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EXEMPLIFYING THAT CLOTHES DO MAKE THE MAN
"The Rubicon," said the Tinker, "the Rubicon is a river as no Roman ever crossed without doo thought. 'The die,' as Julius Caesar remarked when he crossed it, 'the die is cast!' Friend Peregrine, you ha' sent away your lady aunt a-grieving, poor ma'm, and your fine gentlemen uncles likewise, and consequently what I asks is--what now?"
"Clothes!" said I. "This afternoon let us drive into Tonbridge, find a tailor, get rid of these atrocities and afterwards sup at some cosy inn."
"Your gentlefolk brought you money then?"
"They did," said I, and laying by my platter, I drew from my breeches pockets the wallet of my uncle Jervas and uncle George's purse.
"Ha!" exclaimed the Tinker, rubbing his long chin with the haft of his knife. "How much?"
"We will investigate," said I, and opening the wallet, I discovered the sum of thirty pounds in gold and notes and a carefully folded missive with these words:
'If you wish to tinker, Peregrine, tinker like a gentleman. If you must make love, do it like a Vereker, that is to say, a man of honour.'
"My soul!" exclaimed the Tinker, round of eye.
In uncle George's purse were twenty guineas with a crumpled paper bearing this scrawl,
'More when you want it, Perry lad.'
"Lord love me!" exclaimed the Tinker, staring at the money I had placed on the grass between us. "It's a fine thing to have uncles--rich 'uns. What d' you think, Ann?"
"That you'd better eat your dinner while it's hot."
"But--fifty pound, Ann! Never saw so much money all at once in my life--an' all gold an' bank notes, nothing s' common as silver or copper--Lord! Fifty pound!"
"Divided by four is exactly twelve pounds ten shillings," said I, and counting out this sum, I thrust it into the Tinker's hand.
"Eh--what--why, why, what's this?" he demanded.
"Your share," I answered.
"But why--what for?"
"Because we are friends and comrades, I hope, and according to the rules of the Brotherhood of the Roadside as expounded by you, 'those that have, give to those that haven't--it would be a poor world else.'"
"No, no!" he exclaimed, "no, no, can't be done--I think ye mean kindly, but it won't do."
"But why not?" I demanded.
"Because no man as is a man takes money unless he's earned it or lent it, or happens to be starving--"
"Nor woman either!" said Diana.
"Very well!" quoth I, a little ruefully, cramming the money back into my pockets. "Then perhaps you will come to Tonbridge and help me to spend it?"
"I would wi' j'y, but there's my work--ask Ann, she'll go wi' you."
"I'm busy, too!" said she, whereupon I turned and strode off in high dudgeon. But presently she overtook me, "Don't you think you'd better wash first?" she enquired. At this I stopped, for I had clean forgotten my grime.
"Why should I trouble to wash? How can it matter to you?"
"Not much, Peregrine, but you look a little better with a clean face and we shall likely meet plenty o' folk--"
"Do you mean you will come with me?"
"Then I'll wash."
"Yes, I brought you the soap and towel." So we came to the brook where she sat to watch while I performed my so necessary ablutions.
"I have no wish to hinder your work," said I, towelling vigorously.
"And I am quite able to find my way to Tonbridge alone."
"And it is a goodish distance, so if you would rather not come, pray do not trouble."
"Heavens, girl!" I cried. "Cannot you say more than 'yes and no, Peregrine'?"
"Aye, I could!" she nodded. "I could say you are a fool and a sight too cocksure--and, oh, a lot more--but I won't!" with which she rose and left me. My toilet achieved, I returned to find Jerry busy harnessing Diogenes, the pony.
"For if you'm a-going, Peregrine, you may as well do the marketing, and there's a mort o' stores to bring back. Besides, Anna can take her baskets t' sell, d'ye see."
So in a while, behold Diana throned on the driving seat, reins in hand, while I led Diogenes up the winding, grassy slope to the high road; this done, I climbed aboard and off we swung for Tonbridge town.
Diogenes pounded along merrily, the wheels creaked and rattled cheerily, a soaring lark carolled joyously somewhere in the sunny air above us; but Diana drove in sullen silence, her face averted pertinaciously, wherefore I scowled before me and kept silence also; thus Diogenes, wheels and lark had it all to themselves. And when we had driven thus some distance I spoke:
"You are a very bright and cheery companion this afternoon!"
At this she jerked her shoulder at me with a petulant gesture.
"Indeed," said I, "it is a great wonder that you troubled to come with me--"
"I've my baskets to sell!" she retorted in her most ungracious manner.
"Why are you so changed to me?" I questioned. "Are you still angry about that unfortunate business of the mirror, or is it because I kissed you, or--"
"Ah--don't talk of it!" she cried fiercely. "No man's ever kissed me so before--on the mouth--"
"Thank heaven!" said I.
"I hate ye for it and her most of all!"
"'Her', Diana? Whom do you mean?"
"Your fine lady aunt!"
"But, good heaven! What had my aunt Julia to do with it?"
"I don't care! I hate her--with her great, proud eyes and haughty ways--and offering me money an' all--"
"Yes," said I, "it was wrong of her to attempt to bribe you--"
"You did as much once--only it was your watch, so don't you talk! I suppose my lady thinks I'm after you for your money. Oh, I wish t' God I'd never seen you! And I shan't much longer--"
"Ah, do you mean that you will attempt to run away?" I demanded. But Diana merely stared sullenly at the road before us. "This would be very, very wrong, Diana, very cruel and very wicked because, according to the laws of the Folk, you are already my wife."
"But not according to the Church. You said so--an' you ain't of the Folk!"
"But I might turn gipsy--others have done so."
"Aye, but not your kind; you're best wi' your fine aunt to coddle you--go back to your grand house an' servants, young man, and stay there!"
"Some day, but not yet," I answered. "And when I go--you will go with me."
"Oh, shall I!" she exclaimed scornfully. "You're precious sure of yourself, ain't you?"
"I am!" I nodded, folding my arms. "And of one other thing!"
"That you will make a very ill-tempered wife!"
"Oh, shall I!"
"Not your'n, anyway. You ain't man enough."
"We shall see!" said I between shut teeth.
"Aha, now you're angry!" she laughed gleefully, and with some little malice.
"You are enough to enrage a saint!" I retorted, and turning my back, I bore with her gibes and fleerings as patiently as I might nor deigned her further notice, so that in a little she became mute also; and thus at last we reached Tonbridge. Scarcely were we in the High Street than, not waiting for Diana to draw rein, I leapt from the cart with such precipitation that I tripped awkwardly and rolled, grovelling, in the dust. Scrambling hastily to my feet, I saw she had pulled up and was eyeing me a little anxiously, but her voice was sullen as ever when she spoke.
"Are ye hurt?" she questioned ungraciously.
"Thank you--no!" I answered, brushing the dust from my bruised knees.
"All right!" she nodded, "I'll meet ye in the yard at 'The Chequers'--half-past four!" and away she drove without so much as one backward glance.
The place was busy by reason of the fair, the wide roadway thronged with vehicles, and as I edged my way along the narrow, crowded pavements gay with chintz and muslin gowns, polished boots, flowered waistcoats and the rest of it, I felt myself a blot and blemish, a thing to be viewed askance by this cheery crowd in its holiday attire. A short-legged man in a white hat roared at me to hold his horse; a plump and benevolent old lady earnestly sought to bestow upon me twopence in charity, but I paid no heed and began to seek eagerly for a tailor where I might exchange my sorry garments for things less poverty-stricken.
And presently, to my great relief, I beheld a shop above whose crystal window panes was a sign with this inscription:
TAILOR & SARTORIAL ARTIST
NOBILITY & GENTRY
In this window was displayed cloth of every kind and colour, together with framed pictures of stiff-limbed young gentlemen in most trying and uncomfortable postures and clad in garments innocent of crease or wrinkle.
Incontinent I lifted the latch and entered the shop to behold a stout young gentleman contorting himself horribly in a vain endeavour to regard the small of his back.
"There!" he gasped. "The breeches! Told you they were too tight--I heard 'em crack--they're too infernal tight, I tell ye!"
"Oh, dear me, impossible, sir!" sighed a pale, long-visaged person, flourishing a tape-measure. "A gent's breeches can't be too tight; the tighter they are the more ton! Indeed, tight breeches, sir, are--What's for you, my lad?" he enquired, catching sight of me.
"I desire to purchase a suit of clothes."
"Oh, dear me--no, no!" sighed the long-visaged person. "Not here, lad, not here! We build garments for gentlemen only, no ready-made goods here; we deal strictly with the nobility and gentry of the county--go away, lad, go away!" Here he flapped his tape-measure at me, the stout gentleman stared at me, and I crept forth into the street again among the dainty, sprigged gowns and high-collared coats amid which I wandered somewhat disconsolate until by chance my wandering gaze lighted upon a small, dingy shop in whose narrow window squatted a small, humpbacked, bespectacled man plying needle and thread with remarkable speed and dexterity. It was a small shop but so stuffed and crammed with garments of all kinds that they had overflowed into the street, for the narrow doorway was draped, choked and festooned with coats, breeches, pantaloons, shirts, waistcoats, stockings, boots, shoes, a riotous and apparently inextricable tangle.
Into this small and stuffy shop I forced myself a passage, whereupon its small, busy proprietor glanced up at me over the rim of his large spectacles.
"Well, son, what d'ye lack?" he demanded.
"Clothes, if you please," said I humbly.
"And that's no lie, neether--so ye do, by James!" he nodded.
"Can I purchase some?"
"If you've enough o' the rhino, son."
For answer I drew a bank note from my pocket at random and laid it upon the small counter.
"You have, b' James!" quoth the little man, "a fi'-pun note!" And thrusting needle into the garment he was making he rose with brisk alacrity. "What d'ye want in my way, son?"
"Everything!" said I.
"And here's the place t' get it, b' James! I've everything in clothes from the cradle to the grave--infant, child, youth and man, births, marriages or deaths, 'igh-days or 'olydays--I can fit ye with any style, any size and for any age, occasion or re-quirement."
So saying, he ushered me into a small room behind the shop where he proceeded to whisk forth a bewildering array of garments for my inspection, until table and chairs were piled high and myself dazed with their infinite variety.
"B' James!" cried the little man, blinking, "I'll turn ye out as nobby a little spark as ever cocked a neye at a sighin' young fe-male. Look at this coat, the roll o' this collar up to your ears, and as for buttons--well, look at 'em--see 'em flash! As for weskits, see 'ere, son, climbin' roses worked into true-lover's knots and all pure silk! Then 'ere's a pair o' pantaloons as no blushin' nymp' could resist--an' you shall 'ave the lot--ah, an' I'll throw in a ruffled shirt--for four-pun' ten--take 'em or leave 'em!"
"Thank you, I think I'll leave them," said I. "My desire is for things a little less ostentatious--"
"Os-ten--ha, certainly! Say no more, son, look around an' take y'r choice--"
At last, and almost in spite of the small tailor, I selected a suit a little less offensive than most, the which I donned forthwith and found it fit me none so ill; shirt, shoes, stockings and a hat completed my equipment, and though the garments were anything but elegant, yet my appearance, so much as I could see of it in the small, cracked mirror, was, on the whole, not displeasing, I thought. At the tailor's suggestion I purchased three extra shirts, as many cravats, stockings and a neckcloth.
"And now," said I, as he tied up the somewhat unwieldy parcel, "what do I owe you?"
"Well, son--I mean, sir," he answered, peering at me over his spectacles, "them beautiful clothes has turned you from nobody as matters into somebody as do; your credit is rose five hundred, ah, a thousand per cent and I ought to charge ye a couple o' hundred guineas, say--but seein' as you're you an' I'm me--let's call it fi'-pun!"
So having paid the tailor, I bade him good afternoon and strode forth into the street and, though a little conscious of my new clothes and somewhat hampered by the bulbous parcel beneath my arm, felt myself no longer in danger of being roared at to hold horses or proffered alms by kindly old ladies. I strolled along at leisurely pace, casting oblique and surreptitious glances at my reflection in shop windows, whereby I observed that my new garments fitted me better than I had supposed, though it seemed the hair curled beneath my hat brim in too generous luxuriance; so perceiving a barber's adjacent, I entered and gave my head to the ministrations of a chatty soul whose tongue wagged faster than his snipping scissors. Shorn of my superabundant locks, I sallied forth, and chancing upon a jeweller's shop, I entered and purchased a silver watch for the Tinker, another for Jessamy Todd, and lastly a gold locket and chain for Diana.
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