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“You must know, then, that whilst we were in the midst of this talk, a constable comes in with a kind of hue-and-cry paper, stating that the Wallingford bank had been robbed the night before—which indeed I knew—and offering a reward for the discovery of the thief. It also described the persons of the several strangers who had been in the town that evening. Among these was one in a sort of shooting-jacket, black stock, and a knapsack on his back, supposed to be a soldier."
“ That looks very like me," said I, somewhat amused, yet annoyed, for I thought I might get into trouble by it on the road, and I was not satisfied with the keen look and sneer which the pedlar assumed while he informed me that the uncharitable Chubb declared to his guests he thought I must be the man. The pedlar himself evidently looked uncertain as to the point, and observed that I did not seem to like the intelligence.
“I am afraid it disturbs you, friend,” said he, “but of course it cannot be you."
“Gracious heaven!” cried I, “ do I look so conscious? If innocence is disconcerted at being merely suspected, what must be the case of actual guilt ?”
“ What indeed ?" said the pedlar, and he gave a significant shrug with his shoulders. “But I am only surprised," added he, “ that I was not myself put into the Hue-and-Cry, for I was at Wallingford all day yesterday at the Lammas fair, and I sold many a pennyworth ; in short, emptied my pack, and filled it again with my profits. Yet it would be wrong to suspect a hard-working, honest man on that account."
“Wrong indeed," answered I ; “yet you gentlemen pedlars are everywhere, and must sometimes be exposed to suspicion. You must, however, see and know a great deal of the world.”
“ That we ought to do,” rejoined he, “ for we work hard for it. It is a laborious, but sometimes not an unpleasant life, which repays us often for our pains. We are admitted everywhere, and though they may not buy, everybody is glad to see us, particularly the women (sometimes the mistresses, always the maids); and if we are reasonable—that is, charge not above twenty or thirty per cent. on goods—to a cook or housekeeper, we are pretty sure of a tit-bit and a cup, besides the profit. 0! it's a great deal better than tailoring all day, with one's knees up to one's chin ; or bending over a desk, driving a quill, or even dinning bonus, bona, bonum, into a stupid boy."
“ I cry you mercy,” said I; “ I see you are a man of education, which I did not know you gentlemen of the pack were.”
“Neither are we all,” replied he, “but I perhaps am an exception. For I was not born to carry this camel's hump about with me. Mine has been a varied life.”
" Your adventures, I should think, must be very amusing, had we time and a convenient place to hear them.”
And I began to think how Fothergill would rejoice in such an opportunity to gratify his favourite speculations.
“ A hot evening sun, on a stone bridge,” answered the pedlar, “does not give much encouragement to a long story ; but among the osiers there on the bend of the river, on this side Pangburne, there is an honest public-house, called the Eel-pie House, where the ale is excellent, and the landlady civil, not to mention a comely young daughter who serves the customers; and if you will stand treat for a tankard, I should have no objection, as you are so curious, to tell you some of my history.”
This exactly falling in with my scheme of travelling, I agreed, and was led, nothing loth, to the sign of “ The West Country Barge, or Eel-pie House, by Sarah Snow, widow.”
Here, on our arrival at a little garden gate, which led to the house, my friend began another song of Autolycus, and in no mean voice sung out,
“ Will you buy any tape,
Or lace for your cape,
Any silk, any thread,
Any toys for your head,
Come to the pedlar ;
This address brought out the landlady's daughter, a pretty lass, of about seventeen, who came with seeming gladness to the gate to let us in.
“Ah! George,” said she, “ I thought it was She then told us mother was gone milking, and justified, as to comeliness, all that was said of her by the pedlar. Him she at first treated with familiar smiles, denoting old, not to say intimate acquaintance, though she afterwards addressed him by his surname of Mr. Handcock ; and Mr. Handcock introduced me to her in form as Miss Betsy Snow. In doing this, he remarked that she deserved her name, if only from the whiteness of her skin, a compliment with which, though it called up a blush, she seemed far from displeased. Nor was her pleasure less when he told her that he had matched her ribbons at Wallingford fair, and brought her the fairings he had promised her. They were the prettiest fringed gloves, he said, in the world, and only one other pair, the fellow to them, in the whole fair, and these instantly bought up by Lady Blackstone; an intimation which added, seemingly, to Miss Snow's complacency.
* Winter's Tale.
He then proposed the tankard I was to treat him with ; but I (somewhat more delicate), having dined well, asked if I could not have some tea, while he drank his ale? Miss Betsy said yes. Mr. Handcock declared there was none better to be had in all Reading; and the kettle announcing by its singing that the water was ready, it was in a few minutes served in a neat enough room, with a window to the water.
Here, while our respective beverages went on, I listened to my companion's promised adventures.
THE PEDLAR'S STORY.
Here's more matter for a hot brain. Every lane's end, every shop, church, session, hanging, yields a careful man work.
SHAKSPEARE.— Winter's Tale. MR. Handcock commenced his recital thus :
“ I told you I was not born to carry a pack; nor indeed to do many things which (God help me !) I have done.”
Here he gave a sort of sigh, which, however, soon vanished.
“And yet,” continued he, “my birth had not much to boast of; though it was a high birth too, for it was in the loftiest garret in the good town of Reading, where my mother enacted the part and profession of a midwife, while my father sold coals and potatoes in a . cellar below. You will be surprised, therefore, at my appearing to disdain my pack; but the truth is, I was, as you called me, a gentleman of education, if reading a great quantity of trash, and worse than trash, be education. It corrupted me, indeed, to the backbone, but it gave me much knowledge of the differences of the lots of men.
“ You may suppose that my father could not defray