When the Cheap Jack’s horse came to the brow of the hill, it stopped, and with drooping neck stood still as before. The Cheap Jack was busy with George, and it was at no word from him that the poor beast paused. It knew at what point to wait, and it waited. There was little temptation to go on. The road down the hill had just been mended with flints; some of these were the size of an average turnip, and the hill was steep. So the old horse poked out his nose, and stood almost dozing, till the sound of the Cheap Jack’s shuffling footsteps caused him to prick his ears, and brace his muscles for a fresh start.
The miller’s man came also, who was sulky, whilst the Cheap Jack was civil. He gave his horse a cut across the knees, to remind him to plant his feet carefully among the sharp boulders; and then, choosing a smooth bit by the side of the road, he and George went forward together.
“You’ve took to picters, I see,” said George, nodding towards the cart.
“So I have, my dear,” said the Cheap Jack; “any thing for a livelihood; an honest livelihood, you know, George.” And he winked at the miller’s man, who relaxed his sulkiness for a guffaw.
“You’ve had so little in my way lately, George,” the hunchback continued, looking sharply sideways up at his companion. “Sly business has been slack, my dear, eh?”
But George made no answer, and the Cheap Jack, after relieving his feelings by another cut at the horse, changed the subject.
“That’s a sharp little brat of the miller’s,” said he, alluding to Jan. “And he ain’t much like the others. Old-fashioned, too. Children mostly likes the gay picters, and worrits their mothers for ’em, bless ’em! But he picked out an ancient-looking thing,—came from a bankrupt pawnshop, my dear, in a lot. I almost think I let it go too cheap; but that’s my failing. And a beggarly place like this ain’t like London. In London there’s a place for every thing, my dear, and shops for old goods as well as new, and customers too; and the older and dirtier some things is, the more they fetches.”
There was a pause, for George did not speak; and the Cheap Jack, bent upon amiability, repeated his remark,—“A sharp little brat, too!”
“What be ’ee harping on about him for?” asked George, suspiciously. “I knows what I knows about un, but that’s no business of yours.”
“You know about most things, my dear,” said the Cheap Jack, flatteringly. “They’ll have to get up very early that catch you napping. But what about the child, George?”
“Never you mind,” said George. “But he ain’t none of the miller’s, I’ll tell ’ee that; and he ain’t the missus’s neither.”
“What is he to you, my dear?” asked the dwarf, curiously, and, getting no answer, he went on: “He’d be useful in a good many lines. He’d not do bad in a circus, but he’d draw prime as a young prodigy.”