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to see his old mother again ! Ah! didn't I kiss her then? Poor mother! And my father said — Nonsense, woman,' says he;
you'll see him fast enough in a year or two. There, let him go now; the horse wont stand. And so I got into the cart, and, sure enough, mother was right; she never did see me any more nor father neither. But I always wrote to them regularly, and I know they never wanted for anything. Brothers and sisters all dead too! Poor Polly! I think I loved her the best, though she was a little sharp-tempered; she was always so kind to me because I was the youngest, and the least, and the weakest. So she's gone! But she had children; I may see them. And Dick, what a fellow he was to be sure ! The daring things he used to do. But he is gone also; and all his little ones but two, they
The girl married somewhere about Littlethorpe, and the boy settled at Wisbeach. And sister Anne, and Bill—both dead too! and never married, like myself. I wonder whether the people in Littlethorpe will know me again? I must be altered a good deal. Thirty years is a long time!”
Here Bob felt his face with his hand, and tried to take a survey of his figure, the lower part of which was eclipsed by the somewhat globular form of the central portion. On the whole, Bob had worn well. He was of a contented, cheerful, kindly disposition: much given to mirth, and by no means averse to good cheer in moderation. He took a gentle interest in politics, but was disposed to believe that Providence ordered all things for the best; and he had no new lights on religion to trouble his soul. He always went to church twice on the Sunday, and when a free-thinking friend tried to argue him out of the habit, he listened quietly to what was said, and never contradicted him; for Bob had learned, by experience, that arguing about religion was not the way to be religious. He went to church on Sunday to worship God in his own way; and he believed in God, and trusted in his goodness all the rest of the week, without thinking himself better or wiser than his neighbours; in which last respect he did not resemble most of his free-thinking, free-living friends. For worldly matters, certainly Bob was not rich: but he was
and he was contented with what he had. His salary had been £150 per annum for the last ten years, and he had contrived to save about half of that; for he dined with the other clerks at his employers' expense. He did not smoke, and he was economical in all things, except that he never denied himself a penny to give to a poor body in the street, or sometimes a sixpence, if the poor body happened to be a woman; for Bob was a bachelor, and retained his youthful feeling of chivalrous reverence for the sex, and took shame to himself
when he saw a woman starving, and never could be virtuous enough to think that “it served her right for her misconduct."
To return. The Grantham coach, 'with Bob on the top, went on, on all day, and at about seven o'clock in the evening it
'stopped at the George Inn at Grantham. Whoever knows this inn needs no description of it. To all my readers who do not know it, let me say briefly that it is, or was, perfect. Our friend Bob was quite afraid of its grandeur at first, but he took courage from the respect paid him by the waiters; and he said to himself, “ This one night I'll enjoy myself like one of the firm. I'll have a first-rate supper, and I'll sleep in a first-rate bed. So he ordered one man to take his portmanteau to a bedroom, and to light a fire there directly; and he ordered another man to take him to a small sitting-room; and then he ordered tea and supper, all in one; for Bob could not do without his tea. Bob slept soundly
, that night, in spite of the surpassing grandeur of the rose-coloured damask curtains of his bed, and the unparalleled luxury of a fire, which flickered, and glimmered, and crackled, to his intense satisfaction long after he was in bed. He slept, and dreamed he was again a boy at Littlethorpe. Everything that occurred when he was a boy seemed to come over again. Real people, or people who had been real in bygone days, went and came. They spoke to him-sat beside him-looked kindly into his eyes; and when he awoke, he rubbed his eyes and exclaimed, “ How strange! Was that all thirty years ago ? Why not again now?"
Ah, Bob Parsons-why not again now ? Because such things never come again, except in dreams and in memory, where they look fairer and brighter than they really were. It is better only to dream of, and remember them.
While he dressed and ate his breakfast, Bob meditated on the probability that no one at Littlethorpe would remember him. Mr Greenbury, the old schoolmaster, to whom he used to write after his father and mother were dead, and who gave him news of the village about every two years, had ceased to write five years ago, and Bob feared he too was dead. But if so, why had not his daughter written to tell him so ? She could write, could Esther Greenbury—a very nice hand too for a girl. Bob remembered her as she was thirty years ago. A kind, bright-eyed, freshcoloured lass, some three years his senior, and at the top of the writing-class, in those days when boys and girls learned together. And now Bob recalled to mind distinctly a little affair that happened at that period. He remembered how Esther, with her stout arm, had one day tried to defend him from the attack of a big boy. This big boy had been reproved by the master for idleness, and had been told to take example from Little Bob Parsons. Of course the big boy watched the first opportunity to bully Bob: it was in the old schoolroom, after the rest of the scholars were gone, that the said big boy proceeded to give it him well,” and “to teach him how to set himself up above his betters;" when Esther Greenbury, who was not gone with the rest, and who had a particular dislike to the said big boy, interfered in behalf of Little Bob, who was a favourite of hers, and, armed with a ruler,
warded off the blows which would otherwise have fallen upon poor Bob's head. She, in short, saved Bob from injury, and Bob, in turn, assisted her to get out of the clutches of the tyrant. It was a mutual benefit; and founding on the circumstance, Bob endeavoured, boy as he was, to raise an interest in Esther's feelings; but somehow he never was able to make himself understood, which occasioned him some little unhappiness; and he even went the length of being piqued with his kind-hearted deliverer, which she of course could never comprem hend.
Bob smiled at this and other recollections of his childhood. And then he called for his bill, and told the waiter to take care of his portmanteau till he sent for it in the course of the day. Then he set off from the George Inn. He turned back, however, in a few minutes, with a sadder face, to tell the waiter that he might perhaps return again that night. The thought had come across bis mind that perhaps, after all, no one at Littlethorpe might know him, or be disposed to receive him as a guest. This thought made him sorrowful for a little while; but he soon recovered his usual cheerfulness, and said to himself, as he walked briskly out of Grantham,“ God is very good. Who knows may find many kind friends living still?"
When he got to the half-way house that is, about three miles on his road-he had a glass of ale, and after that he seemed to recall everything he came to. The alterations hereabouts were very trifling, and he recognised almost every farm and gate that he saw.
When he came to the brow of the hill that overlooks Littlethorpe, he sat down on a stile to rest himself, and determine who he would ask for first in the village. There it lay below him-looking just as it used to look. There was the old church, with its green environment, where lay so many who were dear to him. Bob felt a tear in his eye; but at that moment the church bells rang out merrily, and he reflected that it was Christmas eve, and not at all a time of year to give way to feelings of sadness. So he dashed aside the tear, and muttered to himself,
They are happy in heaven!” and then began to descend the hili at a brisk pace.
The first place in the village that he came to was the blacksmith's forge. Often and often had he stood there, to watch the bright sparks fall from the anvil when he was a boy; and now he stood there again a man. Not one of the group before the forge knew him. They all stared at him after the fashion of countrymen looking at a Londoner. Bob stared at the blacksmith himself, with a notion that he ought to know that face. He watched it in the light of the fire. It was an honest, broad, somewhat coarse and heavy face. Yes; something like that face he had known years ago. He could not recollect who it was, till some one of the lookers-on called out to the smith, “I say, Nat Gibbs, what dost say to a sup of beer ?”
The smith's face relaxed into a laugh as he said, " Ay, ay; it's Christmas eve, and I'm ready for beer any time in the day."
6 Nat Gibbs !” said Bob to himself. 6 To be sure it is Nat Gibbs; how could I forget him?". The very big boy he knocked over the head with a ruler in Esther Greenbury's defence. In a moment Bob forgot his grudge in his eagerness to greet an old acquaintance. He pushed through the group into the forge, and caught hold of the big smith's brawny hand without speaking “ Hallo !” exclaimed the latter. " Who are you, eh ?”
Why, sir, I beg your pardon”-Bob was always a pretty spoken man—“I daresay you do not remember me. I am your old schoolmate, Bob Parsons."
“Why, surely you ben't Little Bob Parsons come back again ?" cried the smith, starting back with astonishment, and then shaking him violently by the hand, as he saw traces of Little Bob the boy in the person of Little Bob the man. “ Well, who'd ha thought of seeing you back in the old place again. Anyhow, I'm glad to see thee, and looking so hearty too. My missus will be very pleased to see thee too; for she is a relation of your own -a Parsons. Why, now I come to think on’t, she is your own brother's daughter-your eldest brother Dick's child.”
66 Indeed !" cried Bob. 6 Why, Nat, she is rather young for you; isn't she?"
“ Why, that was her look out you know. I'm not fifty yet, and we've been married nigh ten years. She fancied me, and I was glad to have her, for I like the stock she came of. The Parsonses are a good lot; leastways most on 'em. Now, come along with me; I'm going home to dinner, and you must take pot-luck with us. How my Martha will stare when I tell her you are her own Uncle Bob I've often told her about! Here you, Joe, come and finish this shoe. I've done work for to-day. Mind
you the place all safe, and put the fire out before you go home.”
Having said this, Nat Gibbs quickly divested himself of his apron, washed his face in a corner of the forge, pulled down his shirt sleeves, and put on his coat. This slight toilette was much to the advantage of his personal appearance in the opinion of Bob, who thought his nephew-in-law looked a little more genteel than at first. Bob was a London clerk, be it remembered, and liked to see his friends look neat and respectable. You and I, reader, might have preferred the smith in his working costume.
When Nat Gibbs came out with Bob to the front of his forge, he told all the loungers there that “this was Bob Parsons, who went away quite a boy thirty years ago, and had come back once more to see the place he was born in. Hereupon two middleaged men came forward and shook hands with Bob, and said how glad they were to see him. Who were they? Why, they were Jim Bates and Tom Greenbury to be sure. And then they
all four walked together down the village towards Nat Gibbs' house.
To Bob's surprise and sorrow they only met one man who recollected him. They talked over old days as they went along; but Bob found that so many people he asked about were dead, so many others had turned out ill, and so many had been unfortunate, that none of them were in good spirits when they stopped at the smith's neat little house at the other end of the village. Nat Gibbs recovered himself the first. Come, come,” cried he, slapping Bob on the back,“ don't be down-hearted. We must all die, you know; but I never could see the good of making one'sself miserable because of that."
He then invited Bates and Greenbury to walk in, but they said “ No; they must make haste home now."
“ Well, then, they must promise to bring their wives and the young uns to tea, and spend the evening. It was Christmas eve, and they would make a night of it in honour of Bob here." And they said they would come; and saying “ Good-by for the present," they went away.
Then the burly smith lifted the latch of his own door, and in the ardours of hospitality pushed Bob down a steep step into a passage paved with red brick, which ran through the little house, and opened by another door into a yard at the back, in which some chilly-looking hens might be seen creeping about in a disconsolate manner. Bob had no time to observe anything else, for in a moment Nat Gibbs' voice sounded through the house. “Here, Matty—Matty! where are you, girl? Come along here." Then, before any answer could be given, he pushed open a door, and Bob saw a young woman, with a child in her arms, rise from a chair by a blazing fire, in a snug little general-living room, which was drawing-room, dining-room, nursery, playroom, all in one, and a great deal more than all that put together. Two little boys, of seven and nine years of age, were seated at a table, each with a large pile of raisins before him, which he was busily stoning for to-morrow's pudding:
“ Hallo! here you are all of you! I say, old fellow !”. Here the father gave the baby a poke in the ribs, to which that tender individual replied by kicking its legs, and laughing like a little puck. Hey! what, Master Natty, does mother trust you to stone plums for the pudding? And you too, young Jack? Why, I didn't think she could be so foolish.” To this attack the two boys replied by jumping up to caress their father, and clawing his face and clothes all over with their sticky fingers. Little Bob Parsons stood by, a momentary silent spectator of this family group. His niece looked at him with curiosity. How like she was to his poor brother! She had just his merry, frank, clear dark
eye, and the same rather impertinent turn-up of the nose. He felt the strongest inclination to fold her in his arms; but he waited a moment, for fear of alarming her, and also perhaps for