"That's well!" said Barbox Brothers. "Again I must not forget (having got so far) to ask a favour. Will you shut your eyes?"
Laughing playfully at the strange nature of the request, she did so.
"Keep them shut," said Barbox Brothers, going softly to the door, and coming back. "You are on your honour, mind, not to open you eyes until I tell you that you may?"
"Yes! On my honour."
"Good. May I take your lace-pillow from you for a minute?"
Still laughing and wondering, she removed her hands from it, and he put it aside.
"Tell me. Did you see the puffs of smoke and steam made by the morning fast-train yesterday on road number seven from here?"
"Behind the elm-trees and the spire?"
"That's the road," said Barbox Brothers, directing his eyes towards it.
"Yes. I watched them melt away."
"Anything unusual in what they expressed?"
"No!" she answered merrily.
"Not complimentary to me, for I was in that train. I went--don't open your eyes--to fetch you this, from the great ingenious town. It is not half so large as your lace-pillow, and lies easily and lightly in its place. These little keys are like the keys of a miniature piano, and you supply the air required with your left hand. May you pick out delightful music from it, my dear! For the present--you can open your eyes now--good-bye!"
In his embarrassed way, he closed the door upon himself, and only saw, in doing so, that she ecstatically took the present to her bosom and caressed it. The glimpse gladdened his heart, and yet saddened it; for so might she, if her youth had flourished in its natural course, having taken to her breast that day the slumbering music of her own child's voice.
CHAPTER II--BARBOX BROTHERS AND CO.
With good-will and earnest purpose, the gentleman for Nowhere began, on the very next day, his researches at the heads of the seven roads. The results of his researches, as he and Phoebe afterwards set them down in fair writing, hold their due places in this veracious chronicle. But they occupied a much longer time in the getting together than they ever will in the perusal. And this is probably the case with most reading matter, except when it is of that highly beneficial kind (for Posterity) which is "thrown off in a few moments of leisure" by the superior poetic geniuses who scorn to take prose pains.
It must be admitted, however, that Barbox by no means hurried himself. His heart being in his work of good-nature, he revelled in it. There was the joy, too (it was a true joy to him), of sometimes sitting by, listening to Phoebe as she picked out more and more discourse from her musical instrument, and as her natural taste and ear refined daily upon her first discoveries. Besides being a pleasure, this was an occupation, and in the course of weeks it consumed hours. It resulted that his dreaded birthday was close upon him before he had troubled himself any more about it.
The matter was made more pressing by the unforeseen circumstance that the councils held (at which Mr. Lamps, beaming most brilliantly, on a few rare occasions assisted) respecting the road to be selected were, after all, in nowise assisted by his investigations. For, he had connected this interest with this road, or that interest with the other, but could deduce no reason from it for giving any road the preference. Consequently, when the last council was holden, that part of the business stood, in the end, exactly where it had stood in the beginning.
"But, sir," remarked Phoebe, "we have only six roads after all. Is the seventh road dumb?"
"The seventh road? Oh!" said Barbox Brothers, rubbing his chin. "That is the road I took, you know, when I went to get your little present. That is ITS story. Phoebe."
"Would you mind taking that road again, sir?" she asked with hesitation.
"Not in the least; it is a great high-road after all."
"I should like you to take it," returned Phoebe with a persuasive smile, "for the love of that little present which must ever be so dear to me.