URLs for Books

Your last ebook:

You dont read ebooks at this site.

Total ebooks on site: about 25000

You can read and download its for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Halliday, Andrew / Mugby Junction
This ebook was transcribed by Les Bowler.

CHRISTMAS STORIES
FROM “HOUSEHOLD
WORDS” AND “ALL
THE YEAR ROUND”
EDITED BY
CHARLES DICKENS





Mugby Junction


[Picture: Frontispiece]

[Picture: Title page]

RICHARD CLAY & SONS, LIMITED,
LONDON & BUNGAY.

MUGBY JUNCTION: BY
CHARLES DICKENS, ANDREW
HALLIDAY, CHARLES COLLINS,
HESBA STRETTON, AND AMELIA
B. EDWARDS: BEING THE EXTRA
CHRISTMAS NUMBER OF “ALL
THE YEAR ROUND,” 1866. WITH
A FRONTISPIECE BY A. JULES
GOODMAN. LONDON: CHAPMAN
AND HALL, LTD. 1898.

INDEX TO
MUGBY JUNCTION

PAGE
BARBOX BROTHERS. BY CHARLES DICKENS 1
BARBOX BROTHERS & CO. BY CHARLES DICKENS 43
MAIN LINE: THE BOY AT MUGBY. BY CHARLES DICKENS 72
No. 1 BRANCH LINE: THE SIGNALMAN. BY CHARLES DICKENS 89
No. 2 BRANCH LINE: THE ENGINE BY ANDREW HALLIDAY 111
DRIVER.
No. 3 BRANCH LINE: THE BY CHARLES COLLINS 125
COMPENSATION HOUSE.
No. 4 BRANCH LINE: THE TRAVELLING BY HESBA STRETTON 154
POST-OFFICE.
No. 5 BRANCH LINE: THE ENGINEER. BY AMELIA B. EDWARDS 187




BARBOX BROTHERS


I


“Guard! What place is this?”

“Mugby Junction, sir.”

“A windy place!”

“Yes, it mostly is, sir.”

“And looks comfortless indeed!”

“Yes, it generally does, sir.”

“Is it a rainy night still?”

“Pours, sir.”

“Open the door. I’ll get out.”

“You’ll have, sir,” said the guard, glistening with drops of wet, and
looking at the tearful face of his watch by the light of his lantern as
the traveller descended, “three minutes here.”

“More, I think.—For I am not going on.”

“Thought you had a through ticket, sir?”

“So I have, but I shall sacrifice the rest of it. I want my luggage.”

“Please to come to the van and point it out, sir. Be good enough to look
very sharp, sir. Not a moment to spare.”

The guard hurried to the luggage van, and the traveller hurried after
him. The guard got into it, and the traveller looked into it.

“Those two large black portmanteaus in the corner where your light
shines. Those are mine.”

“Name upon ’em, sir?”

“Barbox Brothers.”

“Stand clear, sir, if you please. One. Two. Right!”

Lamp waved. Signal lights ahead already changing. Shriek from engine.
Train gone.

“Mugby Junction!” said the traveller, pulling up the woollen muffler
round his throat with both hands. “At past three o’clock of a
tempestuous morning! So!”

He spoke to himself. There was no one else to speak to. Perhaps, though
there had been any one else to speak to, he would have preferred to speak
to himself. Speaking to himself, he spoke to a man within five years of
fifty either way, who had turned grey too soon, like a neglected fire; a
man of pondering habit, brooding carriage of the head, and suppressed
internal voice; a man with many indications on him of having been much
alone.

He stood unnoticed on the dreary platform, except by the rain and by the
wind. Those two vigilant assailants made a rush at him. “Very well,”
said he, yielding. “It signifies nothing to me, to what quarter I turn
my face.”

Thus, at Mugby Junction, at past three o’clock of a tempestuous morning,
the traveller went where the weather drove him.

Not but what he could make a stand when he was so minded, for, coming to
the end of the roofed shelter (it is of considerable extent at Mugby
Junction) and looking out upon the dark night, with a yet darker
spirit-wing of storm beating its wild way through it, he faced about, and
held his own as ruggedly in the difficult direction, as he had held it in
the easier one. Thus, with a steady step, the traveller went up and
down, up and down, up and down, seeking nothing, and finding it.

A place replete with shadowy shapes, this Mugby Junction in the black
hours of the four-and-twenty. Mysterious goods trains, covered with
palls and gliding on like vast weird funerals, conveying themselves
guiltily away from the presence of the few lighted lamps, as if their
freight had come to a secret and unlawful end. Half miles of coal
pursuing in a Detective manner, following when they lead, stopping when
they stop, backing when they back. Red hot embers showering out upon the
ground, down this dark avenue, and down the other, as if torturing fires
were being raked clear; concurrently, shrieks and groans and grinds
invading the ear, as if the tortured were at the height of their
suffering. Iron-barred cages full of cattle jangling by midway, the
drooping beasts with horns entangled, eyes frozen with terror, and mouths
too: at least they have long icicles (or what seem so) hanging from their
lips. Unknown languages in the air, conspiring in red, green, and white
characters. An earthquake accompanied with thunder and lightning, going
up express to London.

Now, all quiet, all rusty, wind and rain in possession, lamps
extinguished, Mugby Junction dead and indistinct, with its robe drawn
over its head, like Cæsar. Now, too, as the belated traveller plodded up
and down, a shadowy train went by him in the gloom which was no other
than the train of a life. From whatsoever intangible deep cutting or
dark tunnel it emerged, here it came, unsummoned and unannounced,
stealing upon him and passing away into obscurity. Here, mournfully went
by, a child who had never had a childhood or known a parent, inseparable
from a youth with a bitter sense of his namelessness, coupled to a man
the enforced business of whose best years had been distasteful and
oppressive, linked to an ungrateful friend, dragging after him a woman
once beloved. Attendant, with many a clank and wrench, were lumbering
cares, dark meditations, huge dim disappointments, monotonous years, a
long jarring line of the discords of a solitary and unhappy existence.

“—Yours, sir?”

The traveller recalled his eyes from the waste into which they had been
staring, and fell back a step or so under the abruptness, and perhaps the
chance appropriateness, of the question.

“O! My thoughts were not here for the moment. Yes. Yes. Those two
portmanteaus are mine. Are you a Porter?”

“On Porter’s wages, sir. But I am Lamps.”

The traveller looked a little confused.

“Who did you say you are?”

“Lamps, sir,” showing an oily cloth in his hand, as further explanation.

“Surely, surely. Is there any hotel or tavern here?”

“Not exactly here, sir. There is a Refreshment Room here, but—” Lamps,
with a mighty serious look, gave his head a warning roll that plainly
added—“but it’s a blessed circumstance for you that it’s not open.”

“You couldn’t recommend it, I see, if it was available?”

“Ask your pardon, sir. If it was—?”

“Open?”

“It ain’t my place, as a paid servant of the company to give my opinion
on any of the company’s toepics,” he pronounced it more like toothpicks,
“beyond lamp-ile and cottons,” returned Lamps, in a confidential tone;
“but speaking as a man, I wouldn’t recommend my father (if he was to come
to life again) to go and try how he’d be treated at the Refreshment Room.
Not speaking as a man, no, I would _not_.”

The traveller nodded conviction. “I suppose I can put up in the town?
There is a town here?” For the traveller (though a stay-at-home compared
with most travellers) had been, like many others, carried on the steam
winds and the iron tides through that Junction before, without having
ever, as one might say, gone ashore there.

“O yes, there’s a town, sir. Anyways there’s town enough to put up in.
But,” following the glance of the other at his luggage, “this is a very
dead time of the night with us, sir. The deadest time. I might a’most
call it our deadest and buriedest time.”

“No porters about?”

“Well, sir, you see,” returned Lamps, confidential again, “they in
general goes off with the gas. That’s how it is. And they seem to have
overlooked you, through your walking to the furder end of the platform.
But in about twelve minutes or so, she may be up.”

“Who may be up?”

“The three forty-two, sir. She goes off in a sidin’ till the Up X
passes, and then she,” here an air of hopeful vagueness pervaded Lamps,
“doos all as lays in her power.”

“I doubt if I comprehend the arrangement.”

“I doubt if anybody do, sir. She’s a Parliamentary, sir. And, you see,
a Parliamentary, or a Skirmishun—”

“Do you mean an Excursion?”

“That’s it, sir.—A Parliamentary, or a Skirmishun, she mostly _doos_ go
off into a sidin’. But when she _can_ get a chance, she’s whistled out
of it, and she’s whistled up into doin’ all as,” Lamps again wore the air
of a highly sanguine man who hoped for the best, “all as lays in her
power.”

He then explained that porters on duty being required to be in attendance
on the Parliamentary matron in question, would doubtless turn up with the
gas. In the meantime, if the gentleman would not very much object to the
smell of lamp-oil, and would accept the warmth of his little room.—The
gentleman being by this time very cold, instantly closed with the
proposal.

A greasy little cabin it was, suggestive to the sense of smell, of a
cabin in a Whaler. But there was a bright fire burning in its rusty
grate, and on the floor there stood a wooden stand of newly trimmed and
lighted lamps, ready for carriage service. They made a bright show, and
their light, and the warmth, accounted for the popularity of the room, as
borne witness to by many impressions of velveteen trousers on a form by
the fire, and many rounded smears and smudges of stooping velveteen
shoulders on the adjacent wall. Various untidy shelves accommodated a
quantity of lamps and oil-cans, and also a fragrant collection of what
looked like the pocket-handkerchiefs of the whole lamp family.

As Barbox Brothers (so to call the traveller on the warranty of his
luggage) took his seat upon the form, and warmed his now ungloved hands
at the fire, he glanced aside at a little deal desk, much blotched with
ink, which his elbow touched. Upon it, were some scraps of coarse paper,
and a superannuated steel pen in very reduced and gritty circumstances.

From glancing at the scraps of paper, he turned involuntarily to his
host, and said, with some roughness—

“Why, you are never a poet, man!”

Lamps had certainly not the conventional appearance of one, as he stood
modestly rubbing his squab nose with a handkerchief so exceedingly oily,
that he might have been in the act of mistaking himself for one of his
charges. He was a spare man of about the Barbox Brothers’ time of life,
with his features whimsically drawn upward as if they were attracted by
the roots of his hair. He had a peculiarly shining transparent
complexion, probably occasioned by constant oleaginous application; and
his attractive hair, being cut short, and being grizzled, and standing
straight up on end as if it in its turn were attracted by some invisible
magnet above it, the top of his head was not very unlike a lamp-wick.

“But to be sure it’s no business of mine,” said Barbox Brothers. “That
was an impertinent observation on my part. Be what you like.”

“Some people, sir,” remarked Lamps, in a tone of apology, “are sometimes
what they don’t like.”

“Nobody knows that better than I do,” sighed the other. “I have been
what I don’t like, all my life.”

“When I first took, sir,” resumed Lamps, “to composing little
Comic-Songs-like—”

Barbox Brothers eyed him with great disfavour.

“—To composing little Comic-Songs-like—and what was more hard—to singing
’em afterwards,” said Lamps, “it went against the grain at that time, it
did indeed.”

Something that was not all oil here shining in Lamps’s eye, Barbox
Brothers withdrew his own a little disconcerted, looked at the fire, and
put a foot on the top bar. “Why did you do it, then?” he asked, after a
short pause; abruptly enough but in a softer tone. “If you didn’t want
to do it, why did you do it? Where did you sing them? Public-house?”

To which Mr. Lamps returned the curious reply: “Bedside.”

At this moment, while the traveller looked at him for elucidation, Mugby
Junction started suddenly, trembled violently, and opened its gas eyes.
“She’s got up!” Lamps announced, excited. “What lays in her power is
sometimes more, and sometimes less; but it’s laid in her power to get up
to-night, by George!”

The legend “Barbox Brothers” in large white letters on two black
surfaces, was very soon afterwards trundling on a truck through a silent
street, and, when the owner of the legend had shivered on the pavement
half an hour, what time the porter’s knocks at the Inn Door knocked up
the whole town first, and the Inn last, he groped his way into the close
air of a shut-up house, and so groped between the sheets of a shut-up bed
that seemed to have been expressly refrigerated for him when last made.



II


“You remember me, Young Jackson?”

“What do I remember if not you? You are my first remembrance. It was
you who told me that was my name. It was you who told me that on every
twentieth of December my life had a penitential anniversary in it called
a birthday. I suppose the last communication was truer than the first!”

“What am I like, Young Jackson?”

“You are like a blight all through the year, to me. You hard-lined,
thin-lipped, repressive, changeless woman with a wax mask on. You are
like the Devil to me; most of all when you teach me religious things, for
you make me abhor them.”

“You remember me, Mr. Young Jackson?” In another voice from another
quarter.

“Most gratefully, sir. You were the ray of hope and prospering ambition
in my life. When I attended your course, I believed that I should come
to be a great healer, and I felt almost happy—even though I was still the
one boarder in the house with that horrible mask, and ate and drank in
silence and constraint with the mask before me, every day. As I had done
every, every, every day, through my school-time and from my earliest
recollection.”

“What am I like, Mr. Young Jackson?”

“You are like a Superior Being to me. You are like Nature beginning to
reveal herself to me. I hear you again, as one of the hushed crowd of
young men kindling under the power of your presence and knowledge, and
you bring into my eyes the only exultant tears that ever stood in them.”

“You remember Me, Mr. Young Jackson?” In a grating voice from quite
another quarter.

“Too well. You made your ghostly appearance in my life one day, and
announced that its course was to be suddenly and wholly changed. You
showed me which was my wearisome seat in the Galley of Barbox Brothers.
(When _they_ were, if they ever were, is unknown to me; there was nothing
of them but the name when I bent to the oar.) You told me what I was to
do, and what to be paid; you told me afterwards, at intervals of years,
when I was to sign for the Firm, when I became a partner, when I became
the Firm. I know no more of it, or of myself.”

“What am I like, Mr. Young Jackson?”

“You are like my father, I sometimes think. You are hard enough and cold
enough so to have brought up an unacknowledged son. I see your scanty
figure, your close brown suit, and your tight brown wig; but you, too,
wear a wax mask to your death. You never by a chance remove it—it never
by a chance falls off—and I know no more of you.”

Throughout this dialogue, the traveller spoke to himself at his window in
the morning, as he had spoken to himself at the Junction over-night. And
as he had then looked in the darkness, a man who had turned grey too
soon, like a neglected fire: so he now looked in the sunlight, an ashier
grey, like a fire which the brightness of the sun put out.

The firm of Barbox Brothers had been some offshoot or irregular branch of
the Public Notary and bill-broking tree. It had gained for itself a
griping reputation before the days of Young Jackson, and the reputation
had stuck to it and to him. As he had imperceptibly come into possession
of the dim den up in the corner of a court off Lombard-street, on whose
grimy windows the inscription Barbox Brothers had for many long years
daily interposed itself between him and the sky, so he had insensibly
found himself a personage held in chronic distrust, whom it was essential
to screw tight to every transaction in which he engaged, whose word was
never to be taken without his attested bond, whom all dealers with openly
set up guards and wards against. This character had come upon him
through no act of his own. It was as if the original Barbox had
stretched himself down upon the office-floor, and had thither caused to
be conveyed Young Jackson in his sleep, and had there effected a
metempsychosis and exchange of persons with him. The discovery—aided in
its turn by the deceit of the only woman he had ever loved, and the
deceit of the only friend he had ever made: who eloped from him to be
married together—the discovery, so followed up, completed what his
earliest rearing had begun. He shrank, abashed, within the form of
Barbox, and lifted up his head and heart no more.

But he did at last effect one great release in his condition. He broke
the oar he had plied so long, and he scuttled and sank the galley. He
prevented the gradual retirement of an old conventional business from
him, by taking the initiative and retiring from it. With enough to live
on (though after all with not too much), he obliterated the firm of
Barbox Brothers from the pages of the Post-office Directory and the face
of the earth, leaving nothing of it but its name on two portmanteaus.

“For one must have some name in going about, for people to pick up,” he
explained to Mugby High-street, through the Inn-window, “and that name at
least was real once. Whereas, Young Jackson!—Not to mention its being a
sadly satirical misnomer for Old Jackson.”

He took up his hat and walked out, just in time to see, passing along on
the opposite side of the way, a velveteen man, carrying his day’s dinner
in a small bundle that might have been larger without suspicion of
gluttony, and pelting away towards the Junction at a great pace.

“There’s Lamps!” said Barbox Brother. “And by-the-by—”

Ridiculous, surely, that a man so serious, so self-contained, and not yet
three days emancipated from a routine of drudgery, should stand rubbing
his chin in the street, in a brown study about Comic Songs.

“Bedside?” said Barbox Brothers, testily. “Sings them at the bedside?
Why at the bedside, unless he goes to bed drunk? Does, I shouldn’t
wonder. But it’s no business of mine. Let me see. Mugby Junction,
Mugby Junction. Where shall I go next? As it came into my head last
night when I woke from an uneasy sleep in the carriage and found myself
here, I can go anywhere from here. Where shall I go? I’ll go and look
at the Junction by daylight. There’s no hurry, and I may like the look
of one Line better than another.”

But there were so many Lines. Gazing down upon them from a bridge at the
Junction, it was as if the concentrating Companies formed a great
Industrial Exhibition of the works of extraordinary ground-spiders that
spun iron. And then so many of the Lines went such wonderful ways, so
crossing and curving among one another, that the eye lost them. And then
some of them appeared to start with the fixed intention of going five
hundred miles, and all of a sudden gave it up at an insignificant
barrier, or turned off into a workshop. And then others, like
intoxicated men, went a little way very straight, and surprisingly slued
round and came back again. And then others were so chock-full of trucks
of coal, others were so blocked with trucks of casks, others were so
gorged with trucks of ballast, others were so set apart for wheeled
objects like immense iron cotton-reels: while others were so bright and
clear, and others were so delivered over to rust and ashes and idle
wheelbarrows out of work, with their legs in the air (looking much like
their masters on strike), that there was no beginning, middle, or end, to
the bewilderment.

Barbox Brothers stood puzzled on the bridge, passing his right hand
across the lines on his forehead, which multiplied while he looked down,
as if the railway Lines were getting themselves photographed on that
sensitive plate. Then, was heard a distant ringing of bells and blowing
of whistles. Then, puppet-looking heads of men popped out of boxes in
perspective, and popped in again. Then, prodigious wooden razors set up
on end, began shaving the atmosphere. Then, several locomotive engines
in several directions began to scream and be agitated. Then, along one
avenue a train came in. Then, along another two trains appeared that
didn’t come in, but stopped without. Then, bits of trains broke off.
Then, a struggling horse became involved with them. Then, the
locomotives shared the bits of trains, and ran away with the whole.

“I have not made my next move much clearer by this. No hurry. No need
to make up my mind to-day, or to-morrow, nor yet the day after. I’ll
take a walk.”

It fell out somehow (perhaps he meant it should) that the walk tended to
the platform at which he had alighted, and to Lamps’s room. But Lamps
was not in his room. A pair of velveteen shoulders were adapting
themselves to one of the impressions on the wall by Lamps’s fireplace,
but otherwise the room was void. In passing back to get out of the
station again, he learnt the cause of this vacancy, by catching sight of
Lamps on the opposite line of railway, skipping along the top of a train,
from carriage to carriage, and catching lighted namesakes thrown up to
him by a coadjutor.

“He is busy. He has not much time for composing or singing Comic Songs
this morning, I take it.”

The direction he pursued now, was into the country, keeping very near to
the side of one great Line of railway, and within easy view of others.
“I have half a mind,” he said, glancing around, “to settle the question
from this point, by saying, ‘I’ll take this set of rails, or that, or
t’other, and stick to it.’ They separate themselves from the confusion,
out here, and go their ways.”

Ascending a gentle hill of some extent, he came to a few cottages.
There, looking about him as a very reserved man might who had never
looked about him in his life before, he saw some six or eight young
children come merrily trooping and whooping from one of the cottages, and
disperse. But not until they had all turned at the little garden gate,
and kissed their hands to a face at the upper window: a low window
enough, although the upper, for the cottage had but a story of one room
above the ground.

Now, that the children should do this was nothing; but that they should
do this to a face lying on the sill of the open window, turned towards
them in a horizontal position, and apparently only a face, was something
noticeable. He looked up at the window again. Could only see a very
fragile though a very bright face, lying on one cheek on the window-sill.
The delicate smiling face of a girl or woman. Framed in long bright
brown hair, round which was tied a light blue band or fillet, passing
under the chin.

He walked on, turned back, passed the window again, shyly glanced up
again. No change. He struck off by a winding branch-road at the top of
the hill—which he must otherwise have descended—kept the cottages in
view, worked his way round at a distance so as to come out once more into
the main road and be obliged to pass the cottages again. The face still
lay on the window-sill, but not so much inclined towards him. And now
there were a pair of delicate hands too. They had the action of
performing on some musical instrument, and yet it produced no sound that
reached his ears.

“Mugby Junction must be the maddest place in England,” said Barbox
Brothers, pursuing his way down the hill. “The first thing I find here
is a Railway Porter who composes comic songs to sing at his bedside. The
second thing I find here is a face, and a pair of hands playing a musical
instrument that don’t play!”

The day was a fine bright day in the early beginning of November, the air
was clear and inspiriting, and the landscape was rich in beautiful
colours. The prevailing colours in the court off Lombard-street, London
city, had been few and sombre. Sometimes, when the weather elsewhere was
very bright indeed, the dwellers in those tents enjoyed a
pepper-and-salt-coloured day or two, but their atmosphere’s usual wear
was slate, or snuff colour.

He relished his walk so well, that he repeated it next day. He was a
little earlier at the cottage than on the day before, and he could hear
the children up-stairs singing to a regular measure and clapping out the
time with their hands.

“Still, there is no sound of any musical instrument,” he said, listening
at the corner, “and yet I saw the performing hands again, as I came by.
What are the children singing? Why, good Lord, they can never be singing
the multiplication-table!”

They were though, and with infinite enjoyment. The mysterious face had a
voice attached to it which occasionally led or set the children right.
Its musical cheerfulness was delightful. The measure at length stopped,
and was succeeded by a murmuring of young voices, and then by a short
song which he made out to be about the current month of the year, and
about what work it yielded to the labourers in the fields and farm-yards.
Then, there was a stir of little feet, and the children came trooping and
whooping out, as on the previous day. And again, as on the previous day,
they all turned at the garden gate, and kissed their hands—evidently to
the face on the window-sill, though Barbox Brothers from his retired post
of disadvantage at the corner could not see it.

But as the children dispersed, he cut off one small straggler—a brown
faced boy with flaxen hair—and said to him:

“Come here, little one. Tell me whose house is that?”

The child, with one swarthy arm held up across his eyes, half in shyness,
and half ready for defence, said from behind the inside of his elbow:

“Phœbe’s.”

“And who,” said Barbox Brothers, quite as much embarrassed by his part in
the dialogue as the child could possibly be by his, “is Phœbe?”

To which the child made answer: “Why, Phœbe, of course.”

The small but sharp observer had eyed his questioner closely, and had
taken his moral measure. He lowered his guard, and rather assumed a tone
with him: as having discovered him to be an unaccustomed person in the
art of polite conversation.

“Phœbe,” said the child, “can’t be anybobby else but Phœbe. Can she?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Well,” returned the child, “then why did you ask me?”

Deeming it prudent to shift his ground, Barbox Brothers took up a new
position.

“What do you do there? Up there in that room where the open window is.
What do you do there?”

“Cool,” said the child.

“Eh?”

“Co-o-ol,” the child repeated in a louder voice, lengthening out the word
with a fixed look and great emphasis, as much as to say: “What’s the use
of your having grown up, if you’re such a donkey as not to understand
me?”

“Ah! School, school,” said Barbox Brothers. “Yes, yes, yes. And Phœbe
teaches you?”

The child nodded.

“Good boy.”

“Tound it out, have you?” said the child.

“Yes, I have found it out. What would you do with twopence, if I gave it
you?”

“Pend it.”

The knock-down promptitude of this reply leaving him not a leg to stand
upon, Barbox Brothers produced the twopence with great lameness, and
withdrew in a state of humiliation.

But, seeing the face on the window-sill as he passed the cottage, he
acknowledged its presence there with a gesture, which was not a nod, not
a bow, not a removal of his hat from his head, but was a diffident
compromise between or struggle with all three. The eyes in the face
seemed amused, or cheered, or both, and the lips modestly said: “Good day
to you, sir.”

“I find I must stick for a time to Mugby Junction,” said Barbox Brothers,
with much gravity, after once more stopping on his return road to look at
the Lines where they went their several ways so quietly. “I can’t make
up my mind yet, which iron road to take. In fact, I must get a little
accustomed to the Junction before I can decide.”

So, he announced at the Inn that he was “going to stay on, for the
present,” and improved his acquaintance with the Junction that night, and
again next morning, and again next night and morning: going down to the
station, mingling with the people there, looking about him down all the
avenues of railway, and beginning to take an interest in the incomings
and outgoings of the trains. At first, he often put his head into
Lamps’s little room, but he never found Lamps there. A pair or two of
velveteen shoulders he usually found there, stooping over the fire,
sometimes in connexion with a clasped knife and a piece of bread and
meat; but the answer to his inquiry, “Where’s Lamps?” was, either that he
was “t’other side the line,” or, that it was his off-time, or (in the
latter case), his own personal introduction to another Lamps who was not
his Lamps. However, he was not so desperately set upon seeing Lamps now,
but he bore the disappointment. Nor did he so wholly devote himself to
his severe application to the study of Mugby Junction, as to neglect
exercise. On the contrary, he took a walk every day, and always the same
walk. But the weather turned cold and wet again, and the window was
never open.



III


At length, after a lapse of some days, there came another streak of fine
bright hardy autumn weather. It was a Saturday. The window was open,
and the children were gone. Not surprising, this, for he had patiently
watched and waited at the corner, until they _were_ gone.

“Good day,” he said to the face; absolutely getting his hat clear off his
head this time.

“Good day to you, sir.”

“I am glad you have a fine sky again, to look at.”

“Thank you, sir. It is kind of you.”

“You are an invalid, I fear?”

“No, sir. I have very good health.”

“But are you not always lying down?”

“O yes, I am always lying down, because I cannot sit up. But I am not an
invalid.”

The laughing eyes seemed highly to enjoy his great mistake.

“Would you mind taking the trouble to come in, sir? There is a beautiful
view from this window. And you would see that I am not at all ill—being
so good as to care.”

It was said to help him, as he stood irresolute, but evidently desiring
to enter, with his diffident hand on the latch of the garden gate. It
did help him, and he went in.

The room up-stairs was a very clean white room with a low roof. Its only
inmate lay on a couch that brought her face on a level with the window.
The couch was white too; and her simple dress or wrapper being light
blue, like the band around her hair, she had an ethereal look, and a
fanciful appearance of lying among clouds. He felt that she
instinctively perceived him to be by habit a downcast taciturn man; it
was another help to him to have established that understanding so easily,
and got it over.

There was an awkward constraint upon him, nevertheless, as he touched her
hand, and took a chair at the side of her couch.

“I see now,” he began, not at all fluently, “how you occupy your hands.
Only seeing you from the path outside, I thought you were playing upon
something.”

She was engaged in very nimbly and dexterously making lace. A
lace-pillow lay upon her breast; and the quick movements and changes of
her hands upon it as she worked, had given them the action he had
misinterpreted.

“That is curious,” she answered, with a bright smile. “For I often
fancy, myself, that I play tunes while I am at work.”

“Have you any musical knowledge?”

She shook her head.

“I think I could pick out tunes, if I had any instrument, which could be
made as handy to me as my lace-pillow. But I dare say I deceive myself.
At all events, I shall never know.”

“You have a musical voice. Excuse me; I have heard you sing.”

“With the children?” she answered, slightly colouring. “O yes. I sing
with the dear children, if it can be called singing.”

Barbox Brothers glanced at the two small forms in the room, and hazarded
the speculation that she was fond of children, and that she was learned
in new systems of teaching them? “Very fond of them,” she said, shaking
her head again; “but I know nothing of teaching, beyond the interest I
have in it, and the pleasure it gives me when they learn. Perhaps your
overhearing my little scholars sing some of their lessons, has led you so
far astray as to think me a grand teacher? Ah! I thought so! No, I have
only read and been told about that system. It seemed so pretty and
pleasant, and to treat them so like the merry Robins they are, that I
took up with it in my little way. You don’t need to be told what a very
little way mine is, sir,” she added, with a glance at the small forms and
round the room.

All this time her hands were busy at her lace-pillow. As they still
continued so, and as there was a kind of substitute for conversation in
the click and play of its pegs, Barbox Brothers took the opportunity of
observing her. He guessed her to be thirty. The charm of her
transparent face and large bright brown eyes, was, not that they were
passively resigned, but that they were actively and thoroughly cheerful.
Even her busy hands, which of their own thinness alone might have
besought compassion, plied their task with a gay courage that made mere
compassion an unjustifiable assumption of superiority, and an
impertinence.

He saw her eyes in the act of rising towards his, and he directed his
towards the prospect, saying: “Beautiful indeed!”

“Most beautiful, sir. I have sometimes had a fancy that I would like to
sit up, for once, only to try how it looks to an erect head. But what a
foolish fancy that would be to encourage! It cannot look more lovely to
any one than it does to me.”

Her eyes were turned to it as she spoke, with most delighted admiration
and enjoyment. There was not a trace in it of any sense of deprivation.

“And those threads of railway, with their puffs of smoke and steam
changing places so fast, make it so lively for me,” she went on. “I
think of the number of people who _can_ go where they wish, on their
business, or their pleasure; I remember that the puffs make signs to me
that they are actually going while I look; and that enlivens the prospect
with abundance of company, if I want company. There is the great
Junction, too. I don’t see it under the foot of the hill, but I can very
often hear it, and I always know it is there. It seems to join me, in a
way, to I don’t know how many places and things that _I_ shall never
see.”

With an abashed kind of idea that it might have already joined himself to
something he had never seen, he said constrainedly: “Just so.”

“And so you see, sir,” pursued Phœbe, “I am not the invalid you thought
me, and I am very well off indeed.”

“You have a happy disposition,” said Barbox Brothers: perhaps with a
slight excusatory touch for his own disposition.

“Ah! But you should know my father,” she replied. “His is the happy
disposition!—Don’t mind, sir!” For his reserve took the alarm at a step
upon the stairs, and he distrusted that he would be set down for a
troublesome intruder. “This is my father coming.”

The door opened, and the father paused there.

“Why, Lamps!” exclaimed Barbox Brothers, starting from his chair. “How
do you do, Lamps?”

To which, Lamps responded: “The gentleman for Nowhere! How do you DO,
sir?”

And they shook hands, to the greatest admiration and surprise of Lamps’s
daughter.

“I have looked you up, half a dozen times since that night,” said Barbox
Brothers, “but have never found you.”

“So I’ve heerd on, sir, so I’ve heerd on,” returned Lamps. “It’s your
being noticed so often down at the Junction, without taking any train,
that has begun to get you the name among us of the gentleman for Nowhere.
No offence in my having called you by it when took by surprise, I hope,
sir?”

“None at all. It’s as good a name for me as any other you could call me
by. But may I ask you a question in the corner here?”

Lamps suffered himself to be led aside from his daughter’s couch, by one
of the buttons of his velveteen jacket.

“Is this the bedside where you sing your songs?”

Lamps nodded.

The gentleman for Nowhere clapped him on the shoulder; and they faced
about again.

“Upon my word, my dear,” said Lamps then to his daughter, looking from
her to her visitor, “it is such an amaze to me, to find you brought
acquainted with this gentleman, that I must (if this gentleman will
excuse me) take a rounder.”

Mr. Lamps demonstrated in action what this meant, by pulling out his oily
handkerchief rolled up in the form of a ball, and giving himself an
elaborate smear, from behind the right ear, up the cheek, across the
forehead, and down the other cheek to behind his left ear. After this
operation he shone exceedingly.

“It’s according to my custom when particular warmed up by any agitation,
sir,” he offered by way of apology. “And really, I am throwed into that
state of amaze by finding you brought acquainted with Phœbe, that I—that
I think I will, if you’ll excuse me, take another rounder.” Which he
did, seeming to be greatly restored by it.

They were now both standing by the side of her couch, and she was working
at her lace-pillow. “Your daughter tells me,” said Barbox Brothers,
still in a half reluctant shamefaced way, “that she never sits up.”

“No, sir, nor never has done. You see, her mother (who died when she was
a year and two months old) was subject to very bad fits, and as she had
never mentioned to me that she _was_ subject to fits, they couldn’t be
guarded against. Consequently, she dropped the baby when took, and this
happened.”

“It was very wrong of her,” said Barbox Brothers, with a knitted brow,
“to marry you, making a secret of her infirmity.”

“Well, sir,” pleaded Lamps, in behalf of the long-deceased. “You see,
Phœbe and me, we have talked that over too. And Lord bless us! Such a
number on us has our infirmities, what with fits, and what with misfits,
of one sort and another, that if we confessed to ’em all before we got
married, most of us might never get married.”

“Might not that be for the better?”

“Not in this case, sir,” said Phœbe, giving her hand to her father.

“No, not in this case, sir,” said her father, patting it between his own.

“You correct me,” returned Barbox Brothers, with a blush; “and I must
look so like a Brute, that at all events it would be superfluous in me to
confess to _that_ infirmity.



Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | Next |

Main -> Halliday, Andrew -> Mugby Junction