AS the disappearing skirts of the ladies ascended the Veneering staircase, Mortimer, following them forth from the dining-room, turned into a library of bran-new books, in bran-new bindings liberally gilded, and requested to see the messenger who had brought the paper. He was a boy of about fifteen. Mortimer looked at the boy, and the boy looked at the bran-new pilgrims on the wall, going to Canterbury in more gold frame than procession, and more carving than country.
Whose writing is this?
Who told you to write it?
My father, Jesse Hexam.
Is it he who found the body?
What is your father?
The boy hesitated, looked reproachfully at the pilgrims as if they had involved him in a little difficulty, then said, folding a plait in the right leg of his trousers, He gets his living along-shore.
Is it far?
Is which far? asked the boy, upon his guard, and again upon the road to Canterbury.
To your fathers?
Its a goodish stretch, sir. I come up in a cab, and the cabs waiting to be paid. We could go back in it before you paid it, if you liked. I went first to your office, according to the direction of the papers found in the pockets, and there I see nobody but a chap of about my age who sent me on here.
There was a curious mixture in the boy, of uncompleted savagery, and uncompleted civilization. His voice was hoarse and coarse, and his face was coarse, and his stunted figure was coarse; but he was cleaner than other boys of his type; and his writing, though large and round, was good; and he glanced at the backs of the books, with an awakened curiosity that went below the binding. No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.
Were any means taken, do you know, boy, to ascertain if it was possible to restore life? Mortimer inquired, as he sought for his hat.
You wouldnt ask, sir, if you knew his state. Pharaohs multitude that were drowned in the Red Sea, aint more beyond restoring to life. If Lazarus was only half as far gone, that was the greatest of all the miracles.
Halloa! cried Mortimer, turning round with his hat upon his head, you seem to be at home in the Red Sea, my young friend?
Read of it with teacher at the school, said the boy.
Yes, and him too. But dont you tell my father! We should have no peace in our place, if that got touched upon. Its my sisters contriving.
You seem to have a good sister.
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