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HOME > Classical Novels > The Admirable Tinker > CHAPTER TWO THE FINDING OF TINKER
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 Sir Tancred went to the writing-table, sat down, and began to write. He wrote slowly, pausing to think, and made many erasures.  
"I think the advertisement will make my stepmother squirm. It'll make the County talk," he said thoughtfully.
"It seems to me you can't help giving the show away," said Lord Crosland.
There came a knock at the door, and a waiter came in: "Please, Sir Tancred, there's a lady, leastways a person, wanting to see you."
"To see me?" said Sir Tancred with some surprise. "Who can it be? Show her up?"
He went on with his writing, and presently the waiter ushered1 in a tall, gaunt woman, with a rugged2, hard-featured face, dressed in the rustiest3 black, and carrying a brown-paper parcel.
Sir Tancred turned round in his chair, and she said very nervously4, "Good-morning, sir."
"Good-morning," said Sir Tancred; then he sprang up and cried, "Why—why—it's Selina Goodyear!"
"Yes, sir, it's me. I was afraid you wouldn't remember me after all this time. And—and—it's a liberty I'm taking, coming to see you like this," she went on with a voluble, nervous eagerness, twisting her hands. "But not getting any answer to my letters, I went down to Beauleigh Court yesterday on the chance of getting a word with you; for I knew you'd be bound to be there, seeing as it was your coming of age. But I didn't get a chance, and came back to London by the last train, not knowing as you was in it, till I came out of Victoria, and saw you getting into a cab and heard you tell the cabman to drive here. And I made up my mind to come and see you here, though I know it's a liberty I'm taking. But I can't help it,"—and her voice suddenly grew fierce,—"it's about the boy."
"The boy! My boy!" cried Sir Tancred.
"Yes, sir. You see I was his nurse from the first. Poor Miss Pamela—I mean Lady Beauleigh, sir—gave him to me to take care of before she died—leastways, she didn't give him to me, she was too weak, poor dear; but she told me to take care of him, as I wrote to you, sir."
"As you wrote? Yes; go on."
"And I did take care of him till Mr. Vane died. And oh, he was such a dear baby! Then, when the young lawyer came with Mrs. Bostock and told me as how you had arranged for her to have charge of him, and I had to give him over to her, it nearly broke my heart. But it isn't about myself I came to talk, but about him. I know it's troubling you, sir—and a gentleman has his pleasures, and they take up his time. But, after all, he's your own son, sir, and if you'd only come and see him for yourself, you wouldn't let him be treated like he is——"
"You know where he is!" Sir Tancred almost shouted.
"Why, of course, sir. I told you in my letters. He's living with them Bostocks, out Catford way."
"You must take me to him at once!" cried Sir Tancred; and he rushed into his bedroom, and came out with a hat and stick.
"Look here, old chap," said Lord Crosland. "I'm going to clear out for a few days. You'd like the kid to yourself at first. Then I'll come back and share the rooms if you like."
"Oh, no; it'll be all right," said Sir Tancred, and he hurried Selina from the room to the lift, from the lift to a cab.
They were no sooner settled in it, and the driver was getting quickly through the traffic under the stimulus5 of a promise of treble his fare, than Sir Tancred turned to Selina, and said quickly: "What do you mean by saying that I would not let the child be treated as he is? How's he treated?"
"I mean that he's starved and beaten, that's what I mean, sir," said Selina. "Just what I said in my letters."
"But I was told he was in the hands of respectable people."
"Respectable!" exclaimed Selina: "but I told you in my letters all about them, sir."
"When did you write to me?" said Sir Tancred.
"First when Miss Pamela died; and then when Mr. Vane died,"—Sir Tancred saw how his stepmother had obtained the information which enabled her to get possession of the child,—"and three times since October."
"Since October!" cried Sir Tancred; he had never dreamed that the suppression of his letters had continued after his recovery.
"I only found the boy in October," said Selina.
"Look here," said Sir Tancred, "you'd better tell me the whole story from the beginning. I didn't get your letters."
"You didn't get them?" said Selina, and her face cleared. "I thought you couldn't have, sir. I knew you wasn't the one to take no notice of them. Well, it was like this, sir. When Mrs. Bostock took the boy away, I began to worry and worry about him; I kind of pined for him. Then I thought if I could see him sometimes, I should feel better; and I never liked the looks of Mrs. Bostock. She looked like a drinker; though all the time she was in Jersey6 with the lawyer she kept sober enough. I had got another place in St. Hellers, but I couldn't stand worrying about him, and wondering if he was well treated. And I didn't like the way she wouldn't tell me where she lived. I had my savings7, too; so I gave up my place, and came to London to look for her. I knew she lived in South London from something she let drop; and I took a room in Lambeth and looked for her in neighbourhoods which would be likely for her to live in. But it's a large place, sir, and I was months and months doing it, moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. I used to trapse and trapse about all day, and at night I used to go into Publics, the saloon bars as well as the common bars, for I didn't know which class she really belonged to. I went into hundreds of Publics, but I never set eyes on her. Then, last October, when I'd nearly come to the end of my savings, I saw her going into a Public at New Cross. I couldn't believe it; it seemed too good to be true. I thought I must have made a mistake; I daren't go in, for fear she should know me; and I thought she never would come out. When she did come out, and I saw it was really 'er, I nearly fainted right away; but I follered 'er, and she went from Public to Public with two shops in between, and it was nearly ten o'clock when she took the tram, and past eleven when she got to her cottage at Catford, for she stopped at two more Publics. But I walked about all night, for I wasn't going to take no chances; and next morning I found, sure enough, that the child was there. But he was that changed, and he didn't know me." Her harsh voice sank to the mournfullest tone; and she paused.
Sir Tancred said nothing, he could say nothing; he was amazed and profoundly touched by the persistence8 of this passionate9, single-eyed devotion in this hard-featured, harsh-voiced, rugged creature.
"Well, sir," Selina went on, "I moved to Eltham, and took a room. I soon found out what sort the Bostocks were. Every Saturday they drew two pounds for the keep of the child; and they were hardly ever sober till Thursday. And they starved the child, sir; and sometimes they beat him. Now and then, when they were drunk, I've got food, good food to him. But not often, for he was their livelihood10, and however drunk they was, they kept an eye on him; mostly he's locked up in a bedroom. I wrote to you, sir, three times, and waited and waited for answers till I was sick at heart; and things was getting worse and worse. I couldn't have stood it any longer; I was just going to steal him and carry him off somewhere where I could look after him without no one interfering11. But I thought I'd see you, and tell you about it first. And now, sir, if you'd let me have charge of him"—her eyes fairly blazed with eagerness—"I'd look after him properly—I would, indeed. And I shouldn't want no two pounds a week—why, five shillings, five shillings would be ample, sir. I'm a capable woman, and I can get as much charring as ever I can do."
"Of course, you shall have charge of him," said Sir Tancred. "You seem to be the only person in the world who has any right to have charge of him."
"Oh, thank you, sir!" said Selina in a husky voice; and she dabbed12 at her eyes.
"It's not for you to thank me; it's for me to thank you," said Sir Tancred.
"Oh, no, sir!" said Selina quickly. "I know what gentlemen are. I've been in service in good houses. They have their sport and their pleasures; and they can't attend to things like this."
"I've been looking for him for six months—ever since I knew that I had a child," said Sir Tancred in a very bitter voice.
"Have you now, sir?" said Selina. "Ah, if I'd only known, and come to you!"
Her story had tided them over the greater part of their journey; and for the rest of it they were silent, Sir Tancred immersed in a bitter reverie, Selina sitting with a hand on each knee, bent13 forward, with shining eyes, breathing quickly.
Towards the end of their journey she had to direct the cabman; and past the last long row or little red-brick villas14, in a waste from which the agriculturalist had retired15 in favour of the jerry-builder, they came to the goal, three dirty, tumble-down cottages. The cab stopped at the third cottage; Selina sat back in the seat and pulled down her veil, in case Mrs. Bostock should recognise her; Sir Tancred got down and knocked at the door. A long-drawn snore was the only answer. He hammered on the door with his cane16 till he heard the grating of a chair on a brick floor; the door opened, and a blowsy, red-faced woman peered at him with blinking eyes.
"You have a little boy here in your charge. I've come for him," said Sir Tancred.
The woman only blinked at him stupidly.
"I've come for the little boy," said Sir Tancred loudly.
A look of drunken cunning stole into the woman's muddled17 face. She said thickly, "There ain't no lil boy 'ere," and tried to shut the door.
Sir Tancred thrust it open with a vigour18 which sent her staggering into a chair, and stepped into the squalid, reeking19 room. Hunched20 up in a chair, opposite the woman, sat a snoring man.
"Come!" said Sir Tancred. "I want no nonsense! Where's the child?"
A dull, muddled rage gathered in the woman's eyes; she made an effort to rise on quite irresponsive legs. "Halbut!" she howled. "Halbut, wake up! Here's a thief an' a burglar trying to steal the brat21!"
The man grunted22, and jerked out of his sleep with the mystic word, "Washishish?"
"It'sh burglarsh, Halbut!" cried the woman, who seemed suddenly to see two or more Sir Tancreds. "They're shtealing bratsh! Bash 'em!"
Halbut jerked onto his feet, and stood lurching:
"Englishmansh oush ish ish cashle," he said, with a ferocity which petered out in an idiotic23 grin.
"Thash it! Bash 'em!" cried the woman.
Halbut advanced in a circular movement on Sir Tancred, with his fists up; "Englishmansh oush ish ish cashle," he said firmly.
Sir Tancred lunged smartly at his chest with his cane; and he tumbled down with his face to the wall.
"Englishmansh oush ish ish cashle," he said drowsily24 to the wainscot, and was still.
Sir Tancred took the woman gingerly by the shoulder, and gave her a shake. "Where's the child?" he said.
Apparently25 he had shaken the fumes26 up and the intelligence down, for her only answer was a burst of sibilant incoherence.
With an exclamation27 of impatient disgust he loosed her, and went into the back room. It was empty. He went up the rickety stairs, and, as he had expected, found the door of the bedroom locked. He kicked it open and went into the frowsy room. The child was not in it. He came downstairs and opened the back door. As he did so, he heard a scuttling28 rustle29. The garden was empty, but the rustle he had heard set him exploring the dirty, rag-covered hedge with keen eyes. He saw nothing, and walked down the garden, stooping and peering into the bottom of the hedge. Half-way down it his eyes fell on two little black feet, just sticking out; and above them two frightened eyes stared through the twigs30.
Sir Tancred put his hands in among them gently, and drew out a tiny child; his peaked little face was black, his thin little arms and legs were black, he was clothed in filthy31 rags; and his yellowish hair was a tangled32 mat. The child struggled like a very feeble little wild beast, clawing and scratching, but silent with a terrible silence which showed how he had learned to dread33 drawing attention to himself.
"Quiet! quiet! I'm not going to hurt you," said Sir Tancred in a gentle voice, a little husky with a piercing emotion which had invaded him; and something in its tones really did quiet the child, for he struggled no more, though his breath came in a quick, faint, terrified panting.
Sir Tancred took him through the house, and felt a quivering throb34 run through him at the sight of the brutes35 who had fallen back into their drunken slumbers36. He brought him out to the cab, and said hoarsely37 to Selina, "Is this the child?"
"That's him, sir! That's him!" said Selina, holding out her hands for him; and the tears of joy trickled38 down her rugged cheeks.
Sir Tancred gave him to her, bade the cab-man drive to the Hotel Cecil, and got into the cab.
Selina had untied39 the brown-paper parcel, and was putting a little coat on the child. "I took the liberty of getting it to bring him away, in case you should let me have charge of him," she said.
The child still panted, but most of the terror had faded from his eyes; he had recognised his friend. Sir Tancred looked at him hungrily; his soul, so long starved, was feasting on the sight of that atom of humanity, so grimy, so shocking to the eye, but his own child.
"They call you Hildebrand Anne, do they?" he said with a broken, joyful40 laugh. "Tinker's the name for you!"

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