The old girl has another trial to undergo after the conclusion of the repast in sitting in state to see the room cleared, the hearth swept, and the dinner-service washed up and polished in the backyard. The great delight and energy with which the two young ladies apply themselves to these duties, turning up their skirts in imitation of their mother and skating in and out on little scaffolds of pattens, inspire the highest hopes for the future, but some anxiety for the present. The same causes lead to confusion of tongues, a clattering of crockery, a rattling of tin mugs, a whisking of brooms, and an expenditure of water, all in excess, while the saturation of the young ladies themselves is almost too moving a spectacle for Mrs. Bagnet to look upon with the calmness proper to her position. At last the various cleansing processes are triumphantly completed; Quebec and Malta appear in fresh attire, smiling and dry; pipes, tobacco, and something to drink are placed upon the table; and the old girl enjoys the first peace of mind she ever knows on the day of this delightful entertainment.
When Mr. Bagnet takes his usual seat, the hands of the clock are very near to half-past four; as they mark it accurately, Mr. Bagnet announces, "George! Military time."
It is George, and he has hearty congratulations for the old girl (whom he kisses on the great occasion), and for the children, and for Mr. Bagnet. "Happy returns to all!" says Mr. George.
"But, George, old man!" cries Mrs. Bagnet, looking at him curiously. "What's come to you?"
"Come to me?"
"Ah! You are so white, George--for you--and look so shocked. Now don't he, Lignum?"
"George," says Mr. Bagnet, "tell the old girl. What's the matter."
"I didn't know I looked white," says the trooper, passing his hand over his brow, "and I didn't know I looked shocked, and I'm sorry I do. But the truth is, that boy who was taken in at my place died yesterday afternoon, and it has rather knocked me over."
"Poor creetur!" says Mrs. Bagnet with a mother's pity. "Is he gone? Dear, dear!"
"I didn't mean to say anything about it, for it's not birthday talk, but you have got it out of me, you see, before I sit down. I should have roused up in a minute," says the trooper, making himself speak more gaily, "but you're so quick, Mrs. Bagnet."
"You're right. The old girl," says Mr. Bagnet. "Is as quick. As powder."
"And what's more, she's the subject of the day, and we'll stick to her," cries Mr. George. "See here, I have brought a little brooch along with me. It's a poor thing, you know, but it's a keepsake. That's all the good it is, Mrs. Bagnet."
Mr. George produces his present, which is greeted with admiring leapings and clappings by the young family, and with a species of reverential admiration by Mr. Bagnet. "Old girl," says Mr. Bagnet. "Tell him my opinion of it."
"Why, it's a wonder, George!" Mrs. Bagnet exclaims. "It's the beautifullest thing that ever was seen!"
"Good!" says Mr. Bagnet. "My opinion."
"It's so pretty, George," cries Mrs. Bagnet, turning it on all sides and holding it out at arm's length, "that it seems too choice for me."
"Bad!" says Mr. Bagnet. "Not my opinion."
"But whatever it is, a hundred thousand thanks, old fellow," says Mrs. Bagnet, her eyes sparkling with pleasure and her hand stretched out to him; "and though I have been a crossgrained soldier's wife to you sometimes, George, we are as strong friends, I am sure, in reality, as ever can be. Now you shall fasten it on yourself, for good luck, if you will, George."
The children close up to see it done, and Mr. Bagnet looks over young Woolwich's head to see it done with an interest so maturely wooden, yet pleasantly childish, that Mrs. Bagnet cannot help laughing in her airy way and saying, "Oh, Lignum, Lignum, what a precious old chap you are!" But the trooper fails to fasten the brooch. His hand shakes, he is nervous, and it falls off. "Would any one believe this?" says he, catching it as it drops and looking round.