THE Dutch clock in the corner struck Ten, when the Carrier sat down by hi_ireside. So troubled and grief–worn, that he seemed to scare the Cuckoo, who, having cut his ten melodious announcements as short as possible, plunged bac_nto the Moorish Palace again, and clapped his little door behind him, as i_he unwonted spectacle were too much for his feelings.
If the little Haymaker had been armed with the sharpest of scythes, and ha_ut at every stroke into the Carrier’s heart, he never could have gashed an_ounded it, as Dot had done.
It was a heart so full of love for her; so bound up and held together b_nnumerable threads of winning remembrance, spun from the daily working of he_any qualities of endearment; it was a heart in which she had enshrine_erself so gently and so closely; a heart so single and so earnest in it_ruth, so strong in right, so weak in wrong; that it could cherish neithe_assion nor revenge at first, and had only room to hold the broken image o_ts Idol.
But, slowly, slowly, as the Carrier sat brooding on his hearth, now cold an_ark, other and fiercer thoughts began to rise within him, as an angry win_omes rising in the night. The Stranger was beneath his outraged roof. Thre_teps would take him to his chamber–door. One blow would beat it in. ‘Yo_ight do murder before you know it,’ Tackleton had said. How could it b_urder, if he gave the villain time to grapple with him hand to hand! He wa_he younger man.
It was an ill–timed thought, bad for the dark mood of his mind. It was a_ngry thought, goading him to some avenging act, that should change th_heerful house into a haunted place which lonely travellers would dread t_ass by night; and where the timid would see shadows struggling in the ruine_indows when the moon was dim, and hear wild noises in the stormy weather.
He was the younger man! Yes, yes; some lover who had won the heart that he ha_ever touched. Some lover of her early choice, of whom she had thought an_reamed, for whom she had pined and pined, when he had fancied her so happy b_is side. O agony to think of it!
She had been above–stairs with the Baby, getting it to bed. As he sat broodin_n the hearth, she came close beside him, without his knowledge—in the turnin_f the rack of his great misery, he lost all other sounds—and put her littl_tool at his feet. He only knew it, when he felt her hand upon his own, an_aw her looking up into his face.
With wonder? No. It was his first impression, and he was fain to look at he_gain, to set it right. No, not with wonder. With an eager and inquiring look; but not with wonder. At first it was alarmed and serious; then, it change_nto a strange, wild, dreadful smile of recognition of his thoughts; then, there was nothing but her clasped hands on her brow, and her bent head, an_alling hair.
Though the power of Omnipotence had been his to wield at that moment, he ha_oo much of its diviner property of Mercy in his breast, to have turned on_eather’s weight of it against her. But he could not bear to see her crouchin_own upon the little seat where he had often looked on her, with love an_ride, so innocent and gay; and, when she rose and left him, sobbing as sh_ent, he felt it a relief to have the vacant place beside him rather than he_o long–cherished presence. This in itself was anguish keener than all, reminding him how desolate he was become, and how the great bond of his lif_as rent asunder.
The more he felt this, and the more he knew he could have better borne to se_er lying prematurely dead before him with their little child upon her breast, the higher and the stronger rose his wrath against his enemy. He looked abou_im for a weapon.
There was a gun, hanging on the wall. He took it down, and moved a pace or tw_owards the door of the perfidious Stranger’s room. He knew the gun wa_oaded. Some shadowy idea that it was just to shoot this man like a wil_east, seized him, and dilated in his mind until it grew into a monstrou_emon in complete possession of him, casting out all milder thoughts an_etting up its undivided empire.
That phrase is wrong. Not casting out his milder thoughts, but artfull_ransforming them. Changing them into scourges to drive him on. Turning wate_nto blood, love into hate, gentleness into blind ferocity. Her image, sorrowing, humbled, but still pleading to his tenderness and mercy wit_esistless power, never left his mind; but, staying there, it urged him to th_oor; raised the weapon to his shoulder; fitted and nerved his finger to th_rigger; and cried ‘Kill him! In his bed!’
He reversed the gun to beat the stock up the door; he already held it lifte_n the air; some indistinct design was in his thoughts of calling out to hi_o fly, for God’s sake, by the window—
When, suddenly, the struggling fire illumined the whole chimney with a glow o_ight; and the Cricket on the Hearth began to Chirp!
No sound he could have heard, no human voice, not even hers, could so hav_oved and softened him. The artless words in which she had told him of he_ove for this same Cricket, were once more freshly spoken; her trembling, earnest manner at the moment, was again before him; her pleasant voice—O wha_ voice it was, for making household music at the fireside of an hones_an!—thrilled through and through his better nature, and awoke it into lif_nd action.
He recoiled from the door, like a man walking in his sleep, awakened from _rightful dream; and put the gun aside. Clasping his hands before his face, h_hen sat down again beside the fire, and found relief in tears.
The Cricket on the Hearth came out into the room, and stood in Fairy shap_efore him.
‘“I love it,”’ said the Fairy Voice, repeating what he well remembered, ‘“fo_he many times I have heard it, and the many thoughts its harmless music ha_iven me.”’
‘She said so!’ cried the Carrier. ‘True!’
‘“This has been a happy home, John; and I love the Cricket for its sake!”’
‘It has been, Heaven knows,’ returned the Carrier. ‘She made it happy, always,—until now.’
‘So gracefully sweet–tempered; so domestic, joyful, busy, and light–hearted!’ said the Voice.
‘Otherwise I never could have loved her as I did,’ returned the Carrier.
The Voice, correcting him, said ‘do.’
The Carrier repeated ‘as I did.’ But not firmly. His faltering tongue resiste_is control, and would speak in its own way, for itself and him.
The Figure, in an attitude of invocation, raised its hand and said:
‘Upon your own hearth—’
‘The hearth she has blighted,’ interposed the Carrier.
‘The hearth she has—how often!—blessed and brightened,’ said the Cricket; ‘th_earth which, but for her, were only a few stones and bricks and rusty bars, but which has been, through her, the Altar of your Home; on which you hav_ightly sacrificed some petty passion, selfishness, or care, and offered u_he homage of a tranquil mind, a trusting nature, and an overflowing heart; s_hat the smoke from this poor chimney has gone upward with a better fragranc_han the richest incense that is burnt before the richest shrines in all th_audy temples of this world!—Upon your own hearth; in its quiet sanctuary; surrounded by its gentle influences and associations; hear her! Hear me! Hea_verything that speaks the language of your hearth and home!’
‘And pleads for her?’ inquired the Carrier.
‘All things that speak the language of your hearth and home, must plead fo_er!’ returned the Cricket. ‘For they speak the truth.’
And while the Carrier, with his head upon his hands, continued to si_editating in his chair, the Presence stood beside him, suggesting hi_eflections by its power, and presenting them before him, as in a glass o_icture. It was not a solitary Presence. From the hearthstone, from th_himney, from the clock, the pipe, the kettle, and the cradle; from the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and the stairs; from the cart without, and th_upboard within, and the household implements; from every thing and ever_lace with which she had ever been familiar, and with which she had eve_ntwined one recollection of herself in her unhappy husband’s mind; Fairie_ame trooping forth. Not to stand beside him as the Cricket did, but to bus_nd bestir themselves. To do all honour to her image. To pull him by th_kirts, and point to it when it appeared. To cluster round it, and embrace it, and strew flowers for it to tread on. To try to crown its fair head with thei_iny hands. To show that they were fond of it and loved it; and that there wa_ot one ugly, wicked or accusatory creature to claim knowledge of it—none bu_heir playful and approving selves.
His thoughts were constant to her image. It was always there.
She sat plying her needle, before the fire, and singing to herself. Such _lithe, thriving, steady little Dot! The fairy figures turned upon him all a_nce, by one consent, with one prodigious concentrated stare, and seemed t_ay, ‘Is this the light wife you are mourning for!’
There were sounds of gaiety outside, musical instruments, and noisy tongues, and laughter. A crowd of young merry–makers came pouring in, among whom wer_ay Fielding and a score of pretty girls. Dot was the fairest of them all; a_oung as any of them too. They came to summon her to join their party. It wa_ dance. If ever little foot were made for dancing, hers was, surely. But sh_aughed, and shook her head, and pointed to her cookery on the fire, and he_able ready spread: with an exulting defiance that rendered her more charmin_han she was before. And so she merrily dismissed them, nodding to he_ould–be partners, one by one, as they passed, but with a comica_ndifference, enough to make them go and drown themselves immediately if the_ere her admirers—and they must have been so, more or less; they couldn’t hel_t. And yet indifference was not her character. O no! For presently, ther_ame a certain Carrier to the door; and bless her what a welcome she bestowe_pon him!
Again the staring figures turned upon him all at once, and seemed to say, ‘I_his the wife who has forsaken you!’
A shadow fell upon the mirror or the picture: call it what you will. A grea_hadow of the Stranger, as he first stood underneath their roof; covering it_urface, and blotting out all other objects. But the nimble Fairies worke_ike bees to clear it off again. And Dot again was there. Still bright an_eautiful.
Rocking her little Baby in its cradle, singing to it softly, and resting he_ead upon a shoulder which had its counterpart in the musing figure by whic_he Fairy Cricket stood.
The night—I mean the real night: not going by Fairy clocks—was wearing now; and in this stage of the Carrier’s thoughts, the moon burst out, and shon_rightly in the sky. Perhaps some calm and quiet light had risen also, in hi_ind; and he could think more soberly of what had happened.
Although the shadow of the Stranger fell at intervals upon the glass—alway_istinct, and big, and thoroughly defined—it never fell so darkly as at first.
Whenever it appeared, the Fairies uttered a general cry of consternation, an_lied their little arms and legs, with inconceivable activity, to rub it out.
And whenever they got at Dot again, and showed her to him once more, brigh_nd beautiful, they cheered in the most inspiring manner.
They never showed her, otherwise than beautiful and bright, for they wer_ousehold Spirits to whom falsehood is annihilation; and being so, what Do_as there for them, but the one active, beaming, pleasant little creature wh_ad been the light and sun of the Carrier’s Home!
The Fairies were prodigiously excited when they showed her, with the Baby, gossiping among a knot of sage old matrons, and affecting to be wondrous ol_nd matronly herself, and leaning in a staid, demure old way upon he_usband’s arm, attempting—she! such a bud of a little woman—to convey the ide_f having abjured the vanities of the world in general, and of being the sor_f person to whom it was no novelty at all to be a mother; yet in the sam_reath, they showed her, laughing at the Carrier for being awkward, an_ulling up his shirt–collar to make him smart, and mincing merrily about tha_ery room to teach him how to dance!
They turned, and stared immensely at him when they showed her with the Blin_irl; for, though she carried cheerfulness and animation with her wheresoeve_he went, she bore those influences into Caleb Plummer’s home, heaped up an_unning over. The Blind Girl’s love for her, and trust in her, and gratitud_o her; her own good busy way of setting Bertha’s thanks aside; her dexterou_ittle arts for filling up each moment of the visit in doing something usefu_o the house, and really working hard while feigning to make holiday; he_ountiful provision of those standing delicacies, the Veal and Ham–Pie and th_ottles of Beer; her radiant little face arriving at the door, and takin_eave; the wonderful expression in her whole self, from her neat foot to th_rown of her head, of being a part of the establishment—a something necessar_o it, which it couldn’t be without; all this the Fairies revelled in, an_oved her for. And once again they looked upon him all at once, appealingly, and seemed to say, while some among them nestled in her dress and fondled her, ‘Is this the wife who has betrayed your confidence!’
More than once, or twice, or thrice, in the long thoughtful night, they showe_er to him sitting on her favourite seat, with her bent head, her hand_lasped on her brow, her falling hair. As he had seen her last. And when the_ound her thus, they neither turned nor looked upon him, but gathered clos_ound her, and comforted and kissed her, and pressed on one another to sho_ympathy and kindness to her, and forgot him altogether.
Thus the night passed. The moon went down; the stars grew pale; the cold da_roke; the sun rose. The Carrier still sat, musing, in the chimney corner. H_ad sat there, with his head upon his hands, all night. All night the faithfu_ricket had been Chirp, Chirp, Chirping on the Hearth. All night he ha_istened to its voice. All night the household Fairies had been busy with him.
All night she had been amiable and blameless in the glass, except when tha_ne shadow fell upon it.
He rose up when it was broad day, and washed and dressed himself. He couldn’_o about his customary cheerful avocations—he wanted spirit for them—but i_attered the less, that it was Tackleton’s wedding–day, and he had arranged t_ake his rounds by proxy. He thought to have gone merrily to church with Dot.
But such plans were at an end. It was their own wedding–day too. Ah! ho_ittle he had looked for such a close to such a year!
The Carrier had expected that Tackleton would pay him an early visit; and h_as right. He had not walked to and fro before his own door, many minutes, when he saw the Toy–merchant coming in his chaise along the road. As th_haise drew nearer, he perceived that Tackleton was dressed out sprucely fo_is marriage, and that he had decorated his horse’s head with flowers an_avours.
The horse looked much more like a bridegroom than Tackleton, whose half–close_ye was more disagreeably expressive than ever. But the Carrier took littl_eed of this. His thoughts had other occupation.
‘John Peerybingle!’ said Tackleton, with an air of condolence. ‘My goo_ellow, how do you find yourself this morning?’
‘I have had but a poor night, Master Tackleton,’ returned the Carrier, shakin_is head: ‘for I have been a good deal disturbed in my mind. But it’s ove_ow! Can you spare me half an hour or so, for some private talk?’
‘I came on purpose,’ returned Tackleton, alighting. ‘Never mind the horse.
He’ll stand quiet enough, with the reins over this post, if you’ll give him _outhful of hay.’
The Carrier having brought it from his stable, and set it before him, the_urned into the house.
‘You are not married before noon,’ he said, ‘I think?’
‘No,’ answered Tackleton. ‘Plenty of time. Plenty of time.’
When they entered the kitchen, Tilly Slowboy was rapping at the Stranger’_oor; which was only removed from it by a few steps. One of her very red eyes (for Tilly had been crying all night long, because her mistress cried) was a_he keyhole; and she was knocking very loud; and seemed frightened.
‘If you please I can’t make nobody hear,’ said Tilly, looking round. ‘I hop_obody an’t gone and been and died if you please!’
This philanthropic wish, Miss Slowboy emphasised with various new raps an_icks at the door; which led to no result whatever.
‘Shall I go?’ said Tackleton. ‘It’s curious.’
The Carrier, who had turned his face from the door, signed to him to go if h_ould.
So Tackleton went to Tilly Slowboy’s relief; and he too kicked and knocked; and he too failed to get the least reply. But he thought of trying the handl_f the door; and as it opened easily, he peeped in, looked in, went in, an_oon came running out again.
‘John Peerybingle,’ said Tackleton, in his ear. ‘I hope there has bee_othing—nothing rash in the night?’
The Carrier turned upon him quickly.
‘Because he’s gone!’ said Tackleton; ‘and the window’s open. I don’t see an_arks—to be sure it’s almost on a level with the garden: but I was afrai_here might have been some—some scuffle. Eh?’
He nearly shut up the expressive eye altogether; he looked at him so hard. An_e gave his eye, and his face, and his whole person, a sharp twist. As if h_ould have screwed the truth out of him.
‘Make yourself easy,’ said the Carrier. ‘He went into that room last night, without harm in word or deed from me, and no one has entered it since. He i_way of his own free will. I’d go out gladly at that door, and beg my brea_rom house to house, for life, if I could so change the past that he had neve_ome. But he has come and gone. And I have done with him!’
‘Oh!—Well, I think he has got off pretty easy,’ said Tackleton, taking _hair.
The sneer was lost upon the Carrier, who sat down too, and shaded his fac_ith his hand, for some little time, before proceeding.
‘You showed me last night,’ he said at length, ‘my wife; my wife that I love; secretly—’
‘And tenderly,’ insinuated Tackleton.
‘Conniving at that man’s disguise, and giving him opportunities of meeting he_lone. I think there’s no sight I wouldn’t have rather seen than that. I thin_here’s no man in the world I wouldn’t have rather had to show it me.’
‘I confess to having had my suspicions always,’ said Tackleton. ‘And that ha_ade me objectionable here, I know.’
‘But as you did show it me,’ pursued the Carrier, not minding him; ‘and as yo_aw her, my wife, my wife that I love’—his voice, and eye, and hand, gre_teadier and firmer as he repeated these words: evidently in pursuance of _teadfast purpose—‘as you saw her at this disadvantage, it is right and jus_hat you should also see with my eyes, and look into my breast, and know wha_y mind is, upon the subject. For it’s settled,’ said the Carrier, regardin_im attentively. ‘And nothing can shake it now.’
Tackleton muttered a few general words of assent, about its being necessary t_indicate something or other; but he was overawed by the manner of hi_ompanion. Plain and unpolished as it was, it had a something dignified an_oble in it, which nothing but the soul of generous honour dwelling in the ma_ould have imparted.
‘I am a plain, rough man,’ pursued the Carrier, ‘with very little to recommen_e. I am not a clever man, as you very well know. I am not a young man. _oved my little Dot, because I had seen her grow up, from a child, in he_ather’s house; because I knew how precious she was; because she had been m_ife, for years and years. There’s many men I can’t compare with, who neve_ould have loved my little Dot like me, I think!’
He paused, and softly beat the ground a short time with his foot, befor_esuming.
‘I often thought that though I wasn’t good enough for her, I should make her _ind husband, and perhaps know her value better than another; and in this wa_ reconciled it to myself, and came to think it might be possible that w_hould be married. And in the end it came about, and we were married.’
‘Hah!’ said Tackleton, with a significant shake of the head.
‘I had studied myself; I had had experience of myself; I knew how much I love_er, and how happy I should be,’ pursued the Carrier. ‘But I had not—I feel i_ow—sufficiently considered her.’
‘To be sure,’ said Tackleton. ‘Giddiness, frivolity, fickleness, love o_dmiration! Not considered! All left out of sight! Hah!’
‘You had best not interrupt me,’ said the Carrier, with some sternness, ‘til_ou understand me; and you’re wide of doing so. If, yesterday, I’d have struc_hat man down at a blow, who dared to breathe a word against her, to–day I’_et my foot upon his face, if he was my brother!’
The Toy–merchant gazed at him in astonishment. He went on in a softer tone:
‘Did I consider,’ said the Carrier, ‘that I took her—at her age, and with he_eauty—from her young companions, and the many scenes of which she was th_rnament; in which she was the brightest little star that ever shone, to shu_er up from day to day in my dull house, and keep my tedious company? Did _onsider how little suited I was to her sprightly humour, and how wearisome _lodding man like me must be, to one of her quick spirit? Did I consider tha_t was no merit in me, or claim in me, that I loved her, when everybody must, who knew her? Never. I took advantage of her hopeful nature and her cheerfu_isposition; and I married her. I wish I never had! For her sake; not fo_ine!’
The Toy–merchant gazed at him, without winking. Even the half–shut eye wa_pen now.
‘Heaven bless her!’ said the Carrier, ‘for the cheerful constancy with whic_he tried to keep the knowledge of this from me! And Heaven help me, that, i_y slow mind, I have not found it out before! Poor child! Poor Dot! I not t_ind it out, who have seen her eyes fill with tears, when such a marriage a_ur own was spoken of! I, who have seen the secret trembling on her lips _undred times, and never suspected it till last night! Poor girl! That I coul_ver hope she would be fond of me! That I could ever believe she was!’
‘She made a show of it,’ said Tackleton. ‘She made such a show of it, that t_ell you the truth it was the origin of my misgivings.’
And here he asserted the superiority of May Fielding, who certainly made n_ort of show of being fond of him.
‘She has tried,’ said the poor Carrier, with greater emotion than he ha_xhibited yet; ‘I only now begin to know how hard she has tried, to be m_utiful and zealous wife. How good she has been; how much she has done; ho_rave and strong a heart she has; let the happiness I have known under thi_oof bear witness! It will be some help and comfort to me, when I am her_lone.’
‘Here alone?’ said Tackleton. ‘Oh! Then you do mean to take some notice o_his?’
‘I mean,’ returned the Carrier, ‘to do her the greatest kindness, and make he_he best reparation, in my power. I can release her from the daily pain of a_nequal marriage, and the struggle to conceal it. She shall be as free as _an render her.’
‘Make her reparation!’ exclaimed Tackleton, twisting and turning his grea_ars with his hands. ‘There must be something wrong here. You didn’t say that, of course.’
The Carrier set his grip upon the collar of the Toy–merchant, and shook hi_ike a reed.
‘Listen to me!’ he said. ‘And take care that you hear me right. Listen to me.
Do I speak plainly?’
‘Very plainly indeed,’ answered Tackleton.
‘As if I meant it?’
‘Very much as if you meant it.’
‘I sat upon that hearth, last night, all night,’ exclaimed the Carrier. ‘O_he spot where she has often sat beside me, with her sweet face looking int_ine. I called up her whole life, day by day. I had her dear self, in it_very passage, in review before me. And upon my soul she is innocent, if ther_s One to judge the innocent and guilty!’
Staunch Cricket on the Hearth! Loyal household Fairies!
‘Passion and distrust have left me!’ said the Carrier; ‘and nothing but m_rief remains. In an unhappy moment some old lover, better suited to he_astes and years than I; forsaken, perhaps, for me, against her will; returned. In an unhappy moment, taken by surprise, and wanting time to thin_f what she did, she made herself a party to his treachery, by concealing it.
Last night she saw him, in the interview we witnessed. It was wrong. Bu_therwise than this she is innocent if there is truth on earth!’
‘If that is your opinion’—Tackleton began.
‘So, let her go!’ pursued the Carrier. ‘Go, with my blessing for the man_appy hours she has given me, and my forgiveness for any pang she has cause_e. Let her go, and have the peace of mind I wish her! She’ll never hate me.
She’ll learn to like me better, when I’m not a drag upon her, and she wear_he chain I have riveted, more lightly. This is the day on which I took her, with so little thought for her enjoyment, from her home. To–day she shal_eturn to it, and I will trouble her no more. Her father and mother will b_ere to–day—we had made a little plan for keeping it together—and they shal_ake her home. I can trust her, there, or anywhere. She leaves me withou_lame, and she will live so I am sure. If I should die—I may perhaps while sh_s still young; I have lost some courage in a few hours—she’ll find that _emembered her, and loved her to the last! This is the end of what you showe_e. Now, it’s over!’
‘O no, John, not over. Do not say it’s over yet! Not quite yet. I have hear_our noble words. I could not steal away, pretending to be ignorant of wha_as affected me with such deep gratitude. Do not say it’s over, ‘till th_lock has struck again!’
She had entered shortly after Tackleton, and had remained there. She neve_ooked at Tackleton, but fixed her eyes upon her husband. But she kept awa_rom him, setting as wide a space as possible between them; and though sh_poke with most impassioned earnestness, she went no nearer to him even then.
How different in this from her old self!
‘No hand can make the clock which will strike again for me the hours that ar_one,’ replied the Carrier, with a faint smile. ‘But let it be so, if yo_ill, my dear. It will strike soon. It’s of little matter what we say. I’d tr_o please you in a harder case than that.’
‘Well!’ muttered Tackleton. ‘I must be off, for when the clock strikes again, it’ll be necessary for me to be upon my way to church. Good morning, Joh_eerybingle. I’m sorry to be deprived of the pleasure of your company. Sorr_or the loss, and the occasion of it too!’
‘I have spoken plainly?’ said the Carrier, accompanying him to the door.
‘And you’ll remember what I have said?’
‘Why, if you compel me to make the observation,’ said Tackleton, previousl_aking the precaution of getting into his chaise; ‘I must say that it was s_ery unexpected, that I’m far from being likely to forget it.’
‘The better for us both,’ returned the Carrier. ‘Good bye. I give you joy!’
‘I wish I could give it to you,’ said Tackleton. ‘As I can’t; thank’ee.
Between ourselves, (as I told you before, eh?) I don’t much think I shall hav_he less joy in my married life, because May hasn’t been too officious abou_e, and too demonstrative. Good bye! Take care of yourself.’
The Carrier stood looking after him until he was smaller in the distance tha_is horse’s flowers and favours near at hand; and then, with a deep sigh, wen_trolling like a restless, broken man, among some neighbouring elms; unwillin_o return until the clock was on the eve of striking.
His little wife, being left alone, sobbed piteously; but often dried her eye_nd checked herself, to say how good he was, how excellent he was! and once o_wice she laughed; so heartily, triumphantly, and incoherently (still cryin_ll the time), that Tilly was quite horrified.
‘Ow if you please don’t!’ said Tilly. ‘It’s enough to dead and bury the Baby, so it is if you please.’
‘Will you bring him sometimes, to see his father, Tilly,’ inquired he_istress, drying her eyes; ‘when I can’t live here, and have gone to my ol_ome?’
‘Ow if you please don’t!’ cried Tilly, throwing back her head, and burstin_ut into a howl—she looked at the moment uncommonly like Boxer. ‘Ow if yo_lease don’t! Ow, what has everybody gone and been and done with everybody, making everybody else so wretched! Ow–w–w–w!’
The soft–hearted Slowboy trailed off at this juncture, into such a deplorabl_owl, the more tremendous from its long suppression, that she must infallibl_ave awakened the Baby, and frightened him into something serious (probabl_onvulsions), if her eyes had not encountered Caleb Plummer, leading in hi_aughter. This spectacle restoring her to a sense of the proprieties, sh_tood for some few moments silent, with her mouth wide open; and then, postin_ff to the bed on which the Baby lay asleep, danced in a weird, Saint Vitu_anner on the floor, and at the same time rummaged with her face and hea_mong the bedclothes, apparently deriving much relief from those extraordinar_perations.
‘Mary!’ said Bertha. ‘Not at the marriage!’
‘I told her you would not be there, mum,’ whispered Caleb. ‘I heard as muc_ast night. But bless you,’ said the little man, taking her tenderly by bot_ands, ‘I don’t care for what they say. I don’t believe them. There an’t muc_f me, but that little should be torn to pieces sooner than I’d trust a wor_gainst you!’
He put his arms about her and hugged her, as a child might have hugged one o_is own dolls.
‘Bertha couldn’t stay at home this morning,’ said Caleb. ‘She was afraid, _now, to hear the bells ring, and couldn’t trust herself to be so near them o_heir wedding–day. So we started in good time, and came here. I have bee_hinking of what I have done,’ said Caleb, after a moment’s pause; ‘I hav_een blaming myself till I hardly knew what to do or where to turn, for th_istress of mind I have caused her; and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’_etter, if you’ll stay with me, mum, the while, tell her the truth. You’l_tay with me the while?’ he inquired, trembling from head to foot. ‘I don’_now what effect it may have upon her; I don’t know what she’ll think of me; _on’t know that she’ll ever care for her poor father afterwards. But it’s bes_or her that she should be undeceived, and I must bear the consequences as _eserve!’
‘ Mary,’ said Bertha, ‘where is your hand! Ah! Here it is here it is!’ pressing it to her lips, with a smile, and drawing it through her arm. ‘_eard them speaking softly among themselves, last night, of some blame agains_ou. They were wrong.’
The Carrier’s Wife was silent. Caleb answered for her.
‘They were wrong,’ he said.
‘I knew it!’ cried Bertha, proudly. ‘I told them so. I scorned to hear a word!
Blame her with justice!’ she pressed the hand between her own, and the sof_heek against her face. ‘No! I am not so blind as that.’
Her father went on one side of her, while Dot remained upon the other: holdin_er hand.
‘I know you all,’ said Bertha, ‘better than you think. But none so well a_er. Not even you, father. There is nothing half so real and so true about me, as she is. If I could be restored to sight this instant, and not a word wer_poken, I could choose her from a crowd! My sister!’
‘Bertha, my dear!’ said Caleb, ‘I have something on my mind I want to tel_ou, while we three are alone. Hear me kindly! I have a confession to make t_ou, my darling.’
‘A confession, father?’
‘I have wandered from the truth and lost myself, my child,’ said Caleb, with _itiable expression in his bewildered face. ‘I have wandered from the truth, intending to be kind to you; and have been cruel.’
She turned her wonder–stricken face towards him, and repeated ‘Cruel!’
‘He accuses himself too strongly, Bertha,’ said Dot. ‘You’ll say so, presently. You’ll be the first to tell him so.’
‘He cruel to me!’ cried Bertha, with a smile of incredulity.
‘Not meaning it, my child,’ said Caleb. ‘But I have been; though I neve_uspected it, till yesterday. My dear blind daughter, hear me and forgive me!
The world you live in, heart of mine, doesn’t exist as I have represented it.
The eyes you have trusted in, have been false to you.’
She turned her wonder–stricken face towards him still; but drew back, an_lung closer to her friend.
‘Your road in life was rough, my poor one,’ said Caleb, ‘and I meant to smoot_t for you. I have altered objects, changed the characters of people, invente_any things that never have been, to make you happier. I have had concealment_rom you, put deceptions on you, God forgive me! and surrounded you wit_ancies.’
‘But living people are not fancies!’ she said hurriedly, and turning ver_ale, and still retiring from him. ‘You can’t change them.’
‘I have done so, Bertha,’ pleaded Caleb. ‘There is one person that you know, my dove—’
‘Oh father! why do you say, I know?’ she answered, in a term of keen reproach.
‘What and whom do I know! I who have no leader! I so miserably blind.’
In the anguish of her heart, she stretched out her hands, as if she wer_roping her way; then spread them, in a manner most forlorn and sad, upon he_ace.
‘The marriage that takes place to–day,’ said Caleb, ‘is with a stern, sordid, grinding man. A hard master to you and me, my dear, for many years. Ugly i_is looks, and in his nature. Cold and callous always. Unlike what I hav_ainted him to you in everything, my child. In everything.’
‘Oh why,’ cried the Blind Girl, tortured, as it seemed, almost beyon_ndurance, ‘why did you ever do this! Why did you ever fill my heart so full, and then come in like Death, and tear away the objects of my love! O Heaven, how blind I am! How helpless and alone!’
Her afflicted father hung his head, and offered no reply but in his penitenc_nd sorrow.
She had been but a short time in this passion of regret, when the Cricket o_he Hearth, unheard by all but her, began to chirp. Not merrily, but in a low, faint, sorrowing way. It was so mournful that her tears began to flow; an_hen the Presence which had been beside the Carrier all night, appeared behin_er, pointing to her father, they fell down like rain.
She heard the Cricket–voice more plainly soon, and was conscious, through he_lindness, of the Presence hovering about her father.
‘Mary,’ said the Blind Girl, ‘tell me what my home is. What it truly is.’
‘It is a poor place, Bertha; very poor and bare indeed. The house wil_carcely keep out wind and rain another winter. It is as roughly shielded fro_he weather, Bertha,’ Dot continued in a low, clear voice, ‘as your poo_ather in his sack–cloth coat.’
The Blind Girl, greatly agitated, rose, and led the Carrier’s little wif_side.
‘Those presents that I took such care of; that came almost at my wish, an_ere so dearly welcome to me,’ she said, trembling; ‘where did they come from?
Did you send them?’
Dot saw she knew, already, and was silent. The Blind Girl spread her hand_efore her face again. But in quite another manner now.
‘Dear Mary, a moment. One moment? More this way. Speak softly to me. You ar_rue, I know. You’d not deceive me now; would you?’
‘No, Bertha, indeed!’
‘No, I am sure you would not. You have too much pity for me. Mary, look acros_he room to where we were just now—to where my father is—my father, s_ompassionate and loving to me—and tell me what you see.’
‘I see,’ said Dot, who understood her well, ‘an old man sitting in a chair, and leaning sorrowfully on the back, with his face resting on his hand. As i_is child should comfort him, Bertha.’
‘Yes, yes. She will. Go on.’
‘He is an old man, worn with care and work. He is a spare, dejected, thoughtful, grey–haired man. I see him now, despondent and bowed down, an_triving against nothing. But, Bertha, I have seen him many times before, an_triving hard in many ways for one great sacred object. And I honour his gre_ead, and bless him!’
The Blind Girl broke away from her; and throwing herself upon her knees befor_im, took the grey head to her breast.
‘It is my sight restored. It is my sight!’ she cried. ‘I have been blind, an_ow my eyes are open. I never knew him! To think I might have died, and neve_ruly seen the father who has been so loving to me!’
There were no words for Caleb’s emotion.
‘There is not a gallant figure on this earth,’ exclaimed the Blind Girl, holding him in her embrace, ‘that I would love so dearly, and would cherish s_evotedly, as this! The greyer, and more worn, the dearer, father! Never le_hem say I am blind again. There’s not a furrow in his face, there’s not _air upon his head, that shall be forgotten in my prayers and thanks t_eaven!’
Caleb managed to articulate ‘My Bertha!’
‘And in my blindness, I believed him,’ said the girl, caressing him with tear_f exquisite affection, ‘to be so different! And having him beside me, day b_ay, so mindful of me—always, never dreamed of this!’
‘The fresh smart father in the blue coat, Bertha,’ said poor Caleb. ‘He’_one!’
‘Nothing is gone,’ she answered. ‘Dearest father, no! Everything is here—i_ou. The father that I loved so well; the father that I never loved enough, and never knew; the benefactor whom I first began to reverence and love, because he had such sympathy for me; All are here in you. Nothing is dead t_e. The soul of all that was most dear to me is here—here, with the worn face, and the grey head. And I am not blind, father, any longer!’
Dot’s whole attention had been concentrated, during this discourse, upon th_ather and daughter; but looking, now, towards the little Haymaker in th_oorish meadow, she saw that the clock was within a few minutes of striking, and fell, immediately, into a nervous and excited state.
‘Father,’ said Bertha, hesitating. ‘Mary.’
‘Yes, my dear,’ returned Caleb. ‘Here she is.’
‘There is no change in her. You never told me anything of her that was no_rue?’
‘I should have done it, my dear, I am afraid,’ returned Caleb, ‘if I coul_ave made her better than she was. But I must have changed her for the worse, if I had changed her at all. Nothing could improve her, Bertha.’
Confident as the Blind Girl had been when she asked the question, her deligh_nd pride in the reply and her renewed embrace of Dot, were charming t_ehold.
‘More changes than you think for, may happen though, my dear,’ said Dot.
‘Changes for the better, I mean; changes for great joy to some of us. Yo_ustn’t let them startle you too much, if any such should ever happen, an_ffect you? Are those wheels upon the road? You’ve a quick ear, Bertha. Ar_hey wheels?’
‘Yes. Coming very fast.’
‘I—I—I know you have a quick ear,’ said Dot, placing her hand upon her heart, and evidently talking on, as fast as she could to hide its palpitating state, ‘because I have noticed it often, and because you were so quick to find ou_hat strange step last night. Though why you should have said, as I very wel_ecollect you did say, Bertha, “Whose step is that!” and why you should hav_aken any greater observation of it than of any other step, I don’t know.
Though as I said just now, there are great changes in the world: grea_hanges: and we can’t do better than prepare ourselves to be surprised a_ardly anything.’
Caleb wondered what this meant; perceiving that she spoke to him, no less tha_o his daughter. He saw her, with astonishment, so fluttered and distresse_hat she could scarcely breathe; and holding to a chair, to save herself fro_alling.
‘They are wheels indeed!’ she panted. ‘Coming nearer! Nearer! Very close! An_ow you hear them stopping at the garden–gate! And now you hear a step outsid_he door—the same step, Bertha, is it not!—and now!’—
She uttered a wild cry of uncontrollable delight; and running up to Caleb pu_er hands upon his eyes, as a young man rushed into the room, and flingin_way his hat into the air, came sweeping down upon them.
‘Is it over?’ cried Dot.
‘Do you recollect the voice, dear Caleb? Did you ever hear the like of i_efore?’ cried Dot.
‘If my boy in the Golden South Americas was alive’—said Caleb, trembling.
‘He is alive!’ shrieked Dot, removing her hands from his eyes, and clappin_hem in ecstasy; ‘look at him! See where he stands before you, healthy an_trong! Your own dear son! Your own dear living, loving brother, Bertha
All honour to the little creature for her transports! All honour to her tear_nd laughter, when the three were locked in one another’s arms! All honour t_he heartiness with which she met the sunburnt sailor–fellow, with his dar_treaming hair, half–way, and never turned her rosy little mouth aside, bu_uffered him to kiss it, freely, and to press her to his bounding heart!
And honour to the Cuckoo too—why not!—for bursting out of the trap–door in th_oorish Palace like a house–breaker, and hiccoughing twelve times on th_ssembled company, as if he had got drunk for joy!
The Carrier, entering, started back. And well he might, to find himself i_uch good company.
‘Look, John!’ said Caleb, exultingly, ‘look here! My own boy from the Golde_outh Americas! My own son! Him that you fitted out, and sent away yourself!
Him that you were always such a friend to!’
The Carrier advanced to seize him by the hand; but, recoiling, as some featur_n his face awakened a remembrance of the Deaf Man in the Cart, said:
‘Edward! Was it you?’
‘Now tell him all!’ cried Dot. ‘Tell him all, Edward; and don’t spare me, fo_othing shall make me spare myself in his eyes, ever again.’
‘I was the man,’ said Edward.
‘And could you steal, disguised, into the house of your old friend?’ rejoine_he Carrier. ‘There was a frank boy once—how many years is it, Caleb, since w_eard that he was dead, and had it proved, we thought?—who never would hav_one that.’
‘There was a generous friend of mine, once; more a father to me than _riend;’ said Edward, ‘who never would have judged me, or any other man, unheard. You were he. So I am certain you will hear me now.’
The Carrier, with a troubled glance at Dot, who still kept far away from him, replied, ‘Well! that’s but fair. I will.’
‘You must know that when I left here, a boy,’ said Edward, ‘I was in love, an_y love was returned. She was a very young girl, who perhaps (you may tell me) didn’t know her own mind. But I knew mine, and I had a passion for her.’
‘You had!’ exclaimed the Carrier. ‘You!’
‘Indeed I had,’ returned the other. ‘And she returned it. I have ever sinc_elieved she did, and now I am sure she did.’
‘Heaven help me!’ said the Carrier. ‘This is worse than all.’
‘Constant to her,’ said Edward, ‘and returning, full of hope, after man_ardships and perils, to redeem my part of our old contract, I heard, twent_iles away, that she was false to me; that she had forgotten me; and ha_estowed herself upon another and a richer man. I had no mind to reproach her; but I wished to see her, and to prove beyond dispute that this was true. _oped she might have been forced into it, against her own desire an_ecollection. It would be small comfort, but it would be some, I thought, an_n I came. That I might have the truth, the real truth; observing freely fo_yself, and judging for myself, without obstruction on the one hand, o_resenting my own influence (if I had any) before her, on the other; I dresse_yself unlike myself—you know how; and waited on the road—you know where. Yo_ad no suspicion of me; neither had—had she,’ pointing to Dot, ‘until _hispered in her ear at that fireside, and she so nearly betrayed me.’
‘But when she knew that Edward was alive, and had come back,’ sobbed Dot, no_peaking for herself, as she had burned to do, all through this narrative; ‘and when she knew his purpose, she advised him by all means to keep hi_ecret close; for his old friend John Peerybingle was much too open in hi_ature, and too clumsy in all artifice—being a clumsy man in general,’ sai_ot, half laughing and half crying—‘to keep it for him. And when she—that’_e, John,’ sobbed the little woman—‘told him all, and how his sweetheart ha_elieved him to be dead; and how she had at last been over–persuaded by he_other into a marriage which the silly, dear old thing called advantageous; and when she—that’s me again, John—told him they were not yet married (thoug_lose upon it), and that it would be nothing but a sacrifice if it went on, for there was no love on her side; and when he went nearly mad with joy t_ear it; then she—that’s me again—said she would go between them, as she ha_ften done before in old times, John, and would sound his sweetheart and b_ure that what she—me again, John—said and thought was right. And it wa_ight, John! And they were brought together, John! And they were married, John, an hour ago! And here’s the Bride! And Gruff and Tackleton may die _achelor! And I’m a happy little woman, May, God bless you!’
She was an irresistible little woman, if that be anything to the purpose; an_ever so completely irresistible as in her present transports. There neve_ere congratulations so endearing and delicious, as those she lavished o_erself and on the Bride.
Amid the tumult of emotions in his breast, the honest Carrier had stood, confounded. Flying, now, towards her, Dot stretched out her hand to stop him, and retreated as before.
‘No, John, no! Hear all! Don’t love me any more, John, till you’ve heard ever_ord I have to say. It was wrong to have a secret from you, John. I’m ver_orry. I didn’t think it any harm, till I came and sat down by you on th_ittle stool last night. But when I knew by what was written in your face, that you had seen me walking in the gallery with Edward, and when I knew wha_ou thought, I felt how giddy and how wrong it was. But oh, dear John, ho_ould you, could you, think so!’
Little woman, how she sobbed again! John Peerybingle would have caught her i_is arms. But no; she wouldn’t let him.
‘Don’t love me yet, please, John! Not for a long time yet! When I was sa_bout this intended marriage, dear, it was because I remembered May and Edwar_uch young lovers; and knew that her heart was far away from Tackleton. Yo_elieve that, now. Don’t you, John?’
John was going to make another rush at this appeal; but she stopped him again.
‘No; keep there, please, John! When I laugh at you, as I sometimes do, John, and call you clumsy and a dear old goose, and names of that sort, it’s becaus_ love you, John, so well, and take such pleasure in your ways, and wouldn’_ee you altered in the least respect to have you made a King to–morrow.’
‘Hooroar!’ said Caleb with unusual vigour. ‘My opinion!’
‘And when I speak of people being middle–aged, and steady, John, and preten_hat we are a humdrum couple, going on in a jog–trot sort of way, it’s onl_ecause I’m such a silly little thing, John, that I like, sometimes, to act _ind of Play with Baby, and all that: and make believe.’
She saw that he was coming; and stopped him again. But she was very nearly to_ate.
‘No, don’t love me for another minute or two, if you please, John! What I wan_ost to tell you, I have kept to the last. My dear, good, generous John, whe_e were talking the other night about the Cricket, I had it on my lips to say, that at first I did not love you quite so dearly as I do now; that when _irst came home here, I was half afraid I mightn’t learn to love you every bi_s well as I hoped and prayed I might—being so very young, John! But, dea_ohn, every day and hour I loved you more and more. And if I could have love_ou better than I do, the noble words I heard you say this morning, would hav_ade me. But I can’t. All the affection that I had (it was a great deal, John) I gave you, as you well deserve, long, long ago, and I have no more left t_ive. Now, my dear husband, take me to your heart again! That’s my home, John; and never, never think of sending me to any other!’
You never will derive so much delight from seeing a glorious little woman i_he arms of a third party, as you would have felt if you had seen Dot run int_he Carrier’s embrace. It was the most complete, unmitigated, soul–fraugh_ittle piece of earnestness that ever you beheld in all your days.
You maybe sure the Carrier was in a state of perfect rapture; and you may b_ure Dot was likewise; and you may be sure they all were, inclusive of Mis_lowboy, who wept copiously for joy, and wishing to include her young charg_n the general interchange of congratulations, handed round the Baby t_verybody in succession, as if it were something to drink.
But, now, the sound of wheels was heard again outside the door; and somebod_xclaimed that Gruff and Tackleton was coming back. Speedily that worth_entleman appeared, looking warm and flustered.
‘Why, what the Devil’s this, John Peerybingle!’ said Tackleton. ‘There’s som_istake. I appointed Mrs. Tackleton to meet me at the church, and I’ll swear _assed her on the road, on her way here. Oh! here she is! I beg your pardon, sir; I haven’t the pleasure of knowing you; but if you can do me the favour t_pare this young lady, she has rather a particular engagement this morning.’
‘But I can’t spare her,’ returned Edward. ‘I couldn’t think of it.’
‘What do you mean, you vagabond?’ said Tackleton.
‘I mean, that as I can make allowance for your being vexed,’ returned th_ther, with a smile, ‘I am as deaf to harsh discourse this morning, as I wa_o all discourse last night.’
The look that Tackleton bestowed upon him, and the start he gave!
‘I am sorry, sir,’ said Edward, holding out May’s left hand, and especiall_he third finger; ‘that the young lady can’t accompany you to church; but a_he has been there once, this morning, perhaps you’ll excuse her.’
Tackleton looked hard at the third finger, and took a little piece o_ilver–paper, apparently containing a ring, from his waistcoat–pocket.
‘Miss Slowboy,’ said Tackleton. ‘Will you have the kindness to throw that i_he fire? Thank’ee.’
‘It was a previous engagement, quite an old engagement, that prevented my wif_rom keeping her appointment with you, I assure you,’ said Edward.
‘Mr. Tackleton will do me the justice to acknowledge that I revealed it to hi_aithfully; and that I told him, many times, I never could forget it,’ sai_ay, blushing.
‘Oh certainly!’ said Tackleton. ‘Oh to be sure. Oh it’s all right. It’s quit_orrect. Mrs. Edward Plummer, I infer?’
‘That’s the name,’ returned the bridegroom.
‘Ah, I shouldn’t have known you, sir,’ said Tackleton, scrutinising his fac_arrowly, and making a low bow. ‘I give you joy, sir!’
‘Mrs. Peerybingle,’ said Tackleton, turning suddenly to where she stood wit_er husband; ‘I am sorry. You haven’t done me a very great kindness, but, upo_y life I am sorry. You are better than I thought you. John Peerybingle, I a_orry. You understand me; that’s enough. It’s quite correct, ladies an_entlemen all, and perfectly satisfactory. Good morning!’
With these words he carried it off, and carried himself off too: merel_topping at the door, to take the flowers and favours from his horse’s head, and to kick that animal once, in the ribs, as a means of informing him tha_here was a screw loose in his arrangements.
Of course it became a serious duty now, to make such a day of it, as shoul_ark these events for a high Feast and Festival in the Peerybingle Calenda_or evermore. Accordingly, Dot went to work to produce such an entertainment, as should reflect undying honour on the house and on every one concerned; an_n a very short space of time, she was up to her dimpled elbows in flour, an_hitening the Carrier’s coat, every time he came near her, by stopping him t_ive him a kiss. That good fellow washed the greens, and peeled the turnips, and broke the plates, and upset iron pots full of cold water on the fire, an_ade himself useful in all sorts of ways: while a couple of professiona_ssistants, hastily called in from somewhere in the neighbourhood, as on _oint of life or death, ran against each other in all the doorways and roun_ll the corners, and everybody tumbled over Tilly Slowboy and the Baby, everywhere. Tilly never came out in such force before. Her ubiquity was th_heme of general admiration. She was a stumbling–block in the passage a_ive–and–twenty minutes past two; a man–trap in the kitchen at half–past tw_recisely; and a pitfall in the garret at five–and–twenty minutes to three.
The Baby’s head was, as it were, a test and touchstone for every descriptio_f matter,—animal, vegetable, and mineral. Nothing was in use that day tha_idn’t come, at some time or other, into close acquaintance with it.
Then, there was a great Expedition set on foot to go and find out Mrs.
Fielding; and to be dismally penitent to that excellent gentlewoman; and t_ring her back, by force, if needful, to be happy and forgiving. And when th_xpedition first discovered her, she would listen to no terms at all, bu_aid, an unspeakable number of times, that ever she should have lived to se_he day! and couldn’t be got to say anything else, except, ‘Now carry me t_he grave:’ which seemed absurd, on account of her not being dead, or anythin_t all like it. After a time, she lapsed into a state of dreadful calmness, and observed, that when that unfortunate train of circumstances had occurre_n the Indigo Trade, she had foreseen that she would be exposed, during he_hole life, to every species of insult and contumely; and that she was glad t_ind it was the case; and begged they wouldn’t trouble themselves abou_er,—for what was she? oh, dear! a nobody!—but would forget that such a bein_ived, and would take their course in life without her. From this bitterl_arcastic mood, she passed into an angry one, in which she gave vent to th_emarkable expression that the worm would turn if trodden on; and, after that, she yielded to a soft regret, and said, if they had only given her thei_onfidence, what might she not have had it in her power to suggest! Takin_dvantage of this crisis in her feelings, the Expedition embraced her; and sh_ery soon had her gloves on, and was on her way to John Peerybingle’s in _tate of unimpeachable gentility; with a paper parcel at her side containing _ap of state, almost as tall, and quite as stiff, as a mitre.
Then, there were Dot’s father and mother to come, in another little chaise; and they were behind their time; and fears were entertained; and there wa_uch looking out for them down the road; and Mrs. Fielding always would loo_n the wrong and morally impossible direction; and being apprised thereof, hoped she might take the liberty of looking where she pleased. At last the_ame: a chubby little couple, jogging along in a snug and comfortable littl_ay that quite belonged to the Dot family; and Dot and her mother, side b_ide, were wonderful to see. They were so like each other.
Then, Dot’s mother had to renew her acquaintance with May’s mother; and May’_other always stood on her gentility; and Dot’s mother never stood on anythin_ut her active little feet. And old Dot—so to call Dot’s father, I forgot i_asn’t his right name, but never mind—took liberties, and shook hands at firs_ight, and seemed to think a cap but so much starch and muslin, and didn’_efer himself at all to the Indigo Trade, but said there was no help for i_ow; and, in Mrs. Fielding’s summing up, was a good–natured kind of man—bu_oarse, my dear.
I wouldn’t have missed Dot, doing the honours in her wedding–gown, my beniso_n her bright face! for any money. No! nor the good Carrier, so jovial and s_uddy, at the bottom of the table. Nor the brown, fresh sailor–fellow, and hi_andsome wife. Nor any one among them. To have missed the dinner would hav_een to miss as jolly and as stout a meal as man need eat; and to have misse_he overflowing cups in which they drank The Wedding–Day, would have been th_reatest miss of all.
After dinner, Caleb sang the song about the Sparkling Bowl. As I’m a livin_an, hoping to keep so, for a year or two, he sang it through.
And, by–the–by, a most unlooked–for incident occurred, just as he finished th_ast verse.
There was a tap at the door; and a man came staggering in, without saying wit_our leave, or by your leave, with something heavy on his head. Setting thi_own in the middle of the table, symmetrically in the centre of the nuts an_pples, he said:
‘Mr. Tackleton’s compliments, and as he hasn’t got no use for the cak_imself, p’raps you’ll eat it.’
And with those words, he walked off.
There was some surprise among the company, as you may imagine. Mrs. Fielding, being a lady of infinite discernment, suggested that the cake was poisoned, and related a narrative of a cake, which, within her knowledge, had turned _eminary for young ladies, blue. But she was overruled by acclamation; and th_ake was cut by May, with much ceremony and rejoicing.
I don’t think any one had tasted it, when there came another tap at the door, and the same man appeared again, having under his arm a vast brown–pape_arcel.
‘Mr. Tackleton’s compliments, and he’s sent a few toys for the Babby. The_in’t ugly.’
After the delivery of which expressions, he retired again.
The whole party would have experienced great difficulty in finding words fo_heir astonishment, even if they had had ample time to seek them. But they ha_one at all; for the messenger had scarcely shut the door behind him, whe_here came another tap, and Tackleton himself walked in.
‘Mrs. Peerybingle!’ said the Toy–merchant, hat in hand. ‘I’m sorry. I’m mor_orry than I was this morning. I have had time to think of it. Joh_eerybingle! I’m sour by disposition; but I can’t help being sweetened, mor_r less, by coming face to face with such a man as you. Caleb! Thi_nconscious little nurse gave me a broken hint last night, of which I hav_ound the thread. I blush to think how easily I might have bound you and you_aughter to me, and what a miserable idiot I was, when I took her for one!
Friends, one and all, my house is very lonely to–night. I have not so much a_ Cricket on my Hearth. I have scared them all away. Be gracious to me; let m_oin this happy party!’
He was at home in five minutes. You never saw such a fellow. What had he bee_oing with himself all his life, never to have known, before, his grea_apacity of being jovial! Or what had the Fairies been doing with him, to hav_ffected such a change!
‘John! you won’t send me home this evening; will you?’ whispered Dot.
He had been very near it though!
There wanted but one living creature to make the party complete; and, in th_winkling of an eye, there he was, very thirsty with hard running, and engage_n hopeless endeavours to squeeze his head into a narrow pitcher. He had gon_ith the cart to its journey’s end, very much disgusted with the absence o_is master, and stupendously rebellious to the Deputy. After lingering abou_he stable for some little time, vainly attempting to incite the old horse t_he mutinous act of returning on his own account, he had walked into th_ap–room and laid himself down before the fire. But suddenly yielding to th_onviction that the Deputy was a humbug, and must be abandoned, he had got u_gain, turned tail, and come home.
There was a dance in the evening. With which general mention of tha_ecreation, I should have left it alone, if I had not some reason to suppos_hat it was quite an original dance, and one of a most uncommon figure. It wa_ormed in an odd way; in this way.
Edward, that sailor–fellow—a good free dashing sort of a fellow he was—ha_een telling them various marvels concerning parrots, and mines, and Mexicans, and gold dust, when all at once he took it in his head to jump up from hi_eat and propose a dance; for Bertha’s harp was there, and she had such a han_pon it as you seldom hear. Dot (sly little piece of affectation when sh_hose) said her dancing days were over; I think because the Carrier wa_moking his pipe, and she liked sitting by him, best. Mrs. Fielding had n_hoice, of course, but to say her dancing days were over, after that; an_verybody said the same, except May; May was ready.
So, May and Edward got up, amid great applause, to dance alone; and Berth_lays her liveliest tune.
Well! if you’ll believe me, they have not been dancing five minutes, whe_uddenly the Carrier flings his pipe away, takes Dot round the waist, dashe_ut into the room, and starts off with her, toe and heel, quite wonderfully.
Tackleton no sooner sees this, than he skims across to Mrs. Fielding, take_er round the waist, and follows suit. Old Dot no sooner sees this, than up h_s, all alive, whisks off Mrs. Dot in the middle of the dance, and is th_oremost there. Caleb no sooner sees this, than he clutches Tilly Slowboy b_oth hands and goes off at score; Miss Slowboy, firm in the belief that divin_otly in among the other couples, and effecting any number of concussions wit_hem, is your only principle of footing it.
Hark! how the Cricket joins the music with its Chirp, Chirp, Chirp; and ho_he kettle hums!
But what is this! Even as I listen to them, blithely, and turn towards Dot, for one last glimpse of a little figure very pleasant to me, she and the res_ave vanished into air, and I am left alone. A Cricket sings upon the Hearth; a broken child’s–toy lies upon the ground; and nothing else remains.