“Real gold allus looks like this in damp weather,” said the Cheap Jack. “Hang it up in a warm room, dust it lightly every morning with a dry handkerchief, an’ it’ll come out that shining you’ll see your face in it. And when summer comes, cover it up in yaller gauze to keep off the flies.”
Mrs. Lake looked wistfully at the place the Cheap Jack had rubbed, but she had no redress, and saw no way out of her hobble but to buy the picture.
When the bargain was completed, the Cheap Jack fell back into his oiliest manner; it being part of his system not only to bully at the critical moment, but to be very civil afterwards, so as to leave an impression so pleasant on the minds of his lady customers that they could hardly do other than thank him for his promise to call again shortly with “bargains as good as ever.”
The Cheap Jack was a man of many voices. The softness of his parting words to Mrs. Lake, “I’d go three mile out of my road, ma’am, to call on a lady like you,” had hardly died away, when he woke the echoes of the plains by addressing his horse in a very different tone.
The Wiltshire carters and horses have a language between them which falls darkly upon the ear of the unlearned therein; but the uncouth yell which the Cheap Jack addressed to his beast was not of that dialect. The sound he made on this occasion was not, Ga oot! Coom hedder! or, There right! but the horse understood it.
It is probable that it never heard the Cheap Jack’s softer intonations, for its protuberant bones gave a quiver beneath the scarred skin as he yelled. Then its drooping ears pricked faintly, the quavering forelegs were braced, one desperate jog of the tottering load of oddities, and it set slowly and silently forward.
The Cheap Jack did not follow his wares; he scrambled softly round the mill, like a deformed cat, looking about him on all sides. Then he made use of another sound,—a sharp, suggestive sound, whistled between two of his fingers.
Then he looked round again.
No one appeared. The wheels of the distant cart scraped slowly along the road, but this was the only sound the Cheap Jack heard.
He whistled softly again.
And as the cart took the sharp turn of the road, and was lost to sight, the miller’s man appeared, and the Cheap Jack greeted him in the softest tone he had yet employed. “Ah, there you are, my dear!”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lake sat within, and looked ruefully at the damaged frame, and wished that the master, or at least the man, had happened to be at home.
It is to be feared that our self-reproach for having done wrong is not always so certain, or so keen, as our self-reproach for having allowed ourselves to suffer wrong—in a bad bargain.
Whether this particular picture was a bad bargain it is not easy to decide.
It was scandalously dear for its condition, and for what it had cost the hunchback, but it was cheap for the pleasure it gave to the little Jan.