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.