BOOK THE FIRST: THE CUP AND THE LIP
Chapter 3: Another Man
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 father's?'
'It's a goodish stretch, sir. I come up in a cab, and the cab's
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.