Mark felt this, as he sat looking about him; and his spirits rose proportionately.
There were English people, Irish people, Welsh people, and Scotch people there; all with their little store of coarse food and shabby clothes; and nearly all with their families of children. There were children of all ages; from the baby at the breast, to the slattern- girl who was as much a grown woman as her mother. Every kind of domestic suffering that is bred in poverty, illness, banishment, sorrow, and long travel in bad weather, was crammed into the little space; and yet was there infinitely less of complaint and querulousness, and infinitely more of mutual assistance and general kindness to be found in that unwholesome ark, than in many brilliant ballrooms.
Mark looked about him wistfully, and his face brightened as he looked. Here an old grandmother was crooning over a sick child, and rocking it to and fro, in arms hardly more wasted than its own young limbs; here a poor woman with an infant in her lap, mended another little creature's clothes, and quieted another who was creeping up about her from their scanty bed upon the floor. Here were old men awkwardly engaged in little household offices, wherein they would have been ridiculous but for their good-will and kind purpose; and here were swarthy fellows--giants in their way--doing such little acts of tenderness for those about them, as might have belonged to gentlest-hearted dwarfs. The very idiot in the corner who sat mowing there, all day, had his faculty of imitation roused by what he saw about him; and snapped his fingers to amuse a crying child.
'Now, then,' said Mark, nodding to a woman who was dressing her three children at no great distance from him--and the grin upon his face had by this time spread from ear to ear--'Hand over one of them young 'uns according to custom.'
'I wish you'd get breakfast, Mark, instead of worrying with people who don't belong to you,' observed Martin, petulantly.
'All right,' said Mark. 'SHE'll do that. It's a fair division of labour, sir. I wash her boys, and she makes our tea. I never COULD make tea, but any one can wash a boy.'
The woman, who was delicate and ill, felt and understood his kindness, as well she might, for she had been covered every night with his greatcoat, while he had for his own bed the bare boards and a rug. But Martin, who seldom got up or looked about him, was quite incensed by the folly of this speech, and expressed his dissatisfaction by an impatient groan.
'So it is, certainly,' said Mark, brushing the child's hair as coolly as if he had been born and bred a barber.
'What are you talking about, now?' asked Martin.
'What you said,' replied Mark; 'or what you meant, when you gave that there dismal vent to your feelings. I quite go along with it, sir. It IS very hard upon her.'
'Making the voyage by herself along with these young impediments here, and going such a way at such a time of the year to join her husband. If you don't want to be driven mad with yellow soap in your eye, young man,' said Mr Tapley to the second urchin, who was by this time under his hands at the basin, 'you'd better shut it.'
'Where does she join her husband?' asked Martin, yawning.
'Why, I'm very much afraid,' said Mr Tapley, in a low voice, 'that she don't know. I hope she mayn't miss him. But she sent her last letter by hand, and it don't seem to have been very clearly understood between 'em without it, and if she don't see him a-waving his pocket-handkerchief on the shore, like a pictur out of a song- book, my opinion is, she'll break her heart.'
'Why, how, in Folly's name, does the woman come to be on board ship on such a wild-goose venture!' cried Martin.
Mr Tapley glanced at him for a moment as he lay prostrate in his berth, and then said, very quietly:
'Ah! How indeed! I can't think! He's been away from her for two year; she's been very poor and lonely in her own country; and has always been a-looking forward to meeting him.