Every minute incident of his last meeting with Amelia was present to the constant man's mind as he walked towards her house. The arch and the Achilles statue were up since he had last been in Piccadilly; a hundred changes had occurred which his eye and mind vaguely noted. He began to tremble as he walked up the lane from Brompton, that well-remembered lane leading to the street where she lived. Was she going to be married or not? If he were to meet her with the little boy — Good God, what should he do? He saw a woman coming to him with a child of five years old — was that she? He began to shake at the mere possibility. When he came up to the row of houses, at last, where she lived, and to the gate, he caught hold of it and paused. He might have heard the thumping of his own heart. "May God Almighty bless her, whatever has happened," he thought to himself. "Psha! she may be gone from here," he said and went in through the gate.
The window of the parlour which she used to occupy was open, and there were no inmates in the room. The Major thought he recognized the piano, though, with the picture over it, as it used to be in former days, and his perturbations were renewed. Mr. Clapp's brass plate was still on the door, at the knocker of which Dobbin performed a summons.
A buxom-looking lass of sixteen, with bright eyes and purple cheeks, came to answer the knock and looked hard at the Major as he leant back against the little porch.
He was as pale as a ghost and could hardly falter out the words — "Does Mrs. Osborne live here?"
She looked him hard in the face for a moment — and then turning white too — said, "Lord bless me — it's Major Dobbin." She held out both her hands shaking — "Don't you remember me?" she said. "I used to call you Major Sugarplums." On which, and I believe it was for the first time that he ever so conducted himself in his life, the Major took the girl in his arms and kissed her. She began to laugh and cry hysterically, and calling out "Ma, Pa!" with all her voice, brought up those worthy people, who had already been surveying the Major from the casement of the ornamental kitchen, and were astonished to find their daughter in the little passage in the embrace of a great tall man in a blue frock-coat and white duck trousers.
"I'm an old friend," he said — not without blushing though. "Don't you remember me, Mrs. Clapp, and those good cakes you used to make for tea? Don't you recollect me, Clapp? I'm George's godfather, and just come back from India." A great shaking of hands ensued — Mrs. Clapp was greatly affected and delighted; she called upon heaven to interpose a vast many times in that passage.
The landlord and landlady of the house led the worthy Major into the Sedleys' room (whereof he remembered every single article of furniture, from the old brass ornamented piano, once a natty little instrument, Stothard maker, to the screens and the alabaster miniature tombstone, in the midst of which ticked Mr. Sedley's gold watch), and there, as he sat down in the lodger's vacant arm-chair, the father, the mother, and the daughter, with a thousand ejaculatory breaks in the narrative, informed Major Dobbin of what we know already, but of particulars in Amelia's history of which he was not aware — namely of Mrs. Sedley's death, of George's reconcilement with his grandfather Osborne, of the way in which the widow took on at leaving him, and of other particulars of her life. Twice or thrice he was going to ask about the marriage question, but his heart failed him. He did not care to lay it bare to these people. Finally, he was informed that Mrs. O. was gone to walk with her pa in Kensington Gardens, whither she always went with the old gentleman (who was very weak and peevish now, and led her a sad life, though she behaved to him like an angel, to be sure), of a fine afternoon, after dinner.
"I'm very much pressed for time," the Major said, "and have business to-night of importance. I should like to see Mrs. Osborne tho'. Suppose Miss Polly would come with me and show me the way?"
Miss Polly was charmed and astonished at this proposal. She knew the way. She would show Major Dobbin. She had often been with Mr. Sedley when Mrs. O. was gone — was gone Russell Square way — and knew the bench where he liked to sit. She bounced away to her apartment and appeared presently in her best bonnet and her mamma's yellow shawl and large pebble brooch, of which she assumed the loan in order to make herself a worthy companion for the Major.
That officer, then, in his blue frock-coat and buckskin gloves, gave the young lady his arm, and they walked away very gaily. He was glad to have a friend at hand for the scene which he dreaded somehow. He asked a thousand more questions from his companion about Amelia: his kind heart grieved to think that she should have had to part with her son. How did she bear it? Did she see him often? Was Mr. Sedley pretty comfortable now in a worldly point of view? Polly answered all these questions of Major Sugarplums to the very best of her power.
And in the midst of their walk an incident occurred which, though very simple in its nature, was productive of the greatest delight to Major Dobbin. A pale young man with feeble whiskers and a stiff white neckcloth came walking down the lane, en sandwich — having a lady, that is, on each arm. One was a tall and commanding middle- aged female, with features and a complexion similar to those of the clergyman of the Church of England by whose side she marched, and the other a stunted little woman with a dark face, ornamented by a fine new bonnet and white ribbons, and in a smart pelisse, with a rich gold watch in the midst of her person. The gentleman, pinioned as he was by these two ladies, carried further a parasol, shawl, and basket, so that his arms were entirely engaged, and of course he was unable to touch his hat in acknowledgement of the curtsey with which Miss Mary Clapp greeted him.
He merely bowed his head in reply to her salutation, which the two ladies returned with a patronizing air, and at the same time looking severely at the individual in the blue coat and bamboo cane who accompanied Miss Polly.
"Who's that?" asked the Major, amused by the group, and after he had made way for the three to pass up the lane. Mary looked at him rather roguishly.
"That is our curate, the Reverend Mr. Binny (a twitch from Major Dobbin), and his sister Miss B. Lord bless us, how she did use to worret us at Sunday-school; and the other lady, the little one with a cast in her eye and the handsome watch, is Mrs. Binny — Miss Grits that was; her pa was a grocer, and kept the Little Original Gold Tea Pot in Kensington Gravel Pits. They were married last month, and are just come back from Margate. She's five thousand pound to her fortune; but her and Miss B., who made the match, have quarrelled already."
If the Major had twitched before, he started now, and slapped the bamboo on the ground with an emphasis which made Miss Clapp cry, "Law," and laugh too. He stood for a moment, silent, with open mouth, looking after the retreating young couple, while Miss Mary told their history; but he did not hear beyond the announcement of the reverend gentleman's marriage; his head was swimming with felicity. After this rencontre he began to walk double quick towards the place of his destination — and yet they were too soon (for he was in a great tremor at the idea of a meeting for which he had been longing any time these ten years) — through the Brompton lanes, and entering at the little old portal in Kensington Garden wall.
"There they are," said Miss Polly, and she felt him again start back on her arm. She was a confidante at once of the whole business. She knew the story as well as if she had read it in one of her favourite novel-books — Fatherless Fanny, or the Scottish Chiefs.
"Suppose you were to run on and tell her," the Major said. Polly ran forward, her yellow shawl streaming in the breeze.