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 them-
selves 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 un-
finished, 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
160 The Cricket on the Hearth.
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
fro ward 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 license, 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 alt 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
CALEU AND ins DAUGHTER.
The Blind Girl's Picture of her Father. 161
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, ' Halloa ! Here's
a swell ! ' I don't know which way to look. And when the beggar
wouldn't go away last night ; and when I said I was a very common
man, said ' No, your Honour ! Bless your Honour, don't say
that!' I was quite ashamed. I really felt as if I hadn't a right
to wear it."
Happy Blind Girl ! How merry she was, in her exultation !
" I see you, father," she said, clasping her hands, " as plainly, as
if I had the eyes I never want when you are with me. A blue
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 !
1 62 The Cricket on the Hearth.
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 six-
penn'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
" 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 upwardr, ; 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
" 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. Ho 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 yon 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 lighthearted with us!" cried the smiling
" 0, 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
Caleb's Innocent Deception. 163
4< Well ! and being there, how are you ? " said Tackleton, in his
" 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 ? "
" Eed 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
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
" 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,
Pcerybinglo's wife, pays her regular visit to you makes her fantastic
164 The Cricket on the Hearth.
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
" 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
" 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 torn-foolery. A
wedding, you know; a wedding. Don't you know what a wedding
"I know," replied the Blind Girl, in a gentle tone. "I under-
stand ! "
" 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.
" 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 wagon by the summary process of nailing the
Bertha's Eyes. 165
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,
"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
" 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
1 66 The Cricket on the Hearth.
with a show of roughness and unwillingness, beats in its every look
" And makes it noble," added Caleb, in Lis quiet desperation.
" And makes it noble ! " cried the Blind Girl. " He is older than
" 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 oppor-
tunities 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. Peerybinglo 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 tip the road with his impatient autographs ;
The Carrier mystified again. 167
and whence Boxer might be dimly seen in the remote perspective,
standing looking back, and tempting him to come on without
As to a chair, or anything of that kind for helping Mrs. Peery-
bingle into the cart, you know very little of John, if yon 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 bo grazed ; and that
she never effected the smallest ascent or descent, without recording
the circumstance upon them with a notch, as Eobinson 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
" 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
BO, 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 any-
thing 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 ! " 4
" 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
\arrn in him."
" None at all. I'm I'm sure there's none at all,"
168 The Cricket on the Hearth.
" 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