'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. 'Always ready. They are more yours than mine, Bertha, any hour in the four-and-twenty. What shall your eyes do for you, dear?'
'Look round the room, father.'
'All right,' said Caleb. 'No sooner said than done, Bertha.'
'Tell me about it.'
'It's much the same as usual,' said Caleb. 'Homely, but very snug. The gay colours on the walls; the bright flowers on the plates and dishes; the shining wood, where there are beams or panels; the general cheerfulness and neatness of the building; make it very pretty.'
Cheerful and neat it was wherever Bertha's hands could busy themselves. But nowhere else, were cheerfulness and neatness possible, in the old crazy shed which Caleb's fancy so transformed.
'You have your working dress on, and are not so gallant as when you wear the handsome coat?' said Bertha, touching him.
'Not quite so gallant,' answered Caleb. 'Pretty brisk though.'
'Father,' said the Blind Girl, drawing close to his side, and stealing one arm round his neck, 'tell me something about May.