by Charles Dickens
I am a Cheap Jack, and my own father’s name was Willum Marigold.
It was in his lifetime supposed by some that his name was William, but
my own father always consistently said, No, it was Willum. On
which point I content myself with looking at the argument this way:
If a man is not allowed to know his own name in a free country, how
much is he allowed to know in a land of slavery? As to looking
at the argument through the medium of the Register, Willum Marigold
come into the world before Registers come up much,—and went out
of it too. They wouldn’t have been greatly in his line neither,
if they had chanced to come up before him.
I was born on the Queen’s highway, but it was the King’s
at that time. A doctor was fetched to my own mother by my own
father, when it took place on a common; and in consequence of his being
a very kind gentleman, and accepting no fee but a tea-tray, I was named
Doctor, out of gratitude and compliment to him. There you have
me. Doctor Marigold.
I am at present a middle-aged man of a broadish build, in cords,
leggings, and a sleeved waistcoat the strings of which is always gone
behind. Repair them how you will, they go like fiddle-strings.
You have been to the theatre, and you have seen one of the wiolin-players
screw up his wiolin, after listening to it as if it had been whispering
the secret to him that it feared it was out of order, and then you have
heard it snap. That’s as exactly similar to my waistcoat
as a waistcoat and a wiolin can be like one another.
I am partial to a white hat, and I like a shawl round my neck wore
loose and easy. Sitting down is my favourite posture. If
I have a taste in point of personal jewelry, it is mother-of-pearl buttons.
There you have me again, as large as life.
The doctor having accepted a tea-tray, you’ll guess that my
father was a Cheap Jack before me. You are right. He was.
It was a pretty tray. It represented a large lady going along
a serpentining up-hill gravel-walk, to attend a little church.
Two swans had likewise come astray with the same intentions. When
I call her a large lady, I don’t mean in point of breadth, for
there she fell below my views, but she more than made it up in heighth;
her heighth and slimness was—in short THE heighth of both.
I often saw that tray, after I was the innocently smiling cause (or
more likely screeching one) of the doctor’s standing it up on
a table against the wall in his consulting-room. Whenever my own
father and mother were in that part of the country, I used to put my
head (I have heard my own mother say it was flaxen curls at that time,
though you wouldn’t know an old hearth-broom from it now till
you come to the handle, and found it wasn’t me) in at the doctor’s
door, and the doctor was always glad to see me, and said, “Aha,
my brother practitioner! Come in, little M.D. How are your
inclinations as to sixpence?”
You can’t go on for ever, you’ll find, nor yet could
my father nor yet my mother. If you don’t go off as a whole
when you are about due, you’re liable to go off in part, and two
to one your head’s the part. Gradually my father went off
his, and my mother went off hers. It was in a harmless way, but
it put out the family where I boarded them. The old couple, though
retired, got to be wholly and solely devoted to the Cheap Jack business,
and were always selling the family off. Whenever the cloth was
laid for dinner, my father began rattling the plates and dishes, as
we do in our line when we put up crockery for a bid, only he had lost
the trick of it, and mostly let ’em drop and broke ’em.
As the old lady had been used to sit in the cart, and hand the articles
out one by one to the old gentleman on the footboard to sell, just in
the same way she handed him every item of the family’s property,
and they disposed of it in their own imaginations from morning to night.
At last the old gentleman, lying bedridden in the same room with the
old lady, cries out in the old patter, fluent, after having been silent
for two days and nights: “Now here, my jolly companions every
one,—which the Nightingale club in a village was held, At the
sign of the Cabbage and Shears, Where the singers no doubt would have
greatly excelled, But for want of taste, voices and ears,—now,
here, my jolly companions, every one, is a working model of a used-up
old Cheap Jack, without a tooth in his head, and with a pain in every
bone: so like life that it would be just as good if it wasn’t
better, just as bad if it wasn’t worse, and just as new if it
wasn’t worn out. Bid for the working model of the old Cheap
Jack, who has drunk more gunpowder-tea with the ladies in his time than
would blow the lid off a washerwoman’s copper, and carry it as
many thousands of miles higher than the moon as naught nix naught, divided
by the national debt, carry nothing to the poor-rates, three under,
and two over. Now, my hearts of oak and men of straw, what do
you say for the lot? Two shillings, a shilling, tenpence, eightpence,
sixpence, fourpence. Twopence? Who said twopence?
The gentleman in the scarecrow’s hat? I am ashamed of the
gentleman in the scarecrow’s hat. I really am ashamed of
him for his want of public spirit. Now I’ll tell you what
I’ll do with you. Come! I’ll throw you in a
working model of a old woman that was married to the old Cheap Jack
so long ago that upon my word and honour it took place in Noah’s
Ark, before the Unicorn could get in to forbid the banns by blowing
a tune upon his horn. There now! Come! What do you
say for both? I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you.
I don’t bear you malice for being so backward. Here!
If you make me a bid that’ll only reflect a little credit on your
town, I’ll throw you in a warming-pan for nothing, and lend you
a toasting-fork for life. Now come; what do you say after that
splendid offer? Say two pound, say thirty shillings, say a pound,
say ten shillings, say five, say two and six. You don’t
say even two and six? You say two and three? No. You
shan’t have the lot for two and three. I’d sooner
give it to you, if you was good-looking enough. Here! Missis!
Chuck the old man and woman into the cart, put the horse to, and drive
’em away and bury ’em!” Such were the last words
of Willum Marigold, my own father, and they were carried out, by him
and by his wife, my own mother, on one and the same day, as I ought
to know, having followed as mourner.
My father had been a lovely one in his time at the Cheap Jack work,
as his dying observations went to prove. But I top him.
I don’t say it because it’s myself, but because it has been
universally acknowledged by all that has had the means of comparison.
I have worked at it. I have measured myself against other public
speakers,—Members of Parliament, Platforms, Pulpits, Counsel learned
in the law,—and where I have found ’em good, I have took
a bit of imagination from ’em, and where I have found ’em
bad, I have let ’em alone. Now I’ll tell you what.
I mean to go down into my grave declaring that of all the callings ill
used in Great Britain, the Cheap Jack calling is the worst used.
Why ain’t we a profession? Why ain’t we endowed with
privileges? Why are we forced to take out a hawker’s license,
when no such thing is expected of the political hawkers? Where’s
the difference betwixt us? Except that we are Cheap Jacks and
they are Dear Jacks, I don’t see any difference but what’s
in our favour.
For look here! Say it’s election time. I am on
the footboard of my cart in the market-place, on a Saturday night.
I put up a general miscellaneous lot. I say: “Now here,
my free and independent woters, I’m a going to give you such a
chance as you never had in all your born days, nor yet the days preceding.
Now I’ll show you what I am a going to do with you. Here’s
a pair of razors that’ll shave you closer than the Board of Guardians;
here’s a flat-iron worth its weight in gold; here’s a frying-pan
artificially flavoured with essence of beefsteaks to that degree that
you’ve only got for the rest of your lives to fry bread and dripping
in it and there you are replete with animal food; here’s a genuine
chronometer watch in such a solid silver case that you may knock at
the door with it when you come home late from a social meeting, and
rouse your wife and family, and save up your knocker for the postman;
and here’s half-a-dozen dinner plates that you may play the cymbals
with to charm baby when it’s fractious. Stop! I’ll
throw in another article, and I’ll give you that, and it’s
a rolling-pin; and if the baby can only get it well into its mouth when
its teeth is coming and rub the gums once with it, they’ll come
through double, in a fit of laughter equal to being tickled. Stop
again! I’ll throw you in another article, because I don’t
like the looks of you, for you haven’t the appearance of buyers
unless I lose by you, and because I’d rather lose than not take
money to-night, and that’s a looking-glass in which you may see
how ugly you look when you don’t bid. What do you say now?
Come! Do you say a pound? Not you, for you haven’t
got it. Do you say ten shillings? Not you, for you owe more
to the tallyman. Well then, I’ll tell you what I’ll
do with you. I’ll heap ’em all on the footboard of
the cart,—there they are! razors, flat watch, dinner plates, rolling-pin,
and away for four shillings, and I’ll give you sixpence for your
trouble!” This is me, the Cheap Jack. But on the Monday
morning, in the same market-place, comes the Dear Jack on the hustings—his
cart—and, what does he say? “Now my free and
independent woters, I am a going to give you such a chance” (he
begins just like me) “as you never had in all your born days,
and that’s the chance of sending Myself to Parliament. Now
I’ll tell you what I am a going to do for you. Here’s
the interests of this magnificent town promoted above all the rest of
the civilised and uncivilised earth. Here’s your railways
carried, and your neighbours’ railways jockeyed. Here’s
all your sons in the Post-office. Here’s Britannia smiling
on you. Here’s the eyes of Europe on you. Here’s
uniwersal prosperity for you, repletion of animal food, golden cornfields,
gladsome homesteads, and rounds of applause from your own hearts, all
in one lot, and that’s myself. Will you take me as I stand?
You won’t? Well, then, I’ll tell you what I’ll
do with you. Come now! I’ll throw you in anything
you ask for. There! Church-rates, abolition of more malt
tax, no malt tax, universal education to the highest mark, or uniwersal
ignorance to the lowest, total abolition of flogging in the army or
a dozen for every private once a month all round, Wrongs of Men or Rights
of Women—only say which it shall be, take ’em or leave ’em,
and I’m of your opinion altogether, and the lot’s your own
on your own terms. There! You won’t take it yet!
Well, then, I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you. Come!
You are such free and independent woters, and I am so proud of
you,—you are such a noble and enlightened constituency,
and I am so ambitious of the honour and dignity of being your
member, which is by far the highest level to which the wings of the
human mind can soar,—that I’ll tell you what I’ll
do with you. I’ll throw you in all the public-houses in
your magnificent town for nothing. Will that content you?
It won’t? You won’t take the lot yet? Well,
then, before I put the horse in and drive away, and make the offer to
the next most magnificent town that can be discovered, I’ll tell
you what I’ll do. Take the lot, and I’ll drop two
thousand pound in the streets of your magnificent town for them to pick
up that can. Not enough? Now look here. This is the
very furthest that I’m a going to. I’ll make it two
thousand five hundred. And still you won’t? Here,
missis! Put the horse—no, stop half a moment, I shouldn’t
like to turn my back upon you neither for a trifle, I’ll make
it two thousand seven hundred and fifty pound. There! Take
the lot on your own terms, and I’ll count out two thousand seven
hundred and fifty pound on the footboard of the cart, to be dropped
in the streets of your magnificent town for them to pick up that can.
What do you say? Come now! You won’t do better, and
you may do worse. You take it? Hooray! Sold again,
and got the seat!”
These Dear Jacks soap the people shameful, but we Cheap Jacks don’t.
We tell ’em the truth about themselves to their faces, and scorn
to court ’em. As to wenturesomeness in the way of puffing
up the lots, the Dear Jacks beat us hollow. It is considered in
the Cheap Jack calling, that better patter can be made out of a gun
than any article we put up from the cart, except a pair of spectacles.
I often hold forth about a gun for a quarter of an hour, and feel as
if I need never leave off. But when I tell ’em what the
gun can do, and what the gun has brought down, I never go half so far
as the Dear Jacks do when they make speeches in praise of their
guns—their great guns that set ’em on to do it. Besides,
I’m in business for myself: I ain’t sent down into the market-place
to order, as they are. Besides, again, my guns don’t know
what I say in their laudation, and their guns do, and the whole concern
of ’em have reason to be sick and ashamed all round. These
are some of my arguments for declaring that the Cheap Jack calling is
treated ill in Great Britain, and for turning warm when I think of the
other Jacks in question setting themselves up to pretend to look down
I courted my wife from the footboard of the cart. I did indeed.
She was a Suffolk young woman, and it was in Ipswich market-place right
opposite the corn-chandler’s shop. I had noticed her up
at a window last Saturday that was, appreciating highly. I had
took to her, and I had said to myself, “If not already disposed
of, I’ll have that lot.” Next Saturday that come,
I pitched the cart on the same pitch, and I was in very high feather
indeed, keeping ’em laughing the whole of the time, and getting
off the goods briskly. At last I took out of my waistcoat-pocket
a small lot wrapped in soft paper, and I put it this way (looking up
at the window where she was). “Now here, my blooming English
maidens, is an article, the last article of the present evening’s
sale, which I offer to only you, the lovely Suffolk Dumplings biling
over with beauty, and I won’t take a bid of a thousand pounds
for from any man alive. Now what is it? Why, I’ll
tell you what it is. It’s made of fine gold, and it’s
not broke, though there’s a hole in the middle of it, and it’s
stronger than any fetter that ever was forged, though it’s smaller
than any finger in my set of ten. Why ten? Because, when
my parents made over my property to me, I tell you true, there was twelve
sheets, twelve towels, twelve table-cloths, twelve knives, twelve forks,
twelve tablespoons, and twelve teaspoons, but my set of fingers was
two short of a dozen, and could never since be matched. Now what
else is it? Come, I’ll tell you. It’s a hoop
of solid gold, wrapped in a silver curl-paper, that I myself took off
the shining locks of the ever beautiful old lady in Threadneedle Street,
London city; I wouldn’t tell you so if I hadn’t the paper
to show, or you mightn’t believe it even of me. Now what
else is it? It’s a man-trap and a handcuff, the parish stocks
and a leg-lock, all in gold and all in one. Now what else is it?
It’s a wedding-ring. Now I’ll tell you what I’m
a going to do with it. I’m not a going to offer this lot
for money; but I mean to give it to the next of you beauties that laughs,
and I’ll pay her a visit to-morrow morning at exactly half after
nine o’clock as the chimes go, and I’ll take her out for
a walk to put up the banns.” She laughed, and got the ring
handed up to her. When I called in the morning, she says, “O
dear! It’s never you, and you never mean it?”
“It’s ever me,” says I, “and I am ever yours,
and I ever mean it.” So we got married, after being put
up three times—which, by the bye, is quite in the Cheap Jack way
again, and shows once more how the Cheap Jack customs pervade society.
She wasn’t a bad wife, but she had a temper. If she could
have parted with that one article at a sacrifice, I wouldn’t have
swopped her away in exchange for any other woman in England. Not
that I ever did swop her away, for we lived together till she died,
and that was thirteen year. Now, my lords and ladies and gentlefolks
all, I’ll let you into a secret, though you won’t believe
it. Thirteen year of temper in a Palace would try the worst of
you, but thirteen year of temper in a Cart would try the best of you.
You are kept so very close to it in a cart, you see. There’s
thousands of couples among you getting on like sweet ile upon a whetstone
in houses five and six pairs of stairs high, that would go to the Divorce
Court in a cart. Whether the jolting makes it worse, I don’t
undertake to decide; but in a cart it does come home to you, and stick
to you. Wiolence in a cart is so wiolent, and aggrawation
in a cart is so aggrawating.
We might have had such a pleasant life! A roomy cart, with
the large goods hung outside, and the bed slung underneath it when on
the road, an iron pot and a kettle, a fireplace for the cold weather,
a chimney for the smoke, a hanging-shelf and a cupboard, a dog and a
horse. What more do you want? You draw off upon a bit of
turf in a green lane or by the roadside, you hobble your old horse and
turn him grazing, you light your fire upon the ashes of the last visitors,
you cook your stew, and you wouldn’t call the Emperor of France
your father. But have a temper in the cart, flinging language
and the hardest goods in stock at you, and where are you then?
Put a name to your feelings.
My dog knew as well when she was on the turn as I did. Before
she broke out, he would give a howl, and bolt. How he knew it,
was a mystery to me; but the sure and certain knowledge of it would
wake him up out of his soundest sleep, and he would give a howl, and
bolt. At such times I wished I was him.
The worst of it was, we had a daughter born to us, and I love children
with all my heart. When she was in her furies she beat the child.
This got to be so shocking, as the child got to be four or five year
old, that I have many a time gone on with my whip over my shoulder,
at the old horse’s head, sobbing and crying worse than ever little
Sophy did. For how could I prevent it? Such a thing is not
to be tried with such a temper—in a cart—without coming
to a fight. It’s in the natural size and formation of a
cart to bring it to a fight. And then the poor child got worse
terrified than before, as well as worse hurt generally, and her mother
made complaints to the next people we lighted on, and the word went
round, “Here’s a wretch of a Cheap Jack been a beating his
Little Sophy was such a brave child! She grew to be quite devoted
to her poor father, though he could do so little to help her.
She had a wonderful quantity of shining dark hair, all curling natural
about her. It is quite astonishing to me now, that I didn’t
go tearing mad when I used to see her run from her mother before the
cart, and her mother catch her by this hair, and pull her down by it,
and beat her.
Such a brave child I said she was! Ah! with reason.
“Don’t you mind next time, father dear,” she would
whisper to me, with her little face still flushed, and her bright eyes
still wet; “if I don’t cry out, you may know I am not much
hurt. And even if I do cry out, it will only be to get mother
to let go and leave off.” What I have seen the little spirit
bear—for me—without crying out!
Yet in other respects her mother took great care of her. Her
clothes were always clean and neat, and her mother was never tired of
working at ’em. Such is the inconsistency in things.
Our being down in the marsh country in unhealthy weather, I consider
the cause of Sophy’s taking bad low fever; but however she took
it, once she got it she turned away from her mother for evermore, and
nothing would persuade her to be touched by her mother’s hand.
She would shiver and say, “No, no, no,” when it was offered
at, and would hide her face on my shoulder, and hold me tighter round
The Cheap Jack business had been worse than ever I had known it,
what with one thing and what with another (and not least with railroads,
which will cut it all to pieces, I expect, at last), and I was run dry
of money. For which reason, one night at that period of little
Sophy’s being so bad, either we must have come to a dead-lock
for victuals and drink, or I must have pitched the cart as I did.
I couldn’t get the dear child to lie down or leave go of me,
and indeed I hadn’t the heart to try, so I stepped out on the
footboard with her holding round my neck. They all set up a laugh
when they see us, and one chuckle-headed Joskin (that I hated for it)
made the bidding, “Tuppence for her!”
“Now, you country boobies,” says I, feeling as if my
heart was a heavy weight at the end of a broken sashline, “I give
you notice that I am a going to charm the money out of your pockets,
and to give you so much more than your money’s worth that you’ll
only persuade yourselves to draw your Saturday night’s wages ever
again arterwards by the hopes of meeting me to lay ’em out with,
which you never will, and why not? Because I’ve made my
fortunes by selling my goods on a large scale for seventy-five per cent.
less than I give for ’em, and I am consequently to be elevated
to the House of Peers next week, by the title of the Duke of Cheap and
Markis Jackaloorul. Now let’s know what you want to-night,
and you shall have it. But first of all, shall I tell you why
I have got this little girl round my neck? You don’t want
to know? Then you shall. She belongs to the Fairies.
She’s a fortune-teller. She can tell me all about you in
a whisper, and can put me up to whether you’re going to buy a
lot or leave it. Now do you want a saw? No, she says you
don’t, because you’re too clumsy to use one. Else
here’s a saw which would be a lifelong blessing to a handy man,
at four shillings, at three and six, at three, at two and six, at two,
at eighteen-pence. But none of you shall have it at any price,
on account of your well-known awkwardness, which would make it manslaughter.
The same objection applies to this set of three planes which I won’t
let you have neither, so don’t bid for ’em. Now I
am a going to ask her what you do want.” (Then I whispered,
“Your head burns so, that I am afraid it hurts you bad, my pet,”
and she answered, without opening her heavy eyes, “Just a little,
father.”) “O! This little fortune-teller says
it’s a memorandum-book you want. Then why didn’t you
mention it? Here it is. Look at it. Two hundred superfine
hot-pressed wire-wove pages—if you don’t believe me, count
’em—ready ruled for your expenses, an everlastingly pointed
pencil to put ’em down with, a double-bladed penknife to scratch
’em out with, a book of printed tables to calculate your income
with, and a camp-stool to sit down upon while you give your mind to
it! Stop! And an umbrella to keep the moon off when you
give your mind to it on a pitch-dark night. Now I won’t
ask you how much for the lot, but how little? How little are you
thinking of? Don’t be ashamed to mention it, because my
fortune-teller knows already.” (Then making believe to whisper,
I kissed her,—and she kissed me.) “Why, she says you
are thinking of as little as three and threepence! I couldn’t
have believed it, even of you, unless she told me. Three and threepence!
And a set of printed tables in the lot that’ll calculate your
income up to forty thousand a year! With an income of forty thousand
a year, you grudge three and sixpence. Well then, I’ll tell
you my opinion. I so despise the threepence, that I’d sooner
take three shillings. There. For three shillings, three
shillings, three shillings! Gone. Hand ’em over to
the lucky man.”
As there had been no bid at all, everybody looked about and grinned
at everybody, while I touched little Sophy’s face and asked her
if she felt faint, or giddy. “Not very, father. It
will soon be over.” Then turning from the pretty patient
eyes, which were opened now, and seeing nothing but grins across my
lighted grease-pot, I went on again in my Cheap Jack style. “Where’s
the butcher?” (My sorrowful eye had just caught sight of
a fat young butcher on the outside of the crowd.) “She says
the good luck is the butcher’s. Where is he?”
Everybody handed on the blushing butcher to the front, and there was
a roar, and the butcher felt himself obliged to put his hand in his
pocket, and take the lot. The party so picked out, in general,
does feel obliged to take the lot—good four times out of six.
Then we had another lot, the counterpart of that one, and sold it sixpence
cheaper, which is always wery much enjoyed. Then we had the spectacles.
It ain’t a special profitable lot, but I put ’em on, and
I see what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to take off the
taxes, and I see what the sweetheart of the young woman in the shawl
is doing at home, and I see what the Bishops has got for dinner, and
a deal more that seldom fails to fetch ’em ’up in their
spirits; and the better their spirits, the better their bids.
Then we had the ladies’ lot—the teapot, tea-caddy, glass
sugar-basin, half-a-dozen spoons, and caudle-cup—and all the time
I was making similar excuses to give a look or two and say a word or
two to my poor child. It was while the second ladies’ lot
was holding ’em enchained that I felt her lift herself a little
on my shoulder, to look across the dark street. “What troubles
you, darling?” “Nothing troubles me, father.
I am not at all troubled. But don’t I see a pretty churchyard
over there?” “Yes, my dear.” “Kiss
me twice, dear father, and lay me down to rest upon that churchyard
grass so soft and green.” I staggered back into the cart
with her head dropped on my shoulder, and I says to her mother, “Quick.
Shut the door! Don’t let those laughing people see!”
“What’s the matter?” she cries. “O woman,
woman,” I tells her, “you’ll never catch my little
Sophy by her hair again, for she has flown away from you!”
Maybe those were harder words than I meant ’em; but from that
time forth my wife took to brooding, and would sit in the cart or walk
beside it, hours at a stretch, with her arms crossed, and her eyes looking
on the ground. When her furies took her (which was rather seldomer
than before) they took her in a new way, and she banged herself about
to that extent that I was forced to hold her. She got none the
better for a little drink now and then, and through some years I used
to wonder, as I plodded along at the old horse’s head, whether
there was many carts upon the road that held so much dreariness as mine,
for all my being looked up to as the King of the Cheap Jacks.
So sad our lives went on till one summer evening, when, as we were coming
into Exeter, out of the farther West of England, we saw a woman beating
a child in a cruel manner, who screamed, “Don’t beat me!
O mother, mother, mother!” Then my wife stopped her ears,
and ran away like a wild thing, and next day she was found in the river.
Me and my dog were all the company left in the cart now; and the
dog learned to give a short bark when they wouldn’t bid, and to
give another and a nod of his head when I asked him, “Who said
half a crown? Are you the gentleman, sir, that offered half a
crown?” He attained to an immense height of popularity,
and I shall always believe taught himself entirely out of his own head
to growl at any person in the crowd that bid as low as sixpence.
But he got to be well on in years, and one night when I was conwulsing
York with the spectacles, he took a conwulsion on his own account upon
the very footboard by me, and it finished him.
Being naturally of a tender turn, I had dreadful lonely feelings
on me arter this. I conquered ’em at selling times, having
a reputation to keep (not to mention keeping myself), but they got me
down in private, and rolled upon me. That’s often the way
with us public characters. See us on the footboard, and you’d
give pretty well anything you possess to be us. See us off the
footboard, and you’d add a trifle to be off your bargain.
It was under those circumstances that I come acquainted with a giant.
I might have been too high to fall into conversation with him, had it
not been for my lonely feelings. For the general rule is, going
round the country, to draw the line at dressing up. When a man
can’t trust his getting a living to his undisguised abilities,
you consider him below your sort. And this giant when on view
figured as a Roman.
He was a languid young man, which I attribute to the distance betwixt
his extremities. He had a little head and less in it, he had weak
eyes and weak knees, and altogether you couldn’t look at him without
feeling that there was greatly too much of him both for his joints and
his mind. But he was an amiable though timid young man (his mother
let him out, and spent the money), and we come acquainted when he was
walking to ease the horse betwixt two fairs. He was called Rinaldo
di Velasco, his name being Pickleson.
This giant, otherwise Pickleson, mentioned to me under the seal of
confidence that, beyond his being a burden to himself, his life was
made a burden to him by the cruelty of his master towards a step-daughter
who was deaf and dumb. Her mother was dead, and she had no living
soul to take her part, and was used most hard. She travelled with
his master’s caravan only because there was nowhere to leave her,
and this giant, otherwise Pickleson, did go so far as to believe that
his master often tried to lose her. He was such a very languid
young man, that I don’t know how long it didn’t take him
to get this story out, but it passed through his defective circulation
to his top extremity in course of time.
When I heard this account from the giant, otherwise Pickleson, and
likewise that the poor girl had beautiful long dark hair, and was often
pulled down by it and beaten, I couldn’t see the giant through
what stood in my eyes. Having wiped ’em, I give him sixpence
(for he was kept as short as he was long), and he laid it out in two
three-penn’orths of gin-and-water, which so brisked him up, that
he sang the Favourite Comic of Shivery Shakey, ain’t it cold?—a
popular effect which his master had tried every other means to get out
of him as a Roman wholly in vain.
His master’s name was Mim, a wery hoarse man, and I knew him
to speak to. I went to that Fair as a mere civilian, leaving the
cart outside the town, and I looked about the back of the Vans while
the performing was going on, and at last, sitting dozing against a muddy
cart-wheel, I come upon the poor girl who was deaf and dumb. At
the first look I might almost have judged that she had escaped from
the Wild Beast Show; but at the second I thought better of her, and
thought that if she was more cared for and more kindly used she would
be like my child. She was just the same age that my own daughter
would have been, if her pretty head had not fell down upon my shoulder
that unfortunate night.
To cut it short, I spoke confidential to Mim while he was beating
the gong outside betwixt two lots of Pickleson’s publics, and
I put it to him, “She lies heavy on your own hands; what’ll
you take for her?” Mim was a most ferocious swearer.
Suppressing that part of his reply which was much the longest part,
his reply was, “A pair of braces.” “Now I’ll
tell you,” says I, “what I’m a going to do with you.
I’m a going to fetch you half-a-dozen pair of the primest braces
in the cart, and then to take her away with me.” Says Mim
(again ferocious), “I’ll believe it when I’ve got
the goods, and no sooner.” I made all the haste I could,
lest he should think twice of it, and the bargain was completed, which
Pickleson he was thereby so relieved in his mind that he come out at
his little back door, longways like a serpent, and give us Shivery Shakey
in a whisper among the wheels at parting.
It was happy days for both of us when Sophy and me began to travel
in the cart. I at once give her the name of Sophy, to put her
ever towards me in the attitude of my own daughter. We soon made
out to begin to understand one another, through the goodness of the
Heavens, when she knowed that I meant true and kind by her. In
a very little time she was wonderful fond of me. You have no idea
what it is to have anybody wonderful fond of you, unless you have been
got down and rolled upon by the lonely feelings that I have mentioned
as having once got the better of me.
You’d have laughed—or the rewerse—it’s according
to your disposition—if you could have seen me trying to teach
Sophy. At first I was helped—you’d never guess by
what—milestones. I got some large alphabets in a box, all
the letters separate on bits of bone, and saying we was going to WINDSOR,
I give her those letters in that order, and then at every milestone
I showed her those same letters in that same order again, and pointed
towards the abode of royalty. Another time I give her CART, and
then chalked the same upon the cart. Another time I give her DOCTOR
MARIGOLD, and hung a corresponding inscription outside my waistcoat.
People that met us might stare a bit and laugh, but what did I
care, if she caught the idea? She caught it after long patience
and trouble, and then we did begin to get on swimmingly, I believe you!
At first she was a little given to consider me the cart, and the cart
the abode of royalty, but that soon wore off.
We had our signs, too, and they was hundreds in number. Sometimes
she would sit looking at me and considering hard how to communicate
with me about something fresh,—how to ask me what she wanted explained,—and
then she was (or I thought she was; what does it signify?) so like my
child with those years added to her, that I half-believed it was herself,
trying to tell me where she had been to up in the skies, and what she
had seen since that unhappy night when she flied away. She had
a pretty face, and now that there was no one to drag at her bright dark
hair, and it was all in order, there was a something touching in her
looks that made the cart most peaceful and most quiet, though not at
all melancholy. [N.B. In the Cheap Jack patter, we generally
sound it lemonjolly, and it gets a laugh.]
The way she learnt to understand any look of mine was truly surprising.
When I sold of a night, she would sit in the cart unseen by them outside,
and would give a eager look into my eyes when I looked in, and would
hand me straight the precise article or articles I wanted. And
then she would clap her hands, and laugh for joy. And as for me,
seeing her so bright, and remembering what she was when I first lighted
on her, starved and beaten and ragged, leaning asleep against the muddy
cart-wheel, it give me such heart that I gained a greater heighth of
reputation than ever, and I put Pickleson down (by the name of Mim’s
Travelling Giant otherwise Pickleson) for a fypunnote in my will.
This happiness went on in the cart till she was sixteen year old.
By which time I began to feel not satisfied that I had done my whole
duty by her, and to consider that she ought to have better teaching
than I could give her. It drew a many tears on both sides when
I commenced explaining my views to her; but what’s right is right,
and you can’t neither by tears nor laughter do away with its character.
So I took her hand in mine, and I went with her one day to the Deaf
and Dumb Establishment in London, and when the gentleman come to speak
to us, I says to him: “Now I’ll tell you what I’ll
do with you, sir. I am nothing but a Cheap Jack, but of late years
I have laid by for a rainy day notwithstanding. This is my only
daughter (adopted), and you can’t produce a deafer nor a dumber.
Teach her the most that can be taught her in the shortest separation
that can be named,—state the figure for it,—and I am game
to put the money down. I won’t bate you a single farthing,
sir, but I’ll put down the money here and now, and I’ll
thankfully throw you in a pound to take it. There!”
The gentleman smiled, and then, “Well, well,” says he, “I
must first know what she has learned already. How do you communicate
with her?” Then I showed him, and she wrote in printed writing
many names of things and so forth; and we held some sprightly conversation,
Sophy and me, about a little story in a book which the gentleman showed
her, and which she was able to read. “This is most extraordinary,”
says the gentleman; “is it possible that you have been her only
teacher?” “I have been her only teacher, sir,”
I says, “besides herself.” “Then,” says
the gentleman, and more acceptable words was never spoke to me, “you’re
a clever fellow, and a good fellow.” This he makes known
to Sophy, who kisses his hands, claps her own, and laughs and cries
We saw the gentleman four times in all, and when he took down my
name and asked how in the world it ever chanced to be Doctor, it come
out that he was own nephew by the sister’s side, if you’ll
believe me, to the very Doctor that I was called after. This made
our footing still easier, and he says to me:
“Now, Marigold, tell me what more do you want your adopted
daughter to know?”
“I want her, sir, to be cut off from the world as little as
can be, considering her deprivations, and therefore to be able to read
whatever is wrote with perfect ease and pleasure.”
“My good fellow,” urges the gentleman, opening his eyes
wide, “why I can’t do that myself!”
I took his joke, and gave him a laugh (knowing by experience how
flat you fall without it), and I mended my words accordingly.
“What do you mean to do with her afterwards?” asks the
gentleman, with a sort of a doubtful eye. “To take her about
“In the cart, sir, but only in the cart. She will live
a private life, you understand, in the cart. I should never think
of bringing her infirmities before the public. I wouldn’t
make a show of her for any money.”
The gentleman nodded, and seemed to approve.
“Well,” says he, “can you part with her for two
“To do her that good,—yes, sir.”
“There’s another question,” says the gentleman,
looking towards her,—“can she part with you for two years?”
I don’t know that it was a harder matter of itself (for the
other was hard enough to me), but it was harder to get over. However,
she was pacified to it at last, and the separation betwixt us was settled.
How it cut up both of us when it took place, and when I left her at
the door in the dark of an evening, I don’t tell. But I
know this; remembering that night, I shall never pass that same establishment
without a heartache and a swelling in the throat; and I couldn’t
put you up the best of lots in sight of it with my usual spirit,—no,
not even the gun, nor the pair of spectacles,—for five hundred
pound reward from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and
throw in the honour of putting my legs under his mahogany arterwards.
Still, the loneliness that followed in the cart was not the old loneliness,
because there was a term put to it, however long to look forward to;
and because I could think, when I was anyways down, that she belonged
to me and I belonged to her. Always planning for her coming back,
I bought in a few months’ time another cart, and what do you think
I planned to do with it? I’ll tell you. I planned
to fit it up with shelves and books for her reading, and to have a seat
in it where I could sit and see her read, and think that I had been
her first teacher. Not hurrying over the job, I had the fittings
knocked together in contriving ways under my own inspection, and here
was her bed in a berth with curtains, and there was her reading-table,
and here was her writing-desk, and elsewhere was her books in rows upon
rows, picters and no picters, bindings and no bindings, gilt-edged and
plain, just as I could pick ’em up for her in lots up and down
the country, North and South and West and East, Winds liked best and
winds liked least, Here and there and gone astray, Over the hills and
far away. And when I had got together pretty well as many books
as the cart would neatly hold, a new scheme come into my head, which,
as it turned out, kept my time and attention a good deal employed, and
helped me over the two years’ stile.
Without being of an awaricious temper, I like to be the owner of
things. I shouldn’t wish, for instance, to go partners with
yourself in the Cheap Jack cart. It’s not that I mistrust
you, but that I’d rather know it was mine. Similarly, very
likely you’d rather know it was yours. Well! A kind
of a jealousy began to creep into my mind when I reflected that all
those books would have been read by other people long before they was
read by her. It seemed to take away from her being the owner of
’em like. In this way, the question got into my head: Couldn’t
I have a book new-made express for her, which she should be the first
It pleased me, that thought did; and as I never was a man to let
a thought sleep (you must wake up all the whole family of thoughts you’ve
got and burn their nightcaps, or you won’t do in the Cheap Jack
line), I set to work at it. Considering that I was in the habit
of changing so much about the country, and that I should have to find
out a literary character here to make a deal with, and another literary
character there to make a deal with, as opportunities presented, I hit
on the plan that this same book should be a general miscellaneous lot,—like
the razors, flat-iron, chronometer watch, dinner plates, rolling-pin,
and looking-glass,—and shouldn’t be offered as a single
indiwidual article, like the spectacles or the gun. When I had
come to that conclusion, I come to another, which shall likewise be
Often had I regretted that she never had heard me on the footboard,
and that she never could hear me. It ain’t that I
am vain, but that you don’t like to put your own light
under a bushel. What’s the worth of your reputation, if
you can’t convey the reason for it to the person you most wish
to value it? Now I’ll put it to you. Is it worth sixpence,
fippence, fourpence, threepence, twopence, a penny, a halfpenny, a farthing?
No, it ain’t. Not worth a farthing. Very well, then.
My conclusion was that I would begin her book with some account of myself.
So that, through reading a specimen or two of me on the footboard, she
might form an idea of my merits there. I was aware that I couldn’t
do myself justice. A man can’t write his eye (at least I
don’t know how to), nor yet can a man write his voice, nor the
rate of his talk, nor the quickness of his action, nor his general spicy
way. But he can write his turns of speech, when he is a public
speaker,—and indeed I have heard that he very often does, before
he speaks ’em.
Well! Having formed that resolution, then come the question
of a name. How did I hammer that hot iron into shape? This
way. The most difficult explanation I had ever had with her was,
how I come to be called Doctor, and yet was no Doctor. After all,
I felt that I had failed of getting it correctly into her mind, with
my utmost pains. But trusting to her improvement in the two years,
I thought that I might trust to her understanding it when she should
come to read it as put down by my own hand. Then I thought I would
try a joke with her and watch how it took, by which of itself I might
fully judge of her understanding it. We had first discovered the
mistake we had dropped into, through her having asked me to prescribe
for her when she had supposed me to be a Doctor in a medical point of
view; so thinks I, “Now, if I give this book the name of my Prescriptions,
and if she catches the idea that my only Prescriptions are for her amusement
and interest,—to make her laugh in a pleasant way, or to make
her cry in a pleasant way,—it will be a delightful proof to both
of us that we have got over our difficulty.” It fell out
to absolute perfection. For when she saw the book, as I had it
got up,—the printed and pressed book,—lying on her desk
in her cart, and saw the title, DOCTOR MARIGOLD’S PRESCRIPTIONS,
she looked at me for a moment with astonishment, then fluttered the
leaves, then broke out a laughing in the charmingest way, then felt
her pulse and shook her head, then turned the pages pretending to read
them most attentive, then kissed the book to me, and put it to her bosom
with both her hands. I never was better pleased in all my life!
But let me not anticipate. (I take that expression out of a
lot of romances I bought for her. I never opened a single one
of ’em—and I have opened many—but I found the romancer
saying “let me not anticipate.” Which being so, I
wonder why he did anticipate, or who asked him to it.) Let me
not, I say, anticipate. This same book took up all my spare time.
It was no play to get the other articles together in the general miscellaneous
lot, but when it come to my own article! There! I couldn’t
have believed the blotting, nor yet the buckling to at it, nor the patience
over it. Which again is like the footboard. The public have
At last it was done, and the two years’ time was gone after
all the other time before it, and where it’s all gone to, who
knows? The new cart was finished,—yellow outside, relieved
with wermilion and brass fittings,—the old horse was put in it,
a new ’un and a boy being laid on for the Cheap Jack cart,—and
I cleaned myself up to go and fetch her. Bright cold weather it
was, cart-chimneys smoking, carts pitched private on a piece of waste
ground over at Wandsworth, where you may see ’em from the Sou’western
Railway when not upon the road. (Look out of the right-hand window
“Marigold,” says the gentleman, giving his hand hearty,
“I am very glad to see you.”
“Yet I have my doubts, sir,” says I, “if you can
be half as glad to see me as I am to see you.”
“The time has appeared so long,—has it, Marigold?”
“I won’t say that, sir, considering its real length;
“What a start, my good fellow!”
Ah! I should think it was! Grown such a woman, so pretty,
so intelligent, so expressive! I knew then that she must be really
like my child, or I could never have known her, standing quiet by the
“You are affected,” says the gentleman in a kindly manner.
“I feel, sir,” says I, “that I am but a rough chap
in a sleeved waistcoat.”
“I feel,” says the gentleman, “that it was you
who raised her from misery and degradation, and brought her into communication
with her kind. But why do we converse alone together, when we
can converse so well with her? Address her in your own way.”
“I am such a rough chap in a sleeved waistcoat, sir,”
says I, “and she is such a graceful woman, and she stands so quiet
at the door!”
“Try if she moves at the old sign,” says the gentleman.
They had got it up together o’ purpose to please me!
For when I give her the old sign, she rushed to my feet, and dropped
upon her knees, holding up her hands to me with pouring tears of love
and joy; and when I took her hands and lifted her, she clasped me round
the neck, and lay there; and I don’t know what a fool I didn’t
make of myself, until we all three settled down into talking without
sound, as if there was a something soft and pleasant spread over the
whole world for us.
* * * * *
[A portion is here omitted from the text, having reference to the
sketches contributed by other writers; but the reader will be pleased
to have what follows retained in a note:
“Now I’ll tell you what I am a-going to do with you.
I am a-going to offer you the general miscellaneous lot, her own book,
never read by anybody else but me, added to and completed by me after
her first reading of it, eight-and-forty printed pages, six-and-ninety
columns, Whiting’s own work, Beaufort House to wit, thrown off
by the steam-ingine, best of paper, beautiful green wrapper, folded
like clean linen come home from the clear-starcher’s, and so exquisitely
stitched that, regarded as a piece of needlework alone, it’s better
than the sampler of a seamstress undergoing a Competitive examination
for Starvation before the Civil Service Commissioners—and I offer
the lot for what? For eight pound? Not so much. For
six pound? Less. For four pound. Why, I hardly expect
you to believe me, but that’s the sum. Four pound!
The stitching alone cost half as much again. Here’s forty-eight
original pages, ninety-six original columns, for four pound. You
want more for the money? Take it. Three whole pages of advertisements
of thrilling interest thrown in for nothing. Read ’em and
believe ’em. More? My best of wishes for your merry
Christmases and your happy New Years, your long lives and your true
prosperities. Worth twenty pound good if they are delivered as
I send them. Remember! Here’s a final prescription
added, “To be taken for life,” which will tell you how the
cart broke down, and where the journey ended. You think Four Pound
too much? And still you think so? Come! I’ll
tell you what then. Say Four Pence, and keep the secret.”]
* * * * *
So every item of my plan was crowned with success. Our reunited
life was more than all that we had looked forward to. Content
and joy went with us as the wheels of the two carts went round, and
the same stopped with us when the two carts stopped. I was as
pleased and as proud as a Pug-Dog with his muzzle black-leaded for a
evening party, and his tail extra curled by machinery.
But I had left something out of my calculations. Now, what
had I left out? To help you to guess I’ll say, a figure.
Come. Make a guess and guess right. Nought? No.
Nine? No. Eight? No. Seven? No.
Six? No. Five? No. Four? No. Three?
No. Two? No. One? No. Now I’ll tell
you what I’ll do with you. I’ll say it’s another
sort of figure altogether. There. Why then, says you, it’s
a mortal figure. No, nor yet a mortal figure. By such means
you got yourself penned into a corner, and you can’t help guessing
a immortal figure. That’s about it. Why didn’t
you say so sooner?
Yes. It was a immortal figure that I had altogether left out
of my Calculations. Neither man’s, nor woman’s, but
a child’s. Girl’s or boy’s? Boy’s.
“I, says the sparrow with my bow and arrow.” Now you
have got it.
We were down at Lancaster, and I had done two nights more than fair
average business (though I cannot in honour recommend them as a quick
audience) in the open square there, near the end of the street where
Mr. Sly’s King’s Arms and Royal Hotel stands. Mim’s
travelling giant, otherwise Pickleson, happened at the self-same time
to be trying it on in the town. The genteel lay was adopted with
him. No hint of a van. Green baize alcove leading up to
Pickleson in a Auction Room. Printed poster, “Free list
suspended, with the exception of that proud boast of an enlightened
country, a free press. Schools admitted by private arrangement.
Nothing to raise a blush in the cheek of youth or shock the most fastidious.”
Mim swearing most horrible and terrific, in a pink calico pay-place,
at the slackness of the public. Serious handbill in the shops,
importing that it was all but impossible to come to a right understanding
of the history of David without seeing Pickleson.
I went to the Auction Room in question, and I found it entirely empty
of everything but echoes and mouldiness, with the single exception of
Pickleson on a piece of red drugget. This suited my purpose, as
I wanted a private and confidential word with him, which was: “Pickleson.
Owing much happiness to you, I put you in my will for a fypunnote; but,
to save trouble, here’s fourpunten down, which may equally suit
your views, and let us so conclude the transaction.” Pickleson,
who up to that remark had had the dejected appearance of a long Roman
rushlight that couldn’t anyhow get lighted, brightened up at his
top extremity, and made his acknowledgments in a way which (for him)
was parliamentary eloquence. He likewise did add, that, having
ceased to draw as a Roman, Mim had made proposals for his going in as
a conwerted Indian Giant worked upon by The Dairyman’s Daughter.
This, Pickleson, having no acquaintance with the tract named after that
young woman, and not being willing to couple gag with his serious views,
had declined to do, thereby leading to words and the total stoppage
of the unfortunate young man’s beer. All of which, during
the whole of the interview, was confirmed by the ferocious growling
of Mim down below in the pay-place, which shook the giant like a leaf.
But what was to the present point in the remarks of the travelling
giant, otherwise Pickleson, was this: “Doctor Marigold,”—I
give his words without a hope of conweying their feebleness,—“who
is the strange young man that hangs about your carts?”—“The
strange young man?” I gives him back, thinking that
he meant her, and his languid circulation had dropped a syllable.
“Doctor,” he returns, with a pathos calculated to draw a
tear from even a manly eye, “I am weak, but not so weak yet as
that I don’t know my words. I repeat them, Doctor.
The strange young man.” It then appeared that Pickleson,
being forced to stretch his legs (not that they wanted it) only at times
when he couldn’t be seen for nothing, to wit in the dead of the
night and towards daybreak, had twice seen hanging about my carts, in
that same town of Lancaster where I had been only two nights, this same
unknown young man.
It put me rather out of sorts. What it meant as to particulars
I no more foreboded then than you forebode now, but it put me rather
out of sorts. Howsoever, I made light of it to Pickleson, and
I took leave of Pickleson, advising him to spend his legacy in getting
up his stamina, and to continue to stand by his religion. Towards
morning I kept a look out for the strange young man, and—what
was more—I saw the strange young man. He was well dressed
and well looking. He loitered very nigh my carts, watching them
like as if he was taking care of them, and soon after daybreak turned
and went away. I sent a hail after him, but he never started or
looked round, or took the smallest notice.
We left Lancaster within an hour or two, on our way towards Carlisle.
Next morning, at daybreak, I looked out again for the strange young
man. I did not see him. But next morning I looked out again,
and there he was once more. I sent another hail after him, but
as before he gave not the slightest sign of being anyways disturbed.
This put a thought into my head. Acting on it I watched him in
different manners and at different times not necessary to enter into,
till I found that this strange young man was deaf and dumb.
The discovery turned me over, because I knew that a part of that
establishment where she had been was allotted to young men (some of
them well off), and I thought to myself, “If she favours him,
where am I? and where is all that I have worked and planned for?”
Hoping—I must confess to the selfishness—that she might
not favour him, I set myself to find out. At last I was
by accident present at a meeting between them in the open air, looking
on leaning behind a fir-tree without their knowing of it. It was
a moving meeting for all the three parties concerned. I knew every
syllable that passed between them as well as they did. I listened
with my eyes, which had come to be as quick and true with deaf and dumb
conversation as my ears with the talk of people that can speak.
He was a-going out to China as clerk in a merchant’s house, which
his father had been before him. He was in circumstances to keep
a wife, and he wanted her to marry him and go along with him.
She persisted, no. He asked if she didn’t love him.
Yes, she loved him dearly, dearly; but she could never disappoint her
beloved, good, noble, generous, and I-don’t-know-what-all father
(meaning me, the Cheap Jack in the sleeved waistcoat) and she would
stay with him, Heaven bless him! though it was to break her heart.
Then she cried most bitterly, and that made up my mind.
While my mind had been in an unsettled state about her favouring
this young man, I had felt that unreasonable towards Pickleson, that
it was well for him he had got his legacy down. For I often thought,
“If it hadn’t been for this same weak-minded giant, I might
never have come to trouble my head and wex my soul about the young man.”
But, once that I knew she loved him,—once that I had seen her
weep for him,—it was a different thing. I made it right
in my mind with Pickleson on the spot, and I shook myself together to
do what was right by all.
She had left the young man by that time (for it took a few minutes
to get me thoroughly well shook together), and the young man was leaning
against another of the fir-trees,—of which there was a cluster,—with
his face upon his arm. I touched him on the back. Looking
up and seeing me, he says, in our deaf-and-dumb talk, “Do not
“I am not angry, good boy. I am your friend. Come
I left him at the foot of the steps of the Library Cart, and I went
up alone. She was drying her eyes.
“You have been crying, my dear.”
“Not a heartache?”
“I said a headache, father.”
“Doctor Marigold must prescribe for that headache.”
She took up the book of my Prescriptions, and held it up with a forced
smile; but seeing me keep still and look earnest, she softly laid it
down again, and her eyes were very attentive.
“The Prescription is not there, Sophy.”
“Where is it?”
“Here, my dear.”
I brought her young husband in, and I put her hand in his, and my
only farther words to both of them were these: “Doctor Marigold’s
last Prescription. To be taken for life.” After which
When the wedding come off, I mounted a coat (blue, and bright buttons),
for the first and last time in all my days, and I give Sophy away with
my own hand. There were only us three and the gentleman who had
had charge of her for those two years. I give the wedding dinner
of four in the Library Cart. Pigeon-pie, a leg of pickled pork,
a pair of fowls, and suitable garden stuff. The best of drinks.
I give them a speech, and the gentleman give us a speech, and all our
jokes told, and the whole went off like a sky-rocket. In the course
of the entertainment I explained to Sophy that I should keep the Library
Cart as my living-cart when not upon the road, and that I should keep
all her books for her just as they stood, till she come back to claim
them. So she went to China with her young husband, and it was
a parting sorrowful and heavy, and I got the boy I had another service;
and so as of old, when my child and wife were gone, I went plodding
along alone, with my whip over my shoulder, at the old horse’s
Sophy wrote me many letters, and I wrote her many letters.
About the end of the first year she sent me one in an unsteady hand:
“Dearest father, not a week ago I had a darling little daughter,
but I am so well that they let me write these words to you. Dearest
and best father, I hope my child may not be deaf and dumb, but I do
not yet know.” When I wrote back, I hinted the question;
but as Sophy never answered that question, I felt it to be a sad one,
and I never repeated it. For a long time our letters were regular,
but then they got irregular, through Sophy’s husband being moved
to another station, and through my being always on the move. But
we were in one another’s thoughts, I was equally sure, letters
or no letters.
Five years, odd months, had gone since Sophy went away. I was
still the King of the Cheap Jacks, and at a greater height of popularity
than ever. I had had a first-rate autumn of it, and on the twenty-third
of December, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, I found myself
at Uxbridge, Middlesex, clean sold out. So I jogged up to London
with the old horse, light and easy, to have my Christmas-eve and Christmas-day
alone by the fire in the Library Cart, and then to buy a regular new
stock of goods all round, to sell ’em again and get the money.
I am a neat hand at cookery, and I’ll tell you what I knocked
up for my Christmas-eve dinner in the Library Cart. I knocked
up a beefsteak-pudding for one, with two kidneys, a dozen oysters, and
a couple of mushrooms thrown in. It’s a pudding to put a
man in good humour with everything, except the two bottom buttons of
his waistcoat. Having relished that pudding and cleared away,
I turned the lamp low, and sat down by the light of the fire, watching
it as it shone upon the backs of Sophy’s books.
Sophy’s books so brought Sophy’s self, that I saw her
touching face quite plainly, before I dropped off dozing by the fire.
This may be a reason why Sophy, with her deaf-and-dumb child in her
arms, seemed to stand silent by me all through my nap. I was on
the road, off the road, in all sorts of places, North and South and
West and East, Winds liked best and winds liked least, Here and there
and gone astray, Over the hills and far away, and still she stood silent
by me, with her silent child in her arms. Even when I woke with
a start, she seemed to vanish, as if she had stood by me in that very
place only a single instant before.
I had started at a real sound, and the sound was on the steps of
the cart. It was the light hurried tread of a child, coming clambering
up. That tread of a child had once been so familiar to me, that
for half a moment I believed I was a-going to see a little ghost.
But the touch of a real child was laid upon the outer handle of the
door, and the handle turned, and the door opened a little way, and a
real child peeped in. A bright little comely girl with large dark
Looking full at me, the tiny creature took off her mite of a straw
hat, and a quantity of dark curls fell about her face. Then she
opened her lips, and said in a pretty voice,
“Ah, my God!” I cries out. “She can speak!”
“Yes, dear grandfather. And I am to ask you whether there
was ever any one that I remind you of?”
In a moment Sophy was round my neck, as well as the child, and her
husband was a-wringing my hand with his face hid, and we all had to
shake ourselves together before we could get over it. And when
we did begin to get over it, and I saw the pretty child a-talking, pleased
and quick and eager and busy, to her mother, in the signs that I had
first taught her mother, the happy and yet pitying tears fell rolling
down my face.