“Sir,—If so be you wants to know where you come from, and where to look for them as belongs to you, come to the public at the foot of the hill this evening, with a few pounds in your pocket to open the lips of them as knows. But fair play, mind. Gearge bean’t such a vool as a looks, and cart-horses won’t draw it out of un, if you sets on the police. Don’t you be took in by that cusnashun old rascal Cheap John. You may hold your head as high as the Squire yet, if you makes it worth the while of one who knows. I always was fond of you, Jan, my dear. Keep it dark.”
The painter decided to accept the invitation; but when George Sannel’s face loomed out of the smoke of the dingy little kitchen, all the terrors of his childhood seemed to awake again in Jan. The face looked worn and hungry, and alarmed; but it was the face of the miller’s man. In truth, he had deserted from his regiment, and was in hiding; but of this Jan and his master knew nothing.
If George’s face bore some tokens of change, he seemed otherwise the same as of old. Cunning and stupidity, distrust and obstinacy, joined with unscrupulous greed, still marked his loutish attempts to overreach. Indeed, his surly temper would have brought the conference to an abrupt end but for the interference of the girl at the inn. She had written the letter for him, and seemed to take an interest in his fate which it is hardly likely that he deserved. She acted as mediator, and the artist was all the more disposed to credit her assurance that “Gearge did know a deal about the young gentleman, and should tell it all,” because her appearance was so very picturesque. She did good service, when George began to pursue his old policy of mixing some lies with the truth he told, by calling him to account. Nor was she daunted by his threatening glances. “It be no manners of use thee looking at me like that, Gearge Sannel,” said she, folding her arms in a defiant attitude, which the painter hastily committed to memory. “Haven’t I give my word to the gentleman that he should hear a straight tale? And it be all to your advantage to tell it. You wants money, and the gentleman wants the truth. It be no mortal use to you to make up a tale, beyond annying the gentleman.”
Under pressure, therefore, George told all that he knew himself, and what he had learned from the Cheap Jack’s wife, and part of the purchase-money of the pot boiler was his reward.
Master Lake confirmed his account of Jan’s first coming to the mill. He took the liveliest interest in his foster-son’s fate, but he thought, with the artist, that there was little “satisfaction” to be got out of trying to trace Jan’s real parentage. It was the painter’s deliberate opinion, and he impressed it upon Jan, as they sat together in Master Chuter’s parlor.