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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJan Of The Windmill - Chapter 16. The Mop.--The Shop...
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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 16. The Mop.--The Shop... Post by :mrj_60 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :2287

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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 16. The Mop.--The Shop...


A mop is a local name for a hiring-fair, at which young men and women present themselves to be hired as domestic servants or farm laborers for a year. It was at a mop that the windmiller had hired George, and it was at that annual festival that his long service came to an end. He betook himself to the town, where the fair was going on, not with any definite intention of seeking another master, but from a variety of reasons: partly for a holiday, and to "see the fun;" partly to visit the Cheap Jack, and hear what advice he had to give, and to learn what was in the letter; partly with the idea that something might suggest itself in the busy town as a suitable investment for his savings and his talents. At the worst, he could but take another place.

The sun shone brightly on the market-place as George passed through it. The scene was quaint and picturesque. Booths, travelling shows, penny theatres, quack doctors, tumblers, profile cutters, exhibitors and salesmen of all sorts, thronged the square, and overflowed into a space behind, where some houses had been burnt down and never rebuilt; whilst round the remains of the market cross in the centre were grouped the lads and lasses "on hire." The girls were smartly dressed, and the young men in snowy smocks, above which peeped waistcoats of gay colors, looked in the earlier part of the day so spruce, that it was as lamentable to see them after the hours of beer-drinking and shag tobacco-smoking which followed, as it was to see what might have been a neighborly and cheerful festival finally swamped in drunkenness and debauchery.

George's smock was white, and George's waistcoat was red, and he had made himself smart enough, but he did not linger amongst his fellow- servants at the Cross. He hurried through the crowd, nodding sheepishly in answer to a shower of chaff and greetings, and made his way to the by-street where the Cheap Jack had a small dingy shop for the sale of coarse pottery. Some people were spiteful enough to hint that the shop-trade was of much less value to him than the store-room attached, where the goods were believed to be not all of one kind.

The red bread-pans, pipkins, flower-pots, and so forth, were grouped about the door with some attempt at effective display, and with cheap prices marked in chalk upon their sides. The window was clean, and in it many knick-knacks of other kinds were mixed with the smaller china ware. And, when George entered the shop, the hunchback's wife was behind the counter. Like Mrs. Lake, he paused to think where he could have seen her before; the not uncomely face marred by an ugly mouth, in which the upper lip was long and cleft, and the lower lip large and heavy, seemed familiar to him. He was still beating his brains when the Cheap Jack came in.

George had been puzzled that the woman's countenance did not seem new to him, and he was puzzled and disturbed also that the expression on the face of the Cheap Jack was quite new. Whatever the hunchback had in his head, however, he was not unfriendly in his manner.

"Good morning, George, my dear!" he cried, cheerfully; "you've seen my missus before, eh, George?" George was just about to say no, when he remembered that he had seen the woman, and when and where.

"Dreadful night that was, Mr. Sannel!" said the Cheap Jack's wife, with a smile on her large mouth. George assented, and by the hospitable invitation of the newly married couple he followed them into the dwelling part of the house, trying as he did so to decide upon a plan for his future conduct.

Here at last was a woman who could probably tell all that he wanted to know about the mystery on which he had hoped to trade, and--the Cheap Jack had married her. If any thing could be got out of the knowledge of Jan's history, the Cheap Jack, and not George, would get it now. The hasty resolution to which George came was to try to share what he could not keep entirely to himself. He flattered himself he could be very civil, and--he had got the letter.

It proved useful. George was resolved not to show it until he had got at something of what the large-mouthed woman had to tell; and, as she wanted to see the letter, she made a virtue of necessity, and seemed anxious to help the miller's man to the utmost of her power.

The history of her connection with Jan's babyhood was soon told, and she told it truthfully.

Five years before her marriage to the Cheap Jack, she was a chambermaid in a small hotel in London, and "under notice to leave." Why--she did not deem it necessary to tell George. In this hotel Jan was born, and Jan's mother died. She was a foreigner, it was supposed, and her husband also, for they talked a foreign language to each other. He was not with her when she first came, but he joined her afterwards, and was with her at her death. So far the Cheap Jack's wife spoke upon hearsay. Though employed at the hotel, which was very full, she was not sleeping in the house; she was not on good terms with the landlady, nor even with the other servants, and her first real connection with the matter was when the gentleman, overhearing some "words" between her and the landlady at the bar, abruptly asked her if she were in want of employment. He employed her,--to take the child to the very town where she was now living as the Cheap Jack's wife. He did not come with her, as he had to attend his wife's funeral. It was understood at the hotel that he was going to take the body abroad for interment. So the porter had said. The person to whom she was directed to bring the child was a respectable old woman, living in the outskirts of the town, whose business was sick-nursing. She seemed, however, to be comfortably off, and had not been out for some time. She had been nurse to the gentleman in his childhood, so she once told the Cheap Jack's wife with tears. But she was always shedding tears, either over the baby, or as she sat over her big Bible, "for ever having to wipe her spectacles, and tears running over her nose ridic'lus to behold." She was pious, and read the Bible aloud in the evening. Then she had fainting fits; she could not go uphill or upstairs without great difficulty, and she had one of her fits when she first saw the child. If with these infirmities of body and mind the ex- nurse had been easily managed, the Cheap Jack's wife professed that she could have borne it with patience. But the old woman was painfully shrewd, and there was no hoodwinking her. She never allowed the Cheap Jack's wife to go out without her, and contrived, in spite of a hundred plans and excuses, to prevent her from speaking to any of the townspeople alone. Never, said Sal, never could she have put up with it, even for the short time before the gentleman came down to them, but for knowing it would be a paying job. But his arrival was the signal for another catastrophe, which ended in Jan's becoming a child of the mill.

If the sight of the baby had nearly overpowered the old nurse, the sight of the dark-eyed gentleman overwhelmed her yet more. Then they were closeted together for a long time, and the old woman's tongue hardly ever stopped. Sal explained that she would not have been such a fool as to let this conversation escape her, if she could have helped it. She took her place at the keyhole, and had an excuse ready for the old woman, if she should come out suddenly. The old woman came out suddenly; but she did not wait for the excuse. She sent the Cheap Jack's wife civilly on an errand into the kitchen, and then followed her, and shut the door and turned the key upon her without hesitation, leaving her unable to hear any thing but the tones of the conversation through the parlor wall. She never opened the door again. As far as the Cheap Jack's wife could tell, the old woman seemed to be remonstrating and pleading; the gentleman spoke now and then. Then there was a lull, then a thud, then a short pause, and then the parlor-door was burst open, and the gentleman came flying towards the kitchen, and calling for the Cheap Jack's wife. The fact that the door was locked caused some delay, and delay was not desirable. The old nurse had had "a fit." When the doctor came, he gave no hope of her life. She had had heart disease for many years, he said. In the midst of this confusion, a letter came for the gentleman, which seemed absolutely to distract him. He bade Sal get the little Jan ready, and put his clothes together, and they started that evening for the mill. Sal believed it was the doctor who recommended Mrs. Lake as a foster- mother for the baby, having attended her child. The storm came on after they started. The child had been very sickly ever since they left London. The gentleman took the Cheap Jack's wife straight back to the station, paid her handsomely, and sent her up to town again. She had never seen him since. As to his name, it so happened she had never heard it at the hotel; but when he was setting her off to the country with the child, she asked it, and he told her that it was Ford. The old nurse also spoke of him as Mr. Ford, but--so Sal fancied--with a sort of effort, which made her suspect that it was not his real name.

"Yes, it be!" said George, who had followed the narrative with open- mouthed interest. "It be aal right. I knows. 'Twas a gentleman by the name of Ford as cried his pocket-book, and the vive-pound bill in the papers. 'Tis aal right. Ford--Jan Ford be the little varment's name then, and he be gentry-born, too! Missus Lake she allus said so, she did, sartinly."

George was so absorbed by the flood of information which had burst upon him all at once, and by adjusting his clumsy thoughts to the new view of Jan, that he did not stop to think whether the Cheap Jack and his wife had known of the lost pocket-book and the reward. They had not. The dark gentleman had no wish to reopen communication with the woman he had employed. He thought (and rightly) that the book had fallen when he stumbled over his cloak in getting into the carriage, and he had refused to advertise it except in the local papers. And at that time the Cheap Jack and Sal were both in London.

But George's incautious speech recalled one or two facts to them, and whilst George sat slowly endeavoring to realize that new idea, "Master Jan Ford, full young gentleman, and at least half Frenchman" (for of any other foreigners George knew nothing), the Cheap Jack was pondering the words "five-pound bill," and connecting them with George's account of his savings when they last met; and his quicker spouse was also putting two and two together, but with a larger sum. At the same instant the Cheap Jack inquired after George's money, and his wife asked about the letter. But George had hastily come to a decision. If the tale told by the woman were true, he had got a great deal of information for nothing, and he saw no reason for sharing whatever the letter might contain with those most likely to profit by it. As to letting the Cheap Jack have any thing whatever to do with the disposal of his savings, nothing could be further from his intentions.

"Gearge bean't such a vool as a looks," thought that worthy, and aloud he vowed, with unnecessary oaths, that the money was still in the bank, and that he had forgotten to bring the letter, which was in a bundle that he had left at the mill.

This disappointment did not, however, diminish the civility of the Cheap Jack's wife. She was very hospitable, and even pressed George to spend the night at their house, which he declined. He had a dread of the Cheap Jack, which was almost superstitious.

For her civility, indeed, the Cheap Jack's wife was taken to task by her husband in a few moments when they were alone together.

"I thought you was sharper than to be took in by him!" said the hunchback, indignantly. "Do you believe all that gag about the bank and the bundle? and you, as soft to him, telling him every blessed thing, and he stowed the cash and the letter somewheres where we shall never catch a sight of 'em, and got every thing out of you as easy as shelling a pod of peas." And in language as strong as that of the miller's man the Cheap Jack swore he could have done better himself a hundred times over.

"Could you?" said the large-mouthed woman, contemptuously. "I wouldn't live long in the country, I wouldn't, if it was to make me such a owl as you've turned into. It ain't much farther than your nose YOU sees!"

"Never mind me, Sal, my dear," said the hunchback, anxiously. "I trusts you, my dear. And it seems to me as if you thought he'd got 'em about him. Do you, my dear, and why? And why did you tell him the truth, straight on end, when a made-up tale would have done as well, and kept him in the dark?"

"Why did I tell him the truth?" repeated the woman. "'Cos I ain't such a countrified fool as to think lies is allus the cleverest tip, 'cos the truth went farthest this time. Why do I think he's got 'em about him? First, 'cos he swore so steady he hadn't. For a ready lie, and for acting a lie, and over-acting it at times, give me townspeople; but for a thundering big un, against all reason, and for sticking to it stupid when they're downright convicted, and with a face as innercent as a baby's, give me a country lump. And next, because I can tell with folks a deal sharper than him, even to which side of 'em the pocket is they've got what they wants to hide in, by the way they moves their head and their hands."

"Which side is it of him, Sal?" said the hunchback, with ugly eagerness.

"The left," said Sal; "but it won't be there long."

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