The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Book 5: Wheat and Tares: Chapter 2 - Aunt Glegg Learns the Breadth of Bob's Thumb

"Yes, I reckon I can, and through the packmen too," observed Mrs. Glegg, intending to imply that Bob's flattery had produced no effect on her; while her husband, standing behind her with his hands in his pockets and legs apart, winked and smiled with conjugal delight at the probability of his wife's being circumvented.

"Ay, to be sure, mum," said Bob. "Why, you must ha' dealt wi' no end o' packmen when you war a young lass — before the master here had the luck to set eyes on you. I know where you lived, I do, — seen th' house many a time, — close upon Squire Darleigh's, — a stone house wi' steps — — "

"Ah, that it had," said Mrs. Glegg, pouring out the tea. "You know something o' my family, then? Are you akin to that packman with a squint in his eye, as used to bring th' Irish linen?"

"Look you there now!" said Bob, evasively. "Didn't I know as you'd remember the best bargains you've made in your life was made wi' packmen? Why, you see even a squintin' packman's better nor a shopman as can see straight. Lors! if I'd had the luck to call at the stone house wi' my pack, as lies here," — stooping and thumping the bundle emphatically with his fist, — "an' th' handsome young lasses all stannin' out on the stone steps, it ud' ha' been summat like openin' a pack, that would. It's on'y the poor houses now as a packman calls on, if it isn't for the sake o' the sarvant-maids. They're paltry times, these are. Why, mum, look at the printed cottons now, an' what they was when you wore 'em, — why, you wouldn't put such a thing on now, I can see. It must be first-rate quality, the manifactur as you'd buy, — summat as 'ud wear as well as your own faitures."

"Yes, better quality nor any you're like to carry; you've got nothing first-rate but brazenness, I'll be bound," said Mrs. Glegg, with a triumphant sense of her insurmountable sagacity. "Mr. Glegg, are you going ever to sit down to your tea? Tom, there's a cup for you."

"You speak true there, mum," said Bob. "My pack isn't for ladies like you. The time's gone by for that. Bargains picked up dirt cheap! A bit o' damage here an' there, as can be cut out, or else niver seen i' the wearin', but not fit to offer to rich folks as can pay for the look o' things as nobody sees. I'm not the man as 'ud offer t' open my pack to you , mum; no, no; I'm a imperent chap, as you say, — these times makes folks imperent, — but I'm not up to the mark o' that."

"Why, what goods do you carry in your pack?" said Mrs. Glegg. "Fine-colored things, I suppose, — shawls an' that?"

"All sorts, mum, all sorts," said Bob, — thumping his bundle; "but let us say no more about that, if you please. I'm here upo' Mr. Tom's business, an' I'm not the man to take up the time wi' my own."

"And pray, what is this business as is to be kept from me?" said Mrs. Glegg, who, solicited by a double curiosity, was obliged to let the one-half wait.

"A little plan o' nephey Tom's here," said good-natured Mr. Glegg; "and not altogether a bad 'un, I think. A little plan for making money; that's the right sort o' plan for young folks as have got their fortin to make, eh, Jane?"

"But I hope it isn't a plan where he expects iverything to be done for him by his friends; that's what the young folks think of mostly nowadays. And pray, what has this packman got to do wi' what goes on in our family? Can't you speak for yourself, Tom, and let your aunt know things, as a nephey should?"

"This is Bob Jakin, aunt," said Tom, bridling the irritation that aunt Glegg's voice always produced. "I've known him ever since we were little boys. He's a very good fellow, and always ready to do me a kindness. And he has had some experience in sending goods out, — a small part of a cargo as a private speculation; and he thinks if I could begin to do a little in the same way, I might make some money. A large interest is got in that way."

"Large int'rest?" said aunt Glegg, with eagerness; "and what do you call large int'rest?"

"Ten or twelve per cent, Bob says, after expenses are paid."

"Then why wasn't I let to know o' such things before, Mr. Glegg?" said Mrs. Glegg, turning to her husband, with a deep grating tone of reproach. "Haven't you allays told me as there was no getting more nor five per cent?"

"Pooh, pooh, nonsense, my good woman," said Mr. Glegg. "You couldn't go into trade, could you? You can't get more than five per cent with security."

"But I can turn a bit o' money for you, an' welcome, mum," said Bob, "if you'd like to risk it, — not as there's any risk to speak on. But if you'd a mind to lend a bit o' money to Mr. Tom, he'd pay you six or seven per zent, an' get a trifle for himself as well; an' a good-natur'd lady like you 'ud like the feel o' the money better if your nephey took part on it."

"What do you say, Mrs. G.?" said Mr. Glegg. "I've a notion, when I've made a bit more inquiry, as I shall perhaps start Tom here with a bit of a nest-egg, — he'll pay me int'rest, you know, — an' if you've got some little sums lyin' idle twisted up in a stockin' toe, or that — — "

"Mr. Glegg, it's beyond iverything! You'll go and give information to the tramps next, as they may come and rob me."

"Well, well, as I was sayin', if you like to join me wi' twenty pounds, you can — I'll make it fifty. That'll be a pretty good nest-egg, eh, Tom?"

"You're not counting on me, Mr. Glegg, I hope," said his wife. "You could do fine things wi' my money, I don't doubt."

"Very well," said Mr. Glegg, rather snappishly, "then we'll do without you. I shall go with you to see this Salt," he added, turning to Bob.

"And now, I suppose, you'll go all the other way, Mr. Glegg," said Mrs. G., "and want to shut me out o' my own nephey's business. I never said I wouldn't put money into it, — I don't say as it shall be twenty pounds, though you're so ready to say it for me, — but he'll see some day as his aunt's in the right not to risk the money she's saved for him till it's proved as it won't be lost."

"Ay, that's a pleasant sort o'risk, that is," said Mr. Glegg, indiscreetly winking at Tom, who couldn't avoid smiling. But Bob stemmed the injured lady's outburst.

"Ay, mum," he said admiringly, "you know what's what — you do. An' it's nothing but fair. You see how the first bit of a job answers, an' then you'll come down handsome. Lors, it's a fine thing to hev good kin. I got my bit of a nest-egg, as the master calls it, all by my own sharpness, — ten suvreigns it was, — wi' dousing the fire at Torry's mill, an' it's growed an' growed by a bit an' a bit, till I'n got a matter o' thirty pound to lay out, besides makin' my mother comfor'ble. I should get more, on'y I'm such a soft wi' the women, — I can't help lettin' 'em hev such good bargains. There's this bundle, now," thumping it lustily, "any other chap 'ud make a pretty penny out on it. But me! — lors, I shall sell 'em for pretty near what I paid for 'em."

"Have you got a bit of good net, now?" said Mrs. Glegg, in a patronizing tone, moving from the tea-table, and folding her napkin.

"Eh, mum, not what you'd think it worth your while to look at. I'd scorn to show it you. It 'ud be an insult to you."

"But let me see," said Mrs. Glegg, still patronizing. "If they're damaged goods, they're like enough to be a bit the better quality."

"No, mum, I know my place," said Bob, lifting up his pack and shouldering it. "I'm not going t' expose the lowness o' my trade to a lady like you. Packs is come down i' the world; it 'ud cut you to th' heart to see the difference. I'm at your sarvice, sir, when you've a mind to go and see Salt."

"All in good time," said Mr. Glegg, really unwilling to cut short the dialogue. "Are you wanted at the wharf, Tom?"

"No, sir; I left Stowe in my place."

"Come, put down your pack, and let me see," said Mrs. Glegg, drawing a chair to the window and seating herself with much dignity.

"Don't you ask it, mum," said Bob, entreatingly.

"Make no more words," said Mrs. Glegg, severely, "but do as I tell you."

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