The judge bowed with his fine-flavoured courtesy. “As I trust you are,” he returned graciously.
“Well, all I’ve got to say,” put in Tom, as his father finished, “is that it’s a shame—a confounded shame. What good will Nick’s brains do him in old Pollard’s store? Old Pollard’s a skinflint, anyway, and he cuffed me once when I was a small chap.”
Nicholas glanced back uncertainly into the shop.
“Oh, he isn’t so bad when you know him,” he said. “Most folks aren’t.”
“He seems to value Nicholas’s services,” added the judge politely.
Nicholas flushed. “I don’t know about that,” he returned awkwardly.
“I know one thing, though,” said Tom with slow wrath, “and that is that I’m not green enough to be fooled by Nick Burr, if other people are. Father told me last night that it was Nick’s own choice that took him to Jerry Pollard’s. Choice, the Dickens! Why, it’s those blasted people of his that put him here.”
Tom was very red in the face, so was Nicholas. They looked at the judge, and the judge looked back at them with a humorous twinkle in his eyes.
“My dear Tom,” he said at last, “I never gave you credit for being a Solomon, but some day your wit may put your father to shame.”
Then he held out his hand to Nicholas.
“When you’re a little older, my boy,” he remarked, “you may learn that, though an old fool may be the biggest fool, he’s not the only one. Come to see us when you feel like it, eh, Tom?”
They passed on together, and Nicholas stood looking after them until a man came in to exchange a pair of shoes.
“They’re a leetle too skimpy ’cross the toes,” he said deprecatingly. “The heels air first-rate, but the toes sorter seem to be made fur a three-toed somebody. ‘Tain’t as if I could jest set aroun’ in ’em, of course; then they’d be a fine fit, but when I go ter stan’ up they pinches.”
Nicholas gave him a larger size and put the box back upon the shelf. He was thinking of Tom Bassett and the twinkle in the judge’s eyes, and he did not hear the man’s rambling speech. It seemed to him that his friendship with Tom and his father had been restored—that he might once more go freely in and out of the judge’s house.
When the day was over he walked slowly homeward along the deserted road, his mind still busy with recollections of the morning. Yes, life was decidedly endurable at worst. If he might not become celebrated, he might at least become content. He was not Tom Bassett, but he had Tom Bassett’s friendship. He would live a simple life in his own class among his own people, and he would grow to be respected by those who were above him.
He had entered the wood, when he remembered suddenly that he had forgotten the ribbon for his sister Nannie. He turned quickly and retraced his steps through the thickening twilight.