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

"Eh mum, I'm loth, that I am," said Bob, slowly depositing his pack on the step, and beginning to untie it with unwilling fingers. "But what you order shall be done" (much fumbling in pauses between the sentences). "It's not as you'll buy a single thing on me, — I'd be sorry for you to do it, — for think o' them poor women up i' the villages there, as niver stir a hundred yards from home, — it 'ud be a pity for anybody to buy up their bargains. Lors, it's as good as a junketing to 'em when they see me wi' my pack, an' I shall niver pick up such bargains for 'em again. Least ways, I've no time now, for I'm off to Laceham. See here now," Bob went on, becoming rapid again, and holding up a scarlet woollen Kerchief with an embroidered wreath in the corner; "here's a thing to make a lass's mouth water, an' on'y two shillin' — an' why? Why, 'cause there's a bit of a moth-hole 'i this plain end. Lors, I think the moths an' the mildew was sent by Providence o' purpose to cheapen the goods a bit for the good-lookin' women as han't got much money. If it hadn't been for the moths, now, every hankicher on 'em 'ud ha' gone to the rich, handsome ladies, like you, mum, at five shillin' apiece, — not a farthin' less; but what does the moth do? Why, it nibbles off three shillin' o' the price i' no time; an' then a packman like me can carry 't to the poor lasses as live under the dark thack, to make a bit of a blaze for 'em. Lors, it's as good as a fire, to look at such a hankicher!"

Bob held it at a distance for admiration, but Mrs. Glegg said sharply:

"Yes, but nobody wants a fire this time o' year. Put these colored things by; let me look at your nets, if you've got 'em."

"Eh, mum, I told you how it 'ud be," said Bob, flinging aside the colored things with an air of desperation. "I knowed it ud' turn again' you to look at such paltry articles as I carry. Here's a piece o' figured muslin now, what's the use o' you lookin' at it? You might as well look at poor folks's victual, mum; it 'ud on'y take away your appetite. There's a yard i' the middle on't as the pattern's all missed, — lors, why, it's a muslin as the Princess Victoree might ha' wore; but," added Bob, flinging it behind him on to the turf, as if to save Mrs. Glegg's eyes, "it'll be bought up by the huckster's wife at Fibb's End, — that's where it'll go — ten shillin' for the whole lot — ten yards, countin' the damaged un — five-an'-twenty shillin' 'ud ha' been the price, not a penny less. But I'll say no more, mum; it's nothing to you, a piece o' muslin like that; you can afford to pay three times the money for a thing as isn't half so good. It's nets you talked on; well, I've got a piece as 'ull serve you to make fun on — — "

"Bring me that muslin," said Mrs. Glegg. "It's a buff; I'm partial to buff."

"Eh, but a damaged thing," said Bob, in a tone of deprecating disgust. "You'd do nothing with it, mum, you'd give it to the cook, I know you would, an' it 'ud be a pity, — she'd look too much like a lady in it; it's unbecoming for servants."

"Fetch it, and let me see you measure it," said Mrs. Glegg, authoritatively.

Bob obeyed with ostentatious reluctance.

"See what there is over measure!" he said, holding forth the extra half-yard, while Mrs. Glegg was busy examining the damaged yard, and throwing her head back to see how far the fault would be lost on a distant view.

"I'll give you six shilling for it," she said, throwing it down with the air of a person who mentions an ultimatum.

"Didn't I tell you now, mum, as it 'ud hurt your feelings to look at my pack? That damaged bit's turned your stomach now; I see it has," said Bob, wrapping the muslin up with the utmost quickness, and apparently about to fasten up his pack. "You're used to seein' a different sort o' article carried by packmen, when you lived at the stone house. Packs is come down i' the world; I told you that; my goods are for common folks. Mrs. Pepper 'ull give me ten shillin' for that muslin, an' be sorry as I didn't ask her more. Such articles answer i' the wearin', — they keep their color till the threads melt away i' the wash-tub, an' that won't be while I'm a young un."

"Well, seven shilling," said Mrs. Glegg.

"Put it out o' your mind, mum, now do," said Bob. "Here's a bit o' net, then, for you to look at before I tie up my pack, just for you to see what my trade's come to, — spotted and sprigged, you see, beautiful but yallow, — 's been lyin' by an' got the wrong color. I could niver ha' bought such net, if it hadn't been yallow. Lors, it's took me a deal o' study to know the vally o' such articles; when I begun to carry a pack, I was as ignirant as a pig; net or calico was all the same to me. I thought them things the most vally as was the thickest. I was took in dreadful, for I'm a straightforrard chap, — up to no tricks, mum. I can only say my nose is my own, for if I went beyond, I should lose myself pretty quick. An' I gev five-an'-eightpence for that piece o' net, — if I was to tell y' anything else I should be tellin' you fibs, — an' five-an'-eightpence I shall ask of it, not a penny more, for it's a woman's article, an' I like to 'commodate the women. Five-an'-eightpence for six yards, — as cheap as if it was only the dirt on it as was paid for.'"

"I don't mind having three yards of it,'" said Mrs. Glegg.

"Why, there's but six altogether," said Bob. "No, mum, it isn't worth your while; you can go to the shop to-morrow an' get the same pattern ready whitened. It's on'y three times the money; what's that to a lady like you?" He gave an emphatic tie to his bundle.

"Come, lay me out that muslin," said Mrs. Glegg. "Here's eight shilling for it."

"You will be jokin'," said Bob, looking up with a laughing face; "I see'd you was a pleasant lady when I fust come to the winder."

"Well, put it me out," said Mrs. Glegg, peremptorily.

"But if I let you have it for ten shillin', mum, you'll be so good as not tell nobody. I should be a laughin'-stock; the trade 'ud hoot me, if they knowed it. I'm obliged to make believe as I ask more nor I do for my goods, else they'd find out I was a flat. I'm glad you don't insist upo' buyin' the net, for then I should ha' lost my two best bargains for Mrs. Pepper o' Fibb's End, an' she's a rare customer."

"Let me look at the net again," said Mrs. Glegg, yearning after the cheap spots and sprigs, now they were vanishing.

"Well, I can't deny you , mum," said Bob handing it out.

"Eh!, see what a pattern now! Real Laceham goods. Now, this is the sort o' article I'm recommendin' Mr. Tom to send out. Lors, it's a fine thing for anybody as has got a bit o' money; these Laceham goods 'ud make it breed like maggits. If I was a lady wi' a bit o' money! — why, I know one as put thirty pounds into them goods, — a lady wi' a cork leg, but as sharp, — you wouldn't catch her runnin' her head into a sack; she'd see her way clear out o' anything afore she'd be in a hurry to start. Well, she let out thirty pound to a young man in the drapering line, and he laid it out i' Laceham goods, an' a shupercargo o' my acquinetance (not Salt) took 'em out, an' she got her eight per zent fust go off; an' now you can't hold her but she must be sendin' out carguies wi' every ship, till she's gettin' as rich as a Jew. Bucks her name is, she doesn't live i' this town. Now then, mum, if you'll please to give me the net — — "

"Here's fifteen shilling, then, for the two," said Mrs. Glegg. "But it's a shameful price."

"Nay, mum, you'll niver say that when you're upo' your knees i' church i' five years' time. I'm makin' you a present o' th' articles; I am, indeed. That eightpence shaves off my profits as clean as a razor. Now then, sir," continued Bob, shouldering his pack, "if you please, I'll be glad to go and see about makin' Mr. Tom's fortin. Eh, I wish I'd got another twenty pound to lay out my sen; I shouldn't stay to say my Catechism afore I knowed what to do wi't."

"Stop a bit, Mr. Glegg," said the lady, as her husband took his hat, "you never will give me the chance o' speaking. You'll go away now, and finish everything about this business, and come back and tell me it's too late for me to speak. As if I wasn't my nephey's own aunt, and the head o' the family on his mother's side! and laid by guineas, all full weight, for him, as he'll know who to respect when I'm laid in my coffin."

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