“But what’s it doing here?”
“’Tis my unfortunate propensity,” confessed John Peter with simple frankness. “You see, by the nature of things these plates must be engraved in a hurry—I quite see it from the undertaker’s point of view. But, on the other hand, if you’re an artist, it isn’t always you feel in the mood; you wait for what they call inspiration, and then the undertaker gets annoyed and throws the thing back on your hands.” With a pathetic, patient smile John Peter rubbed his spectacles again, and again adjusted them. “Perhaps you’d like Plain, after all?” he suggested. “It usually doesn’t take me so long.”
“No,” decided Cai somewhat hurriedly; “it might remind—I mean, there isn’t the same kind of hurry with a musical box.”
“It would be much the better for a bath of paraffin,” muttered John Peter, prying into the works. But Cai continued to stare at the plate on the wall, and was staring at it when a voice at the door called “Good mornin’!” and Mr Philp entered.
“Ho!” said Mr Philp, “I didn’ know as you two were acquainted. And what might you be doin’ here, cap’n?”
“A triflin’ matter of business, that’s all,” answered Cai, who chafed under Mr Philp’s inquisitiveness; but chafed, like everybody else, in vain.
“Orderin’ your breastplate? . . . It’s well to be in good time when you’re dealin’ with John Peter,” said Mr Philp with dreadful jocularity. “As I came along the head o’ the town,” he explained, “I heard that Snell’s wife had passed away in the night. A happy release. I dropped in to see if they’d given you the job.”
John Peter shook his head.
“And I don’t suppose you’ll get it, neither,” said Mr Philp; “but I wanted to make sure. Push,—that’s what you want. That’s the only thing nowadays. Push. . . . You’re lookin’ at John Peter’s misfits, I see,” he went on, turning to Cai. “Now, there’s a man whose place, as you might say, won’t go unfilled much longer—hey?” Mr Philp pointed his walking-stick at the name of the late owner of Rilla, and achieved a sort of watery wink.
“I daresay you mean something by that, Mr Philp,” said Cai, staring at him, half angry and completely puzzled. “But be dashed if I know what you do mean.”
“There now! And I reck’ned as you an’ Cap’n Hunken had ne’er a secret you didn’t share!”
‘"Bias?” asked Cai slowly. “Who was talkin’ of ’Bias?”
“It takes ’em that way sometimes,” said Mr Philp, wiping a rheumy eye. “An’ the longer they puts it off the more you can’t never tell which way it will take ’em. O’ course, if Cap’n Hunken didn’t tell you he’d been visitin’ Rilla lately, he must have had his reasons, an’ I’m sorry I spoke.”
Cai was breathing hard. “Bias? . . . When?”