With good-will and earnest purpose, the gentleman for Nowhere began, on the very next day, his researches at the heads of the seven roads. The results of his researches, as he and Phoebe afterwards set them down in fair writing, hold their due places in this veracious chronicle. But they occupied a much longer time in the getting together than they ever will in the perusal. And this is probably the case with most reading matter, except when it is of that highly beneficial kind (for Posterity) which is “thrown off in a few moments of leisure” by the superior poetic geniuses who scorn to take prose pains.
It must be admitted, however, that Barbox by no means hurried himself. His heart being in his work of good-nature, he revelled in it. There was the joy, too (it was a true joy to him), of sometimes sitting by, listening to Phoebe as she picked out more and more discourse from her musical instrument, and as her natural taste and ear refined daily upon her first discoveries. Besides being a pleasure, this was an occupation, and in the course of weeks it consumed hours. It resulted that his dreaded birthday was close upon him before he had troubled himself any more about it.
The matter was made more pressing by the unforeseen circumstance that the councils held (at which Mr. Lamps, beaming most brilliantly, on a few rare occasions assisted) respecting the road to be selected were, after all, in nowise assisted by his investigations. For, he had connected this interest with this road, or that interest with the other, but could deduce no reason from it for giving any road the preference. Consequently, when the last council was holden, that part of the business stood, in the end, exactly where it had stood in the beginning.
“But, sir,” remarked Phoebe, “we have only six roads after all. Is the seventh road dumb?”
“The seventh road? Oh!” said Barbox Brothers, rubbing his chin. “That is the road I took, you know, when I went to get your little present. That is ITS story. Phoebe.”
“Would you mind taking that road again, sir?” she asked with hesitation.
“Not in the least; it is a great high-road after all.”
“I should like you to take it,” returned Phoebe with a persuasive smile, “for the love of that little present which must ever be so dear to me. I should like you to take it, because that road can never be again like any other road to me. I should like you to take it, in remembrance of your having done me so much good: of your having made me so much happier! If you leave me by the road you travelled when you went to do me this great kindness,” sounding a faint chord as she spoke, “I shall feel, lying here watching at my window, as if it must conduct you to a prosperous end, and bring you back some day.”
“It shall be done, my dear; it shall be done.”
So at last the gentleman for Nowhere took a ticket for Somewhere, and his destination was the great ingenious town.
He had loitered so long about the Junction that it was the eighteenth of December when he left it. “High time,” he reflected, as he seated himself in the train, “that I started in earnest! Only one clear day remains between me and the day I am running away from. I’ll push onward for the hill-country to-morrow. I’ll go to Wales.”
It was with some pains that he placed before himself the undeniable advantages to be gained in the way of novel occupation for his senses from misty mountains, swollen streams, rain, cold, a wild seashore, and rugged roads. And yet he scarcely made them out as distinctly as he could have wished. Whether the poor girl, in spite of her new resource, her music, would have any feeling of loneliness upon her now — just at first — that she had not had before; whether she saw those very puffs of steam and smoke that he saw, as he sat in the train thinking of her; whether her face would have any pensive shadow on it as they died out of the distant view from her window; whether, in telling him he had done her so much good, she had not unconsciously corrected his old moody bemoaning of his station in life, by setting him thinking that a man might be a great healer, if he would, and yet not be a great doctor; these and other similar meditations got between him and his Welsh picture. There was within him, too, that dull sense of vacuity which follows separation from an object of interest, and cessation of a pleasant pursuit; and this sense, being quite new to him, made him restless. Further, in losing Mugby Junction, he had found himself again; and he was not the more enamoured of himself for having lately passed his time in better company.
But surely here, not far ahead, must be the great ingenious town. This crashing and clashing that the train was undergoing, and this coupling on to it of a multitude of new echoes, could mean nothing less than approach to the great station. It did mean nothing less. After some stormy flashes of town lightning, in the way of swift revelations of red brick blocks of houses, high red brick chimney- shafts, vistas of red brick railway arches, tongues of fire, blocks of smoke, valleys of canal, and hills if coal, there came the thundering in at the journey’s end.
Having seen his portmanteaus safely housed in the hotel he chose, and having appointed his dinner hour, Barbox Brothers went out for a walk in the busy streets. And now it began to be suspected by him that Mugby Junction was a Junction of many branches, invisible as well as visible, and had joined him to an endless number of by-ways. For, whereas he would, but a little while ago, have walked these streets blindly brooding, he now had eyes and thoughts for a new external world. How the many toiling people lived, and loved, and died; how wonderful it was to consider the various trainings of eye and hand, the nice distinctions of sight and touch, that separated them into classes of workers, and even into classes of workers at subdivisions of one complete whole which combined their many intelligences and forces, though of itself but some cheap object of use or ornament in common life; how good it was to know that such assembling in a multitude on their part, and such contribution of their several dexterities towards a civilising end, did not deteriorate them as it was the fashion of the supercilious Mayflies of humanity to pretend, but engendered among them a self-respect, and yet a modest desire to be much wiser than they were (the first evinced in their well-balanced bearing and manner of speech when he stopped to ask a question; the second, in the announcements of their popular studies and amusements on the public walls); these considerations, and a host of such, made his walk a memorable one. “I too am but a little part of a great whole,” he began to think; “and to be serviceable to myself and others, or to be happy, I must cast my interest into, and draw it out of, the common stock.”
Although he had arrived at his journey’s end for the day by noon, he had since insensibly walked about the town so far and so long that the lamp-lighters were now at their work in the streets, and the shops were sparkling up brilliantly. Thus reminded to turn towards his quarters, he was in the act of doing so, when a very little hand crept into his, and a very little voice said:
“Oh! if you please, I am lost!”
He looked down, and saw a very little fair-haired girl.
“Yes,” she said, confirming her words with a serious nod. “I am indeed. I am lost!”
Greatly perplexed, he stopped, looked about him for help, descried none, and said, bending low.
“Where do you live, my child?”
“I don’t know where I live,” she returned. “I am lost.”
“What is your name?”
“What is your other name?”
The reply was prompt, but unintelligible.
Imitating the sound as he caught it, he hazarded the guess, “Trivits.”
“Oh no!” said the child, shaking her head. “Nothing like that.”
“Say it again, little one.”
An unpromising business. For this time it had quite a different sound.
He made the venture, “ Paddens?”
“Oh no!” said the child. “Nothing like that.”
“Once more. Let us try it again, dear.”
A most hopeless business. This time it swelled into four syllables. “It can’t be Tappitarver?” said Barbox Brothers, rubbing his head with his hat in discomfiture.
“No! It ain’t,” the child quietly assented.
On her trying this unfortunate name once more, with extraordinary efforts at distinctness, it swelled into eight syllables at least.
“Ah! I think,” said Barbox Brothers with a desperate air of resignation, “that we had better give it up.”
“But I am lost,” said the child, nestling her little hand more closely in his, “and you’ll take care of me, won’t you?”
If ever a man were disconcerted by division between compassion on the one hand, and the very imbecility of irresolution on the other, here the man was. “Lost!” he repeated, looking down at the child. “I am sure I am. What is to be done?”
“Where do you live?” asked the child, looking up at him wistfully.
“Over there,” he answered, pointing vaguely in the direction of his hotel.
“Hadn’t we better go there?” said the child.
“Really,” he replied, “I don’t know but what we had.”
So they set off, hand-in-hand. He, through comparison of himself against his little companion, with a clumsy feeling on him as if he had just developed into a foolish giant. She, clearly elevated in her own tiny opinion by having got him so neatly out of his embarrassment.
“We are going to have dinner when we get there, I suppose?” said Polly.
“Well,” he rejoined, “I— Yes, I suppose we are.”
“Do you like your dinner?” asked the child.
“Why, on the whole,” said Barbox Brothers, “yes, I think I do.”
“I do mine,” said Polly. “Have you any brothers and sisters?”
“No. Have you?”
“Mine are dead.”
“Oh!” said Barbox Brothers. With that absurd sense of unwieldiness of mind and body weighing him down, he would have not known how to pursue the conversation beyond this curt rejoinder, but that the child was always ready for him.
“What,” she asked, turning her soft hand coaxingly in his, “are you going to do to amuse me after dinner?”
“Upon my soul, Polly,” exclaimed Barbox Brothers, very much at a loss, “I have not the slightest idea!”
“Then I tell you what,” said Polly. “Have you got any cards at your house?”
“Plenty,” said Barbox Brothers in a boastful vein.
“Very well. Then I’ll build houses, and you shall look at me. You mustn’t blow, you know.”
“Oh no,” said Barbox Brothers. “No, no, no. No blowing. Blowing’s not fair.”
He flattered himself that he had said this pretty well for an idiotic monster; but the child, instantly perceiving the awkwardness of his attempt to adapt himself to her level, utterly destroyed his hopeful opinion of himself by saying compassionately: “What a funny man you are!”
Feeling, after this melancholy failure, as if he every minute grew bigger and heavier in person, and weaker in mind, Barbox gave himself up for a bad job. No giant ever submitted more meekly to be led in triumph by all-conquering Jack than he to be bound in slavery to Polly.
“Do you know any stories?” she asked him.
He was reduced to the humiliating confession: “No.”
“What a dunce you must be, mustn’t you?” said Polly.
He was reduced to the humiliating confession: “Yes.”
“Would you like me to teach you a story? But you must remember it, you know, and be able to tell it right to somebody else afterwards.”
He professed that it would afford him the highest mental gratification to be taught a story, and that he would humbly endeavour to retain it in his mind. Whereupon Polly, giving her hand a new little turn in his, expressive of settling down for enjoyment, commenced a long romance, of which every relishing clause began with the words: “So this,” or, “And so this.” As, “So this boy;” or, “So this fairy;” or, “And so this pie was four yards round, and two yards and a quarter deep.” The interest of the romance was derived from the intervention of this fairy to punish this boy for having a greedy appetite. To achieve which purpose, this fairy made this pie, and this boy ate and ate and ate, and his cheeks swelled and swelled and swelled. There were many tributary circumstances, but the forcible interest culminated in the total consumption of this pie, and the bursting of this boy. Truly he was a fine sight, Barbox Brothers, with serious attentive face, and ear bent down, much jostled on the pavements of the busy town, but afraid of losing a single incident of the epic, lest he should be examined in it by-and-by, and found deficient.
Thus they arrived at the hotel. And there he had to say at the bar, and said awkwardly enough; “I have found a little girl!”
The whole establishment turned out to look at the little girl. Nobody knew her; nobody could make out her name, as she set it forth — except one chamber-maid, who said it was Constantinople — which it wasn’t.
“I will dine with my young friend in a private room,” said Barbox Brothers to the hotel authorities, “and perhaps you will be so good as to let the police know that the pretty baby is here. I suppose she is sure to be inquired for soon, if she has not been already. Come along, Polly.”
Perfectly at ease and peace, Polly came along, but, finding the stairs rather stiff work, was carried up by Barbox Brothers. The dinner was a most transcendant success, and the Barbox sheepishness, under Polly’s directions how to mince her meat for her, and how to diffuse gravy over the plate with a liberal and equal hand, was another fine sight.
“And now,” said Polly, “while we are at dinner, you be good, and tell me that story I taught you.”
With the tremors of a Civil Service examination upon him, and very uncertain indeed, not only as to the epoch at which the pie appeared in history, but also as to the measurements of that indispensable fact, Barbox Brothers made a shaky beginning, but under encouragement did very fairly. There was a want of breadth observable in his rendering of the cheeks, as well as the appetite, of the boy; and there was a certain tameness in his fairy, referable to an under-current of desire to account for her. Still, as the first lumbering performance of a good-humoured monster, it passed muster.
“I told you to be good,” said Polly, “and you are good, ain’t you?”
“I hope so,” replied Barbox Brothers.
Such was his deference that Polly, elevated on a platform of sofa cushions in a chair at his right hand, encouraged him with a pat or two on the face from the greasy bowl of her spoon, and even with a gracious kiss. In getting on her feet upon her chair, however, to give him this last reward, she toppled forward among the dishes, and caused him to exclaim, as he effected her rescue: “Gracious Angels! Whew! I thought we were in the fire, Polly!”
“What a coward you are, ain’t you?” said Polly when replaced.
“Yes, I am rather nervous,” he replied. “Whew! Don’t, Polly! Don’t flourish your spoon, or you’ll go over sideways. Don’t tilt up your legs when you laugh, Polly, or you’ll go over backwards. Whew! Polly, Polly, Polly,” said Barbox Brothers, nearly succumbing to despair, “we are environed with dangers!”
Indeed, he could descry no security from the pitfalls that were yawning for Polly, but in proposing to her, after dinner, to sit upon a low stool. “I will, if you will,” said Polly. So, as peace of mind should go before all, he begged the waiter to wheel aside the table, bring a pack of cards, a couple of footstools, and a screen, and close in Polly and himself before the fire, as it were in a snug room within the room. Then, finest sight of all, was Barbox Brothers on his footstool, with a pint decanter on the rug, contemplating Polly as she built successfully, and growing blue in the face with holding his breath, lest he should blow the house down.
“How you stare, don’t you?” said Polly in a houseless pause.
Detected in the ignoble fact, he felt obliged to admit, apologetically:
“I am afraid I was looking rather hard at you, Polly.”
“Why do you stare?” asked Polly.
“I cannot,” he murmured to himself, “recall why. — I don’t know, Polly.”
“You must be a simpleton to do things and not know why, mustn’t you?” said Polly.
In spite of which reproof, he looked at the child again intently, as she bent her head over her card structure, her rich curls shading her face. “It is impossible,” he thought, “that I can ever have seen this pretty baby before. Can I have dreamed of her? In some sorrowful dream?”
He could make nothing of it. So he went into the building trade as a journeyman under Polly, and they built three stories high, four stories high; even five.
“I say! Who do you think is coming?” asked Polly, rubbing her eyes after tea.
He guessed: “The waiter?”
“No,” said Polly, “the dustman. I am getting sleepy.”
A new embarrassment for Barbox Brothers!
“I don’t think I am going to be fetched to-night,” said Polly. “What do you think?”
He thought not, either. After another quarter of an hour, the dustman not merely impending, but actually arriving, recourse was had to the Constantinopolitan chamber-maid: who cheerily undertook that the child should sleep in a comfortable and wholesome room, which she herself would share.
“And I know you will be careful, won’t you,” said Barbox Brothers, as a new fear dawned upon him, “that she don’t fall out of bed?”
Polly found this so highly entertaining that she was under the necessity of clutching him round the neck with both arms as he sat on his footstool picking up the cards, and rocking him to and fro, with her dimpled chin on his shoulder.
“Oh, what a coward you are, ain’t you?” said Polly. “Do you fall out of bed?”
“N— not generally, Polly.”
“No more do I.”
With that, Polly gave him a reassuring hug or two to keep him going, and then giving that confiding mite of a hand of hers to be swallowed up in the hand of the Constantinopolitan chamber-maid, trotted off, chattering, without a vestige of anxiety.
He looked after her, had the screen removed and the table and chairs replaced, and still looked after her. He paced the room for half an hour. “A most engaging little creature, but it’s not that. A most winning little voice, but it’s not that. That has much to do with it, but there is something more. How can it be that I seem to know this child? What was it she imperfectly recalled to me when I felt her touch in the street, and, looking down at her, saw her looking up at me?”
With a start he turned towards the sound of the subdued voice, and saw his answer standing at the door.
“Oh, Mr. Jackson, do not be severe with me! Speak a word of encouragement to me, I beseech you.”
“You are Polly’s mother.”
Yes. Polly herself might come to this, one day. As you see what the rose was in its faded leaves; as you see what the summer growth of the woods was in their wintry branches; so Polly might be traced, one day, in a careworn woman like this, with her hair turned grey. Before him were the ashes of a dead fire that had once burned bright. This was the woman he had loved. This was the woman he had lost. Such had been the constancy of his imagination to her, so had Time spared her under its withholding, that now, seeing how roughly the inexorable hand had struck her, his soul was filled with pity and amazement.
He led her to a chair, and stood leaning on a corner of the chimney- piece, with his head resting on his hand, and his face half averted.
“Did you see me in the street, and show me to your child?” he asked.
“Is the little creature, then, a party to deceit?”
“I hope there is no deceit. I said to her, ‘We have lost our way, and I must try to find mine by myself. Go to that gentleman, and tell him you are lost. You shall be fetched by-and-by.’ Perhaps you have not thought how very young she is?”
“She is very self-reliant.”
“Perhaps because she is so young.”
He asked, after a short pause, “Why did you do this?”
“Oh, Mr. Jackson, do you ask me? In the hope that you might see something in my innocent child to soften your heart towards me. Not only towards me, but towards my husband.”
He suddenly turned about, and walked to the opposite end of the room. He came back again with a slower step, and resumed his former attitude, saying:
“I thought you had emigrated to America?”
“We did. But life went ill with us there, and we came back.”
“Do you live in this town?”
“Yes. I am a daily teacher of music here. My husband is a book- keeper.”
“Are you — forgive my asking — poor?”
“We earn enough for our wants. That is not our distress. My husband is very, very ill of a lingering disorder. He will never recover —”
“You check yourself. If it is for want of the encouraging word you spoke of, take it from me. I cannot forget the old time, Beatrice.”
“God bless you!” she replied with a burst of tears, and gave him her trembling hand.
“Compose yourself. I cannot be composed if you are not, for to see you weep distresses me beyond expression. Speak freely to me. Trust me.”
She shaded her face with her veil, and after a little while spoke calmly. Her voice had the ring of Polly’s.
“It is not that my husband’s mind is at all impaired by his bodily suffering, for I assure you that is not the case. But in his weakness, and in his knowledge that he is incurably ill, he cannot overcome the ascendancy of one idea. It preys upon him, embitters every moment of his painful life, and will shorten it.”
She stopping, he said again: “Speak freely to me. Trust me.”
“We have had five children before this darling, and they all lie in their little graves. He believes that they have withered away under a curse, and that it will blight this child like the rest.”
“Under what curse?”
“Both I and he have it on our conscience that we tried you very heavily, and I do not know but that, if I were as ill as he, I might suffer in my mind as he does. This is the constant burden:—‘I believe, Beatrice, I was the only friend that Mr. Jackson ever cared to make, though I was so much his junior. The more influence he acquired in the business, the higher he advanced me, and I was alone in his private confidence. I came between him and you, and I took you from him. We were both secret, and the blow fell when he was wholly unprepared. The anguish it caused a man so compressed must have been terrible; the wrath it awakened inappeasable. So, a curse came to be invoked on our poor, pretty little flowers, and they fall.’”
“And you, Beatrice,” he asked, when she had ceased to speak, and there had been a silence afterwards, “how say you?”
“Until within these few weeks I was afraid of you, and I believed that you would never, never forgive.”
“Until within these few weeks,” he repeated. “Have you changed your opinion of me within these few weeks?”
“For what reason?”
“I was getting some pieces of music in a shop in this town, when, to my terror, you came in. As I veiled my face and stood in the dark end of the shop, I heard you explain that you wanted a musical instrument for a bedridden girl. Your voice and manner were so softened, you showed such interest in its selection, you took it away yourself with so much tenderness of care and pleasure, that I knew you were a man with a most gentle heart. Oh, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Jackson, if you could have felt the refreshing rain of tears that followed for me!”
Was Phoebe playing at that moment on her distant couch? He seemed to hear her.
“I inquired in the shop where you lived, but could get no information. As I had heard you say that you were going back by the next train (but you did not say where), I resolved to visit the station at about that time of day, as often as I could, between my lessons, on the chance of seeing you again. I have been there very often, but saw you no more until to-day. You were meditating as you walked the street, but the calm expression of your face emboldened me to send my child to you. And when I saw you bend your head to speak tenderly to her, I prayed to GOD to forgive me for having ever brought a sorrow on it. I now pray to you to forgive me, and to forgive my husband. I was very young, he was young too, and, in the ignorant hardihood of such a time of life, we don’t know what we do to those who have undergone more discipline. You generous man! You good man! So to raise me up and make nothing of my crime against you!”— for he would not see her on her knees, and soothed her as a kind father might have soothed an erring daughter —“thank you, bless you, thank you!”
When he next spoke, it was after having drawn aside the window curtain and looked out awhile. Then he only said:
“Is Polly asleep?”
“Yes. As I came in, I met her going away upstairs, and put her to bed myself.”
“Leave her with me for to-morrow, Beatrice, and write me your address on this leaf of my pocket-book. In the evening I will bring her home to you — and to her father.”
* * *
“Hallo!” cried Polly, putting her saucy sunny face in at the door next morning when breakfast was ready: “I thought I was fetched last night?”
“So you were, Polly, but I asked leave to keep you here for the day, and to take you home in the evening.”
“Upon my word!” said Polly. “You are very cool, ain’t you?”
However, Polly seemed to think it a good idea, and added: “I suppose I must give you a kiss, though you ARE cool.”
The kiss given and taken, they sat down to breakfast in a highly conversational tone.
“Of course, you are going to amuse me?” said Polly.
“Oh, of course!” said Barbox Brothers.
In the pleasurable height of her anticipations, Polly found it indispensable to put down her piece of toast, cross one of her little fat knees over the other, and bring her little fat right hand down into her left hand with a business-like slap. After this gathering of herself together, Polly, by that time a mere heap of dimples, asked in a wheedling manner:
“What are we going to do, you dear old thing?”
“Why, I was thinking,” said Barbox Brothers, “— but are you fond of horses, Polly?”
“Ponies, I am,” said Polly, “especially when their tails are long. But horses — n-no — too big, you know.”
“Well,” pursued Barbox Brothers, in a spirit of grave mysterious confidence adapted to the importance of the consultation, “I did see yesterday, Polly, on the walls, pictures of two long-tailed ponies, speckled all over —”
“No, no, NO!” cried Polly, in an ecstatic desire to linger on the charming details. “Not speckled all over!”
“Speckled all over. Which ponies jump through hoops —”
“No, no, NO!” cried Polly as before. “They never jump through hoops!”
“Yes, they do. Oh, I assure you they do! And eat pie in pinafores —”
“Ponies eating pie in pinafores!” said Polly. “What a story-teller you are, ain’t you?”
“Upon my honour. — And fire off guns.”
(Polly hardly seemed to see the force of the ponies resorting to fire-arms.)
“And I was thinking,” pursued the exemplary Barbox, “that if you and I were to go to the Circus where these ponies are, it would do our constitutions good.”
“Does that mean amuse us?” inquired Polly. “What long words you do use, don’t you?”
Apologetic for having wandered out of his depth, he replied:
“That means amuse us. That is exactly what it means. There are many other wonders besides the ponies, and we shall see them all. Ladies and gentlemen in spangled dresses, and elephants and lions and tigers.”
Polly became observant of the teapot, with a curled-up nose indicating some uneasiness of mind.
“They never get out, of course,” she remarked as a mere truism.
“The elephants and lions and tigers? Oh, dear no!”
“Oh, dear no!” said Polly. “And of course nobody’s afraid of the ponies shooting anybody.”
“Not the least in the world.”
“No, no, not the least in the world,” said Polly.
“I was also thinking,” proceeded Barbox, “that if we were to look in at the toy-shop, to choose a doll —”
“Not dressed!” cried Polly with a clap of her hands. “No, no, NO, not dressed!”
“Full-dressed. Together with a house, and all things necessary for housekeeping —”
Polly gave a little scream, and seemed in danger of falling into a swoon of bliss.
“What a darling you are!” she languidly exclaimed, leaning back in her chair. “Come and be hugged, or I must come and hug you.”
This resplendent programme was carried into execution with the utmost rigour of the law. It being essential to make the purchase of the doll its first feature — or that lady would have lost the ponies — the toy-shop expedition took precedence. Polly in the magic warehouse, with a doll as large as herself under each arm, and a neat assortment of some twenty more on view upon the counter, did indeed present a spectacle of indecision not quite compatible with unalloyed happiness, but the light cloud passed. The lovely specimen oftenest chosen, oftenest rejected, and finally abided by, was of Circassian descent, possessing as much boldness of beauty as was reconcilable with extreme feebleness of mouth, and combining a sky-blue silk pelisse with rose-coloured satin trousers, and a black velvet hat: which this fair stranger to our northern shores would seem to have founded on the portraits of the late Duchess of Kent. The name this distinguished foreigner brought with her from beneath the glowing skies of a sunny clime was (on Polly’s authority) Miss Melluka, and the costly nature of her outfit as a housekeeper, from the Barbox coffers, may be inferred from the two facts that her silver tea-spoons were as large as her kitchen poker, and that the proportions of her watch exceeded those of her frying-pan. Miss Melluka was graciously pleased to express her entire approbation of the Circus, and so was Polly; for the ponies were speckled, and brought down nobody when they fired, and the savagery of the wild beasts appeared to be mere smoke — which article, in fact, they did produce in large quantities from their insides. The Barbox absorption in the general subject throughout the realisation of these delights was again a sight to see, nor was it less worthy to behold at dinner, when he drank to Miss Melluka, tied stiff in a chair opposite to Polly (the fair Circassian possessing an unbendable spine), and even induced the waiter to assist in carrying out with due decorum the prevailing glorious idea. To wind up, there came the agreeable fever of getting Miss Melluka and all her wardrobe and rich possessions into a fly with Polly, to be taken home. But, by that time, Polly had become unable to look upon such accumulated joys with waking eyes, and had withdrawn her consciousness into the wonderful Paradise of a child’s sleep. “Sleep, Polly, sleep,” said Barbox Brothers, as her head dropped on his shoulder; “you shall not fall out of this bed easily, at any rate!”
What rustling piece of paper he took from his pocket, and carefully folded into the bosom of Polly’s frock, shall not be mentioned. He said nothing about it, and nothing shall be said about it. They drove to a modest suburb of the great ingenious town, and stopped at the fore-court of a small house. “Do not wake the child,” said Barbox Brothers softly to the driver; “I will carry her in as she is.”
Greeting the light at the opened door which was held by Polly’s mother, Polly’s bearer passed on with mother and child in to a ground-floor room. There, stretched on a sofa, lay a sick man, sorely wasted, who covered his eyes with his emaciated hand.
“Tresham,” said Barbox in a kindly voice, “I have brought you back your Polly, fast asleep. Give me your hand, and tell me you are better.”
The sick man reached forth his right hand, and bowed his head over the hand into which it was taken, and kissed it. “Thank you, thank you! I may say that I am well and happy.”
“That’s brave,” said Barbox. “Tresham, I have a fancy — Can you make room for me beside you here?”
He sat down on the sofa as he said the words, cherishing the plump peachey cheek that lay uppermost on his shoulder.
“I have a fancy, Tresham (I am getting quite an old fellow now, you know, and old fellows may take fancies into their heads sometimes), to give up Polly, having found her, to no one but you. Will you take her from me?”
As the father held out his arms for the child, each of the two men looked steadily at the other.
“She is very dear to you, Tresham?”
“God bless her! It is not much, Polly,” he continued, turning his eyes upon her peaceful face as he apostrophized her, “it is not much, Polly, for a blind and sinful man to invoke a blessing on something so far better than himself as a little child is; but it would be much — much upon his cruel head, and much upon his guilty soul — if he could be so wicked as to invoke a curse. He had better have a millstone round his neck, and be cast into the deepest sea. Live and thrive, my pretty baby!” Here he kissed her. “Live and prosper, and become in time the mother of other little children, like the Angels who behold The Father’s face!”
He kissed her again, gave her up gently to both her parents, and went out.
But he went not to Wales. No, he never went to Wales. He went straightway for another stroll about the town, and he looked in upon the people at their work, and at their play, here, there, every- there, and where not. For he was Barbox Brothers and Co. now, and had taken thousands of partners into the solitary firm.
He had at length got back to his hotel room, and was standing before his fire refreshing himself with a glass of hot drink which he had stood upon the chimney-piece, when he heard the town clocks striking, and, referring to his watch, found the evening to have so slipped away, that they were striking twelve. As he put up his watch again, his eyes met those of his reflection in the chimney- glass.
“Why, it’s your birthday already,” he said, smiling. “You are looking very well. I wish you many happy returns of the day.”
He had never before bestowed that wish upon himself. “By Jupiter!” he discovered, “it alters the whole case of running away from one’s birthday! It’s a thing to explain to Phoebe. Besides, here is quite a long story to tell her, that has sprung out of the road with no story. I’ll go back, instead of going on. I’ll go back by my friend Lamps’s Up X presently.”
He went back to Mugby Junction, and, in point of fact, he established himself at Mugby Junction. It was the convenient place to live in, for brightening Phoebe’s life. It was the convenient place to live in, for having her taught music by Beatrice. It was the convenient place to live in, for occasionally borrowing Polly. It was the convenient place to live in, for being joined at will to all sorts of agreeable places and persons. So, he became settled there, and, his house standing in an elevated situation, it is noteworthy of him in conclusion, as Polly herself might (not irreverently) have put it:
“There was an Old Barbox who lived on a hill, And if he ain’t gone, he lives there still.”
Here follows the substance of what was seen, heard, or otherwise picked up, by the gentleman for Nowhere, in his careful study of the Junction.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53