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"Well," said Mr. Kitely, “no more I do-or did, rather ; for I'm afraid that Mr. Fuller will get me into bad habits before he has done with me. He's a good man, Mr. Fuller, and that's more than I'd say for every one of the cloth. They're nothing but cloth -meaning no offence, Mr. Spelt, to an honest trade.”
"Perhaps there are more good ones amongst them than you think, Mr. Kitely," said Lucy.
“There ud need to be, miss. But I declare that man has almost made me hold my tongue against the whole sect of them. It seems a shame, with him in St. Amos's, to say a word against Mr. Potter in St. Jacob's. I never thought I should take to the church in my old age.” “Old age, Mr. Kitely ! ” Mattie broke in. * If
talk in that way, think what you make of me."
A general laugh greeted this remark. But Mattie was serious, and did not even smile.
Poppie never opened her lips, except to smile. But she behaved with perfect propriety. Mr. Spelt had civilized her so far, and that without much trouble. He never told any one, however, that it was with anxiety that he set out every night at half-past nine to bring her home; for more than once, he had found her potato steamer standing alone on the pavement, while she was off somewhere, looking at something, or following a crowd. Upon one of these occasions he had stood nearly half an hour before she came back. All she said when she returned was, “I thought I should find you here, daddy."
But I must not linger with the company assembled in the book. seller's back parlour ; for their conversation will not help my readers on with my story.
A very little man, with very short, bandy legs, was trudging along a wide and rather crowded thoroughfare, with a pair of workman's boots in his hand. It was Mr. Spelt's sub, Mr. Dolman the cobbler.
“Well, Dolly, how do?” said a man in a long velveteen coat, with a short pipe in his mouth and a greasy cloth cap on his head. “ You're late to.night, ain't you, Dolly ?”.
“ Them lawyers; them lawyers, Jim !” returned Dolman, enig. matically.
“ What the blazes have you got to do with lawyers ?" exclaimed Jim Salter, staring at the cobbler, who, for the sake of balance, had now got one boot in each hand, and stood weighing the one against the other.
"Not much for my own part,” returned Dolman, who was feeling very important from having assisted at his neighbour's flitting. " But there's good people in our court could tell you another story."
I have said that Mrs. Boxall did anything but hold her tongue
about her affairs, and Dolman had heard Mr. Worboise's behaviour so thoroughly canvassed between Mr. Kitely and Mr. Spelt that he was familiar with the main points of the case.
“Come and have a drop of beer," said Jim, "and tell us all about it."
No greater temptation could have been held out to Dolman. But he had a certain sense of duty that must first be satisfied.
No, Jim. I never touch a drop till I've taken my work home” “Where's that ?” asked Jim.
Down by the Minories," answered the cobbler. “Come along, then. I'll help you to carry it.”
“'Taint heavy. I'll carry it myself,” answered Dolman, who having once been robbed on a similar occasion, seemed, in regard to boots, to have lost his faith in humanity.
"I can't think, Dolly, why you roost so far from your work. Now, it's different with me. My work's here and there and every. where ; but yours is allus in the same place.”
“It gives me a walk, Jim. Besides it's respectable. It's having two places of one's own. My landlady, Mrs. Dobbs, knows that my shop's in a fashionable part, and she's rather proud of me for a lodger in consekence. And my landlord, that's Mr. Spelt, a tailor, and well-to-do-how's he to know that I 'ain't got a house in the suburbs ?" answered Dolman, laughing.
The moment he had got his money, and delivered the bootsfor that was the order of business between Dolman and his customers—they betook themselves to a public-house in the neighbourhood, where Dolman conveyed to Jim, with very tolerable correctness, the whole story of Mrs. Boxall's misfortunes. Before he reached the end of it, however, Jim, who had already“ put a name upon something", with two of his acquaintances that night, got rather misty, and took his leave of Dolman with the idea that Lucy and her grandmother had been turned out, furniture and all, into the street, without a place to go to, and had been taken up by the police.
Much as she had dreaded leaving her own house, as she had always considered it, Mrs. Boxall had a better night in her new abode than she had had for months, and rose in the morning with a surprising sense of freshness. Wonderful things come to us in sleep-none perhaps more wonderful than this reviving of the colours of the faded soul from being laid for a few hours in the dark-in God's ebony box, as George Herbert calls the night. It is as if the wakeful angels had been busy all the night preening the draggled and ruffled wings of their sleeping brothers and sisters. Finding that Lucy was not yet dressed, she went down alone to the back parlour, and, having nothing else to do, began to look at the birds, of which, I have already informed my reader, Mr. Kitely kept a great many, feeding and cleaning them himself,
and teaching the more gifted, starlings and parrots, and such like birds of genius, to speak. If he did anything in the way of selling as well as buying them, it was quite in a private way—as a gentleman may do with horses.
“Good morning, sir,” screamed a huge gray parrot the moment she entered, regardless of the sex of his visitor. It was one the hookseller had bought of a sailor somewhere about the docks a day or two before, and its fame had not yet spread through the neighbourhood ; consequently, Mrs. Boxall was considerably startled by the salutation. “ Have you spliced the main brace this morning, sir ? ” continued the parrot, and, without waiting for a reply, like the great ladies who inquire after an inferior's family, and then look out of the window, burst into the song, “ There a sweet little cherub,” and, stopping as suddenly at the word, followed it with the inquiry, “How's your mother ?" upon which point Mrs. Boxall may, without any irreverence, be presumed to have been a little in the dark. The next moment the unprincipled animal poured forth its innocent soul in a torrent of imprecations, which, growing as furious as fast, reached the ears of Mr. Kitely. He entered in a moment and silenced the animal with prompt rebuke, and the descent of an artificial night in the shape of a green cloth over his cage-the vengeance of the lower Jove. The creature exploded worse than ever for a while, and then subsided. Meantime the bookseller turned to Mrs. Boxall to apologize.
“I haven't had him long, ma'am-only a day or two. He's been ill brought up, as you see, poor bird ! ' I shall have a world of trouble to cure him of his bad language. If I can't cure him I'll wring his neck."
“ The poor creature doesn't know better," said Mrs. Boxall. “Wouldn't it be rather hard to kill him for it
“Well, but what am I to do? I can't have such words running out and in my princess's ears all day.
“But you could sell him, or give him away, you know, Mr. Kitely."
“ A pretty present he would be, the rascal! And for selling him, it would be wickedness to put the money in my pocket. There was a time, ma'am, when I would have taught him such words myself, and thought no harm of it; but now, if I was to sell that bird, ma'am-how should I look Mr. Fuller in the face next Sunday? No; if I can't cure him, I must twist his neck. We'll eat him, ma'am. I daresay he's nice.”
He added in a whisper-"I wanted him to hear me. There's no telling how much them creatures understand."
But before Mr. Kitely had done talking, Mrs. Boxall's attention was entirely taken up with another bird, of the perroquet species. It was the most awfully grotesque, the most pitiably comic animal in creation. It had a green head, with a collar of red round the
back of it; while white feathers came down on each side of its huge beak, like the grey whiskers of a retired military man. This head looked enormous for the rest of the body, for from the nape of the neck to the tail, except a few long feathers on the shoulders of its wings, blue like those of a jay, there was not another feather on its body : it was as bare as if it had been plucked for roasting. A more desolate, poverty-stricken, wretched object, can hardly be conceived. The immense importance of his head and beak and grey whiskers, with the abject nakedness-more than nakedness ---pluckedness of his body was quite beyond laughing at.
It was far fitter to make one cry. But the creature was so absolutely, perfectly self-satisfied, without a notion of shame or even discomfort, that it appeared impossible he could ever have seen himself behind. He must surely have fancied himself as glorious as in his palmiest days. And his body was so thin, and his skin so old and wrinkled-I wish I could set him in the margin for my younger readers to see him. He hopped from place to place, and turned himself round before the spectators with such an absence of discomposure, that one could not help admiring his utter sang froid, almost envying his perfect self-possession. Observing that his guest was absorbed in the contemplation of the phenomenon, Mr. Kitely said,
“You're a wondering at poor Widdles. Widdles was an old friend of mine I named the bird after, before he lost his great-coat -all but the collar. Widdles ! Widdles !"
The bird came close up to the end of his perch, and setting his head on one side, looked at his master with one round, yellow eye.
“He's the strangest bird I ever saw," said Mrs. Boxall. “If you talked of wringing his neck, now, I shouldn't wonder, knowing you for a kind-hearted man, Mr. Kitely.” “Wring Widdles's neck !” exclaimed the bookseller.
“ His is the very last neck I should ever think of wringing. See how bravely he bears misfortune. Nobody could well lose more than Widdles, and nobody could well take it lighter. He's a sermon, is that bird. His whole worldly wealth consists in his wig. They was a fine pair once, only he was always henpecked. His mate used to peck him because he wasn't able to peck her, for he was the smaller of the two. They always reminded me of Spelt and his wife. But when they were took ill, both of them, she gave in, and he wouldn't. Death took his feathers, and left him jolly without them. Bless him, old Widdles !”
Well, it's a curious taste of yours, I must say, Mr. Kitely. But some people, no more than some birds, ain't to be accounted for.”
Mr. Kitely chose to consider this a good sally of wit, and laughed loud and long. Mrs. Boxall laughed a little, too, and was pleased with herself. And from that moment she began to take to the bird.
"Try him with a bit of sugar," said Mr. Kitely, going to the carved cabinet to get a piece, which he then handed to Mrs. Boxall.
The bird was friendly and accepted it. Taking it in one curious foot, and nibbling it with his more curious mouth. Mrs. Boxall was pleased with him now as well as with herself, and before long a firm friendship was established between the two, which went so far that Widdles would, when she put her hand into his cage, perch upon her bony old finger, and allow himself to be lifted out. There was no fear of his even attempting to fly away, for he was perfectly aware of his utter incapacity in that direction of birdlike use and custom. Before many days had passed she had become so much attached to the bird that his company did not a little to shield her from the inroads of recurrent regret, mortification, and resentment.
One evening, when she came home from her now rather numerous engagements, Lucy found her grandmother seated at the table, with the bird in her hand, rubbing him all over very gently, careful of hurting him, with something she took with her finger from a little pot on the table.
"What are you doing with Widdles, grannie ?” she asked. “ Trying a little bear's-grease, child. Why shouldn't I?" she added, angrily, when Lucy laughed.
"No reason in the world why you shouldn't, grannie. You mustn't mind my laughing."
“I don't see why anybody should laugh at misfortune," returned Mrs. Boxall, severely." How would you like to be in the condition of this bird yourself?”—“ without a feather,” she was going to say, but just pulled up in time. She could not help laughing herself now, but she went on, nevertheless, with her work of charity. “Who knows,” she said, “but they may grow again ?"
“Grow again!” shrieked the gray parrot, in the tone of a violin in unskilful hands. “Yes, grow again, you witch !" returned Mrs. Boxall.
" I don't see why the devil shouldn't be in you as well as in your betters. Why shouldn't it grow again ?"
“ Grow again!” reiterated the gray parrot. “ Grow again! Widdles! Widdles! Widdles! Haha! ha!"
“ It shall grow again," retorted the old lady. If bear's-grease won't do, I'll spend my last penny on a bottle of Macassar; and if it doesn't grow then, I'll pluck your back and stick them into his."
Mrs. Boxall had got into a habit of talking thus with the bird, which the bookseller had already nearly cured of his wicked words by instant punishment following each offence.
“ Stick them into his !” cried the bird like an echo, and refused to speak again.
Sometimes, however, he would say a naughty word evidently for