About a quarter past six the shop door was cautiously opened, and a head appeared, which looked round stealthily. Seeing nobody about except Mr. James, the head nodded, and presently followed by its body, stepped into the shop.
“Where’s the admiral, Foxy?” asked the caller.
“Guv’nor’s upstairs, Mr. Joseph, taking of his tea with Miss Iris,” replied Mr. James, not at all offended by the allusion to his craftiness. Who should resemble the fox if not the second-hand bookseller? In no trade, perhaps, can the truly admirable qualities of that animal—his patience, his subtlety and craft, his pertinacity, his sagacity—be illustrated more to advantage. Mr. James felt a glow of virtue—would that he could grow daily and hourly, and more and more toward the perfect fox. Then, indeed, and not till then would he be able to live truly up to his second-hand books.
“Having tea with Iris; well—”
The speaker looked as if it required some effort to receive this statement with resignation.
“He always does at six o’clock. Why shouldn’t he?” asked Mr. James.
“Because, James, he spends the time in cockering up that gal whom he’s ruined and spoiled—him and the old nigger between them—so that her mind is poisoned against her lawful relations, and nothing will content her but coming into all the old man’s money, instead of going share and share alike, as a cousin should, and especially a she-cousin, while there’s a biscuit left in the locker and a drop of rum in the cask.”
“Ah!” said Mr. James with a touch of sympathy, called forth, perhaps, by mention of the rum, which is a favorite drink with second-hand booksellers’ assistants.
“Nothing too good for her,” the other went on; “the best of education, pianos to play upon, and nobody good enough for her to know. Not on visiting terms, if you please, with her neighbors; waiting for duchesses to call upon her. And what is she, after all? A miserable teacher!”
Mr. Joseph Gallop was a young man somewhere between twenty and thirty, tall, large-limbed, well set-up, and broad-shouldered. A young man who, at first sight, would seem eminently fitted to push his own fortunes. Also, at first sight, a remarkably handsome fellow, with straight, clear-cut features and light, curly hair. When he swung along the street, his round hat carelessly thrown back, and his handsome face lit up by the sun, the old women murmured a blessing upon his comely head—as they used to do, a long time ago, upon the comely and curly head of Absalom—and the young women looked meaningly at one another—as was also done in the case of Absalom—and the object of their admiration knew that they were saying to each other, in the feminine way, where a look is as good as a whisper, “There goes a handsome fellow.” Those who knew him better, and had looked more closely into his face, said that his mouth was bad and his eyes shifty. The same opinion was held by the wiser sort as regards