It began otherwise. George had never felt more convinced of his power to help himself at the expense of his neighbors than he did after getting Sal’s information, and keeping back his own, before they started to join in the amusements of the fair. He was on good terms with himself; none the less so that he had not failed to see the Cheap Jack’s chagrin, as the woman poured forth all she knew for George’s benefit, and got nothing in return.
The vanity of the ignorant knows no check except from without; under flattery, it is boundless, and the Cheap Jack’s wife found no difficulty in fooling George to the top of his bent.
George was rather proud, too, of his companion. She was not, as has been said, ill-looking but for her mouth, and beauty was not abundant enough in the neighborhood to place her at much disadvantage. Fashionable finery was even less common, and the Cheap Jack’s wife was showily dressed. And George found her a very pleasant companion; much livelier than the slow-witted damsels of the country-side. For him she had nothing but flattery; but her smart speeches at the expense of other people in the crowd caused the miller’s man to double up his long back with laughter.
A large proportion of the country wives and sweethearts tramped up and down the fair at the heels of their husbands and swains, like squaws after their Indian spouses. But the Cheap Jack’s wife asked George for his arm,—the left one,—and she clung to it all the day. “Quite the lady in her manners she be,” thought George. She called him “Mr. Sannel,” too. George felt that she admired him. For a moment his satisfaction was checked, when she called his attention to the good looks of a handsome recruiting sergeant, who was strutting about the mop with an air expressing not so much that it all belonged to him as that he didn’t at all belong to it.
“But there, he ain’t to hold a candle to you, Mr. Sannel, though his coat do sit well upon him,” said the Cheap Jack’s wife.
It gratified George’s standing ill-will to the Cheap Jack to have “cut him out” with this showy lady, and to laugh loudly with her upon his arm, whilst the hunchback followed, like a discontented cur, at their heels. If there was a drawback to the merits of his lively companion, it was her power of charming the money out of George’s pocket.
The money that he disbursed came from the right-hand pocket of his red waistcoat. In the left-hand pocket (and the pockets, like the pattern of the waistcoat, were large) was the lost pocket-book. It was a small one, and just fitted in nicely. In the pocket-book were George’s savings, chiefly in paper. Notes were more portable than coin, and, as George meant to invest them somewhere where he was not known, no suspicions need be raised by their value. The letter was there also.
There were plenty of shows at the mop, and the Cheap Jack’s wife saw them all. The travelling wax-works; the menagerie with a very mangy lion in an appallingly rickety cage; the fat Scotchman, a monster made more horrible to view by a dress of royal Stuart tartan; the penny theatre, and a mermaid in a pickling-tub.