A Liberal Education
A LIBERAL EDUCATION
By FRED M. WHITE.
GIPSY removed his cigarette and glanced at the stranger. He was a small man, with garb reminiscent of towns—a frock-coat struggling with adversity, a glossy top-hat, owing its refulgent rays to benzoline. For the rest, the man was red, and had sanguine eyes behind glasses. He carried a big portfolio under his arm.
"If it ain't a rude question," Gipsy said blandly, "what the dickens are you after, mate?"
This was the dinner interlude. The clink of pick and the rattle of drill had ceased, and gang B 14 were feeding, for the most part, out of red bandana handkerchiefs. Gipsy's cigarettes gained flavour from curiosity. Antiquarians and archaeologists he knew, but the specimen before him was quite new. He had never seen a book-agent before.
The small man, wandering into the big engineering camp high up the Valley of Sweet Waters, needed no more cordial greeting. The tiniest spark of curiosity blew up the floodgates of his loquacity. The glib words flowed on.
"’Arf time," Gipsy cut in. "The mate what shares my 'ut 'as got a parrot. Maybe as you might teach him to say a few words."
The little man smiled, nothing abashed. He spread out before Gipsy's admiring eyes a series of illustrations, views of the world at large, maps, sections of the human form divine, models of more or less up-to-date steam-engines—the whole pictorial art as applied to the "Universal Compendium Encyclopædia," complete in twelve monthly parts at seventeen and sixpence per volume, first instalment down, the balance on faith. The book-agent is childlike and trusting, possibly because the seventeen and six down covers any predatory leaning on the part of the thirsty knowledge-seeker.
"That's what you want," said the little man, with fine insight. "This dictionary in itself, sir, is a liberal education. There's nothing—nothing that you won't find in it."
"Think so?" Gipsy asked doubtfully. "Anything about prizefights, mister?"
The little man pointed to a full-page drawing of a Roman gladiator, obviously pirated from one of the late Lord Leighton's drawings. He would like very much to know what Gipsy thought of that. The navy was properly impressed. He regarded the gladiator's biceps critically. With a fund of knowledge like that, he would be uplifted over his fellows. Seventeen and sixpence was not much whereby he might be placed intellectually on a level with the resident engineers atHouse. Besides, when the thirst for knowledge played subordinate to thirst of a more commonplace character, and the exchequer was low the volume would pawn in Rhayader for the requisite silver.
Gipsy rattled some money in his pocket. They were a sporting lot up the valley, and Gipsy's second in the Derby "sweep" had brought in a matter of over six pounds. He hesitated: seventeen and sixpence was not so much to a bachelor sharing a hut and drawing thirty-two shillings a week.
"I'll take it," be said. "And 'ere's the first money down."
"Then I'll book your order, sir," the little man said. Gipsy swelled with pride. His vivid imagination was running ahead of the present; there were reminiscences of the Industrious Apprentice in his mind.
"Perhaps your other volumes may come a little under the month, in which case——"
"Oh, I shan't mind that," Gipsy said largely. "You make out the paper."
"Certainly, sir. In that case, Form B is the one for you to sign. Your name, sir, please? Gipsy? Very good. And your Christian name, sir?"
All this with a humility that filled Gipsy with a pleased sense of importance. But as to the Christian name, there was a hitch. Did he possess one, it was lost in the backwash of boyish memories. He had never been called anything but Gipsy. At his feet lay a fine, florid drawing of Hercules. Gipsy spelt out the word slowly—his infinite resource came back to him.
"Rum thing," he said. "My Christian name's the same as that knobby bloke with the belt round his waist. H-e-r-c-u-l-e-s. Call it Herkules Gipsy, and you've got it first pop. What yer laughin' at?"
The little man explained that he wasn't laughing at all, it was merely a chronic catarrh, from which he had been a victim from boyhood. Gipsy snatched a pleasing hieroglyphic at the foot of a long, blue form, the benzoline-glossy hat was lifted with a flourish, and Gipsy was alone with the key of knowledge in his grasp—cheap at seventeen and sixpence.
The publishers of the "Universal Compendium Encycloæpdia" were less trustful than a first casual glance would have disclosed. But then Gipsy knew nothing about "remainders" or the fact that many old works of this nature—fruits of failure and bankruptcy of bygone publishers—are sold as so much waste-paper, the body or corpse being subsequently clothed in new outer garments and peddled to a confiding public through the medium of many little men with dilapidated frock-coats and hats resplendent of benzoline. As a matter of fact, had no further payment been made, the Universal Compendium Publishing Company would have lost nothing—which fact Gipsy did not grasp, as also he had no idea that he had signed a form consenting to receive the balance of the volumes monthly, or more frequently should the publisher deem the latter course expedient. Within a month the rest of the volumes did arrive, carriage paid, in a neat box, plus an invoice for something over £10, with a footnote to the effect that if the balance were not paid within fourteen days, proceedings for its recovery would be taken without further notice.
All this, however, escaped the usually sharp eye of the seeker after knowledge. It was very good of these people to send on the books which need not be paid for yet. Meanwhile, Gipsy was progressing with his liberal education. He knew something about Adam, who seemed to be mixed up in some way with a peculiar kind of fireplace; he gained some new information about Africa; of Agriculture he hoped presently to speak with authority; Algebra he was forced to ignore altogether. But the greatest delight lay in the pictures—twenty in each volume, harnessed to the text in the most indiscriminate fashion, but there they were.
It was not to be supposed that so fine a sportsman as Gipsy could have kept his new possessions a secret. There were those who scoffed, but others who firmly believed. Mothers came to know if the big book had any hints as to the teething of children, or the proper treatment of warts, whilst a third desired information as to the best way to boil cabbages; young navvies, with an eye to a hut of their own, asked Gipsy quietly if the book had any hints as to good, plain furniture, and the best way to get it on the instalment plan.
"I'm doing my best for the settlement," Gipsy replied. "It's a tough job, this 'ere liberal education, and apt to get confusing. I can't quite make out where I am sometimes. There's Anatomy. Now, is it a new kind of metal or a Colony in South Africa? But it'll all come right in time. Only I ain't found anythink about warts or furniture in the book as yet."
"Look the warts up under 'Antibilious,’" Mitchell, the painter, suggested. Mitchell was a man who had bid fair for fame as an artist at one time, only he could never keep sober for more than a week at a time. He had a fine, cynical humour of his own, a keen eye for character-study, and Gipsy, with his dramatic instincts, fairly fascinated him. "You've got the chance of becoming a great force here, old man."
Gipsy growled uneasily. He had a vague feeling that Mitchell had once been a gentleman. He was a master of phrases, too. But amongst the ten thousand navvies working, there were many who could have told lurid life-stories besides Mitchell, the painter. Dandy, standing by, sneered openly.
"What's the good on it," he asked, "when you can get Reynolds's every week for a brown? There ain't a good rattlin' bloomin' murder in all this volume volume what Gipsy's so set up about."
Gipsy smiled in a superior manner. Dandy eyed him with disfavour—he seemed to be on a different plane to his old mate now.
"Canteen's open," Mitchell suggested. "Come along. In the full flush of newly acquired knowledge, Gipsy ought to be able to tell us something about beer. Letter B, all in Volume I. of the Compendium."
"If you only knew what it was made of," Gipsy said in his most superior manner. All the same, he was moving towards the canteen with the rest. "There's a thing called quashyer—"
"If it was made o' mud flavoured with rotten eggs an' ditch-water," Dandy said vehemently, "it 'ud be all the same to me. Beer's beer. Been fond of it all my life, and ain't going to turn from it for all the Compendiums as was ever wrote."
A murmur of applause followed. Gipsy so far bent to popular opinion as to take a pint of the amber fluid himself. Sooth to say, he was a little tired of the Compendium. It was beginning to dawn before him that he could not live up to it. For the last month he and Dandy and Gammon had not had one poaching excursion together.
"I don't want to keep that book to myself," he said. "I'm all for public spirit. I'm going to turn it into a free library—one volume a week, turn and turn about. The subscription's a bob, limited to a 'undred. I'll collect that bob from a 'undred of you, and——"
"Bet you a tanner you don't collect five of 'em," a sportsman in the background suggested.
"Them as likes to jine, 'old up your hands," Gipsy said loftily.
There was no headstrong desire to comply with the request. The Higher Education found no favour in the camp. Two shillings only were proffered, both coupled with the suggestion that the coin should be promptly disbursed by Gipsy in the universal liquid. But even more enlightened communities have shown themselves averse to the blessings of the Free Libraries Act. Gipsy made a few scornful remarks, passed in tolerating silence.
Comparatively early the seeker after knowledge left his hut. Mitchell, the painter, accompanied him at his request. Dandy openly flouted his old ally and companion. Once the Compendium was a thing of the past, they might join forces again; meanwhile Dandy avowedly preferred the company of Gammon. It was a blow to Gipsy's pride, but he swallowed it.
Mitchell, the painter, was enjoying the comedy in his grave fashion. He had forgotten many things in his fall, but the dry humour of the born cynic had never failed him. He was laughing at Gipsy consumedly; but the latter was in bland ignorance of the fact. He jerked his thumb hospitably towards the spare chair in the hut and passed the tobacco.
"Wishing you hadn't gone in for the higher classics?" Mitchell suggested.
"Got it first time," Gipsy said moodily. "It didn't sound much at first; but when I comes to think serious like over that seventeen bob a month … besides, I got all the books. And now they've sent me three papers that I can't make head or tail of. Like to see 'em?"
Mitchell nodded, and Gipsy produced three oblong sheets of dingy paper with the Royal Arts on the top. They were vague and depressing documents to the uninitiated, but Mitchell had had long experience in such matters during his careless days.
"What are they all about, mate?" Gipsy asked anxiously.
"County-court summons, to begin with," Mitchell explained. "According to the particulars attached to the summons, you signed an order for these books to be delivered as the publishers deemed fit. As you didn't pay on delivery, they have issued this summons—with costs, £13 9s. 4d."
Gipsy exploded Into a genial laugh. The faith in his purse amused him.
"Go on!" he cried. "Me pay £13 and nine bob and fourpence. Hope they'll get it."
"Hope they will," Mitchell proceeded genially. "You took no notice, and judgment went by default."
"Sounds like a bit from the Compendium," Gipsy muttered. "Go on."
"So they issued a judgment summons, which costs you another ten shillings. As you ignored that, a committal order was made against you, as this third notice tells. Order suspended for fourteen days, but up to-morrow. You don't seem to understand, my friend. You ought to have appeared at Rhayader and explained matters to the judge. If this money isn't paid to-morrow, you will have to go to Brecon Gaol for six weeks. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"What!" Gipsy roared. "An' this a free country an' all! Lord! what a fool I've been! If I only 'ad the little cove with the slimy 'at 'ere now! Comin' along and takin' advantage of a poor, ignorant bloke like myself. An' thirteen pound nine an'——"
Gipsy paused, utterly overcome with the weight of this startling discovery. He sat in a dazed kind of way whilst Mitchell expounded the procedure of county-courts and the law as affecting the safety of the individual when the said individual had contracted a debt that he could not pay.
"If you had appeared to the summons," Mitchell said, administering what looked like very late comfort, "he might have let you off your bargain. At any rate, he would have made an order for payment at a few shillings a month, or something like that. As it is, you must pay at once. Of course, you have been the victim of a book-agent's dodge, but that doesn't help you much."
Gipsy groaned, and the flavour faded from his tobacco.
"An' all this for books!" he said scornfully—"books! Things I can't understand. I've puzzled over the things yonder till I've got a 'ead like Sunday morning. If it 'ad been for something as 'ad done me good! What shall I do about it, matey?"
Mitchell shook his head gravely. He looked deeply sympathetic. It was lucky for him that he could enjoy comedy without outward evidence of the fact. He could only suggest flight to some town. But Gipsy had cogent reasons for the peaceful seclusion of the country. He'd wait till the police came——
"They're not police," Mitchell explained, "They are county-court bailiffs—probably there will be two of them, and they'll come from Rhayader. If I were you, I should go to a place where the air was more suited to your peculiar complaint."
But Gipsy declined to listen to any such temptations. His popularity counted for something. He would take a day off to-morrow and borrow the money, levying a small rate for the purpose. But, despite the measure of his popularity, Gipsy met with a cool response. The Compendium gave no play to the imagination. If Gipsy had lost a wife, for instance, or if he had assaulted a gamekeeper and was seeking to make up a tine, it would have been a different matter. A man who wasted on classic literature hard money, that might have been spent on beer and tobacco, deserved no sympathy. A long morning's toil produced something under twenty shillings, most of it gleaned with the point of the bayonet, so to speak. In a lofty spirit, Gipsy had set out with the amiable intention of taking no more than a shilling from each man. Early in the day he had refused sevenpence in coppers with lurid language, by dinner-time he accepted a threepenny-bit from a despised teetotaller, with a wan smile. Literature is ever a thorny path.
"To think that I had come to this!" he said bitterly to Dandy in the dinner-hour, "This 'ere Joey I got from 'Anks, what's a rabid teetotaller. An' glad to get it. Well, mates?"
A gleam of the old geniality lighted Gipsy's eye as two strangers lounged up to them. There was a hard look about them; there was no sympathy in the eye of either. The taller of the two produced a paper.
"Looking for a party over a little matter of business," he said. "Name of Hercules Gipsy."
Dandy started and opened his mouth widely. Gipsy turned pale. If Dandy spoke, he was lost.
"Herkules Gipsy," the little man said thoughtfully. Why, that's my old pal, dash my wig if 'e ain't——"
Gipsy's thoughts were full of murder. His tea was hot—he thoughtfully poured about half a pint over Dandy's leg.
"What you make all that row about?" he growled, "I know who you mean, matey. It's a chap 'ere what bought a Compendium from a little bloke with a shiny 'at. If I'd got 'im 'ere—leastways, I—well, there! Gipsy told me all about it last night."
"Are yon come to arrest 'im?" Dandy asked with sudden inspiration.
"For debt," the big stranger explained curtly. "Non-payment of a debt on county-court judgment."
"Seen 'im lately?" Gipsy asked carelessly and perspiringly.
"Seen 'im this mornin'," Dandy replied, "Got all his best on, and his other things done up in a 'ankerchief. 'Goin' to North Pole?' I says. '’Ookin' it,' says he. 'What for?' says I. 'Got into a bit of a mess,' says 'e. So I let 'im go, and there's an end on it."
"Unpopular, surly sort o' bloke, he was," Gipsy said thoughtfully. "Never did nothing but poke about in readin' books or that kind o' thing. Bet a tanner 'e's gone to Rhayader to look after 'is wife."
Dandy volunteered further details. Hercules Gipsy owed him a lot of money—he owed money all round, in fact. Dandy was glad that he had got into trouble. The strangers moved on presently and were lost to sight down the valley. Gipsy sat on a stone and wiped his beaded forehead.
"I owe you one for that, mate," he said. "But those chaps'll come back again. It mayn't be to-day, or yet to-morrow, but they'll come. And what's the good o' this?"
Gipsy displayed a big fist with some poundsworth of dingy silver in the centre of the hard palm, and snarled at it with bitter contempt. Dandy smiled. For the middle of the week this was wealth.
"I pulled you out of that, old 'un," he said. "An' a man don't think fast on a 'ot day like this. Might as well be 'ung for a sheep as a lamb,"
"Righto," Gipsy said recklessly. "Come on. This way to the waxworks. It's going to be sixes."
The canteen stood invitingly open, the day was hot. The full measure of the canteen allowance was partaken of, and then the pair slipped out of the settlement to the inviting shade of a public-house opposite. As Gipsy's pocket grew lighter, his spirits rose.
"I'll go and lie down," he said hazily. "I've got a plan, Dandy. I've got a plan, if I could only think of it. It's a very good plan, mate. I'll raise the money and pay off the little bloke in the glossy 'at. No, I won't, I'll keep the brass and see him further first!"
He pulled his cap fiercely over his eyes and strode resolutely in the direction of his hut. Dandy sighed into his empty mug and followed with discreet silence.
For the time being the philosophical side of Gipsy's nature was submerged. He had expected better things of his fellow-men. Also there was the blow to his pride. He had yet to learn that when popularity pulls against pocket, the struggle is a terribly unequal one. Anyway, this money must be found. Gipsy had tried to raise the rate openly and upon the strength of his individuality, and he had failed. He had no intention of going to gaol—his Romany blood turned cold at the mere suggestion; he would resort to strategy.
The man was a born dramatist and a maker of stories, only a beneficent legislation had not caught him early enough to teach him the proper equipment. He approached the matter now from the point of view of the novelist who has got his hero in a tight place and is bound to get him out of it again.
As Gipsy sat over his pipe,illumination came to him. He must impose upon a credulous public. A wide grin expanded over his face. He took down the volumes of the Compendium and selected a dozen or more of the engravings therein, and then by the aid of his knife he detached them neatly from the bindings. The plan of campaign was perfect. Gipsy waited now to see Mitchell, the painter, who took his evening stroll about this time. Presently the artist lounged along.
"’Arf a mo'," Gipsy drawled. "Want to earn a quid?"
Mitchell shook his head doubtfully. As a rule, his elderly housekeeper drew his pay and allowed him a certain modicum for tobacco-money. It was the only way in which the artist could possibly wrestle successfully with the drink craze. Give him a sovereign, and he would do nothing till it was gone.
"How long have you been a capitalist?" he asked. "Left over from the library, eh?"
Gipsy said something forcible on the subject of tabloid education. He pointed to the selected engravings taken by him from the Compendium.
"What a fool thing to do!" Mitchell expostulated. "Poor as the volumes were before, they are worth nothing now. You have utterly spoilt them."
Gipsy winked solemnly. There was all the air of a successful dramatist about him.
"I'm going to get you to help me," he said. "You just go and get those paints of yours—the oils. Bring all the pretty 'uns. I've got to get out of this mess; and if I ain't just a bloomin' Bobs at this game, strike me pink! Look at this bloke."
At arm's length Gipsy held up a counterfeit presentment of Hercules in a boxing attitude. He stood on a pedestal and was obviously "after" some celebrated statue or another. Gipsy eyed the muscular form admiringly.
"That's a model of physical development," Gipsy remarked. "The blighted Compendium says so. Also it's a work of art. Just so. An' if I took and tried to raise a bob on old 'Erkules in the canteen, I couldn't do it. But nobody's seen 'Erkules, which is a good thing. He's no good now, but you'll see when we've done with 'im. Go and get your paints."
There was comedy here somewhere, as Mitchell recognised. He had a profound admiration for Gipsy and his many "slim" expedients. He came from the class of men who know how to jest with a straight face. Mitchell came back presently with his oils and brushes, and Gipsy carefully locked the door before lighting the lamp.
"Now look 'ere," he said. "You've got to 'elp me over this job, matey. "We've got to raise the spondulix from the delooded public. You just tackle old 'Erkules as I tell you. Take and paint 'im in tights, and a championship belt round 'is middle. Shove them bundles of fives of 'isn into four-ounce gloves."
"Make him a boxer and a bruiser up to date?" Mitchell asked with a grin.
"That's the time o' day," Gipsy said drily. "Up to date. Turn that 'ere butcher's block what he's standing on into a platform, and a rope round it. Wade in."
Mitchell waded in accordingly. At the end of half-an-hour the classic engraving of the famous athlete was transformed into a glaring oil presentment of a modern boxer of the approved type. Mitchell had been purposely prodigal of his colouring, and Gipsy was loudly enthusiastic. The flagrant vulgarity of it appealed to him strongly.
"Spiffin'!" he said. "Just this the ticket for soup. All it wants now is a nice 'omely flavour of the pub about it. Just stick a red triangle with 'Bass's Boer Only' underneath, just behind old 'Erkules's 'ead, and there you are. What O!"
Gipsy stood back and surveyed the work critically. Its crude colouring and flaring vulgarity touched him to the soul. No British "navvy" with a grain of sport in him could look upon that picture without the longing for possession.
"How long before it's dry?" he asked.
"Dry now," Mitchell explained. "That porous paper soaks up the oil directly. This is my masterpiece, Gipsy. I never hoped to paint anything like that."
Gipsy nodded approvingly. He was in the presence of genius. He took the picture up and rolled it with the greatest care. He was going out, he explained, as far as the canteen. If the painter possessed the fund of humour that Gipsy credited him with, that virtue would be gratified if Mitchell would look into the canteen ei little later.
The canteen was pretty full as Gipsy entered. He took up his place at an empty table and spread out his work of art before him; he appeared to be in rapt and admiring contemplation. Presently one or two of his own gang lounged across, to see the cause of this thoughtful silence. They fell under the spell of Mitchell's genius.
"What is it, Gipsy?" asked one in an awed voice. "Where did you get 'im from?"
"Won 'im," Gipsy said carelessly, "in a raffle. A bob a share—last time I was in Cardiff. O' course you know who that is?"
"Bloke just trained ready for a mill, I reckon."
"Bloke ready for a mill!" Gipsy said, with bitter scorn. "Where do you come from? Was it four or five years you got? That there's Tom Flannigan, the Irish Terror, just before his successful scrap last March with Long Coffin, the American Champion. Knocked 'is man out after thirty-two rounds, lasting two hours."
The others gasped. The famous fight was still fresh in the recollection of most of them. It was impossible to look upon that form and those colours unmoved. Gipsy pinned the picture to the matchboarded wall behind him, and the hands crowded round to admire. No famous creation from a fashionable artist hung on the line attracted such respectful attention.
"I've got others," Gipsy said. "I value 'em at eight 'undred pounds. There was ten thousand put into that raffle, at a bob a nob, and I got first prize. Came by parcel post to-day, they did. Make me wish I was a married man, it does. To think of a 'ut, with some good sticks o' furniture, and them things 'angin' on the walls!"
"Want to sell it, Gipsy?" a distant voice asked anxiously.
Gipsy looked up, caught the eye of Mitchell, who was standing in the doorway. Neither man smiled; but if both had shouted with laughter, they could not have understood one another more perfectly. The luxury of the comedy was theirs alone.
"Well, I wasn't thinking about it," Gipsy said slowly. The suggestion appeared to give him a fresh train of thought. "It ain't often as a poor bloke like myself gets a picture what lots of nobs would be proud to 'ang in their drorin'-rooms. But I've 'ad misfortunes, as most of you know, and a few pounds—what'll you stand, Jimmie?"
"Ten bob," Jimmie said promptly, "an’ a go of gin."
Gipsy snorted. If it had been pounds, now! He stood up, as if inspired by a new idea. The full light of the lamps shone on the dazzling colour picture. Why not raffle it at a shilling a share? Say sixty shares at that modest figure. A responsive murmur followed. Half-an-hour later, Gipsy strolled thoughtfully homeward with a bulging pocketful of greasy silver coins. Mitchell followed. After all, there were other acts to follow, and the first had been excellent.
"You'll get on," the painter said. "I should never have thought of that."
"Came to me like a perspiration," Gipsy said modestly. "Only I might 'ave waited a little longer. Believe I could 'a' got the whole bloomin' thirteen quid out o' that 'ere effort o' yourn. But there's more where the other came from. 'Oo's this?"
"That is a portrait of Sarah Siddons, the great tragedy actress, after Romney," Mitchell explained, as Gipsy proffered him a further illustration from the Compendium. "What do you propose to do with her? Leave us some of our illusions, Gipsy."
"She'll do," Gipsy muttered. "She's going be the cellubrated Miss Netta Montgomery, what played in Nelson's portable theatre down at Cwm all last winter. Every single bloke in the settlement was fair gone on her, though I found 'er second-class myself. Lot o' yaller 'air an' a dress all over spangles. You know the sort of thing. Then I'll get another three quid for that. 'Ere's a cottage and what you call a landscape."
"Anne Hathaway's cottage," Mitchell munnured.
"Niver 'eard of 'er," Gipsy went on. "But it's goin' to be made into the Red 'Ouse up the valley, where the shepherd killed his wife in the spring. Put a few piles o' timber and a derrick in the background, and there you are. I shan't do much with it amongst the boys, but the wives will fairly rise to it. Give 'em a touch of the 'errors, and you've got 'em every time."
Mitchell nodded. His face was grave, but his eyes danced with amusement. The oil was burning low in the lamp before he had finished his work. There was an expression of placid contentment on Gipsy's face.
"Come in to-morrow and do the other one," he suggested. "Strike me! I shan't want to trouble you any more after that. 'Picture of the Bronze 'Orse at Venice.' Touch 'im up, and put a boy in a pair o' tight breeches leadin' 'im by a 'alter, and there's the winner of the year's Derby what most of us backed. I'm goin' to pay for the bloomin' Compendium on this job, so as it'll cost me nothink. So long."
The following evening was a busy one for Gipsy. As he had confidently expected, there was a brisk demand amongst the younger fraternity over the portrait of Miss Netta Montgomery. She fell to Gammon, who had been a particular victim to her charms, but not until Gipsy had disposed of nearly eighty tickets. An almost equal popularity was enjoyed by the transformed Bronze Horse, whilst the mothers of the camp took a vivid, if morbid, interest in the picture of the Red House, where the murder had been committed.
Gipsy raked the money in and posed as a benefactor at the same time. His enterprise and public spirit enabled the settlement to gratify a natural passion for the best in art. But for Gipsy these elevating objects would never have found their way here at all. Later on, in the seclusion of his hut, Gipsy counted his spoils.
"’Ave some baccy," he suggested hospitably to Mitchell. "Fill your pouch … Fourteen pounds seventeen and sixpence. Dunnow where the tanner came from. When the bailiffs come, I shall be able to talk to 'em now. Still——"
Gipsy's face clouded thoughtfully. He had earned all that by his own bright and particular wit—it seemed a pity to waste it on mere publishers. Many a beautiful spree, many a lurid Saturday night shone from that pile of silver on the table.
"Seems a pity, don't it?" Mitchell suggested, watching his companion's thoughts.
"Pity!" Gipsy snorted. "It's what them drapers call an appallin' sacrifice. Still, it ain't me what's goin' to pay for the Compendium. An' yet——"
Gipsy pulled at his pipe thoughtfully. He sat there under the lamplight after Mitchell had departed, thinking the matter out. The novelist in the rough had got his hero out of a tight place; but in all properly appointed romances the hero not only escapes from imminent peril in the deadly breach, but is in honour bound to score over the miscreants who, for the time being, have triumphed. And Gipsy practically had not scored at all. Being his own hero, he felt it.
Thoughtfully he took an envelope and addressed it to the publishers of the Compendium. Then he produced a sheet of paper and laboriously proceeded to write a letter. It was a slow and painful process, but in the end it seemed satisfactory:—
"Box 171, P.O.
"Water Company's Scheme,
"A few friends of Mr Ercules Gipsy wot's left the valley and no address is desirous of seein wot I can do in the matter of the Compendium. Which never ought to have been sent in the way it was. Out of respec to the memory of Mr Gipsy and if he could be allode to come back we'll between us send you four pound ["five" scratched carefully out] and no questions ask. This to clear off all back pay and put the time sheet right. A answer from you by the next post saying as this is all right money will be sent. Yours respeckfully for 6 of us
Gipsy duly despatched his letter, comfortable with the assurance that there were some scores of John Prices in the settlement. For the next day or two he was dreamy and preoccupied. The third day brought a letter from the publishers of the Compendium, offering, with large magnanimity, to cancel the debt and all proceedings on receipt of five pounds, coupled with a rider to the effect that the money must be received by return of post. It cost Gipsy a pang to part with his five sovereigns, but there was sweet consolation in the fact that he had the Compendium, plus nearly ten pounds, and that without the outlay of a single penny of his own money. Thus do the heroes of romances score over mere mundane and less brilliant creatures.
Gipsy ran into the arms of Mitchell as he came from the post-office.
"Suppose you had to pay?" he asked.
"Suppose I didn't," Gipsy said thoughtfully. "I wrote a letter to the Compendium bloke sayin' as a few pals of Gipsy's 'ud like to—what you call it?—compromise. And they took five bloomin' quid. And I've just posted the brass. What do you think of that?"
Mitchell shook his head admiringly and passed on. Gipsy returned thoughtfully to his hut. The gay volumes of the Compendium seemed to smile down at him. He could think with toleration of the words of the wily little book-agent now.
"After all," he muttered—"after all, there's something in a liberal education."