CALEB PLUMMER and his Blind Daughter lived all alone by themselves, as th_tory–books say—and my blessing, with yours to back it I hope, on th_tory–books, for saying anything in this workaday world!—Caleb Plummer and hi_lind Daughter lived all alone by themselves, in a little cracked nutshell o_ wooden house, which was, in truth, no better than a pimple on the prominen_ed–brick nose of Gruff and Tackleton. The premises of Gruff and Tackleto_ere the great feature of the street; but you might have knocked down Cale_lummer’s dwelling with a hammer or two, and carried off the pieces in a cart.
If any one had done the dwelling–house of Caleb Plummer the honour to miss i_fter such an inroad, it would have been, no doubt, to commend its demolitio_s a vast improvement. It stuck to the premises of Gruff and Tackleton, like _arnacle to a ship’s keel, or a snail to a door, or a little bunch o_oadstools to the stem of a tree.
But, it was the germ from which the full–grown trunk of Gruff and Tackleto_ad sprung; and, under its crazy roof, the Gruff before last, had, in a smal_ay, made toys for a generation of old boys and girls, who had played wit_hem, and found them out, and broken them, and gone to sleep.
I have said that Caleb and his poor Blind Daughter lived here. I should hav_aid that Caleb lived here, and his poor Blind Daughter somewhere else—in a_nchanted home of Caleb’s furnishing, where scarcity and shabbiness were not, and trouble never entered. Caleb was no sorcerer, but in the only magic ar_hat still remains to us, the magic of devoted, deathless love, Nature ha_een the mistress of his study; and from her teaching, all the wonder came.
The Blind Girl never knew that ceilings were discoloured, walls blotched an_are of plaster here and there, high crevices unstopped and widening ever_ay, beams mouldering and tending downward. The Blind Girl never knew tha_ron was rusting, wood rotting, paper peeling off; the size, and shape, an_rue proportion of the dwelling, withering away. The Blind Girl never kne_hat ugly shapes of delf and earthenware were on the board; that sorrow an_aintheartedness were in the house; that Caleb’s scanty hairs were turnin_reyer and more grey, before her sightless face. The Blind Girl never kne_hey had a master, cold, exacting, and uninterested—never knew that Tackleto_as Tackleton in short; but lived in the belief of an eccentric humourist wh_oved to have his jest with them, and who, while he was the Guardian Angel o_heir lives, disdained to hear one word of thankfulness.
And all was Caleb’s doing; all the doing of her simple father! But he too ha_ Cricket on his Hearth; and listening sadly to its music when the motherles_lind Child was very young, that Spirit had inspired him with the thought tha_ven her great deprivation might be almost changed into a blessing, and th_irl made happy by these little means. For all the Cricket tribe are poten_pirits, even though the people who hold converse with them do not know it (which is frequently the case); and there are not in the unseen world, voice_ore gentle and more true, that may be so implicitly relied on, or that are s_ertain to give none but tenderest counsel, as the Voices in which the Spirit_f the Fireside and the Hearth address themselves to human kind.
Caleb and his daughter were at work together in their usual working–room, which served them for their ordinary living–room as well; and a strange plac_t was. There were houses in it, finished and unfinished, for Dolls of al_tations in life. Suburban tenements for Dolls of moderate means; kitchens an_ingle apartments for Dolls of the lower classes; capital town residences fo_olls of high estate. Some of these establishments were already furnishe_ccording to estimate, with a view to the convenience of Dolls of limite_ncome; others could be fitted on the most expensive scale, at a moment’_otice, from whole shelves of chairs and tables, sofas, bedsteads, an_pholstery. The nobility and gentry, and public in general, for whos_ccommodation these tenements were designed, lay, here and there, in baskets, staring straight up at the ceiling; but, in denoting their degrees in society, and confining them to their respective stations (which experience shows to b_amentably difficult in real life), the makers of these Dolls had far improve_n Nature, who is often froward and perverse; for, they, not resting on suc_rbitrary marks as satin, cotton–print, and bits of rag, had superadde_triking personal differences which allowed of no mistake. Thus, the Doll–lad_f distinction had wax limbs of perfect symmetry; but only she and he_ompeers. The next grade in the social scale being made of leather, and th_ext of coarse linen stuff. As to the common–people, they had just so man_atches out of tinder–boxes, for their arms and legs, and there the_ere—established in their sphere at once, beyond the possibility of gettin_ut of it.
There were various other samples of his handicraft, besides Dolls, in Cale_lummer’s room. There were Noah’s Arks, in which the Birds and Beasts were a_ncommonly tight fit, I assure you; though they could be crammed in, anyhow, at the roof, and rattled and shaken into the smallest compass. By a bol_oetical licence, most of these Noah’s Arks had knockers on the doors; inconsistent appendages, perhaps, as suggestive of morning callers and _ostman, yet a pleasant finish to the outside of the building. There wer_cores of melancholy little carts, which, when the wheels went round, performed most doleful music. Many small fiddles, drums, and other instrument_f torture; no end of cannon, shields, swords, spears, and guns. There wer_ittle tumblers in red breeches, incessantly swarming up high obstacles o_ed–tape, and coming down, head first, on the other side; and there wer_nnumerable old gentlemen of respectable, not to say venerable, appearance, insanely flying over horizontal pegs, inserted, for the purpose, in their ow_treet doors. There were beasts of all sorts; horses, in particular, of ever_reed, from the spotted barrel on four pegs, with a small tippet for a mane, to the thoroughbred rocker on his highest mettle. As it would have been har_o count the dozens upon dozens of grotesque figures that were ever ready t_ommit all sorts of absurdities on the turning of a handle, so it would hav_een no easy task to mention any human folly, vice, or weakness, that had no_ts type, immediate or remote, in Caleb Plummer’s room. And not in a_xaggerated form, for very little handles will move men and women to a_trange performances, as any Toy was ever made to undertake.
In the midst of all these objects, Caleb and his daughter sat at work. Th_lind Girl busy as a Doll’s dressmaker; Caleb painting and glazing th_our–pair front of a desirable family mansion.
The care imprinted in the lines of Caleb’s face, and his absorbed and dream_anner, which would have sat well on some alchemist or abstruse student, wer_t first sight an odd contrast to his occupation, and the trivialities abou_im. But, trivial things, invented and pursued for bread, become very seriou_atters of fact; and, apart from this consideration, I am not at all prepare_o say, myself, that if Caleb had been a Lord Chamberlain, or a Member o_arliament, or a lawyer, or even a great speculator, he would have dealt i_oys one whit less whimsical, while I have a very great doubt whether the_ould have been as harmless.
‘So you were out in the rain last night, father, in your beautiful ne_reat–coat,’ said Caleb’s daughter.
‘In my beautiful new great–coat,’ answered Caleb, glancing towards _lothes–line in the room, on which the sack–cloth garment previousl_escribed, was carefully hung up to dry.
‘How glad I am you bought it, father!’
‘And of such a tailor, too,’ said Caleb. ‘Quite a fashionable tailor. It’s to_ood for me.’
The Blind Girl rested from her work, and laughed with delight.
‘Too good, father! What can be too good for you?’
‘I’m half–ashamed to wear it though,’ said Caleb, watching the effect of wha_e said, upon her brightening face; ‘upon my word! When I hear the boys an_eople say behind me, “Hal–loa! Here’s a swell!” I don’t know which way t_ook. And when the beggar wouldn’t go away last night; and when I said I was _ery common man, said “No, your Honour! Bless your Honour, don’t say that!” _as quite ashamed. I really felt as if I hadn’t a right to wear it.’
Happy Blind Girl! How merry she was, in her exultation!
‘I see you, father,’ she said, clasping her hands, ‘as plainly, as if I ha_he eyes I never want when you are with me. A blue coat—‘
‘Bright blue,’ said Caleb.
‘Yes, yes! Bright blue!’ exclaimed the girl, turning up her radiant face; ‘th_olour I can just remember in the blessed sky! You told me it was blue before!
A bright blue coat—’
‘Made loose to the figure,’ suggested Caleb.
‘Made loose to the figure!’ cried the Blind Girl, laughing heartily; ‘and i_t, you, dear father, with your merry eye, your smiling face, your free step, and your dark hair—looking so young and handsome!’
‘Halloa! Halloa!’ said Caleb. ‘I shall be vain, presently!’
‘I think you are, already,’ cried the Blind Girl, pointing at him, in he_lee. ‘I know you, father! Ha, ha, ha! I’ve found you out, you see!’
How different the picture in her mind, from Caleb, as he sat observing her!
She had spoken of his free step. She was right in that. For years and years, he had never once crossed that threshold at his own slow pace, but with _ootfall counterfeited for her ear; and never had he, when his heart wa_eaviest, forgotten the light tread that was to render hers so cheerful an_ourageous!
Heaven knows! But I think Caleb’s vague bewilderment of manner may have hal_riginated in his having confused himself about himself and everything aroun_im, for the love of his Blind Daughter. How could the little man be otherwis_han bewildered, after labouring for so many years to destroy his ow_dentity, and that of all the objects that had any bearing on it!
‘There we are,’ said Caleb, falling back a pace or two to form the bette_udgment of his work; ‘as near the real thing as sixpenn’orth of halfpence i_o sixpence. What a pity that the whole front of the house opens at once! I_here was only a staircase in it, now, and regular doors to the rooms to go i_t! But that’s the worst of my calling, I’m always deluding myself, an_windling myself.’
‘You are speaking quite softly. You are not tired, father?’
‘Tired!’ echoed Caleb, with a great burst of animation, ‘what should tire me, Bertha? I was never tired. What does it mean?’
To give the greater force to his words, he checked himself in an involuntar_mitation of two half–length stretching and yawning figures on th_antel–shelf, who were represented as in one eternal state of weariness fro_he waist upwards; and hummed a fragment of a song. It was a Bacchanalia_ong, something about a Sparkling Bowl. He sang it with an assumption of _evil–may–care voice, that made his face a thousand times more meagre and mor_houghtful than ever.
‘What! You’re singing, are you?’ said Tackleton, putting his head in at th_oor. ‘Go it! I can’t sing.’
Nobody would have suspected him of it. He hadn’t what is generally termed _inging face, by any means.
‘I can’t afford to sing,’ said Tackleton. ‘I’m glad you can. I hope you ca_fford to work too. Hardly time for both, I should think?’
‘If you could only see him, Bertha, how he’s winking at me!’ whispered Caleb.
‘Such a man to joke! you’d think, if you didn’t know him, he was i_arnest—wouldn’t you now?’
The Blind Girl smiled and nodded.
‘The bird that can sing and won’t sing, must be made to sing, they say,’ grumbled Tackleton. ‘What about the owl that can’t sing, and oughtn’t to sing, and will sing; is there anything that he should be made to do?’
‘The extent to which he’s winking at this moment!’ whispered Caleb to hi_aughter. ‘O, my gracious!’
‘Always merry and light–hearted with us!’ cried the smiling Bertha.
‘O, you’re there, are you?’ answered Tackleton. ‘Poor Idiot!’
He really did believe she was an Idiot; and he founded the belief, I can’t sa_hether consciously or not, upon her being fond of him.
‘Well! and being there,—how are you?’ said Tackleton, in his grudging way.
‘Oh! well; quite well. And as happy as even you can wish me to be. As happy a_ou would make the whole world, if you could!’
‘Poor Idiot!’ muttered Tackleton. ‘No gleam of reason. Not a gleam!’
The Blind Girl took his hand and kissed it; held it for a moment in her ow_wo hands; and laid her cheek against it tenderly, before releasing it. Ther_as such unspeakable affection and such fervent gratitude in the act, tha_ackleton himself was moved to say, in a milder growl than usual:
‘What’s the matter now?’
‘I stood it close beside my pillow when I went to sleep last night, an_emembered it in my dreams. And when the day broke, and the glorious re_un—the red sun, father?’
‘Red in the mornings and the evenings, Bertha,’ said poor Caleb, with a woefu_lance at his employer.
‘When it rose, and the bright light I almost fear to strike myself against i_alking, came into the room, I turned the little tree towards it, and blesse_eaven for making things so precious, and blessed you for sending them t_heer me!’
‘Bedlam broke loose!’ said Tackleton under his breath. ‘We shall arrive at th_trait–waistcoat and mufflers soon. We’re getting on!’
Caleb, with his hands hooked loosely in each other, stared vacantly before hi_hile his daughter spoke, as if he really were uncertain (I believe he was) whether Tackleton had done anything to deserve her thanks, or not. If he coul_ave been a perfectly free agent, at that moment, required, on pain of death, to kick the Toy–merchant, or fall at his feet, according to his merits, _elieve it would have been an even chance which course he would have taken.
Yet, Caleb knew that with his own hands he had brought the little rose–tre_ome for her, so carefully, and that with his own lips he had forged th_nnocent deception which should help to keep her from suspecting how much, ho_ery much, he every day, denied himself, that she might be the happier.
‘Bertha!’ said Tackleton, assuming, for the nonce, a little cordiality. ‘Com_ere.’
‘Oh! I can come straight to you! You needn’t guide me!’ she rejoined.
‘Shall I tell you a secret, Bertha?’
‘If you will!’ she answered, eagerly.
How bright the darkened face! How adorned with light, the listening head!
‘This is the day on which little what’s–her–name, the spoilt child, Peerybingle’s wife, pays her regular visit to you—makes her fantastic Pic–Ni_ere; an’t it?’ said Tackleton, with a strong expression of distaste for th_hole concern.
‘Yes,’ replied Bertha. ‘This is the day.’
‘I thought so,’ said Tackleton. ‘I should like to join the party.’
‘Do you hear that, father!’ cried the Blind Girl in an ecstasy.
‘Yes, yes, I hear it,’ murmured Caleb, with the fixed look of a sleep–walker; ‘but I don’t believe it. It’s one of my lies, I’ve no doubt.’
‘You see I—I want to bring the Peerybingles a little more into company wit_ay Fielding,’ said Tackleton. ‘I am going to be married to May.’
‘Married!’ cried the Blind Girl, starting from him.
‘She’s such a con–founded Idiot,’ muttered Tackleton, ‘that I was afraid she’_ever comprehend me. Ah, Bertha! Married! Church, parson, clerk, beadle, glass–coach, bells, breakfast, bride–cake, favours, marrow–bones, cleavers, and all the rest of the tomfoolery. A wedding, you know; a wedding. Don’t yo_now what a wedding is?’
‘I know,’ replied the Blind Girl, in a gentle tone. ‘I understand!’
‘Do you?’ muttered Tackleton. ‘It’s more than I expected. Well! On tha_ccount I want to join the party, and to bring May and her mother. I’ll sen_n a little something or other, before the afternoon. A cold leg of mutton, o_ome comfortable trifle of that sort. You’ll expect me?’
‘Yes,’ she answered.
She had drooped her head, and turned away; and so stood, with her hand_rossed, musing.
‘I don’t think you will,’ muttered Tackleton, looking at her; ‘for you seem t_ave forgotten all about it, already. Caleb!’
‘I may venture to say I’m here, I suppose,’ thought Caleb. ‘Sir!’
‘Take care she don’t forget what I’ve been saying to her.’
‘She never forgets,’ returned Caleb. ‘It’s one of the few things she an’_lever in.’
‘Every man thinks his own geese swans,’ observed the Toy–merchant, with _hrug. ‘Poor devil!’
Having delivered himself of which remark, with infinite contempt, old Gruf_nd Tackleton withdrew.
Bertha remained where he had left her, lost in meditation. The gaiety ha_anished from her downcast face, and it was very sad. Three or four times sh_hook her head, as if bewailing some remembrance or some loss; but he_orrowful reflections found no vent in words.
It was not until Caleb had been occupied, some time, in yoking a team o_orses to a waggon by the summary process of nailing the harness to the vita_arts of their bodies, that she drew near to his working–stool, and sittin_own beside him, said:
‘Father, I am lonely in the dark. I want my eyes, my patient, willing eyes.’
‘Here they are,’ said Caleb. ‘Always ready. They are more yours than mine, Bertha, any hour in the four–and–twenty. What shall your eyes do for you, dear?’
‘Look round the room, father.’
‘All right,’ said Caleb. ‘No sooner said than done, Bertha.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘It’s much the same as usual,’ said Caleb. ‘Homely, but very snug. The ga_olours on the walls; the bright flowers on the plates and dishes; the shinin_ood, where there are beams or panels; the general cheerfulness and neatnes_f the building; make it very pretty.’
Cheerful and neat it was wherever Bertha’s hands could busy themselves. Bu_owhere else, were cheerfulness and neatness possible, in the old crazy she_hich Caleb’s fancy so transformed.
‘You have your working dress on, and are not so gallant as when you wear th_andsome coat?’ said Bertha, touching him.
‘Not quite so gallant,’ answered Caleb. ‘Pretty brisk though.’
‘Father,’ said the Blind Girl, drawing close to his side, and stealing one ar_ound his neck, ‘tell me something about May. She is very fair?’
‘She is indeed,’ said Caleb. And she was indeed. It was quite a rare thing t_aleb, not to have to draw on his invention.
‘Her hair is dark,’ said Bertha, pensively, ‘darker than mine. Her voice i_weet and musical, I know. I have often loved to hear it. Her shape—’
‘There’s not a Doll’s in all the room to equal it,’ said Caleb. ‘And he_yes!—’
He stopped; for Bertha had drawn closer round his neck, and from the arm tha_lung about him, came a warning pressure which he understood too well.
He coughed a moment, hammered for a moment, and then fell back upon the son_bout the sparkling bowl; his infallible resource in all such difficulties.
‘Our friend, father, our benefactor. I am never tired, you know, of hearin_bout him.—Now, was I ever?’ she said, hastily.
‘Of course not,’ answered Caleb, ‘and with reason.’
‘Ah! With how much reason!’ cried the Blind Girl. With such fervency, tha_aleb, though his motives were so pure, could not endure to meet her face; bu_ropped his eyes, as if she could have read in them his innocent deceit.
‘Then, tell me again about him, dear father,’ said Bertha. ‘Many times again!
His face is benevolent, kind, and tender. Honest and true, I am sure it is.
The manly heart that tries to cloak all favours with a show of roughness an_nwillingness, beats in its every look and glance.’
‘And makes it noble!’ added Caleb, in his quiet desperation.
‘And makes it noble!’ cried the Blind Girl. ‘He is older than May, father.’
‘Ye–es,’ said Caleb, reluctantly. ‘He’s a little older than May. But tha_on’t signify.’
‘Oh father, yes! To be his patient companion in infirmity and age; to be hi_entle nurse in sickness, and his constant friend in suffering and sorrow; t_now no weariness in working for his sake; to watch him, tend him, sit besid_is bed and talk to him awake, and pray for him asleep; what privileges thes_ould be! What opportunities for proving all her truth and devotion to him!
Would she do all this, dear father?
‘No doubt of it,’ said Caleb.
‘I love her, father; I can love her from my soul!’ exclaimed the Blind Girl.
And saying so, she laid her poor blind face on Caleb’s shoulder, and so wep_nd wept, that he was almost sorry to have brought that tearful happiness upo_er.
In the mean time, there had been a pretty sharp commotion at Joh_eerybingle’s, for little Mrs. Peerybingle naturally couldn’t think of goin_nywhere without the Baby; and to get the Baby under weigh took time. Not tha_here was much of the Baby, speaking of it as a thing of weight and measure, but there was a vast deal to do about and about it, and it all had to be don_y easy stages. For instance, when the Baby was got, by hook and by crook, t_ certain point of dressing, and you might have rationally supposed tha_nother touch or two would finish him off, and turn him out a tip–top Bab_hallenging the world, he was unexpectedly extinguished in a flannel cap, an_ustled off to bed; where he simmered (so to speak) between two blankets fo_he best part of an hour. From this state of inaction he was then recalled, shining very much and roaring violently, to partake of—well? I would rathe_ay, if you’ll permit me to speak generally—of a slight repast. After which, he went to sleep again. Mrs. Peerybingle took advantage of this interval, t_ake herself as smart in a small way as ever you saw anybody in all your life; and, during the same short truce, Miss Slowboy insinuated herself into _pencer of a fashion so surprising and ingenious, that it had no connectio_ith herself, or anything else in the universe, but was a shrunken, dog’s–eared, independent fact, pursuing its lonely course without the leas_egard to anybody. By this time, the Baby, being all alive again, wa_nvested, by the united efforts of Mrs. Peerybingle and Miss Slowboy, with _ream–coloured mantle for its body, and a sort of nankeen raised–pie for it_ead; and so in course of time they all three got down to the door, where th_ld horse had already taken more than the full value of his day’s toll out o_he Turnpike Trust, by tearing up the road with his impatient autographs; an_hence Boxer might be dimly seen in the remote perspective, standing lookin_ack, and tempting him to come on without orders.
As to a chair, or anything of that kind for helping Mrs. Peerybingle into th_art, you know very little of John, if you think that was necessary. Befor_ou could have seen him lift her from the ground, there she was in her place, fresh and rosy, saying, ‘John! How can you! Think of Tilly!’
If I might be allowed to mention a young lady’s legs, on any terms, I woul_bserve of Miss Slowboy’s that there was a fatality about them which rendere_hem singularly liable to be grazed; and that she never effected the smalles_scent or descent, without recording the circumstance upon them with a notch, as Robinson Crusoe marked the days upon his wooden calendar. But as this migh_e considered ungenteel, I’ll think of it.
‘John? You’ve got the Basket with the Veal and Ham–Pie and things, and th_ottles of Beer?’ said Dot. ‘If you haven’t, you must turn round again, thi_ery minute.’
‘You’re a nice little article,’ returned the Carrier, ‘to be talking abou_urning round, after keeping me a full quarter of an hour behind my time.’
‘I am sorry for it, John,’ said Dot in a great bustle, ‘but I really could no_hink of going to Bertha’s—I would not do it, John, on any account—without th_eal and Ham–Pie and things, and the bottles of Beer. Way!’
This monosyllable was addressed to the horse, who didn’t mind it at all.
‘Oh do way, John!’ said Mrs. Peerybingle. ‘Please!’
‘It’ll be time enough to do that,’ returned John, ‘when I begin to leav_hings behind me. The basket’s here, safe enough.’
‘What a hard–hearted monster you must be, John, not to have said so, at once, and save me such a turn! I declared I wouldn’t go to Bertha’s without the Vea_nd Ham–Pie and things, and the bottles of Beer, for any money. Regularly onc_ fortnight ever since we have been married, John, have we made our littl_ic–Nic there. If anything was to go wrong with it, I should almost think w_ere never to be lucky again.’
‘It was a kind thought in the first instance,’ said the Carrier: ‘and I honou_ou for it, little woman.’
‘My dear John,’ replied Dot, turning very red, ‘don’t talk about honouring me.
‘By the bye—’ observed the Carrier. ‘That old gentleman—’
Again so visibly, and instantly embarrassed!
‘He’s an odd fish,’ said the Carrier, looking straight along the road befor_hem. ‘I can’t make him out. I don’t believe there’s any harm in him.’
‘None at all. I’m—I’m sure there’s none at all.’
‘Yes,’ said the Carrier, with his eyes attracted to her face by the grea_arnestness of her manner. ‘I am glad you feel so certain of it, because it’_ confirmation to me. It’s curious that he should have taken it into his hea_o ask leave to go on lodging with us; an’t it? Things come about s_trangely.’
‘So very strangely,’ she rejoined in a low voice, scarcely audible.
‘However, he’s a good–natured old gentleman,’ said John, ‘and pays as _entleman, and I think his word is to be relied upon, like a gentleman’s. _ad quite a long talk with him this morning: he can hear me better already, h_ays, as he gets more used to my voice. He told me a great deal about himself, and I told him a great deal about myself, and a rare lot of questions he aske_e. I gave him information about my having two beats, you know, in m_usiness; one day to the right from our house and back again; another day t_he left from our house and back again (for he’s a stranger and don’t know th_ames of places about here); and he seemed quite pleased. “Why, then I shal_e returning home to–night your way,” he says, “when I thought you’d be comin_n an exactly opposite direction. That’s capital! I may trouble you fo_nother lift perhaps, but I’ll engage not to fall so sound asleep again.” H_as sound asleep, sure–ly!—Dot! what are you thinking of?’
‘Thinking of, John? I—I was listening to you.’
‘O! That’s all right!’ said the honest Carrier. ‘I was afraid, from the loo_f your face, that I had gone rambling on so long, as to set you thinkin_bout something else. I was very near it, I’ll be bound.’
Dot making no reply, they jogged on, for some little time, in silence. But, i_as not easy to remain silent very long in John Peerybingle’s cart, fo_verybody on the road had something to say. Though it might only be ‘How ar_ou!’ and indeed it was very often nothing else, still, to give that bac_gain in the right spirit of cordiality, required, not merely a nod and _mile, but as wholesome an action of the lungs withal, as a long–winde_arliamentary speech. Sometimes, passengers on foot, or horseback, plodded o_ little way beside the cart, for the express purpose of having a chat; an_hen there was a great deal to be said, on both sides.
Then, Boxer gave occasion to more good–natured recognitions of, and by, th_arrier, than half–a–dozen Christians could have done! Everybody knew him, al_long the road—especially the fowls and pigs, who when they saw hi_pproaching, with his body all on one side, and his ears pricked u_nquisitively, and that knob of a tail making the most of itself in the air, immediately withdrew into remote back settlements, without waiting for th_onour of a nearer acquaintance. He had business everywhere; going down al_he turnings, looking into all the wells, bolting in and out of all th_ottages, dashing into the midst of all the Dame–Schools, fluttering all th_igeons, magnifying the tails of all the cats, and trotting into th_ublic–houses like a regular customer. Wherever he went, somebody or othe_ight have been heard to cry, ‘Halloa! Here’s Boxer!’ and out came tha_omebody forthwith, accompanied by at least two or three other somebodies, t_ive John Peerybingle and his pretty wife, Good Day.
The packages and parcels for the errand cart, were numerous; and there wer_any stoppages to take them in and give them out, which were not by any mean_he worst parts of the journey. Some people were so full of expectation abou_heir parcels, and other people were so full of wonder about their parcels, and other people were so full of inexhaustible directions about their parcels, and John had such a lively interest in all the parcels, that it was as good a_ play. Likewise, there were articles to carry, which required to b_onsidered and discussed, and in reference to the adjustment and dispositio_f which, councils had to be holden by the Carrier and the senders: at whic_oxer usually assisted, in short fits of the closest attention, and long fit_f tearing round and round the assembled sages and barking himself hoarse. O_ll these little incidents, Dot was the amused and open–eyed spectatress fro_er chair in the cart; and as she sat there, looking on—a charming littl_ortrait framed to admiration by the tilt—there was no lack of nudgings an_lancings and whisperings and envyings among the younger men. And thi_elighted John the Carrier, beyond measure; for he was proud to have hi_ittle wife admired, knowing that she didn’t mind it—that, if anything, sh_ather liked it perhaps.
The trip was a little foggy, to be sure, in the January weather; and was ra_nd cold. But who cared for such trifles? Not Dot, decidedly. Not Till_lowboy, for she deemed sitting in a cart, on any terms, to be the highes_oint of human joys; the crowning circumstance of earthly hopes. Not the Baby, I’ll be sworn; for it’s not in Baby nature to be warmer or more sound asleep, though its capacity is great in both respects, than that blessed youn_eerybingle was, all the way.
You couldn’t see very far in the fog, of course; but you could see a grea_eal! It’s astonishing how much you may see, in a thicker fog than that, i_ou will only take the trouble to look for it. Why, even to sit watching fo_he Fairy–rings in the fields, and for the patches of hoar–frost stil_ingering in the shade, near hedges and by trees, was a pleasant occupation: to make no mention of the unexpected shapes in which the trees themselves cam_tarting out of the mist, and glided into it again. The hedges were tangle_nd bare, and waved a multitude of blighted garlands in the wind; but ther_as no discouragement in this. It was agreeable to contemplate; for it mad_he fireside warmer in possession, and the summer greener in expectancy. Th_iver looked chilly; but it was in motion, and moving at a good pace—which wa_ great point. The canal was rather slow and torpid; that must be admitted.
Never mind. It would freeze the sooner when the frost set fairly in, and the_here would be skating, and sliding; and the heavy old barges, frozen u_omewhere near a wharf, would smoke their rusty iron chimney pipes all day, and have a lazy time of it.
In one place, there was a great mound of weeds or stubble burning; and the_atched the fire, so white in the daytime, flaring through the fog, with onl_ere and there a dash of red in it, until, in consequence, as she observed, o_he smoke ‘getting up her nose,’ Miss Slowboy choked—she could do anything o_hat sort, on the smallest provocation—and woke the Baby, who wouldn’t go t_leep again. But, Boxer, who was in advance some quarter of a mile or so, ha_lready passed the outposts of the town, and gained the corner of the stree_here Caleb and his daughter lived; and long before they had reached the door, he and the Blind Girl were on the pavement waiting to receive them.
Boxer, by the way, made certain delicate distinctions of his own, in hi_ommunication with Bertha, which persuade me fully that he knew her to b_lind. He never sought to attract her attention by looking at her, as he ofte_id with other people, but touched her invariably. What experience he coul_ver have had of blind people or blind dogs, I don’t know. He had never live_ith a blind master; nor had Mr. Boxer the elder, nor Mrs. Boxer, nor any o_is respectable family on either side, ever been visited with blindness, tha_ am aware of. He may have found it out for himself, perhaps, but he had go_old of it somehow; and therefore he had hold of Bertha too, by the skirt, an_ept hold, until Mrs. Peerybingle and the Baby, and Miss Slowboy, and th_asket, were all got safely within doors.
May Fielding was already come; and so was her mother—a little querulous chi_f an old lady with a peevish face, who, in right of having preserved a wais_ike a bedpost, was supposed to be a most transcendent figure; and who, i_onsequence of having once been better off, or of labouring under a_mpression that she might have been, if something had happened which never di_appen, and seemed to have never been particularly likely to come to pass—bu_t’s all the same—was very genteel and patronising indeed. Gruff and Tackleto_as also there, doing the agreeable, with the evident sensation of being a_erfectly at home, and as unquestionably in his own element, as a fresh youn_almon on the top of the Great Pyramid.
‘May! My dear old friend!’ cried Dot, running up to meet her. ‘What _appiness to see you.’
Her old friend was, to the full, as hearty and as glad as she; and it reall_as, if you’ll believe me, quite a pleasant sight to see them embrace.
Tackleton was a man of taste beyond all question. May was very pretty.
You know sometimes, when you are used to a pretty face, how, when it come_nto contact and comparison with another pretty face, it seems for the momen_o be homely and faded, and hardly to deserve the high opinion you have had o_t. Now, this was not at all the case, either with Dot or May; for May’s fac_et off Dot’s, and Dot’s face set off May’s, so naturally and agreeably, that, as John Peerybingle was very near saying when he came into the room, the_ught to have been born sisters—which was the only improvement you could hav_uggested.
Tackleton had brought his leg of mutton, and, wonderful to relate, a tar_esides—but we don’t mind a little dissipation when our brides are in th_ase. we don’t get married every day—and in addition to these dainties, ther_ere the Veal and Ham–Pie, and ‘things,’ as Mrs. Peerybingle called them; which were chiefly nuts and oranges, and cakes, and such small deer. When th_epast was set forth on the board, flanked by Caleb’s contribution, which wa_ great wooden bowl of smoking potatoes (he was prohibited, by solemn compact, from producing any other viands), Tackleton led his intended mother–in–law t_he post of honour. For the better gracing of this place at the high festival, the majestic old soul had adorned herself with a cap, calculated to inspir_he thoughtless with sentiments of awe. She also wore her gloves. But let u_e genteel, or die!
Caleb sat next his daughter; Dot and her old schoolfellow were side by side; the good Carrier took care of the bottom of the table. Miss Slowboy wa_solated, for the time being, from every article of furniture but the chai_he sat on, that she might have nothing else to knock the Baby’s head against.
As Tilly stared about her at the dolls and toys, they stared at her and at th_ompany. The venerable old gentlemen at the street doors (who were all in ful_ction) showed especial interest in the party, pausing occasionally befor_eaping, as if they were listening to the conversation, and then plungin_ildly over and over, a great many times, without halting for breath—as in _rantic state of delight with the whole proceedings.
Certainly, if these old gentlemen were inclined to have a fiendish joy in th_ontemplation of Tackleton’s discomfiture, they had good reason to b_atisfied. Tackleton couldn’t get on at all; and the more cheerful hi_ntended bride became in Dot’s society, the less he liked it, though he ha_rought them together for that purpose. For he was a regular dog in th_anger, was Tackleton; and when they laughed and he couldn’t, he took it int_is head, immediately, that they must be laughing at him.
‘Ah, May!’ said Dot. ‘Dear dear, what changes! To talk of those merr_chool–days makes one young again.’
‘Why, you an’t particularly old, at any time; are you?’ said Tackleton.
‘Look at my sober plodding husband there,’ returned Dot. ‘He adds twenty year_o my age at least. Don’t you, John?’
‘Forty,’ John replied.
‘How many you’ll add to May’s, I am sure I don’t know,’ said Dot, laughing.
‘But she can’t be much less than a hundred years of age on her next birthday.’
‘Ha ha!’ laughed Tackleton. Hollow as a drum, that laugh though. And he looke_s if he could have twisted Dot’s neck, comfortably.
‘Dear dear!’ said Dot. ‘Only to remember how we used to talk, at school, abou_he husbands we would choose. I don’t know how young, and how handsome, an_ow gay, and how lively, mine was not to be! And as to May’s!—Ah dear! I don’_now whether to laugh or cry, when I think what silly girls we were.’
May seemed to know which to do; for the colour flushed into her face, an_ears stood in her eyes.
‘Even the very persons themselves—real live young men—were fixed o_ometimes,’ said Dot. ‘We little thought how things would come about. I neve_ixed on John I’m sure; I never so much as thought of him. And if I had tol_ou, you were ever to be married to Mr. Tackleton, why you’d have slapped me.
Wouldn’t you, May?’
Though May didn’t say yes, she certainly didn’t say no, or express no, by an_eans.
Tackleton laughed—quite shouted, he laughed so loud. John Peerybingle laughe_oo, in his ordinary good–natured and contented manner; but his was a mer_hisper of a laugh, to Tackleton’s.
‘You couldn’t help yourselves, for all that. You couldn’t resist us, you see,’ said Tackleton. ‘Here we are! Here we are!’
‘Where are your gay young bridegrooms now!’
‘Some of them are dead,’ said Dot; ‘and some of them forgotten. Some of them, if they could stand among us at this moment, would not believe we were th_ame creatures; would not believe that what they saw and heard was real, an_e could forget them so. No! they would not believe one word of it!’
‘Why, Dot!’ exclaimed the Carrier. ‘Little woman!’
She had spoken with such earnestness and fire, that she stood in need of som_ecalling to herself, without doubt. Her husband’s check was very gentle, fo_e merely interfered, as he supposed, to shield old Tackleton; but it prove_ffectual, for she stopped, and said no more. There was an uncommon agitation, even in her silence, which the wary Tackleton, who had brought his half–shu_ye to bear upon her, noted closely, and remembered to some purpose too.
May uttered no word, good or bad, but sat quite still, with her eyes cas_own, and made no sign of interest in what had passed. The good lady he_other now interposed, observing, in the first instance, that girls wer_irls, and byegones byegones, and that so long as young people were young an_houghtless, they would probably conduct themselves like young and thoughtles_ersons: with two or three other positions of a no less sound an_ncontrovertible character. She then remarked, in a devout spirit, that sh_hanked Heaven she had always found in her daughter May, a dutiful an_bedient child; for which she took no credit to herself, though she had ever_eason to believe it was entirely owing to herself. With regard to Mr.
Tackleton she said, That he was in a moral point of view an undeniabl_ndividual, and That he was in an eligible point of view a son–in–law to b_esired, no one in their senses could doubt. (She was very emphatic here.) With regard to the family into which he was so soon about, after som_olicitation, to be admitted, she believed Mr. Tackleton knew that, althoug_educed in purse, it had some pretensions to gentility; and if certai_ircumstances, not wholly unconnected, she would go so far as to say, with th_ndigo Trade, but to which she would not more particularly refer, had happene_ifferently, it might perhaps have been in possession of wealth. She the_emarked that she would not allude to the past, and would not mention that he_aughter had for some time rejected the suit of Mr. Tackleton; and that sh_ould not say a great many other things which she did say, at great length.
Finally, she delivered it as the general result of her observation an_xperience, that those marriages in which there was least of what wa_omantically and sillily called love, were always the happiest; and that sh_nticipated the greatest possible amount of bliss—not rapturous bliss; but th_olid, steady–going article—from the approaching nuptials. She concluded b_nforming the company that to–morrow was the day she had lived for, expressly; and that when it was over, she would desire nothing better than to be packe_p and disposed of, in any genteel place of burial.
As these remarks were quite unanswerable—which is the happy property of al_emarks that are sufficiently wide of the purpose—they changed the current o_he conversation, and diverted the general attention to the Veal and Ham–Pie, the cold mutton, the potatoes, and the tart. In order that the bottled bee_ight not be slighted, John Peerybingle proposed To–morrow: the Wedding–Day; and called upon them to drink a bumper to it, before he proceeded on hi_ourney.
For you ought to know that he only rested there, and gave the old horse _ait. He had to go some four of five miles farther on; and when he returned i_he evening, he called for Dot, and took another rest on his way home. Thi_as the order of the day on all the Pic–Nic occasions, had been, ever sinc_heir institution.
There were two persons present, besides the bride and bridegroom elect, wh_id but indifferent honour to the toast. One of these was Dot, too flushed an_iscomposed to adapt herself to any small occurrence of the moment; the other, Bertha, who rose up hurriedly, before the rest, and left the table.
‘Good bye!’ said stout John Peerybingle, pulling on his dreadnought coat. ‘_hall be back at the old time. Good bye all!’
‘Good bye, John,’ returned Caleb.
He seemed to say it by rote, and to wave his hand in the same unconsciou_anner; for he stood observing Bertha with an anxious wondering face, tha_ever altered its expression.
‘Good bye, young shaver!’ said the jolly Carrier, bending down to kiss th_hild; which Tilly Slowboy, now intent upon her knife and fork, had deposite_sleep (and strange to say, without damage) in a little cot of Bertha’_urnishing; ‘good bye! Time will come, I suppose, when you’ll turn out int_he cold, my little friend, and leave your old father to enjoy his pipe an_is rheumatics in the chimney–corner; eh? Where’s Dot?’
‘I’m here, John!’ she said, starting.
‘Come, come!’ returned the Carrier, clapping his sounding hands. ‘Where’s th_ipe?’
‘I quite forgot the pipe, John.’
Forgot the pipe! Was such a wonder ever heard of! She! Forgot the pipe!
‘I’ll—I’ll fill it directly. It’s soon done.’
But it was not so soon done, either. It lay in the usual place—the Carrier’_readnought pocket—with the little pouch, her own work, from which she wa_sed to fill it, but her hand shook so, that she entangled it (and yet he_and was small enough to have come out easily, I am sure), and bungle_erribly. The filling of the pipe and lighting it, those little offices i_hich I have commended her discretion, were vilely done, from first to last.
During the whole process, Tackleton stood looking on maliciously with th_alf–closed eye; which, whenever it met hers—or caught it, for it can hardl_e said to have ever met another eye: rather being a kind of trap to snatch i_p—augmented her confusion in a most remarkable degree.
‘Why, what a clumsy Dot you are, this afternoon!’ said John. ‘I could hav_one it better myself, I verify believe!’
With these good–natured words, he strode away, and presently was heard, i_ompany with Boxer, and the old horse, and the cart, making lively music dow_he road. What time the dreamy Caleb still stood, watching his blind daughter, with the same expression on his face.
‘Bertha!’ said Caleb, softly. ‘What has happened? How changed you are, m_arling, in a few hours—since this morning. You silent and dull all day! Wha_s it? Tell me!’
‘Oh father, father!’ cried the Blind Girl, bursting into tears. ‘Oh my hard, hard fate!’
Caleb drew his hand across his eyes before he answered her.
‘But think how cheerful and how happy you have been, Bertha! How good, and ho_uch loved, by many people.’
‘That strikes me to the heart, dear father! Always so mindful of me! Always s_ind to me!’
Caleb was very much perplexed to understand her.
‘To be—to be blind, Bertha, my poor dear,’ he faltered, ‘is a grea_ffliction; but—’
‘I have never felt it!’ cried the Blind Girl. ‘I have never felt it, in it_ulness. Never! I have sometimes wished that I could see you, or could se_im—only once, dear father, only for one little minute—that I might know wha_t is I treasure up,’ she laid her hands upon her breast, ‘and hold here! Tha_ might be sure and have it right! And sometimes (but then I was a child) _ave wept in my prayers at night, to think that when your images ascended fro_y heart to Heaven, they might not be the true resemblance of yourselves. Bu_ have never had these feelings long. They have passed away and left m_ranquil and contented.’
‘And they will again,’ said Caleb.
‘But, father! Oh my good, gentle father, bear with me, if I am wicked!’ sai_he Blind Girl. ‘This is not the sorrow that so weighs me down!’
Her father could not choose but let his moist eyes overflow; she was s_arnest and pathetic, but he did not understand her, yet.
‘Bring her to me,’ said Bertha. ‘I cannot hold it closed and shut withi_yself. Bring her to me, father!’
She knew he hesitated, and said, ‘May. Bring May!’
May heard the mention of her name, and coming quietly towards her, touched he_n the arm. The Blind Girl turned immediately, and held her by both hands.
‘Look into my face, Dear heart, Sweet heart!’ said Bertha. ‘Read it with you_eautiful eyes, and tell me if the truth is written on it.’
‘Dear Bertha, Yes!’
The Blind Girl still, upturning the blank sightless face, down which the tear_ere coursing fast, addressed her in these words:
‘There is not, in my soul, a wish or thought that is not for your good, brigh_ay! There is not, in my soul, a grateful recollection stronger than the dee_emembrance which is stored there, of the many many times when, in the ful_ride of sight and beauty, you have had consideration for Blind Bertha, eve_hen we two were children, or when Bertha was as much a child as eve_lindness can be! Every blessing on your head! Light upon your happy course!
Not the less, my dear May;’ and she drew towards her, in a closer grasp; ‘no_he less, my bird, because, to–day, the knowledge that you are to be His wif_as wrung my heart almost to breaking! Father, May, Mary! oh forgive me tha_t is so, for the sake of all he has done to relieve the weariness of my dar_ife: and for the sake of the belief you have in me, when I call Heaven t_itness that I could not wish him married to a wife more worthy of hi_oodness!’
While speaking, she had released May Fielding’s hands, and clasped he_arments in an attitude of mingled supplication and love. Sinking lower an_ower down, as she proceeded in her strange confession, she dropped at last a_he feet of her friend, and hid her blind face in the folds of her dress.
‘Great Power!’ exclaimed her father, smitten at one blow with the truth, ‘hav_ deceived her from the cradle, but to break her heart at last!’
It was well for all of them that Dot, that beaming, useful, busy littl_ot—for such she was, whatever faults she had, and however you may learn t_ate her, in good time—it was well for all of them, I say, that she was there: or where this would have ended, it were hard to tell. But Dot, recovering he_elf–possession, interposed, before May could reply, or Caleb say anothe_ord.
‘Come, come, dear Bertha! come away with me! Give her your arm, May. So! Ho_omposed she is, you see, already; and how good it is of her to mind us,’ sai_he cheery little woman, kissing her upon the forehead. ‘Come away, dea_ertha. Come! and here’s her good father will come with her; won’t you, Caleb?
Well, well! she was a noble little Dot in such things, and it must have bee_n obdurate nature that could have withstood her influence. When she had go_oor Caleb and his Bertha away, that they might comfort and console eac_ther, as she knew they only could, she presently came bouncing back,—th_aying is, as fresh as any daisy; I say fresher—to mount guard over tha_ridling little piece of consequence in the cap and gloves, and prevent th_ear old creature from making discoveries.
‘So bring me the precious Baby, Tilly,’ said she, drawing a chair to the fire; ‘and while I have it in my lap, here’s Mrs. Fielding, Tilly, will tell me al_bout the management of Babies, and put me right in twenty points where I’m a_rong as can be. Won’t you, Mrs. Fielding?’
Not even the Welsh Giant, who, according to the popular expression, was so ‘slow’ as to perform a fatal surgical operation upon himself, in emulation o_ juggling–trick achieved by his arch–enemy at breakfast–time; not even h_ell half so readily into the snare prepared for him, as the old lady did int_his artful pitfall. The fact of Tackleton having walked out; and furthermore, of two or three people having been talking together at a distance, for tw_inutes, leaving her to her own resources; was quite enough to have put her o_er dignity, and the bewailment of that mysterious convulsion in the Indig_rade, for four–and–twenty hours. But this becoming deference to he_xperience, on the part of the young mother, was so irresistible, that after _hort affectation of humility, she began to enlighten her with the best grac_n the world; and sitting bolt upright before the wicked Dot, she did, in hal_n hour, deliver more infallible domestic recipes and precepts, than would (i_cted on) have utterly destroyed and done up that Young Peerybingle, though h_ad been an Infant Samson.
To change the theme, Dot did a little needlework—she carried the contents of _hole workbox in her pocket; however she contrived it, I don’t know—then did _ittle nursing; then a little more needlework; then had a little whisperin_hat with May, while the old lady dozed; and so in little bits of bustle, which was quite her manner always, found it a very short afternoon. Then, a_t grew dark, and as it was a solemn part of this Institution of the Pic–Ni_hat she should perform all Bertha’s household tasks, she trimmed the fire, and swept the hearth, and set the tea–board out, and drew the curtain, an_ighted a candle. Then she played an air or two on a rude kind of harp, whic_aleb had contrived for Bertha, and played them very well; for Nature had mad_er delicate little ear as choice a one for music as it would have been fo_ewels, if she had had any to wear. By this time it was the established hou_or having tea; and Tackleton came back again, to share the meal, and spen_he evening.
Caleb and Bertha had returned some time before, and Caleb had sat down to hi_fternoon’s work. But he couldn’t settle to it, poor fellow, being anxious an_emorseful for his daughter. It was touching to see him sitting idle on hi_orking–stool, regarding her so wistfully, and always saying in his face, ‘Have I deceived her from her cradle, but to break her heart!’
When it was night, and tea was done, and Dot had nothing more to do in washin_p the cups and saucers; in a word—for I must come to it, and there is no us_n putting it off—when the time drew nigh for expecting the Carrier’s retur_n every sound of distant wheels, her manner changed again, her colour cam_nd went, and she was very restless. Not as good wives are, when listening fo_heir husbands. No, no, no. It was another sort of restlessness from that.
Wheels heard. A horse’s feet. The barking of a dog. The gradual approach o_ll the sounds. The scratching paw of Boxer at the door!
‘Whose step is that!’ cried Bertha, starting up.
‘Whose step?’ returned the Carrier, standing in the portal, with his brow_ace ruddy as a winter berry from the keen night air. ‘Why, mine.’
‘The other step,’ said Bertha. ‘The man’s tread behind you!’
‘She is not to be deceived,’ observed the Carrier, laughing. ‘Come along, sir.
You’ll be welcome, never fear!’
He spoke in a loud tone; and as he spoke, the deaf old gentleman entered.
‘He’s not so much a stranger, that you haven’t seen him once, Caleb,’ said th_arrier. ‘You’ll give him house–room till we go?’
‘Oh surely, John, and take it as an honour.’
‘He’s the best company on earth, to talk secrets in,’ said John. ‘I hav_easonable good lungs, but he tries ’em, I can tell you. Sit down, sir. Al_riends here, and glad to see you!’
When he had imparted this assurance, in a voice that amply corroborated wha_e had said about his lungs, he added in his natural tone, ‘A chair in th_himney–corner, and leave to sit quite silent and look pleasantly about him, is all he cares for. He’s easily pleased.’
Bertha had been listening intently. She called Caleb to her side, when he ha_et the chair, and asked him, in a low voice, to describe their visitor. Whe_e had done so (truly now; with scrupulous fidelity), she moved, for the firs_ime since he had come in, and sighed, and seemed to have no further interes_oncerning him.
The Carrier was in high spirits, good fellow that he was, and fonder of hi_ittle wife than ever.
‘A clumsy Dot she was, this afternoon!’ he said, encircling her with his roug_rm, as she stood, removed from the rest; ‘and yet I like her somehow. Se_onder, Dot!’
He pointed to the old man. She looked down. I think she trembled.
‘He’s—ha ha ha!—he’s full of admiration for you!’ said the Carrier. ‘Talked o_othing else, the whole way here. Why, he’s a brave old boy. I like him fo_t!’
‘I wish he had had a better subject, John,’ she said, with an uneasy glanc_bout the room. At Tackleton especially.
‘A better subject!’ cried the jovial John. ‘There’s no such thing. Come, of_ith the great–coat, off with the thick shawl, off with the heavy wrappers!
and a cosy half–hour by the fire! My humble service, Mistress. A game a_ribbage, you and I? That’s hearty. The cards and board, Dot. And a glass o_eer here, if there’s any left, small wife!’
His challenge was addressed to the old lady, who accepting it with graciou_eadiness, they were soon engaged upon the game. At first, the Carrier looke_bout him sometimes, with a smile, or now and then called Dot to peep over hi_houlder at his hand, and advise him on some knotty point. But his adversar_eing a rigid disciplinarian, and subject to an occasional weakness in respec_f pegging more than she was entitled to, required such vigilance on his part, as left him neither eyes nor ears to spare. Thus, his whole attentio_radually became absorbed upon the cards; and he thought of nothing else, until a hand upon his shoulder restored him to a consciousness of Tackleton.
‘I am sorry to disturb you—but a word, directly.’
‘I’m going to deal,’ returned the Carrier. ‘It’s a crisis.’
‘It is,’ said Tackleton. ‘Come here, man!’
There was that in his pale face which made the other rise immediately, and as_im, in a hurry, what the matter was.
‘Hush! John Peerybingle,’ said Tackleton. ‘I am sorry for this. I am indeed. _ave been afraid of it. I have suspected it from the first.’
‘What is it?’ asked the Carrier, with a frightened aspect.
‘Hush! I’ll show you, if you’ll come with me.’
The Carrier accompanied him, without another word. They went across a yard, where the stars were shining, and by a little side–door, into Tackleton’s ow_ounting–house, where there was a glass window, commanding the ware–room, which was closed for the night. There was no light in the counting–hous_tself, but there were lamps in the long narrow ware–room; and consequentl_he window was bright.
‘A moment!’ said Tackleton. ‘Can you bear to look through that window, do yo_hink?’
‘Why not?’ returned the Carrier.
‘A moment more,’ said Tackleton. ‘Don’t commit any violence. It’s of no use.
It’s dangerous too. You’re a strong–made man; and you might do murder befor_ou know it.’
The Carrier looked him in the face, and recoiled a step as if he had bee_truck. In one stride he was at the window, and he saw—
Oh Shadow on the Hearth! Oh truthful Cricket! Oh perfidious Wife!
He saw her, with the old man—old no longer, but erect and gallant—bearing i_is hand the false white hair that had won his way into their desolate an_iserable home. He saw her listening to him, as he bent his head to whisper i_er ear; and suffering him to clasp her round the waist, as they moved slowl_own the dim wooden gallery towards the door by which they had entered it. H_aw them stop, and saw her turn—to have the face, the face he loved so, s_resented to his view!—and saw her, with her own hands, adjust the lie upo_is head, laughing, as she did it, at his unsuspicious nature!
He clenched his strong right hand at first, as if it would have beaten down _ion. But opening it immediately again, he spread it out before the eyes o_ackleton (for he was tender of her, even then), and so, as they passed out, fell down upon a desk, and was as weak as any infant.
He was wrapped up to the chin, and busy with his horse and parcels, when sh_ame into the room, prepared for going home.
‘Now, John, dear! Good night, May! Good night, Bertha!’
Could she kiss them? Could she be blithe and cheerful in her parting? Coul_he venture to reveal her face to them without a blush? Yes. Tackleto_bserved her closely, and she did all this.
Tilly was hushing the Baby, and she crossed and re–crossed Tackleton, a doze_imes, repeating drowsily:
‘Did the knowledge that it was to be its wifes, then, wring its hearts almos_o breaking; and did its fathers deceive it from its cradles but to break it_earts at last!’
‘Now, Tilly, give me the Baby! Good night, Mr. Tackleton. Where’s John, fo_oodness’ sake?’
‘He’s going to walk beside the horse’s head,’ said Tackleton; who helped he_o her seat.
‘My dear John. Walk? To–night?’
The muffled figure of her husband made a hasty sign in the affirmative; an_he false stranger and the little nurse being in their places, the old hors_oved off. Boxer, the unconscious Boxer, running on before, running back, running round and round the cart, and barking as triumphantly and merrily a_ver.
When Tackleton had gone off likewise, escorting May and her mother home, poo_aleb sat down by the fire beside his daughter; anxious and remorseful at th_ore; and still saying in his wistful contemplation of her, ‘Have I deceive_er from her cradle, but to break her heart at last!’
The toys that had been set in motion for the Baby, had all stopped, and ru_own, long ago. In the faint light and silence, the imperturbably calm dolls, the agitated rocking–horses with distended eyes and nostrils, the ol_entlemen at the street–doors, standing half doubled up upon their failin_nees and ankles, the wry–faced nut–crackers, the very Beasts upon their wa_nto the Ark, in twos, like a Boarding School out walking, might have bee_magined to be stricken motionless with fantastic wonder, at Dot being false, or Tackleton beloved, under any combination of circumstances.