Jan was profuse of thanks, and by the woman’s desire he sat down to share their breakfast. The hunchback examined his sketch-book, and, as he laid it down again, he asked, “Did you ever make picters on stone, eh?”
“Before I could get paper, I did, sir,” said Jan.
“But could you now? Could you make ’em on a flat stone, like a paving-stone?”
“If I’d any thing to draw with, I could,” said Jan. “I could draw on any thing, if I had something in my hand to draw with.”
The Cheap Jack’s face became brighter, and in a mollified tone he said to his wife, “He’s a prime card for such a young un. It’s a rum thing, too! A man I knowed was grand at screeving, but he said himself he was nowheres on paper. He made fifteen to eighteen shillin’ a week on a average,” the hunchback continued. “I’ve knowed him take two pound.”
“Did you ever draw fish, my dear?” he inquired.
“No, sir,” said Jan. “But I’ve drawn pigs and dogs, and I be mostly able to draw any thing I sees, I think.”
The Cheap Jack whistled. “Profiles pays well,” he murmured; “but the tip is the Young Prodigy.”
“We’re so pleased to see what a clever boy you are, Jan,” said Sal; “that’s all, my dear. Put the bridle on the horse, John, for we’ve got to go round by the mill.”
Whilst the Cheap Jack obeyed her, Sal poked in the cart, from which she returned with three tumblers on a plate. She gave one to her husband, took one herself, and gave the third to Jan.
“Here’s to your health, love,” said she; “drink to mine, Jan, and I’ll be a good mother to you.” Jan tasted, and put his glass down again, choking. “It’s so strong!” he said.
The Cheap Jack looked furious. “Nice manners they’ve taught this brat of yours!” he cried to Sal. “Do ye think I’m going to take my ’oss a mile out of the road to take him to see his friends, when he won’t so much as drink our good healths?”
“Oh! I will, indeed I will, sir,” cried Jan. He had taken a good deal of medicine during his illness, and he had learned the art of gulping. He emptied the little tumbler into his mouth, and swallowed the contents at a gulp.
They choked him, but that was nothing. Then he felt as if something seized him in the inside of every limb. After he lost the power of moving, he could hear, and he heard the Cheap Jack say, “I’d go in for the Young Prodigy; genteel from the first; only, if we goes among the nobs, he may be recognized. He’s a rum-looking beggar.”
“If you don’t go a drinking every penny he earns,” said Sal, pointedly, “we’ll soon get enough in a common line to take us to Ameriky, and he’ll be safe enough there.” On this Jan thought that he made a most desperate struggle and remonstrance. But in reality his lips never moved from their rigidity, and he only rolled his head upon his shoulder. After which he remembered no more.