Tom Tiddler's Ground (1900)/Chapter 3
PICKING UP THE TINKER.
It was now sunset. The hermit had betaken himself to his bed of cinders half an hour ago, and lying on it in his blanket and skewer with his back to the window, took not the smallest heed of the appeal addressed to him.
All that had been said for the last two hours, had been said to a tinkling accompaniment performed by the tinker who had got to work on some villager's pot or kettle, and was working briskly outside. This music still continuing, seemed to put it into Mr. Traveller's mind to have another word or two with the tinker. So, holding Miss Kimmeens (with whom he was now on the most friendly terms) by the hand, he went out at the gate to where the tinker was seated at his work on the patch of grass on the opposite side of the road, with his wallet of tools open before him, and his little fire smoking.
"I am glad to see you employed," said Mr. Traveller.
"I am glad to be employed," returned the tinker, looking up as he put the finishing touches to his job. "But why are you glad?"
"I thought you were a lazy fellow when I saw you this morning."
"I was only disgusted," said the tinker.
"Do you mean with the fine weather?"
"With the fine weather?" repeated the tinker, staring.
"You told me you were not particular as to weather, and I thought—"
"Ha, ha! How should such as me get on if we was partickler as to weather? We must take it as it comes, and make the best of it. There's something good in all weathers. If it don't happen to be good for my work today it's good for some other man's to-day, and will come round to me to-morrow. We must all live."
"Pray shake hands," said Mr. Traveller.
"Take care, sir," was the tinker's caution, as he reached up his hand in surprise; "the black comes off."
"I am glad of it," said Mr. Traveller. "I have been for several hours among other black that does not come off."
"You are speaking of Tom in there?"
"Well, now," said the tinker, blowing the dust off his job, which was finished. "Ain't it enough to disgust a pig, if he could give his mind to it?"
"If he could give his mind to it," returned the other, smiling, "the probability is that he wouldn't be a pig."
"There you clench the nail," returned the tinker.
"Then what's to be said for Tom?"
"Truly very little."
"Truly nothing you mean, sir," said the tinker, as he put away his tools.
"A better answer, and (I freely acknowledge) my meaning. I infer that he was the cause of your disgust?"
"Why, look'ee here, sir," said the tinker, rising to his feet, and wiping his face on the corner of his black apron energetically;" I leave you to judge;—I ask you!—Last night I has a job that needs to be done in the night, and I works all night. Well, there's nothing in that. But this morning I comes along this road here, looking for a sunny and soft spot to sleep in, and I sees this desolation and ruination. I've lived myself in desolation and ruination; I knows many a fellow-creetur that's forced to live life-long in desolation and ruination; and I sits me down and takes pity on it, as I cast my eyes about. Then comes up the long-winded one as I told you of from that gate, and spins himself out like a silk-worm concerning the donkey (if my donkey at home will excuse me) as has made it all—made it of his own choice! And tells me, if you please, of his likewise choosing to go ragged and naked and grimy—maskerading, mountebanking, in what is the real hard lot of thousands and thou sands! Why, then I say it's a unbearable and non sensical piece of inconsistency, and I'm disgusted. I'm ashamed and disgusted!"
"I wish you would come and look at him," said Mr. Traveller, tapping the tinker on the shoulder.
"Not I, sir," he rejoined. "I ain't a-going to flatter him up, by looking at him I"
"But he is asleep."
"Are you sure he is asleep?" asked the tinker, with an unwilling air, as he shouldered his wallet.
"Then I'll look at him for a quarter of a minute," said the tinker, "since you so much wish it; but not a moment longer."
Then the three went back across the road; and through the barred window, by the dying glow of the sunset coming in at the gate—which the child held open for its admission—he could be pretty clearly discerned lying on his bed.
"You see him?" said Mr. Traveller.
"Yes," returned the tinker, "and he's worse than I thought him."
Mr. Traveller then whispered in a few words what he had done since morning; and asked the tinker what he thought of that?
"I think," returned the tinker, as he turned from the window, "that you've wasted a day on him."
"I think so, too; though not, I hope, upon myself. Do you happen to be going anywhere near the Peal of Bells?"
"That's my direct way, sir," said the tinker.
"I invite you to supper there. And as I learn from this young lady that she goes some three-quarters of a mile in the same direction, we will drop her on the road, and we will spare time to keep her company at her garden gate until her own Bella comes home."
So Mr. Traveller, and the child, and the tinker, went along very amicably in the sweet-scented evening; and the moral with which the tinker dismissed the subject was, that he said in his trade that metal that rotted for want of use, had better be left to rot, and couldn't rot too soon, considering how much true metal rotted from over-use and hard service.