Chapter 4 | Public Opinion on Current Events | The Bag of Diamonds

These was a desperate scuffle going on round the corner as Hendon Chartley came by one day, and he would have passed on without seeing it, only that his English blood was stirred at the way in which the odds were all on one side—four boys being engaged in pummelling one who, in spite of the thrashing he was getting, fought on boldly, till, with a couple of sharp cuts of his cane, Hendon settled two of the combatants, when the other two ran away.

“Thankye, sir.”

“You young dog, is it you?” cried Hendon.

“Yes, sir; and I should ha’ licked all on ’em if you hadn’t come.”

“Why, you ungrateful young rascal, be off back and wash your face. Look here: I’ll have you turned away.”

“No, sir; please, sir, don’t, sir. I couldn’t help it, sir, I was obliged to fight, sir; I was indeed, sir. Oh, don’t, sir; you hurts!”

Hendon listened to no remonstrance, but catching the boy by the collar he thrust him back till he reached the door, which he opened with his latch-key, and, bundling the boy in, sent him staggering along the hall as he closed the door, and went on once more.

“Yah! who cares for you?” cried the boy angrily; and then his countenance changed, and he broke into a smile as he found himself face to face with Rich.

“Why, Bob,” she exclaimed, “what is the matter?”

“I couldn’t help it, Miss. Mr Hendon shoved me in like that. I meant to come in by the area.”

“But why did he bring you back like that? Did he know where you had been?”

“Oh, no, Miss! I never tells anybody where I’m going with a note for you; not even Mr Poynter, Miss. Here’s the letter; and Miss Heath said I was to give her love to you, and she hadn’t been because she was so busy.”

Bob drew a letter from his pocket, and as he did so made upon it an ugly mark.

“Why, Bob, your hand’s bleeding!”

“Is it, Miss? Oh, ah! so it is. That ain’t nothink.”

“You are all over mud, too. Have you met with an accident again?”

The boy’s lips parted to say “Yes,” but as he gazed up into the clear searching eyes which looked down so kindly into his, he shook his head.

“No, Miss,” he said boldly.

“Why, Bob, you have not been fighting?”

“I didn’t want to fight, Miss; but what’s a chap to do?”

“Surely not fight when he is sent on an errand,” said Rich severely.

“I didn’t want to fight,” said the boy again: “but I was fighting, and Mr Hendon ketched me.”

“I’m afraid, Bob, I shall be obliged to speak to my father, and have you sent away.”

“No, no! don’t do that, Miss; please don’t. I will be so very useful, and I will do everythink ’Lisbeth tells me. Don’t send a feller away.”

“We cannot keep a boy who behaves so badly,” continued Rich, who was trying to hide being amused and pleased at the boy’s affectionate earnestness.

“Then I won’t fight no more,” said Bob. “But you don’t know what it is, Miss. You don’t know how the fellers tease yer. They’re allers at yer. Soon as yer goes down the street, some one shouts ‘Bottles!’ Jest because I takes out the physic. I should jest like to make some on ’em take it. I’d give ’em a dose.”

“But, Bob, you ought to be too sensible to take any notice about a rude boy calling you names.”

“So I am, Miss,” cried the boy, “ever so much. I never did nothing till they began on the doctor.”

“Began on the doctor?”

“Yes, Miss; saying all sorts o’ things about him. I shouldn’t like to tell you what.”

“And I should not like to hear, Bob,” said Rich gravely, as she went up-stairs; while after waiting till he heard a door close, Bob went cautiously into the surgery, crept to the door of the consulting-room, and listened to find out whether the doctor was there, and finding him absent, the boy went nimbly to the nest of drawers, opened one, and took out a pair of scissors before lifting a tin case from a corner—a case which looked like the holder of a map.

Bob removed the lid, drew out a roll of diachylon, and after cutting off a strip, he replaced the lid and scissors, and descended to the kitchen, where Elizabeth was peeling potatoes, and making the droning noise which she evidently believed to be a song.

“Look ye here!” cried the boy, triumphantly showing his bleeding knuckles.

Elizabeth uttered a faint cry.

“Why, you’ve been fighting!” she cried. “Oh, you bad wicked boy!”

“So are you,” cried Bob tauntingly: “you’d fight if the chaps served you as they did me, and said what they did about the doctor.”

“What did they say?” said the girl, giving her nose a rub as if to make it more plastic.

“You bathe them cuts nistely and put some sticking-plaister on, and I’ll tell you.”

Elizabeth set down the potato basin, wiped her hands, and after filling a tin bowl full of cold water, and fetching a towel, she tenderly bathed the boy’s dirty injured hands.

“Now tell me what they said about the doctor,” she said coaxingly.

“Why, they gets saying things to try and get me took away. My old woman don’t like me stopping.”

“She’s a dreadful old creature,” said Elizabeth angrily, “and I won’t have her here.”

“So’s your old woman a dreadful old creature,” retorted Bob, “and I won’t have her here.”

“My mother’s been dead ten years,” said Elizabeth, battling with an obstinate bit of mud, “and I won’t have you speak to me in that impudent way.”

“Then you leave my poor old woman alone.”

“You let her stop away instead of always coming down them area-steps, and you encouraging her.”

“That I don’t, so come now. She’s my old woman and I’m very fond on her, but I wish she wouldn’t come. She allus comes when I’m busy.”

“And she ought to be very glad you are here.”

“But she ain’t. She says doctors are bad ’uns. And that they do all sorts o’ things as they oughtn’t to. She was in the orspittle once, and she said it was horrid, and if she hadn’t made haste and got well they’d have ’sected her.”

“Lor!” said Elizabeth, drying the boy’s hands with a series of gentle pats of the towel.

“And she says she knows the doctor does them sort o’ things on the sly, and that she shall take me away, and I don’t want to go.”

“Well, that didn’t make you fight, did it?”

“Yes, it did, now. I was going to tell you, on’y you’re in such a hurry, I went to take a letter for Miss Rich this morning, and as I was coming back, I meets mother, and she was asking me if I’d got any—”

“Money?” said Elizabeth promptly.

“Well, s’pose she did? If your mother warn’t dead, and hadn’t any money, p’raps if she met you in the street she’d ask you for money. Then how would you like it if four chaps come and said, ‘Hallo, Bottles, how many dead ’uns have you got in the dust-hole?’”

“Lor! did they say that?” said Elizabeth, squeezing the boy’s hand in the interest she took.

“I say don’t! You hurt. Here, cut up some o’ that dacklum and warm it, and stick it on. Then one on ’em said he looked through the keyhole one day, and saw the doctor sharpening his knife; and that set mother off crying, and she sets down on a doorstep, and goes on till she made me wild; and the more she cried and said she’d take me away the more they danced about, and called me body-snatcher.”

“How awful!” said Elizabeth, holding a strip of diachylon at the end of the scissors to warm at the fire.

“But I got the old woman off at last for twopence, and soon as she’d gone I was coming home, and I met them four again, and they began at me once more.”

“Did they, though?” said Elizabeth.

“Yes, and I pitched into ’em: and so would any one, I say. Why, it’s enough to make the old woman fetch me away. I say, Liz, you don’t want me to go, do you?”

“Indeed, but I do, sir.”

“No, you don’t. I say, Liz, I’m so precious hungry. Got anything to give a fellow?”

“No. You took out two slices of bread and dripping to eat as you went.”

Bob nodded.

“Why you never went and give them to that old woman, did you?”

“Ah, your mother’s been dead ten years,” said Bob sententiously. “S’pose I did give it to her? It was mine, and I wasn’t obliged to eat it, was I? Thankye, that’ll do.”

Bob patted the plaister down on his knuckles, and had reached the kitchen door, when Elizabeth of the smudgy face called him by name, and, with as near an approach to a smile as she could display, showed him a piece of pudding on the cupboard shell.

“And you said you wanted me to go,” said Bob, with his mouth full, after a busy pause; “but I know’d you didn’t mean it. I say, Liz, is that big gent with the rings and chains and shiny hat going to marry Miss Rich?”

“I don’t know,” said Elizabeth, suddenly growing deeply interested. “Why?”

“Because he’s always coming to see the doctor, and whenever I let him in he asks me where Miss Rich is, and gives me something.”


“Yes, and he looks at her so.”

“Do he, now? And what does Miss Rich say?”

“Oh, she only talks to him about its being fine or rainy, and as if she didn’t want to stop in the room.”

“Then she is,” said Elizabeth triumphantly.

“Is? Is what?”

“Going to marry him. That’s the proper way to a lady to behave.”

“Oh!” said Bob shortly, and a curious frown came over his countenance. “I don’t like him, somehow. I wish one didn’t want money quite so bad.”

Bob went up-stairs, and the place being empty he shut himself up in the surgery, to indulge in a morbid taste for trying flavour or odour of everything in the place, and fortunately so far without fatal or even dangerous results.

After a time he had a fit, and prescribed for himself Syrup Aurantii—so much in cold water, leaving himself in imagination in the chair while he mixed the medicine, and going back to the chair to take it. After recovering from his imaginary fit, he spelled over a number of the Lancet, dwelling long over in account of an operation of a novel kind; and ending by standing upon a chair and carefully noting the contents of the doctor’s glass jars of preparations, which he turned round and round till he was tired, and came down, to finish the morning by helping himself to about a teaspoonful of chlorate of potassium, which he placed in his trousers-pocket, not from any intention of taking it to purify his blood, but to drop in pinches in the kitchen fire and startle Elizabeth.

“Teach her not to say things agen my old woman,” said Bob. “Just as if she can help being old!”