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Chapter 46

  • When Barnaby returned with the bread, the sight of the pious old pilgri_moking his pipe and making himself so thoroughly at home, appeared t_urprise even him; the more so, as that worthy person, instead of putting u_he loaf in his wallet as a scarce and precious article, tossed it carelessl_n the table, and producing his bottle, bade him sit down and drink.
  • ‘For I carry some comfort, you see,’ he said. ‘Taste that. Is it good?’
  • The water stood in Barnaby’s eyes as he coughed from the strength of th_raught, and answered in the affirmative.
  • ‘Drink some more,’ said the blind man; ‘don’t be afraid of it. You don’t tast_nything like that, often, eh?’
  • ‘Often!’ cried Barnaby. ‘Never!’
  • ‘Too poor?’ returned the blind man with a sigh. ‘Ay. That’s bad. Your mother, poor soul, would be happier if she was richer, Barnaby.’
  • ‘Why, so I tell her—the very thing I told her just before you came to-night, when all that gold was in the sky,’ said Barnaby, drawing his chair nearer t_im, and looking eagerly in his face. ‘Tell me. Is there any way of bein_ich, that I could find out?’
  • ‘Any way! A hundred ways.’
  • ‘Ay, ay?’ he returned. ‘Do you say so? What are they?—Nay, mother, it’s fo_our sake I ask; not mine;—for yours, indeed. What are they?’
  • The blind man turned his face, on which there was a smile of triumph, to wher_he widow stood in great distress; and answered,
  • ‘Why, they are not to be found out by stay-at-homes, my good friend.’
  • ‘By stay-at-homes!’ cried Barnaby, plucking at his sleeve. ‘But I am not one.
  • Now, there you mistake. I am often out before the sun, and travel home when h_as gone to rest. I am away in the woods before the day has reached the shad_laces, and am often there when the bright moon is peeping through the boughs, and looking down upon the other moon that lives in the water. As I walk along, I try to find, among the grass and moss, some of that small money for whic_he works so hard and used to shed so many tears. As I lie asleep in th_hade, I dream of it—dream of digging it up in heaps; and spying it out, hidden under bushes; and seeing it sparkle, as the dew-drops do, among th_eaves. But I never find it. Tell me where it is. I’d go there, if the journe_ere a whole year long, because I know she would be happier when I came hom_nd brought some with me. Speak again. I’ll listen to you if you talk al_ight.’
  • The blind man passed his hand lightly over the poor fellow’s face, and findin_hat his elbows were planted on the table, that his chin rested on his tw_ands, that he leaned eagerly forward, and that his whole manner expressed th_tmost interest and anxiety, paused for a minute as though he desired th_idow to observe this fully, and then made answer:
  • ‘It’s in the world, bold Barnaby, the merry world; not in solitary places lik_hose you pass your time in, but in crowds, and where there’s noise an_attle.’
  • ‘Good! good!’ cried Barnaby, rubbing his hands. ‘Yes! I love that. Grip love_t too. It suits us both. That’s brave!’
  • ‘—The kind of places,’ said the blind man, ‘that a young fellow likes, and i_hich a good son may do more for his mother, and himself to boot, in a month, than he could here in all his life— that is, if he had a friend, you know, an_ome one to advise with.’
  • ‘You hear this, mother?’ cried Barnaby, turning to her with delight. ‘Neve_ell me we shouldn’t heed it, if it lay shining at out feet. Why do we heed i_o much now? Why do you toil from morning until night?’
  • ‘Surely,’ said the blind man, ‘surely. Have you no answer, widow? Is you_ind,’ he slowly added, ‘not made up yet?’
  • ‘Let me speak with you,’ she answered, ‘apart.’
  • ‘Lay your hand upon my sleeve,’ said Stagg, arising from the table; ‘and lea_e where you will. Courage, bold Barnaby. We’ll talk more of this: I’ve _ancy for you. Wait there till I come back. Now, widow.’
  • She led him out at the door, and into the little garden, where they stopped.
  • ‘You are a fit agent,’ she said, in a half breathless manner, ‘and wel_epresent the man who sent you here.’
  • ‘I’ll tell him that you said so,’ Stagg retorted. ‘He has a regard for you, and will respect me the more (if possible) for your praise. We must have ou_ights, widow.’
  • ‘Rights! Do you know,’ she said, ‘that a word from me—’
  • ‘Why do you stop?’ returned the blind man calmly, after a long pause. ‘Do _now that a word from you would place my friend in the last position of th_ance of life? Yes, I do. What of that? It will never be spoken, widow.’
  • ‘You are sure of that?’
  • ‘Quite—so sure, that I don’t come here to discuss the question. I say we mus_ave our rights, or we must be bought off. Keep to that point, or let m_eturn to my young friend, for I have an interest in the lad, and desire t_ut him in the way of making his fortune. Bah! you needn’t speak,’ he adde_astily; ‘I know what you would say: you have hinted at it once already. Hav_ no feeling for you, because I am blind? No, I have not. Why do you expec_e, being in darkness, to be better than men who have their sight—why shoul_ou? Is the hand of Heaven more manifest in my having no eyes, than in you_aving two? It’s the cant of you folks to be horrified if a blind man robs, o_ies, or steals; oh yes, it’s far worse in him, who can barely live on the fe_alfpence that are thrown to him in streets, than in you, who can see, an_ork, and are not dependent on the mercies of the world. A curse on you! Yo_ho have five senses may be wicked at your pleasure; we who have four, an_ant the most important, are to live and be moral on our affliction. The tru_harity and justice of rich to poor, all the world over!’
  • He paused a moment when he had said these words, and caught the sound o_oney, jingling in her hand.
  • ‘Well?’ he cried, quickly resuming his former manner. ‘That should lead t_omething. The point, widow?’
  • ‘First answer me one question,’ she replied. ‘You say he is close at hand. Ha_e left London?’
  • ‘Being close at hand, widow, it would seem he has,’ returned the blind man.
  • ‘I mean, for good? You know that.’
  • ‘Yes, for good. The truth is, widow, that his making a longer stay there migh_ave had disagreeable consequences. He has come away for that reason.’
  • ‘Listen,’ said the widow, telling some money out, upon a bench beside them.
  • ‘Count.’
  • ‘Six,’ said the blind man, listening attentively. ‘Any more?’
  • ‘They are the savings,’ she answered, ‘of five years. Six guineas.’
  • He put out his hand for one of the coins; felt it carefully, put it betwee_is teeth, rung it on the bench; and nodded to her to proceed.
  • ‘These have been scraped together and laid by, lest sickness or death shoul_eparate my son and me. They have been purchased at the price of much hunger, hard labour, and want of rest. If you can take them—do—on condition that yo_eave this place upon the instant, and enter no more into that room, where h_its now, expecting your return.’
  • ‘Six guineas,’ said the blind man, shaking his head, ‘though of the fulles_eight that were ever coined, fall very far short of twenty pounds, widow.’
  • ‘For such a sum, as you know, I must write to a distant part of the country.
  • To do that, and receive an answer, I must have time.’
  • ‘Two days?’ said Stagg.
  • ‘More.’
  • ‘Four days?’
  • ‘A week. Return on this day week, at the same hour, but not to the house. Wai_t the corner of the lane.’
  • ‘Of course,’ said the blind man, with a crafty look, ‘I shall find you there?’
  • ‘Where else can I take refuge? Is it not enough that you have made a beggar o_e, and that I have sacrificed my whole store, so hardly earned, to preserv_his home?’
  • ‘Humph!’ said the blind man, after some consideration. ‘Set me with my fac_owards the point you speak of, and in the middle of the road. Is this th_pot?’
  • ‘It is.’
  • ‘On this day week at sunset. And think of him within doors.—For the present, good night.’
  • She made him no answer, nor did he stop for any. He went slowly away, turnin_is head from time to time, and stopping to listen, as if he were curious t_now whether he was watched by any one. The shadows of night were closing fas_round, and he was soon lost in the gloom. It was not, however, until she ha_raversed the lane from end to end, and made sure that he was gone, that sh_e- entered the cottage, and hurriedly barred the door and window.
  • ‘Mother!’ said Barnaby. ‘What is the matter? Where is the blind man?’
  • ‘He is gone.’
  • ‘Gone!’ he cried, starting up. ‘I must have more talk with him. Which way di_e take?’
  • ‘I don’t know,’ she answered, folding her arms about him. ‘You must not go ou_o-night. There are ghosts and dreams abroad.’
  • ‘Ay?’ said Barnaby, in a frightened whisper.
  • ‘It is not safe to stir. We must leave this place to-morrow.’
  • ‘This place! This cottage—and the little garden, mother!’
  • ‘Yes! To-morrow morning at sunrise. We must travel to London; lose ourselve_n that wide place—there would be some trace of us in any other town—the_ravel on again, and find some new abode.’
  • Little persuasion was required to reconcile Barnaby to anything that promise_hange. In another minute, he was wild with delight; in another, full of grie_t the prospect of parting with his friends the dogs; in another, wild again; then he was fearful of what she had said to prevent his wandering abroad tha_ight, and full of terrors and strange questions. His light-heartedness in th_nd surmounted all his other feelings, and lying down in his clothes to th_nd that he might be ready on the morrow, he soon fell fast asleep before th_oor turf fire.
  • His mother did not close her eyes, but sat beside him, watching. Every breat_f wind sounded in her ears like that dreaded footstep at the door, or lik_hat hand upon the latch, and made the calm summer night, a night of horror.
  • At length the welcome day appeared. When she had made the little preparation_hich were needful for their journey, and had prayed upon her knees with man_ears, she roused Barnaby, who jumped up gaily at her summons.
  • His clothes were few enough, and to carry Grip was a labour of love. As th_un shed his earliest beams upon the earth, they closed the door of thei_eserted home, and turned away. The sky was blue and bright. The air was fres_nd filled with a thousand perfumes. Barnaby looked upward, and laughed wit_ll his heart.
  • But it was a day he usually devoted to a long ramble, and one of the dogs—th_gliest of them all—came bounding up, and jumping round him in the fulness o_is joy. He had to bid him go back in a surly tone, and his heart smote hi_hile he did so. The dog retreated; turned with a half-incredulous, half- imploring look; came a little back; and stopped.
  • It was the last appeal of an old companion and a faithful ake refuge? Is i_ot enough that you have made a beggar of me, and that I have sacrificed m_hole store, so hardly earned, to preserve this home?’
  • ‘Humph!’ said the blind man, after some consideration. ‘Set me with my fac_owards the point you speak of, and in the middle of the road. Is this th_pot?’
  • ‘It is.’
  • ‘On this day week at sunset. And think of him within doors.—For the present, good night.’
  • She made him no answer, nor did he stop for any. He went slowly away, turnin_is head from time to time, and stopping to listen, as if he were curious t_now whether he was watched by any one. The shadows of night were closing fas_round, and he was soon lost in the gloom. It was not, however, until she ha_raversed the lane from end to end, and made sure that he was gone, that sh_e- entered the cottage, and hurriedly barred the door and window.
  • ‘Mother!’ said Barnaby. ‘What is the matter? Where is the blind man?’
  • ‘He is gone.’
  • ‘Gone!’ he cried, starting up. ‘I must have more talk with him. Which way di_e take?’
  • ‘I don’t know,’ she answered, folding her arms about him. ‘You must not go ou_o-night. There are ghosts and dreams abroad.’
  • ‘Ay?’ said Barnaby, in a frightened whisper.
  • ‘It is not safe to stir.