“Does Mrs. Best live here?” he asked.
The woman withdrew about a dozen pins from her mouth and answered all in one breath:—
“She isn’t called Best any longer; she married agen five year ago; second husbing, he died too; she doesn’ live here any more.”
With this she stuck the pins very deliberately, one by one, in the bosom of her print gown, and plunged her hands into the wash-tub again.
The Emigrant stood nonplussed for a moment and scratched the back of his head, tilting his soft hat still further forward on his nose.
“She used to be very fond of me when I was a boy,” he said lamely.
“Yes?” The tone seemed to ask what business that could be of hers.
“She came as nurse to my mother when I was born. I suppose that made her take a fancy to me.”
“Ah, no doubt,” replied the woman vaguely, and added, while she soaped a long black stocking, “she did a lot o’ that, one time and another.” “She had a little girl of her own before I left Tregarrick,” the Emigrant persisted, not because she appeared interested—she did not, at all—but with some vague hope of making himself appear a little less trivial. “Lizzie she called her. I suppose you don’t know what has become of the old woman?”
“Well, considerin’ that I’m her daughter Elizabeth”—she lengthened the name with an implied reproof—“I reckon I ought to know.”
The Emigrant’s hand sought and crushed the big packet of sweets well into his pocket. He flushed scarlet. At the same time he could hardly keep back a smile at his absurd mistake. To be here with lollipops for a woman of thirty and more!
“You haven’t any little ones of your own?”
“No, I haven’t. Why?”
“Oh, well; only a question. My name is Peter Jago—Pete, I used to be called.”
He took notice that she had said nothing of her mother’s whereabouts; and concluded, rightly, that the old woman must be in the workhouse.
“Well, I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought I might be able to do something for her.”
The woman became attentive at last.
“Any small trifle you might think o’ leavin’ with me, sir, it should duly reach her. She’ve failed a lot, lately.”
“Thank you; I’ll think it over. Good-day.”
He strolled back to the Pack-horse and ate his dinner. Abel Walters, coming in after with a pint of port to his order, found the Emigrant with a great packet of sugared almonds and angelica spread open beside his cheese.
“I suppose, sir,” said Mr. Walters, eyeing the heap, “you’ve travelled a great deal in foreign parts.”