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The Cricket on the Hearth - Charles Dickens


           THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH

                CHIRP THE FIRST

  The kettle began it! Don't tell me what Mrs.
Peerybingle said. I know better. Mrs. Peery-
bingle may leave it on record to the end of time
that she couldn't say which of them began it; but,
I say the kettle did. I ought to know, I hope! The
kettle began it, full five minutes by the little waxy-
faced Dutch clock in the corner, before the Cricket
uttered a chirp.

  As if the clock hadn't finished striking, and the
convulsive little Haymaker at the top of it, jerking
away right and left with a scythe in front of a
Moorish Palace, hadn't mowed down half an acre of
imaginary grass before the Cricket joined in at all!

  Why, I am not naturally positive. Every one
knows that. I wouldn't set my own opinion against
the opinion of Mrs. Peerybingle, unless I were quite
sure, on any account whatever. Nothing should in-
duce me. But, this is a question of fact. And the
fact is, that the kettle began it, at least five minutes
before the Cricket gave any sign of being in exist-
ence. Contradict me, and I'll say ten.

  Let me narrate exactly how it happened. I should
have proceeded to do so in my very first word, but
for this plain consideration -- if I am to tell a story
I must begin at the beginning; and how is it pos-
sible to begin at the beginning, without beginning
at the kettle?

  It appeared as if there were a sort of match, or
trial of skill, you must understand, between the kettle
and the Cricket. And this is what led to it, and
how it came about.

  Mrs. Peerybingle, going out into the raw twilight,
and clicking over the wet stones in a pair of pattens
that worked innumerable rough impressions of the
first proposition in Euclid all about the yard -- Mrs,
Peerybingle filled the kettle at the water-butt. Pres-
ently returning, less the pattens (and a good deal
less, for they were tall and Mrs. Peerybingle was
but short), she set the kettle on the fire. In doing
which she lost her temper, or mislaid it for an instant;
for, the water being uncomfortably cold, and in that
slippy, slushy, sleety sort of state wherein it seems
to penetrate through every kind of substance, pat-
ten rings included -- had laid hold of Mrs. Peery-
bingle's toes, and even splashed her legs. And when
we rather plume ourselves (with reason too) upon
oue legs, and keep ourselves particularly neat in point
of stockings, we find this for the moment, hard to
bear.

  Besides, the kettle was aggravating and obstinate.
It wouldn't allow itself to be adjusted on the top
bar; it wouldn't hear of accommodating itself kindly
to the knobs of coal; it would lean forward with a
drunken air, and dribble, a very Idiot of a kettle,
on the hearth. It was quarrelsome, and hissed and
spluttered morosely at the fire. To sum up all, the
lid, resisting Mrs. Peerybingle's fingers, first of all
turned topsy-turvy, and then, with an ingenious per-
tinacity deserving of a better cause, dived sideways
in -- down to the very bottom of the kettle. And
the hull of the Royal George has never made half the
monstrous resistance to coming out of the water,
which the lid of that kettle employed against Mrs.
Peerybingle, before she got it up again.

  It looked sullen and pig-headed enough; even then;
carrying its handle with an air of defiance. and cock-
ing its spout pertly and mockingly at Mrs. Peery-
bingle, as if it said, 'I won't boil. Nothing shall
induce me!'

  But Mrs. Peerybingle, with restored good humour,
dusted her chubby little hands aginst each other,
and sat down before the kettle, laughing. Mean-
time, the jolly blaze uprose and fell, flashing and
gleaming on the little Haymaker at the top of the
Dutch clock, until one might have thought he stood
stock still before the Moorish Palace, and nothing
was in motion but the flame.

   He was on the move, however; and had his spasms,
two to the second, all right and regular. But, his
sufferings when the clock was going to strike, were
frightful to behold; and, when a Cuckoo looked out
of a trap-door in the Palace, and gave note six times,
it shook him, each time, like a spectral voice or like
a something wiry, plucking at his legs.

  It was not until a violent commotion and a whir-
ing noise among the weights and ropes below him
had quite subsided, that this terrified Haymaker be-
came himself again. Nor was he startled without
reason; for these rattling, bony skeletons of clocks
are very disconcerting in their operation, and I won-
der very much how any set of men, but most of all
how Dutchmen, can have had a liking to invent them.
There is a popular belief that Dutchmen love broad
cases and much clothing for their own lower selves;
and they might know better than to leave their clocks
so very lank and unprotected, surely.

   Now.it was, you observe, that the kettle began to
spend the evening. Now it was, that the kettle, grow-
ing mellow and musical, began to have irrepressible
gurglings in its throat, and to indulge in short vocal
snorts, which it checked in the bud, as if it hadn't
quite made up its mind yet, to be good company.
Now it was, that after two or three such vain at-
tempts to stifle its convivial sentiments, it threw off
all moroseness, all reserve, and burst into a stream of
song so cosy and hilarious, as never maudlin night-
ingale yet formed the least idea of.

 So plain too! Bless you, you might have under-
stood it like a book -- better than some books you and
I could name, perhaps. With its warm breath gush-
ing forth in a light cloud which merrily and grace-
fully ascended a few feet, then hung about the chim-
ney-corner as its own domestic Heaven, it trolled its
song with that strong energy of cheerfulness, that its
iron body hummed and stirred upon the fire; and the
lid itself, the recently rebellious lid -- such is the influ-
ence of a bright example -- performed a sort of jig, and
clattered like a deaf and dumb young cymbal that
had never known the use of its twin brother.

  That this song of the kettle's was a song of invita-
tion and welcome to somebody out of doors: to some-
body at that moment coming on, towards the snug
small home and the crisp fire: there is no doubt what-
ever Mrs. Peerybingle knew it, perfectly, as she sat
musing before the hearth. It's a dark night, sang
the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way;
and above, all is mist and darkness, and below, all
is mire and clay; and there's only one relief in all
the sad and murky air; and I don't know that it is
one, for it's nothing but a glare; of deep and angry
crimson, where the sun and wind together, set a brand
upon the clouds for being guilty of such weather;
and the wildest open country is a long dull streak
of black; and there's hoar-frost on the finger-post
and thaw upon the track; and the ice it isn't water,
and the water isn't free; and you couldn't say that
anything is what it ought to be; but he's coming,
coming, coming! --

  And here, if you like, the Cricket DID chime in!
with a Chirrup, Chirrup, Chirrup of such magnitude,
by way of chorus; with a voice so astoundingly dis-
proportionate to its size, as compared with the kettle;
(size! you couldn't see it!) that if it had then and
there burst itself like an overcharged gun, if it had
fallen a victim on the spot, and chirruped its little
body into fifty pieces, it would have seemed a natural
and inevitable consequence, for which it had ex-
pressly laboured.

  The kettle had had the last of its solo performance.
It persevered with undiminished ardour; but the
Cricket took first fiddle and kept it. Good Heaven,
how it chirped! Its shrill, sharp, piercing voice re-
sounded through the house, and seemed to twinkle in
the outer darkness like a star. There was an inde-
scribable little trill and tremble in it, at its loudest,
which suggested its being carried off its legs, and
made to leap again, by its own intense enthusiasm.
Yet they went very well together, the Cricket and
the kettle. The burden of the song was still the
same; and louder, louder, louder still, they sang it
in their emulation.

  The fair little listener -- for fair she was, and
young: though something of what is called the dump-
ling shape; but I don't myself object to that -- lighted
a candle, glanced at the Haymaker on the top of the
clock, who was getting in a pretty average crop of
minutes; and looked out of the window, where she
saw nothing, owing to the darkness, but her own face
imaged in the glass. And my opinion is (and so
would yours have been), that she might have looked
a long way, and seen nothing half so agreeable.
When she came back, and sat down in her former
seat, the Cricket and the kettle were still keeping it
up, with a perfect fury of competition. The kettle's
weak side clearly being, that he didn't know when
he was beat.

  There was all the excitement of a race about it.
Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket a mile ahead. Hum,
hum, hum -- m -- m! Kettle making play in the dis-
tance, like a great top. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket
round the corner. Hum, hum, hum -- m -- m! Ket-
tle sticking to him in his own way; no idea of giv-
ing in. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket fresher than
ever. Hum, hum, hum -- m -- m! Kettle slow and
steady. Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket going in to fin-
ish him. Hum, hum, hum -- m -- m! Kettle not to be
finished. Until at last they got so jumbled together,
in the hurry-skurry, helter-skelter, of the match, that
whether the kettle chirped and the Cricket hummed,
or the Cricket chirped and the kettled hummed, or
they both chirped and both hummed, it would have
taken a clearer head than yours or mine to have de-
cided with anything like certainty. But, of this,
there is no doubt: that, the kettle and the Cricket, at
one and the same moment, and by some power of
amalgamation best known to themselves, sent, each,
his fireside song of comfort streaming into a ray of the
candle that shone out through the wondow, and a long
way down the lane. And this light, bursting on a
certain person who, on the instant, approached to-
wards it through the gloom, expressed the whole thing
to him, literally in a twinkling, and cried, 'Welcome
home, old fellow! Welcome home, my boy!'

  This end attained, the kettle, being dead beat,
boiled over, and was taken off the fire. Mrs. Peery-
bingle then went running to the door, where, what
with the wheels of a cart, the tramp of a horse, the
voice of a man, the tearing in and out of an excited
dog, and the surprising and mysterious appearance
of a baby, there was soon the very What's-his-name
to pay.

  Where the baby came from, or how Mrs. Peery-
bingle got hold of it in that flash of time, I don't
know. But a live baby there was, in Mrs. Peery-
bingle's arms; and a pretty tolerable amount of pride
she seemed to have in it, when she was drawn gently
to the fire, by a sturdy figure of a man, much taller
and much older than herself, who had to stoop a long
way down, to kiss her. But she was worth the
trouble. Six foot six, with the lumbago, might have
done it.

  'Oh goodness, John!' said' Mrs. P. 'What a state
you are in with the weather!'

  He was something the worse for it, undeniably.
The thick mist hung in clots upon his eyelashes like
candied thaw; and between the fog and fire together,
there were rainbows in his very whiskers.

  'Why, you see, Dot,' John made answer, slowly,
as he unrolled a shawl from about his throat; and
warmed his hands; 'It -- it an't exactly summer
weather. So, no wonder.'

  'I wish you wouldn't call me Dot, John. I don't
like it,' said Mrs. Peerybingle: pouting in a way that
clearly showed she did like it, very much.

  'Why what else are you?' returned John, looking
down upon her with a smile, and giving her waist as
light a squeeze as his huge hand and arm could give.
'A dot and' -- here he glanced at the baby -- 'a dot and
carry -- I won't say it, for fear I should spoil it; but
I was very near a joke. I don't know as ever I was
nearer.'

  He was often near to something or other very
clever, by his own account: this lumbering, slow hon-
est John; this John so heavy, but so light of spirit;
so rough upon the surface, but so gentle at the core;
so dull without, so quick within, so stolid, but so good!
Oh Mother Nature, give thy children the true poetry
of heart that hid itself in this poor Carrier's breast --
he was but a Carrier by the way -- and we can bear
to have them talking prose, and leading lives of prose;
and bear to bless thee for their company!

  It was pleasant to see Dot, with her little figure,
and her baby in her arms: a very doll of a baby:
glancing with a coquettish thoughtfulness at the fire,
and inclining her delicate little head just enough on
one side to let it rest in an odd, half-natural, half-
affected, wholly nestling and agreeable manner, on
the great rugged figure of the Carrier. It was pleas-
ant to see him, with his tender awkwardness, endeav-
ouring to adapt his rude support to her slight need,
and make his burly middle-age a leaning-staff not
inappropriate to her blooming youth. It was pleasant
to observe how Tilly Slowboy, waiting in the back-
ground for the baby, took especial cognizance (though
in her earliest teens) of this grouping; and stood with
her mouth and eyes wide open, and her head thrust
forward, taking it in as if it were air. Nor was it
less agreeable to observe how John the Carrier, refer-
ence being made by Dot to the aforesaid baby, checked
his hand when on the point of touching the infant,
as if he thought he might crack it; and bending down,
surveyed it from a safe distance, with a kind of
puzzled pride, such as an amiable mastiff might be
supposed to show, if he found himself, one day, the
father of a young canary.

  'An't he beautiful, John? Don't he look precious
in his sleep?'

  'Very precious,' said John. 'Very much so. He
generally is asleep, an't he?'

  'Lor, John! Good gracious no!'

  'Oh,' said John, pondering. 'I thought his eyes was
generally shut. Halloa!'

  'Goodness, John, how you startle one!'

  'It an't right for him to turn 'em up in that way!'
said the astonished Carrier, 'is it? See how he's wink-
ing with both of 'em at once! And look at his mouth!
Why he's gasping like a gold and silver fish!'

  'You don't deserve to be a father, you don't,' said
Dot, with all the dignity of an experienced matron.
'But how should you know what little complaints
children are troubled with, John! You wouldn't so
much as know their names, you stupid fellow.' And
when she had turned the baby over on her left arm,
and had slapped its back as a restorative, she pinched
her husband's ear, laughing.

  'No,' said John, pulling off his outer coat. 'It's
very true, Dot. I don't know much about it. I only
know that I've been fighting pretty stiffly with the
wind to-night. It's been blowing north-east, straight
into the cart, the whole way home.'

  'Poor old man, so it has!' cried Mrs. Peerybingle,
instantly becoming very active. 'Here! Take the
precious darling, Tilly, while I make myself of some
use. Bless it, I could smother it with kissing it, I
could! Hie then, good dog! Hie Boxer, boy! Only
let me make the tea first, John; and then I'll help
you with the parcels, like a busy bee. "How doth
the little" -- and all the rest of it, you know, John.
Did you ever learn "how doth the little," when you
went to school, John?'

  'Not to quite know it,' John returned. 'I was very
near it once. But I should only have spoilt it, I
dare say.'

  'Ha ha,' laughed Dot. She had the blithest little
laugh you ever heard. 'What a dear old darling of
a dunce you are, John, to be sure!'

  Not at all disputing this position, John went out
to see that the boy with the lantern, which had been
dancing to and fro before the door and window,
like a Will of the Wisp, took due care of the horse;
who was fatter than you would quite believe, if I
gave you his measure, and so old that his birthday
was lost in the mists of antiquity. Boxer, feeling
that his attentions were due to the family in general,
and must be impartially distributed, dashed in and
out with bewildering inconstancy; now, describing a
circle of short barks round the horse, where he was
being rubbed down at the stable-door; now, feigning
to make savage rushes at his mistress, and facetiously
bringing himself to sudden stops; now, eliciting a
shriek from Tilly Slowboy, in the low nursing-chair
near the fire, by the unexpected application of his
moist nose to her countenance; now, exhibiting an
obtrusive interest in the baby; now, going round and
round upon the hearth, and lying down as if he had
established himself for the night; now, getting up
again, and. taking that nothing of a fag-end of a
tail of his, out into the weather, as if he had just
remembered an appointment, and was off, at a round
trot, to keep it.

  'There! There's the teapot, ready on the hob!' said
Dot; as briskly busy as a child at play at keeping
house. 'And there's the cold knuckle of ham; and
there's the butter; and there's the crusty loaf, and
all! Here's the clothes-basket for the small parcels,
John, if you've got any there -- where are you, John?
Don't let the dear child fall under the grate, Tilly,
whatever you do!'

  It may be noted of Miss Slowboy, in spite of her
rejecting the caution with some vivacity, that she had
a rare and surprising talent for getting this baby
into difficulties: and had several times imperilled its
short life, in a quiet way peculiarly her own. She
was of a spare and straight shape, this young lady,
insomuch that her garments appeared to be in con-
stant danger of sliding off those sharp pegs, her shoul-
ders, on which they were loosely hung. Her costume
was remarkable for the partial development, on all
possible occasions, of some flannel vestment of a
singular structure; also for affording glimpses, in
the region of the back, of a corset, or pair of stays,
in colour a dead-green. ,Being always in a state of
gaping admiration at everything, and absorbed, be-
sides, in the perpetual contemplation of her mistress's
perfections and the baby's, Miss Slowboy, in her little
errors of judgment, may be said to have done equal
honour to her head and to her heart; and though these
did less honour to the baby's head, which they were
the occasional means of bringing into contact with
deal doors, dressers, stair-rails, bedposts, and other
foreign substances, still they were the honest results
of Tilly Slowboy's constant astonishment at finding
herself so kindly treated, and installed in such a com-
fortable home. For, the maternal and paternal Slow-
boy were alike unknown to Fame, and Tilly had been
bred by public charity, a foundling; which word,
though only differing from fondling by one vowel's
length, is very different in meaning, and expresses
quite another thing.

  To have seen little Mrs. Peerybingle come back
with her husband, tugging at the clothes-basket, and
making the most strenuous exertions to do nothing
at all (for he carried it), would have amused you
almost as much as it amused him. It may have enter-
tained the Cricket too, for anything I know; but,
certainly, it now began to chirp again vehemently.

  'Heyday!' said John, in his slow way. 'It's mer-
rier than ever, to-night, I think.'

  'And it's sure to bring us good fortune, John! It
always has done so. To have a Cricket on the
Hearth, is the luckiest thing in all the world!'

  John looked at her as if he had very nearly got
the thought into his head, that she was his Cricket
in chief, and he quite agreed with her. But, it was
probably one of his narrow escapes, for he said
nothing.

  'The first time I heard its cheerful little note, John,
was on that night when you brought me home --
when you brought me to my new home here; its
little mistress. Nearly a year ago. You recollect,
John?'

  O yes. John remembered. I should think so!

  'Its chirp was such a welcome to me! It seemed
so full of promise and encouragement. It seemed
to say, you would be kind and gentle with me, and
would not expect (I had a fear of that, John, then)
to find an old head on the shoulders of your foolish
little wife.'

  John thoughtfully patted one of the shoulders, and
then the head, as though he would have said No, no;
he had had no such expectation; he had been quite
content to take them as they were. And really he
had reason. They were very comely.

  'It spoke the truth, John, when it seemed to say
so; for you have ever been, I am sure, the best, the
most considerate, the most affectionate of husbands
to me. This has been a happy home, John; and I
love the Cricket for its sake!'

  'Why so do I then,' said the Carrier. 'So do I,
Dot.'

  'I love it for the many times I have heard it, and
the many thoughts its harmless music has given me.
Sometimes, in the twilight, when I have felt a little
solitary and down-hearted, John -- before baby was
here to keep me company and make the house gay
-- when I have thought how lonely you would be if
I should die; how lonely I should be if I could know
that you had lost me, dear; its Chirp, Chirp, Chirp
upon the hearth, has seemed to tell me of another
little voice, so sweet, so very dear to me, before whose
coming sound my trouble vanished like a dream.
And when I used to fear -- I did fear once, John.
I was very young you know -- that ours might prove
to be an ill-assorted marriage, I being such a child,
and you more like my guardian than my husband;
and that you might not, however hard you tried, be
able to learn to love me, as you hoped and prayed
you might; its Chirp, Chirp, Chirp has cheered me
up again, and filled me with new trust and confidence.
I was thinking of these things to-night, dear, when
I sat expecting you; and I love the Cricket for their
sake!'

  'And so do I,' repeated John. 'But Dot? I hope
and pray that I might learn to love you? How you
talk! I had learnt that, long before I brought you
here, to be the Cricket's little mistress, Dot!'

  She laid her hand, an instant. on his arm, and
looked up at him with an agitated face, as if she
would have told him something. Next moment she
was down upon her knees before the basket, speaking
in a sprightly voice, and busy with the parcels.

  'There are not many of them to-night, John, but
I saw some goods behind the cart, just now; and
though they give more trouble, perhaps, still they
pay as well; so we have no reason to grumble, have
we? Besides, you have been delivering, I dare say,
as you came along?'

  'Oh yes,' John said. 'A good many.'

  'Why what's this round box? Heart alive, John,
it's a wedding-cake!'

  'Leave a woman alone to find out that,' said John,
admiringly. 'Now a man would never have thought
of it. Whereas, it's my belief that if you was to
pack a wedding-cake up in a tea-chest, or a turn-up
bedstead, or a pickled salmon keg, or any unlikely
thing, a woman would be sure to find it out directly.
Yes; I called for it at the pastry-cook's.'

  'And it weighs I don't know what -- whole hundred-
weights!' cried Dot, making a great demonstration of
trying to lift it. 'Whose is it, John? Where is it
going?'

  'Read the writing on the other side,' said John.

  'Why, John! My Goodness, John!'

  'Ah! who'd have thought it!' John returned.

  'You never mean to say,' pursued Dot, sitting on
the floor and shaking her head at him, 'that it's Gruff
and Tackleton the toy-maker!'

  John nodded.

  Mrs. Peerybingle nodded also, fifty times at least.
Not in assent -- in dumb and pitying amazement;
screwing up her lips the while with all their little
force (they were never made for screwing up; I am
clear of that), and looking the good Carrier through
and through, in her abstraction. Miss Slowboy, in
the mean time, who had a mechanical power of repro-
ducing scraps of current conversation for the delecta-
tion of the baby, with all the sense struck out of
them, and all the nouns changed into the plural num-
ber, inquired aloud of that young creature, Was it
Gruffs and Tackletons the toymakers then, and
Would it call at Pastry-cooks for wedding-cakes, and
Did its mothers know the boxes when its fathers
brought them homes; and so on.

  'And that is really to come about!' said Dot. 'Why
she and I were girls at school together, John.'

  He might have been thinking of her, or nearly
thinking of her, perhaps, as she was in that same
school time. He looked upon her with a thoughtful
pleasure, but he made no answer.

  'And he's as old! As unlike her! -- Why, how many
years older than you, is Gruff and Tackleton, John?'

  'How many more cups of tea shall I drink to-night
at one sitting, than Gruff and Tackleton ever took
in four, I wonder!' replied John, good-humoredly,
as he drew a chair to the round table, and began
at the cold ham. 'As to eating, I eat but little; but,
that little I enjoy, Dot.'

  Even this, his usual sentiment at meal times, one
of his innocent delusions (for his appetite was al-
ways obstinate, and flatly contradicted him), awoke
no smile in the face of his little wife, who stood among
the parcels, pushing the cake-box slowly from her
with her foot, and never once looked, though her
eyes were cast down too, upon the dainty shoe she
generally was so mindful of. Absorbed in thought,
she stood there, heedless alike of the tea and John
(although he called to her, and rapped the table with
his knife to startle her), until he rose and touched
her on the arm; when she looked at him for a mo-
ment, and hurried to her place behind the teaboard,
laughing at her negligence. But, not as she had
laughed before. The manner and the music were
quite changed.

  The Cricket, too, had stopped. Somehow the room
was not so cheerful as it had been. Nothing like it.

  'So, these are all the parcels, are they, John?' she
said, breaking a long silence, which the honest Car-
rier had devoted to the practical illustration of one
part of his favourite sentiment -- certainly enjoying
what he ate, if it couldn't be admitted that he ate
but little. 'So these are all the parcels; are they,
John?'

  'That's all,' said John. 'Why -- no -- I --' laying
down his knife and fork, and taking a long breath.
'I declare -- I've clean forgotten the old gentleman!'

  'The old gentleman?'

  'In the cart,' said John. 'He was asleep, among
the straw, the last time I saw him. I've very nearly
remembered him, twice, since I came in; but, he went
out of my head again. Holloa! Yahip there! Rouse
up! That's my hearty!'

  John said these latter words outside the door,
whither he had hurried with the candle in his hand.

  Miss Slowboy, conscious of some mysterious ref-
erence to The Old Gentleman, and connecting in her
mystified imagination certain associations of a re-
ligious nature with the phrase, was so disturbed, that
hastily rising from the low chair by the fire to seek
protection near the skirts of her mistress, and coming
into contact as she crossed the doorway with an an-
cient Stranger, she instinctively made a charge or
butt at him with the only offensive instrument within
her reach. This instrument happening to be the baby,
great commotion and alarm ensued, which the sagacity
of Boxer rather tended to increase; for, that good dog,
more thoughtful than its master, had, it seemed, been
watching the old gentleman in his sleep, lest he should
walk off with a few young poplar trees that were tied
up behind the cart, and he still attended on him very
closely, worrying his gaiters in fact, and making dead
sets at the buttons.

  'You're such an undeniable good sleeper, sir,' said
John, when tranquillity was restored; in the mean
time the old gentleman had stood, bareheaded and
motionless, in the centre of the room; 'that I have
half a mind to ask you where the other six are --
only that would be a joke, and I know I should spoil
it. Very near though,' murmured the Carrier, with
a chuckle; 'very near!'

  The Stranger, who had long white hair, good fea-
tures, singularly bold and well defined for an old
man, and dark, bright, penetrating eyes, looked round
with a smile, and saluted the Carrier's wife by gravely
inclining his head.

  His garb was very quaint and odd -- a long, long
way behind the time. Its hue was brown, all over.
In his hand he held a great brown club or walking-
stick; and striking this upon the floor, it fell asunder,
and became a chair. On which he sat down, quite
composedly.

  'There!' said the Carrier, turning to his wife.
'That's the way I found him, sitting by the roadside!
Upright as a milestone. And almost as deaf.'

  'Sitting in the open air, John!'

  'In the open air,' replied the Carrier, 'just at dusk.
"Carriage Paid," he said; and gave me eighteen-
pence. Then he got in. And there he is.'

  'He's going, John, I think!'

  Not at all. He was only going to speak.

  'If you please, I was to be left till called for,' said
the Stranger, mildly 'Don't mind me.'

  With that, he took a pair of spectacles from one
of his large pockets, and a book from another, and
leisurely began to read. Making no more of Boxer
than if he had been a house lamb!

  The Carrier and his wife exchanged a look of per-
plexity. The Stranger raised his head; and glancing
from the latter to the former, said,

  'Your daughter, my good friend?'

  'Wife,' returned John.

  'Niece?' said the Stranger.

  'Wife,' roared John.

  'Indeed?' observed the Stranger. 'Surely? Very
young!'

  He quietly turned over, and resumed his reading.
But, before he could have read two lines he again
interrupted himself to say:

  'Baby, yours?'

  John gave him a gigantic nod; equivalent to an
answer in the affirmative, delivered through a speak-
ing trumpet.

  'Girl?'

  'Bo-o-oy!' roared John.

  'Also very young, eh?'

  Mrs. Peerybingle instantly struck in. 'Two months
and three da-ays! Vaccinated just six weeks ago-o!
Took very fine-ly! Considered, by the doctor, a re-
markably beautiful chi-ild! Equal to the general run
of children at five months o-old! Takes notice, in a
way quite won-der-ful! May seem impossible to
you, but feels his legs al-ready!'

  Here the breathless little mother, who had been
shrieking these short sentences into the old man's ear.
until her pretty face was crimsoned, held up the Baby
before him as a stubborn and triumphant fact; while
Tilly Slowboy, with a melodious cry of 'Ketcher,
Ketcher' -- which sounded like some unknown words,
adapted to a popular Sneeze -- performed some cow-
like gambols round that all-unconscious Innocent.

  'Hark! He's called for, sure enough,' said John.
'There's somebody at the door. Open it, Tilly.'

  Before she could reach it, however, it was opened
from without, being a primitive sort of door, with
a latch, that any one could lift if he chose -- and a
good many people did choose, for all kinds of neigh-
bours liked to have a cheerful word or two with the
Carrier, though he was no great talker himself. Be-
ing opened, it gave admission to a little, meagre,
thoughtful, dingy-faced man, who seemed to have
made himself a great-coat from the sack-cloth cover-
ing of some old box; for, when he turned to shut
the door, and keep the weather out, he disclosed
upon the back of that garment, the inscription G & T
in large black capitals. Also the word GLASS in
bold characters.

  'Good-evening John!' said the little man. 'Good-
evening Mum. Good-evening Tilly. Good-evening
Unbeknown! How's Baby Mum? Boxer's pretty
well I hope?'

  'All thriving, Caleb,' replied Dot. 'I am sure you
need only look at the dear child, for one, to know
that.'

  'And I'm sure I need only look at you for another,'
said Caleb.

  He didn't look at her though; he had a wander-
ing and thoughtful eye which seemed to be always
projecting itself into some other time and place, no
matter what he said; a description which will equally
apply to his voice.

  'Or at John for another,' said Caleb. 'Or at Tilly,
as far as that goes. Or certainly at Boxer.'

  'Busy just now, Caleb?' asked the Carrier.

  'Why, pretty well, John,' he returned, with the dis-
traught air of a man who was casting about for the
Philosopher's stone, at least. 'Pretty much so.
There's rather a run on Noah's Arks at present. I
could have wished to improve upon the Family, but I
don't see how it's to be done at the price. It would
be a satisfaction to one's mind, to make it clearer
which was Shems and Hams, and which was Wives.
Flies an't on that scale neither, as compared with ele-
phants you know! Ah! well! Have you got any-
thing in the parcel line for me, John?'

  The Carrier put his hand into a pocket of the coat
he had taken off; and brought out, carefully pre-
served in moss and paper, a tiny flower-pot.

  'There it is!' he said, adjusting it with great care.
'Not so much as a leaf damaged. Full of buds!'

  Caleb's dull eye brightened, as he took it and
thanked him.

  'Dear, Caleb,' said the Carrier. 'Very dear at this
season.'

  'Never mind that. It would be cheap to me, what-
ever it cost,' returned the little man. 'Anything else,
John?'

  'A small box,' replied the Carrier. 'Here you are!'

  ' "For Caleb Plummer," ' said the little man, spell-
ing out the direction. ' "With Cash." With Cash,
John. I don't think it's for me.'

  'With Care,' returned the Carrier, looking over his
shoulder. 'Where do you make out cash?'

  'Oh! To be sure!' said Caleb. 'It's all right.
With care! Yes, yes; that's mine. It might have
been with cash, indeed, if my dear Boy in the Golden
South Americas had lived, John. You loved him
like a son; didn't you? You needn't say did. I
know, of course. "Caleb Plummer. With care."
Yes, yes, it's all right. It's a box of dolls' eyes for
my daughter's work. I wish it was her own sight in
a box, John.'

  'I wish it was, or could be!' cried the Carrier.

  'Thank 'ee,' said the little man. 'You speak very
hearty. To think that she should never see the Dolls
-- and them a-staring at her, so bold, all day long!
That's where it cuts. What's the damage, John?'

  'I'll damage you,' said John, 'if you inquire. Dot!
Very near?

  'Well! it's like you to say so,' observed the little
man. 'It's your kind way. Let me see. I think
that's all.'

  'I think not,' said the Carrier. 'Try again.'

  'Something for our Governor, eh?' said Caleb, after
pondering a little while. 'To be sure. That's what
I came for; but my head's so running on them Arks
and things! He hasn't been here, has he?'

  'Not he,' returned the Carrier. 'He's too busy,
courting.'

  'He's coming round though,' said Caleb; 'for he
told me to keep on the near side of the road going
home, and it was ten to one he'd take me up. I had
better go, by the bye. -- You couldn't have the good-
ness to let me pinch Boxer's tail, Mum, for half a
moment, could you?'

  'Why, Caleb! what a question!'

  'Oh never mind, Mum,' said the little man. 'He
mightn't like it perhaps. There's a small order just
come in, for barking dogs; and I should wish to go as
close to Natur' as I could, for sixpence. That's all.
Never mind, Mum.'

  It happened opportunely, that Boxer, without re-
ceiving the proposed stimulus, began to bark with
great zeal. But, as this implied the approach of some
new visitor, Caleb, postponing his study from the
life to a more convenient season, shouldered the
round box, and took a hurried leave. He might have
spared himself the trouble, for he met the visitor upon
the threshold.

  'Oh! You are here, are you? Wait a bit. I'll
take you home. John Peerybingle, my service to
you. More of my service to your pretty wife. Hand-
somer every day! Better too, if possible! And
younger,' mused the speaker, in a low voice; 'that's
the Devil of it!'

  'I should be astonished at your paying compli-
ments, Mr. Tackleton,' said Dot, not with the best
grace in the world; 'but for your condition.'

 'You know all about it then?'

  'I have got myself to believe it, somehow,' said Dot.

  'After a hard struggle, I suppose?'

  'Very.'

  Tackleton the Toy-merchant, pretty generally
known as Gruff and Tackleton -- for that was the
firm, though Gruff had been bought out long ago;
only leaving his name, and as some said his nature,
according to its Dictionary meaning, in the business
-- Tackleton the Toy-merchant, was a man whose
vocation had been quite misunderstood by his Parents
and Guardians. If they had made him a Money
Lender, or a sharp Attorney, or a Sheriff's Officer,
or a Broker, he might have sown his discontented oats
in his youth, and, after having had the full run of
himself in ill-natured transactions, might have turned
out amiable, at last, for the sake of a little freshness
and novelty. But, cramped and chafing in the peace-
able pursuit of toy-making, he was a domestic Ogre,
who had been living on children all his life, and was
their implacable enemy. He despised all toys;
wouldn't have bought one for the world; delighted,
in his malice, to insinuate grim expressions into the
faces of brown-paper farmers who drove pigs to
market, bellmen who advertised lost lawyers' con-
sciences, moveable old ladies who darned stockings or
carved pies; and other like samples of his stock-in-
trade. In appalling masks; hideous, hair, red-eyed
Jacks in Boxes; Vampire Kites; demoniacal Tum-
blers who wouldn't lie down, and were perpetually
flying forward, to stare infants out of countenance;
his soul perfectly revelled. They were his only relief,
and safety-valve. He was great in such inventions.
Anything suggestive of a Pony-nightmare, was de-
licious to him. He had even lost money (and he
took to that toy very kindly) by getting up Goblin
slides for magic-lanterns, whereon the Powers of
Darkness were depicted as a sort of supernatural
shell-fish, with human faces. In intensifying the por-
traiture of Giants, he had sunk quite a little capital;
and, though no painter himself, he could indicate, for
the instruction of his artists, with a piece of chalk,
a certain furtive leer for the countenances of those
monsters, which was safe to destroy the peace of mind
of any young gentleman between the ages of six and
eleven, for the whole Christmas or Midsummer
Vacation.

  What he was in toys, he was (as most men are) in
other things. You may easily suppose, therefore,
that within the great green cape, which reached down
to the calves of his legs, there was buttoned up to the
chin an uncommonly pleasant fellow; and that he was
about as choice a spirit, and as agreeable a compan-
ion, as ever stood in a pair of bull-headed looking
boots with mahogany-coloured tops.

  Still, Tackleton, the toy-merchant, was going to be
married. In spite of all this, he was going to be
married. And to a young wife too, a beautiful young
wife.

  He didn't look much like a bridegroom, as he stood
in the Carrier's kitchen, with a twist in his dry face,
and a screw in his body, and his hat jerked over the
bridge of his nose, and his hands tucked down into the
bottoms of his pockets, and his whole sarcastic ill-
conditioned self peering out of one little corner of one
little eye, like the concentrated essence of any number
of ravens. But, a Bridegroom he designed to be.

  'In three days' time. Next Thursday. The last
day of the first month in the year. That's my wed-
ding day,' said Tackleton.

  Did I mention that he had always one eye wide
open, and one eye nearly shut; and that the one eye
nearly shut, was always the expressive eye? I don t
think I did.

  'That's my wedding-day!' said Tackleton, rattling
his money.

  'Why, it's our wedding-day too,' exclaimed the
Carrier.

  'Ha ha!' laughed Tackleton. 'Odd! You're just
such another couple. Just!'

  The indignation of Dot at this presumptuous asser-
tion is not to be described. What next? His imagina-
tion would compass the possibility of just such an-
other Baby, perhaps. The man was mad.

  'I say! A word with you,' murmured Tackleton,
nudging the Carrier with his elbow, and taking him
a little apart. 'You'll come to the wedding? We're
in the same boat, you know.'

  'How in the same boat?' inquired the Carrier.

  'A little disparity, you know'; said Tackleton, with
another nudge. 'Come and spend an evening with
us, beforehand.'

  'Why?' demanded John, astonished at this pressing
hospitality.

  'Why?' returned the other. 'That's a new way
of receiving an invitation. Why, for pleasure --
sociability, you know, and all that!'

  'I thought you were never sociable,' said John, in
his plain way.

  'Tchah! It's of no use to be anything but free
with you I see,' said Tackleton. 'Why, then, the
truth is you have a -- what tea-drinking people call a
sort of a comfortable appearance together, you and
your wife. We know better, you know. but --'

  'No, we don't know better,' interposed John. 'What
are you talking about?'

  'Well! We don't know better, then,' said Tackle-
ton. 'We'll agree that we don't. As you like; what
does it matter? I was going to say, as you have that
sort of appearance, your company will produce a
favourable effect on Mrs. Tackleton that will be.
And, though I don't think your good lady's very
friendly to me, in this matter, still she can't help her-
self from falling into my views, for there's a com-
pactness and cosiness of appearance about her that
always tells, even in an indifferent case. You'll say
you'll come?'

  'We have arranged to keep our Wedding-Day (as
far as that goes) at home,' said John. 'We have
made the promise to ourselves these six months. We
think, you see, that home --'

  'Bah! what's home?' cried Tackleton. 'Four walls
and a ceiling! (why don't you kill that Cricket! I
would! I always do. I hate their noise). There
are four walls and a ceiling at my house. Come to
me!'

  'You kill your Crickets, eh?' said John.

  'Scrunch 'em, sir,' returned the other, setting his
heel heavily on the floor. 'You'll say you'll come?
It's as much your interest as mine, you know, that the
women should persuade each other that they're quiet
and contented and couldn't be better off. I know
their way. Whatever one woman says, another
woman is determined to clinch, always. There's that
spirit of emulation among 'em, sir, that if your wife
says to my wife, "I'm the happiest woman in the
world, and mine's the best husband in the world, and
I dote on him," my wife will say the same to yours,
or more, and half believe it.'

  'Do you mean to say she don't, then?' asked the
Carrier.

  'Don't!' cried Tackleton, with a short, sharp laugh.
'Don't what?'
The Carrier had some faint idea of adding, 'dote
upon you.' But, happening to meet the half-closed
eye, as it twinkled upon him over the turned-up collar
of the cape, which was within an ace of poking it out,
he felt it such an unlikely part and parcel of anything
to be doted on, that he substituted, 'that she don't
believe it?'

  'Ah you dog! You're joking,' said Tackleton.

  But the Carrier, though slow to understand the full
drift of his meaning, eyed him in such a serious man-
ner, that he was obliged to be a little more explana-
tory.

  'I have the humour,' said Tackleton: holding up the
fingers of his left hand, and tapping the forefinger,
to imply 'there I am, Tackleton to wit': 'I have the
humour, sir, to marry a young wife, and a pretty
wife': here he rapped his little finger, to express the
Bride; not sparingly, but sharply; with a sense of
power. 'I'm able to gratify that humour and I do.
It's my whim. But -- now look there!'

  He pointed to where Dot was sitting, thoughtfully,
before the fire; leaning her dimpled chin upon her
hand, and watching the bright blaze. The Carrier
looked at her, and then at him, and then at her, and
then at him again.

  'She honours and obeys, no doubt, you know,' said
Tackleton; 'and that, as I am not a man of sentiment,
is quite enough for me. But do you think there's
anything more in it?'

  'I think,' observed the Carrier, 'that I should chuck
any man out of window, who said there wasn't.'

  'Exactly so,' returned the other with an unusual
alacrity of assent. 'To be sure! Doubtless you
would. Of course. I'm certain of it. Good-night.
Pleasant dreams!'

  The Carrier was puzzled, and made uncomfortable
and uncertaln, in spite of himself. He couldn't help
showing it, in his manner.

  'Good-night, my dear friend!' said Tackleton, com-
passionately. 'I'm off. We're exactly alike, in
reality, I see. You won't give us to-morrow evening?
Well! Next day you go out visiting, I know. I'll
meet you there, and bring my wife that is to be
It'll do her good. You re agreeable? Thank 'ee.
What's that!'

  It was a loud cry from the Carrier's wife. a loud
sharp, sudden cry, that made the room ring, like
glass vessel. She had risen from her seat, and stood
like one transfixed by terror and surprise. The
Stranger had advanced towards the fire to warm him-
selft and stood within a short stride of her chair. But
quite still.

  'Dot!' cried the Carrier. 'Mary! Darling! What's
the matter?'

  They were all about her in a moment. Caleb, who
had been dozing on the cake-box, in the first imper-
fect recovery of his suspended presence of mind, seized
Miss Slowboy by the hair of her head, but immediately
apologised.

  'Mary!' exclaimed the Carrier, supporting her in
his arms. 'Are you ill! What is it? Tell me, dear!'

  She only answered by beating her hands together
and falling into a wild fit of laughter. Then, sink-
ing from his grasp upon the ground, she covered her
face with her apron, and wept bitterly. And then
she laughed again, and then she cried again, and then
she said how cold it was, and suffered him to lead her
to the fire, where she sat down as before. The old
man standing, as before, quite still

  'I'm better, John,' she said. 'I'm quite well now
-- I --'

  'John!' But John was on the other side of her,
Why turn her face towards the strange old gentle-
man, as if addressing him! Was her brain wander-
ing?

  'Only a fancy, John dear -- a kind of shock -- a
something coming suddenly before my eyes -- I don't
know what it was. It's quite gone, quite gone.'

  'I'm glad it's gone,' muttered Tackleton, turning
the expressive eye all round the room. 'I wonder
where it's gone, and what it was. Humph. Caleb,
come here! Who's that with the grey hair?'

  'I don't know, sir,' returned Caleb in a whisper.

  'Never see him before, in all my life. A beautiful
figure for a nut-cracker; quite a new model. With a
screw-jaw opening down into his waistcoat, he'd be
lovely.'

  'Not ugly enough,' said Tackleton.

  'Or for a firebox, either,' observed Caleb, in deep
contemplation, 'what a model! Unscrew his head to
put the matches in; turn him heels up'ards for the
light; and what a firebox for a gentleman's mantel-
shelf, just as he stands!'

  'Not half ugly enough,' said Tackleton. 'Nothing
in him at all! Come! Bring that box! All right
now, I hope!'

  'Oh quite gone! Quite gone!' said the little woman,
waving him hurriedly away. 'Good-night!

  'Good-night,' said Tackleton. 'Good-night, John
Peerybingle! Take care how you carry that box,
Caleb. Let it fall, and I'll murder you! Dark as
pitch, and weather worse than ever, eh? Good-
night!'

  So, with another sharp look round the room, he went
out at the door; followed by Caleb with the wedding-
cake on his head.

  The Carrier had been so much astounded by his
little wife, and so busily engaged in soothing and
tending her, that he had scarcely been conscious of
the Stranger's presence, until now, when he again
stood there, their only guest.

  'He don't belong to them, you see,' said John. 'I
must give him a hint to go.'

  'I beg your pardon, friend,' said the old gentleman
advancing to him; 'the more so, as I fear your wife
has not been well; but the Attendant whom my in-
firmity,' he touched his ears and shook his head, 'ren-
ders almost indispensable, not having arrived, I fear
there must be some mistake. The bad night which
made the shelter of your comfortable cart (may I
never have a worse!) so acceptable, is still as bad as
ever. Would you, in your kindness, suffer me to rent
a bed here?'

  'Yes, yes,' cried Dot. 'Yes! Certainly!'

  'Oh!' said the Carrier, surprised by the rapidity of
this consent. 'Well! I don't object; but still I'm not
quite sure that --'

  'Hush!' she interrupted. 'Dear Johnl'

  'Why, he's stone deaf,' urged John.

  'I know he is, but -- Yes, sir, certainly. Yes! cer-
tainly! I'll make him up a bed, directly, John.'

   As she hurried off to do it, the flutter of her spirits,
and the agitation of her manner, were so strange, that
the Carrier stood looking after her, quite confounded.

  'Did its mothers make it up a Bed then!' cried
Miss Slowboy to the Baby; 'and did its hair grow
brown and curly, when its caps was lifted off, and
frighten it, a precious Pets, a-sitting by the fires!'

  With that unaccountable attraction of the mind to
trifles, which is often incidental to a state of doubt
and confusion, the Carrier, as he walked slowly to
and fro, found himself mentally repeating even these
absurd words, many times. So many times that he
got them by heart, and was still conning them over
and over, like a lesson, when Tilly, after administer-
ing as much friction to the little bald head with her
hand as she thought wholesome (according to the
practice of nurses), had once more tied the Baby's
cap on.

  'And frighten it a precious pets, a-sitting by the
fires. What frightened Dot, I wonder!' mused the
Carrier, pacing to and fro.

  He scouted, from his heart, the insinuations of the
Toy-merchant, and yet they filled him with a vague,
indefinite uneasiness. For, Tackleton was quick and
sly; and he had that painful sense, himself of being a
man of slow perception, that a broken hint was al-
ways worrying to him. He certainly had no inten-
tion in his mind of linking anything that Tackleton
had said, with the unusual conduct of his wife, but
the two subjects of reflection came into his mind to-
gether, and he could not keep them asunder.

  The bed was soon made ready; and the visitor, de-
clining all refreshment but a cup of tea, retired.
Then, Dot quite well again, she said, quite well
again -- arranged the great chair in the chimney-
corner for her husband; filled his pipe and gave it
him; and took her usual little stool beside him on the
hearth.

  She always would sit on that little stool. I think
she must have had a kind of notion that it was a
coaxing, wheedling, little stool.

  She was, out and out, the very best filler of a pipe,
I should say, in the four quarters of the globe. To
see her put that chubby little finger in the bowl, and
then blow down the pipe to clear the tube, and, when
she had done so, affect to think that there was really
something in the tube, and blow a dozen times, and
hold it to her eye like a telescope, with a most provok-
ing twist in her capital little face, as she looked down
it, was quite a brilliant thing. As to the tobacco, she
was perfect mistress of the subject; and her lighting
of the pipe, with a wisp of paper, when the Carrier
had it in his mouth -- going so very near his nose, and
yet not scorching it -- was Art, high Art.

  And the Cricket and the kettle, turning up again,
acknowledged it! The bright fire, blazing up again,
acknowledged it! The little Mower on the clock in
his unheeded work acknowledged it. The Carrier, in
his smoothing forehead and expanding face, acknowl-
edged it, the readiest of all.

  And as he soberly and thoughtfully puffed at his
old pipe, and as the Dutch clock ticked, and as the
red fire gleamed, and as the Cricket chirped; that
Genius of his Hearth and Home (for such the Cricket
was) came out, in fairy shape, into the room, and
summoned many forms of Home about him. Dots
of all ages, and all sizes, filled the chamber. Dots
who were merry children, running on before him
gathering flowers, in the fields; coy Dots, half shrink-
ing from, half yielding to, the pleading of his own
rough image; newly-married Dots, alighting at the
door, and taking wondering possession of the house-
hold keys; motherly Little Dots, attended by fictitious
Slowboys, bearing babies to be christened; matronly
Dots, still young and blooming, watching Dots of
daughters, as they danced at rustic balls; fat Dots,
encircled and beset by troops of rosy grand-children;
withered Dots, who leaned on sticks, and tottered as
they crept along. Old Carriers too, appeared, with
blind old Boxers lying at their feet; and newer carts
with younger drivers ('Peerybingle Brothers' on the
tilt'); and sick old Carriers, tended by the gentlest
hands; and graves of dead and gone old Carriers,
green in the churchyard. And as the Cricket showed
him all these things -- he saw them plainly, though his
eyes were fixed upon the fire -- the Carrier's heart grew
light and happy, and he thanked his Household Gods
with all his might, and cared no more for Gruff and
Tackleton than you do.            

  But, what was that young figure of a man, which
the same Fairy Cricket set so near Her stool, and
which remained there, singly and alone? Why did it
linger still, so near her, with its arm upon the chim-
ney-piece, ever repeating 'Married! and not to me!'

  O Dot! O failing Dot! There is no place for it
in all your husband's visions; why has its shadow
fallen on his hearth!

              CHIRP THE SECOND

  Caleb Plummer and his Blind Daughter lived all
alone by themselves, as the Story-books say -- and my
blessing, with yours to back it I hope, on the Story-
books, for saying anything in this workaday world!
-- Caleb Plummer and his Blind Daughter lived all
alone by themselves, in a little cracked nutshell of a
wooden house, which was, in truth, no better than a
pimple on the prominent red-brick nose of Gruff and
Tackleton. The premises of Gruff and Tackleton
were the great feature of the street; but you might
have knocked down Caleb Plummer'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 it after such an inroad,
it would have been, no doubt, to commend its demoli-
tion as a vast improvement. It stuck to the premises
of Gruff and Tackleton, like a barnacle to a ship's
keel, or a snail to a door, or a little bunch of toad-
stools to the stem of a tree. But, it was the germ
from which the full-grown trunk of Gruff and Tackle-
ton had sprung; and, under its crazy roof, the Gruff
before last, had, in a small way, made toys for a
generation of old boys and girls, who had played
with them, and found them out, and broken them, and
gone to sleep.

  I have said that Caleb and his poor Blind Daugh-
ter lived here. I should have said that Caleb lived
here, and his poor Blind Daughter somewhere else --
in an enchanted home of Caleb's furnishing, where
scarcity and shabbiness were not, and trouble never
entered. Caleb was no sorcerer, but in the only magic
art that still remains to us, the magic of devoted,
deathless love, Nature had been the mistress of his
study; and from her teaching, all the wonder came.

  The Blind Girl never knew that ceilings were dis-
coloured, walls blotched and bare of plaster here and
there, high crevices unstopped, and widening every
day, beams mouldering and tending downward. The
Blind Girl never knew that iron was rusting, wood
rotting, paper peeling off; the size, and shape, and
true proportion of the dwelling, withering away.
The Blind Girl never knew that ugly shapes of delf
and earthenware were on the board; that sorrow and
faint-heartedness were in the house; that Caleb's
scanty hairs were turning greyer and more grey, be-
fore her sightless face. The Blind Girl never knew
they had a master, cold, exacting, and uninterested --
never knew that Tackleton was Tackleton in short;
but lived in the belief of an eccentric humourist who
loved to have his jest with them, and who while he
was the Guardian Angel of their lives, disdained to
hear one word of thankfulness.

  And all was Caleb's doing; all the doing of her
simple father! But he too had a Cricket on his
Hearth; and listening sadly to its music when the
motherless Blind Child was very young, that Spirit
had inspired him with the thought that even her great
deprivation might be almost changed into a blessing,
and the girl made happy by these little means. For
all the Cricket tribe are potent Spirits. 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, voices more gentle and more true,
that may be so implicitly relied on, or that are so cer-
tain to give none but tenderest counsel, as the Voices
in which the Spirits of 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
place it was. There were houses in it, finished and
unfinished, for Dolls of all stations in life. Suburban
tenements for Dolls of moderate means; kitchens and
single apartments for Dolls of the lower classes;
capital town residences for Dolls of high estate.
Some of these establishments were already furnished
according to estimate, with a view to the convenience
of Dolls of limited income; others, could be fitted on
the most expensive scale, at a moment's notice, from
whole shelves of chairs and tables, sofas, bedsteads,
and upholstery. The nobility and gentry, and public
in general, for whose accommodation these tenements
were designed, lay, here and there, in baskets, staring
straight up at the ceiling; but, in denoting their de-
grees in society, and confining them to their respec-
tive stations (which experience shows to be lament-
ably difficult in real life), the makers of these Dolls
had far improved on Nature, who is often froward
and perverse; for, they, not resting on such arbitrary
marks as satin, cotton-print, and bits of rag, had
superadded striking personal differences which allowed
of no mistake. Thus, the Doll-lady of distinction
had wax limbs of perfect symmetry; but, only she
and her compeers. The next grade in the social scale
being made of leather, and the next of coarse linen
stuff. As to the common-people, they had just so
many matches out of tinder-boxes, for their arms and
legs, and there they were -- established in their sphere
at once, beyond the possibility of getting out of it.

  There were various other samples of his handicraft,
besides Dolls, in Caleb Plummer's room. There
were Noah's Arks, in which the Birds and Beasts
were an uncommonly tight fit, I assure vou; though
they could be crammed in, anyhow, at the roof, and
rattled and shaken into the smallest compass. By a
bold poetical licence, most of these Noah's Arks had
knockers on the doors; inconsistent appendages, per-
haps, as suggestive of morning callers and a Post-
man, yet a pleasant finish to the outside of the build-
ing. There were scores of melancholy little carts
which, when the wheels went round, performed most
doleful music. Many small fiddles, drums, and other
instruments of torture; no end of cannon, shields,
swords, spears, and guns. There were little tumblers
in red breeches, incessantly swarming up high ob-
stacles of red-tape, and coming down, head first, on
the other side; and there were innumerable old gentle-
men of respectable, not to say venerable, appearance,
insanely flying over horizontal pegs, inserted, for the
purpose, in their own street doors. There were beasts
of all sorts; horses, in particular, of every breed, 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 hard to count the
dozens upon dozens of grotesque figures that were
ever ready to commit all sorts of absurdities on the
turning of a handle, so it would have been no easy
task to mention any human folly, vice, or weakness,
that had not its type, immediate or remote, in Caleb
Plummer's room. And not in an exaggerated form,
for very little handles will move men and women
to as strange performances, as any Toy was ever
made to undertake.

  In the midst of all these objects, Caleb and his
daughter sat at work. The Blind Girl busy as a
Doll's dressmaker; Caleb painting and glazing the
four-pair front of a desirable family mansion.

  The care imprinted in the lines of Caleb's face, and
his absorbed and dreamy manner, which would have
sat well on some alchemist or abstruse student, were
at first sight an odd contrast to his occupation, and
the trivialities about him. But, trivial things, in-
vented and pursued for bread, become very serious
matters of fact; and, apart from this consideration,
I am not at all prepared to say, myself, that if Caleb
had been a Lord Chamberlain, or a Member of Parlia-
ment, or a lawyer, or even a great speculator, he
would have dealt in toys one whit less whimsical,
while I have a very great doubt whether they would
have been as harmless.

  'So you were out in the rain last night, father, in
your beautiful new great-coat,' said Caleb's daughter.

  'In my beautiful new great-coat,' answered Caleb,
glancing towards a clothes-line in the room, on which
the sack-cloth garment previously described, 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 too good 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 what he said, upon her bright-
ening face; 'upon my word! When I hear the boys
and people say behind me, "Halloa! Here's a swell!"
I don't know which way to look. And when the
beggar wouldn't go away last night; and when I
said I was a very common man, said "No, your
Honour! Bless your Honour, don't say that!" I
was 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 had the eyes I never want when you
are with me. A blue coat --'

  'Bright blue,' said Caleb.

  'Yes, yes! Bright blue!' exclaimed the girl, turn-
ing up her radiant face; 'the colour I can just-remem-
ber in the blessed sky! You told me it was blue be-
fore! A bright blue coat --'

  'Made loose to the figure,' suggested Caleb.

  'Made loose to the figure!' cried the Blind Girl,
laughing heartily; 'and in it, you, dear father, with
your merry eye, your smiling face, your free step,
and your dark hair --looking so young and hand-
some!'

  'Halloa! Halloa!' said Caleb. 'I shall be vain,
presently!'

  'I think you are, already,' cried the Blind Girl,
pointing at him, in her glee. '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 a footfall counterfeited for her
ear; and never had he, when his heart was heaviest,
forgotten the light tread that was to render hers so
cheerful and courageous!

  Heaven knows! But I think Caleb's vague be-
wilderment of manner may have half originated in
his having confused himself about himself and every-
thing around him, for the love of his Blind Daughter.
How could the little man be otherwise than bewil-
dered, after labouring for so many years to destroy
his own identity, 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 better judgment of his work; 'as
near the real thing as sixpenn'orth of halfpence is to
sixpence. What a pity that the whole front of the
house opens at once! If there was only a staircase
in it, now, and regular doors to the rooms to go in at!
But that's the worst of my calling, I'm always de-
luding myself, and swindling myself.'

  'You are speaking quite softly. You are not tired,
father?'

  'Tired!' echoed Caleb, with a great burst of anima-
tion, '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 involuntary imitation of two half-
length stretching and yawning figures on the mantel-
shelf, who were represented as in one eternal state of
weariness from the waist upwards; and hummed a
fragment of a song. It was a Bacchanalian song,
something about a Sparkling Bowl. He sang it with
an assumption of a Devil-may-care voice, that made
his face a thousand times more meagre and more
thoughtful than ever.

  'What! You're singing, are you?' said Tackle-
ton, putting his head in at the door. 'Go it! I can't
sing.'

  Nobody would have suspected him of it. He
hadn't what is generally termed a singing face, by
any means.

  'I can't afford to sing,' said Tackleton. 'I'm glad
you can. I hope you can afford to work too. Hardly
time for both, I should think?'

  'If you could only see him, Bertha, how he's wink-
ing at me!' whispered Caleb. 'Such a man to joke!
you'd think, if you didn't know him, he was in ear-
nest -- 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 his daughter. '0, my gracious!'

  'Always merry and light-hearted with us!' cried
the smiling Bertha.

  '0, you're there, are you?' answered Tackleton.
'Poor Idiot!'

  He really did believe she was an Idiot; and he
found the belief, I can't say whether consciously or
not, upon her being fond of him.

  'Well! and being there, -- how are you?' said Tack-
leton, in his grudging way.

  'Oh! well; quite well. And as happy as even you
can wish me to be. As happy as you 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 own two hands; and laid her
cheek against it tenderly, before releasing it. There
was such unspeakable affection and such fervent
gratitude in the act, that Tackleton himself was
moved to say, in a milder growl than usual:

  'What's the matter now?'

  'stood it close beside my pillow when I went to
sleep last night, and remembered it in my dreams.
And when the day broke, and the glorious red sun
the red sun, father?'

  'Red in the mornings and the evenings, Bertha,'
said poor Caleb, with a woeful glance at his employer.

  'When it rose, and the bright light I almost fear to
strike myself against in walking, came into the room,
I turned the little tree towards it, and blessed Heaven
for making things so precious, and blessed you for
sending them to cheer me!'

  'Bedlam broke loose!' said Tackleton under his
breath. 'We shall arrive at the strait-waistcoat and
mufflers soon. We're getting on!'

  Caleb, with his hands hooked loosely in each other,
stared vacantly before him while 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 could have 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, I believe 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-tree home for her, so carefully'
and that with his own lips he had forged the innocent
deception which should help to keep her from suspect-
ing how much, how very much, he every day denied
himself, that she might be the happier.

  'Bertha!' said Tackleton, assuming, for the nonce,
a little cordiality. 'Come here.'

  '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-Nic here; an't
it?' said Tackleton, with a strong expression of dis-
taste for the whole 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 with May 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 Tack-
leton, 'that I was afraid she'd never comprehend me.
Ah, Bertha! Married! Church, parson, clerk, beadle,
glass-coach, bells, breakfast, bride-cake, favours, mar-
row-bones, cleavers, and all the rest of the tom-
foolery. A wedding, you know; a wedding. Don't
you know 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 that account I want to join
the party, and to bring May and her mother. I'll
send in a little something or other, before the after-
noon. A cold leg of mutton, or some 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 hands crossed, musing.

  'I don't think you will,' muttered Tackleton, look-
ing at her; 'for you seem to have 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't clever in.'

  'Every man thinks his own geese swans,' observed
the Toy-merchant, with a shrug. 'Poor devil!'

  Having delivered himself of which remark, with in-
finite contempt, old Gruff and Tackleton withdrew.

  Bertha remained where he had left her, lost in med-
itation. The gaiety had vanished from her downcast
face, and it was very sad. Three or four times, she
shook her head, as if bewailing some remembrance
or some loss; but, her sorrowful reflections found no
vent in words.

  It was not until Caleb had been occupied, some
time, in yoking a team of horses to a wagon by the
summary process of nailing the harness to the vital
parts of their bodies, that she drew near to his work-
ing-stool, and sitting down 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 that done
Bertha.'

  'Tell me about it.'

  'It's much the same as usual,' said Caleb. 'Homely
but very snug. The gay colours on the walls; the
bright flowers on the plates and dishes; the shining
wood, where there are beams or panels; the general
cheerfulness and neatness of the building; make it
very pretty.'

  Cheerful and neat it was wherever Bertha's hands
could busy themselves. But nowhere else, were cheer-
fulness and neatness possible, in the old crazy shed
which Caleb's fancy so transformed.

  'You have your working dress on, and are not so
gallant as when you wear the handsome 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 arm round 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 to Caleb, not to have to
draw on his invention.

  'Her hair is dark,' said Bertha, pensively, 'darker
than mine. Her voice is sweet 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 her eyes!' --

  He stopped; for Bertha had drawn closer round
his neck, and, from the arm that clung 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 song about the sparkling
bowl, his infallible resource in all such difficulties.

  'Our friend, father, our benefactor. I am never
tired you know of hearing about 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, that Caleb, though his
motives were so pure, could not endure to meet her
face; but dropped 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 and unwillingness, 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 that don't signify.'

  'Oh father, yes! To be his patient companion in
infirmity and age; to be his gentle nurse in sickness,
and his constant friend in suffering and sorrow; to
know no weariness in working for his sake; to watch
him, tend him, sit beside his bed and talk to him
awake, and pray for him asleep; what privileges these
would 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 wept
and wept, that he was almost sorry to have brought
that tearful happiness upon her.

  In the meantime, there had been a pretty sharp
commotion at John Peerybingle's, for, little Mrs.
Peerybingle naturally couldn't think of going any-
where without the Baby; and to get the Baby under
weigh, took time. Not that there was much of the
Baby, speaking of it as a thing of weight and meas-
ure, but, there was a vast deal to do about and about
it, and it all had to be done by easy stages. For
instance, when the Baby was got, by hook and by
crook, to a certain point of dressing, and you might
have rationally supposed that another touch or two
would finish him off, and turn him out a tip-top
Baby challenging the world, he was unexpectedly ex-
tinguished in a flannel cap, and hustled off to bed;
where he simmered (so to speak) between two blankets
for the 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 rather
say, 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, to
make 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
a spencer of a fashion so surprising and ingenious,
that it had no connection with herself, or anything
else in the universe, but was a shrunken, dog's-eared,
independent fact, pursuing its lonely course without
the least regard to anybody. By this time, the Baby,
being all alive again, was invested, by the united
efforts of Mrs. Peerybingle and Miss Slowboy, with
a cream-coloured mantle for its body, and a sort of -
nankeen raised-pie for its head; and so in course of
time they all three got down to the door, where the
old horse had already taken more than the full value
of his day's toll out of the Turnpike Trust, by tear-
ing up the road with his impatient autographs; and
whence Boxer might be dimly seen in the remote
perspective, standing looking back, and tempting him
to come on without orders.

  As to a chair, or anything of that kind for helping
Mrs. Peerybingle into the cart, you know very little
of John, if you think that was necessary. Before
you 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 would observe of Miss Slow-
boy's that there was a fatality about them which ren-
dered them singularly liable to be grazed; and that
she never effected the smallest ascent or descent,
without recording the circumstance upon them with a
notch, as Robinson Crusoe marked the days upon
his wooden calendar. But as this might be considered
ungenteel, I'll think of it.

  'John? You've got the basket with the Veal and
Ham-Pie and things, and the bottles of Beer?' said
Dot. 'If you haven't you must turn round again,
this very minute.'

  'You're a nice little article,' returned the Carrier,
'to be talking about turning 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 not think of going to Bertha's --
I would not do it, John, on any account -- without the
Veal 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 leave things 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 Veal and Ham-Pie and things, and the bottles of
Beer, for any money. Regularly once a fortnight ever
since we have been married, John, have we made our
little Pic-Nic there. If anything was to go wrong
with it, I should almost think we were never to be
lucky again.'

  'It was a kind thought in the first instance,' said
the Carrier: 'and I honour you for it, little woman.'

  'My dear John,' replied Dot, turning very red,
'Don't talk about honouring me. Good Gracious!'

  '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 before them. '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 great earnestness of her manner. 'I
am glad you feel so certain of it, because it's a con-
firmation to me. It's curious that he should have
taken it into his head to ask leave to go on lodging
with us; an't it? Things come about so strangely.'

  'So very strangely,' she rejoined in a low voice,
scarcely audible.

  'However, he's a good-natured old gentleman,'
said John, 'and pays as a gentleman, and I think his
word is to be relied upon, like a gentleman's. I had
quite a long talk with him this morning: he can hear
me better already, he says, as he gets more used to
my voice. He told me a great deal about himself,
and I told him a good deal about myself, and a rare 
lot of questions he asked me. I gave him information
about my having two beats, you know, in my busi-
ness; one day to the right from our house and back
again; another day to the left from our house and
back again (for he's a stranger and don't know the
names of places about here); and he seemed quite
pleased. "Why, then I shall be returning home to-
night your way," he says, "when I thought you'd be
coming in an exactly opposite direction. That's
capital! I may trouble you for another lift perhaps,
but I'll engage not to fall so sound asleep again."
He was 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 look of your face, that I had
gone rambling on so long, as to set you thinking about
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, it was not easy to remain
silent very long in John Peerybingle's cart, for, every-
body on the road had something to say. Though it
might only be 'How are you!' and indeed it was
very often nothing else, still, to give that back again
in the right spirit of cordiality, required, not merely
a nod and a smile, but as wholesome an action of the
lungs withal, as a long-winded Parliamentary speech.
Sometimes, passengers on foot, or horseback, plodded
on a little way beside the cart, for the express pur-
pose of having a chat; and then there was a great
deal to be said, on both sides.

  Then, Boxer gave occasion to more good-natured
recognitions of, and by, the Carrier, than half a dozen
Christians could have done! Everybody knew him,
all along the road -- especially the fowls and pigs,
who when they saw him approaching, with his body
all on one side, and his ears pricked up inquisitively,
and that knob of a tail making the most of itself in
the air, immediately withdrew into remote back settle-
ments, without waiting for the honour of a nearer
acquaintance. He had business everywhere; going
down all the turnings, looking into all the wells, bolt-
ing in and out of all the cottages, dashing into the
midst of all the Dame-Schools, fluttering all the
pigeons, magnifying the tails of all the cats, and trot-
ting into the public-houses like a regular customer.
Wherever he went, somebody or other might have
been heard to cry, 'Halloa! Here's Boxer!' and out
came that somebody forthwith, accompanied by at
least two or three other somebodies, to give John
Peerybingle and his pretty wife, Good-Day.

  The packages and parcels for the errand cart, were
numerous; and there were many stoppages to take
them in and give them out, which were not by any
means the worst parts of the journey. Some people
were so full of expectation about their 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
as a play. Likewise, there were articles to carry,
which required to be considered and discussed, and in
reference to the adjustment and disposition of which,
councils had to be holden by the Carrier and the
senders: at which Boxer usually assisted, in short fits
of the closest attention, and long fits of tearing round
and round the assembled sages and barking himself
hoarse. Of all these little incidents, Dot was the
amused and open-eyed spectatress from her chair in
the cart; and as she sat there, looking on -- a charm-
ing little portrait framed to admiration by the tilt --
there was no lack of nudgings and glancings and
whisperings and envyings among the younger men.
And this delighted John the Carrier, beyond measure;
for he was proud to have his little wife admired,
knowing that she didn't mind it -- that, if anything,
she rather liked it perhaps.

  The trip was a little foggy, to be sure, in the Jan-
uary weather; and was raw and cold. But who cared
for such trifles? Not Dot, decidedly. Not Tilly
Slowboy, for she deemed sitting in a cart, on any
terms, to be the highest point 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 young Peery-
bingle was, all the way.

  You couldn't see very far in the fog, of course: but
you could see a great deal! It's astonishing how
much you may see, in a thicker fog than that, if you
will only take the trouble to look for it. Why, even
to sit watching for the Fairy-rings in the fields, and
for the patches of hoar-frost still lingering in the
shade, near hedges and by trees, was a pleasant occu-
pation: to make no mention of the unexpected shapes
in which the trees themselves came starting out of the
mist and glided into it again. The hedges were
tangled and bare, and waved a multitude of blighted
garlands in the wind; but, there was no discourage-
ment in this. It was agreebale to contemplate; for,
it made the fireside warmer in possession, and the
summer greener in expectancy. The river looked
chilly; but it was in motion, and moving at a good
pace -- which was a 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 then there would be skating, and sliding; and
the heavy old barges, frozen up somewhere 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 mount of weeds or
stubble burning; and they watched the fire, so white
in the day time, flaring through the fog, with only
here and there a dash of red in it, until, in consequence
as she observed of the smoke 'getting up her nose,'
Miss Slowboy choked -- she could do anything of that
sort, on the smallest provocation -- and woke the
Baby, who wouldn't go to sleep again. But, Boxer,
who was in advance some quarter of a mile or so,
had already passed the outposts of the town, and
gained the corner of the street where 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 distinc-
tions of his own, in his communication with Bertha
which persuade me fully that he knew her to be blind.
He never sought to attract her attention by looking
at her, as he often did with other people, but touched
her invariably. What experience he could ever have
had of blind people or blind dogs, I don't know
He had never lived with a blind master; nor had Mr.
Boxer the elder, nor Mrs. Boxer, nor any of his re-
spectable family on either side, ever been visited with
blindness, that I am aware of. He may have found
it out for himself, perhaps, but he had got hold of it
somehow; and therefore he had hold of Bertha too,
by the skirt, and kept hold, until Mrs. Peerybingle
and the Baby, and Miss Slowboy, and the basket,
were all got safely within doors.

  May Fielding was already come; and so was her
mother -- a little querulous chip of an old lady with a
peevish face, who, in right of having preserved a
waist like a bedpost, was supposed to be a most tran-
scendent figure; and who, in consequence of having
once been better of, or of labouring under an impres-
sion that she might have been, if something had hap-
pened which never did happen, and seemed to have
never been particularly likely to come to pass -- but
it's all the same -- was very genteel and patronising
indeed. Gruff and Tackleton was also there, doing
the agreeable, with the evident sensation of being as
perfectly at home, and as unquestionably in his own
element, as a fresh young salmon on the top of the
Great Pyramid.

  'May! My dear old friend!' cried Dot, running
up to meet her. 'What a happiness to see you.'

  Her old friend was, to the full, as hearty and as
glad as she; and it really was, if you'll believe me,
quite a pleasant sight to see them embrace. Tackle-
ton 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 comes into contact and com-
parison with another pretty face, it seems for the mo-
ment to be homely and faded, and hardly to deserve
the high opinion you have had of it. Now, this was
not at all the case, either with Dot or May; for May's
face set 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,
they ought to have been born sisters -- which was the
only improvement you could have suggested.

  Tackleton had brought his leg of mutton, and,
wonderful to relate, a tart beside -- but we don't mind
a little dissipation when our brides are in the case;
we don't get married every day -- and in addition to
these dainties, there were 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 the repast was set forth on the board,
flanked by Caleb's contribution, which was a great
wooden bowl of smoking potatoes (he was prohibited,
by solemn compact, from producing any other viands),
Tackleton led his intended mother-in-law to the 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 inspire the thought-
less with sentiments of awe. She also wore her gloves.
But let us be genteel, or die!

  Caleb sat next his daughter; Dot and her old school-
fellow were side by side; the good Carrier took care
of the bottom of the table. Miss Slowboy was iso-
lated, for the time being, from every article of fur-
niture but the chair she 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 the company. The venerable old
gentlemen at the street-doors (who were all in full
action) showed especial interest in the party, pausing
occasionally before leaping, as if they were listening
to the conversation, and then plunging wildly over
and over, a great many times, without halting for
breath -- as in a frantic state of delight with the whole
proceedings.

  Certainly, if these old gentlemen were inclined to
have a fiendish joy in the contemplation of Tackle-
ton's discomfiture, they had good reason to be satis-
fied. Tackleton couldn't get on at all; and the more
cheerful his intended bride became in Dot's society,
the less he liked it, though he had brought them to-
gether for that purpose. For he was a regular dog
in the manger, was Tackleton; and when they laughed
and he couldn't, he took it into his head, immediately,
that they must be laughing at him.

  'Ah May!' said Dot. 'Dear, dear, what changes!
To talk of those merry school-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,' re-
turned Dot. 'He adds twenty years to my age at
least. Don't you, John?'

  'Forty,' John replied.

  'How many you'll add to May's, I'm sure I don't
know,' said Dot, laughing. 'But she can't be much
less than a hundred years of age on her next birth-
day.'

  'Ha ho!' laughed Tackleton. Hollow as a drum,
that laugh though. And he looked as if he could
have twisted Dot's neck, comfortably.

  'Dear dear!' said Dot. 'Only to remember how
we used to talk, at school, about the husbands we
would choose. I don't know how young, and how
handsome, and how gay, and how lively, mine was
not to be! And as to May's -- Ah dear! I don't know
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, and tears stood in her eyes.

  'Even the very persons themselves -- real live young
men -- were fixed on sometimes,' said Dot. 'We little
thought how things would come about. I never fixed
on John I'm sure; I never so much as thought of
him. And if I had told you, 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 any means.

  Tackleton laughed -- quite shouted, he laughed so
loud. John Peerybingle laughed too, in his ordinary
good-natured and contented manner; but his was a
mere whisper 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 bride-
grooms 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
the same creatures; would not believe that what they
saw and heard was real, and we 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 some recalling to herself, without
doubt. Her husband's check was very gentle, for he
merely interfered, as he supposed, to shield old Tack-
leton; but it proved effectual, 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-shut eye 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 cast down, and made no sign of
interest in what had passed. The good lady her
mother now interposed, observing, in the first in-
stance, that girls were girls, and byegones byegones,
and that so long as young people were young and
thoughtless, they would probably conduct themselves
like young and thoughtless persons: with two or three
other positions of a no less sound and incontrovertible
character. She then remarked, in a devout spirit,
that she thanked Heaven she had always found in
her daughter May, a dutiful and obedient child;
for which she took no credit to herself, though sho
had every reason 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 undeniable
individual, and That he was in an eligible point of
view a son-in-law to be desired, 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 some solicitation, to be admitted, she believed
Mr. Tackleton knew that, although reduced in purse,
it had some pretensions to gentility; and if certain
circumstances, not wholly unconnected, she would go
so far as to say, with the Indigo Trade, but to which
she would not more particularly refer, had happened
differently, it might perhaps have been in possession
of wealth. She then remarked that she would not
allude to the past, and would not mention that her
daughter had for some time rejected the suit of Mr.
Tackleton; and that she would 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 and experience, that those marriages in
which there was least of what was romantically and
sillily called love, were always the happiest; and that
she anticipated the greatest possible amount of bliss --
not rapturous bliss; but the solid, steady-going article
from the approaching nuptials. She concluded by
informing the company that to-morrow was the day
she had lived for, expressly; and that when it was
over, she wuld desire nothing better than to be
packed up and disposed of, in any genteel place of
burial.

  As these remarks were quite unanswerable -- which
is the happy property of all remarks that are suffi-
ciently wide of the purpose -- they changed the cur-
rent of the 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
beer might not be slighted, John Peerybingle pro-
posed To-morrow: the Wedding-Day; and called
upon them to drink a bumper to it, before he pro-
ceeded on his journey.

  For you ought to know that he only rested there,
and gave the old horse a bait. He had to go some
four or five miles farther on; and when he returned
in the evening, he called for Dot, and took another
rest on his way home. This was the order of the day
on all the Pic-Nic occasions, and had been, ever since
their institution.

  There were two persons present, beside the bride
and bridegroom elect, who did but indifferent honour
to the toast. One of these was Dot, too flushed and
discomposed to adapt herself to any small occurrence
of the moment; the other, Bertha, who rose up hur-
riedly, before the rest, and left the table.

  'Good-bye!' said stout John Peerybingle, pulling
on his dreadnought coat. 'I shall 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 unconscious manner; for he stood observ-
ing Bertha with an anxious wondering face, that
never altered its expression.

  'Good-bye, young shaver!' said the jolly Carrier, 
bending down to kiss the child; which Tilly Slowboy,
now intent upon her knife and fork, had deposited
asleep (and strange to say, without damage) in a
little cot of Bertha's furnishing; 'good-bye! Time
will come, I suppose, when you'll turn out into the
cold, my little friend, and leave your old father to
enjoy his pipe and his 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 the pipe?'

  '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's dreadnought pocket -- with
the little pouch, her own work, from which she was
used to fill it; but her hand shook so, that she en-
tangled it (and yet her hand was small enough to
have come out easily, I am sure), and bungled ter-
ribly. The filling of the pipe and lighting it, those
little offices in which I have commended her discre-
tion, were vilely done, from first to last. During the
whole process, Tackleton stood looking on maliciously
with the half-closed eye; which, whenever it met hers
-- or caught it, for it can hardly be said to have ever
met another eye: rather being a kind of trap to snatch
it up -- augmented her confusion in a most remark-
able degree.

  'Why, what a clumsy Dot you are, this afternoon!'
said John. 'I could have done it better myself, I
verily believe!'

  With these good-natured words, he strode away,
and presently was heard, in company with Boxer, and
the old horse, and the cart, making lively music down
the road. What time the dreamy Caleb still stood,
watching his blind daughter, with the same expres-
sion on his face.

  'Bertha!' said Caleb, softly. 'What has happened?
How changed you are, my darling, in a few hours --
since this morning. You silent and dull all day!
What is 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 an-
swered her.

  'But think how cheerful and how happy you have
been, Bertha! How good, and how much loved, by
many people.'

  'That strikes me to the heart, dear father! Always
so mindful of me! Always so kind to me!'

  Caleb was very much perplexed to understand her.

  'To be -- to be blind, Bertha, my poor dear,' he
faltered, 'is a great affliction; but --'

  'I have never felt it!' cried the Blind Girl. 'I have
never felt it, in its fulness. Never! I have some-
times wished that I could see you, or could see him
-- only once, dear father, only for one little minute --
that I might know what it is I treasure up,' she laid
her hands upon her breast, 'and hold here! That I
might be sure and have it right! And sometimes
(but then I was a child) I have wept in my prayers at
night, to think that when your images ascended from
my heart to Heaven, they might not be the true re-
semblance of yourselves. But I have never had these
feelings long. They have passed away and left me
tranquil and contented.'

  'And they will again,' said Caleb.

  'But father! Oh my good, gentle father, bear with
me, if I am wicked!' said the 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 so earnest and pathetic, but he did
not understand her, yet.

  'Bring her to me,' said Bertha. 'I cannot hold it
closed and shut within myself. 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 her on 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 your beautiful 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 tears were coursing fast, ad-
dressed her in these words:

  'There is not, in my soul, a wish or thought that is
not for your good, bright May! There is not, in my
soul, a grateful recollection stronger than the deep
remembrance which is stored there, of the many many
times when, in the full pride of sight and beauty,
you have had consideration for Blind Bertha, even
when we two were children, or when Bertha was as
much a child as ever blindness can be! Every bless-
ing on your head! Light upon your happy course!
Not the less, my dear May'; and she drew towards
her, in a closer grasp; 'not the less, my bird, because,
to-day, the knowledge that you are to be His wife has
wrung my heart almost to breaking! Father, May,
Mary! oh forgive me that it is so, for the sake of all
he has done to relieve the weariness of my dark life:
and for the sake of the belief you have in me, when I
call Haven to witness that I could not wish him
married to a wife more worthy of his goodness!'

  While speaking, she had released May Fielding's
hands, and clasped her garments in an attitude of
mingled supplication and love. Sinking lower and
lower down, as she proceeded in her strange confes-
sion, she dropped at last at the 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, 'have I deceived her from her
cradle, but to break her heart at last!'

  It was well for all of them that Dot, that beaming,
useful, busy little Dot -- for such she was, whatever
faults she had, and however you may learn to hate
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 her self-
possession, interposed, before May could reply, or
Caleb say another word.

  'Come come, dear Bertha! come away with me!
Give her your arm, May. So! How composed she
is, you see, already; and how good it is of her to
mind us,' said the cheery little woman, kissing her
upon the forehead. 'Come away, dear Bertha. Come!
and here's her good father will come with her; won't
you, Caleb? To -- be -- sure!'

  Well, well! she was a noble little Dot in such
things, and it must have been an obdurate nature that
could have withstood her influence. When she had
got poor Caleb and his Bertha away, that they might
comfort and console each other, as she knew they only
could, she presently came bouncing back, -- the saying
is, as fresh as any daisy; I say fresher -- to mount
guard over that bridling little piece of consequence
in the cap and gloves, and prevent the dear old crea-
ture 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 all
about the management of Babies, and put me right
in twenty points where I'm as wrong 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 of a
juggling-trick achieved by his arch-enemy at break-
fast-time; not even he fell half so readily into the
snare prepared for him, as the old lady did into this
artful pitfall. The fact of Tackleton having walked
out; and furthermore, of two or three people having
been talking together at a distance, for two minutes,
leaving her to her own resources; was quite enough to
have put her on her dignity, and the bewailment of
that mysterious convulsion in the Indigo trade, for
four-and-twenty hours. But this becoming deference
to her experience, on the part of the young mother;
was so irresistible, that after a short affectation of
humility, she began to enlighten her with the best
grace in the world; and sitting bolt upright before the
wicked Dot, she did, half an hour, deliver more in-
fallible domestic recipes and precepts, that would (if
acted on) have utterly destroyed and done up that
Young Peerybingle, though he had been an Infant
Samson.

  To change the theme, Dot did a little needlework --
she carried the contents of a whole workbox in her
pocket; however she contrived it, I don't know -- then
did a little nursing; then a little more needlework;
then had a little whispering chat 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, as it grew dark, and as it was a
solemn part of this Institution of the Pic-Nic that 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, and lighted a
candle. Then she played an air or two on a rude
kind of harp, which Caleb had contrived for Bertha,
and played them very well; for Nature had made her
delicate little ear as choice a one for music as it
would have been for jewels, if she had had any to
wear. By this time it was the established hour for
having tea; and Tackleton came back again, to share
the meal, and spend the evening.

  Caleb and Bertha had returned some time before,
and Caleb had sat down to his afternoon's work.
But he couldn't settle to it, poor fellow, being anxious
and remorseful for his daughter. It was touching to
see him sitting idle on his working-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 washing up the cups and sau-
cers; in a word -- for I must come to it, and there is
no use in putting it off -- when the time drew nigh for
expecting the Carrier's return in every sound of dis-
tant wheels, her manner changed again, her colour
came and went, and she was very restless. Not as
good wives are, when listening for their 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 of all 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 browr face 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 the Carrier. 'You 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 have reasonable good lungs, but he
tries 'em, I can tell you. Sit down, sir. All friends
here, and glad to see you!'

  When he had imparted this assurance, in a voice
that amply corroborated what he had said about his
lungs, he added in his natural tone, 'A chair in the
chimney-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 had set the chair, and
asked him, in a low voice, to describe their visitor.
When he had done so (truly now: with scrupulous
fidelity), she moved, for the first time since he had
come in, and sighed, and seemed to have no further
interest concerning him.

  The Carrier was in high spirits, good fellow that
he was, and fonder of his little wife than ever.

  'A clumsy Dot she was, this afternoon!' he said,
encircling her with his rough arm, as she stood, re-
moved from the rest; 'and yet I like her somehow.
See yonder, 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 of nothing else, the whole
way here. Why, he's a brave old boy. I like him
for it!'

  'I wish he had had a better subject, John,' she
said, with an uneasy glance about the room. At
Tackleton especially.

  'A better subject!' cried the jovial John. 'There's
no such thing. Come, off with 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 at cribbage, you and I? That's
hearty. The cards and board, Dot. And a glass of
beer here, if there's any left, small wife!'

  His challenge was addressed to the old lady, who
accepting it with gracious readiness, they were soon
engaged upon the game. At first, the Carrier looked
about him sometimes, with a smile, or now and then
called Dot to peep over his shoulder at his hand,
and advise him on some knotty point. But his ad-
versary being a rigid disciplinarian, and subject to
an occasional weakness in respect of 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 attention gradually became absorbed
upon the cards; and he thought of nothing else, until
a hand upon his shoulder restored him to a conscious-
ness 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 ask him, in a hurry, what
the matter was.

  'Hush! John Peerybingle,' said Tackleton. 'I am
sorry for this. I am indeed. I have 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
own counting-house, where there was a glass window
commanding the ware-room, which was closed for
the night. There was no light in the counting-house
itself, but there were lamps in the long narrow ware-
room; and consequently the window was bright.

  'A moment! ' said Tackleton. 'Can you bear to
look through that window, do you think?'

  '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 mur-
der before you know it.'

  The carrier looked him in the face. and recoiled a
step as if he had been struck. 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 oId man -- old no longer, but
erect and gallant -- bearing in his hand the false white
hair that had won his way into their desolate and
miserable home. He saw her listening to him, as he
bent his head to whisper in her ear; and suffering
him to clasp her round the waist, as they moved
slowly down the dim wooden gallery towards the door
by which they had entered it. He saw them stop,
and saw her turn -- to have the face, the face he loved
so, so presented to his view! -- and saw her, with her
own hands, adjust the lie upon his 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 a lion. But opening it
immediately again, he spread it out before the eyes
of Tackleton (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 she came 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? Could she venture to re-
veal her face to them without a blush? Yes. Tackle-
ton observed her closely, and she did all this.

  Tilly was hushing the Baby, and she crossed and
re-crossed Tackleton, a dozen times, repeating
drowsily:

  'Did the knowledge that it was to be its wifes, then,
wring its hearts almost to breaking; and did its
fathers deceive it from its cradles but to break its
hearts at last!'

  'Now Tilly, give me the Baby! Good-night, Mr.
Tackleton. Where's John, for goodness' sake?'

  'He's going to walk, beside the horse's head,' said
Tackleton; who helped her to her seat.

  'My dear John. Walk? To-night?'

  The muffled figure of her husband made a hasty
sign in the affirmative; and the false stranger and
the little nurse being in their places, the old horse
moved off. Boxer, the unconscious Boxer, running
on before, running back, running round and round
the cart, and barking as triumphantly and merrily
as ever.

  When Tackleton had gone off likewise, escorting
May and her mother home, poor Caleb sat down
by the fire beside his daughter; anxious and remorse-
ful at the core; and still saying in his wistful con-
templation of her, 'Have I deceived her 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 run down, long ago. In the
faint light and silence, the imperturbably calm dolls,
the agitated rocking-horses with distended eyes and
nostrils, the old gentlemen at the street-doors, stand-
ing half doubled up upon their failing knees and
ankles, the wry-faced nut-crackers, the very Beasts
upon their way into the Ark, in twos, like a Boarding
School out walking, might have been imagined to
be stricken motionless with fantastic wonder, at Dot
being false, or Tackleton beloved, under any com-
bination of circumstances.

               CHIRP THE THIRD

  The Dutch clock in the corner struck Ten, when
the Carrier sat down by his fireside. So troubled
and grief-worn, that he seemed to scare the Cuckoo,
who, having cut his ten melodious announcements as
short as possible, plunged back into the Moorish Pal-
ace again, and clapped his little door behind him,
as if the unwonted spectacle were too much for his
feelings.

  If the little Haymaker had been armed with the
sharpest of scythes, and had cut at every stroke into
the Carrier's heart, he never could have gashed and
wounded it, as Dot had done.

  It was a heart so full of love for her; so bound
up and held together by innumerable threads of win-
ning remembrance, spun from the daily working of
her many qualities of endearment; it was a heart in
which she had enshrined herself so gently and so
closely; a heart so single and so earnest in its Truth,
so strong in right, so weak in wrong; that it could
cherish neither passion nor revenge at first, and had
only room to hold the broken image of its Idol.

  But, slowly, slowly, as the Carrier sat brooding
on his hearth, now cold and dark, other and fiercer
thoughts began to rise within him, as an angry wind
comes rising in the night. The Stranger was beneath
his outraged roof. Three steps would take him to
his chamber-door. One blow would beat it in. 'You
might do murder before you know it,' Tackleton had
said. How could it be murder, if he gave the villain
time to grapple with him hand to hand! He was the
younger man.

  It was an ill-timed thought, bad for the dark mood
of his mind. It was an angry thought, goading him
to some avenging act, that should change the cheerful
house into a haunted place which lonely travellers
would dread to pass by night; and where the timid
would see shadows struggling in the ruined windows
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 had never touched.
Some lover of her early choice, of whom she had
thought and dreamed, for whom she had pined and
pined, when he had fancied her so happy by his side.
O agony to think of it!

  She had been above-stairs with the Baby, getting it
to bed. As he sat brooding on the hearth, she came
close beside him, without his knowledge -- in the turn-
ing of the rack of his great misery, he lost all other
sounds -- and put her little stool at his feet. He only
knew it, when he felt her hand upon his own, and
saw her looking up into his face.

  With wonder? No. It was his first impression,
and he was fain to look at her again, 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 changed into 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, and falling hair.

  Though the power of Omnipotence had been his to
wield at that moment, he had too much of its diviner
property of Mercy in his breast, to have turned one
feather's weight of it against her. But he could
not bear to see her crouching down upon the little
seat where he had often looked on her, with love
and pride, so innocent and gay; and, when she rose
and left him, sobbing as she went, he felt it a relief
to have the vacant place beside him rather than her
so long cherished presence. This in itself was an-
guish keener than all, reminding him how desolate
he was become, and how the great bond of his life
was rent asunder.

  The more he felt this, and the more he knew he
could have better borne to see her 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 about him for a weapon.

  There was a gun, hanging on the wall. He took
it down, and moved a pace or two towards the door
of the perfidious Stranger's room. He knew the gun
was loaded. Some shadowy idea that it was just to
shoot this man like a wild beast, seized him, and
dilated in his mind until it grew into a monstrous
demon in complete possession of him, casting out all
milder thoughts and setting up its undivided empire.

  That phrase is wrong. Not casting out his milder
thoughts, but artfully transforming them. Chang-
ing them into scourges to drive him on. Turning
water into blood, love into hate, gentleness into blind
ferocity. Her image, sorrowing, humbled, but still
pleading to his tenderness and mercy with resistless
power, never left his mind; but, staying there, it
urged him to the door; raised the weapon to his
shoulder; fitted and nerved his finger to the trigger;
and cried 'Kill him! In his bed!'

  He reversed the gun to beat the stock upon the
door; he already held it lifted in the air; some in-
distinct design was in his thoughts of calling out to
him to fly, for God's sake, by the window --

  When, suddenly, the struggling fire illumined the
whole chimney with a glow of light; and the Cricket
on the Hearth began to Chirp!

  No sound he could have heard, no human voice,
not even hers, could so have moved and softened
him. The artless words in which she had told him
of her love for this same Cricket, were once more
freshly spoken; her trembling, earnest manner at the
moment, was again before him; her pleasant voice --
O what a voice it was, for making household music
at the fireside of an honest man! -- thrilled through
and through his better nature, and awoke it into
life and action.

  He recoiled from the door, like a man walking
in his sleep, awakened from a frightful dream; and
put the gun aside. Clasping his hands before his
face, he then 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 shape before him.

  ' "I love it," ' said the Fairy Voice, repeating what
he well remembered, ' "for the many times I have
heard it, and the many thoughts its harmless music
has given 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, joy-
ful, 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 resisted his 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; 'the hearth 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 have nightly sacrificed
some petty passion, selfishness, or care, and offered
up the homage of a tranquil mind, a trusting nature,
and an overflowing heart; so that the smoke from
this poor chimney has gone upward with a better
fragrance than the richest incense that is burnt before
the richest shrines in all the gaudy temples of this
world! -- Upon your own hearth; in its quiet sanc-
tuary; surrounded by its gentle influences and asso-
ciations; hear her! Hear me! Hear everything 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 for her!' returned the Cricket.
'For they speak the truth.'

  And while the Carrier, with his head upon his
hands, continued to sit meditating in his chair, the
Presence stood beside him, suggesting his reflections
by its power, and presenting them before him, as
in a glass or picture. It was not a solitary Presence.
From the hearthstone, from the chimney, 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 the cupboard within, and the house-
hold implements; from every thing and every place
with which she had ever been familiar, and with
which she had ever entwined one recollection of her
self in her unhappy husband's mind; Fairies came
trooping forth. Not to stand beside him as the
Cricket did, but to busy and bestir themselves. To
do all honour to her image. To pull him by the
skirts, 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 their
tiny hands. To show that they were fond of it and
loved it; and that there was not one ugly, wicked,
or accusatory creature to claim knowledge of it --
none but their playful and approving selves.

  His thoughts were constant to her image. It was
always there.

  She sat plying her needle, before the fire, and sing-
ing to herself. Such a blithe, thriving, steady little
Dot! The fairy figures turned upon him all at once,
by one consent, with one prodigious concentrated
stare, and seemed to say 'Is this the light wife you
are mourning for!'

  There were sounds of gaiety outside, musical in-
struments, and noisy tongues, and laughter. A crowd
of young merrymakers came pouring in; among whom
were May Fielding and a score of pretty girls. Dot
was the fairest of them all; as young as any of them
too. They came to summon her to join their party
It was a dance. If ever little foot were made for
dancing, hers was, surely. But she laughed, and
shook her head, and pointed to her cookery on the
fire, and her table ready spread: with an exulting
defiance that rendered her more charming than she
was before. And so she merrily dismissed them, nod-
ding to her would-be partners, one by one, as they
passed; but with a comical indifference, enough to
make them go and drown themselves immediately
if they were her admirers -- and they must have been
so, more or less; they couldn't help it. And yet
indifference was not her character. O no! For pres-
ently, there came a certain Carrier to the door; and
bless her what a welcome she bestowed upon him!

  Again the staring figures turned upon him all at
once, and seemed to say 'Is this the wife who has
forsaken you!'

  A shadow fell upon the mirror or the picture: call
it what you will. A great shadow of the Stranger,
as he first stood underneath their roof; covering its
surface, and blotting out all other objects. But the
nimble Fairies worked like bees to clear it off again.
And Dot again was there. Still bright and beautiful.

  Rocking her little Baby in its cradle, singing to it
softly, and resting her head upon a shoulder which
had its counterpart in the musing figure by which the
Fairy Cricket stood.

  The night --  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 shone
brightly in the sky. Perhaps some calm and quiet
light had risen also, in his mind; and he could think
more soberly of what had happened.

  Although the shadow of the Stranger fell at in-
tervals upon the glass -- always distinct, and big, and
thoroughly defined -- it never fell so darkly as at first.
Whenever it appeared, the Fairies uttered a general
cry of consternation, and plied 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, bright and beautiful, they cheered in
the most inspiring manner.

  They never showed her, otherwise than beautiful
and bright, for they were Household Spirits to whom
falsehood is annihilation; and being so, what Dot
was there for them, but the one active, beaming,
pleasant little creature who had 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
old and matronly herself, and leaning in a staid, de-
mure old way upon her husband's arm, attempting --
she! such a bud of a little woman -- to convey the
idea of having abjured the vanities of the world in
general, and of being the sort of person to whom it
was no novelty at all to be a mother; yet in the
same breath, they showed her, laughing at the Car-
rier for being awkward, and pulling up his shirt-
collar to make him smart, and mincing merrily about
that very room to teach him how to dance!

  They turned, and stared immensely at him when
they showed her with the Blind Girl; for, though
she carried cheerfulness and animation with her
wheresoever she went, she bore those influences into
Caleb Plummer's home, heaped up and running over
The Blind Glrl's love for her, and trust in her, and
gratitude to her; her own good busy way of setting
Bertha's thanks aside; her dexterous little arts for
filling up each moment of the visit in doing some-
thing useful to the house, and really working hard
while feigning to make holiday; her bountiful pro-
vision of those standing delicacies, the Veal and Ham-
Pie and the bottles of Beer; her radiant little face
arriving at the door, and taking leave; the wonderful
expression in her whole self, from her neat foot to the
crown of her head, of being a part of the establish-
ment -- a something necessary to it, which it couldn't
be without; all this the Fairies revelled in, and loved
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 showed her to him sitting on
her favourite seat, with her bent head, her hands
clasped on her brow, her falling hair. As he had
seen her last. And when they found her thus, they
neither turned nor looked upon him, but gathered
close round her, and comforted and kissed her, and
pressed on one another to show sympathy and kind-
ness to her, and forgot him altogether.

  Thus the night passed. The moon went down; the
stars grew pale; the cold day broke; the sun rose.
The Carrier still sat, musing in the chimney corner.
He had sat there, with his head upon his hands, all
night. All night the faithful Cricket had been Chirp,
Chirp, Chirping on the Hearth All night he had
listened 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 that
one shadow fell upon it.

  He rose up when it was broad day, and washed
and dressed himself. He couldn't go about his cus-
tomary cheerful avocations -- he wanted spirit for
them -- but it mattered the less, that it was Tackle-
ton's wedding-day, and he had arranged to make 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! how little
he had looked for such a close to such a year!

  The Carrier had expected that Tackleton would
pay him an early visit; and he was 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 the chaise drew nearer,
he perceived that Tackleton was dressed out sprucely
for his marriage, and that he had decorated his horse's
head with flowers and favours.

  The horse looked much more like a bridegroom
than Tackleton, whose half-closed eye was more dis-
agreebly expressive than ever. But the Carrier
took little heed of this. His thoughts had other
occupation.

  'John Peerybingle!' said Tackleton, with an air
of condolence. 'My good fellow, how do you find
yourself this morning?'

  'I have had but a poor night, Master Tackleton,'
returned the Carrier shaking his head: 'for I have
been a good deal disturbed in my mind. But it's
over now! Can you spare me half an hour or so,
for some private talk?'

  'I came on purpose,' returned Tackleton, alight-
ing. 'Never mind the horse. He'll stand quiet
enough, with the reins over this post, if you'll give
him a mouthful of hay.'

  The Carrier having brought it from his stable, and
set it before him, they turned 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's door; which was only re-
moved from it by a few steps. One of her very red
eyes (for Tilly had been crying all night long, be-
cause her mistress cried) was at the keyhole; and she
was knocking very loud; and seemed frightened.

  'If you please I can't make nobody hear,' said
Tilly, looking round. 'I hope nobody an't gone and
been and died if you please!'

  This philanthropic wish, Miss Slowboy emphasised
with various new raps and kicks at the door; which
led to no result whatever.

  'Shall I go?' said Tackieton. 'It's curious.'

  The Carrier, who had turned his face from the
door, signed to him to go if he would.

  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
handle of the door; and as it opened easily, he peeped
in, looked in, went in, and soon came running out
again.

  'John Peerybingle,' said Tackleton, in his ear. 'I
hope there has been nothing -- nothing rash in the
night?'

  The Carrier turned upon him quickly.

  'Because he's gone!' said Tackleton; 'and the win-
dows open. I don't see any marks -- to be sure it's
almost on a level with the garden: but I was afraid
there might have been some -- some scuffle. Eh?'

  He nearly shut up the expressive eye altogether;
he looked at him so hard. And he gave his eye, and
bis face, and his whole person, a sharp twist. As
if he would 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
is away of his own free will. I'd go out gladly at
that door, and beg my bread from house to house,
for life, if I could so change the past, that he had
never come. 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 a chair.

  The sneer was lost upon the Carrier, who sat down
too, and shaded his face with 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 her alone. I think there's
no sight I wouldn't have rather seen than that. I
think there's no man in the world I wouldn't have
rather had to show it to me.'

  'I confess to having had my suspicions always,'
said Tackleton. 'And that has made me objection-
able here, I know.'

  'But as you did show it me,' pursued the Carrier,
not minding him; 'and as you saw her, my wife, my
wife that I love'-- his voice, and eye, and hand, grew
steadier and firmer as he repeated these words; evi-
dently in pursuance of a steadfast purpose -- 'as you
saw her at this disadvantage, it is right and just
that you should also see with my eyes, and look into
my breast, and know what my mind is, upon the sub-
ject. For it's settled,' said the Carrier, regarding
him attentively. 'And nothing can shake it now.'

  Tackleton muttered a few general words of assent,
about its being necessary to vindicate something or
other; but he was overawed by the manner of his
companion. Plain and unpolished as it was, it had
a something dignified and noble in it, which nothing
but the soul of generous honour dwelling in the man
could have imported.

  'I am a plain, rough man,' pursued the Carrier.
'with very little to recommend me. I am not a clever
man, as you very well know. I am not a young man.
I loved my little Dot, because I had seen her grow
up, from a child, in her father's house; because I
knew how precious she was; because she had been
my life, for years and years. There's many men I
can't compare with, who never could have loved my
little Dot like me, I think!'

  He paused, and softly beat the ground a short time
with his foot, before resuming.

  'I often thought that though I wasn't good enough
for her, I should make her a kind husband, and per-
haps know her value better than another; and in this
way I reconciled it to myself, and came to think it
might be possible that we should be married. And
in the end it came, and we were married.'

  'Hah!' said Tackleton, with a significant shake of
the head.

  'I had studied myself; I had had experience of my-
self; I knew how much I loved her, and how happy
I should be, pursued the Carrier. 'But I had not --
I feel it now -- sufficiently considered her.'

  'To be sure,' said Tackleton. 'Giddiness, frivolity,
fickleness, love of admiration! Not considered! All
left out of sight! Hah!'

  'You had best not interrupt me,' said the Carrier
wlth some sternness, 'till you understand me, and
you're wide of doing so. If, yesterday, I'd have
struck that man down at a blow, who dared to breathe
a word against her, to-day I'd set 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 her beauty -- from her young
companion, and the many scenes of which she was
the ornament; in which she was the brightest little
star that ever shone, to shut her up from day to day
in my dull house, and keep my tedious company?
Did I consider how little suited I was to her sprightly
humour, and how wearisome a plodding man like me
must be, to one of her quick spirit? Did I consider
that it 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 cheerful disposition; and I married her. I wish
I never had! For her sake; not for mine!'

  The Toy-merchant gazed at him, without winking.
Even the half-shut eye was open now.

  'Heaven bless her!' said the Carrier, 'for the cheer-
ful constancy with which she tried to keep the knowl-
edge of this from me! And Heaven help me, that,
in my slow mind, I have not found it out before!
Poor child! Poor Dot! I not to find it out, who
have seen her eyes fill with tears, when such a mar-
riage as our own was spoken of! I, who have seen
the secret trembling on her lips a hundred times, and
never suspected it till last night! Poor girl! That
I could ever 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 to tell you the truth
it was the origin of my misgivings.'

  And here he asserted the superiority of May Field-
ing, who certainly made no sort of show of being
fond of him.

  'She has tried,' said the poor Carrier, with greater
emotion than he had exhibited yet; 'I only now begin
to know how hard she has tried, to be my dutiful
and zealous wife. How good she has been; how much
she has done; how brave and strong a heart she has;
let the happiness I have known under this roof bear
witness! It will be some help and comfort to me,
when I am here alone.'

  'Here alone?' said Tackleton. 'Oh! Then you do
mean to take some notice of this?'

  'I mean,' returned the Carrier, 'to do her the great-
est kindness, and make her the best reparation, in
my power. I can release her from the daily pain of
an unequal marriage, and the struggle to conceal it.
She shall be as free as I can render her.'

  'Make her reparation!' exclaimed Tackleton, twist-
ing and turning his great ears 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 him like 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,' ex-
claimed the Carrier. 'On the spot where she has
often sat beside me, with her sweet face looking into
mine. I called up her whole life, day by day. I had
her dear self, in its every passage, in review before
me. And upon my soul she is innocent, if there is
One to judge the innocent and guilty!'

  Staunch Cricket on the Hearth! Loyal household
Fairies!

  'Passion and distrust have left me!' said the Car-
rier; 'and nothing but my grief remains. In an un-
appy moment some old lover, better suited to her
tastes and years than I; forsaken, perhaps, for me,
against her will; returned. In an unhappy moment,
taken by surprise, and wanting time to think of 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. But other-
wise 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 many happy hours she has given
me, and my forgiveness for any pang she has caused
me. 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 wears
the 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 shall
return to it, and I will trouble her no more. Her
father and mother will be here to-day -- we had made
a little plan for keeping it together -- and they shall
take her home. I can trust her, there, or anywhere.
She leaves me without blame, and she will live so I
am sure. If I should die -- I may perhaps while she
is still young; I have lost some courage in a few hours
-- she'll find that I remembered her, and loved her
to the last! This is the end of what you showed me.
Now, it's over!'

  'O no, John, not over. Do not say it's over yet!
Not quite yet. I have heard your noble words. I
could not steal away, pretending to be ignorant of
what has affected me with such deep gratitude. Do
not say it's over, till the clock has struck again!'

  She had entered shortly after Tackleton, and had
remained there. She never looked at Tackleton, but
fixed her eyes upon her husband. But she kept away
from him, setting as wide a space as possible between
them; and though she spoke 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 are gone,' replied the
Carrier, with a faint smile. 'But let it be so, if you
will, my dear. It will strike soon. It's of little
matter what we say. I'd try to 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,
John Peerybingle. I'm sorry to be deprived of the
pleasure of your company. Sorry for the loss, and
the occasion of it too!'

   'I have spoken plainly?' said the Carrier, accom-
panying him to the door.

  'Oh quite!'

  'And you'll remember what I have said?'

  'Why, if you compel me to make the observation,'
said Tackleton, previously taking the precaution of
getting into his chaise; 'I must say that it was so
very 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 have the
less joy in my married life, because May hasn't been
too officious about me, and too demonstrative. Good-
bye! Take care of yourself.'

  The Carrier stood looking after him until he was
smaller in the distance than his horse's flowers and
favours near at hand; and then, with a deep sigh,
went strolling like a restless, broken man, among
some neighbouring elms; unwilling to return until
the clock was on the eve of striking.

  His little wife, being left alone, sobbed piteously;
but often dried her eyes and checked herself, to say
how good he was, how excellent he was ! and once
or twice she laughed; so heartlly, triumphantly, and
incoherently (still crying all 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 her mistress, drying her eyes; 'when
I can't live here, and have gone to my old home?'

  'Ow if you please don't!' cried Tilly, throwing back
her head, and bursting out into a howl -- she looked
at the moment uncommonly like Boxer; 'Ow if you
please 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 junc-
ture, into such a deplorable howl, the more tremen-
dous from its long suppression, that she must infal-
libly have awakened the Baby, and frightened him
into something serious (probably convulsions), if her
eyes had not encountered Caleb Plummer, leading in
his daughter. This spectacle restoring her to a sense
of the proprieties, she stood for some few moments
silent, with her mouth wide open; and then, posting
off to the bed on which the Baby lay asleep, danced
in a weird, Saint Vitus manner on the floor, and at
the same time rummaged with her face and head
among the bedclothes, apparently deriving much re-
lief from those extraordinary operations.

  'Mary!' said Bertha. 'Not at the marriage!'

  'I told her you would not be there mum,' whispered
Caleb. 'I heard as much last night. Bless you,' said
the little man, taking her tenderly by both hands,
'I don't care for what they say. I don't believe them.
There an't much of me, but that little should be torn
to pieces sooner than I'd trust a word against you!'

  He put hls arms about her and hugged her, as a
child might have hugged one of his own dolls.

  'Bertha couldn't stay at home this morning,' said
Caleb. She was afraid, I know, to hear the bells
ring, and couldn't trust herself to be so near them
on their wedding-day. So we started in good time,
and came here. I have been thinking of what I
have done,' said Caleb, after a moment's pause, 'I
have been blaming myself till I hardly knew what
to do or where to turn, for the distress of mind I
have caused her; and I've come to the conclusion that
better, if you'll stay with me, mum, the while,
tell her the truth. You'll stay with me the while?'
he inquired, trembling from head to foot. 'I don't
know what effect it may have upon her; I don't know
what she'll think of me; I don't know that she'll
ever care for her poor father afterwards. But it's
best for her that she should be undeceived, and I
must hear the consequences as I deserve!'

  '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. 'I heard
them speaking softly among themselves, last night
of some blame against you. 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 jus-
ice!' she pressed the hand between her own, and
the soft cheek 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: holding her hand

  'I know you all,' said Bertha, 'better than you
think. But none so well as her. 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 were spoken, I could
choose her from a crowd! My sister!'

  'Bertha, my dear!' said Caleb, I have something
on my mind I want to tell you, while we three are
alone. Hear me kindly! I have a confession to make
to you, my darling.'

  'A confession, father?'

  'I have wandered from the truth and lost myself,
my child,' said Caleb, with a pitiable 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 never suspected 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, and clung closer to her friend.

  'Your road in life was rough, my poor one,' said
Caleb, 'and I meant to smooth it for you. I have
altered objects, changed the characters of people, in-
vented many things that never have been to make
you happier. I have had concealments from you,
put deceptions on you, God forgive me! and sur-
rounded you with fancies.'

  'But living people are not fancies!' she said hur-
riedly, and turning very pale, 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 an-
swered, in a term of keen reproach. 'What and whom
do I know! I who have no leader! I so miser-
ably blind!'

  In the anguish of her heart, she stretched out her
hands, as if she were groping her way; then spread
them, in a manner most forlorn and sad, upon her
face.

  '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 in
his looks, and in his nature. Cold and callous always.
Unlike what I have painted him to you in every-
thing, my child. In everything.'

  'Oh why,' cried the Blind Girl, tortured, as it
seemed, almost beyond endurance, '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 elpless and alone!'

  Her afflicted father hug his head, and offered no
reply but in his penitence and sorrow.

  She had been but a short time in this passion of
regret, when the Cricket on the 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; and when the Presence which
had been beside the Carrier all night, appeared behind
her, pointing to her father, they fell down like rain.

  She heard the Cricket-voice more plainly soon, and
was conscious, through her blindness, 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 will scarcely keep out wind and
rain another winter. It is as roughly shielded from
the weather, Bertha' Dot continued in a low, clear
voice, 'as your poor father in his sack-cloth coat.'

  The Blind Girl, greatly agitated, rose, and led the
Carrier's little wife aside.

  'Those presents that I took such care of; that came
almost at my wish, and were so dearly welcome to
me,' she said, trembling; 'where did they come from?
Did you send them?'

  'No.'

  'Who then?'

  Dot saw she knew, already, and was silent. The
Blind Girl spread her hands before her face again.
But in quite another manner now.

  'Dear Mary, a moment. One moment? More this
way. Speak softly to me. You are true, 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 across the room to where
we were just now -- to where my father is -- my father,
so compassionate 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 if
his 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, and
striving against nothing. But, Bertha, I have seen
him many times before, and striving hard in many
ways for one great sacred object. And I honour
his grey head, and bless him!'

  The Blind Girl broke away from her; and throw-
ing herself upon her knees before him, took the grey
head to her breast.

  'It is my sight restored. It is my sight!' she cried
I have been blind, and now my eyes are open. I
never knew him! To think I might have died, and
never truly 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,' ex-
claimed the Blind Girl, holding him in her embrace,
'that I would love so dearly, and would cherish so
devotedly, as this! The greyer, and more worn, the
dearer, father! Never let them say I am blind again.
There's not a furrow in his face, there's not a hair
upon his head, that shall be forgotten in my prayers
and thanks to Heaven!'

  Caleb managed to articulate 'My Bertha!'

  'And in my blindness, I believed him,' said the girl
caressing him with tears of exquisite affection, 'to be
so different! And having him beside me, day by
day, so mindful of me always, never dreamed of this!'

  'The fresh smart father in the blue coat, Bertha,'
said poor Caleb. 'He's gone!'

  'Nothing is gone,' she answered. 'Dearest father,
no! Everything is here -- in you. 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 to me.
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, dur-
ing this discourse, upon the father and daughter; but
looking, now, towards the little Haymaker in the
Moorish 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,' retumed Caleb. 'Here she is.'

  'There is no change in her. You never told me
anything of her that was not true?'

  'I should have done it my dear, I am afraid,' re-
turned Caleb, 'if I could have 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 delight and pride in the re-
ply and her renewed embrace of Dot, were charming
to behold.

  '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. You
mustn't let them startle you too much, if any such
should ever happen, and affect you. Are those wheels
upon the road? You've a quick ear, Bertha. Are
they wheels?'

  'Yes. Coming very fast.'

  'I-I-I know you have a quick ear,' said Dot,
placing her hand upon her heart, and evidently talk-
ing 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 out that strange step last
night. Though why you should have said, as I very
well recollect you did say, Bertha, "Whose step is
that!" and why you should have taken 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: great changes: and we can't do better
than prepare ourselves to be surprised at hardly
anything.'

  Caleb wondered what this meant; perceiving that
she spoke to him, no less than to his daughter. He
saw her, with astonishment, so fluttered and distressed
that she could scarcely breathe; and holding to a
chair, to save herself from falling.

  'They are wheels indeed!' she panted. 'Coming
nearer! Nearer! Very close! And now you hear
them stopping at the garden-gate! And now you
hear a step outside the door -- the same step, Bertha,
is it not! -- and now!' --

  She uttered a wild cry of uncontrollable delight;
and running up to Caleb put her hands upon his eyes
as a young man rushed into the room, and flinging
away his hat into the air, came sweeping down upon
them.

  'Is it over?' cried Dot.

  'Yes!'

  'Happily over?'

  'Yes!'

  'Do you recollect the voice, dear Caleb? Did you
ever hear the like of it before?' cried Dot.

  'If my boy in the Golden South Americas was
alive -- said Caleb, trembling.

  'He is alive!' shrieked Dot, removing her hand
from his eyes, and clapping them in ecstasy; 'look at
him! See where he stands before you, healthy and
loving brother, Bertha!'        

  All honour to the little creature for her transports!
All honour to her tears and laughter, when the three
were locked in one another's arms! All honour to the
heartiness with which she met the sunburnt sailor-
fellow, with his dark streaming hair, half way, and
never turned her rosy little mouth aside, but suffered
him to kiss it, freely, and to press her to his bound-
ing heart!

  And honour to the Cuckoo too -- why not! -- for
bursting out of the trap-door in the Moorish Palace
like a housebreaker, and hiccoughing twelve times on
the assembled company, as if he had got drunk
for joy!

  The Carrier, entering, started back. And well he
might, to find himself in such good company.

  'Look, John!' said Caleb, exultingly, 'look here!
My own boy from the Golden South 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 feature in 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, Ed-
ward; and don't spare me, for nothing 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?' rejoined the Carrier. 'There was a
frank boy once -- how many years is it, Caleb, since
we heard that he was dead, and had it proved, we
thought? -- who never would have done that.'

  'There was a generous friend of mine, once; more
a father to me than a friend'; 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, and my 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 re-
turned it. I have ever since believed 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 many hardships and perils, to redeem
my part of our old contract, I heard, twenty miles
away, that she was false to me; that she had forgotten
me; and had bestowed 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 tbat
this was true. I hoped she might have been forced
into it, against her own desire and recollection. It
would be small comfort, but it would be some, I
thought, and on I came. That I might have the
truth, the real truth; observing freely for myself, and
judging for myself, without obstruction on the one
hand, or presenting my own influence (if I had any)
before her, on the other; I dressed myself unlike my-
self -- you know how; and waited on the road -- you
know where. You had no suspicion of me; neither
had -- had she,' pointing to Dot, 'until I whispered 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, now speaking for her-
self, as she had burned to do, all through this narra-
tive; 'and when she knew his purpose, she advised him
by all means to keep his secret close; for his old friend
John Peerybingle was much too open in his nature,
and too clumsy in all artifice -- being a clumsy man
in general,' said Dot, half laughing and half crying
-- to keep it for him. And when she -- that's me,
John,' sobbed the little woman -- 'told him all, and how
his sweetheart had believed him to be dead; and how
she had at last been over-persuaded by her mother
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 (though close
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 to hear it; then
she -- that's me again -- said she would go between
them, as she had often done before in old times, John,
and would sound his sweetheart and be sure that what
she -- me again, John -- said and thought was right.
And it WAS right, John! And they were brought to-
gether, John. And they were married, John, an hour
ago! And here's the Bride! And Gruff and Tackle-
ton may die a bachelor! And I'm a happy little
woman, May, God bless you!'

  She was an irresistible little woman, if that be any-
thing to the purpose; and never so completely irre-
sistible as in her present transports. There never
were congratulations so endearing and delicious, as
those she lavished on herself 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 every word I have to say.
It was wrong to have a secret from you, John. I'm
very sorry. I didn't think it any harm, till I came
and sat down by you on the little 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 what you thought, I felt
how giddy and how wrong it was. But oh, dear
John, how could you, could you, think so!'

  Little woman, how she sobbed again! John Peery-
bingle would have caught her in his arms. But no;
she wouldn't let him.

  'Don't love me yet, please John! Not for a long
time yet! When I was sad about this intended mar-
riage, dear, it was because I remembered May and
Edward such young lovers; and knew that her heart
was far away from Tackleton. You believe that,
now. Don't you John?'

  John was going to make another rush at this ap-
peal; 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 be-
cause I love you John, so well, and take such pleasure
in your ways, and wouldn't see 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 pretend that we are a humdrum
couple, going on in a jog-trot sort of way, it's only
because I'm such a silly little thing, John, that I like
sometimes, to act a kind 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 too late.

  'No, don't love me for another minute or two, if
you please John! What I want most to tell you, I
have kept to the last. My dear, good, generous, John
when we 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 I
first came home here, I was half afraid I mightn't
learn to love you every bit as well as I hoped and
prayed I might -- being so very young, John! But,
dear John, every day and hour I loved you more and
more. And if I could have loved you better than I
do, the noble words I heard you say this morning,
would have made me. But I can't. All the affec-
tion 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 to give. 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 in the arms of a third party
as you would have felt if you had seen Dot run into
the Carrier's embrace. It was the most complete, un-
mitigated, soul-fraught little piece of earnestness that
ever you beheld in all your days.

  You may be sure the Carrier was in a state of per-
fect rapture; and you may be sure Dot was likewise;
and you may be sure they all were, incluslve of Miss
Slowboy, who wept copiously for joy, and wishing
to include her younger charge in the general inter-
change of congratulations, handed round the Baby
to everybody in succession, as if it were something to
drink.

  But, now, the sound of wheels was heard again out-
aide the door; and somebody exclaimed that Gruff and
Tackleton was coming back. Speedily that worthy
gentleman appeared, looking warm and flustered.

  'Why, what the Devil's this, John Peerybingle.'
said Tackleton. 'There's some mistake. I appointed
Mrs. Tackleton to meet me at the church, and I'll
swear I passed 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 to spare 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 the other, with a smile, 'I am
as deaf to harsh discourse this morning, as I was to
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 especially the third finger; 'that the
young lady can't accompany you to church; but as
she has been there once, this morning, perhaps you'll
excuse her.'

  Tackleton looked hard at the third finger, and took
a little piece of silver paper, apparently containing a
ring, from his waistcoat-pocket.

   'Miss Slowboy,' said Tackleton. 'Will you have
the kindness to throw that in the fire? Thank'ee.'

  'It was a previous engagement, quite an old engage-
ment, that prevented my wife from keeping her ap-
pointment with you, I assure you,' said Edward

  'Mr. Tackleton will do me the justice to acknowl-
edge that I revealed it to him faithfully; and that I
told him, many times, I never could forget it,' said
May, blushing.

  'Oh certainly!' said Tackleton. 'Oh to be sure.
Oh it's all right. It's quite correct. Mrs. Edward
Plummer, I infer?'

  'That's the name,' returned the bridegroom

  'Ah, I shouldn't have known you, sir,' said Tackle-
ton, scrutinising his face narrowly, and making a low
bow. I give you joy, sir!'

  'Thank ee.'

  'Mrs. Peerybingle,' said Tackleton, turning sud-
denly to where she stood with her husband; 'I am
sorry. You haven't done me a very great kindness
but, upon my life, I am sorry. You are better than
I thought you. John Peerybingle, I am sorry. You
understand me; that's enough. It's quite correct
ladies and gentlemen all, and perfectly satisfactory.
Good-morning!'

  With these words he carried it off, and carried him-
self off too: merely stopping 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 that there was a screw loose in his arrangements.

  Of course it became a serious duty now, to make
such a day of it, as should mark these events for a
high Feast and Festival in the Peerybingle Calendar
for evermore. Accordingly, Dot went to work to
produce such an entertainment, as should reflect un-
dying honour on the house and on every one con-
cerned; and in a very short space of time, she was up
to her dimpled elbows in flour, and whitening the
Carrier's coat, every time he came near her, by stop-
ping him to give 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, and made himself useful in all sorts of ways:
while a couple of professional assistants, hastily
called in from somewhere in the neighbourhood, as on
a point of life or death, ran against each other in all
the doorways and round all the corners, and every-
body tumbled over Tilly Slowboy and the Baby,
everywhere. Tilly never came out in such force be-
fore. Her ubiquity was the theme of general admir-
ation. She was a stumbling-block in the passage at
five-and-twenty minutes past two; a man-trap in the
kitchen at half-past two precisely; and a pitfall in
the garret at five-and-twenty minutes to three. The
Baby's head was, is it were, a test and touchstone for
every description of matter, -- animal, vegetable, and
mineral. Nothing was in use that day that didn't
come, at some time or other, into close acquaintaince
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 to bring
her back, by force, if needful, to be happy and for-
giving. And when the Expedition first discovered her,
she would listen to no terms at all, but said, an un-
speakable number of times, that ever she should have
lived to see the day! and couldn't be got to say any-
thing else, except, 'Now carry me to the grave': which
seemed absurd, on account of her not being dead, or
anything at all like it. After a time, she lapsed into
a state of dreadful calmness, and observed, that when
that unfortunate train of circumstances had occurred
in the Indigo Trade, she had foreseen that she would
be exposed, during her whole life, to every species of
insult and contumely; and that she was glad to find
it was the case; and begged they wouldn't trouble
themselves about her, -- for what was she? oh, dear!
a nobody! -- but would forget that such a being lived
and would take their course in life without her. From
this bitterly sarcastic mood, she passed into an angry
one, in which she gave vent to the remarkable expres-
sion 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 their confidence, what might
she not have had it in her power to suggest! Taking
advantage of this crisis in her feelings, the Expedi-
tion embraced her, and she very soon had her gloves
on, and was on her way to John Peerybingle's in a
state of unimpeachable gentility; with a paper parcel
at her side containing a cap 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 was much
looking out for them down the road; and Mrs. Field-
ing always would look in the wrong and morally im-
possible direction; and being apprised thereof, hoped
she might take the liberty of looking where she
pleased. At last they came: a chubby little couple,
jogging along in a snug and comfortable little way
that quite belonged to the Dot family; and Dot and
her mother, side by side, 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's mother always stood
on her gentility; and Dot's mother never stood on
anything but her active little feet. And old Dot -- so
to call Dot's father, I forgot it wasn't his right name,
but never mind -- took liberties, and shook hands at
first sight, and seemed to think a cap but so much
starch and muslin, and didn't defer himself at all to
the Indigo Trade, but said there was no help for it
now; and in Mrs. Fielding's summing up, was a good-
natured kind of man -- but coarse, my dear.

  I woudn't have missed Dot, doing the honours in
her wedding-gown, my benison on her bright face! for
any money. No! nor the good Carrier, so jovial and
so ruddy, at the bottom of the table. Nor the brown,
fresh, sailor-fellow, and his handsome wife. Nor any
one among them. To have missed the dinner would
have been to miss as jolly and as stout a meal as
man need eat; and to have missed the overflowing
cups in which they drank The Wedding-Day, would
have been the greatest miss of all.

  After dinner, Caleb sang the song about the Spark-
ling Bowl. As I'm a living man, hoping to keep so,
for a year or two, he sang it through.

  And, by the bye, a most unlooked-for incident oc-
curred, just as he finished the last verse.

  There was a tap at the door; and a man came stag-
gering in, without saying with your leave, or by your
leave, with something heavy on his head. Setting
this down in the middle of the table, symmetrically
in the centre of the nuts and apples, he said:

  'Mr. Tackleton's compliments, and as he hasn't got.
no use for the cake himself, 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 a seminary for
young ladies, blue. But she was overruled by ac-
clamation; and the cake 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 ap-
peared again, having under his arm a vast brown-
paper parcel.

  'Mr. Tackleton's compliments, and he's sent a few
toys for the Babby. They ain't ugly.'

  After the delivery of which expressions, he retired
again.

  The whole party would have experienced great
difficulty in finding words for their astonishment, even
if they had had ample time to seek them. But, they
had none at all; for, the messenger had scarcely shut
the door behind him, when there came another tap
and Tackleton himself walked in.

  'Mrs. Peerybingle!' said the Toy-merchant, hat in
hand. 'I'm sorry. I'm more sorry than I was this
morning. I have had time to think of it. John Peery-
bingle! I'm sour by disposition; but I can't help
being sweetened, more or less, by coming face to
face with such a man as you. Caleb! This uncon-
scious little nurse gave me a broken hint last night
of which I have found the thread. I blush to think
how easily I might have bound you and your daugh-
ter 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 as a Cricket
on my Hearth. I have scared them all away. Be
gracious to me; let me join this happy party!'

  He was at home in five minutes. You never saw
such a fellow. What had he been doing with himself
all his life, never to have known, before, his great ca-
pacity of being jovial! Or what had the fairies been
doing with him, to have effected 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 the twinkling of an eye, there
he was, very thirsty with hard running, and engaged
in hopeless endeavours to squeeze his head into a nar-
row pitcher. He had gone with the cart to its jour-
ney's end, very much disgusted with the absence of his
master, and stupendously rebellious to the Deputy.
After lingering about the stable for some little time,
vainly attempting to incite the old horse to the muti-
nous act of returning on his own account, he had
walked into the tap-room and laid himself down be-
fore the fire. But suddenly yielding to the convic-
tion that the Deputy was a humbug, and must be
abandoned, he had got up again, turned tail, and
come home.

  There was a dance in the evening. With which
general mention of that recreation, I should have left
it alone, if I had not some reason to suppose that it
was quite an original dance, and one of a most uncom-
mon figure. It was formed in an odd way; in this
way.

  Edward, that sailor-fellow -- a good free dashing
sort of a fellow he was -- had been 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 his seat and propose a dance; for
Bertha's harp was there, and she had such a hand
upon it as you seldom hear. Dot (sly little piece of
affectation when she chose) said her dancing days
were over; I think because the Carrier was smoking
his pipe, and she liked sitting by him, best. Mrs.
Fielding had no choice, of course, but to say her danc-
ing days were over, after that; and everybody said
the same, except May; May was ready.

  So, May and Edward get up, amid great applause,
to dance alone; and Bertha plays her liveliest tune.

  Well! if you'll believe me, they have not been danc-
ing five minutes, when suddenly the Carrier flings his
pipe away, takes Dot round the waist, dashes out 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, takes her round the
waist, and follows suit. Old Dot no sooner sees this,
than up he is, all alive, whisks off Mrs. Dot in the
middle of the dance, and is the foremost there. Caleb
no sooner sees this, than he clutches Tilly Slowboy by
both hands and goes off at score; Miss Slowboy, firm
in the belief that diving hotly in among the other
couples, and effecting any number of concussions witb
them, is your only principle of footing it.

  Hark! how the Cricket joins the music with its
Chirp, Chirp, Chirp; and how the 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 rest have van-
ished 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.


    

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