The Carrier had been so much astounded by his little wife, and so busily engaged in soothing and tending her, that he had scarcely been conscious of the Stranger′s presence, until now, when he again stood there, their only guest.
′He don′t belong to them, you see,′ said John. ′I must give him a hint to go.′
′I beg your pardon, friend,′ said the old gentleman, advancing to him; ′the more so, as I fear your wife has not been well; but the Attendant whom my infirmity,′ he touched his ears and shook his head, ′renders almost indispensable, not having arrived, I fear there must be some mistake. The bad night which made the shelter of your comfortable cart (may I never have a worse!) so acceptable, is still as bad as ever. Would you, in your kindness, suffer me to rent a bed here?′
′Yes, yes,′ cried Dot. ′Yes! Certainly!′
′Oh!′ said the Carrier, surprised by the rapidity of this consent.
′Well! I don′t object; but, still I′m not quite sure that—′
′Hush!′ she interrupted. ′Dear John!′
′Why, he′s stone deaf,′ urged John.
′I know he is, but—Yes, sir, certainly. Yes! certainly! I′ll make him up a bed, directly, John.′
As she hurried off to do it, the flutter of her spirits, and the agitation of her manner, were so strange that the Carrier stood looking after her, quite confounded.
′Did its mothers make it up a Beds then!′ cried Miss Slowboy to the Baby; ′and did its hair grow brown and curly, when its caps was lifted off, and frighten it, a precious Pets, a-sitting by the fires!′
With that unaccountable attraction of the mind to trifles, which is often incidental to a state of doubt and confusion, the Carrier as he walked slowly to and fro, found himself mentally repeating even these absurd words, many times. So many times that he got them by heart, and was still conning them over and over, like a lesson, when Tilly, after administering as much friction to the little bald head with her hand as she thought wholesome (according to the practice of nurses), had once more tied the Baby′s cap on.
′And frighten it, a precious Pets, a-sitting by the fires. What frightened Dot, I wonder!′ mused the Carrier, pacing to and fro.
He scouted, from his heart, the insinuations of the Toy-merchant, and yet they filled him with a vague, indefinite uneasiness. For, Tackleton was quick and sly; and he had that painful sense, himself, of being of slow perception, that a broken hint was always worrying to him. He certainly had no intention in his mind of linking anything that Tackleton had said, with the unusual conduct of his wife, but the two subjects of reflection came into his mind together, and he could not keep them asunder.
The bed was soon made ready; and the visitor, declining all refreshment but a cup of tea, retired. Then, Dot—quite well again, she said, quite well again—arranged the great chair in the chimney-corner for her husband; filled his pipe and gave it him; and took her usual little stool beside him on the hearth.
She always WOULD sit on that little stool. I think she must have had a kind of notion that it was a coaxing, wheedling little stool.
She was, out and out, the very best filler of a pipe, I should say, in the four quarters of the globe.
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