The kettle began it! Don't tell
me what Mrs. Peerybingle said.
I know better. Mrs. Peery- bingle
may leave it on record to the
end of time that she couldn't
say which of them began it; but,
I say the kettle did. I ought
to know, I hope! The kettle began
it, full five minutes by the
little waxy- faced Dutch clock
in the corner, before the Cricket
uttered a chirp.
As if the clock hadn't finished
striking, and the convulsive
little Haymaker at the top of
it, jerking away right and left
with a scythe in front of a Moorish
Palace, hadn't mowed down half
an acre of imaginary grass before
the Cricket joined in at all!
Why, I am not naturally positive.
Every one knows that. I wouldn't
set my own opinion against the
opinion of Mrs. Peerybingle,
unless I were quite sure, on
any account whatever. Nothing
should in- duce me. But, this
is a question of fact. And the
fact is, that the kettle began
it, at least five minutes before
the Cricket gave any sign of
being in exist- ence. Contradict
me, and I'll say ten.
Let me narrate exactly how it
happened. I should have proceeded
to do so in my very first word,
but for this plain consideration
-- if I am to tell a story I
must begin at the beginning;
and how is it pos- sible to begin
at the beginning, without beginning
at the kettle?
It appeared as if there were
a sort of match, or trial of
skill, you must understand, between
the kettle and the Cricket. And
this is what led to it, and how
it came about.
Mrs. Peerybingle, going out
into the raw twilight, and clicking
over the wet stones in a pair
of pattens that worked innumerable
rough impressions of the first
proposition in Euclid all about
the yard -- Mrs, Peerybingle
filled the kettle at the water-butt.
Pres- ently returning, less the
pattens (and a good deal less,
for they were tall and Mrs. Peerybingle
was but short), she set the kettle
on the fire. In doing which she
lost her temper, or mislaid it
for an instant; for, the water
being uncomfortably cold, and
in that slippy, slushy, sleety
sort of state wherein it seems
to penetrate through every kind
of substance, pat- ten rings
included -- had laid hold of
Mrs. Peery- bingle's toes, and
even splashed her legs. And when
we rather plume ourselves (with
reason too) upon oue legs, and
keep ourselves particularly neat
in point of stockings, we find
this for the moment, hard to
Besides, the kettle was aggravating
and obstinate. It wouldn't allow
itself to be adjusted on the
top bar; it wouldn't hear of
accommodating itself kindly to
the knobs of coal; it would lean
forward with a drunken air, and
dribble, a very Idiot of a kettle,
on the hearth. It was quarrelsome,
and hissed and spluttered morosely
at the fire. To sum up all, the
lid, resisting Mrs. Peerybingle's
fingers, first of all turned
topsy-turvy, and then, with an
ingenious per- tinacity deserving
of a better cause, dived sideways
in -- down to the very bottom
of the kettle. And the hull of
the Royal George has never made
half the monstrous resistance
to coming out of the water, which
the lid of that kettle employed
against Mrs. Peerybingle, before
she got it up again.
It looked sullen and pig-headed
enough; even then; carrying its
handle with an air of defiance.
and cock- ing its spout pertly
and mockingly at Mrs. Peery-
bingle, as if it said, 'I won't
boil. Nothing shall induce me!'
But Mrs. Peerybingle, with restored
good humour, dusted her chubby
little hands aginst each other,
and sat down before the kettle,
laughing. Mean- time, the jolly
blaze uprose and fell, flashing
and gleaming on the little Haymaker
at the top of the Dutch clock,
until one might have thought
he stood stock still before the
Moorish Palace, and nothing was
in motion but the flame.
He was on the move, however;
and had his spasms, two to the
second, all right and regular.
But, his sufferings when the
clock was going to strike, were
frightful to behold; and, when
a Cuckoo looked out of a trap-door
in the Palace, and gave note
six times, it shook him, each
time, like a spectral voice or
like a something wiry, plucking
at his legs.
It was not until a violent commotion
and a whir- ing noise among the
weights and ropes below him had
quite subsided, that this terrified
Haymaker be- came himself again.
Nor was he startled without reason;
for these rattling, bony skeletons
of clocks are very disconcerting
in their operation, and I won-
der very much how any set of
men, but most of all how Dutchmen,
can have had a liking to invent
them. There is a popular belief
that Dutchmen love broad cases
and much clothing for their own
lower selves; and they might
know better than to leave their
clocks so very lank and unprotected,
Now.it was, you observe, that
the kettle began to spend the
evening. Now it was, that the
kettle, grow- ing mellow and
musical, began to have irrepressible
gurglings in its throat, and
to indulge in short vocal snorts,
which it checked in the bud,
as if it hadn't quite made up
its mind yet, to be good company.
Now it was, that after two or
three such vain at- tempts to
stifle its convivial sentiments,
it threw off all moroseness,
all reserve, and burst into a
stream of song so cosy and hilarious,
as never maudlin night- ingale
yet formed the least idea of.
So plain too! Bless you, you
might have under- stood it like
a book -- better than some books
you and I could name, perhaps.
With its warm breath gush- ing
forth in a light cloud which
merrily and grace- fully ascended
a few feet, then hung about the
chim- ney-corner as its own domestic
Heaven, it trolled its song with
that strong energy of cheerfulness,
that its iron body hummed and
stirred upon the fire; and the
lid itself, the recently rebellious
lid -- such is the influ- ence
of a bright example -- performed
a sort of jig, and clattered
like a deaf and dumb young cymbal
that had never known the use
of its twin brother.
That this song of the kettle's
was a song of invita- tion and
welcome to somebody out of doors:
to some- body at that moment
coming on, towards the snug small
home and the crisp fire: there
is no doubt what- ever Mrs. Peerybingle
knew it, perfectly, as she sat
musing before the hearth. It's
a dark night, sang the kettle,
and the rotten leaves are lying
by the way; and above, all is
mist and darkness, and below,
all is mire and clay; and there's
only one relief in all the sad
and murky air; and I don't know
that it is one, for it's nothing
but a glare; of deep and angry
crimson, where the sun and wind
together, set a brand upon the
clouds for being guilty of such
weather; and the wildest open
country is a long dull streak
of black; and there's hoar-frost
on the finger-post and thaw upon
the track; and the ice it isn't
water, and the water isn't free;
and you couldn't say that anything
is what it ought to be; but he's
coming, coming, coming! --
And here, if you like, the Cricket
DID chime in! with a Chirrup,
Chirrup, Chirrup of such magnitude,
by way of chorus; with a voice
so astoundingly dis- proportionate
to its size, as compared with
the kettle; (size! you couldn't
see it!) that if it had then
and there burst itself like an
overcharged gun, if it had fallen
a victim on the spot, and chirruped
its little body into fifty pieces,
it would have seemed a natural
and inevitable consequence, for
which it had ex- pressly laboured.
The kettle had had the last
of its solo performance. It persevered
with undiminished ardour; but
the Cricket took first fiddle
and kept it. Good Heaven, how
it chirped! Its shrill, sharp,
piercing voice re- sounded through
the house, and seemed to twinkle
in the outer darkness like a
star. There was an inde- scribable
little trill and tremble in it,
at its loudest, which suggested
its being carried off its legs,
and made to leap again, by its
own intense enthusiasm. Yet they
went very well together, the
Cricket and the kettle. The burden
of the song was still the same;
and louder, louder, louder still,
they sang it in their emulation.
The fair little listener --
for fair she was, and young:
though something of what is called
the dump- ling shape; but I don't
myself object to that -- lighted
a candle, glanced at the Haymaker
on the top of the clock, who
was getting in a pretty average
crop of minutes; and looked out
of the window, where she saw
nothing, owing to the darkness,
but her own face imaged in the
glass. And my opinion is (and
so would yours have been), that
she might have looked a long
way, and seen nothing half so
agreeable. When she came back,
and sat down in her former seat,
the Cricket and the kettle were
still keeping it up, with a perfect
fury of competition. The kettle's
weak side clearly being, that
he didn't know when he was beat.
There was all the excitement
of a race about it. Chirp, chirp,
chirp! Cricket a mile ahead.
Hum, hum, hum -- m -- m! Kettle
making play in the dis- tance,
like a great top. Chirp, chirp,
chirp! Cricket round the corner.
Hum, hum, hum -- m -- m! Ket-
tle sticking to him in his own
way; no idea of giv- ing in.
Chirp, chirp, chirp! Cricket
fresher than ever. Hum, hum,
hum -- m -- m! Kettle slow and
steady. Chirp, chirp, chirp!
Cricket going in to fin- ish
him. Hum, hum, hum -- m -- m!
Kettle not to be finished. Until
at last they got so jumbled together,
in the hurry-skurry, helter-skelter,
of the match, that whether the
kettle chirped and the Cricket
hummed, or the Cricket chirped
and the kettled hummed, or they
both chirped and both hummed,
it would have taken a clearer
head than yours or mine to have
de- cided with anything like
certainty. But, of this, there
is no doubt: that, the kettle
and the Cricket, at one and the
same moment, and by some power
of amalgamation best known to
themselves, sent, each, his fireside
song of comfort streaming into
a ray of the candle that shone
out through the wondow, and a
long way down the lane. And this
light, bursting on a certain
person who, on the instant, approached
to- wards it through the gloom,
expressed the whole thing to
him, literally in a twinkling,
and cried, 'Welcome home, old
fellow! Welcome home, my boy!'
This end attained, the kettle,
being dead beat, boiled over,
and was taken off the fire. Mrs.
Peery- bingle then went running
to the door, where, what with
the wheels of a cart, the tramp
of a horse, the voice of a man,
the tearing in and out of an
excited dog, and the surprising
and mysterious appearance of
a baby, there was soon the very
What's-his-name to pay.
Where the baby came from, or
how Mrs. Peery- bingle got hold
of it in that flash of time,
I don't know. But a live baby
there was, in Mrs. Peery- bingle's
arms; and a pretty tolerable
amount of pride she seemed to
have in it, when she was drawn
gently to the fire, by a sturdy
figure of a man, much taller
and much older than herself,
who had to stoop a long way down,
to kiss her. But she was worth
the trouble. Six foot six, with
the lumbago, might have done
'Oh goodness, John!' said' Mrs.
P. 'What a state you are in with
He was something the worse for
it, undeniably. The thick mist
hung in clots upon his eyelashes
like candied thaw; and between
the fog and fire together, there
were rainbows in his very whiskers.
'Why, you see, Dot,' John made
answer, slowly, as he unrolled
a shawl from about his throat;
and warmed his hands; 'It --
it an't exactly summer weather.
So, no wonder.'
'I wish you wouldn't call me
Dot, John. I don't like it,'
said Mrs. Peerybingle: pouting
in a way that clearly showed
she did like it, very much.
'Why what else are you?' returned
John, looking down upon her with
a smile, and giving her waist
as light a squeeze as his huge
hand and arm could give. 'A dot
and' -- here he glanced at the
baby -- 'a dot and carry -- I
won't say it, for fear I should
spoil it; but I was very near
a joke. I don't know as ever
I was nearer.'
He was often near to something
or other very clever, by his
own account: this lumbering,
slow hon- est John; this John
so heavy, but so light of spirit;
so rough upon the surface, but
so gentle at the core; so dull
without, so quick within, so
stolid, but so good! Oh Mother
Nature, give thy children the
true poetry of heart that hid
itself in this poor Carrier's
breast -- he was but a Carrier
by the way -- and we can bear
to have them talking prose, and
leading lives of prose; and bear
to bless thee for their company!
It was pleasant to see Dot,
with her little figure, and her
baby in her arms: a very doll
of a baby: glancing with a coquettish
thoughtfulness at the fire, and
inclining her delicate little
head just enough on one side
to let it rest in an odd, half-natural,
half- affected, wholly nestling
and agreeable manner, on the
great rugged figure of the Carrier.
It was pleas- ant to see him,
with his tender awkwardness,
endeav- ouring to adapt his rude
support to her slight need, and
make his burly middle-age a leaning-staff
not inappropriate to her blooming
youth. It was pleasant to observe
how Tilly Slowboy, waiting in
the back- ground for the baby,
took especial cognizance (though
in her earliest teens) of this
grouping; and stood with her
mouth and eyes wide open, and
her head thrust forward, taking
it in as if it were air. Nor
was it less agreeable to observe
how John the Carrier, refer-
ence being made by Dot to the
aforesaid baby, checked his hand
when on the point of touching
the infant, as if he thought
he might crack it; and bending
down, surveyed it from a safe
distance, with a kind of puzzled
pride, such as an amiable mastiff
might be supposed to show, if
he found himself, one day, the
father of a young canary.
'An't he beautiful, John? Don't
he look precious in his sleep?'
'Very precious,' said John.
'Very much so. He generally is
asleep, an't he?'
'Lor, John! Good gracious no!'
'Oh,' said John, pondering.
'I thought his eyes was generally
'Goodness, John, how you startle
'It an't right for him to turn
'em up in that way!' said the
astonished Carrier, 'is it? See
how he's wink- ing with both
of 'em at once! And look at his
mouth! Why he's gasping like
a gold and silver fish!'
'You don't deserve to be a father,
you don't,' said Dot, with all
the dignity of an experienced
matron. 'But how should you know
what little complaints children
are troubled with, John! You
wouldn't so much as know their
names, you stupid fellow.' And
when she had turned the baby
over on her left arm, and had
slapped its back as a restorative,
she pinched her husband's ear,
'No,' said John, pulling off
his outer coat. 'It's very true,
Dot. I don't know much about
it. I only know that I've been
fighting pretty stiffly with
the wind to-night. It's been
blowing north-east, straight
into the cart, the whole way
'Poor old man,
so it has!' cried Mrs. Peerybingle,
very active. 'Here! Take the
precious darling, Tilly, while
I make myself of some use. Bless
it, I could smother it with kissing
it, I could! Hie then, good dog!
Hie Boxer, boy! Only let me make
the tea first, John; and then
I'll help you with the parcels,
like a busy bee. "How doth the
little" -- and all the rest of
it, you know, John. Did you ever
learn "how doth the little," when
you went to school, John?'
'Not to quite know it,' John
returned. 'I was very near it
once. But I should only have
spoilt it, I dare say.'
'Ha ha,' laughed Dot. She had
the blithest little laugh you
ever heard. 'What a dear old
darling of a dunce you are, John,
to be sure!'
Not at all disputing this position,
John went out to see that the
boy with the lantern, which had
been dancing to and fro before
the door and window, like a Will
of the Wisp, took due care of
the horse; who was fatter than
you would quite believe, if I
gave you his measure, and so
old that his birthday was lost
in the mists of antiquity. Boxer,
feeling that his attentions were
due to the family in general,
and must be impartially distributed,
dashed in and out with bewildering
inconstancy; now, describing
a circle of short barks round
the horse, where he was being
rubbed down at the stable-door;
now, feigning to make savage
rushes at his mistress, and facetiously
bringing himself to sudden stops;
now, eliciting a shriek from
Tilly Slowboy, in the low nursing-chair
near the fire, by the unexpected
application of his moist nose
to her countenance; now, exhibiting
an obtrusive interest in the
baby; now, going round and round
upon the hearth, and lying down
as if he had established himself
for the night; now, getting up
again, and. taking that nothing
of a fag-end of a tail of his,
out into the weather, as if he
had just remembered an appointment,
and was off, at a round trot,
to keep it.
'There! There's the teapot,
ready on the hob!' said Dot;
as briskly busy as a child at
play at keeping house. 'And there's
the cold knuckle of ham; and
there's the butter; and there's
the crusty loaf, and all! Here's
the clothes-basket for the small
parcels, John, if you've got
any there -- where are you, John?
Don't let the dear child fall
under the grate, Tilly, whatever
It may be noted of Miss Slowboy,
in spite of her rejecting the
caution with some vivacity, that
she had a rare and surprising
talent for getting this baby
into difficulties: and had several
times imperilled its short life,
in a quiet way peculiarly her
own. She was of a spare and straight
shape, this young lady, insomuch
that her garments appeared to
be in con- stant danger of sliding
off those sharp pegs, her shoul-
ders, on which they were loosely
hung. Her costume was remarkable
for the partial development,
on all possible occasions, of
some flannel vestment of a singular
structure; also for affording
glimpses, in the region of the
back, of a corset, or pair of
stays, in colour a dead-green.
,Being always in a state of gaping
admiration at everything, and
absorbed, be- sides, in the perpetual
contemplation of her mistress's
perfections and the baby's, Miss
Slowboy, in her little errors
of judgment, may be said to have
done equal honour to her head
and to her heart; and though
these did less honour to the
baby's head, which they were
the occasional means of bringing
into contact with deal doors,
dressers, stair-rails, bedposts,
and other foreign substances,
still they were the honest results
of Tilly Slowboy's constant astonishment
at finding herself so kindly
treated, and installed in such
a com- fortable home. For, the
maternal and paternal Slow- boy
were alike unknown to Fame, and
Tilly had been bred by public
charity, a foundling; which word,
though only differing from fondling
by one vowel's length, is very
different in meaning, and expresses
quite another thing.
To have seen little Mrs. Peerybingle
come back with her husband, tugging
at the clothes-basket, and making
the most strenuous exertions
to do nothing at all (for he
carried it), would have amused
you almost as much as it amused
him. It may have enter- tained
the Cricket too, for anything
I know; but, certainly, it now
began to chirp again vehemently.
'Heyday!' said John, in his
slow way. 'It's mer- rier than
ever, to-night, I think.'
'And it's sure to bring us good
fortune, John! It always has
done so. To have a Cricket on
the Hearth, is the luckiest thing
in all the world!'
John looked at her as if he
had very nearly got the thought
into his head, that she was his
Cricket in chief, and he quite
agreed with her. But, it was
probably one of his narrow escapes,
for he said nothing.
'The first time I heard its
cheerful little note, John, was
on that night when you brought
me home -- when you brought me
to my new home here; its little
mistress. Nearly a year ago.
You recollect, John?'
O yes. John remembered. I should
'Its chirp was such a welcome
to me! It seemed so full of promise
and encouragement. It seemed
to say, you would be kind and
gentle with me, and would not
expect (I had a fear of that,
John, then) to find an old head
on the shoulders of your foolish
John thoughtfully patted one
of the shoulders, and then the
head, as though he would have
said No, no; he had had no such
expectation; he had been quite
content to take them as they
were. And really he had reason.
They were very comely.
'It spoke the truth, John, when
it seemed to say so; for you
have ever been, I am sure, the
best, the most considerate, the
most affectionate of husbands
to me. This has been a happy
home, John; and I love the Cricket
for its sake!'
'Why so do I then,' said the
Carrier. 'So do I, Dot.'
'I love it for the many times
I have heard it, and the many
thoughts its harmless music has
given me. Sometimes, in the twilight,
when I have felt a little solitary
and down-hearted, John -- before
baby was here to keep me company
and make the house gay -- when
I have thought how lonely you
would be if I should die; how
lonely I should be if I could
know that you had lost me, dear;
its Chirp, Chirp, Chirp upon
the hearth, has seemed to tell
me of another little voice, so
sweet, so very dear to me, before
whose coming sound my trouble
vanished like a dream. And when
I used to fear -- I did fear
once, John. I was very young
you know -- that ours might prove
to be an ill-assorted marriage,
I being such a child, and you
more like my guardian than my
husband; and that you might not,
however hard you tried, be able
to learn to love me, as you hoped
and prayed you might; its Chirp,
Chirp, Chirp has cheered me up
again, and filled me with new
trust and confidence. I was thinking
of these things to-night, dear,
when I sat expecting you; and
I love the Cricket for their
'And so do I,' repeated John.
'But Dot? I hope and pray that
I might learn to love you? How
you talk! I had learnt that,
long before I brought you here,
to be the Cricket's little mistress,
She laid her hand, an instant.
on his arm, and looked up at
him with an agitated face, as
if she would have told him something.
Next moment she was down upon
her knees before the basket,
speaking in a sprightly voice,
and busy with the parcels.
'There are not many of them
to-night, John, but I saw some
goods behind the cart, just now;
and though they give more trouble,
perhaps, still they pay as well;
so we have no reason to grumble,
have we? Besides, you have been
delivering, I dare say, as you
'Oh yes,' John said. 'A good
'Why what's this round box?
Heart alive, John, it's a wedding-cake!'
'Leave a woman alone to find
out that,' said John, admiringly.
'Now a man would never have thought
of it. Whereas, it's my belief
that if you was to pack a wedding-cake
up in a tea-chest, or a turn-up
bedstead, or a pickled salmon
keg, or any unlikely thing, a
woman would be sure to find it
out directly. Yes; I called for
it at the pastry-cook's.'
'And it weighs I don't know
what -- whole hundred- weights!'
cried Dot, making a great demonstration
of trying to lift it. 'Whose
is it, John? Where is it going?'
'Read the writing on the other
side,' said John.
'Why, John! My Goodness, John!'
'Ah! who'd have thought it!'
'You never mean to say,' pursued
Dot, sitting on the floor and
shaking her head at him, 'that
it's Gruff and Tackleton the
Mrs. Peerybingle nodded also,
fifty times at least. Not in
assent -- in dumb and pitying
amazement; screwing up her lips
the while with all their little
force (they were never made for
screwing up; I am clear of that),
and looking the good Carrier
through and through, in her abstraction.
Miss Slowboy, in the mean time,
who had a mechanical power of
repro- ducing scraps of current
conversation for the delecta-
tion of the baby, with all the
sense struck out of them, and
all the nouns changed into the
plural num- ber, inquired aloud
of that young creature, Was it
Gruffs and Tackletons the toymakers
then, and Would it call at Pastry-cooks
for wedding-cakes, and Did its
mothers know the boxes when its
fathers brought them homes; and
'And that is really to come
about!' said Dot. 'Why she and
I were girls at school together,
He might have been thinking
of her, or nearly thinking of
her, perhaps, as she was in that
same school time. He looked upon
her with a thoughtful pleasure,
but he made no answer.
'And he's as old! As unlike
her! -- Why, how many years older
than you, is Gruff and Tackleton,
'How many more cups of tea shall
I drink to-night at one sitting,
than Gruff and Tackleton ever
took in four, I wonder!' replied
John, good-humoredly, as he drew
a chair to the round table, and
began at the cold ham. 'As to
eating, I eat but little; but,
that little I enjoy, Dot.'
Even this, his usual sentiment
at meal times, one of his innocent
delusions (for his appetite was
al- ways obstinate, and flatly
contradicted him), awoke no smile
in the face of his little wife,
who stood among the parcels,
pushing the cake-box slowly from
her with her foot, and never
once looked, though her eyes
were cast down too, upon the
dainty shoe she generally was
so mindful of. Absorbed in thought,
she stood there, heedless alike
of the tea and John (although
he called to her, and rapped
the table with his knife to startle
her), until he rose and touched
her on the arm; when she looked
at him for a mo- ment, and hurried
to her place behind the teaboard,
laughing at her negligence. But,
not as she had laughed before.
The manner and the music were
The Cricket, too, had stopped.
Somehow the room was not so cheerful
as it had been. Nothing like
'So, these are all the parcels,
are they, John?' she said, breaking
a long silence, which the honest
Car- rier had devoted to the
practical illustration of one
part of his favourite sentiment
-- certainly enjoying what he
ate, if it couldn't be admitted
that he ate but little. 'So these
are all the parcels; are they,
'That's all,' said John. 'Why
-- no -- I --' laying down his
knife and fork, and taking a
long breath. 'I declare -- I've
clean forgotten the old gentleman!'
'The old gentleman?'
'In the cart,' said John. 'He
was asleep, among the straw,
the last time I saw him. I've
very nearly remembered him, twice,
since I came in; but, he went
out of my head again. Holloa!
Yahip there! Rouse up! That's
John said these latter words
outside the door, whither he
had hurried with the candle in
Miss Slowboy, conscious of some
mysterious ref- erence to The
Old Gentleman, and connecting
in her mystified imagination
certain associations of a re-
ligious nature with the phrase,
was so disturbed, that hastily
rising from the low chair by
the fire to seek protection near
the skirts of her mistress, and
coming into contact as she crossed
the doorway with an an- cient
Stranger, she instinctively made
a charge or butt at him with
the only offensive instrument
within her reach. This instrument
happening to be the baby, great
commotion and alarm ensued, which
the sagacity of Boxer rather
tended to increase; for, that
good dog, more thoughtful than
its master, had, it seemed, been
watching the old gentleman in
his sleep, lest he should walk
off with a few young poplar trees
that were tied up behind the
cart, and he still attended on
him very closely, worrying his
gaiters in fact, and making dead
sets at the buttons.
'You're such an undeniable good
sleeper, sir,' said John, when
tranquillity was restored; in
the mean time the old gentleman
had stood, bareheaded and motionless,
in the centre of the room; 'that
I have half a mind to ask you
where the other six are -- only
that would be a joke, and I know
I should spoil it. Very near
though,' murmured the Carrier,
with a chuckle; 'very near!'
The Stranger, who had long white
hair, good fea- tures, singularly
bold and well defined for an
old man, and dark, bright, penetrating
eyes, looked round with a smile,
and saluted the Carrier's wife
by gravely inclining his head.
His garb was very quaint and
odd -- a long, long way behind
the time. Its hue was brown,
all over. In his hand he held
a great brown club or walking-
stick; and striking this upon
the floor, it fell asunder, and
became a chair. On which he sat
down, quite composedly.
'There!' said the Carrier, turning
to his wife. 'That's the way
I found him, sitting by the roadside!
Upright as a milestone. And almost
'Sitting in the open air, John!'
'In the open
air,' replied the Carrier,
'just at dusk. "Carriage
Paid," he said; and gave me eighteen-
pence. Then he got in. And there
'He's going, John, I think!'
Not at all. He was only going
'If you please, I was to be
left till called for,' said the
Stranger, mildly 'Don't mind
With that, he took a pair of
spectacles from one of his large
pockets, and a book from another,
and leisurely began to read.
Making no more of Boxer than
if he had been a house lamb!
The Carrier and his wife exchanged
a look of per- plexity. The Stranger
raised his head; and glancing
from the latter to the former,
'Your daughter, my good friend?'
'Wife,' returned John.
'Niece?' said the Stranger.
'Wife,' roared John.
'Indeed?' observed the Stranger.
'Surely? Very young!'
He quietly turned over, and
resumed his reading. But, before
he could have read two lines
he again interrupted himself
John gave him a gigantic nod;
equivalent to an answer in the
affirmative, delivered through
a speak- ing trumpet.
'Bo-o-oy!' roared John.
'Also very young, eh?'
Mrs. Peerybingle instantly struck
in. 'Two months and three da-ays!
Vaccinated just six weeks ago-o!
Took very fine-ly! Considered,
by the doctor, a re- markably
beautiful chi-ild! Equal to the
general run of children at five
months o-old! Takes notice, in
a way quite won-der-ful! May
seem impossible to you, but feels
his legs al-ready!'
Here the breathless little mother,
who had been shrieking these
short sentences into the old
man's ear. until her pretty face
was crimsoned, held up the Baby
before him as a stubborn and
triumphant fact; while Tilly
Slowboy, with a melodious cry
of 'Ketcher, Ketcher' -- which
sounded like some unknown words,
adapted to a popular Sneeze --
performed some cow- like gambols
round that all-unconscious Innocent.
'Hark! He's called for, sure
enough,' said John. 'There's
somebody at the door. Open it,
Before she could
reach it, however, it was opened
from without, being
a primitive sort of door, with
a latch, that any one could lift
if he chose -- and a good many
people did choose, for all kinds
of neigh- bours liked to have
a cheerful word or two with the
Carrier, though he was no great
talker himself. Be- ing opened,
it gave admission to a little,
meagre, thoughtful, dingy-faced
man, who seemed to have made
himself a great-coat from the
sack-cloth cover- ing of some
old box; for, when he turned
to shut the door, and keep the
weather out, he disclosed upon
the back of that garment, the
inscription G & T in large black
capitals. Also the word GLASS
in bold characters.
'Good-evening John!' said the
little man. 'Good- evening Mum.
Good-evening Tilly. Good-evening
Unbeknown! How's Baby Mum? Boxer's
pretty well I hope?'
'All thriving, Caleb,' replied
Dot. 'I am sure you need only
look at the dear child, for one,
to know that.'
'And I'm sure I need only look
at you for another,' said Caleb.
He didn't look at her though;
he had a wander- ing and thoughtful
eye which seemed to be always
projecting itself into some other
time and place, no matter what
he said; a description which
will equally apply to his voice.
'Or at John for another,' said
Caleb. 'Or at Tilly, as far as
that goes. Or certainly at Boxer.'
'Busy just now, Caleb?' asked
'Why, pretty well, John,' he
returned, with the dis- traught
air of a man who was casting
about for the Philosopher's stone,
at least. 'Pretty much so. There's
rather a run on Noah's Arks at
present. I could have wished
to improve upon the Family, but
I don't see how it's to be done
at the price. It would be a satisfaction
to one's mind, to make it clearer
which was Shems and Hams, and
which was Wives. Flies an't on
that scale neither, as compared
with ele- phants you know! Ah!
well! Have you got any- thing
in the parcel line for me, John?'
The Carrier put his hand into
a pocket of the coat he had taken
off; and brought out, carefully
pre- served in moss and paper,
a tiny flower-pot.
'There it is!' he said, adjusting
it with great care. 'Not so much
as a leaf damaged. Full of buds!'
Caleb's dull eye brightened,
as he took it and thanked him.
'Dear, Caleb,' said the Carrier.
'Very dear at this season.'
'Never mind that. It would be
cheap to me, what- ever it cost,'
returned the little man. 'Anything
'A small box,' replied the Carrier.
'Here you are!'
' "For Caleb Plummer," ' said
the little man, spell- ing out
the direction. ' "With Cash." With
Cash, John. I don't think it's
'With Care,' returned the Carrier,
looking over his shoulder. 'Where
do you make out cash?'
'Oh! To be sure!'
said Caleb. 'It's all right.
With care! Yes,
yes; that's mine. It might have
been with cash, indeed, if my
dear Boy in the Golden South
Americas had lived, John. You
loved him like a son; didn't
you? You needn't say did. I know,
of course. "Caleb Plummer. With
care." Yes, yes, it's all right.
It's a box of dolls' eyes for
my daughter's work. I wish it
was her own sight in a box, John.'
'I wish it was, or could be!'
cried the Carrier.
'Thank 'ee,' said the little
man. 'You speak very hearty.
To think that she should never
see the Dolls -- and them a-staring
at her, so bold, all day long!
That's where it cuts. What's
the damage, John?'
'I'll damage you,' said John,
'if you inquire. Dot! Very near?
'Well! it's like you to say
so,' observed the little man.
'It's your kind way. Let me see.
I think that's all.'
'I think not,' said the Carrier.
'Something for our Governor,
eh?' said Caleb, after pondering
a little while. 'To be sure.
That's what I came for; but my
head's so running on them Arks
and things! He hasn't been here,
'Not he,' returned the Carrier.
'He's too busy, courting.'
'He's coming round though,'
said Caleb; 'for he told me to
keep on the near side of the
road going home, and it was ten
to one he'd take me up. I had
better go, by the bye. -- You
couldn't have the good- ness
to let me pinch Boxer's tail,
Mum, for half a moment, could
'Why, Caleb! what a question!'
'Oh never mind, Mum,' said the
little man. 'He mightn't like
it perhaps. There's a small order
just come in, for barking dogs;
and I should wish to go as close
to Natur' as I could, for sixpence.
That's all. Never mind, Mum.'
It happened opportunely, that
Boxer, without re- ceiving the
proposed stimulus, began to bark
with great zeal. But, as this
implied the approach of some
new visitor, Caleb, postponing
his study from the life to a
more convenient season, shouldered
the round box, and took a hurried
leave. He might have spared himself
the trouble, for he met the visitor
upon the threshold.
'Oh! You are here, are you?
Wait a bit. I'll take you home.
John Peerybingle, my service
to you. More of my service to
your pretty wife. Hand- somer
every day! Better too, if possible!
And younger,' mused the speaker,
in a low voice; 'that's the Devil
'I should be astonished at your
paying compli- ments, Mr. Tackleton,'
said Dot, not with the best grace
in the world; 'but for your condition.'
'You know all about it then?'
'I have got myself to believe
it, somehow,' said Dot.
'After a hard struggle, I suppose?'
Tackleton the Toy-merchant,
pretty generally known as Gruff
and Tackleton -- for that was
the firm, though Gruff had been
bought out long ago; only leaving
his name, and as some said his
nature, according to its Dictionary
meaning, in the business -- Tackleton
the Toy-merchant, was a man whose
vocation had been quite misunderstood
by his Parents and Guardians.
If they had made him a Money
Lender, or a sharp Attorney,
or a Sheriff's Officer, or a
Broker, he might have sown his
discontented oats in his youth,
and, after having had the full
run of himself in ill-natured
transactions, might have turned
out amiable, at last, for the
sake of a little freshness and
novelty. But, cramped and chafing
in the peace- able pursuit of
toy-making, he was a domestic
Ogre, who had been living on
children all his life, and was
their implacable enemy. He despised
all toys; wouldn't have bought
one for the world; delighted,
in his malice, to insinuate grim
expressions into the faces of
brown-paper farmers who drove
pigs to market, bellmen who advertised
lost lawyers' con- sciences,
moveable old ladies who darned
stockings or carved pies; and
other like samples of his stock-in-
trade. In appalling masks; hideous,
hair, red-eyed Jacks in Boxes;
Vampire Kites; demoniacal Tum-
blers who wouldn't lie down,
and were perpetually flying forward,
to stare infants out of countenance;
his soul perfectly revelled.
They were his only relief, and
safety-valve. He was great in
such inventions. Anything suggestive
of a Pony-nightmare, was de-
licious to him. He had even lost
money (and he took to that toy
very kindly) by getting up Goblin
slides for magic-lanterns, whereon
the Powers of Darkness were depicted
as a sort of supernatural shell-fish,
with human faces. In intensifying
the por- traiture of Giants,
he had sunk quite a little capital;
and, though no painter himself,
he could indicate, for the instruction
of his artists, with a piece
of chalk, a certain furtive leer
for the countenances of those
monsters, which was safe to destroy
the peace of mind of any young
gentleman between the ages of
six and eleven, for the whole
Christmas or Midsummer Vacation.
What he was in toys, he was
(as most men are) in other things.
You may easily suppose, therefore,
that within the great green cape,
which reached down to the calves
of his legs, there was buttoned
up to the chin an uncommonly
pleasant fellow; and that he
was about as choice a spirit,
and as agreeable a compan- ion,
as ever stood in a pair of bull-headed
looking boots with mahogany-coloured
Still, Tackleton, the toy-merchant,
was going to be married. In spite
of all this, he was going to
be married. And to a young wife
too, a beautiful young wife.
He didn't look much like a bridegroom,
as he stood in the Carrier's
kitchen, with a twist in his
dry face, and a screw in his
body, and his hat jerked over
the bridge of his nose, and his
hands tucked down into the bottoms
of his pockets, and his whole
sarcastic ill- conditioned self
peering out of one little corner
of one little eye, like the concentrated
essence of any number of ravens.
But, a Bridegroom he designed
'In three days' time. Next Thursday.
The last day of the first month
in the year. That's my wed- ding
day,' said Tackleton.
Did I mention that he had always
one eye wide open, and one eye
nearly shut; and that the one
eye nearly shut, was always the
expressive eye? I don t think
'That's my wedding-day!' said
Tackleton, rattling his money.
'Why, it's our wedding-day too,'
exclaimed the Carrier.
'Ha ha!' laughed Tackleton.
'Odd! You're just such another
The indignation of Dot at this
presumptuous asser- tion is not
to be described. What next? His
imagina- tion would compass the
possibility of just such an-
other Baby, perhaps. The man
'I say! A word with you,' murmured
Tackleton, nudging the Carrier
with his elbow, and taking him
a little apart. 'You'll come
to the wedding? We're in the
same boat, you know.'
'How in the same boat?' inquired
'A little disparity, you know';
said Tackleton, with another
nudge. 'Come and spend an evening
with us, beforehand.'
'Why?' demanded John, astonished
at this pressing hospitality.
'Why?' returned the other. 'That's
a new way of receiving an invitation.
Why, for pleasure -- sociability,
you know, and all that!'
'I thought you were never sociable,'
said John, in his plain way.
'Tchah! It's of no use to be
anything but free with you I
see,' said Tackleton. 'Why, then,
the truth is you have a -- what
tea-drinking people call a sort
of a comfortable appearance together,
you and your wife. We know better,
you know. but --'
'No, we don't know better,'
interposed John. 'What are you
'Well! We don't know better,
then,' said Tackle- ton. 'We'll
agree that we don't. As you like;
what does it matter? I was going
to say, as you have that sort
of appearance, your company will
produce a favourable effect on
Mrs. Tackleton that will be.
And, though I don't think your
good lady's very friendly to
me, in this matter, still she
can't help her- self from falling
into my views, for there's a
com- pactness and cosiness of
appearance about her that always
tells, even in an indifferent
case. You'll say you'll come?'
'We have arranged to keep our
Wedding-Day (as far as that goes)
at home,' said John. 'We have
made the promise to ourselves
these six months. We think, you
see, that home --'
'Bah! what's home?' cried Tackleton.
'Four walls and a ceiling! (why
don't you kill that Cricket!
I would! I always do. I hate
their noise). There are four
walls and a ceiling at my house.
Come to me!'
'You kill your Crickets, eh?'
sir,' returned the other, setting
his heel heavily
on the floor. 'You'll say you'll
come? It's as much your interest
as mine, you know, that the women
should persuade each other that
they're quiet and contented and
couldn't be better off. I know
their way. Whatever one woman
says, another woman is determined
to clinch, always. There's that
spirit of emulation among 'em,
sir, that if your wife says to
my wife, "I'm the happiest woman
in the world, and mine's the
best husband in the world, and
I dote on him," my wife will
say the same to yours, or more,
and half believe it.'
'Do you mean to say she don't,
then?' asked the Carrier.
'Don't!' cried Tackleton, with
a short, sharp laugh. 'Don't
what?' The Carrier had some faint
idea of adding, 'dote upon you.'
But, happening to meet the half-closed
eye, as it twinkled upon him
over the turned-up collar of
the cape, which was within an
ace of poking it out, he felt
it such an unlikely part and
parcel of anything to be doted
on, that he substituted, 'that
she don't believe it?'
'Ah you dog! You're joking,'
But the Carrier, though slow
to understand the full drift
of his meaning, eyed him in such
a serious man- ner, that he was
obliged to be a little more explana-
'I have the humour,' said Tackleton:
holding up the fingers of his
left hand, and tapping the forefinger,
to imply 'there I am, Tackleton
to wit': 'I have the humour,
sir, to marry a young wife, and
a pretty wife': here he rapped
his little finger, to express
the Bride; not sparingly, but
sharply; with a sense of power.
'I'm able to gratify that humour
and I do. It's my whim. But --
now look there!'
He pointed to where Dot was
sitting, thoughtfully, before
the fire; leaning her dimpled
chin upon her hand, and watching
the bright blaze. The Carrier
looked at her, and then at him,
and then at her, and then at
'She honours and obeys, no doubt,
you know,' said Tackleton; 'and
that, as I am not a man of sentiment,
is quite enough for me. But do
you think there's anything more
'I think,' observed the Carrier,
'that I should chuck any man
out of window, who said there
'Exactly so,' returned the other
with an unusual alacrity of assent.
'To be sure! Doubtless you would.
Of course. I'm certain of it.
Good-night. Pleasant dreams!'
The Carrier was puzzled, and
made uncomfortable and uncertaln,
in spite of himself. He couldn't
help showing it, in his manner.
'Good-night, my dear friend!'
said Tackleton, com- passionately.
'I'm off. We're exactly alike,
in reality, I see. You won't
give us to-morrow evening? Well!
Next day you go out visiting,
I know. I'll meet you there,
and bring my wife that is to
be It'll do her good. You re
agreeable? Thank 'ee. What's
It was a loud cry from the Carrier's
wife. a loud sharp, sudden cry,
that made the room ring, like
glass vessel. She had risen from
her seat, and stood like one
transfixed by terror and surprise.
The Stranger had advanced towards
the fire to warm him- selft and
stood within a short stride of
her chair. But quite still.
'Dot!' cried the Carrier. 'Mary!
Darling! What's the matter?'
They were all about her in a
moment. Caleb, who had been dozing
on the cake-box, in the first
imper- fect recovery of his suspended
presence of mind, seized Miss
Slowboy by the hair of her head,
but immediately apologised.
'Mary!' exclaimed the Carrier,
supporting her in his arms. 'Are
you ill! What is it? Tell me,
She only answered by beating
her hands together and falling
into a wild fit of laughter.
Then, sink- ing from his grasp
upon the ground, she covered
her face with her apron, and
wept bitterly. And then she laughed
again, and then she cried again,
and then she said how cold it
was, and suffered him to lead
her to the fire, where she sat
down as before. The old man standing,
as before, quite still
'I'm better, John,' she said.
'I'm quite well now -- I --'
'John!' But John was on the
other side of her, Why turn her
face towards the strange old
gentle- man, as if addressing
him! Was her brain wander- ing?
'Only a fancy, John dear --
a kind of shock -- a something
coming suddenly before my eyes
-- I don't know what it was.
It's quite gone, quite gone.'
'I'm glad it's gone,' muttered
Tackleton, turning the expressive
eye all round the room. 'I wonder
where it's gone, and what it
was. Humph. Caleb, come here!
Who's that with the grey hair?'
'I don't know, sir,' returned
Caleb in a whisper.
'Never see him before, in all
my life. A beautiful figure for
a nut-cracker; quite a new model.
With a screw-jaw opening down
into his waistcoat, he'd be lovely.'
'Not ugly enough,' said Tackleton.
'Or for a firebox, either,'
observed Caleb, in deep contemplation,
'what a model! Unscrew his head
to put the matches in; turn him
heels up'ards for the light;
and what a firebox for a gentleman's
mantel- shelf, just as he stands!'
'Not half ugly enough,' said
Tackleton. 'Nothing in him at
all! Come! Bring that box! All
right now, I hope!'
'Oh quite gone! Quite gone!'
said the little woman, waving
him hurriedly away. 'Good-night!
'Good-night,' said Tackleton.
'Good-night, John Peerybingle!
Take care how you carry that
box, Caleb. Let it fall, and
I'll murder you! Dark as pitch,
and weather worse than ever,
eh? Good- night!'
So, with another sharp look
round the room, he went out at
the door; followed by Caleb with
the wedding- cake on his head.
The Carrier had been so much
astounded by his little wife,
and so busily engaged in soothing
and tending her, that he had
scarcely been conscious of the
Stranger's presence, until now,
when he again stood there, their
'He don't belong to them, you
see,' said John. 'I must give
him a hint to go.'
'I beg your pardon, friend,'
said the old gentleman advancing
to him; 'the more so, as I fear
your wife has not been well;
but the Attendant whom my in-
firmity,' he touched his ears
and shook his head, 'ren- ders
almost indispensable, not having
arrived, I fear there must be
some mistake. The bad night which
made the shelter of your comfortable
cart (may I never have a worse!)
so acceptable, is still as bad
as ever. Would you, in your kindness,
suffer me to rent a bed here?'
'Yes, yes,' cried Dot. 'Yes!
'Oh!' said the Carrier, surprised
by the rapidity of this consent.
'Well! I don't object; but still
I'm not quite sure that --'
'Hush!' she interrupted. 'Dear
'Why, he's stone deaf,' urged
'I know he is, but -- Yes, sir,
certainly. Yes! cer- tainly!
I'll make him up a bed, directly,
As she hurried off to do it,
the flutter of her spirits, and
the agitation of her manner,
were so strange, that the Carrier
stood looking after her, quite
'Did its mothers make it up
a Bed then!' cried Miss Slowboy
to the Baby; 'and did its hair
grow brown and curly, when its
caps was lifted off, and frighten
it, a precious Pets, a-sitting
by the fires!'
With that unaccountable attraction
of the mind to trifles, which
is often incidental to a state
of doubt and confusion, the Carrier,
as he walked slowly to and fro,
found himself mentally repeating
even these absurd words, many
times. So many times that he
got them by heart, and was still
conning them over and over, like
a lesson, when Tilly, after administer-
ing as much friction to the little
bald head with her hand as she
thought wholesome (according
to the practice of nurses), had
once more tied the Baby's cap
'And frighten it a precious
pets, a-sitting by the fires.
What frightened Dot, I wonder!'
mused the Carrier, pacing to
He scouted, from his heart,
the insinuations of the Toy-merchant,
and yet they filled him with
a vague, indefinite uneasiness.
For, Tackleton was quick and
sly; and he had that painful
sense, himself of being a man
of slow perception, that a broken
hint was al- ways worrying to
him. He certainly had no inten-
tion in his mind of linking anything
that Tackleton had said, with
the unusual conduct of his wife,
but the two subjects of reflection
came into his mind to- gether,
and he could not keep them asunder.
The bed was soon made ready;
and the visitor, de- clining
all refreshment but a cup of
tea, retired. Then, Dot quite
well again, she said, quite well
again -- arranged the great chair
in the chimney- corner for her
husband; filled his pipe and
gave it him; and took her usual
little stool beside him on the
She always would sit on that
little stool. I think she must
have had a kind of notion that
it was a coaxing, wheedling,
She was, out and out, the very
best filler of a pipe, I should
say, in the four quarters of
the globe. To see her put that
chubby little finger in the bowl,
and then blow down the pipe to
clear the tube, and, when she
had done so, affect to think
that there was really something
in the tube, and blow a dozen
times, and hold it to her eye
like a telescope, with a most
provok- ing twist in her capital
little face, as she looked down
it, was quite a brilliant thing.
As to the tobacco, she was perfect
mistress of the subject; and
her lighting of the pipe, with
a wisp of paper, when the Carrier
had it in his mouth -- going
so very near his nose, and yet
not scorching it -- was Art,
And the Cricket and the kettle,
turning up again, acknowledged
it! The bright fire, blazing
up again, acknowledged it! The
little Mower on the clock in
his unheeded work acknowledged
it. The Carrier, in his smoothing
forehead and expanding face,
acknowl- edged it, the readiest
And as he soberly and thoughtfully
puffed at his old pipe, and as
the Dutch clock ticked, and as
the red fire gleamed, and as
the Cricket chirped; that Genius
of his Hearth and Home (for such
the Cricket was) came out, in
fairy shape, into the room, and
summoned many forms of Home about
him. Dots of all ages, and all
sizes, filled the chamber. Dots
who were merry children, running
on before him gathering flowers,
in the fields; coy Dots, half
shrink- ing from, half yielding
to, the pleading of his own rough
image; newly-married Dots, alighting
at the door, and taking wondering
possession of the house- hold
keys; motherly Little Dots, attended
by fictitious Slowboys, bearing
babies to be christened; matronly
Dots, still young and blooming,
watching Dots of daughters, as
they danced at rustic balls;
fat Dots, encircled and beset
by troops of rosy grand-children;
withered Dots, who leaned on
sticks, and tottered as they
crept along. Old Carriers too,
appeared, with blind old Boxers
lying at their feet; and newer
carts with younger drivers ('Peerybingle
Brothers' on the tilt'); and
sick old Carriers, tended by
the gentlest hands; and graves
of dead and gone old Carriers,
green in the churchyard. And
as the Cricket showed him all
these things -- he saw them plainly,
though his eyes were fixed upon
the fire -- the Carrier's heart
grew light and happy, and he
thanked his Household Gods with
all his might, and cared no more
for Gruff and Tackleton than
But, what was that young figure
of a man, which the same Fairy
Cricket set so near Her stool,
and which remained there, singly
and alone? Why did it linger
still, so near her, with its
arm upon the chim- ney-piece,
ever repeating 'Married! and
not to me!'
O Dot! O failing Dot! There
is no place for it in all your
husband's visions; why has its
shadow fallen on his hearth!