It fascinated Dicky; and he no sooner assured himself that the birds were really for sale—although no purchaser stepped forward—than there came upon him an overmastering desire to own a live canary in a cage and teach it with just such a whistle. (He had often wondered at the things upon which grown-up folk spent their money to the neglect of this world’s true delights.) Edging his way to the stall, he was summoning up courage to ask the price of a bird, when the salesman caught sight him and affably spared him the trouble.
“Eh! here’s my young lord wants a bird. . . . You may say what you like,” said he, addressing the bystanders, “but there’s none like the gentry for encouragin’ trade. . . . And which shall it be sir? Here’s a green parrot, now, I can recommend; or if your Honour prefers a bird that’ll talk, this grey one. A beauty, see! And not a bad word in his repertory. Your honoured father shall not blame me for sellin’ you a swearer.”
The boy pointed to a cage on the man’s right.
“A canary? . . . Well, and you’re right. What is talk, after all, to compare with music? And chosen the best bird of my stock, you have; the pick of the whole crop. That’s Quality, my friends; nothing but the best’ll do for Quality, an’ the instinct of it comes out young.” The man, who was evidently an eccentric, ran his eye roguishly over the faces behind the boy and named his price; a high one—a very high one— but one nicely calculated to lie on the right side of public reprobation.
Dicky laid his guinea on the sill. “I want a whistle, too,” he said, “and my change, please.”
The bird-fancier slapped his breeches pockets.
“A guinea? Bless me, but I must run around and ask one of my neighbours to oblige. Any of you got the change for a golden guinea about you?” he asked of the crowd.
“We ain’t so lucky,” said a voice somewhere at the back. “We don’t carry guineas about, nor give ’em to our bastards.”
A voice or two—a woman’s among them—called “Shame!” “Hold your tongue, there!”
Dicky had his back to the speaker. He heard the word for the first time in his life, and had no notion of its meaning; but in a dim way he felt it to be an evil word, and also that the people were protesting out of pity. A rush of blood came to his face. He gulped, lifted his chin, and said, with his eyes steady on the face of the blinking fancier,—
“Give it back to me, please, and I will get it changed.”
He took the coin, and walked away resolutely with a set white face. He saw none of the people who made way for him.
The bird-fancier stared after the small figure as it walked away into darkness. “Bastard?” he said. “There’s Blood in that youngster, though he don’t face ye again an’ I lose my deal. Blood’s blood, however ye come by it; you may take that on the word of a breeder. An’ you ought to be ashamed, Sam Wilson—slingin’ yer mud at a child!”