Jo's Will

As Allan Woodcourt and Jo proceed along the streets, where the high church spires and the distances are so near and clear in the morning light that the city itself seems renewed by rest, Allan revolves in his mind how and where he shall bestow his companion. “It surely is a strange fact,” he considers, “that in the heart of a civilised world this creature in human form should be more difficult to dispose of than an unowned dog.” But it is none the less a fact because of its strangeness, and the difficulty remains.

At first, he looks behind him often, to assure himself that Jo is still really following. But, look where he will, he still beholds him close to the opposite houses, making his way with his wary hand from brick to brick and from door to door, and often, as he creeps along, glancing over at him, watchfully. Soon satisfied that the last thing in his thoughts is to give him the slip, Allan goes on; considering with a less divided attention what he shall do.

A breakfast-stall at a street corner suggests the first thing to be done. He stops there, looks round, and beckons Jo. Jo crosses, and comes halting and shuffling up, slowly scooping the knuckles of his right hand round and round in the hollowed palm of his left — kneading dirt with a natural pestle and mortar. What is a dainty repast to Jo is then set before him, and he begins to gulp the coffee, and to gnaw the bread and butter; looking anxiously about him in all directions as he eats and drinks, like a scared animal.

But he is so sick and miserable, that even hunger has abandoned him. “I thought I was amost a starvin, sir,” says Jo, soon putting down his food; “but I don’t know nothink — not even that. I don’t care for eating wittles nor yet for drinking on em.” And Jo stands shivering, and looking at the breakfast wonderingly.

Allan Woodcourt lays his hand upon his pulse, and on his chest. “Draw breath, Jo!” “It draws,” says Jo, “as heavy as a cart.” He might add, “and rattles like it,” but he only mutters, “I’m a moving on, sir.”

Allan looks about for an apothecary’s shop. There is none at hand, but a tavern does as well or better. He obtains a little measure of wine, and gives the lad a portion of it very carefully. He begins to revive, almost as soon as it passes his lips. “We may repeat that dose, Jo,” observes Allan, after watching him with his attentive face. “So! Now we will take five minutes rest, and then go on again.”

Leaving the boy sitting on the bench of the breakfast-stall, with his back against an iron railing, Allan Woodcourt paces up and down in the early sunshine, casting an occasional look towards him without appearing to watch him. It requires no discernment to perceive that he is warmed and refreshed. If a face so shaded can brighten, his face brightens somewhat; and, by little and little, he eats the slice of bread he had so hopelessly laid down. Observant of these signs of improvement, Allan engages him in conversation; and elicits to his no small wonder the adventure of the lady in the veil, with all its consequences. Jo slowly munches, as he slowly tells it. When he has finished his story and his bread, they go on again.

Intending to refer his difficulty in finding a temporary place of refuge for the boy, to his old patient, zealous little Miss Flite, Allan leads the way to the court where he and Jo first foregathered. But all is changed at the rag-and-bottle shop; Miss Flite no longer lodges there; it is shut up; and a hard-featured female, much obscured by dust, whose age is a problem — but who is indeed no other than the interesting Judy — is tart and spare in her replies. These sufficing, however, to inform the visitor that Miss Flite and her birds are domiciled with a Mrs Blinder, in Bell Yard, he repairs to that neighbouring place; where Miss Flite (who rises early that she may be punctual at the divan of justice held by her excellent friend the Chancellor) comes running down-stairs, with tears of welcome and with open arms.

“My dear physician!” cries Miss Flite. “My meritorious, distinguished, honourable officer!” She uses some odd expressions, but is as cordial and full of heart as sanity itself can be — more so than it often is. Allan, very patient with her, waits until she has no more raptures to express; then points out Jo, trembling in a door-way, and tells her how he comes there.

“Where can I lodge him hereabouts for the present? Now you have a fund of knowledge and good sense, and can advise me.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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