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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJan Of The Windmill - Chapter 17. The Miller's Man At The Mop...
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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 17. The Miller's Man At The Mop... Post by :mrj_60 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1464

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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 17. The Miller's Man At The Mop...


For some years the ex-servant of the windmill had been rather favored by fortune than otherwise. He found the pocket-book, and, though he could not read the letter, he got the five-pound note. Since then, his gains, honest and dishonest, had been much beyond his needs, and his savings were not small. Suspicion was just beginning to connect his name and that of the Cheap Jack with certain thefts committed in the neighborhood, when he made up his mind to go.

His wealth was not generally known. Many a time had he been tempted to buy pigs (a common speculation in the district, and the first stone of more than one rustic fortune), but the dread of exciting suspicion balanced the almost certain profit, and he could never make up his mind. For Master Lake paid only five pounds a year for his man's valuable services, which, even in a district where at that time habits were simple, and boots not made of brown paper, did not leave much margin for the purchase of pigs. The pig speculation, though profitable, was not safe. George had made money, however, and he had escaped detection. On the whole, he had been fortunate. But that mop saw a turn in the tide of his affairs, and ended strangely with him.

It began otherwise. George had never felt more convinced of his power to help himself at the expense of his neighbors than he did after getting Sal's information, and keeping back his own, before they started to join in the amusements of the fair. He was on good terms with himself; none the less so that he had not failed to see the Cheap Jack's chagrin, as the woman poured forth all she knew for George's benefit, and got nothing in return.

The vanity of the ignorant knows no check except from without; under flattery, it is boundless, and the Cheap Jack's wife found no difficulty in fooling George to the top of his bent.

George was rather proud, too, of his companion. She was not, as has been said, ill-looking but for her mouth, and beauty was not abundant enough in the neighborhood to place her at much disadvantage. Fashionable finery was even less common, and the Cheap Jack's wife was showily dressed. And George found her a very pleasant companion; much livelier than the slow-witted damsels of the country-side. For him she had nothing but flattery; but her smart speeches at the expense of other people in the crowd caused the miller's man to double up his long back with laughter.

A large proportion of the country wives and sweethearts tramped up and down the fair at the heels of their husbands and swains, like squaws after their Indian spouses. But the Cheap Jack's wife asked George for his arm,--the left one,--and she clung to it all the day. "Quite the lady in her manners she be," thought George. She called him "Mr. Sannel," too. George felt that she admired him. For a moment his satisfaction was checked, when she called his attention to the good looks of a handsome recruiting sergeant, who was strutting about the mop with an air expressing not so much that it all belonged to him as that he didn't at all belong to it.

"But there, he ain't to hold a candle to you, Mr. Sannel, though his coat do sit well upon him," said the Cheap Jack's wife.

It gratified George's standing ill-will to the Cheap Jack to have "cut him out" with this showy lady, and to laugh loudly with her upon his arm, whilst the hunchback followed, like a discontented cur, at their heels. If there was a drawback to the merits of his lively companion, it was her power of charming the money out of George's pocket.

The money that he disbursed came from the right-hand pocket of his red waistcoat. In the left-hand pocket (and the pockets, like the pattern of the waistcoat, were large) was the lost pocket-book. It was a small one, and just fitted in nicely. In the pocket-book were George's savings, chiefly in paper. Notes were more portable than coin, and, as George meant to invest them somewhere where he was not known, no suspicions need be raised by their value. The letter was there also.

There were plenty of shows at the mop, and the Cheap Jack's wife saw them all. The travelling wax-works; the menagerie with a very mangy lion in an appallingly rickety cage; the fat Scotchman, a monster made more horrible to view by a dress of royal Stuart tartan; the penny theatre, and a mermaid in a pickling-tub.

One treat only she declined. The miller's man would have paid for a shilling portrait of her, but she refused to be taken.

The afternoon was wearing away, when Sal caught sight of some country bumpkins upon a stage, who were preparing to grin through horse-collars against each other for the prize of a hat. As she had never seen or heard of the entertainment, George explained it to her.

It was a contest in which the ugliest won the prize. Only the widest-mouthed, most grotesque-looking clowns of the place attempted to compete; and he won who, besides being the ugliest by nature, could "grin" and contort his features in the mode which most tickled the fancy of the beholders. George had once competed himself, and had only failed to secure the hat because his nearest rival could squint as well as grin; and he was on the point of boasting of this, but on second thoughts he kept the fact to himself.

Very willing indeed he was to escort his companion to a show in the open air for which nothing was charged, and they plunged valiantly into the crowd. The crowd was huge, but George's height and strength stood him in good stead, and he pushed on, and dragged Sal with him. There was some confusion on the stage. A nigger, with a countenance which of itself moved the populace to roars of laughter, had applied to be allowed to compete. Opinions were divided as to whether it would be fair to native talent, whilst there was a strong desire to see a face that in its natural condition was "as good as a play," with the additional attractions of a horse-collar and a grin.

The country clowns on the stage fumed, and the nigger grinned and bowed, and the crowd yelled, and surged, and swayed, and weak people got trampled, and everybody was tightly squeezed, and the Cheap Jack's wife was alarmed, and withdrew her hand from George's arm, and begged him to hold her up, which he gallantly did, she meanwhile clinging with both hands to his smock.

As to the hunchback, it is hardly necessary to say that he did not get very far into the crowd, and when his wife and George returned, laughing gayly, they found him standing outside, with a sulky face. "Look here, missus," said he; "you're a enjoying of yourself, but I'm not. You've got the blunt, so just hand over a few coppers, and I'll get a pint at the King's Arms."

Sal began fumbling to find her pocket, but when she found it, she gave a shriek, and turned it inside out. It was empty!

If the miller's man had enjoyed himself before, he was not to be envied now. The Cheap Jack's wife poured forth her woes in a continuous stream of complaint. She minutely described the purse which she had lost, the age and quality of her dress, and the impossibility of there being a hole in her pocket. She took George's arm once more, and insisted upon revisiting every stall and show where they had been, to see if her purse had been found. Up and down George toiled with her, wiping his face and feeling that he looked like a fool, as at each place in turn they were told that they might as well "look for a needle in a bottle of hay," and that pickpockets were as plenty at a mop as blackberries in September.

He was tired of the woman now she was troublesome, and fidgetingly persevering, as women are apt to be, and he was vexed to feel how little money was left in his right-hand pocket. He did not think of feeling in the left one, not merely because the Cheap Jack was standing in front of him, but because no fear for the safety of its contents had dawned upon him. It was easy for a woman to lose her purse out of a pocket flapping loosely in the drapery of her skirts, but that any thing stowed tightly away in a man's waistcoat under his smock could be stolen in broad daylight without his knowledge did not occur to him. As little did he guess that of all the pickpockets who were supposed to drive a brisk trade at the fair, the quickest, the cleverest, the most practised professional was the Cheap Jack's wife.

She had feigned to see "something" on the ground near an oyster stall, which she said "might be" her purse. As indeed it might as well as any thing else, seeing that the said purse had no existence.

As she left them, George turned to the Cheap Jack. "Look 'ee here, Jack," said he; "take thee missus whoam. She do seem to be so put about, 'tis no manner of use her stopping in the mop. And I be off for a pint of something to wash my throat out. I be mortal dry with running up and down after she. Women does make such a caddle about things."

"You might stand a pint for an old friend, George, my dear," said the Cheap Jack, following him. But George hurried on, and shook his head. "No, no," said he; "tak' thee missus whoam, I tell 'ee. She've not seen much at your expense today, if she have lost her pus."

With which the miller's man escaped into the King's Arms, and pushed his way to the farthest end of the room, where a large party of men were drinking and smoking.

At a table near him sat the recruiting sergeant whom he had noticed before, and he now examined him more closely.

He was of a not uncommon type of non-commissioned officers in the English service. Not of a very intellectual--hardly perhaps of an interesting--kind of good looks, he was yet a strikingly handsome man. His features were good and clearly cut; his hair and moustache were dark, thick, short and glossy; his dark eyes were quick and bright; his figure was well-made, and better developed; his shapely hands were not only clean, they were fastidiously trimmed about the nails (a daintiness common below the rank of sergeant, especially among men acting as clerks); and if the stone in his signet ring was not a real onyx, it looked quite as well at a distance, and the absence of a crest was not conspicuous. He spoke with a very good imitation of the accent of the officers he had served with, and in his alertness, his well-trained movements, his upright carriage, and his personal cleanliness, he came so near to looking like a gentleman that he escaped it only by a certain swagger, which proved an ill-chosen substitute for well-bred ease.

To George's eyes this was not visible as a fault. The sergeant was as much "the swell" as George could imagine any man to be.

George Sannel could never remember with distinctness the ensuing events of that afternoon. Dim memories remained with him of the sergeant meeting his long stare with some civilities, to which he was conscious of having replied less suitably than he might have wished. At one period, certainly, bets were made upon the height of himself and the handsome soldier, respectively, and he was sure that they were put back to back, and that he proved the taller man; and that it was somehow impressed upon him that he did not look so, because the other carried himself so much better. It was also impressed upon him, somehow, that if he would consent to be well- dressed, well-fed, and well-lodged, at the expense of the country, his own appearance would quickly rival that of the sergeant, and that the reigning Sovereign would gladly pay, as well as keep and clothe, such an ornamental bulwark of the state. At some other period the sergeant had undoubtedly told him to "give it a name," and the name he gave it was sixpenny ale, which he drank at the sergeant's expense, and which was followed by shandy-gaff, on the same footing.

At what time and for what reason George put his hand into his left- hand waistcoat pocket he never could remember. But when he did so, and found it empty, the cry he raised had such a ring of anguish as might have awakened pity for him, even where his ill deeds were fully known.

The position was perplexing, if he had had a sober head to consider it with. That pickpockets abounded had been well impressed upon his slow intellect, and that there was no means of tracing property so lost, in the crowd and confusion of the mop. True, his property was worth "crying," worth offering a reward for. But the pocket-book was not his, and the letter was not addressed to him; and it was doubtful if he even dare run the risk of claiming them.

His first despair was succeeded by a sort of drunken fury, in which he accused the men sitting with him of robbing him, and then swore it was the Cheap Jack, and so raved till the landlord of the King's Arms expelled him as "drunk and disorderly," and most of the company refused to believe that he had had any such sum of money to lose.

Exactly how or where, after this, the sergeant found him, George could not remember, but his general impression of the sergeant's kindness was strong. He could recall that he pumped upon his head in the yard of the King's Arms, to sober him, by George's own request; and that it did somewhat clear his brain, his remembrance of seeing the sergeant wipe his fingers on a cambric handkerchief seems to prove. They then paced up and down together arm in arm, if not as accurately in step as might have been agreeable to the soldier. George remembered hearing of prize money, to which his own loss was a bagatelle, and gathering on the whole that the army, as a profession, opened a sort of boundless career of opportunities to a man of his peculiar talents and appearance. There was something infectious, too, in the gay easy style in which the soldier seemed to treat fortune, good or ill; and the miller's man was stimulated at last to vow that he was not such a fool as he looked, and would "never say die." To the best of his belief, the sergeant replied in terms which showed that, had he been "in cash," George's loss would have been made good by him, out of pure generosity, and on the spot.

As it was, he pressed upon his acceptance the sum of one shilling, which the miller's man pocketed with tears.

What recruit can afterwards remember which argument of the skilful sergeant did most to melt his discretion into valor?

The sun had not dried the dew from the wolds, and the sails of the windmill hung idle in the morning air, when George Sannel made his first march to the drums and fifes, with ribbons flying from his hat, a recruit of the 206th (Royal Wiltshire) Regiment of Foot.

As the Cheap Jack and his wife hastened home from the mop, Sal had some difficulty in restraining her husband's impatience to examine the pocket-book as they walked along.

Prudence prevailed, however, and it was not opened till they were at home and alone.

In notes and money, George's savings amounted to more than thirteen pounds.

"Pretty well, my dear," said the Cheap Jack, grinning hideously. "And now for the letter. Read it aloud, Sal, my dear; you're a better scholar than me."

Sal opened the thin, well-worn sheet, and read the word "Moerdyk," but then she paused. And, like Abel, she paused so long that the hunchback pressed impatiently to look over her shoulder.

But the letter was written in a foreign language, and the Cheap Jack and his wife were no wiser for it than the miller's man.

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