“You’re so precious sharp, my dear,” said the hunchback, who knew well on what point George liked to be flattered, “that you overreaches yourself. I don’t complain—after all the business we’ve done together—that it’s turned slack all of a sudden. You says they’re down on you, and that’s enough for me. I don’t complain that you’ve got your own plans and keeps ’em as secret as the grave, but I says you’ll regret it. If you was a good scholar, George, you could do without friends, you’re so precious sharp. But you’re no scholar, my dear, and you’ll be let in yet, by a worse friend than Cheap John.”
George so bitterly regretted his want of common learning, and the stupidity which made him still slow to decipher print, and utterly puzzled by writing, that the Cheap Jack’s remarks told strongly. These, and the conversation they had had on the hill, recalled to his mind a matter which was still a mystery to the miller’s man.
“Look here, Jack,” said he, leaning across the dirty little table; “if you be such a good scholar, what do M O E R D Y K spell?”
“Say it again, George,” said the dwarf. But when, after that, he still looked puzzled, George laughed long and loudly.
“You be a good scholar!” he cried. “You be a fine friend, too, for a iggerant man. If a can’t tell the first word of a letter, ’tis likely ’ee could read the whole, too!”
“The first word of a letter, eh?” said the dwarf.
“The very first,” said George. “’Tis a long way you’d get in it, and stuck at the start!”
“Up in the corner, at the top, eh?” said the dwarf.
“So it be,” said George, and he laughed no longer.
“It’s the name of a place, then,” said the Cheap Jack; “and it ain’t to be expected I should know the names of all the places in the world, George, my dear.”
It was a great triumph for the Cheap Jack, as George’s face betrayed. If George had trusted him a little more, he might have known the meaning of the mysterious word years ago. The name of a place! The place from which the letter was written. The place where something might be learned about the writer of the letter, and of the gentleman to whom it was written. For George knew so much. It was written to a gentleman, and to a gentleman who had money, and who had secrets; and, therefore, a gentleman from whom money might be got, by interfering in his secrets.
The miller’s man was very ignorant and very stupid, in spite of a certain low cunning not at all incompatible with gross ignorance. He had no knowledge of the world. His very knowledge of malpractices and mischief was confined to the evil doings of one or two other ill-conditioned country lads like himself, who robbed their neighbors on dark nights, and disposed of the spoil by the help of such men as the Cheap Jack and the landlord of the public-house at the bottom of the hill.