Mrs. Fielding ? "
Not even the Welsh Giant, who according to the popular expression,
MRS. FIELDING IMPROVES THE OCCASION.
Expecting the Carrier's Return. 177
was so " slow " as to perform a fatal surgical operation upon himself,
in emulation of a juggling-trick achieved by his arch-enemy at break-
fast-time ; not even he fell half so readily into the snare prepared
for him, as the old lady did into this artful pitfall. The fact of
Tackleton having walked out ; and furthermore, of two or three
people having been talking together ai 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 tc
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 needle-
work ; 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 ciirtain, 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 veiy
well ; for Nature had made her delicate little car 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 BO 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 !
178 The Cricket on the Hearth.
" Whoso 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.
" 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
"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 hero, 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
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
" 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
Tackleton shows the Carrier a Sight. 179
on some knotty point. But his adversary being a rigid disciplinarian,
and subject to an occasional weakness in respect of pegging more tban
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
" 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 imme-
diately, 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 conscqiiently 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
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 ae
l8o The Cricket on the Hearth.
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 imper-
turbably 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.
HE 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 announce-
me n t s as
short as pos-
back into the
little door be-
hind him, as if
too much for his
If the little
been armed with
the sharpest of
scythes, and had
cut at every
stroke into the
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 to-
gether by innu-
of winning re-
membrance, 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
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
1 82 The Cricket on the Hearth.
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
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 lie 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
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 grow into a monstrous demon in complete
The Voice of Hearth and Home. 18^
possession of him, casting out all milder thoughts and setting up its
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 upon 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 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
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 remem-
bered, " ' for the many times I have heard it, and the many thoughts
its harmless music has given me.' "
" She said so S " 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
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, f<\r itself
The Figure, in an attitude of invocation, raised its hand and said :
" Upon your own hearth "
184 The Cricket on the Hearth.
11 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 yocr
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
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 hearth-
stone, from the chimney, from the clock, the pipe, the kettle, and the
The Household Spirits. 185
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
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 pour-
ing 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 them-
selves 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. no ! For presently, there came a certain
Carrier to the door ; and bless her what a welcome she bestowed upon
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
uimble Fairies worked like bees to clear it off" again. And Dot again
was there. Still bright and beautiful.
Eocking her little Baby in its cradle, singing to it softly, and rest-
ing 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
1 86 The Cricket on t/te Hearth.
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
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 anima-
tion 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 oi
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,