Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

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wear it."

Happy Blind Girl ! How merry she was in
her exultation !

" I see you, father," she said, clasping her
hands, "as plainly as if I had the eyes I never
want when you are with me. A blue coat "

" Bright blue," said Caleb.

" Yes, yes ! Bright blue ! " exclaimed the
girl, turning up her radiant face ; " the colour I
can just remember in the blessed sky ! You
told me it was blue before ! A bright blue
coat "

" Made loose to the figure," suggested Caleb.

"Yes! 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 ! "

" / 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 foot-
fall counterfeited for her ear ; and never had he^
when his heart was heaviest, forgotten the light
tread that was to render hers so cheerful and
courageous !

Heaven knows ! But I think Caleb's vague
bewilderment of manner may have half origi-
nated in his having confused himself about him-
self and everything around him, for the love of
his Blind Daughter. How could the little man
be otherwise than bewildered, after labouring^ for
so many years to destroy his own identity, and
that of all the objects that had any bearing
on it ?

" There we are," said Caleb, falling back a
pace or two to form the better judgment of his
work; "as near the real thing as sixpenn'orth
of halfpence is to sixpence. What a pity that
the whole front of the house opens at once ! If
there was only a staircase in it now, and regular
doors to the rooms to go in at ! But that's the
worst of my calling, I'm always deluding myself,
and swindling myself."

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

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

To give the greater force to his words, he
checked himself in an involuntary imitation of
two half-length stretching and yawning figures
on the mantel-shelf, who were represented as in
one eternal state of weariness from the waist
upwards ; and hummed a fragment of a song.
It was a Bacchanalian song, something about a
Sparkling Bov/l. He sang it with an assumption
of a Devil-may-care voice, that made his face a
thousand times more meagre and more thought-
ful than ever.

" \\\\3.t ! You're singing, are you ? " said
Tackleton, putting his head in at the door.
" Go it ! / can't sing."

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

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

" If you could only see him. Bertha, how he's
winking at me ! " whispered Caleb. " Such a



92



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



man to joke ! You'd think, if you didn't know
him, he was in earnest — wouldn't you now?"

The r.hnd Oirl smiled anil 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.
" Oh, my gracious ! "

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

"Oh! 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 con-
sciously or not, upon her being fond of him.

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

"Oh! well; quite well! And as happy as
even you can wish me to be. As happy as you
would make the whole world, if you could ! "

" Poor Idiot ! " muttered Tackleton. " No
gleam of reason. Not a gleam ! "

The Blind Girl took his hand and kissed it ;
held it for a moment in her own two hands ;
and laid her cheek against it tenderly before
releasing it. There Avas such unspeakable affec-
tion and such fervent gratitude in the act, that
Tackleton himself was moved to say, in a milder
growl than usual :

" What's the matter now ? "

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

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

" ^\^len it rose, and the bright light I almost
fear to strike myself against in walking, came
into the room, I turned the litde 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-waist-
coat and mufflers soon. We're getting on ! "

Caleb, with his hands hooked loosely in each
other, stared vacantly before him while his
daughter spoke, as if he really were uncertain
(I believe he was) whether Tackleton had done
anything to deserve her thanks or not. If he
could have been a perfectly free agent at that
moment, required, on pain of death, to kick the
toy merchant, or fall at his feet, according to his



merits, I believe it would have been an even
chance which course he would have taken. Yet
Caleb knew that w'ith his own hands he had
brought the little rose-tree home for her so care-
fully, 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 I You
needn't guide me ! " she rejoined.

" Shall I tell you a secret. Bertha ? "

" If you will ! " she answered eagerly.

How bright the darkened face ! How adorned
with light the listening head !

" This is the day on which little what's-her-
name, the spoilt child, Peerybingle's wife, pays
her regular visit to you — makes her fantastic
Picnic here, an't it ? " said Tackleton with a
strong expression of distaste for the whole
concern.

" Yes," replied Bertha. " This is the day."

" I thought so," said Tackleton. " I should
like to join the party."

" Do you hear that, father ? " cried the Blind
Girl in an ecstasy.

" Yes, yes, I hear it," murmured Caleb with
the fixed look of a sleep-walker ; " but I don't
believe it. It's one of my lies, I've no doubt."

" You see I — I want to bring the Peerybingles
a little more into company with May Fielding,"
said Tackleton. " I'm 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 com-
prehend me. Ah, Bertha ! INIarried ! Church,
parson, clerk, beadle, glass coach, bells, break-
fast, bridecake, favours, marrow-bones, cleavers,
and all the rest of the tomfoolery. A wedding,
you know ; a wedding. Don't you know what
a wedding is ? "

" I know," replied the Blind Girl in a gentle
tone. " I understand ! "

" Do you ? " muttered Tackleton. " It's more
than I expected. Well ! On that account I
want to join the party, and to bring May and
her mother. I'll send in a little something or
other, before the afternoon. A cold leg of
mutton, or some comfortable trifle of that sort.
You'll expect me ? "

"Yes," she answered.

She had drooped her head, and turned away \
and so stood, with her hands crossed, musing.



A CHECK UPON BERTHA'S GAIETY.



93



" I don't think you will," muttered Tackleton,
looking at her ; " for you seem to have forgotten
all about it already. Caleb ! "

" I may venture to say I'm here, I suppose,"
thought Caleb. " Sir ! "



^ " Take care she don't forget what I've been
saying to her."

" S/ic never forgets," returned Caleb. " It's
one of the few things she an't clever in."

" Every man thinks his own geese swan"-,''




"THE EXTENT TO WHICH HE's WIXKING AT THIS MOMENT!" WHISPERED CALEB TO HIS DAUGHTER. "OH,

MY GRACIOUS ! "



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 remembiancc or some loss; but her sorrow-
ful reflections found no vent in words.

It was not until Caleb had been ocltupied
some time in yoking a team of horses to a
waggon by the summary process of nailing the



94



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



harness to the vital parts of their bodies, that
she drew near to his working-stool, and, sitting
down beside him, said :

" Father, I am lonely in the dark, I want
my eyes, my patient, willing eyes."

" Here they are," said Caleb. " Always ready.
They are more yours than mine, Bertha, any
hour in the four-and-twenty. What shall your
eyes do for you, dear ? "

" Look round the room, father."

" All right," said Caleb. " No sooner said
than done, Bertha."

" Tell me about it."

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

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

" You have your working dress on, and are
not so gallant as when you wear the handsome
coat ? " said Bertha, touching him.

" Not quite so gallant," answered Caleb.
" Pretty brisk, though."

" Father," said the Blind Girl, drawing close
to his side, and stealing one arm round his neck,
"tell me something about May. She is very
fair?"

" She is indeed," said Caleb. And she was
indeed. It was quite a rare thing to Caleb not
to have to draw on his invention.

" Her hair is dark," said Bertha pensively,
" darker than mine. Her voice is sweet and
musical, I know. I have often loved to hear it.
Her shape "

" There's not a Doll's in all the room to equal
it," said Caleb. " And her eyes ! "

He stopped ; for Bertha had drawn closer
round his neck, and, from the arm that clung
about him, came a warning pressure which he
understood too well.

He coughed a moment, hammered for a
moment, and then fell back upon the song
about the sparkling bowl, his infallible resource
in all such difficulties.

" Our friend, father, our benefactor. I am
never tired, you know, of hearing about him. — ■
Now, was I ever ? " she said hastily.

" Of course not," answered Caleb, " and with
reason."

" Ah ! With how much reason ! " cried the
Blind Girl. With such fervency, that Caleb,



though his motives were so pure, could not
endure to meet her face ; but dropped his eyes,
as if she could have read in them his innocent
deceit.

" Then tell me again about him, dear father,"
said Bertha. " Many times again ! His face is
benevolent, kind, and tender. Honest and true,
1 am sure it is. The manly heart that tries to
cloak all favours with a show of roughness and
unwillingness, beats in its every look and glance."

"And makes it noble," added Caleb in his
quiet desperation.

" And makes it noble," cried the Blind Girl.
" He is older than May, father."

" Ye-es," said Caleb reluctantly. " He's a
little older than May. But that don't signify."

" Oh, father, yes ! To be his patient com-
panion in infirmity and age; to be his gentle
nurse in sickness, and his constant friend in
suffering and sorrow ; to know no weariness in
working for his sake ; to watch him, tend him,
sit beside his bed and talk to him awake, and
pray for him asleep ; what privileges these would
be ! What opportunities for proving all her
truth and her 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 happi-
ness upon her.

In the meantime there had been a pretty
sharp commotion at John Peerybingle's, for,
little Mrs. Peerybingle naturally couldn't think
of going anywhere without the Baby; and to
get the Baby under way 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 oft", and turn him out a
tiptop Baby challenging the world, he was un-
expectedly 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. Peer3-bingle took advantage of this
interval, to make lierself as smart in a small way



THE CARRIER MYSTIFIED AGAIN.



95



as ever you saw anybody in all your life ; and,
during the same short truce, Miss Slowboy in-
sinuated herself into a spencer of a fashion so
surprising and ingenious, that it had no connec-
tion with herself, or anything else in the uni-
verse, but was a shrunken, dog's-eared, inde-
]:>endent fact, pursuing its lonely course without
the least regard to anybody. By this time, the
Baby, being all alive again, was invested, by the
\mited eftbrts of Mrs. Peerybingle and Miss
Slowboy, with a cream-coloured mantle for its
body, and a sort of nankeen raised pie for its
head ; and so, in course of time, they all three
got down to the door, where the old horse had
already taken more than the full value of his
day's toll out of the Turnpike Trust, by tearing
up the road with his impatient autographs ; and
whence Boxer might be dimly seen in the remote
perspective, standing looking back, and tempting
him to come on without orders.

As to a chair, or anything of that kind for
helping Mrs. Peerybingle into the cart, you
know very little of John, if you think that was
necessary. Before you could have seen him lift
her from the ground, there she was in her place,
fresh and rosy, saying, " John ! How can you ?
Think of Tilly ! "

If I might be allowed to mention u young
lady's legs on any terms, I would observe of
Miss Slowboy's that there was a fatality about
them which rendered them singularly liable to
be grazed ; and that she never effected the
smallest ascent or descent, without recording the
circumstance upon them with a notch, as Robin-
son Crusoe marked the days upon his wooden
calendar. But, as this might be considered un-
genteel, 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 be-
hind my time."

" I am sorry for it, John," said Dot in a great
bustle, " but I really could not think of going
to Bertha's — I would not do it, John, on any
account — without the Veal and Ham Pie and
things, and the bottles of Beer. Way ! "

This monosyllable was addressed to the horse,
who didn't mind it at all.

" Oh, do way, John ! " said Mrs. Peerybingle.
" Please ! "

" It'll be time enough to do that," returned
John, " when I begin to leave things behind me.
The basket's here safe enoudi."



- " What a hard'hearted monster you must be,
John, not to have said so at once, and save me
such a turn ! I declare 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 Picnic there. If
anything was to go wrong with it, I should
almost think we were never to be lucky again."

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

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

" By-the-bye " — observed the Carrier — " that
old gentleman "

Again so visibly and instantly embarrassed !

" He's an odd fish," said the Carrier, looking
straight along the road before them. " I can't
make him out. I don't believe there's any harm
in him."

" None at all. I'm — I'm sure there's none
at all."

" Yes," said the Carrier, with his eyes attracted
to her face by the great earnestness of her man-
ner. " I am glad you feel so certain of it, be-
cause 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 ; ain'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 gentle-
man," said John, " and pays as a gentleman, and
I think his word is to be relied upon, like a
gentleman's. I had quite a long talk with him
this morning : he can hear me better already, he
says, as he gets more used to my voice. He told
me a great deal about himself, and I told him a
good deal about myself, and a rare lot of ques-
tions he asked me. I gave him information
about my having two beats, you know, in my
business ; one day to the right from our house
and back again ; another day to the left from
our house and back again (for he's a stranger,
and don't know the names of places about here) ;
and he seemed quite pleased. ' Why, then I
shall be returning home to-night your way,' he
says, 'when I thought you'd be coming in an
exactly opposite direction. That's capital ! I
may trouble you for another lift, perhaps, but
I'll engage not to fall so sound asleep again.'
He was sound asleep, sure-ly ! — Dot ! what are
you thinking of?"

** Thinking of, John ? I — I was listening to
you."



96



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



" Oh ! That's all right ! " said the honest
Carrier. " I was afraid, from the look of your
face, that I had gone rambling on so long as to
set you thinking about something else. I was
very near it, I'll be bound."

Dot making no re])ly, they jogged on, for
some little time, in silence. But, it was not
easy to remain silent very long in John Peery-
bingle's cart, for everybody on the road had
something to say. Though it might only be
" How are you ? " and, indeed, it was very often
nothing else, still, to give that back again in the
right spirit of cordiality, required, not merely a
nod and a smile, but as wholesome an action of
the lungs withal as a long-winded Parliamentary
speech. Sometimes, passengers on foot, or
horseback, plodded on a little way beside the
cart, for the express purpose of having a chat ;
and then there was a great deal to be said on
both sides.

Then, Boxer gave occasion to more good-
natured recognitions of, and by, the Carrier,
than half-a-dozen Christians could have done !
Everybody knew him all along the road — espe-
cially the fowls and pigs, who, when they saw
him approaching, with his body all on one side,
and his ears pricked up inquisitively, and that
knob of a tail making the most of itself in the
air, immediately withdrew into remote back-
settlements, without waiting for the honour of a
nearer acquaintance. He had business else-
where ; going down all the turnings, looking
into all the wells, bolting in and out of all the
cottages, dashing into the midst of all the Dame
Schools, fluttering all the pigeons, magnifying
the tails of all the cats, and trotting into the
public-houses like a regular customer. Wherever
he went, somebody or other might have been
heard to cry, '• Halloa ! here's Boxer ! " and
out came that somebody forthwith, accompa-
nied by at least two or three other some-
bodies, to g:ve John Peerybingle and his pretty
wife Good day.

The packages and parcels for the errand cart
were numerous ; and there were many stoppages
to take them in and give them out, which were
not by any means the worst parts of the journey.
Some people were so full of expectation about
their parcels, and other people were so full of
wonder about their parcels, and other people
were so full of inexhaustible directions about
their parcels, and John had such a lively interest
in all the parcels, that it was as good as a play.
Likewise, there were articles to carry, which
required to be considered and discussed, and in
reference to the adjustment and disposition of
which councils had to be holden by the Carrier



and the senders : at which Boxer usually assisted,
in short fits of the closest attention, and long
fits of tearing round and round the assembled
sages, and barking himself hoarse. Of all these
little incidents, Dot was the amused and open-
eyed spectatress from her chair in the cart ; and
as she sat there, looking on — a charming littie
portrait framed to admiration by the tilt — there
was no lack of nudgings and glancings and
whisperings and envyings among the younger
men. And this delighted John the Carrier be-
yond measure ; for he was proud to ha\-e his
little wife admired, knowing that she didn't
mind it — that, if anything, she rather liked it
perhaps.

The trip was a little foggy, to be sure, in the
January weather ; and was raw and cold. But
who cared for such trifles ? Not Dot, decidedly.
Not Tilly Slowboy, for she deemed sitting in a
cart, on any terms, to be the highest point of
human joys ; the crowning circumstance of
earthly hopes. Not the Baby, I'll be sworn ;
for it's not in Baby nature to be warmer or more
sound asleep, though its capacity is great in both
respects, than that blessed young Peerybingle
was, all the way.

You couldn't see very far in the fog, of course ;
but you could see a great deal ! It's astonishing
how much you may see in a thicker fog than
that, if you will only take the trouble to look
for it. Why, even to sit watching for the Fairy-
rings in the fields, and for the patches of hoar
frost still lingering in the shade, near hedges
and by trees, was a pleasant occupation, to
make no mention of the unexpected shapes in
which the trees themselves came starting out of
the mist, and glided into it again. The hedges
were tangled and bare, and waved a multitude
of blighted garlands in the wind ; but there was
no discouragement in this. It was agreeable to
contemplate ; for, it made the fireside warmer in
possession, and the summer greener in expect-
ancy. The river looked chilly ; but it was in
motion, and moving at a good pace — which was^
a great point. The canal was rather slow and.
torpid ; that must be admitted. Never mind.
It would freeze the sooner when the frost set
fairly in, and then there would be skating and
sliding ; and the heavy old bai-ges, frozen up
somewhere near a wharf, would smoke their rusty
iron chimney-pipes all da}', and have a lazy time
of it.

In one place there was a great mound of
weeds or stubble burning; and they watched
the fire, so white in the daytime, flaring through
the fog, with only here and there a dash of red
in it, until, in consequence, as she observed, of



THE PICNIC.



97



the smoke " getting up her nose,* Miss Slowboy
choked — she could do anything of that sort, on
the smallest provocation — and woke the Baby,
who wouldn't go to sleep again. But Boxer, who
was in advance some quarter of a mile or so,
had already passed the outposts of the town,
and gained the corner of the street where Caleb
and his daughter lived ; and, long before they
had reached the door, he and the Blind Girl
were on the pavement waiting to receive them.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 84 of 103)