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Chapter 3 - 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 Palace 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 winning 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 turning 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 anguish 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. Changing 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 up the door; he already held
it lifted in the air; some indistinct 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, joyful, busy, and
light-hearted!' said the Voice.

'Otherwise I never could have loved her as I did,' returned the
Carrier.

The Voice, correcting him, said 'do.'

The Carrier repeated 'as I did.' But not firmly. His faltering
tongue 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 sanctuary; surrounded by its gentle influences
and associations; 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 household implements; from every thing and every place with
which she had ever been familiar, and with which she had ever
entwined one recollection of herself 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 singing 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 instruments, and noisy
tongues, and laughter. A crowd of young merry-makers 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, nodding 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 presently,
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--I mean the real night: not going by Fairy clocks--was
wearing now; and in this stage of the Carrier's thoughts, the moon
burst out, and 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 intervals 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,
demure 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 Carrier 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 Girl'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 something useful to
the house, and really working hard while feigning to make holiday;
her bountiful provision 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 establishment--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
kindness 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 customary cheerful avocations--he wanted
spirit for them--but it mattered the less, that it was Tackleton'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 disagreeably 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, alighting. '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 removed from it by a few steps.
One of her very red eyes (for Tilly had been crying all night long,
because her mistress cried) was 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 Tackleton. '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 window's 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 his 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 me.'

'I confess to having had my suspicions always,' said Tackleton.
'And that has made me objectionable 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:
evidently 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 subject. 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 imparted.

'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 perhaps 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 about, and we were married.'

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

'I had studied myself; I had had experience of myself; I knew how
much I 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, with 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 companions, 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 cheerful constancy
with which she tried to keep the knowledge 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 marriage 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 Fielding, 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 greatest 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, twisting 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,' exclaimed 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 Carrier; 'and nothing
but my grief remains. In an unhappy 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
otherwise 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, accompanying 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 heartily,
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 juncture, into such a
deplorable howl, the more tremendous from its long suppression,
that she must infallibly 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 relief
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. But 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 his 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 I'd
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 bear 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 justice!' 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, invented many things that never have been, to
make you happier. I have had concealments from you, put deceptions
on you, God forgive me! and surrounded you with fancies.'

'But living people are not fancies!' she said hurriedly, 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 answered, in a term of
keen reproach. 'What and whom do _I_ know! I who have no leader!
I so miserably blind.'

In the anguish of her heart, she stretched out her hands, as if she
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
everything, 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 helpless and
alone!'

Her afflicted father hung 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 throwing 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,' exclaimed 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, during 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,' returned 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,' returned 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 reply 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 talking on, as fast as she could to
hide its palpitating state, 'because I have noticed it often, and
because you were so quick to find 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 hands from his eyes, and
clapping them in ecstasy; 'look at him! See where he stands before
you, healthy and strong! Your own dear son! Your own dear living,
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 bounding heart!

And honour to the Cuckoo too--why not!--for bursting out of the
trap-door in the Moorish Palace like a house-breaker, 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, Edward; 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 returned 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 that 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 myself--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 herself, as she had burned to do, all
through this narrative; 'and when she knew his purpose, she advised
him by all means to keep 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 together, John! And they were married, John, an hour ago!
And here's the Bride! And Gruff and Tackleton may die a bachelor!
And I'm a happy little woman, May, God bless you!'

She was an irresistible little woman, if that be anything to the
purpose; and never so completely irresistible 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 Peerybingle 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 marriage, 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 appeal; but she stopped
him again.

'No; keep there, please, John! When I laugh at you, as I sometimes
do, John, and call you clumsy and a dear old goose, and names of
that sort, it's because 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 affection
that I had (it was a great deal, John) I gave you, as you well
deserve, long, long ago, and I have no more left 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, unmitigated, soul-fraught little piece of earnestness
that ever you beheld in all your days.

You maybe sure the Carrier was in a state of perfect rapture; and
you may be sure Dot was likewise; and you may be sure they all
were, inclusive of Miss Slowboy, who wept copiously for joy, and
wishing to include her young charge in the general interchange 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 outside 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 engagement, that
prevented my wife from keeping her appointment with you, I assure
you,' said Edward.

'Mr. Tackleton will do me the justice to acknowledge 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 Tackleton, scrutinising
his face narrowly, and making a low bow. 'I give you joy, sir!'

'Thank'ee.'

'Mrs. Peerybingle,' said Tackleton, turning suddenly 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 himself 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 undying honour
on the house and on every one concerned; 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 stopping 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 everybody tumbled over Tilly Slowboy and the Baby, everywhere.
Tilly never came out in such force before. Her ubiquity was the
theme of general admiration. 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, as 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 acquaintance with it.

Then, there was a great Expedition set on foot to go and find out
Mrs. Fielding; and to be dismally penitent to that excellent
gentlewoman; and to bring her back, by force, if needful, to be
happy and forgiving. And when the Expedition first discovered her,
she would listen to no terms at all, but said, an unspeakable
number of times, that ever she should have lived to see the day!
and couldn't be got to say anything 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 expression that the
worm would turn if trodden on; and, after that, she yielded to a
soft regret, and said, if they had only given her their confidence,
what might she not have had it in her power to suggest! Taking
advantage of this crisis in her feelings, the Expedition 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. Fielding always would look in the wrong and morally
impossible 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 wouldn'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 Sparkling Bowl. As I'm
a living man, hoping to keep so, for a year or two, he sang it
through.

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

There was a tap at the door; and a man came staggering 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 acclamation; 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 appeared 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 Peerybingle! 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 unconscious 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 daughter
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 capacity 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 narrow pitcher. He had gone with the cart to its
journey'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 mutinous act of returning on his own account, he
had walked into the tap-room and laid himself down before the fire.
But suddenly yielding to the conviction 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 uncommon 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 dancing days were over, after
that; and everybody said the same, except May; May was ready.

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

Well! if you'll believe me, they have not been dancing 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 with 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 vanished into air, and I am left
alone. A Cricket sings upon the Hearth; a broken child's-toy lies
upon the ground; and nothing else remains.

Charles Dickens

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