Of such trades as were open to him in the Home Jan inclined to cabinet-making. It must be amusing to dab little bunches of bristles so deftly into little holes with hot pitch as to produce a hearth-brush, but as a life-work it does not satisfy ambition. For boot-making he felt no fancy, and the tailor’s shop had a dash of corduroy and closeness in the atmosphere not grateful to nostrils so long refreshed by the breezes of the plains. But, when an elder boy led him into the airy room of the cabinet-maker, Jan found a subject of interest. The man was making a piece of furniture to order; the boys had done the rough work, and he was finishing it. It was a combination of shelves and cupboard, and was something like an old oak cabinet which stood in Master Chuter’s parlor, and which, in Jan’s opinion, was both handsomer and more convenient than this. When the joiner, amused by the keen gaze of Jan’s black eyes, asked him good-naturedly “how he liked it,” Jan expressed his opinion, to illustrate which he involuntarily took up the fat pencil lying on the bench, and made a sketch of Master Chuter’s cabinet upon a bit of wood.
News spreads with mysterious swiftness in all communities, large and small. Before dinner-time, it was known throughout the Home that the master joiner had applied for the new boy as a pupil, and that he could draw with a black-lead pencil, and set his betters to rights.
The master had passed through several phases of feeling over Jan during that morning. His first impression had been dispelled by Jan’s orderly ways, and the absence of any vagrant restlessness about him. The joiner’s report awoke a hope that he would become a star of the institution, but as his acquirements came to the light, and he proved not merely to have a good voice, but to have been in a choir, the master’s generous hopes received a check, and as the day passed on he became more and more convinced that it was a case to be “restored to his friends.”
When two o’clock came, and the boys were all out for “recreation,” Jan had to endure some chaff on the subject of his accomplishments. But the banter of London street boys was familiar to him, and he took it in good part. When they found him good-tempered, he was soon popular, and they asked his history with friendly curiosity.
“And vot sort of a mansion did you hang out in ven you wos at home?” inquired a little lad, whose rosy cheeks and dancing eyes would have qualified him to sit as a model for the hero of some little tale of rustic life and simplicity, but who had graduated in the lowest lore of the streets so much before he was properly able to walk that he was bandy-legged in consequence. There must have been some blood in him that was domestic and not vagrant in its currents, for he was as a rule one of the steadiest and best-behaved boys in the establishment. Only from time to time he burst out into street slang of the strongest description, apparently as a relief to his feelings. Happily for the cause it had at heart, the Boys’ Home was guided by large-minded counsels, and if the eyes of the master were as the eyes of Argus, they could also wink on occasion. “Hout with it!” said the bow-legged boy, straddling before Jan. “If it wos Buckingham Palace as you resided in, make a clean breast of it, and hease your mind.”