady's," said Jenny pitifully, "po-o-r bo-y!" This kind expression had no sooner escaped her than she colored and bent her head down over her work, hoping it might escape notice.
"Young woman," said Mr. Miles with paternal gravity, "servants are advised not to make too free with their masters; or the beggars will forget their place and take liberties with you. He! He! He!"
Jenny put his hand quietly down into the water and got up and ran across the room for the door. Her course was arrested by a howl from the jocose youth.
"Murder! Take him off, Jenny; kick him; the beggar is curling and laughing at the same time. Confound you, can't you lay the irons down when I say a good thing. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
This strange trio chuckled a space. Miles the loudest. "Tom, pour out my tea; and you, Jenny, if you will come to the scratch again, ha! ha!--I'll tell you how I came by this."
This promise brought the inquisitive Jenny to the basin directly.
"You know Hazeltine?"
"Yes, sir, a tall gentleman that comes here now and then. That is the one you are to run a race with on the public course," put in Jenny, looking up with a scandalized air.
"That is the boy; but how the deuce did you know?"
"Gentlemen to run with all the dirty boys looking on like horses," remonstrated the grammatical one, "it is a disgrace."
"So it is--for the one that is beat. Well, I was to meet Hazeltine to supper out of town. By-the-by, you don't know Tom Yates?"
"Oh," said Jenny, "I have heard of him, too."
"I doubt that; there are a good many of his name."
"The rake, I mean; lives a mile or two out of Sydney.
"So do half a dozen more of them."
"This one is about the biggest gambler and sharper unhung."
"All right! that is my friend! Well, he gave us a thundering supper--lots of lush."
"What is lush?"
"Tea and coffee and barley-water, my dear. Oh! can't you put the thundering irons down when I say a good thing? Well, I mustn't be witty any more, the penalty is too severe."
I need hardly say it was not Mr. Miles's jokes that agitated Robinson now; on the contrary, in the midst of his curiosity and rising agitation these jokes seemed ghastly impossibilities.
"Well, at ten o'clock we went upstairs to a snug little room, and all four sat down to a nice little green table."
"No! to whist; but now comes the fun. We had been playing about four hours, and the room was hot, and Yates was gone for a fresh pack, and old Hazeltine was gone into the drawing-room to cool himself. Presently he comes back and he says in a whisper, "Come here, old fellows." We went with him to the drawing-room, and at first sight we saw nothing, but presently flash came a light right in our eyes; it seemed to come from something glittering in the field. And these flashes kept coming and going. At last we got the governor, and he puzzled over it a little while. 'I know what it is,' cried he, 'it is my cucumber glass.'"
Jenny looked up. "Glass might glitter," said she, "but I don't see how it could flash."
"No more did we, and we laughed in the governor's face; for all that we were wrong. 'There is somebody under that wall with a dark lantern,' said Tom Yates, 'and every now and then the glass catches the glare and reflects it this way.' 'Solomon!' cried the rest of us. The fact is, Jenny, when Tom Yates gets half drunk he develops sagacity more than human. (Robinson gave a little groan.) Aha," cried Miles, "the beggar has burned his finger. I'm glad of it. Why should I be the only sufferer by his thundering irons? 'Here is a lark,' said I, 'we'll nab this dark lantern--won't we, Hazy?' 'Rather,' said Hazy. 'Wait till I get my pistols, and I'll give you a cutlass, George,' says Tom Yates. I forget who George was; but he said he was of noble blood, and I think myself he was some relation to the King-of-trumps, the whole family came about him so--mind my hair now. 'Oh, bother your artillery,' said I. 'Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just.' When I'm a little cut you may know it by my quoting Shakespeare. When I'm sober I don't remember a word of him--and don't want to."
"No, the Sporting Magazine, that is your Bible, sir," suggested Jenny.
"Yes, and let me read it without your commentary--mind my hair now. Where was I? Oh. Hazeltine and I opened the door softly and whipped out, but the beggar was too sharp for us. No doubt he heard the door. Anyway, before we could get through the shrubbery he was off, and we heard him clattering down the road ever so far off. However we followed quietly on the grass by the road-side at a fair traveling pace, and by and by what do you think? Our man had pulled up in the middle of the road and stood stock still. 'That is a green trick,' thought I. However, before we could get up to him he saw us or heard us, and off down the road no end of a pace. 'Tally ho!' cried I. Out came Hazy from the other hedge, and away we went--'Pug' ahead, 'Growler' and 'Gay-lad' scarce twenty yards from his brush, and the devil take the hindmost. Well, of course, we made sure of catching him in about a hundred yards--two such runners as Hazy and me--"
"And did not you?"
"I'll tell you. At first we certainly gained on him a few yards, but after that I could not near him. But Hazy put on a tremendous spurt, and left me behind for all I could do. 'Here is a go,' thought I, 'and I have backed myself for a hundred pounds in a half-mile race against this beggar.' Well, I was behind, but Hazy and the fox seemed to me to be joined together running, when all of a sudden--pouff! Hazy's wind and his pluck blew out together. He tailed off. Wasn't I pleased! 'Good-by, Hazy,' says I, as I shot by him and took up the running. Well, I tried all I knew; but this confounded fellow ran me within half a mile of Sydney (N. B., within two miles of it). My throat and all my inside was like an oven, and I was thinking of tailing off, too, when I heard the beggar puff and blow, so then I knew I must come up with him before long."
"And did you, sir?" asked Jenny in great excitement.
"Yes," said the other, "I passed him even."
"But did you catch him?"
"Well! why--yes--I caught him--as the Chinese caught the Tartar. This was one of your downy coves that are up to every move. When he found he hadn't legs to run from me he slips back to meet me. Down he goes under my leg--I go blundering over him twenty miles an hour. He lifts me clear over his head and I come flying down from the clouds heel over tip. I'd give twenty pounds to know how it was done, and fifty to see it done--to a friend, All I know is that I should have knocked my own brains out if it had not been for my hat and my hand--they bore the brunt between them, as you see."
"And what became of the poor man?" asked Jane.
"Well, when the poor man had flung me over his head he ran on faster than ever, and by the time I had shaken my knowledge-box and found out north from south, I heard the poor man's nailed shoes clattering down the road. To start again a hundred yards behind a poor man who could run like that would have been making a toil of a trouble, so I trotted back to meet Hazy.
"Well, I am glad he got off clear--ain't you, Tom?"
"Yes--no. A scoundrel that hashed the master like this--why, Jane, you must be mad!"
"Spare your virtuous indignation," said the other coolly. "Remember I had been hunting him like a wild beast till his heart was nearly broke, and, when I was down, he could easily have revenged himself by giving me a kick with his heavy shoes on the head or the loins that would have spoiled my running for a month of Sundays. What do you say to that?"
Robinson colored. "I say you are very good to make excuses for an unfortunate man--for a rascal--that is to say, a burglar; a--"
"And how do you know he was all that?" asked Jenny very sharply.
"Why did he run if he was not guilty?" inquired Robinson cunningly.
"Guilty--what of?" asked Jenny.
"That is more than I can tell you," replied Robinson.
"I dare say," said Jenny, "it was some peaceable man that took fright at seeing two wild young gentlemen come out like mad bulls after him."
"When I have told you my story you will be better able to judge."
"What, isn't the story ended?"
"Ended? The cream of it is coming."
"Oh, sir," cried Jenny, "please don't go on till I come back. I am going for the cold lotion now; I have fomented it enough."
"Well, look sharp, then--here is the other all in a twitter with excitement."
"Me, sir? No--yes. I am naturally interested."
"Well, you haven't been long. I don't think I want any lotion, the hot water has done it a good deal of good."
"This will do it more."
"But do you know it is rather a bore to have only one hand to cut bread and butter with?"
"I'll cut it, sir," said Robinson, laying down his irons for a moment.
"How long shall you be, Jenny?" asked Mr. Miles.
"I shall have done by when your story is done," replied she coolly.
Mr. Miles laughed. "Well, Jenny," said he, "I hadn't walked far before I met Hazeltine. 'Have you got him?' says he. 'Do I look like it?' said I rather crustily. Fancy a fool asking me whether I had got him! So I told him all about it, and we walked back together. By-and-by we met the other two just outside the gate. Well, just as we were going in Tom Yates said, 'I say, suppose we look round the premises before we go to bed.' We went softly round the house and what did we find but a window with the glass taken out; we poked about and we found a pair of shoes. 'Why, there's some one in the house,' says Tom Yates, 'as I'm a sinner.' So we held a council of war. Tom was to go into the kitchen, lock the door leading out, and ambush in the larder with his pistols; and we three were to go in by the front door and search the house. Well, Hazeltine and I had got within a yard or two of it and the knave of trumps in the rear with a sword or something, when, by George! sir, the door began to open, and out slips a fellow quietly. Long Hazy and I went at him, Hazy first. Crack he caught Hazy on the head with a bludgeon, down went daddy-long-legs, and I got entangled in him, and the robber cut like the wind for the kitchen. 'Come on,' shouted I to the honorable thingunibob, bother his name--there--the knave of trumps, and I pulled up Hazy but couldn't wait for him, and after the beggar like mad. Well, as I came near the kitchen-door I heard a small scrimmage, and back comes my man flying bludgeon in one hand and knife in the other, both whirling over his head like a windmill. I kept cool, doubled my right, and put in a heavy one from the armpit; you know, Tom; caught him just under the chin, you might have heard his jaw crack a mile off; down goes my man on his back flat on the bricks, and his bludgeon rattled one way and his knife the other--such a lark. Oh! oh! oh! what are you doing, Robinson, you hurt me most confoundedly--I won't tell you any more. So now he was down, in popped the knave of swords and fell on him, and Hazy came staggering in after and insulted him a bit and we bagged him."
"And the other, sir," asked Tom, affecting an indifferent tone, "he didn't get off, I hope?"
"What other?" inquired Jenny.
"The other unfor--the other rascal--the burglar."
"Why he never said there were two."
"Y--yes!--he said they found their shoes."
"No, he said he found a pair of shoes."
"For all that you are wrong, Jenny, and he is right--there were two; and, what is more, Tom Yates had got the other, threatening to blow out his brains if he moved, so down he sat on the dresser and took it quite easy and whistled a tune while we trussed the other beggar with his own bludgeon and our chokers. Tom Yates says the cool one tumbled down from upstairs just as we drove our one in. Tom let them try the door before he bounced out; then my one flung a chair at Tom's head and cut back, Tom nailed the other and I floored mine. Hurrah!"
Through this whole narrative Robinson had coolly and delicately to curl live hair with a beating heart, and to curl the very man who was relating all the time how he had hunted him and caught his comrades. Meantime a shrewd woman there listening with all her ears, a woman, too, who had certain vague suspicions about him, and had taken him up rather sharper than natural, he thought, when, being off his guard for a moment he anticipated the narrator, and assumed there were two burglars in the house.
Tom, therefore, though curious and anxious, shut his face and got on his guard, and it was with an admirable imitation of mere sociable curiosity that he inquired, "And what did the rascals say for themselves?"
"What could they say?" said Jenny, "they were caught in the fact."
"To do them justice they did not speak of themselves, but they said three or four words too--very much to the point."
"How interesting it is!" cried Jenny--"what about?"
"Well! it was about your friend."
"The peaceable gentleman the two young ruffians had chased down the road."
"Oh! he was one of them," said Jane, "that is plain enough now in course. What did they say about him?"
"'Sold!' says my one to Tom's. 'And no mistake,' says Tom's. Oh! they spoke out, took no more notice of us four than if we had no ears. Then says mine: 'What do you think of your pal now?' and what do you think Tom's answered, Jenny?--it was rather a curious answer--multum in parvo as we say at school, and one that makes me fear there is a storm brewing for our mutual friend, the peaceable gentleman, Jenny--alias the downy runner."
"Why, what did he say?"
"He said, 'I think--he won't be alive this day week! '"
"No! you don't see--they thought he had betrayed them."
"But, of course, you undeceived them," said Robinson.
"No! I didn't. Why, you precious greenhorn, was that our game?"
"Well, sir," cried Robinson cheerfully, "any way it was a good night's work. The only thing vexes me," added he, with an intense air of mortification, "is that the worst scoundrel of the lot got clear off; that is a pity--a downright pity."
"Make your mind easy," replied Mr. Miles calmly, "he won't escape; we shall have him before the day is out."
"Will you, sir? that is right--but how?"
"The honorable thingumbob, Tom Yates's friend, put us up to it. We sent the pair down to Sydney in the break and we put Yates's groom (he is a ticket-of-leave) in with them, and a bottle of brandy, and he is to condole with them and have a guinea if they let out the third man's name, and they will--for they are bitter against him."
Robinson sighed. "What is the matter?" said his master, trying to twist his head round.
"Nothing! only I am afraid they--they won't split; fellows of that sort don't split on a comrade where they can get no good by it."
"Well, if they don't, still we shall have him. One of us saw his face."
"It was the honorable--the knave of trumps. While Yates was getting the arms, Trumps slipped out by the garden gate and caught a glimpse of our friend; he saw him take the lantern up and fling it down and run. The light fell full on his face and he could swear to it out of a thousand. So the net is round our friend and we shall have him before the day is out."
Dring-a-dong-dring" (a ring at the bell).
"Have you done, Tom?"
"Just one more turn, sir."
"Then, Jenny, you see who that is?"
Jenny went and returned with an embossed card, "It is a young gentleman--mustache and lavender gloves; oh, such a buck!"
"Who can it be? the 'Honorable George Lascelles?' why that is the very man. I remember he said he would do himself the honor to call on me. That is the knave of trumps; go down directly, Robinson, and tell him I'm at home and bring him up."
"Yes, sir! Well, then, why don't you go!"
"Um! perhaps Jenny will go while I clear these things away;" and without waiting for an answer Robinson hastened to encumber himself with the tea-tray, and flung the loaf and curling-irons into it, and bustled about and showed a sudden zeal lest this bachelor's room should appear in disorder; and as Jenny mounted the front stairs followed by the sprig of nobility, he plunged heavily laden down the back stairs into the kitchen and off with his coat and cleaned knives like a mad thing.
"Oh! if I had but a pound in my pocket," thought he, "I would not stay another hour in Sydney. I'd get my ring and run for Bathurst and never look behind me. How comfortable and happy I was until I fell back into the old courses, and now see what a life mine has been ever since! What a twelve hours! hunted like a wild beast, suspected and watched by my fellow-servant and forced to hide my thoughts from this one and my face from that one; but I deserve it and I wish it was ten times as bad. Oh! you fool--you idiot--you brute--it is not the half of what you deserve. I ask but one thing of Heaven--that his reverence may never know; don't let me break that good man's heart; I'd much rather die before the day is out!"
At this moment Jenny came in. Robinson cleaned the poor knives harder still and did not speak; his cue was to find out what was passing in the girl's mind. But she washed her cup and saucer and plates in silence. Presently the bell rang.
"Tom!" said Jenny quietly.
"Would you mind going, Jenny?"
"Me! it is not my business."
"No, Jenny! but once in a way if you will be so kind."
"Once! why I have been twice to the door for you to-day. You to your place and I to mine. Shan't go!"
"Look at me with my coat off and covered with brickdust."
"Put your coat on and shake the dust off."
"Oh, Jenny! that is not like you to refuse me such a trifle. I would not disoblige you so."
"I didn't refuse," said Jenny, making for the door; "I only said 'no' once or twice--we don't call that refusing;" but as she went out of the door she turned sharp as if to catch Robinson's face off its guard; and her gray eye dwelt on him with one of those demure, inexplicable looks her sex can give all ab extra--seeing all, revealing nothing.
She returned with her face on fire. "That is what I get for taking your place!"
"What is the matter?"
"That impudent young villain wanted to kiss me."
"Oh! is that all?"
"No! it is not all; he said I was the prettiest girl in Sydney" (with an appearance of rising indignation).
"Well! but, Jenny, that is no news, I could have told him that."
"Then why did you never tell me?"
"I thought by your manner--you knew it."
Having tried to propitiate the foe thus, Robinson lost no more time, but went upstairs and asked Mr. Miles for the trifle due to him as wages. Mr. Miles was very sorry, but he had been cleaned out at his friend Yates's--had not a shilling left and no hopes of any for a fortnight to come.
"Then, sir," said Robinson doggedly, "I hope you will allow me to go into the town and try and make a little for myself, just enough to pay my traveling expenses.
"By all means," was the reply; "tell me if you succeed--and I'll borrow a sovereign of you."
Out went Robinson into the town of Sydney. He got into a respectable street, and knocked at a good house with a green door. He introduced himself to the owner as a first-rate painter and engrainer, and offered to turn this door into a mahogany, walnut, oak or what-not door. "The house is beautiful, all but the door," said sly Tom; "it is blistered."
"I am quite content with it as it is," was the reply in a rude, supercilious tone.
Robinson went away discomfited; he went doggedly down the street begging them all to have their doors beautified, and wincing at every refusal. At last he found a shopkeeper who had no objection, but doubted Robinson's capacity. "Show me what you can do," said he slyly, "and then I'll talk to you."
"Send for the materials," replied the artist, "and give me a board and I'll put half a dozen woods on the face of it."
"And pray," said the man, "why should I lay out my money in advertising you? No! you bring me a specimen, and if it is all right I'll give you the job."
"That is a bargain," replied Robinson, and went off. "How hard they make honesty to a poor fellow," muttered he bitterly, "but I'll beat them," and he clinched his teeth.
He went to a pawnbroker and pawned the hat off his head--it was a new one; then for a halfpenny he bought a sheet of brown paper and twisted it into a workman's cap; he bought the brushes and a little paint and a little varnish, and then he was without a penny again. He went to a wheelwright's and begged the loan of a small valueless worm-eaten board he saw kicking about, telling him what it was for. The wealthy wheelwright eyed him with scorn. "Should I ever see it again?" asked he ironically.
"Keep it for your coffin," said Robinson fiercely, and passed on. "How hard they make honesty to a poor fellow! I was a fool for asking for it when I might have taken it. What was there to hinder me? Honesty, my lass, you are bitter."
Presently he came to the suburbs and there was a small wooden cottage. The owner, a common laborer, was repairing it as well as he could. Robinson asked him very timidly if he could spare a couple of square feet off a board he was sawing. "What for?" Robinson showed his paintpot and brushes, and told him how he was at a stand-still for want of a board. "It is only a loan of it I ask," said he.
The man measured the plank carefully, and after some hesitation cut off a good piece. "I can spare that much," said he; "poor folk should feel for one another."
"I'll bring it back, you may depend," said Robinson.
"You needn't trouble," replied the laboring man with a droll wink, as much as to say, "Gammon!"
When Robinson returned to the skeptical shopkeeper with a board on which oak, satin-wood, walnut, etc., were imitated to the life in squares, that worthy gave a start and betrayed his admiration, and Robinson asked him five shillings more than he would if the other had been more considerate. In short, before evening the door was painted a splendid imitation of walnut-wood, the shopkeeper was enchanted, and Robinson had fifteen shillings handed over to him. He ran and got Mr. Eden's ring out of pawn, and kissed it and put it on; next he liberated his hat. He slept better this night than the last. "One more such day and I shall have enough to pay my expenses to Bathurst."
He turned, out early and went into the town. He went into the street where he had worked last evening, and when he came near this door there was a knot of persons round it. Robinson joined them. Presently one of the shop-boys cried out, "Why, here he is; this is the painter!"
Instantly three or four hands were laid on Robinson. "Come and paint my door."
"No, come and paint mine!"
Tom had never been in such request since he was an itinerant quack. His sly eye twinkled, and this artist put himself up to auction then and there. He was knocked down to a tradesman in the same street--twenty-one shillings the price of this door (mock mahogany). While he was working commissions poured in and Robinson's price rose, the demand for him being greater than the supply. The mahogany door was really a chef-d'oeuvre. He came home triumphant with thirty shillings in his pocket, he spread them out on the kitchen table and looked at them with a pride and a thrill of joy money never gave him before. He had often closed the shutters and furtively spread out twice as many sovereigns, but they were only his, these shillings were his own. And they were not only his own but his own by labor. Each sacred shilling represented so much virtue; for industry is a virtue. He looked at them with a father's pride.
How sweet the butter our own hands have churned!--T. T.
He blessed his reverend friend for having taught him an art in a dunghole where idiots and savages teach crank. He blessed his reverence's four bones, his favorite imprecation of the benevolent kind. I conclude the four bones meant the arms and legs. If so it would have been more to the point had he blessed the fifth--the skull.
Jenny came in and found him gloating over his virtuous shillings. She stared. He told her what he had been about these two days past, his difficulties, his success, the admiration his work excited throughout the capital (he must exaggerate a little or it would not be Tom Robinson), and the wealth he was amassing.
Jenny was glad to hear this, very glad, but she scolded him well for pawning his hat. "Why didn't you ask me?" said she; "I would have lent you a pound or even two, or given them you for any honest purpose." And Jenny pouted and got up a little quarrel.
The next day a gentleman caught Robinson and made him paint two doors in his fancy villa. Satin-wood this time; and he received three pounds three shillings, a good dinner, and what Bohemians all adore--Praise. Now as he returned in the evening a sudden misgiving came to him. "I have not thought once of Bathurst to-day. I see--all this money-making is a contrivance to keep me in Sydney. It is absurd my coining paint at this rate. I see your game, my lad; either I am to fall into bad company again, or to be split upon and nabbed for that last job. To-morrow I will be on the road to Bathurst. I can paint there just as well as here; besides I have got my orders from his reverence to go, and I'll go."
He told Jane his resolution. She made no answer. While these two were sitting cozily by the fireside--for since Robinson took to working hard all day he began to relish the hearth at night--suddenly cheerful, boisterous voices, and Mr. Miles and two friends burst in and would have an extempore supper, and nothing else would serve these libertines but mutton-chops off the gridiron. So they invaded the kitchen. Out ran Jenny to avoid them--or put on a smarter cap; and Robinson was to cut the chops and lay a cloth on the dresser and help cook. While his master went off to the cellar the two rakes who remained chattered and laughed both pretty loud. They had dined together and the bottle had not stood still.
"I have heard that voice before," thought Robinson. "It is a very peculiar voice. Whose voice is that?"
He looked the gentleman full in the face and could hardly suppress a movement of surprise.
The gentleman by the instinct of the eye caught his, and his attention was suddenly attracted to Robinson, and from that moment his eye was never off Robinson, following him everywhere. Robinson affected not to notice this; the chops were grilling, Jenny came in and bustled about and pretended not to hear the side-compliments of the libertines. Presently the young gentleman with the peculiar voice took out his pocketbook and said, "I have a bet to propose. I'll bet you fifty pounds I find the man you two hunted down the road on Monday night."
"No takers," replied Mr. Hazeltine with his mouth full.
"Stop a bit. I don't care if I make a time bet," said Miles. "How soon will you bet you catch him?"
"In half an hour," was the cool reply. And the Honorable George while making it managed at the same time in a sauntering sort of way to put himself between Robinson and the door that led out into the garden. Robinson eyed him in silence and never moved.
"In half a hour. That is a fair bet," said Mr. Miles. "Shall I take him?"
"Better not; he is a knowing one. He has seen him to earth somewhere or he would not offer you such a bet."
"Well, I'll bet you five to three," proposed the Honorable George.
Robinson put in a hasty word: "And what is to become of Thimble-rig Jem, sir?" These words, addressed to Mr. Lascelles, produced a singular effect. That gentleman gave an immediate shiver, as if a bullet had passed clean through him and out again, then opened his eyes and looked first at one door then at the other as if hesitating which he should go by. Robinson continued, addressing him with marked respect, "What I mean, sir, is that there is a government reward of two hundred pounds for Thimble-rig Jem, and the police wouldn't like to be drawn away from two hundred pounds after a poor fellow like him you saw on Monday night, one that is only suspected and no reward offered. Now Jem is a notorious culprit."
"Who is this Jem, my man? What is he?" asked Mr. Lascelles with a composure that contrasted remarkably with his late emotion.
"A convict escaped from Norfolk Island, sir; an old offender. I fell in with him once. He has forgotten me I dare say, but I never forget a man. They say he has grown a mustache and whiskers and passes himself off for a nob; but I could swear to him."
"How? By what?" cried Mr. Miles.
"If he should ever be fool enough to get in my way--"
"Hang Thimble-rig Jem," cried Hazeltine. "Is it a bet, Lascelles?"
"That you nab our one in half an hour?" Mr. Lascelles affected an aristocratic drawl. "No, I was joking. I couldn't afford to leave the fire for thirty pounds. Why should I run after the poor dayvil? Find him yourselves. He never annoyed me. Got a cigar, Miles?"
After their chops, etc., the rakes went off to finish the night elsewhere.
"There, they are gone at last! Why, Jenny, how pale you look!" said Robinson, not seeing the color of his own cheek. "What is wrong?" Jenny answered by sitting down and bursting out crying. Tom sat opposite her with his eyes on the ground.
"Oh, what I have gone through this day!" cried Jenny. "Oh! oh! oh! oh!" sobbing convulsively.
What could Tom do but console her? And she found it so agreeable to be consoled that she prolonged her distress. An impressionable Bohemian on one side a fireplace, and a sweet, pretty girl crying on the other, what wonder that two o'clock in the morning found this pair sitting on the same side of the fire aforesaid--her hand in his?
The next morning at six o'clock Jenny was down to make his breakfast for him before starting. If she had said, "Don't go," it is to be feared the temptation would have been too strong, but she did not; she said sorrowfully, "You are right to leave this town." She never explained. Tom never heard from her own lips how far her suspicions went. He was a coward, and seeing how shrewd she was, was afraid to ask her; and she was one of your natural ladies who can leave a thing unsaid out of delicacy.
Tom Robinson was what Jenny called "capital company." He had won her admiration by his conversation, his stories of life, and now and then a song, and by his good looks and good nature. She disguised her affection admirably until he was in danger and about to leave her--and then she betrayed herself. If she was fire he was tow. At last it came to this: "Don't you cry so, dear girl. I have got a question to put to you--IF I COME BACK A BETTER MAN THAN I GO, WILL YOU BE MRS. ROBINSON?"