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Chapter 2 - 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 demolition 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 toadstools to the stem
of a tree.

But, it was the germ from which the full-grown trunk of Gruff and
Tackleton 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 Daughter 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 discoloured, 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 faintheartedness were in the house; that Caleb's
scanty hairs were turning greyer and more grey, before 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 certain 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 degrees
in society, and confining them to their respective stations (which
experience shows to be lamentably 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 you; 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, perhaps, as suggestive of morning callers and a
Postman, yet a pleasant finish to the outside of the building.
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 obstacles of red-tape,
and coming down, head first, on the other side; and there were
innumerable old gentlemen 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,
invented 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 Parliament, 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 brightening face; 'upon my word!
When I hear the boys and people say behind me, "Hal-loa! 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, turning up her
radiant face; 'the colour I can just remember in the blessed sky!
You told me it was blue before! A bright blue coat--'

'Made loose to the figure,' suggested Caleb.

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

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

'I think you are, already,' cried the Blind Girl, pointing at him,
in 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 bewilderment of manner may
have half originated in his having confused himself about himself
and everything around him, for the love of his Blind Daughter. How
could the little man be otherwise than bewildered, 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 deluding myself, and
swindling myself.'

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

'Tired!' echoed Caleb, with a great burst of animation, 'what
should tire me, Bertha? _I_ was never tired. What does it mean?'

To give the greater force to his words, he checked himself in an
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 Tackleton, 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 winking at me!'
whispered Caleb. 'Such a man to joke! you'd think, if you didn't
know him, he was in earnest--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. 'O, my gracious!'

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

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

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

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

'Oh! well; quite well. And as happy as even you can wish me to be.
As happy 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?'

'I 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 suspecting 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 distaste 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 Tackleton, 'that I was
afraid she'd never comprehend me. Ah, Bertha! Married! Church,
parson, clerk, beadle, glass-coach, bells, breakfast, bride-cake,
favours, marrow-bones, cleavers, and all the rest of the
tomfoolery. A wedding, you know; a wedding. Don't 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
afternoon. 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, looking 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 infinite contempt,
old Gruff and Tackleton withdrew.

Bertha remained where he had left her, lost in meditation. 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 waggon by the summary process of nailing the
harness to the vital parts of their bodies, that she drew near to
his working-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 than 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 cheerfulness 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 mean time, there had been a pretty sharp commotion at John
Peerybingle's, for little Mrs. Peerybingle naturally couldn't think
of going anywhere 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 measure, 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 extinguished 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 tearing 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 Slowboy's that there was a fatality about
them which rendered 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 confirmation 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
great 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
business; 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 everybody 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 purpose 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 settlements, without waiting for the honour of a
nearer acquaintance. He had business everywhere; going down all
the turnings, looking into all the wells, bolting 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 trotting 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 charming
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 January 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
Peerybingle 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 occupation: 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 discouragement in this. It was
agreeable 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 mound of weeds or stubble burning;
and they watched the fire, so white in the daytime, 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 distinctions 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
respectable 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
transcendent figure; and who, in consequence of having once been
better off, or of labouring under an impression that she might have
been, if something had happened 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. Tackleton was a man of taste beyond all question.
May was very pretty.

You know sometimes, when you are used to a pretty face, how, when
it comes into contact and comparison with another pretty face, it
seems for the moment 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 besides--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
thoughtless 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 schoolfellow were side
by side; the good Carrier took care of the bottom of the table.
Miss Slowboy was isolated, for the time being, from every article
of furniture 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 Tackleton's discomfiture, they had good
reason to be satisfied. 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 together 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,' returned 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 am sure I don't know,' said Dot,
laughing. 'But she can't be much less than a hundred years of age
on her next birthday.'

'Ha ha!' laughed Tackleton. Hollow as a drum, that laugh though.
And he 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 bridegrooms now!'

'Some of them are dead,' said Dot; 'and some of them forgotten.
Some of them, if they could stand among us at this moment, would
not believe we were 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 Tackleton; 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
instance, 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 she 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 would 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 sufficiently wide of the purpose--
they changed the current 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 proposed To-morrow: the Wedding-Day;
and called upon them to drink a bumper to it, before he proceeded
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 of 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, had been, ever since their institution.

There were two persons present, besides 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 hurriedly,
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 observing 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 entangled it (and yet her hand was small enough to have
come out easily, I am sure), and bungled terribly. The filling of
the pipe and lighting it, those little offices in which I have
commended her discretion, 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 remarkable degree.

'Why, what a clumsy Dot you are, this afternoon!' said John. 'I
could have done it better myself, I verify 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 expression
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 answered 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 sometimes 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
resemblance 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, addressed 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 blessing 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
Heaven 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
confession, 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 the 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 creature from making discoveries.

'So bring me the precious Baby, Tilly,' said she, drawing a chair
to the fire; 'and while I have it in my lap, here's Mrs. Fielding,
Tilly, will tell me 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 breakfast-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, in half an hour, deliver more infallible domestic recipes
and precepts, than 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 saucers; 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 distant
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 brown 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'll give him house-room till we go?'

'Oh surely, John, and take it as an honour.'

'He's the best company on earth, to talk secrets in,' said John.
'I 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, removed 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 adversary 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 consciousness of Tackleton.

'I am sorry to disturb you--but a word, directly.'

'I'm going to deal,' returned the Carrier. 'It's a crisis.'

'It is,' said Tackleton. 'Come here, man!'

There was that in his pale face which made the other rise
immediately, and 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 murder 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 old 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 reveal her face to them without a
blush? Yes. Tackleton 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 remorseful at the core; and still saying in his wistful
contemplation 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,
standing 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 combination of
circumstances.

Charles Dickens

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