It was perhaps well for the bones of the white horse that, just as they entered the town, the Cheap Jack brushed against a woman on the narrow foot-path, who having turned to remonstrate in no very civil terms, suddenly checked herself, and said in a low voice, “Juggling Jack!”
The dwarf started, and looked at the woman with a puzzled air.
She was a middle-aged woman, in the earlier half of middle age; she was shabbily dressed, and had a face that would not have been ill-looking, but that the upper lip was long and cleft, and the lower one unusually large. As the Cheap Jack still stared in silence, she burst into a noisy laugh, saying, “More know Jack the Fool than Jack the Fool knows.” But, even as she spoke, a gleam of recognition suddenly spread over the hunchback’s face, and, putting out his hand, he said, “Sal! You here, my dear?”
“The air of London don’t agree with me just now,” was the reply; “and how are you, Jack?”
“The country air’s just beginning to disagree with me, my dear,” said the hunchback; “but I’m glad to see you, Sal. Come in here, my dear, and let’s have a talk, and a little refreshment.”
The place of refreshment to which the dwarf alluded was another public-house, the White Horse by name. There was no need to bid the Cheap Jack’s white horse to pause here; he stopped of himself at every public-house; nineteen times out of twenty to the great convenience of his master, for which he got no thanks; the twentieth time the hunchback did not want to stop, and he was lavish of abuse of the beast’s stupidity in coming to a standstill.
The white horse drooped his soft white nose and weary neck for a long, long time under the effigy of his namesake swinging overhead, and when the Cheap Jack did come out, he seemed so preoccupied that the tired beast got home with fewer blows than usual.
He unloaded his cart mechanically, as if in a dream; but when he touched the pictures, they seemed to awaken a fresh train of thought. He stamped one of his little feet spitefully on the ground, and, with a pretty close imitation of George’s dialect, said bitterly, “Gearge bean’t such a vool as a looks!” adding, after a pause, “I’d do a deal to pay him off!”
As he turned into the house, he said thoughtfully, “Sal’s precious sharp; she allus was. And a fine woman, too, is Sal!”
Not long after the incidents just related, it happened that business called Mrs. Lake to the neighboring town. She seldom went out, but a well-to-do aunt was sick, and wished to see her; and the miller gave his consent to her going.
She met the milk-cart at the corner of the road, and so was driven to the town, and she took Jan with her.
He had begged hard to go, and was intensely amused by all he saw. The young Lakes were so thoroughly in the habit of taking every thing, whether commonplace or curious, in the same phlegmatic fashion, that Jan’s pleasure was a new pleasure to his foster-mother, and they enjoyed themselves greatly.