“All right, Jan,” said the hunchback. “Keep ’em together, my dear, meanwhile. We’re doing prime, and you shall have a sausage for supper.”
As the Cheap Jack waddled away for the whitening, Jan said to the lockers-on, “Keep your places, ladies and gentlemen, till I return, and keep your eyes on the drawing, which is the last of the series,” and ran off down a narrow street, at right angles to the oil-shop.
The crowd waited patiently for some moments. Then the Cheap Jack hurried back with the whitening. But Jan returned no more.
The baker.—On and on.—The church bell.—A digression.—A familiar hymn.—The boys’ home.
Jan stopped at last from lack of breath to go on. His feet had been winged by terror, and he looked back even now with fear to see the Cheap Jack’s misshapen figure in pursuit. He had had no food for hours, but the pence the dark gentleman had given him were in his chalk pouch, and he turned into the first baker’s shop he came to to buy a penny loaf. It was a small shop, served by a pleasant-faced man, who went up and down, humming, whistling, and singing, —
“Like tiny pipe
of wheaten straw,
The wren his little note doth swell,
And every living thing that flies” —
“A penny loaf, please,” said Jan, laying down the money, and the man turned and said, “Why, you be the boy that draws on the pavement!”
For a moment Jan was silent. It presented itself to him as a new difficulty, that he was likely to be recognized. There was a flour barrel by the counter, and as he pondered he began mechanically to sift the flour through his finger and thumb.
“You be used to flour seemingly,” said the baker, smiling. “Was ’ee ever in a mill? ’ee seems to have a miller’s thumb.”
In a few minutes Jan had told his story, and had learned, with amazement and delight, that the baker had not only been a windmiller’s man, but had worked in Master Lake’s tower mill. He was, in fact, the man who had helped George the very night that Jan arrived. But he confirmed the fact that it was Sal who brought Jan, by his account of her, and he seemed to think that she was probably his mother. He was very kind. He refused to take payment for the loaf, and went, humming, whistling, and singing, away to get Jan some bacon to eat with it.
When he was alone, Jan’s hand went back to the flour, and he sifted and thought. The baker was kind, but he had said that “it was an ackerd thing for a boy to quarrel with’s parents.” Jan felt that he expected him to go home. Perhaps at this moment the baker had gone, with the best intentions, to fetch the Cheap Jack, and bring about a family reunion. Terror had become an abiding state of Jan’s mind, and it seized him afresh, like a palsy. He left the penny on the counter, and shook the flour-dust from his fingers, and, stealing with side glances of dread into the street, he sped away once more.