Yet, Caleb 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 forged the innocent deception which should help to keep her from suspecting how much, how very much, he every day, denied himself, that she might be the happier.
′Bertha!′ said Tackleton, assuming, for the nonce, a little cordiality. ′Come here.′
′Oh! I can come straight to you! You needn′t guide me!′ she rejoined.
′Shall I tell you a secret, Bertha?′
′If you will!′ she answered, eagerly.
How bright the darkened face! How adorned with light, the listening head!
′This is the day on which little what′s-her-name, the spoilt child, Peerybingle′s wife, pays her regular visit to you—makes her fantastic Pic-Nic here; an′t it?′ said Tackleton, with a strong expression of distaste for the whole concern.
′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 the Blind Girl in an ecstasy.
′Yes, yes, I hear it,′ murmured Caleb, with the fixed look of a sleep-walker; ′but I don′t believe it. It′s one of my lies, I′ve no doubt.′
′You see I—I want to bring the Peerybingles a little more into company with May Fielding,′ said Tackleton. ′I am going to be married to May.′
′Married!′ cried the Blind Girl, starting from him.
′She′s such a con-founded Idiot,′ muttered Tackleton, ′that I was afraid she′d never comprehend me. Ah, Bertha! Married! Church, parson, clerk, beadle, glass-coach, bells, breakfast, bride-cake, favours, marrow-bones, cleavers, 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, in a gentle tone. ′I understand!′
′Do you?′ muttered Tackleton. ′It′s more than I expected. Well! On that account I want to join the party, and to 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.
She had drooped her head, and turned away; and so stood, with her hands crossed, musing.
′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 an′t clever in.′
′Every man thinks his own geese swans,′ observed the Toy-merchant, with a shrug. ′Poor devil!′
Having delivered himself of which remark, with infinite contempt, old Gruff and Tackleton withdrew.
Bertha remained where he had left her, lost in meditation. The gaiety had vanished from her downcast face, and it was very sad. Three or four times she shook her head, as if bewailing some remembrance or some loss; but her sorrowful reflections found no vent in words.
It was not until Caleb had been occupied, some time, in yoking a team of horses to a waggon by the summary process of nailing the harness to the vital parts of their bodies, that she drew near to his working-stool, and sitting down beside him, said:
′Father, I am lonely in the dark. I want my eyes, my patient, willing eyes.′
′Here they are,′ said Caleb.
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