CHIRP THE THIRD

CALEB PLUMMER, the toy-maker, and his blind daughter lived all alone
by themselves, as the Story Books say, in a little cracked nutshell of
a wooden house, close to the big establishment of Gruff and Tackleton,
the toy merchants.

I have said that Caleb and his poor blind daughter lived here. I should
have said that Caleb lived here, and his poor blind daughter lived
somewhere else–in a sort of enchanted fairyland, where no shabbiness
or poverty or trouble ever entered; for Caleb, in the magic of his
devoted, deathless love for his daughter, played a little game of
“Pretend” which made the blind girl think their home beautiful, her
father rich and handsome, and that nothing was lacking which they
needed.

The blind girl never knew that the ceilings were broken and the walls
blotched, and bare of plaster here and there, the beams warped and
bending because of age. The blind girl never knew that the woodwork was
rotting and the paper peeling off the walls, and the little building
withering away.

The blind girl never knew that the dishes were ugly and cracked, and
the carpets threadbare; that sorrow and faint-heartedness were in the
house; that Caleb’s scanty hairs were turning grayer, and more gray,
before her sightless face.

The blind girl never knew that they had a master, cold, exacting, and
not caring how they got along–never knew that Tackleton was Tackleton,
in fact. For Caleb led her to think his rough words were meant for
jokes; that he was very good to them, and had a peculiarity in that he
could not bear to be thanked for any favor he had done.

You know why he did this. It was because he felt so sorry for poor
blind Bertha that he deceived her into thinking everything lovely and
fair in order that she might be happier. He, too, had had a cricket
singing on the hearth when his motherless girl was very young, and when
he listened to its music, he made up his mind to cheer the little one’s
dark way by every means he could devise.

Caleb and his daughter were at work together in their usual working
room, which served them for their ordinary living room as well; and a
strange place it was.

There were houses in it, furnished and unfurnished, for dolls of all
stations in life. Nice houses for dolls of moderate means; smaller
houses for dolls not so well off; fine town residences for dolls of
high estate. Some of the houses were already furnished with a view to
the conveniences of dolls of limited income; others could be furnished
on notice from the shelves nearby which were full of chairs and tables,
sofas, bedsteads, and other articles of furniture.

Then there were many dolls themselves of all kinds and from all
stations in life.

There were various other samples of his handicraft besides dolls and
dolls’ houses in Caleb Plummer’s room. There were Noah’s Arks in which
the birds and beasts were an uncommonly tight fit, I assure you.
There were scores of little carts, which, when the wheels went round,
performed most doleful music. There were small fiddles and drums, and
no end of cannon, shields and spears.

There were little fellows in red breeches who would tumble down head
first along a piece of tape. There were old gentlemen dolls who would
fly over trapeze bars when pressed in the right place. There were
beasts of all sorts; horses, in particular, of every breed, from the
little spotted gray on four legs, to the thoroughbred rocked on his
highest mettle.

[Illustration: THERE WERE HOUSES IN IT, FURNISHED AND UNFURNISHED,
FOR DOLLS OF ALL STATIONS IN LIFE]

There were dozens and dozens of other little toys, but you already can
imagine how the room looked.

In the midst of all these objects, Caleb and his daughter sat at work;
the blind girl busy as a doll’s dressmaker; Caleb painting a desirable
doll’s family mansion.

“So you were out in the rain last night, Father, in your beautiful new
great-coat,” said Caleb’s daughter.

“In my beautiful new great-coat,” answered Caleb, glancing toward a
clothes-rack in the room on which the burlap garment was carefully hung
to dry.

“How glad I am you bought it, Father! And such a stylish tailor!”

“It’s too good for me,” said Caleb.

The blind girl rested from her work and laughed with delight. “Too
good, Father! What can be too good for you?”

“I’m half ashamed to wear it, though,” said Caleb, watching the effect
of what he said on her brightening face, “upon my word! When I hear the
boys and people say behind me, ‘Hallo! Here’s a swell!’ I don’t know
which way to look. And when the beggar wouldn’t go away last night;
and when I said I am a very common man, said, ‘No, Your Honor! Bless
Your Honor, don’t say that!’ I was quite ashamed. I really felt as if I
hadn’t a right to wear it.”

Happy blind girl! How merry she was with the idea!

“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 color 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!”

“There! There!” said Caleb, “I shall be vain presently.”

“I think you are already!” cried the blind girl, pointing at him in her
glee. “I know you, Father! Ha, ha, ha! I’ve found you out, you see!”

How different the picture in her mind from Caleb as he sat observing
her. She had spoken of his free step. She was right in that. For years
and years he had never once crossed their threshold with his own slow
pace, but with a footfall free and sprightly, for her to hear; and
never, even when his heart was heaviest, had he forgotten the light
tread that was to render her own so cheerful and courageous.

“There we are,” said Caleb, falling back a step or two to better judge
his work. “It’s a pity the whole front of this doll’s house opens at
once! If there was only a staircase in it, now, and regular doors to
go in at! But that’s the worst of my work, I’m always trying to make
believe!”

“You are speaking quite softly. Are you tired, Father?”

“Tired?” echoed Caleb with a great burst of enthusiasm. “What should
tire me, Bertha? I was never tired. What does it mean?”

To give greater force to his words, he checked himself in the middle of
a yawn, and began to hum a song. He sang it with a pretended care-free
manner that made his face look a thousand times more meagre and more
thoughtful than before.

_Tackleton Comes In_

Just then Tackleton put his head in at the door. “What! You’re singing,
are you?” he thundered. “Go it! I can’t sing!”

Nobody would have suspected that he could. He hadn’t 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.”

Caleb turned toward his daughter, and said in a low tone, “If you could
only see him, Bertha, how he’s winking at me. Such a man to joke! You’d
think, if you didn’t know him, he was in earnest–wouldn’t you now?”

The blind girl smiled and nodded.

“The bird that can sing and won’t sing, must be made to sing,” 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 way he’s winking at me 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, strange to say, he thought
her an idiot because she was fond of him.

“Well! being there, how are you?” said Tackleton, in his grudging way.

“Oh, well; quite well. And as happy as even you could 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 held it a moment in her own two
hands, and laid her cheek against it tenderly, before releasing it.
There was so much affectionate gratitude in the act, that Tackleton
himself was moved to say, in a milder growl than usual:

“What’s the matter now?”

“I stood the little plant beside my pillow when I went to sleep last
night, and remembered it in my dreams. When the day came, and the
glorious red sun–the red sun, Father?”

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

“When it rose, and bright light came into the room, I turned the little
tree towards it, and blessed Heaven for making such precious things,
and blessed you for sending it to cheer me.”

“Whew!” said Tackleton under his breath, “we’re getting on! The next
thing will be the padded cell.”

Meanwhile Caleb looked as if he were uncertain whether Tackleton had
done anything deserving of praise or not. Yet he knew that with his own
hands he had brought the little rose tree home for her so carefully,
and that with his own lips he had made her believe that it was a gift
from Tackleton, in order to keep her from suspecting how much he every
day denied himself to save the money it cost–that she might be the
happier.

“Bertha!” said Tackleton, with for once a show of cordiality, “Come
here.”

“Oh, I can come straight to you. You needn’t guide me!”

“Shall I tell you a secret, Bertha?”

“If you will,” she answered eagerly.

How bright the darkened face looked! How anxious the listening head!

“This is the day on which that spoiled child, John Peerybingle’s wife,
pays her regular visit to you–makes what she calls her ‘picnic’ here,
ain’t it?” said Tackleton, with a look of distaste for the affair.

“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 Bertha in delight.

“Yes, yes, I heard it,” murmured Caleb, with the look somewhat of a
sleepwalker, “but I don’t believe it.”

“You see,” said Tackleton, “I–I want to bring the Peerybingles a
little more into the company of May Fielding, for I am going to be
married to May.”

“Married!” cried the blind girl, starting from him.

“Oh! She’s such a confounded idiot,” muttered Tackleton, “that I was
afraid she’d never comprehend. Ah, yes, Bertha! Married! Church,
parson, clerk, bells, satin, veils, 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 gently. “I understand.”

“Do you?” muttered Tackleton. “It’s more than I expected.” Then
aloud: “Well, on that account I want to join the party, and 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, turning away.

“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.”

“She never forgets,” returned Caleb; “it’s one of the few things she
ain’t clever in.”

“‘Every man thinks his geese swans’,” observed the toy merchant, with a
shrug of his shoulders. “Poor idiot!”

Having delivered this remark with much contempt, old Gruff and
Tackleton went out.

_Bertha’s Eyes_

Bertha remained where he had left her, lost in thought. The gayety had
vanished from her face, and it was very sad. Three or four times she
shook her head as if bewailing some loss.

It was not until Caleb had been busy for some time in yoking a team
of wooden horses to the tongue of a little wooden wagon by the simple
means of nails, driven through the vital parts of their bodies, that
she drew near his work-bench, and, sitting down beside him, said:
“Father, I am lonely. I want to borrow your 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?”

“My patient, willing eyes!” the blind girl said. “Will they look around
the room, Father?”

“All right, no sooner said than done, Bertha.”

“Tell me about it.”

“It’s much the same as usual,” said Caleb. “Homely, but snug. The gay
colors on the walls; the bright flowers on the plates and other dishes;
the shining wood, where there are no panels; the general cheerfulness
and neatness of the building; all 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 painted with such pleasant
description.

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

“Not quite so gallant,” answered Caleb. “Pretty lively, though.”

“Father,” said the blind girl, drawing close to his side, and putting
one arm around his neck, “tell me something about May. Is she very
pretty?”

“She is indeed,” said Caleb. And she was indeed. It was quite a rare
thing for Caleb not to draw upon his imagination.

“I can imagine her,” said Bertha. “Her hair is dark, darker than mine.
Her voice is sweet and musical, I know. I have often loved to hear it.
Her form—-”

“There’s not a doll in all the room can compare with her,” said Caleb.
“And her eyes!”

He stopped; for Bertha’s arm around his neck had given a sudden
pressure. He coughed a moment; hammered a moment; then began to sing
the gay song about the sparkling bowl, a thing he always did when in
such difficulties.

“Now, about your friend, our benefactor, Mr. Tackleton–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 much reason!” cried the blind girl so fervently that Caleb
began to doubt if he had been wise in deceiving her.

“Tell me about him, dear father,” said Bertha. “Many times again! His
face is kind and tender, honest and true, I am sure it is! The goodness
in his heart shines out in his countenance.”

“And makes it noble,” added Caleb, who was rather desperate by now.

“And makes it noble!” cried the blind girl. “He is older than May,
Father?”

“Yes, quite a little older; but that don’t signify,” said Caleb.

“Oh, no, Father! Just to think, she can do so much for him when he
grows old and infirm, and can nurse him if he gets ill, and help him in
every way. Will she do all this, Father?”

“No doubt of it,” said Caleb.

“I love her for that, Father. I love her with all my heart,” exclaimed
the blind girl.

_The Carrier’s Cart_

In the meantime there had been a lively scene at John Peerybingle’s,
for little Mrs. Peerybingle naturally couldn’t think of going anywhere
without the baby; and to get the baby ready took time.

Not that there was so much of the baby, but there was so much to do
about it, and it all had to be done by easy stages. For instance, when
the baby was got, by hook or by crook, to a certain point in dressing,
and you might have supposed that another touch or two would finish him
off, and turn him out a tiptop baby, he was unexpectedly extinguished
in a warm nightgown, and hustled off to bed; where he simmered, so to
speak, between sheets and blankets, for the best part of an hour.

From this place of inaction, he was recalled, shining very much, and
roaring violently, to partake of his luncheon. After which, he went to
sleep again.

Then Mrs. Peerybingle took the opportunity to make herself look as fine
as possible, and Miss Slowboy put on her best bib-and-tucker.

By this time, the baby, being all alive again, was dressed by the
united efforts of Mrs. Peerybingle and Miss Slowboy, and put into his
cream-colored coat and flannel cap; and so, in course of time, they all
three got to the door, where John’s old horse stood tearing up the road
with impatient autographs, and from where Boxer might be seen a little
distance down the road, looking back, tempting the horse to come on
without orders.

If you think that Mrs. Peerybingle needed a chair or anything of that
kind to help her climb into the cart, you are mistaken, or you don’t
know John Peerybingle, for before you could have seen him, he lifted
her from the ground; and there she was in place, fresh and rosy,
saying, “Oh, John, how can you!”

“All ready?” asked John, starting off, after Miss Slowboy and the baby
were in place.

“John, you’ve got the basket with the veal-and-ham-pie and other
things?” asked Dot. “If you haven’t, you must turn around again this
very minute.”

“You’re a nice little article,” replied the carrier, “to be talking
about turning round after keeping me a full quarter of an hour behind
my time.”

“I am sorry for it, John,” said Dot, “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. Whoa!” This last word was addressed to the
horse, who didn’t mind at all.

“Oh, do turn round, John,” begged Mrs. Peerybingle. “Please!”

“It’ll be time enough to do that,” said John, “when I begin to leave
things behind me. The basket’s here safe enough.”

“What a hard-hearted monster you must be, John, not to have said so at
once, and saved me such a turn! I declare I wouldn’t go to Bertha’s
without the veal-and-ham-pie and things for any money. Regularly, once
a fortnight, ever since we have been married we have had our little
picnic. If anything were to go wrong with it, I should almost think we
were never to be lucky again.”

“It was a kind thought in the first place,” said the carrier, “and I
honor you for it, little woman.”

“My dear John,” replied Dot, turning very red, “don’t talk about
honoring me. Good gracious!”

“By-the-bye–” observed the carrier, “that old gentleman—-”

Dot looked embarrassed.

“He’s an odd fish,” said the carrier. “I can’t make him out. I don’t
believe there’s any harm in him, though.”

“None at all. I’m–I’m sure there’s none at all.”

“Yes?” said the carrier, with his eyes attracted to her face because
she had spoken so earnestly. “Well, I am glad you feel so certain about
it, because it makes me feel surer. It’s curious he should have taken
it into his head to ask us for lodgings, 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 gentleman,” 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 questions he asked me. I told him about
having two routes, you know, in my business; one day going to the right
from our house and back again, another day going left from our house
and back again (for he’s a stranger, and don’t know the names of the
places about here); and he seemed quite pleased. ‘Why,’ he says, ‘then
I shall be returning your way to-night. I thought I’d be coming in
exactly the opposite direction. That’s capital! I may trouble you for
another lift, perhaps, but I’ll promise not to fall asleep again.’ He
was sound asleep surely! Dot, what are you thinking of?”

“Thinking of, John? I–I was listening to you.”

“Oh! that’s all right!” said the carrier. “I was afraid, from the
look of your face, that I had gone rambling on so long as to set you
thinking of something else. I was very near it, I’ll be bound.”

Dot making no reply, they jogged on for some time in silence. But it
was not very easy to remain silent long in John Peerybingle’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. Sometimes
passengers on foot or on horseback plodded on a little way beside the
cart just for the pleasure of having a chat.

Then, too, everybody knew Boxer, all along the road–especially the
fowls and pigs, who, when they saw him coming, running with his body
all on one side and his ears pricked up inquisitively, would make
tracks and not wait for any nearer acquaintance. Wherever he went,
somebody or other might cry, “Hello! Here’s Boxer!” and with that, out
came at least two or three other somebodies to bid John Peerybingle and
his pretty wife good-day.

The packages and parcels to be delivered were as numerous as usual, and
it required many stops to give them out. This was not the worst part
of the journey by any means. Some people were so full of wonder about
their parcels, and other people so full of directions about the parcels
they were sending off by John, and John took so keen an interest in all
the parcels, that it was as good as a play, and Dot thoroughly enjoyed
it, as she looked on from her seat in the cart.

[Illustration: THEY JOGGED ON FOR SOME TIME IN SILENCE]

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, the
highest point of human joys. Not the baby, I’ll be bound; for it’s not
in baby nature to be warmer or more sound asleep than the 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 looking for hazy fairy rings, and ghostly figures near the
hedges and trees was a pleasant occupation, to make no mention of the
unexpected shapes in which the trees themselves came out of the mists
and glided in again.

In one place there was a great mound of weeds burning, and they watched
the fire flaring through the fog, with here and there a dash of red in
it, until, because of getting “smoke up her nose,” as she explained,
Miss Slowboy choked and woke the baby, who wouldn’t go to sleep again.
But Boxer, who was in advance a quarter of a mile or so, had passed the
outskirts of the town, and gained the corner of the street where Caleb
and his daughter lived; and long before they reached the door, he and
the blind girl were on the pavement waiting to receive them.

_The Party at Caleb’s_

May Fielding was already there; and so was her mother, a little
querulous chip of an old lady with a peevish face. Gruff and Tackleton
was also there, pretending to be agreeable and perfectly at home, and
really quite as much out of his element as a fish out of water.

“May! My dear old friend!” cried Dot, running up to meet her. “What
happiness to see you!”

Her old friend was as glad as she, and it really was, if you’ll
believe me, a pleasant sight to see them embrace each other. Tackleton
had shown taste, beyond all question. May was very pretty. And so
was Dot pretty. They simply set each other’s beauty off and, as
John Peerybingle came near saying, they ought to have been born
sisters–which was the only improvement you could have suggested.

Tackleton had brought his leg of mutton, and, wonderful to relate, a
tart beside–but he could afford such generosity this time; one doesn’t
get married every day. And in addition to these dainties, there were
the veal-and-ham-pie and “things,” as Mrs. Peerybingle called them;
which were chiefly nuts and oranges and cakes.

When the repast was set forth on the table, together with Caleb’s
contribution, a bowl of smoking potatoes, which was all he was allowed
to provide, Tackleton led his future mother-in-law to the post of
honor. Why, she was gotten up for the occasion; even wearing gloves.
Caleb sat next his daughter. Dot and her old school friend were side by
side. The carrier took care of the bottom of the table. Miss Slowboy
was seated a little distance away, far from every other article of
furniture but the chair she sat on, that she might have nothing to
knock the baby’s head against. She was delighted not only to take care
of the baby, but to stare around at the toys.

“Ah, May,” said Dot. “Dear, dear, what changes! To talk of those merry
school days makes one young again.”

“Why, you ain’t particularly old at any time, are you?” said Tackleton.

“Look at my sober, plodding husband there,” returned Dot. “He adds
twenty years to my age at least. Don’t you, John?”

“Forty,” John replied.

“How many _you’ll_ add to May’s I am sure I don’t know,” said Dot,
laughing. “But she can’t be much less than a hundred years of age on
her next birthday.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed Tackleton. Hollow as a drum was the laugh, though.
And he looked as if he could have twisted Dot’s neck comfortably.

“Dear, dear,” said Dot. “Only think how we used to talk sometimes
about the husbands we would choose. I don’t know how lively and gay
mine was not to be! And as to May’s–ah, dear! I don’t know whether to
laugh or cry when I think what silly girls we were.”

May seemed to know which to do, for the color flashed into her face and
tears stood in her eyes.

“We little thought how things would come about,” said Dot. “I never
fixed on John, I’m sure; I never so much as thought of him. And if I
had told you you were ever to be married to Mr. Tackleton–why, you’d
have slapped me, wouldn’t you, May?”

Though May didn’t say yes, she certainly didn’t say no, or express no,
by any means.

Tackleton laughed–quite shouted, he laughed so loud. John Peerybingle
laughed too, in his ordinary, good-natured and contented manner; but
his was a mere whisper of a laugh compared to Tackleton’s.

“You couldn’t help yourselves for all that,” said Tackleton. “You
couldn’t resist us, you see. Here we are! Here we are! Where are your
gay young bridegrooms now?”

“Some of them are dead,” said Dot; “and some of them forgotten. Some of
them, if they could stand among us at this moment, would not believe
that we are the same creatures, because they would not believe we
_could_ forget them so. No! they would not believe one word of it!”

“Why, Dot!” exclaimed the carrier. “Little woman!” And Dot kept quiet,
while Tackleton looked at her through his half-shut eye.

May uttered no word, good or bad, but sat quite still, with her eyes
downcast, and made no sign of interest in what had passed. Her mother,
however, observed that girls were girls, and bygones were bygones, and
that so long as young people were young and thoughtless, they would
probably conduct themselves like young and thoughtless persons. She
then remarked that she thanked heaven that she had always found in May
a dutiful and obedient child, for which she took no credit to herself,
though she had every reason to believe it was owing to herself. With
regard to Mr. Tackleton, she said that he was a son-in-law to be
desired, as no one in their senses could doubt.

Now, the meal ended, John Peerybingle rose to go, for he only stopped
to feed his horse, and to enjoy the social hour before finishing his
route. He would call for Dot on his way back. This was always the
program on picnic days.

“Good-by,” he said, pulling on his dreadnought coat. “I shall be back
at the usual time. Good-by, all.”

Then he called Boxer, and soon the old horse and the cart were making
lively music down the road.

Caleb and Bertha were talking together at one end of the room.

“So bring me the precious baby, Tilly,” said Dot, drawing a chair to
the fire; “and while I have him in my lap, here’s Mrs. Fielding, Tilly,
who will tell me all about the management of babies, and straighten
me out in twenty points where I’m as wrong as can be. Won’t you, Mrs.
Fielding?”

Here Tackleton walked out, and Mrs. Fielding, sitting bolt upright in
front of Dot, gave her such a marvelous collection of receipts and
rules that would, if Dot had carried them out, have utterly destroyed
the young Peerybingle, even if he had been an infant Samson.

Now Dot brought her needlework out of her pocket, and had a whispering
chat with May while the old lady dozed, and after a while Caleb and
Bertha joined them, and all found it a very short afternoon.

Then as it grew dark, since it was the solemn rule that Bertha should
do no household tasks on the days of the picnics, Dot trimmed the fire,
and swept the hearth, and set the tea-tray out, and drew the curtains,
and lighted a candle. Then she played an air or two on a rude kind of
harp which Caleb had made for Bertha, and played them very well; for
Nature had made her delicate little ear as choice a one for music as it
would have been for jewels–if she had had them to wear.

By this time, it was the usual hour for tea, and Tackleton came back
again, to share the meal and spend the evening.

When it was night, and tea was over, and Dot had nothing more to do
after washing the cups and saucers–when the time drew near for the
carrier’s return, Dot began to grow nervous. Every time she heard the
sound of distant wheels, her color came and went, and she was restless.
Not as good wives are when listening for their husbands. No, no, no. It
was a different sort of restlessness from that.

Soon wheels were heard very near–horse’s feet–the barking of a
dog–and then the scratching of Boxer’s paw.

“Whose step is that?” cried Bertha, starting up.

“‘Whose step’?” said the carrier, standing in the door, his brown face
ruddy as a winter berry from the keen night air. “Why, mine.”

“The other step,” Bertha said. “The man’s tread behind you!”

“She’s not to be deceived,” observed the carrier, laughing. “Come
along, sir. You’ll be welcome, never fear!”

_The Shadow on the Hearth_

He spoke in a loud tone; and as he spoke, the deaf old gentleman
entered.

“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 honor.”

“He’s the best company on earth to talk secrets in,” said John. “I have
reasonably good lungs, but he tried them, I’ll tell you.” Turning to
the old gentleman, he spoke in a loud voice again, “Sit down, sir. All
friends here, and glad to see you.”

Then he added in his natural tone, “A chair in the chimney-corner, and
leave to sit silent and look pleasantly about him is all he cares for.
He’s easily pleased.”

Bertha had been listening intently. She called Caleb to her side, and
when he came, asked him, in a low voice, to describe their visitor.
When he had done so, she moved away and showed no further interest in
him.

The carrier was in high spirits, good fellow that he was, and fonder of
his little wife than ever.

“Some folks may think it queer,” he said jokingly, putting his rough
arm about her, as she stood apart from the others, “but I like this
little lady somehow. Look yonder, Dot.”

He pointed to the old man. She looked down. I think she trembled.

“He’s–ha, ha, ha!–he is so fond of you that he talked of nothing else
the whole way here. I like him for it.”

“I wish he 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 this thick shawl, off with the
heavy wrappings! And now for a cozy half-hour by the fire. How would
it please you, Mrs. Fielding, to have a game of cards, you and I? All
right? Where are the cards, Dot–and will you let us have a cup of tea
here if there’s any left, small wife?”

Soon the carrier and the old lady were deep within the game. At first
the carrier looked about him sometimes with a smile, or now and then
called Dot to peep over his shoulder to advise him on some knotty
point. But soon he became so absorbed that he had neither eyes nor ears
to spare, and his whole attention was upon the cards, and he thought of
nothing else, until a hand was laid upon his shoulder.

“I am sorry to disturb you,” said Tackleton in a low voice, “but I want
a word with you, please.”

“It’s my turn to deal,” returned the carrier. “Can you wait?”

“No,” said Tackleton. “Come on, man.”

There was an expression in his pale face which made John rise
immediately, 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 in alarm.

“Hush! I’ll show you if you’ll come with me.”

The carrier accompanied him without another word. They went across
the yard, where the stars were shining, and by a little side door
they entered Tackleton’s own counting-house. There, through a window,
they could look into a window of the wareroom where the boxes of toys
were kept. The counting-house was closed for the night, and there was
no light, but a dim light was burning in the wareroom, so they could
easily see within.

“Wait a moment!” said Tackleton. “Can you bear to look through that
window, do you think?”

“Why not?” asked the carrier.

“It will be a shock,” said Tackleton. “Promise not to do anything
violent.”

And then John looked, and what do you think he saw?

He saw his dear young wife with the old man–old no longer, but
straight and handsome, holding in his hands his soft white hair with
which he had made every one think him old and treat him so kindly. He
saw her listening to him as he bent his head to whisper in her ear,
and then let him place his arm about her waist and lead her slowly to
the door. He saw her, with her own hands, adjust the wig on his head,
laughing as she did so!

John felt weak as an infant as Tackleton led him back to the house.

He was wrapped up to the chin and busy with his horse and parcels when
she came into the room, ready for going home.

“Now, John, dear! Good-night, May! Good-night, Bertha,” she said.

How could she kiss them? How be so blithe and gay in her parting? Why
didn’t she blush? Tackleton as well as John wondered.

Tilly was hushing the baby and as she walked to and fro, she was
repeating drowsily: “Did they thought that it was to be its wives wring
its heart almost to breaking? and did it weep all nights when nobody
was there to see it?”

“Now, Tilly, give me the baby,” said little Mrs. Peerybingle.
“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 into the cart.

“My dear John! Walk?–to-night?”

The muffled figure of her husband made a hasty sign; and the Stranger
and nurse being by this time in their places, the old horse moved off,
Boxer running on before, running back, running round and round the
cart, and barking merrily.

When Tackleton had gone off likewise, taking May and her mother, poor
Caleb sat down by the fire beside his daughter. The toys that had been
wound and set in motion for the baby had run down long ago. In the
silence one might have imagined that they had been stricken motionless
with wonder at Dot being false, or Tackleton beloved under any set of
circumstances.

Presently Bertha spoke.

“After Mr. Tackleton is married, we shall not see so much of him, shall
we, Father?”

“Well, we might–that is to say–” began Caleb.

“How I should love to be like May, Father, and have my eyes so that I
might serve him, might show my love for him, who has been so good, so
kind, so dear.”

Poor Caleb! How often he said to himself as he looked at her, in
remorse, “Have I deceived her from her cradle, thinking to make her
happier, but to break her heart at last?”

THE Dutch clock in the corner struck ten, when the carrier sat down at
his fireside. So troubled was he that he scarcely heard the cuckoo as
it counted off the strokes.

He could scarcely believe what his eyes had seen in the wareroom
of Gruff and Tackleton. If any one had told him, he would not have
believed his Dot could be a party to such dreadful deceit.

Yet, in his own heart, he did not blame her, but rather the old young
man who had been so wickedly unfair, and he was planning to do him
harm to pay him back. He hoped that Dot would be able to explain; but
no–there really wasn’t any hope of that.

There, she was coming.

She had been upstairs with the baby, putting it to bed.

As he sat brooding near the hearth, she came close to him, and put her
little stool at his feet. He then felt her hand upon his own, and knew
she was looking up in his face.

He glanced at her. She looked as sweet as ever, until she caught
the expression on his face. At first she seemed surprised, then her
surprise changed in a wild recognition of his thoughts, and she simply
bent her head and clasped her hands, but no words were said.

At length she rose and went away, and he felt glad, for the first time
since he had known her, to have her gone.

There was a gun hanging on the wall. He took it down, and moved toward
the Stranger’s room. He put his hand to the door–when suddenly the
struggling fire burst into 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 very words in which she had told him
of her love for this same cricket were as if just spoken in her sweet,
pleasant voice, making household music; and they thrilled through and
through his better nature, and awoke it into life and action.

He moved from the door like a man who had been walking in his sleep
when awakening from a frightful dream. He put the gun aside. Clasping
his hands before his face, he sat down again beside the fire.

The cricket on the hearth came out into the room and stood in fairy
shape before him.

“‘I love it’,” said the fairy voice, “‘for the many times I have heard
it, and the many thoughts its harmless music has given me’.”

“She said so!” cried the carrier. “True!” “‘This has been a happy home,
John; and I love the cricket for its sake.’”

“She’s so sweet-tempered, so cheerful, busy, light-hearted. Otherwise I
never could have loved her as I did.”

The voice, correcting him, said, “do.”

“You should trust her,” the fairy voice said.

All night long he listened to the voice. All night long the household
fairies were busy with him, showing him how sweet and dear she was; how
he had never found her untrue, or had reason to doubt her except this
once.

He rose up when it was broad day, and washed and tidied himself.

He could not go on his usual rounds, for it was Tackleton’s wedding
day. He had planned to go merrily to the church with Dot. But such
plans were at an end. Ah! what a different wedding anniversary he had
expected!

_John Blames Himself_

The carrier had thought that Tackleton would pay him an early visit,
and he was right. He had just finished brushing his hair when he saw
the merchant in his carriage coming along the road. As the carriage
drew near he saw that Tackleton was dressed out sprucely for marriage,
and that he had decorated his horse’s head with flowers and favors.

The horse looked much more like a bridegroom than Tackleton, whose
half-closed eye was more disagreeably expressive than ever. But the
carrier took little heed of this. His thoughts were elsewhere.

“John Peerybingle!” said Tackleton. “My good fellow, how do you find
yourself this morning?”

“I have had but a poor night, Mr. Tackleton,” said the carrier, shaking
his head, “for I have been a good deal disturbed in my mind. But it’s
over now! Can you spare me half an hour or so, for some private talk?”

“I came on purpose,” returned Tackleton lightly. “Never mind the horse.
He’ll stand quiet enough if you’ll give him a mouthful of hay.”

“You are not to be married before noon, I think?” said John.

“No,” answered Tackleton. “Plenty of time. Plenty of time.”

When they entered the kitchen, Tilly Slowboy was knocking at the
Stranger’s door. One of her very red eyes was at the keyhole, for she
had been crying because her mistress cried. She was knocking very loud,
and seemed frightened.

“If you please, I can’t make nobody hear,” said Tilly, looking round.
“I hope nobody ain’t gone and been and died, if you please.”

This hope Miss Slowboy made more emphatic by kicking on the door, but
it led to no result.

“Shall I help?” asked Tackleton, turning to John.

The carrier nodded his head.

So Tackleton went to the door and he, too, kicked and knocked; and he,
too, failed to get any reply. But he thought of trying the handle of
the door, and as it opened easily, he peeped in, went in, and soon came
running out again.

“He’s gone!” said Tackleton; “and the window’s open. I don’t see any
marks–to be sure–or signs of a fight, but I thought perhaps you might
have been so angry—-”

He nearly shut up the expressive eye altogether, he looked at John so
hard. And he gave his eye, and his face, and his whole body, a sharp
twist, as if he would have screwed the truth out of John.

“Make yourself easy,” said the carrier. “He went into that room last
night without harm in word or act from me, and no one has entered it
since. He has gone away of his own free will.”

“Oh! Well, I think he has got off pretty easy,” said Tackleton, taking
a chair.

The sneer was lost upon the carrier, who sat down, too, and shaded his
face in his hand for some time before speaking.

“You showed me last night,” he said at length, “my wife, my dear wife
that I love, deceiving me, and meeting a strange man who had deceived
me. I think there’s no man in the world I wouldn’t rather have had show
it to me.”

“I confess I know that I am not a favorite in your home, John, because
I never believed wholly in your pretty little wife,” said Tackleton.

“And as you did show me, and as you saw her to such disadvantage, it is
right you should know what my mind is on the subject. For it’s settled,
and nothing can change it.”

Tackleton muttered a few words about its being necessary to decide, but
he was overawed by the manner of his companion. Plain and unpolished as
it was, there was something noble and dignified about it.

“I am a plain, rough man,” continued the carrier, “with very little to
recommend me. I am not a clever man, as you very well know. I am not
a young man. I loved my little Dot because I had seen her grow up from
a child, in her father’s house; because I knew how precious she was;
because she had been in my life for years and years.”

He paused a moment, then went on.

“I often thought that though I wasn’t good enough for her, I should
make her a kind husband, and perhaps appreciate her better than
another. And so it came about we were married.”

“Hah!” said Tackleton, with a shake of his head.

“I knew how much I loved her, and how happy I should be,” continued the
carrier; “but I had not sufficiently considered her.”

“No,” said Tackleton. “No; you didn’t stop to think how giddy,
frivolous, fickle, vain! Hah!”

“You’d better not interrupt me,” said the carrier, with some sternness,
“till you understand me, which you seem far from doing.”

The toy merchant looked at him in surprise.

“I didn’t consider that I took her, at her age, with her beauty, away
from her young companions and their many scenes of pleasure into my
dull house and my tedious society. I didn’t consider how little suited
I was to her fun and humor, and how wearisome I must be to one of her
quick spirit. No! I took advantage of her hopeful nature, and I married
her. I shouldn’t have done so!”

The toy merchant gazed at him without winking. Even the half-shut eye
was now open.

“Heaven bless her!” said the carrier, “for the cheerful way she has
tried not to let me see how it was! Heaven help me, that, in my slow
mind I have not found it out before. Poor child! Poor Dot! Strange I
did not realize when I have seen her eyes fill with tears on hearing of
such a marriage as our own spoken of. How good and kind she has been!
The thought will comfort me when I am here alone.”

“Here alone?” said Tackleton. “Then you do mean to take some notice of
her deceit?”

“I mean,” answered the carrier, “to do her the greatest kindness in my
power–to try to make it all up to her. She shall be free to go where
she will.”

“Make it up to her!” exclaimed Tackleton, twisting and turning his
great ears with his hands. “I must have heard wrong. You didn’t say
that, of course.”

“Didn’t I speak plainly?” said the carrier, giving the toy merchant a
shake.

“Very plainly indeed,” answered Tackleton.

“As if I meant it?”

“Very much as if you meant it.”

“Anger and distrust have left me,” said the carrier; “and nothing but
my grief remains. In an unhappy moment some old lover, better suited
to her years than I, returned. Last night she saw him in the interview
we witnessed. It was wrong. But otherwise than this, she is innocent
if there is truth on earth! I should not have taken her from her home.
She shall return to it, and I will trouble her no more. Her father and
mother will be here to-day, and they shall take her home. This is the
end of what you showed me. Now, it’s over.”

“Oh, no, John, not over. Do not say it’s over yet. Not quite yet. I
heard your noble words. I could not steal out again, letting you think
me ignorant of what you said. Do not say it’s over–’till the clock has
struck again!”

Dot had entered quietly while John and Tackleton were talking, and had
heard every word.

“No hand can make the clock which will strike again for me the hours
that are gone,” replied the carrier, with a faint smile. “But let it be
so, if you will, my dear.”

“Well!” muttered Tackleton. “I must be off, for when it strikes again,
I must be on my way to church. Good-by, John Peerybingle.”

The carrier saw him to the door, watched his horse until it disappeared
in the distance, and then went out himself.

His little wife, being left alone, sobbed piteously, but often dried
her tears to say how good and dear he was!–and once or twice she
laughed through her tears so heartily and triumphantly that Tilly was
quite horrified.

“Ow, if you please, don’t!” said Tilly. “It’s enough to dead and bury
the baby; so it is, if you please.”

“Will you bring him to see me sometimes,” inquired her mistress, “when
I don’t live here, and have gone to my old home?”

“Ow, if you please, don’t!” cried Tilly, throwing back her head. She
looked a great deal like Boxer when he howled. “Ow, if you please,
don’t! What has everybody gone and been and done with everybody, making
everybody so miserable? Ow-w-w!”

_Caleb Confesses His Deceit_

And she might have kept on, if just at that moment Caleb Plummer had
not come in, leading his daughter.

“Why, Mary” (which was Dot’s other name, you remember). “Why, Mary!”
said Bertha. “Not at the wedding?”

“I told her you would not be there, mum,” whispered Caleb. “I heard as
much last night. But bless you,” said the little man, “I don’t care
what they say. I don’t believe them. There ain’t much of me, but what
little there is would be torn to pieces sooner than I’d believe a word
against you!”

He put his arms around her neck and hugged her very much as a child
might have hugged one of the dolls he had made.

“Bertha wanted to come see you instead of going to the wedding,” said
Caleb, “so we started in good time. I often wish I had not deceived
her in regard to Tackleton, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d
better tell her the truth. You’ll stay with us while I tell her, won’t
you, mum?” he inquired, trembling from head to foot. “I don’t know what
effect it may have upon her. I don’t know what she’ll think of me; I
don’t know that she’ll ever care for her father afterwards. But it’s
best she should be undeceived, and I must bear the consequences as I
deserve.”

“Mary,” said Bertha, “where is your hand? I heard them speaking softly
last night of some blame against you. They were wrong. I told them so.
I scorned to hear a word! I know and trust you, Mary, so well that
could my sight be restored at this instant, I could choose you from a
crowd–my sister!”

Her father went on one side of her, while Dot remained on the other,
holding her hand.

“Bertha, my dear,” said Caleb, “I have something on my mind I want to
tell you while we three are alone. Listen kindly! I have a confession
to make to you.”

“A confession, Father?”

“Yes, my child; I have wandered from the truth,” said Caleb, with a
pitiable expression in his face. “I have wandered from the truth,
intending to be kind to you; and have been cruel.”

She turned toward him, and repeated the word, “Cruel?”

“He accuses himself too strongly, Bertha,” said Dot. “You’ll say so,
presently. You’ll be the first to tell him so.”

“He, cruel to me?” cried Bertha, with an unbelieving smile.

“Not meaning to be, my child,” said Caleb, “but I have been, although
I never knew it until yesterday. My dear blind daughter, forgive me.
The world, dear heart, is not as you imagine it. It is not as I have
represented it. The eyes you have trusted in have been false to you.”

She turned her wondering face toward him still, but drew back, and
clung closer to her friend.

“Your road in life was rough, my poor one,” said Caleb, “and I meant to
smooth it for you. I have pictured things to you as different from what
they are. I have even changed the characters of some people, to make
you happier. I have surrounded you with fancies.”

“But living people are not fancies,” she said, turning very pale. “You
can’t change them.”

“I have done so, Bertha,” Caleb told her. “There is one person you
know—-”

“Oh, Father, why do you say I know?” she said. “I who am so miserably
blind.”

She stretched out her hands as if to feel her way.

“The marriage that takes place to-day,” Caleb continued, “is with a
stern, sordid, grinding man. He has been a hard master to you and me,
my dear, for many years. Ugly in his looks and in his nature. Cold and
callous always. Unlike what I have painted him to you in everything, my
child–in everything.”

“Oh, why,” cried the blind girl, “why did you ever do this? Teach me to
love a person who really never existed? It is like death!”

Her poor father hung his head and offered no reply in his penitence and
sorrow. Suddenly the cricket on the hearth, unheard by all but her,
began to chirp, not merrily, but so mournfully that her tears began to
flow; and when the fairy spirit which had been near the carrier all
night, appeared behind her, pointing toward her father, she turned to
Dot.

“Mary,” she said, “tell me what my home is like–what it is truly.”

“It is a poor place, Bertha; very poor and bare indeed. The house will
scarcely keep out the wind and rain another winter. It is as roughly
shielded from the weather, Bertha,” Dot continued in a low voice, “as
your poor father in his sackcloth coat.”

The blind girl, greatly agitated, rose and led the carrier’s wife a
little aside.

“Those presents that I treasured so much; that came almost at my wish,”
she said, trembling; “where did they come from? Did you send them?”

“No.”

“Who, then?”

Dot saw she knew already, and was silent. The blind girl spread her
hands before her face again, but in quite a different manner now.

“Dear Mary, a moment, please. Speak softly. Tell me truly. Look across
the room to where we were sitting just now–to where my father is–my
father, so kind and loving to me–and tell me what you see.”

“I see,” said Dot, who understood her well, “an old man sitting in a
chair, and leaning over sorrowfully with his head resting in his hands.
He looks as if his child should comfort him, Bertha.”

“Yes, yes. She will. Go on.”

“He is an old man, worn with care and work. He is a sad, thoughtful,
gray-haired man, who seems to have lost the object he most loved in the
world–his child for whom he lived.”

The blind girl broke away from her, and dropping on her knees before
him, threw her arms around his neck.

“Oh, my Father! My dear, dear Father!” she cried. “I have been so
blind! But now my eyes are open. I never knew you. To think, I might
have died and never truly known the father who has been so loving to
me!”

Caleb managed to say, “My Bertha!”

“And in my blindness, I believed him to be so different,” said the
girl, still caressing him, “so young and gay!”

“The fresh, smart father in the blue coat–” said poor Caleb, “he’s
gone!”

“Nothing is gone,” she answered. “Dearest Father, no! Everything is
here–in you. But, Father—-” She hesitated.

“Mary–Mary is just what you told me? There is no change in her? You
never told me anything of her that was not true?”

“I should have done so, I’m afraid,” said Caleb, “if I could have made
her better than she was. But I must have changed her for the worse, if
I had changed _her_ at all. Nothing could improve her, Bertha.”

The blind girl was delighted with this reply, even though she had felt
so sure of what it must be, and her renewed embrace of Dot was charming
to behold.

_The Dead Returns to Life_

Dot glanced at the clock, and saw that it was within a few minutes of
striking, and immediately became very excited.

“More changes than you think for may happen, though,” said Dot;
“changes for the better, I mean; changes for great joy to some of us.
You mustn’t let them startle you too much when they come. But listen!
You’ve a quick ear, Bertha. Do you hear wheels upon the road?”

“Yes–coming very fast.”

“I–I–I know you have a quick ear,” said Dot, holding her hand to her
heart and talking as fast as she could, “because I have often noticed
it, and because you were so quick to hear that strange step last night.
Though why you should have taken such quick notice of it, and said,
‘Whose step is that?’ seems strange. But, as I said just now, there are
great changes in this world; great changes, and we can’t do better than
prepare ourselves to be surprised at hardly anything.”

Caleb wondered what she meant, for he saw that she was speaking to him
as much as to his daughter. He saw with astonishment, that she was
fluttered and distressed, and could scarcely breathe, as she held to a
chair to save herself from falling.

“They are wheels indeed!” she panted. “Coming nearer! Nearer! Very
close! And now you hear them stopping at the garden gate! And now you
hear a step outside the door–the same step, Bertha–is it not?–and
now!—-”

She uttered a cry of delight; and running up to Caleb, put her hands
over his eyes, as a young man rushed into the room, and flinging his
hat into the air, came sweeping down upon them.

“Is it over?” cried Dot.

“Yes!”

“Happily over?”

“Yes!”

“Do you know the voice, dear Caleb? Did you ever hear one like it
before?” cried Dot.

“If my boy who went to South America had not died–if he were alive–”
said Caleb, trembling.

“He is alive!” shrieked Dot, taking her hands from his eyes, and
clapping them in ecstasy. “Look at him! See, here he stands before you,
healthy and strong! Your own dear son. Your own dear living brother,
Bertha!”

She turned to meet the sunburned sailor half way, and let him kiss her
heartily.

Just at this moment, the carrier entered. Upon seeing them thus, he
started back.

“Look, John!” cried Caleb. “Look here! My own son! Him that you fitted
out, and sent away yourself! Him you were always such a friend to!”

The carrier advanced to seize him by the hand, but stepped back as he
noticed his resemblance to the deaf man in the cart.

“Edward! Was it you?”

“Now tell him all!” cried Dot. “Tell him all, Edward, and don’t spare
me.”

“I was the man,” said Edward.

“And you stole, disguised, into the home of your old friend!” the
carrier said. “I would never have believed it of you! There was a true
and frank boy once–how many years is it, Caleb, since we heard that he
was dead, and had it proved, we thought? He would never have done that!”

“There was a generous friend of mine, once, a friend, who was more a
father than a friend; he never would have judged a man before he heard
his case. You were he. So I am certain you will hear me now.”

The carrier, with a troubled glance at Dot, replied, “Well, that’s but
fair. I will.”

“You must know, then, that when I left here, a boy, I was in love, and
my love was returned, but the girl was very young, and couldn’t quite
make up her mind. Still I felt quite certain that she loved me as
dearly as I loved her.”

“You did!” exclaimed the carrier.

“Yes; and now I am sure she did. So all through the hardships and
perils of my years away, I was constantly thinking of when I should
come back to her. When I landed, twenty miles from here, I heard she
had bestowed herself upon another and a richer man. I did not wish to
find fault with her if she had preferred him. What I wanted to find out
was whether she had done this of her own free will. I wanted to judge
for myself just how she felt, so I disguised myself–you know how;
and waited on the road–you know where. You had no suspicion of me;
neither had she,” pointing to Dot, “until I whispered in her ear at the
fireside, and so startled her that she nearly betrayed me.”

“Oh, Dot!” exclaimed the carrier.

“But when she knew that Edward was alive, and had come back,” sobbed
Dot, now speaking for herself, as she had long wished to do, “and when
he told her why he had disguised himself, she advised him to keep his
secret close, by all means; for she knew that his old friend, John
Peerybingle, was too open in his nature to keep such a secret, no
matter how he tried. Then she–that’s me, John–told him all, how his
sweetheart had thought him dead; and how she had, after all the years,
been over-persuaded by her mother, because the silly, dear, old thing
called the marriage advantageous; and when she–that’s me, John–told
him they were not yet married (but soon would be) and that it would
be nothing but a sacrifice if it went on, for there was no love on
her side; and when he went nearly wild with joy to hear it; when
she–that’s me again, John–said she would help him, and carry messages
to his sweetheart, as she had so often done as a girl; and she would
find out what his sweetheart thought was right—-”

“Oh!” said John.

“And it was right, John,” Dot continued, catching her breath, “for they
were married, John, an hour ago! And here’s the bride! And Gruff and
Tackleton may die a bachelor! And I’m a happy little woman. May God
bless you!”

As she drew May forward and lavished all kinds of good wishes and
congratulations upon her, the carrier stood confounded. As he flew
towards her, Dot stretched out her hand to stop him.

“John, dear John, forgive me! It was wrong to have a secret from you.
I’m very sorry. I didn’t think it any harm until the night when I came
and sat down by you on the little stool. But when I looked at your
face, I knew you must have seen me walking in the wareroom with Edward,
and were suspicious of me. But oh, John, how could–how could you think
wrong of me?”

John Peerybingle would have caught her in his arms; but no, she
wouldn’t let him.

“Wait a minute, please, John dear, until you let me hear you tell me
that you believe me, and trust me, and that you know how much I love
you–so much that I’ll never have another secret from you; and that
you’ll never, never think of sending me from my home, and yours, John,
and our cricket on the hearth.”

Then you would have been delighted to see Dot run into the carrier’s
arms. You may be sure the carrier was in a state of perfect rapture;
and you may be sure that everybody, especially Miss Slowboy, wept
for joy, and she, wishing to include the baby, handed him around to
everyone in succession as if he were something to eat or drink.

But now the sound of wheels was heard again outside the door, and
somebody exclaimed that Gruff and Tackleton was coming back in. Soon he
appeared, looking warm and flustered.

“My, what in nation’s this, John Peerybingle!” said Tackleton. “There’s
some mistake. I had an appointment with Miss Fielding to meet me at the
church, and–oh, here she is!” seeing her with Edward, to whom he then
turned, saying:

“I beg your pardon, sir; I haven’t the pleasure of knowing you; but
if you can do me the favor to spare this young lady–she has a rather
particular engagement with me this morning.”

“But I can’t spare her,” said Edward. “I couldn’t think of it.”

“What do you mean, you vagabond?” exclaimed Tackleton.

“I mean–and I pardon you for being vexed–I mean that I am as deaf to
your harsh words as I was last night.”

Such a startled look as Tackleton gave him!

“It is too bad, sir,” said Edward, holding out May’s left hand,
especially the third finger, “that the young lady can’t accompany you
to the church; but as she has been there once this morning, perhaps
you’ll excuse her.”

Tackleton looked hard at the third finger, and took a ring out of his
waistcoat pocket.

“Miss Slowboy,” said Tackleton, “will you have the kindness to throw
that into the fire? Thank you.”

“It was a previous engagement, quite an old engagement, that prevented
my wife from keeping her appointment with you, I assure you,” said
Edward.

“Mr. Tackleton will do me the justice to say that I told him about this
old engagement many times, and that I never could forget it,” said May,
blushing.

“Oh, certainly,” said Tackleton. “Oh, to be sure! Oh, it’s all right,
it’s quite correct. You are now Mrs. Edward Plummer, I infer?”

“That’s the name,” said the bridegroom.

“Ah, I shouldn’t have known you,” said Tackleton. “I give you joy, sir.”

With these words, he hurried away, merely stopping at the gate to take
the flowers and favors off the horse’s head, and to kick the horse
once, just to relieve his feelings.

Of course, the next thing in order was the wedding feast; and Dot set
to work with all her might, even calling in some neighborly help, and
everybody, as if on the point of life or death, ran against each other
in all the doorways, and round all the corners, tumbling over Tilly
Slowboy and the baby everywhere.

Then there was an expedition to find Mrs. Fielding, and to apologize to
her, and to bring her back, happy and forgiving. At first, she would
not listen at all, and wouldn’t say anything but, “Now carry me to my
grave,” which seemed absurd, on account of her not being dead, or even
ill.

After a while she settled down into a dreadful calm, and advantage was
taken of this to get her into her coat and gloves, and carry her off to
John Peerybingle’s.

When they reached the house, there were Dot’s father and mother; and
May’s mother and Dot’s mother began to renew their acquaintance.

After a grand confusion of talk and action, they actually were seated
at the table. To have missed that dinner would have been to have missed
as good and as jolly a meal as man need eat.

After dinner, Caleb sang his song about the sparkling bowl; and, you
may not believe it, but he sang it through.

And, by-the-bye, a most unexpected thing occurred just as he finished
the last verse.

_Tackleton Does the Unexpected_

There was a tap at the door, and a man came staggering in with a big
round box, which he set on the table in the center of the nuts and
apples. He said:

“Mr. Tackleton’s compliments, and as he hasn’t got no use for the cake
himself, perhaps you’ll eat it.”

And with these words, he walked off.

There was some surprise among the company, as you may imagine. Mrs.
Fielding suggested that the cake might be poisoned, and told about a
cake which she had heard of that had turned a seminary of young ladies
blue. But, notwithstanding the story, the cake was cut by May with much
ceremony and rejoicing.

I don’t think any one had tasted it, when there came another tap at the
door, and the same man appeared again, having under his arm a big brown
paper parcel.

“Mr. Tackleton’s compliments, and he’s sent a few toys for the baby.
They ain’t ugly.”

The whole party would not have been able to find words to express their
astonishment even if they had had plenty of time. But they had none,
for the messenger had scarcely shut the door when there came another
tap, and Tackleton himself walked in.

“Mrs. Peerybingle!” said the toy merchant, hat in hand, “I’m sorry. I’m
sour by disposition, but I am going to try to do better. Caleb, I might
have had you and your daughter for dear friends. As it is, my house is
lonely to-night. I have not even a cricket on the hearth. I have scared
them all away. Be kind to me, please; let me join this happy party!”

He was at home in five minutes. You never saw such a fellow. _What_ had
he been doing with himself all his life, never to have known before how
much fun he had in him! Or what had the fairies been doing with him to
change him so!

There was but one more living creature wanted to make the party
complete, and in the twinkling of an eye, there he was, very
thirsty–with hard running, for Boxer had gone all the way with the
cart on its journey, and being disgusted at finding his master absent,
and unable to induce the horse to come with him, had turned tail and
trotted home.

There was a dance in the evening; but since the old people didn’t
dance, and Dot said her dancing days were over because, I believe, she
preferred to sit near the carrier really, Edward and May were the only
dancers, and they got up amid great applause, to dance alone, while
Bertha played her liveliest tune.

Well, if you’ll believe me, they had not been dancing five minutes,
when the carrier suddenly jumps up, takes Dot round the waist, dashes
out into the room, and starts off with her, toe and heel, quite
wonderfully. Tackleton no sooner sees this than he skims across to Mrs.
Fielding, and follows suit. Then Dot’s father and mother, and Caleb and
Tilly Slowboy join in.

* * * * *

Hark! how the cricket joins the music with its chirp! chirp! chirp! and
how the kettle hums!

IN the middle of the story, “The Cricket on the Hearth,” when everybody
was so anxious to hear more, there came the sound of many voices, and
then a loud scream. Mary Frances knew it was the voice of the old
witch, who had been listening.

“Let me be!” she was crying. “I don’t want to go away! I want to find
out who the old man was! I want to find out who the old man was! I want
to see if Tackleton did marry May Fielding! I won’t go! S-so there! Did
I tramp all the miles to get here just to be taken back again?”

Then came the deep, heavy voice of the giant: “Be quiet!” it said. “Be
quiet! No, you won’t have to go back. We’ll take you. This time we’ll
lock you up so tight you’ll stay where you’re put, and you’ll come when
you’re bid. That’s what you’ll do!”

“S-somebody tell me quick!” screamed the old witch. “Quick! Did May
Fielding marry Tackleton? Did she? Did she?” and Mary Frances heard her
screaming, “Did she? Did she?” until her voice died away.

How Mary Frances longed to tell her no, but she did not dare!

“She deserves her punishment,” the Queen whispered, and since she knew
that that was true, Mary Frances did not speak.

After the story was over, she received her copy from the Ready Writer
and slipped it into her story satchel with the rest of the stories.
Then she wandered down by the seashore alone. Near the shore there was
a boy with a feather in his cap sitting on a rock. She knew him in a
minute.

“Where did the giant take the old witch, do you think, Peter Pan?” she
asked.

“To the Devil’s Den,” said Peter. “I saw them go.”

“To the Devil’s Den!” cried Mary Frances. “How dreadful!”

“It’s not such a bad place,” said Peter. “It is just a deep cave. It is
lighted from a large opening in the top. Its name is the worst thing
about it; but the old witch cannot get out of it if they lock her in.”

“Oh, she got away from the giant’s basket, then?”

“She did. She was so crazy to hear a story through that she watched her
first chance to make off when the giant guard was asleep.”

“What about the pirate?” asked Mary Frances.

“He is chained to a rock in the Pirate’s Cove, and he spends his time
jumping in and out of the water. He has jumped so much and so hard that
the suds are rising all around him just as when you blow bubbles in a
bowl, holding the pipe down in the water. Poor thing! Some day the suds
will rise so high that the bubbles will cover him and smother him.”

“Is there no way for him to save himself?” asked Mary Frances.

“Certainly!” said Peter Pan. “All he has to do is to be good; but he
won’t be! He’s just naturally wicked. He’d murder fairies if he could,
and he’d steal all the stories in the world, and he’d feed children on
charcoal and castor oil–he told me so once. It was after I caught him
trying to steal my shadow.”

“He must have a wicked heart!” said Mary Frances.

“Once I asked him why he was so bad,” Peter told her “and what do you
think he said?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” she returned.

“He said it was because his mother never kissed him.”

“His mother never kissed him!” exclaimed Mary Frances. “Why, what a
queer kind of mother! Now my mother—-”

Suddenly she felt very homesick. Tears sprang to her eyes. “Why,
Peter!” she cried wistfully. “Why, Peter! It must be over a year since
my mother kissed me! Shall I turn wicked, too? Oh, I wish I could see
her–my own dear mother!”

As she finished speaking, a beautiful little sail-boat appeared before
them. It was smaller than The Good Ferry.

“Step aboard, then,” said Peter Pan, rising and leading her toward the
boat. “This is a fairy boat. You will be home in an hour. Sit in the
stern. Take the tiller in your hand. Hold it steady, and wish out loud
where you want to go.”

He helped Mary Frances into the boat.

“Oh, but I haven’t thanked the Story People for my wonderful, wonderful
time!” she exclaimed. “I wish I could thank them!”

Even as she spoke, every door and window of the castle opened and the
Story People appeared.

“Thank you all! Thank you forever–and–ever! Thank you for all the
girls and boys in the world!” cried Mary Frances.

“Have you your stories?” called the Story King.

“Yes, I have them here!” said Mary Frances, holding up her story
satchel.

“When you want more, come again, dear child,” called the Story Queen.

“Oh, yes, come again!” called all the Story People. “For we love you!
The Story People love all children. Take our love to all you can, and
good-by! Good-by! Good-by!”

“Good-by, dear, dear friends!” called Mary Frances, as the little boat
sailed away. “Good-by, and thank you!”

She watched until the island was too far away for her to make out the
forms of the people at the castle windows. Then she wished aloud,
“Home! Take me to my mother and father and my brother, little fairy
sail-boat!”

And the wind blew and filled the sails and the sun warmed and cheered
her, and the waves danced about the boat, making little lapping sounds
which were like music–and the next thing she knew she was running up
the garden walk into her mother’s open arms.

“The stories are not yours, dear; they belong to all children,” said
her mother, when Mary Frances emptied her story satchel, and told of
her wonderful adventures among the Story People. “Let us make enough
copies for them all.”

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