Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 16 Begins with Juvenile Flirtation, and Ends with Canine Cremation.

  • The disreputable nature of the wind which blows good to nobody has been s_requently referred to and commented on by writers in general that it merit_nly passing notice here. The particular breeze which fanned the flames tha_onsumed the property that belonged to Miss Lillycrop, and drove that lady t_ charming retreat in the country thereby rescuing her from a trying existenc_n town, also blew small Peter Pax in the same direction.
  • “Boy,” said Miss Stivergill in stern tones, on the occasion of her first visi_o the hospital in which Pax was laid up for a short time after his adventure, “you’re a good boy. I like you. The first of your sex I ever said that to.”
  • “Thank you, ma’am. I hope I shan’t be the last,” returned Pax languidly, fo_e was still weak from the effects of the partial roasting and suffocation h_ad undergone.
  • “Miss Lillycrop desired me to come and see you,” resumed Miss Stivergill. “Sh_as told me how bravely you tried to rescue poor little Bones, who—”
  • “Not much hurt, I hope?” asked the boy eagerly.
  • “No, very little—scarcely at all, I’m glad to say. Those inexplicabl_reatures called firemen, who seem to me what you may call fire-fiends of _ood-natured and recklessly hilarious type, say that her having fallen dow_ith her nose close to the ground, where there is usually a free current o_ir, saved her. At all events she _is_ saved, and quite well.”
  • “I hope I didn’t haul much of the hair out of her poor head?” said Pax.
  • “Apparently not, if one may judge from the very large quantity that remains,” replied his visitor.
  • “You see, ma’am, in neck-or-nothin’ scrimmages o’ that sort,” continued Pax, in the off-hand tone of one much experienced in such scrimmages, “one can’_ell stop to pick and choose; besides, I couldn’t see well, d’ee see? an’ he_air came first to hand, you know, an’ was convenient. It’s well for both o_s, however, that that six foot odd o’ magnificence came to the rescue i_ime. I like ’im, I do, an’ shall owe ’im a good turn for savin’ littl_ones.—What was her other name, did you say, ma’am?”
  • “I didn’t mention any other name, but I believe it is Tottie.—Now, littl_eter, when the doctor gives you leave to be moved, you are to come to me t_ecruit your health in the country.”
  • “Thank you, ma’am. You’re too good,” said Pax, becoming languid again. “Pra_ive my best respects to Tottie and Miss Lillycrop.”
  • “So small, and so pretty, and such a wise little thing,” murmured Mis_tivergill, unaware, apparently, that she soliloquised aloud.
  • “So big, and so ugly, and such a good-hearted stoopid old thing!” murmure_ax; but it is only just to add that he was too polite to allow the murmur t_e heard.
  • “Good-bye, little Peter, till we meet again,” said Miss Stivergill, turnin_way abruptly.
  • “Farewell, ma’am,” said Pax, “farewell; and if for ever—”
  • He stopped, because his visitor was gone.
  • According to this arrangement, Pax found himself, not many days after, revelling in the enjoyment of what he styled “tooral-ooral” felicity—amon_ows and hay, sunshine and milk, buttercups and cream, green meadows and blu_kies,—free as a butterfly from telegraphic messagery and other postal cares.
  • He was allowed to ramble about at will, and, as little Bones was supposed t_e slightly invalided by her late semi-suffocation, she was frequently allowe_y her indulgent mistress to accompany him.
  • Seated on a stile one day, Pax drew Tottie out as to her early life, an_fterwards gave an account of his own in exchange.
  • “How strange,” said Tottie, “that you and I should both have had bybies t_uss w’en we was young, ain’t it?”
  • “It is, Tot—very remarkable. And we’ve had a sad fate, both of us, in havin’ bin wrenched from our babbies. But the wrench couldn’t have bin so bad in you_ase as in mine, of course, for your babby was nobody to you, whereas mine wa_ full cousin, an’ such a dear one too. Oh, Tot, you’ve no notion wha_plendid games we used to have, an’ such c’lections of things I used to mak_or ’er! Of course she was too young to understand it, you know, for she coul_either walk nor speak, and I don’t think could understand, though she crowe_ometimes as if she did. My! how she crowed!—But what’s the matter, Tot?”
  • Tottie was pouting.
  • “I don’t like your bybie at all—not one bit,” she said emphatically.
  • “Not like my babby!” exclaimed Pax.
  • “No, I don’t, ’cause it isn’t ’alf so good as mine.”
  • “Well,” returned Pax, with a smile, “I was took from mine. I didn’t forsake i_ike you.”
  • “I _didn’t_ forsake it,” cried Tottie, with flashing eyes, and shaking he_hick curls indignantly—which latter, by the way, since her coming under th_tern influence of Miss Stivergill, had been disentangled, and hung about he_ike a golden glory.—“I left it to go to service, and mother takes care of i_ill I return home. I won’t speak to you any more. I hate _your_ bybie, and _adore_ mine!”
  • So saying, little Bones jumped up and ran away. Small Pax made no attempt t_top her or to follow. He was too much taken aback by the sudden burst o_assion to be able for more than a prolonged whistle, followed by a still mor_rolonged stare. Thereafter he sauntered away slowly, ruminating, perhaps, o_he fickle character of woman, even in her undeveloped stages.
  • Tottie climbed hastily over a stile and turned into a green lane, where sh_eant to give full vent to her feelings in a satisfactory cry, when she wa_et face to face by Mr Abel Bones.
  • “Why, father!” she exclaimed, running to her sire with a look of joyfu_urprise, for occasional bad treatment had failed to dry up the bottomles_ell of love in her little heart.
  • “Hush! Tottie; there—take my hand, an’ don’t kick up such a row. You needn’_ook so scared at seein’ me here. I’m fond o’ the country, you know, an’ I’v_ome out to ’ave a little walk and a little talk with you.—Who was that yo_as talkin’ with just now?”
  • Tottie told him.
  • “Stoppin’ here, I s’pose?”
  • “Yes. He’s bin here for some time, but goes away soon—now that he’s better. I_as him as saved my life—at least him and Mr Aspel, you know.”
  • “No, I don’t know, Tot. Let’s hear all about it,” replied Mr Bones, with _ook of unwonted gravity.
  • Tottie went off at once into a glowing account of the fire and the rescue, t_hich her father listened with profound attention, not unmingled wit_urprise. Then he reverted to the aspect of the surrounding country.
  • “It’s a pretty place you live in here, Tot, an’ a nice house. It’s there th_ady lives, I suppose who has the strange fancy to keep her wealth in a box o_he sideboard? Well, it _is_ curious, but there’s no accountin’ for th_ancies o’ the rich, Tot. An’ you say she keeps no men-servants about her?
  • Well, that’s wise, for men are dangerous characters for women to ’ave about ’em. She’s quite right. There’s a dear little dog too, she keeps, I’m told. I_hat the only one she owns?”
  • “Yes, it’s the only one, and such a darlin’ it is, and _so_ fond of me!” exclaimed Tottie.
  • “Ah, yes, wery small, but wery noisy an’ vicious,” remarked Mr Bones, with _udden scowl, which fortunately his daughter did not see.
  • “O no, father; little Floppart ain’t vicious, though it _is_ awful noisy w’e_t chooses.”
  • “Well, Tot, I’d give a good deal to see that dear little Floppart, and mak_riends with it. D’you think you could manage to get it to follow you here?”
  • “Oh, easily. I’ll run an’ fetch it; but p’r’aps you had better come to th_ouse. I know they’d like to see you, for they’re _so_ kind to me.”
  • Mr Bones laughed sarcastically, and expressed his belief that they wouldn’_ike to see him at all.
  • Just at that moment Miss Stivergill came round the turn of the lane an_onfronted them.
  • “Well, little Bones, whom have you here?” asked the lady, with a stern look a_r Bones.
  • “Please, ma’am, it’s father. He ’appened to be in this neighbourhood, and cam_o see me.”
  • “Your father!” exclaimed Miss Stivergill, with a look of surprise. “Indeed!”
  • “Yes, ma’am,” said Bones, politely taking off his hat and looking her cooll_n the face. “I ’ope it’s no offence, but I came a bit out o’ my way to see ’er. She says you’ve bin’ wery kind to her.”
  • “Well, she says the truth. I mean to be kind to her,” returned Mis_tivergill, as sternly as before.—“Take your father to the cottage, child, an_ell them to give him a glass of beer. If you see Miss Lillycrop, tell he_’ve gone to the village, and won’t be back for an hour.” So saying, Mis_tivergill walked down the lane with masculine strides, leaving Totti_leased, and her father smiling.
  • “I don’t want no beer, Tot,” said the latter. “But you go to the cottage an_etch me that dear little dog. I want to see it; and don’t forget the lady’_essage to Miss Lillycrop—but be sure you don’t say I’m waitin’ for you. Don’_ention me to nobody. D’ee understand?”
  • Poor Tottie, with a slight and undefined misgiving at her heart, professed t_nderstand, and went off.
  • In a few minutes she returned with the little dog—a lively poodle—which a_irst showed violent and unmistakable objections to being friendly with M_ones. But a scrap of meat, which that worthy had brought in his pocket, and _ew soothing words, soon modified the objection.
  • Presently Mr Bones pulled a small muzzle from his pocket.
  • “D’you think, now, that Floppart would let you put it on ’er, Tot?”
  • Tot was sure she would, and soon had the muzzle on.
  • “That’s right; now, hold ’er fast a moment—just a—there—!”
  • He sprang at and caught the dog by the throat, choked a snarling yelp in th_ud, and held it fast.
  • “Dear, dear, how wild it has got all of a sudden! W’y, it must be ill—p’r’ap_ad. It’s well you put that muzzle on, Tot.”
  • While he spoke Abel Bones thrust the dog into one of the capacious pockets o_is coat.
  • “Now, Tot,” he said, somewhat sternly, “I durstn’t let this dog go. It wants _octor very bad. You go back to the ’ouse and tell ’em a man said so. Yo_eedn’t say what man; call me a philanthropist if you choose, an’ tell ’e_’ll send it back w’en it recovers. But you needn’t tell ’em anything unti_ou’re axed, you know—it might get me into trouble, d’ee see, an’ say to Mis_tivergill it wasn’t your father as took the dog, but another man.”
  • He leaped over a low part of the hedge and was gone, leaving poor Tottie in _tate of bewildered anxiety on the other side.
  • Under the influence of fear Tottie told the lies her father had bid her tell, and thereafter dwelt at Rosebud Cottage with an evil conscience and a heav_eart.
  • Having gained the high-road, Mr Bones sauntered easily to the railway station, took a third-class ticket for Charing Cross, and in due time found himsel_assing along the Strand. In the course of that journey poor little Floppar_ay on its back in the bottom of its captor’s pocket, with a finger and thum_ently pressing her windpipe. Whenever she became restive, the finger an_humb tightened, and this with such unvarying regularity that she soon came t_nderstand the advantage of lying still. She did, however, make sundr_ttempts to escape—once very violently, when the guard was opening th_arriage-door to let Mr Bones enter, and again almost as violently at Charin_ross, when Mr Bones got out. Indeed, the dog had well-nigh got off, and wa_estored to its former place and position with difficulty.
  • Turning into Chancery Lane, and crossing over to Holborn, Abel Bones continue_is way to Newgate, where, appropriately enough, he stopped and gazed griml_p at the massive walls.
  • “Don’t be in a ’urry,” said a very small boy, with dirt and daring in equa_roportions on his face, “it’ll wait for you.”
  • Mr Bones made a tremendous demonstration of an intention to rush at the boy, who precipitately fled, and the former passed quietly on.
  • At St. Martin’s-le-Grand he paused again.
  • “Strange,” he muttered, “there seems to be some sort o’ fate as links me wi’ that Post-Office. It was here I began my London life as a porter, and lost m_ituation because the Postmaster-General couldn’t see the propriety of m_pening letters that contained coin and postage-stamps and fi’-pun’ notes, which was quite unreasonable, for I had a special talent that way, and eve_he clargy tell us that our talents was given us to be used. It wasn’t fa_rom here where I sot my little nephy down, that time I got rid of him, and i_as goin’ up these wery steps I met with the man I’m tryin’ my best to brin_o grief, an’ that same man wants to marry one of the girls in the Post- Office, and now, I find, has saved my Tot from bein’ burnt alive! Wery odd! I_as here, too, that—”
  • Floppart at this moment turned the flow of his meditations by making a fina_nd desperate struggle to be free. She shot out of his pocket and dropped wit_ bursting yell on the pavement. Recovering her feet before Bones recovere_rom his surprise she fled. Thought is quick as the lightning-flash. Bone_new that dogs find their way home mysteriously from any distance. He kne_imself to be unable to run down Floppart. He saw his schemes thwarted. H_dopted a mean device, shouted “Mad dog!” and rushed after it. A small errand- boy shrieked with glee, flung his basket at it, and followed up the chase.
  • Floppart took round by St. Paul’s Churchyard. However sane she might have bee_t starting, it is certain that she was mad with terror in five minutes. Sh_hreaded her way among wheels and legs at full speed in perfect safety. It wa_fterwards estimated that seventeen cabmen, four gentlemen, two apple-women, three-and-twenty errand-boys—more or less,—and one policeman, flung umbrellas, sticks, baskets, and various missiles at her, with the effect of damagin_nnumerable shins and overturning many individuals, but without hurting a hai_f Floppart’s body during her wild but brief career. Bones did not wish t_ecapture her. He wished her dead, and for that end loudly reiterated th_alumny as to madness. Floppart circled round the grand cathedral erected b_ren and got into Cheapside. Here, doubling like a hare, she careered roun_he statue of Peel and went blindly back to St. Martin’s-le-Grand, as if t_dd yet another link to the chain of fate which bound her arch-pursuer to th_eneral Post-Office. By way of completing the chain, she turned in at th_ate, rushed to the rear of the building, dashed in at an open door, an_curried along a passage. Here the crowd was stayed, but the policema_ollowed heroically. The passage was cut short by a glass door, but a narro_taircase descended to the left. “Any port in a storm” is a proverb as wel_nown among dogs as men. Down went Floppart to the basement of the building, invading the sanctity of the letter-carriers’ kitchen or _salle-à-manger_. _ozen stalwart postmen leaped from their meals to rush at the intruder. In th_idst of the confusion the policeman’s truncheon was seen to sway aloft. Nex_nstant the vaulted roof rang with a terrible cry, which truth compels us t_tate was Floppart’s dying yell.
  • None of those who had begun the chase were in at the death—save th_oliceman,—not even Abel Bones, for that worthy did not by any means cour_ublicity. Besides, he felt pretty sure that his end was gained. H_emembered, no doubt, the rule of the Office, that no letters or other thing_hat have been posted can be returned to the sender, and, having seen the do_afely posted, he went home with a relieved mind.
  • Meanwhile the policeman took the remains of poor Floppart by the tail, holdin_t at arm’s-length for fear of the deadly poison supposed to be on its lips; and left the kitchen by a long passage. The men of the Post-Office returned t_heir food and their duties. Those who manage the details of her Majesty’_ails cannot afford to waste time when on duty. The policeman, left t_imself, lost himself in the labyrinth of the basement. He made his way a_ast into the warm and agreeable room in which are kept the boilers that driv_he engine that works the lifts. He was accosted by a stalwart stoker, whos_ppearance and air were as genial as the atmosphere of his apartment.
  • “Hallo!” said he, “what ’ave you got there?”
  • “A mad dog,” answered the policeman.—“I say, stoker, have you any ashpit wher_ could bury him?”
  • “Couldn’t allow ’im burial in our ashpit,” replied the stoker, with a decide_hake of the head; “altogether out of the question.”
  • The policeman looked at the dead dog and at the stoker with a perplexed air.
  • “I say, look here,” he said, “couldn’t we—ah—don’t you think that we might—”
  • He paused, and cast a furtive glance at the furnaces.
  • “What! you don’t mean—cremate ’im?”
  • The policeman nodded.
  • “Well, now, I don’t know that it’s actooally against the rules of the GPO,” replied the stoker, with a meditative frown, “but it seems to me a raithe_nconstitootional proceedin’. It’s out o’ the way of our usual line o_usiness, but—”
  • “That’s right,” said the policeman, as the stoker, who was an obliging man, took up a great shovel and flung open the furnace-door.
  • A terrific glare of intense heat and light shot out, appearing as if desirou_f licking the stoker and policeman into its dreadful embrace.
  • “I don’t half like it,” said the stoker, glancing in; “the Postmaster-Genera_ight object, you know.”
  • “Not a bit of it, he’s too much of a gentleman to object—come,” said th_oliceman encouragingly.
  • The stoker held up the shovel. The body of Floppart was put thereon, after th_emoval of its collar. There was one good swing of the shovel, followed by _eave, and the little dog fell into the heart of the fiery furnace. The stoke_hut the great iron door with a clang, and looked at the policeman solemnly.
  • The policeman returned the look, thanked him, and retired. In less probabl_han three minutes Floppart’s body was reduced to its gaseous elements, vomited forth from the furnace chimney, and finally dissipated by the winds o_eaven.
  • Thus did this, the first recorded and authentic case of cremation in th_nited Kingdom, emanate—as many a new, advantageous, and national measure ha_manated before—from the prolific womb of the General Post-Office.