The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Book 3: The Downfall: Chapter 6 - Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice against the Present of a Pocket-Knife

"I'll tell you how it is, Master Tom," said Bob, beginning to untwist his canvas bag. "You see, I'n been with a barge this two 'ear; that's how I'n been gettin' my livin', — if it wasn't when I was tentin' the furnace, between whiles, at Torry's mill. But a fortni't ago I'd a rare bit o' luck, — I allays thought I was a lucky chap, for I niver set a trap but what I catched something; but this wasn't trap, it was a fire i' Torry's mill, an' I doused it, else it 'ud set th' oil alight, an' the genelman gen me ten suvreigns; he gen me 'em himself last week. An' he said first, I was a sperrited chap, — but I knowed that afore, — but then he outs wi' the ten suvreigns, an' that war summat new. Here they are, all but one!" Here Bob emptied the canvas bag on the table. "An' when I'd got 'em, my head was all of a boil like a kettle o' broth, thinkin' what sort o' life I should take to, for there war a many trades I'd thought on; for as for the barge, I'm clean tired out wi't, for it pulls the days out till they're as long as pigs' chitterlings. An' I thought first I'd ha' ferrets an' dogs, an' be a rat-catcher; an' then I thought as I should like a bigger way o' life, as I didn't know so well; for I'n seen to the bottom o' rat-catching; an' I thought, an' thought, till at last I settled I'd be a packman, — for they're knowin' fellers, the packmen are, — an' I'd carry the lightest things I could i' my pack; an' there'd be a use for a feller's tongue, as is no use neither wi' rats nor barges. An' I should go about the country far an' wide, an' come round the women wi' my tongue, an' get my dinner hot at the public, — lors! it 'ud be a lovely life!"

Bob paused, and then said, with defiant decision, as if resolutely turning his back on that paradisaic picture:

"But I don't mind about it, not a chip! An' I'n changed one o' the suvreigns to buy my mother a goose for dinner, an' I'n bought a blue plush wescoat, an' a sealskin cap, — for if I meant to be a packman, I'd do it respectable. But I don't mind about it, not a chip! My yead isn't a turnip, an' I shall p'r'aps have a chance o' dousing another fire afore long. I'm a lucky chap. So I'll thank you to take the nine suvreigns, Mr. Tom, and set yoursen up with 'em somehow, if it's true as the master's broke. They mayn't go fur enough, but they'll help."

Tom was touched keenly enough to forget his pride and suspicion.

"You're a very kind fellow, Bob," he said, coloring, with that little diffident tremor in his voice which gave a certain charm even to Tom's pride and severity, "and I sha'n't forget you again, though I didn't know you this evening. But I can't take the nine sovereigns; I should be taking your little fortune from you, and they wouldn't do me much good either."

"Wouldn't they, Mr. Tom?" said Bob, regretfully. "Now don't say so 'cause you think I want 'em. I aren't a poor chap. My mother gets a good penn'orth wi' picking feathers an' things; an' if she eats nothin' but bread-an'-water, it runs to fat. An' I'm such a lucky chap; an' I doubt you aren't quite so lucky, Mr. Tom, — th' old master isn't, anyhow, — an' so you might take a slice o' my luck, an' no harm done. Lors! I found a leg o' pork i' the river one day; it had tumbled out o' one o' them round-sterned Dutchmen, I'll be bound. Come, think better on it, Mr. Tom, for old 'quinetance' sake, else I shall think you bear me a grudge."

Bob pushed the sovereigns forward, but before Tom could speak Maggie, clasping her hands, and looking penitently at Bob. said:

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Bob; I never thought you were so good. Why, I think you're the kindest person in the world!"

Bob had not been aware of the injurious opinion for which Maggie was performing an inward act of penitence, but he smiled with pleasure at this handsome eulogy, — especially from a young lass who, as he informed his mother that evening, had "such uncommon eyes, they looked somehow as they made him feel nohow."

"No, indeed Bob, I can't take them," said Tom; "but don't think I feel your kindness less because I say no. I don't want to take anything from anybody, but to work my own way. And those sovereigns wouldn't help me much — they wouldn't really — if I were to take them. Let me shake hands with you instead."

Tom put out his pink palm, and Bob was not slow to place his hard, grimy hand within it.

"Let me put the sovereigns in the bag again," said Maggie; "and you'll come and see us when you've bought your pack, Bob."

"It's like as if I'd come out o' make believe, o' purpose to show 'em you," said Bob, with an air of discontent, as Maggie gave him the bag again, "a-taking 'em back i' this way. I am a bit of a Do, you know; but it isn't that sort o' Do, — it's on'y when a feller's a big rogue, or a big flat, I like to let him in a bit, that's all."

"Now, don't you be up to any tricks, Bob," said Tom, "else you'll get transported some day."

"No, no; not me, Mr. Tom," said Bob, with an air of cheerful confidence. "There's no law again' flea-bites. If I wasn't to take a fool in now and then, he'd niver get any wiser. But, lors! hev a suvreign to buy you and Miss summat, on'y for a token — just to match my pocket-knife."

While Bob was speaking he laid down the sovereign, and resolutely twisted up his bag again. Tom pushed back the gold, and said, "No, indeed, Bob; thank you heartily, but I can't take it." And Maggie, taking it between her fingers, held it up to Bob and said, more persuasively:

"Not now, but perhaps another time. If ever Tom or my father wants help that you can give, we'll let you know; won't we, Tom? That's what you would like, — to have us always depend on you as a friend that we can go to, — isn't it, Bob?"

"Yes, Miss, and thank you," said Bob, reluctantly taking the money; "that's what I'd like, anything as you like. An' I wish you good-by, Miss, and good-luck, Mr. Tom, and thank you for shaking hands wi' me, though you wouldn't take the money."

Kezia's entrance, with very black looks, to inquire if she shouldn't bring in the tea now, or whether the toast was to get hardened to a brick, was a seasonable check on Bob's flux of words, and hastened his parting bow.

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