“I’d be glad, sir,” said Jan.
“Have you ever worked? What can you do?” asked the gentleman.
“I can mind pigs; but I do think ’twould be best for I to be in a mill, and I’ve got a miller’s thumb.” Jan said this because the idea had struck him that if he could only get home again he might hire himself out at a mop to Master Lake. A traditional belief in the force of the law of hiring made him think that this would protect him against any claim of the Cheap Jack. Before the gentleman could reply, the house-door was opened by a boy some years older than Jan, who was despatched to fetch “the master.” Jan felt sure that it must be a school, though he was puzzled by the contents of the room in which they waited. It was filled with pretty specimens of joiner’s and cabinet-maker’s work, some quite and some partly finished. There were also brushes of various kinds, so that, if there had been a suitable window, Jan would have concluded that it was a shop. In two or three moments the master’s step sounded in the passage.
Jan had pleasant associations with the word “master,” and he looked up with some vague fancy of seeing a second Master Swift. Not that Master Swift, or any one else in the slow-going little village, ever walked with this sharp, hasty tread, as if one hoped to overtake time! With such a step the gentleman himself went away, when he had said to Jan, “Be a good boy, my lad, and attend to your master, and he’ll be a good friend to you.”
He was not in the least like Master Swift. He was young, and youthfully dressed. A schoolmaster with neither spectacles nor a black coat was a new idea to Jan; but he seemed to be kind, for, with a sharp look at Jan’s pinched face, he said, “You’ll be glad of some breakfast, my lad, I fancy; and breakfast’s only just over. Come along.” And away he went at double quick time down the passage, and Jan ran after him.
On their way to the kitchen, they crossed an open court where boys were playing, and round which ran mottoes in large letters.
“You can read?” said the master, quickly, as he caught Jan’s eyes following the texts. “Have you ever been to school?”
“Yes, sir,” said Jan.
“Can you write? What else have you learned?”
Jan pondered his stock of accomplishments. “I can write, sir, and cipher. And I’ve learned geography and history, and Master Swift gave I lessons in mechanics, and I be very fond of poetry and painting, and” —
The master was painfully familiar with the inventive and boastful powers of street boys. He pushed Jan before him into the kitchen, saying smartly, but good-humoredly, “There, there! Don’t make up stories, my boy. You must learn to speak the truth, if you come into the Home. We don’t expect poets and painters,” he added, smiling. “If you can chop wood, and learn what you’re taught, you’ll do for us.”
A smile stole over the face of a shrewd-looking lad who was washing dishes at the table. Jan saw that he was not believed, and his tears fell into the mug of cocoa, and on to the bread which formed his breakfast.