Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

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. 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.

If you

[ocr errors]

“ 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 íar 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 nume. rous 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.

“Nó reason in the world why you shouldn't, grannie. You mustn't rnind my laughing."

“I don't see why anybody should laugh at misfortune," returned Mrs. Boxall, severely." How would you like to be in the condi. tion 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 ! Ha! ha! 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 the sake of testing his master, or as if he wondered what punishment he would have this time—for the punishments were various. On such occasions he would shriek out the word, duck his head, and dart to the opposite side of the cage, keeping one eye full on his master, with such an expression that his profile looked like a whole face with a Cyclopean one eye in it.

Whether Mrs. Boxall was at last successful in her benevolent exertions I am unable to say, for her experiments were still going on when the period arrived with which my story must close. She often asserted that she saw them beginning to sprout; and to see her, with spectacles on nose, examining the poor withered bluish back of Widdles, was ludicrous or touching, according to the humour of the beholder. Widdles seemed to like the pains she took with him, however; and there is no doubt of one thing, that she was rewarded for her trouble tenfold in being thus withdrawn from the contemplation of her own wrongs and misfortunes. Widdles thus gave her many a peaceful hour she would not, in all probability have otherwise enjoyed. Nor were her attentions confined to him ; through him, she was introduced to the whole regiment of birds, which she soon began assisting Mr. Kitely to wait upon. Mattie had never taken to them. While grannie, as she, too, called her, was busy with them, Mattie would sit beside at her needlework, scarcely looking up even when she addressed an occasional re. mark to her. It was a curious household, and fell into many singular groups,

But here I must leave Mrs. Boxall with her bird-companions, which, save for the comfort they afiorded her in taking her mind off herself, have no active part in the story. Through Mrs. Morgenstern's influence and exertions, Lucy soon had as much to do in the way of teaching as she could compass, and her grandmother knew no difference in her way of living from what she had been accustomed to.

CHAPTER XLVI.

WHAT THOMAS WAS ABOUT.

WHEN Thomas left Rotherhithe with Jim Salter, he had no idea in his head but to get away somewhere. Like the ostrich he wanted some sand to stick his head into. But wherever he went, there were people, even policemen, about, and not one of the places they went through looked more likely to afford him shelter than another. Had he given Jim any clearer information concerning the necessity he was in of keeping dark, perhaps he would have done differently with him. As it was, Jim contented himself with piloting him about the lower docks and all that maritimo part of London. They walked about the whole day till Thomas was very tired. Nor did refuge seem nearer than before. All this time the police might be on his track, coming nearer and nearer like the bloodhounds that they were. They had some dinner at an eating-house, where Thomas's fastidiousness made yet a further acquaintance with dirt and disorder, and he felt that he had fallen from his own sphere into a lower order of things, and could never more climb into the heaven whence he had fallen. But the fear of a yet lower fall into a prison and the criminals dock kept him from dwelling yet upon what he had lost. At night Jim led him into Ratcliffe highway, the paradise of sailors at sea—the hell of sailors on shore. Thomas shrunk from the light that filled the street from end to end, blazing from innumerable publichouses, through the open doors of which he looked across into back parlours, where sailors and women sat drinking and gambling, or down long passages to great rooms with curtained doorways, whence came the sounds of music and dancing, and through which passed and repassed seafaring figures and gaily bedizened vulgar girls, many of whom, had the weather been warmer, would have been hanging about the street-doors, laughing and chaffing the passers-by, or getting up a dance on the pavement to the sound of the music within. It was a whole streetful of low revelry. Poor Jack Such is his coveted reward on shore for braving Death, and defying him on the ocean. He escapes

from the embrace of the bony phantom to hasten to the arms of his far more fearful companion-the nightmare Life-in-Death—" who thicks man's blood with cold.” Well may that pair casting their dice on the skeleton ship symbolize the fate of the sailor, for to the one or the other he falls a victim.

Opposite an open door Jim stopped to speak to an acquaintance. The door opened directly upon a room ascending a few steps from the street. Round a table sat several men, sailors of course, apparently masters of coasting vessels. A lithe lascar was standing with one hand on the table, leaning over it, and talking swiftly, with snaky gestures of the other hand. He was in a rage. The others burst out laughing. Thomas saw something glitter in the hand of the Hindoo. One of the sailors gave a cry and started up, but staggered and fell. Before he fell the lascar was at the door, down the steps with a bound, and out in the street. Two inen were after him at full speed, but they had no chance with the lightbuilt Indian.

“The villain has murdered a man, Jim," said Thomas—“in there -look!"

Oh, I daresay he ain't much the worse," returned Jim. “They're always a outing with their knives here.”

For all his indifference, however, Jim started after the Hindoo, but he was out of sight in another moment.

[ocr errors]

Jim returned.

“He's crowding all sail for Tiger-bay,” said he. “I shouldn't care to follow him there. Here's a Peeler.”

“Come along, Jim," said Thomas. “Don't stand here all the night."

Why, you ain't afraid o' the pleace, are you, gov'nor ?”

Thomas tried to laugh, but he did not enjoy the allusion-in the presence of a third person especially.

Well, good night,” said Jim to his acquaintance." By the way," he resumed, “ do you know the figure of Potts's ken ?"

• What Potts ?' I don't know any Potts.”

“ Yes you do. Down somewhere about Lime’us, you know. We saw him

that night—" Here Jim whispered his companion, who answered aloud :

“Oh, yes, I know. Let me see. It's the Marmaid, I think. You ain't a going there, are you?”

" Don't know. Mayhap. 'I'm only taking this gen'leman a sightseeing. He's from the country.”

“Good night, then.” And so they parted.

It was a sudden idea of Jim's to turn in the direction of the man whose child Thomas had saved. But Thomas did not know where he was taking him.

“Where will you sleep to-night, gov'nor ? " asked Jim, as they walked along

“I don't know," answered Thomas. “I must leave you to find me a place. But I say, Jim, can you think of anything I could turn to ? for my money won't last me long."

“ Turn to !” echoed Jim. “Why a man had need be able to turn to everything by turns to make a livin' now-a-days. You ’ain't been used to hard work, by your hands. Do you know your bible well?"

“Pretty well,” answered Thomas ; “but I don't know what that can have to do with making a living."

“Oh, don't you, gov'nor? Perhaps you don't know what yer bible means. It means pips and pictures.”

“ You mean the cards. No, no. I've had enough of that. I don't mean ever to touch them again."

“Hum! Bitten,” said Jim to himself, but so that Thomas heard him.

“Not very badly, Jim. In the pocket-book I told you I lost, I had a hundred pounds, won at cards the night before last.”

“My eye ! ”exclaimed Jim. “What a devil of a pity! But why don't you try your luck again?” he asked, after a few moments of melancholy devoted to the memory of the money.

“Look here, Jim. I don't know where to go to sleep. I have a comfortable room that I dare not go near; a father, a rich man, I believe, who would turn me out; and, in short, I've ruined myself

« ForrigeFortsett »