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The Cricket on the Hearth. Charles Dickens

′Exactly so,′ returned the other with an unusual alacrity of assent. ′To be sure! Doubtless you would. Of course. I′m certain of it. Good night. Pleasant dreams!′

The Carrier was puzzled, and made uncomfortable and uncertain, in spite of himself. He couldn′t help showing it, in his manner.

′Good night, my dear friend!′ said Tackleton, compassionately. ′I′m off. We′re exactly alike, in reality, I see. You won′t give us to-morrow evening? Well! Next day you go out visiting, I know. I′ll meet you there, and bring my wife that is to be. It′ll do her good. You′re agreeable? Thank′ee. What′s that!′

It was a loud cry from the Carrier′s wife: a loud, sharp, sudden cry, that made the room ring, like a glass vessel. She had risen from her seat, and stood like one transfixed by terror and surprise. The Stranger had advanced towards the fire to warm himself, and stood within a short stride of her chair. But quite still.

′Dot!′ cried the Carrier. ′Mary! Darling! What′s the matter?′

They were all about her in a moment. Caleb, who had been dozing on the cake-box, in the first imperfect recovery of his suspended presence of mind, seized Miss Slowboy by the hair of her head, but immediately apologised.

′Mary!′ exclaimed the Carrier, supporting her in his arms. ′Are you ill! What is it? Tell me, dear!′

She only answered by beating her hands together, and falling into a wild fit of laughter. Then, sinking from his grasp upon the ground, she covered her face with her apron, and wept bitterly. And then she laughed again, and then she cried again, and then she said how cold it was, and suffered him to lead her to the fire, where she sat down as before. The old man standing, as before, quite still.

′I′m better, John,′ she said. ′I′m quite well now—I -′

′John!′ But John was on the other side of her. Why turn her face towards the strange old gentleman, as if addressing him! Was her brain wandering?

′Only a fancy, John dear—a kind of shock—a something coming suddenly before my eyes—I don′t know what it was. It′s quite gone, quite gone.′

′I′m glad it′s gone,′ muttered Tackleton, turning the expressive eye all round the room. ′I wonder where it′s gone, and what it was. Humph! Caleb, come here! Who′s that with the grey hair?′

′I don′t know, sir,′ returned Caleb in a whisper. ′Never see him before, in all my life. A beautiful figure for a nut-cracker; quite a new model. With a screw-jaw opening down into his waistcoat, he′d be lovely.′

′Not ugly enough,′ said Tackleton.

′Or for a firebox, either,′ observed Caleb, in deep contemplation, ′what a model! Unscrew his head to put the matches in; turn him heels up′ards for the light; and what a firebox for a gentleman′s mantel-shelf, just as he stands!′

′Not half ugly enough,′ said Tackleton. ′Nothing in him at all! Come! Bring that box! All right now, I hope?′

′Quite gone!′ said the little woman, waving him hurriedly away. ′Good night!′

′Good night,′ said Tackleton. ′Good night, John Peerybingle! Take care how you carry that box, Caleb. Let it fall, and I′ll murder you! Dark as pitch, and weather worse than ever, eh? Good night!′

So, with another sharp look round the room, he went out at the door; followed by Caleb with the wedding-cake on his head.

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