Miss Slowboy, in the mean time, who had a mechanical power of reproducing scraps of current conversation for the delectation of the baby, with all the sense struck out of them, and all the nouns changed into the plural number, inquired aloud of that young creature, Was it Gruffs and Tackletons the toymakers then, and Would it call at Pastry-cooks for wedding-cakes, and Did its mothers know the boxes when its fathers brought them homes; and so on.
′And that is really to come about!′ said Dot. ′Why, she and I were girls at school together, John.′
He might have been thinking of her, or nearly thinking of her, perhaps, as she was in that same school time. He looked upon her with a thoughtful pleasure, but he made no answer.
′And he′s as old! As unlike her!—Why, how many years older than you, is Gruff and Tackleton, John?′
′How many more cups of tea shall I drink to-night at one sitting, than Gruff and Tackleton ever took in four, I wonder!′ replied John, good-humouredly, as he drew a chair to the round table, and began at the cold ham. ′As to eating, I eat but little; but that little I enjoy, Dot.′
Even this, his usual sentiment at meal times, one of his innocent delusions (for his appetite was always obstinate, and flatly contradicted him), awoke no smile in the face of his little wife, who stood among the parcels, pushing the cake-box slowly from her with her foot, and never once looked, though her eyes were cast down too, upon the dainty shoe she generally was so mindful of. Absorbed in thought, she stood there, heedless alike of the tea and John (although he called to her, and rapped the table with his knife to startle her), until he rose and touched her on the arm; when she looked at him for a moment, and hurried to her place behind the teaboard, laughing at her negligence. But, not as she had laughed before. The manner and the music were quite changed.
The Cricket, too, had stopped. Somehow the room was not so cheerful as it had been. Nothing like it.
′So, these are all the parcels, are they, John?′ she said, breaking a long silence, which the honest Carrier had devoted to the practical illustration of one part of his favourite sentiment— certainly enjoying what he ate, if it couldn′t be admitted that he ate but little. ′So, these are all the parcels; are they, John?′
′That′s all,′ said John. ′Why—no—I—′ laying down his knife and fork, and taking a long breath. ′I declare—I′ve clean forgotten the old gentleman!′
′The old gentleman?′
′In the cart,′ said John. ′He was asleep, among the straw, the last time I saw him. I′ve very nearly remembered him, twice, since I came in; but he went out of my head again. Holloa! Yahip there! Rouse up! That′s my hearty!′
John said these latter words outside the door, whither he had hurried with the candle in his hand.
Miss Slowboy, conscious of some mysterious reference to The Old Gentleman, and connecting in her mystified imagination certain associations of a religious nature with the phrase, was so disturbed, that hastily rising from the low chair by the fire to seek protection near the skirts of her mistress, and coming into contact as she crossed the doorway with an ancient Stranger, she instinctively made a charge or butt at him with the only offensive instrument within her reach.
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