The children close up to see it done, and Mr. Bagnet looks over young Woolwich's head to see it done with an interest so maturely wooden, yet pleasantly childish, that Mrs. Bagnet cannot help laughing in her airy way and saying, "Oh, Lignum, Lignum, what a precious old chap you are!" But the trooper fails to fasten the brooch. His hand shakes, he is nervous, and it falls off. "Would any one believe this?" says he, catching it as it drops and looking round. "I am so out of sorts that I bungle at an easy job like this!"
Mrs. Bagnet concludes that for such a case there is no remedy like a pipe, and fastening the brooch herself in a twinkling, causes the trooper to be inducted into his usual snug place and the pipes to be got into action. "If that don't bring you round, George," says she, "just throw your eye across here at your present now and then, and the two together MUST do it."
"You ought to do it of yourself," George answers; "I know that very well, Mrs. Bagnet. I'll tell you how, one way and another, the blues have got to be too many for me. Here was this poor lad. 'Twas dull work to see him dying as he did, and not be able to help him."
"What do you mean, George? You did help him. You took him under your roof."
"I helped him so far, but that's little. I mean, Mrs. Bagnet, there he was, dying without ever having been taught much more than to know his right hand from his left. And he was too far gone to be helped out of that."
"Ah, poor creetur!" says Mrs. Bagnet.
"Then," says the trooper, not yet lighting his pipe, and passing his heavy hand over his hair, "that brought up Gridley in a man's mind. His was a bad case too, in a different way. Then the two got mixed up in a man's mind with a flinty old rascal who had to do with both. And to think of that rusty carbine, stock and barrel, standing up on end in his corner, hard, indifferent, taking everything so evenly — it made flesh and blood tingle, I do assure you."
"My advice to you," returns Mrs. Bagnet, "is to light your pipe and tingle that way. It's wholesomer and comfortabler, and better for the health altogether."
"You're right," says the trooper, "and I'll do it."
So he does it, though still with an indignant gravity that impresses the young Bagnets, and even causes Mr. Bagnet to defer the ceremony of drinking Mrs. Bagnet's health, always given by himself on these occasions in a speech of exemplary terseness. But the young ladies having composed what Mr. Bagnet is in the habit of calling "the mixtur," and George's pipe being now in a glow, Mr. Bagnet considers it his duty to proceed to the toast of the evening. He addresses the assembled company in the following terms.
"George. Woolwich. Quebec. Malta. This is her birthday. Take a day's march. And you won't find such another. Here's towards her!"
The toast having been drunk with enthusiasm, Mrs. Bagnet returns thanks in a neat address of corresponding brevity. This model composition is limited to the three words "And wishing yours!" which the old girl follows up with a nod at everybody in succession and a well-regulated swig of the mixture. This she again follows up, on the present occasion, by the wholly unexpected exclamation, "Here's a man!"
Here IS a man, much to the astonishment of the little company, looking in at the parlour-door. He is a sharp-eyed man — a quick keen man — and he takes in everybody's look at him, all at once, individually and collectively, in a manner that stamps him a remarkable man.
"George," says the man, nodding, "how do you find yourself?"
"Why, it's Bucket!" cries Mr. George.
"Yes," says the man, coming in and closing the door. "I was going down the street here when I happened to stop and look in at the musical instruments in the shop-window — a friend of mine is in want of a second-hand wiolinceller of a good tone — and I saw a party enjoying themselves, and I thought it was you in the corner; I thought I couldn't be mistaken. How goes the world with you, George, at the present moment? Pretty smooth? And with you, ma'am? And with you, governor? And Lord," says Mr. Bucket, opening his arms, "here's children too! You may do anything with me if you only show me children. Give us a kiss, my pets. No occasion to inquire who YOUR father and mother is. Never saw such a likeness in my life!"
Mr. Bucket, not unwelcome, has sat himself down next to Mr. George and taken Quebec and Malta on his knees. "You pretty dears," says Mr. Bucket, "give us another kiss; it's the only thing I'm greedy in. Lord bless you, how healthy you look! And what may be the ages of these two, ma'am? I should put 'em down at the figures of about eight and ten."
"You're very near, sir," says Mrs. Bagnet.
"I generally am near," returns Mr. Bucket, "being so fond of children. A friend of mine has had nineteen of 'em, ma'am, all by one mother, and she's still as fresh and rosy as the morning. Not so much so as yourself, but, upon my soul, she comes near you! And what do you call these, my darling?" pursues Mr. Bucket, pinching Malta's cheeks. "These are peaches, these are. Bless your heart! And what do you think about father? Do you think father could recommend a second-hand wiolinceller of a good tone for Mr. Bucket's friend, my dear? My name's Bucket. Ain't that a funny name?"
These blandishments have entirely won the family heart. Mrs. Bagnet forgets the day to the extent of filling a pipe and a glass for Mr. Bucket and waiting upon him hospitably. She would be glad to receive so pleasant a character under any circumstances, but she tells him that as a friend of George's she is particularly glad to see him this evening, for George has not been in his usual spirits.
"Not in his usual spirits?" exclaims Mr. Bucket. "Why, I never heard of such a thing! What's the matter, George? You don't intend to tell me you've been out of spirits. What should you be out of spirits for? You haven't got anything on your mind, you know."
"Nothing particular," returns the trooper.
"I should think not," rejoins Mr. Bucket. "What could you have on your mind, you know! And have these pets got anything on THEIR minds, eh? Not they, but they'll be upon the minds of some of the young fellows, some of these days, and make 'em precious low- spirited. I ain't much of a prophet, but I can tell you that, ma'am."
Mrs. Bagnet, quite charmed, hopes Mr. Bucket has a family of his own.
"There, ma'am!" says Mr. Bucket. "Would you believe it? No, I haven't. My wife and a lodger constitute my family. Mrs. Bucket is as fond of children as myself and as wishful to have 'em, but no. So it is. Worldly goods are divided unequally, and man must not repine. What a very nice backyard, ma'am! Any way out of that yard, now?"
There is no way out of that yard.
"Ain't there really?" says Mr. Bucket. "I should have thought there might have been. Well, I don't know as I ever saw a backyard that took my fancy more. Would you allow me to look at it? Thank you. No, I see there's no way out. But what a very good- proportioned yard it is!"
Having cast his sharp eye all about it, Mr. Bucket returns to his chair next his friend Mr. George and pats Mr. George affectionately on the shoulder.
"How are your spirits now, George?"
"All right now," returns the trooper.