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ONE Christmas week I had occasion to call in at the relieving
office just at the time when the out-door paupers were receiving their weekly
allowance of money and bread. I noticed that some of them who were passing out
as I went in were looking unwontedly joyous, and on reaching the inner office I
descried the cause of these happy looks in the shape of a goodly pile of currant
loaves, and packages of tea and sugar, which were being distributed along with
the ordinary relief. I knew enough of such matters to be aware that these extras
would be given by private benevolence, and taking advantage of a pause in the
work of distribution, I asked, -
"Whose gifts are these?"
"Well, they are given through this channel because the party doesn't want his name known," answered the relieving officer; "however, I don't suppose there would be any objection to your knowing - the giver is Buckle-to and Partner."
"Buckle-to and Partner," I echoed, trying for the [-481-] moment to bethink me of some charitable firm known by that title, "Buckle-to and Partner."
"Yes, old P----, the ex-showman, you know," answered the relieving officer, who seemed surprised that I should be in any doubt as to whom he meant.
The name struck me as one that I had heard before, and, after a little, I remembered it was that of the gentleman who had been such a benefactor to poor "Tough-un" and his mother. I therefore answered that I knew him by name, and to a certain extent by reputation, but that I had never met him.
"Well, he doesn't go about much certainly," said the relieving officer; "and he is generally more anxious to keep in the background than put himself forward. Still I should have thought that you had come across him; he has a finger in most of the charitable pies hereabout - not as a Jack Horner, you understand; he doesn't put in his thumb and take out a plum; he puts the plums in."
"So I should suppose, from what I had heard of him," I said.
"He is as kind-hearted a man as any breathing," the officer went on, resuming the work of distribution, "and he is what every kind-hearted man is not - thoughtful and clear-headed. He is a large giver; he puts aside a tenth, or some other fixed portion of his income for charity, and doesn't hesitate about adding to that if occasion requires; he is a cheerful giver, and he is what I call a genuine giver. He doesn't give just to see his name advertised in a subscription list, or to hear a toast-master [-482-] crying out 'P-----, Esq., ten guineas.' But, at the same time, he isn't one of the uninquiring, all-believing sort of givers who help the first that asks, and are generally imposed upon in consequence. He likes to know who or what he is giving to, and that is how I come to know him, for he often calls on the guardians or me to inquire about some one who has been applying to him for help. I dare say he has been imposed upon in his time, but it would take a pretty sharp customer to get over him now. If he's kind-hearted, he is shrewd with it, and he has seen a good deal of the world and its ways."
"Well, there can be no doubt as to his kind-heartedness, whatever there may be about his shrewdness," I said, looking at the diminishing pile of good things, and the gratified looks of those who, one by one, were bearing away their share of it. "This gift alone must have cost him something considerable."
"Well, all that he does in this way at the Christmas season must cost him something considerable. Besides what you see, he is in for gifts of meat, gifts of coals, gifts of blankets and clothes, treats for children, and an entertainment for the inmates of the workhouse."
"He believes that with Christmas should come 'good cheer' then?"
"Well, as far as that goes, I suppose he does; but I believe his chief reason for giving so largely at the Christmas season is because a favourite child of his died about that time of year."
"To keep his memory green, I suppose?"
[-483-] "Yes, something of that kind; and even when he gives subscriptions at other times, it is generally under the signature of 'Little Mat' - Matthew having been the name of the child."
I had been so interested in what the relieving officer had been telling me concerning the man, that I had for the moment quite forgotten the strange title by which he had first mentioned him, but remembering it again at this point, I asked, "Why is he called Buckle-to and Partner?"
"Well, strictly speaking," answered the officer, smiling, "he is only Buckle-to, his wife being the Partner. There is nothing much in it; he has got a habit of saying 'Buckle-to, buckle-to,' when there is anything to be done, or any one that he knows is inclined to sit down under trouble, and he always calls, and speaks of, his wife as 'Partner,' so the name came to be fastened upon him. I'm surprised to find that you don't know him; however, I dare say you'll be coming across him some of these odd days."
"Very likely," I said; but it was not till late in the following summer that I did "come across him." I was passing by a row of detached villas in the "swell" part of my district, one sultry Saturday afternoon, when I saw leaning over the ornamental gate that shut in the short carriage drive to one of the most stylish of the villas, a tall and most decidedly portly man, whose appearance was markedly out of keeping with that gentility and deference to Mrs. Grundy which were the characteristics of [-484-] the neighbourhood. He was in his shirt-sleeves, had a highly and many-coloured silk handkerchief twisted loosely round his neck, while another such handkerchief overflowed the pocket of his waistcoat, which was worn unbuttoned and thrown back. An old straw hat was thrown carelessly upon his head, and - grand climax of the ungenteel - he was vigorously puffing at a common clay "church-warden" pipe. That any servant of the house should take such a liberty as thus to appear in sight of the highway, was too wild an idea to be entertained for a moment. That so ungenteel a personage could be master of the establishment, seemed scarcely a less wild supposition, though he certainly had the easy unconcerned air of a man taking his ease under his own vine and fig-tree.
I passed close to him, and, with my curiosity excited as it was at the moment, could not help turning my head to get a fair look at him. He caught my eye as I did so, and gave me an easy, good-humoured smile, as though he were amused at the astonishment depicted in my looks.
"That is a character now," was my reflection, as I walked on, and the next day the little incident was forgotten. On the following Monday, I accompanied a school trip which that year took the shape of an excursion by water to Richmond. Two steamers were employed to carry the children and their friends, and all went merrily until we were close to our destination, when, it being low water, both steamers got aground in trying to effect a landing. The one on board of which I was had [-485-] managed to get considerably closer in shore than the other, and the ordinary gangway having been extended by means of some planking that we had on board, all hands were got ashore dry-shod. The other steamer, being further out, had not sufficient planking to stretch to the shore, and its passengers had therefore to wait until all ours having been landed, the planks from our vessel were carried down and joined on, to make the temporary gangway complete. When this had been done, the adults and elder children came trooping out; but it presently became apparent that some of the younger and more timid among the children were afraid to trust themselves along the narrow footway; nor was it a matter for much surprise that they should be so, seeing that for the length of the two planks nearest to the vessel the extemporised gangway was swayed to and fro by the water. This caused a short delay in the work of landing, during which I had turned to speak to some one; but my attention was immediately called to the boat again by a half-laughing, half-approving murmur which arose among those around me. The sound was evoked by the sight of a man coming along the gangway with a child under each arm, another clinging round his neck, and a fourth walking behind him, holding on to his coat-tails. He was a big burly man, and thus encumbered certainly presented a somewhat comical appearance. "Gulliver among the Lilliputians!" exclaimed one of the by-standers, laughing, and it was an apt conceit. As he neared the shore, I recognised in him the man I had seen smoking his pipe [-486-] on the Saturday, and at the same instant I became aware, from a remark uttered at my elbow, that this individual was none other than the shrewd, kind-hearted, God-fearing ex-showman, Buckle-to - the man whom I had heard of as the true friend of poor Tough-un and his mother, the liberal benefactor of our out-door pauper poor, the cheerful donor to our local charities, the ready labourer in any good work. In the work of this day, as I saw for myself, he, in his own phrase, buckled-to with a will, to the immense delight and satisfaction of the children. He made some half-dozen journeys to the ship, returning each time laden as on the first occasion; and when all were landed he organized their games with a gusto scarcely inferior to their own. He got up foot-races, giving the prizes out of his own pocket, and acting not only as starter and judge, but as winning-post also, the course being from himself to some fixed point and back, the first that touched him being prize-taker. He paid for donkey-rides, officiated as umpire in games of bait the bear, and at tea-time he distinguished himself above us all by his activity as a waiter; while throughout the day his hearty laugh and cheery voice were heard on all sides with pleasant effect. So busy was he in the work of entertaining the children, that, though I watched closely for an opportunity to enter into discourse with him, I found none till we were returning home. He was sitting a little apart on deck, looking as if, like the children, he was pretty well tired out. I seated myself beside him, and by way of opening a conversation observed,-
[-487-] "I think the children have thoroughly enjoyed themselves to-day."
"Well, let's hope so, bless their little hearts," he answered, in a hearty tone; "and as far as that goes I should hope as how us older ones have enjoyed ourselves too: I can answer for myself that I have. I dare say some of you must have thought to yourselves, 'What a great fool that P------ is making of himself!' but, bless you, I feel quite young again, as the song says, when I get amongst the youngsters; and there is nothing as puts me in such spirits as to see a lot of town children kicking up their heels for a day in the country. If folks could only be got to come and see a school of poor children having their day in the country, there wouldn't be the trouble there very often is to raise the money to give em the day. I should be sorry for the sort of man, and especially for the sort of woman, as didn't think the sight o' their enjoyment an enjoyment worth paying for. I ain't been what I have been without knowing a thing or two about the sort o' sights that are paid for; and to my mind there ain't one on 'em as half comes up to the sight o' a children's day in the country; and I'm sure there isn't one of 'em as is anything like so pleasant to think on afterwards."
"Their happy faces certainly make a pleasant picture either to look on or remember," I said.
"And some pretty country spot, such as we've been at to-day, is the best framework for such a picture," he remarked. "I dearly love the country myself," he went [-488-] on, "and in my travelling days never felt happier than when on the road in the summer months. You know, sir, I'm not a Londoner?"
I might have said that I could tell that by his tongue; but, conceiving that it would better serve my purpose of striking an acquaintance with him, I answered,-
"So I have been given to understand: I knew some friends of yours - Tough-un and his mother."
"Ah, yes! poor little Tough," he said, in an altered tone, and with a look of sadness coming over his face. "And yet," he added, "I shouldn't talk so now. It's us as is left behind here as is poor and to be pitied as compared with him."
"You think the dead are the best off then," I said.
"The dead who die in the Lord I do," he answered.
"And I feel sure that Tough-un did," I answered.
"I'm happy to hear you say so, sir!" he exclaimed, taking my hand. "I've heard of you, as you have heard of me; and I know you were with him when he was on his death-bed, as I would have been, only I was miles away at the time. We took him at first, my partner and I, 'out of charity,' as the saying is; but he was such a lovable, patient, grateful little fellow, that we soon come to love him as if he had been one of our own; and to think it was us as was the gainers in having him with us. When we gave up business, we wanted him to come and live with us as our own; but he was of an independent spirit, and preferred to do for himself as far as he could. Still we always looked upon him as our own child, and [-489-] we mourned for him as sich when he was took. Many a motherly cry my partner had over his memory during the first few months after his death. But looked at properly, our loss was his gain, and, as I said just now, I oughtn't to say 'Poor Tough,' but 'Happy Tough. '"
We sat in silence for a minute or two, and then Buckle-to, shaking off the solemnity that had come upon him while speaking of Tough-un, said-
"I dare say, now, you thought I was a rum customer when you saw me a-blowing my bacca at my place on Saturday?"
"I'm afraid your neighbours would have thought you a rum customer if they had seen you," I said, smiling.
"I expect most of em do think me a rum customer," he said laughingly, "but we ain't bad neighbours for all that; there ain't one of em as don't pass their friendly 'good-day' or 'how-do' if we meet; and after all, mind you, I know I must seem a bit of a curiosity to them. Not as I go in purposely for being different from my neighbours; but, don't you see, it's second nature with me. I've been so used to a free-and-easy shirt-sleevy sort of life, that I can't shake it off. If there was only myself to please in the matter, I shouldn't live in quite such a swell quarter, but the women folk, you know, has more upish notions than us about those sort of things, and so it was with my partner. She had worked hard to help to make our money, and so I thought she had a right to have her say as to how we should live on it [-490-] when we retired from business. So when she says, 'Why shouldn't we live in a good style of house?' I says, 'As you like, partner;' and she liked to have the place where we hang out now. It's a cut above what I would a picked, but when she told me she had settled on it, I says, 'Agreed, partner, I only bargains for having one room to do as I likes in;' and that room I've got fitted up like our old living-van, for the sake of the old times when the van was our home - which happy times they were, as the world goes, for though things prospered with us, we had our trials and sorrows the same as other people."
At this point I was called away to speak to one of the managers of the schools, and I did not see Buckle-to again till we were landing, when he sought me out, and in his warm, simple fashion invited me to name a day when I would go and have a cup of tea with him and his partner.
I did so; and when, on the day arranged, I arrived at his dwelling, I met with a thoroughly cordial, and - as I knew when I had become better acquainted with the pair - a characteristic reception. It was evident at a glance that Mrs. P------ had "uppish notions." Both husband and wife met me on the threshold, but, while he was in déshabille she was in state array, and while he welcomed me with a laughing, "Here you are, then, sir - come along in," her welcome, though not less sincere than his, was couched in set and somewhat formal phrase. It was in the matter of dress, however, that she [-491-] stood out most strongly in contrast to her husband. "The partner dresses enough for two," Buckle-to laughingly remarked, when, later in the day, he was making a sort of half-apology for his own careless attire; and I think most people would have agreed with him could they have seen her as she stepped forth to receive me. She was robed in a long-skirted, showily trimmed costume of bright blue velvet - a costume which, as I afterwards became aware, had been originally purchased for exhibition purposes, but greatly taking the fancy of Mrs. P------ had by her been adopted as a ceremonial attire for herself. Loud, heavy, and theatrical as this dress undoubtedly was, she carried it off tolerably well, for she had a tall, stout, rather stately figure, with a countenance comely to look upon, and an expression the kindliness of which even the attempt to look the grand lady could not cloud.
For a little time at first, while the Conversation was confined to general topics, she maintained her "company" manners, but when presently the name of Tough-un was mentioned the genuine woman shone out, and from thenceforward she was as genial a companion as Buckle-to himself, and showed herself to be indeed a worthy partner for such a man - a woman not without her womanly weaknesses in respect to small matters, but a true Christian in all essentials. Sincerely and cheerfully religious, of a loving, pitiful, charitable nature, thinking and hoping the best of all, prompt to help and sympathize with the poor or fallen, and doing her good [-492-] works not to be seen of men, but for their own sake, as being at once a duty and a pleasure.
About half an hour after my arrival tea was announced, and just as we were about to sit down to it, a lady-like girl of sixteen or seventeen came in, and was introduced to me as "Our Carrie." The meal was of the most substantial kind, and while both the showman and his wife did ample justice, they were unceasing in their attentions to me, the burden of their song being, "Make yourself at home, sir," an entreaty with which their evident sincerity made it easy to comply.
After tea we adjourned to the drawing-room again, and at the request of Buckle-to, "Carrie," whose manner and conversation indicated that she had enjoyed considerable educational advantages, sat down to the piano and played a number of well-selected sacred - or as Buckle-to called them "Scripter "- pieces. When she had done playing she left the room, and the showman, following her with an admiring glance, said , as soon as she was out of hearing -
"Fine girl that, sir; clever as to her edication, good and true in all her ways, and loves us - as we love her - as though she were really our own flesh and blood."
"Is not she your daughter then?" I exclaimed in surprise.
"Well, not really," said the wife, joining in the conversation, "though she is as good as; it's as I sometimes say she isn't our daughter-in-law, but she is our daughter in love."
[-493-] "Is she no relation to you?" I asked.
"Well, no, she ain't any relation," answered Buckle-to, slowly, as though somewhat reluctant to make the admission, "but neither is she a stranger, as you may say. It was as her father's child that we come to take to her, and he was more with us than any relation. He was our describer and modeller when we were in business. He was a wonderfully clever fellow, and might have done well in the world, only for the curse of drink; he wouldn't keep from it, and of course it ruined him, kept him poor, and miserable, and despised. Many a time I've found him lying drunk in the living-van when the exhibition was crammed full of people waiting for the describing to begin. At such times I often used to think of sending him away, but if I spoke about it my partner here would put in a word for him."
"Well, I thought that if we sent him off no one else would take him on," put in the wife; "and beside, apart from his one fault, he was a very good fellow, and then" - and here her voice softened wonderfully - "there was a great fondness between him and one that was very, very dear to us, and that I know would have fretted very much, if the other had been turned adrift in the world."
"And so he stayed on with us," said Buckle-to, taking up the narrative again, "and was counted as pretty much one of ourselves. When we retired from business I got him an engagement in another concern, but it was not long before I heard that he had lost it through his old enemy the drink. I heard of his being dismissed a fort-[-494-]night after it happened, but in that time he had taken himself off somewhere, and for ten years I never heard or saw anything of him. Then - I was living in the country at the time - I got a letter from him. Though I couldn't read it, I could tell by the very look of it that it was wrote by some one in trouble, and when my partner here read it we found it was so. It was begging of me, for God's sake, and the sake of the memory of the one who, as my partner said just now, was very dear to us, to come to him as he was dying, and hadn't a friend in the world, and had a great weight on his mind. The letter was dated from London, and of course I buckled-to at once to get there," he went on, using his favourite phrase for the first time since I had been in his company. "I took the first train to town, took a cab to the address given, and found him as I was very sorry, but not much surprised, to find him - I had seen too often to what drink brings its slaves. He was in a dirty tumble-down garret, lying on a little pile of straw, and covered with a couple of old sacks. A woman that lodged in the house was wetting his lips, and a little girl was moaning and sobbing in a corner. He brightened up when he saw me; but it brought the water into my eyes, and put me past speaking for the minute, to see him in such a state; for I thought of the old times when he lived in the vans with us, broke bread with us every day, and - in his sober hours - was, though so much older, a loving friend and companion to our favourite little son, who had been taken from us, and for sake of [-495-] whose memory he had prayed me to come to him in his dying hour. He saw how I was cut up, and taking my hand in his - for, though I couldn't speak, I had knelt down beside him - and looking up in my face, said as well as his weakness would allow him, 'You do pity me then?'"
"From the bottom of my heart," I said, a-gulping down a sob, "but what is it that is on your mind, what can I do for you?"
"That which will make me die happy," he answers; "promise me that you'll befriend my child there."
"Your child!" I said, for he had been a single man when he left me.
"Yes, my child," he answered again, "my child that, for all the wretch that I have been, I love as deeply as I can love - love as you loved your little Mat." Then he went on to tell me as well as he could the story of his life since he had left me. There is no occasion for me to go over it all to you. Among other things, he had gone into a wax-flower manufactory, and there he fell in with a poor friendless French girl and married her. She died a year after their child was born, and since that time the little one had been alone with him through good and evil - mostly evil. She was motherless and friendless, and would soon be fatherless, he said, finishing his story; would I promise to befriend her? I would, I said, he might make his mind easy so far, and think of other things. Ah, he could think of other things then, he said, closing his eyes, and a happier look coming over [-496-] his face. He lay quite still for about an hour, and then, as if strength and grace were specially given to him, he prayed aloud-prayed so that it was beautiful to hear, for you must know, sir, he had been well educated, and had been religiously brought up when young. I have hopes that all was well with him in the end. I saw that he had a decent funeral, and followed him to the grave myself, and then I took the child home with me, and we have brought her up as our own-that is why we call her 'Our Carrie.'"
He told the story with much of pity for the unhappy father, but with nothing of self-praise as to his own part in it; and when he had concluded, he proposed that I should go up-stairs and look at "the little crib he had had fitted up van-fashion for himself." I accordingly accompanied him and his wife to the apartment in question. It was a small room at the top of the house, and in all probability had originally been an ordinary attic. Now, however, its appearance was the reverse of ordinary. It was wood-panelled and ceilinged; the panelling of the ceiling being in light, that of the walls in dark oak; the panels being divided by gilt beading, and some of them having figures or landscapes painted on them in a very fair style. It was fitted up with numerous drawers and lockers, ingeniously planned to economise space, or serve two or three distinct purposes. Windows of the travelling-van size had been substituted for the ordinary windows, and were curtained in bright red. Instead of a fireplace there was a little stove, with its iron chimney [-497-] carried straight through the roof, and the walls were abundantly hung with photographic and other pictures of P---------'s wax-work exhibition, as it appeared both inside and out ;-views of the show in its entirety, and filled with spectators, of single figures and groups; of the "front" of the establishment, with its band playing, and showmen bawling out their invitations to the public to "walk up;" portraits of Mr. P--------- and his wife, and of their "Describer," Carrie's father; together with a number of framed letters of praise or approval of the exhibition from mayors, magistrates, and country gentry.
"This is where father likes us to sit of an evening, especially in the winter," said Mrs. P----------, handing me one of the four chairs that, with the table, made up the furniture of the imitation van.
"Well, you see, sir," said Buckle-to, rather in the tone of one apologizing for a weakness, "use is second nature, as the sayin' is. I was born in a living-van, and was in the show line all my life till I retired from business; and I don't know as I should have retired when I did if times hadn't altered as they have done. It wasn't so much as I wanted to give it up as I saw that it was likely to come to give up me. There wasn't anything in the line travelling to beat us -"
"Nor to come up to us, as far as that goes," put in the wife. "If there was more than us in a town at the same time, it was P--------'s first, and the rest nowhere."
"Well, we'll put it that we were second to none," said Buckle-to, smiling. "But you see, sir, when there got [-498-] to be railways from everywhere to everywhere, everybody as cared about such things got to see the great stationary exhibitions as ours was second to, and what with that and one fair after another being done away with, it began to be a cold look-out for the travelling, and so as I had made enough to live upon and to spare, I gave up. Still, I always looks back to the old times, and when I gets in here of an evening, with the curtains drawn and my pipe alight, the old 'hurrah-for-the-road' feeling comes over me again, not that it's quite like the genuine thing, though, you misses the old jog-trot, rock-you-to-sleep movement of the road."
"Ay, and more than that, father," said the wife softly; "you misses the dear old faces, - and, above all, the face of our little Mat."
"Yes, I do miss his face," he said, his voice, like that of his wife, becoming softer in its tone; "and yet sometimes when from missing it, I'm thinking about him, I can see his little face again in my mind's eye, I can close my eyes, and fancy he is sitting opposite to me with his book on his knee, as he used to do before he was taken from us."
"Your child?" I said, questioningly.
"Yes, one of them," he answered; "our youngest, and - though it is perhaps wrong of me to say so - our dearest. We have had six in all. The other five are grown up and gone out in the world; he has been taken to the other and better world. We always felt that he would die young; and we knew and he knew when he went [-499-] that his Saviour was taking him to himself; but for all that, sir, the loss of him was the bitterest grief we ever had."
"Strangers loved him, let alone us, sir; he had such loving, winning ways," said the mother, speaking in a tremulous tone, and with two great tears coursing down her cheeks.
"There's his books and playthings, and a lock of his hair," said the husband, rising and opening a drawer; "they are simple things to look at, but all the money in England wouldn't buy them from us."
These treasures consisted of an illustrated edition of "The Pilgrim's Progress," two or three hymn-books, one or two other volumes of selections of poetry, and, in the way of toys, a small telescope and a box of paints.
"His Bible," said the mother, when I had looked over the contents of the drawer, "was buried with him by his own wish; that was his favourite book of all; he knew it off by heart pretty near, and could talk to you about it wonderful; like any minister almost."
"He really was a wonderful child in that way," said Buckle-to, taking up the theme; "he seemed to know that he wasn't long for this world, and to think of the one above. He would talk about his Jesus, and about what he would do when he was an angel, just as other children would talk about every-day affairs. He was a delicate child, and as the saying is, a very old-fashioned one. He wasn't quite twelve when he died, but he had more sense than many a man. He was born one bitter winter time [-500-] when we were snowed up on one of the Yorkshire moors, and we always thought that that was the cause of his. being so delicate; for we were a couple as never knew a day's illness, and all his brothers were fine strong fellows. We couldn't keep him roughing it with us as the others had done, so we put him to live with some friends of ours in a little Devonshire village. When he got to be seven years of age, however, we used to let him have his own way, as far as coming on the road with us for a few weeks in the middle of the summer; and for the few years that it lasted those were always the happiest weeks of the year: he was such a loving little fellow, and such good company; for, though he was clever and old-fashioned, and given to dreamy sort of ways at times, he was in a general way as lively as his health would allow of his being. He was great friends with Carrie's father; and of a night, when we were all together, he would talk and argufy with him about all sorts of things like any old man; and very often he would put questions to us that would puzzle the lot of us to answer; or come out with some strange idea that had got into his head."
"Like that he said to you about the stars one night, you remember," put in the wife.
"What was that?" I asked.
"Well, it was one beautiful summer's night," answered Buckle-to, "and we were on the road. We were on the foot-board together, and he'd been looking up at the sky for ever so long without saying a word, when all of a sudden he turned to me and asks, 'What do you think of [-501-] the stars, father?' 'Think of 'em, Mat,' I says, looking up at 'em, 'how do you mean?' 'Well, don't you think they might be something else as well as stars?' 'Well, I don't know, Mat,' I says; 'but what else do you think they might be?' 'God's eyes looking down on the world,' he answers softly, 'you know He sees all over the world at once, and everybody and everything in it.'
"'Yes, my boy,' I said, "'there is nothing hidden from Him.'
"'And all those thousands of thousands of stars looking down on us like eyes in the sky,' he says, "'should make us remember that, and keep us from thinking to ourselves, if we want to do anything bad, no one will see us.'"
"It was a curious idea, certainly," I said, "and yet a pretty one."
"He was full of such notions," said the mother; "when he wasn't with us his favourite spot in fine weather was the little village churchyard - the churchyard where he was laid to rest himself when he was taken from us. He would sit there for hours with his books, and have his meals taken to him there, and he used to recite us a piece about a child that used to go and sit in a churchyard; you remember, father:-
'I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.'"
"We are seven," I said, recognising Wordsworth's lines.
[-502-] "Yes, that's it!" she exclaimed, greatly pleased to find I knew the piece; "'She answered, We are seven.'"
"He loved that little churchyard," said the father, "and now we love it because that he is lying in it. 'Lay me there, father,' he said, when he was dying, but let the sun shine upon me, and the daisies grow over me, - don't put a stone over me.' He could go no further for the moment, the recollections that were crowding upon him choking his utterance, while the wife's voice was shaky from suppressed emotion as taking up the discourse she said:-
"And of course we didn't, sir; we've just marked his grave with a headstone with only his name, and 'Suffer little children to come unto me' on it; and scarcely any higher than the highest of the daisies."
Having now recovered himself, Buckle-to again became spokesman.
"We go down every summer and have a look at his little green grave," he said, "and though it opens the wound afresh, it does us good, and it does others good, too, if they only knew it, for it keeps us in mind of his last words. If any poor body came to ask us for help when he was with us, he always put a word in for them, and many a time we gave when we otherwise wouldn't have done, just for the sake of the pleasure we knew it gave him to be allowed to hand it over to them. Well, when he was on his death-bed, and a very short time before he lost his voice, he looked up in our faces as we stood on either side of him, and says, 'Don't be so dis-[-503-]tressed, I know I am going to Jesus, and besides now you will be sure I shall never know want.' Then he closed his eyes as if thinking, but opening them again after a minute or two, he says-
"'Father, I should like you to always help those who are in want, as far as you can, for my sake. We are told to do it, and he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord ; and those who lend to Him in that way He can repay with a crown of glory.' It seemed very solemn to hear him saying it then, though he had often spoke so before; he used to explain to us what tithes meant, and talk about paying tithes to the Lord, and what he would do if he was rich, and so on, and it was thinking on all this after he was gone that first put it into my mind that I was called upon to do something more than just put my hand in my pocket if some heart-breaking case of distress happened to be brought under my nose - what little good I may do, I do in little Mat's spirit, and in little Mat's name."
The memory of their dead child was evidently a topic on which they loved to dwell, but still it was one that made them sad of mood, and by way of changing the subject, I broke the silence that ensued at this point, by remarking in a questioning tone-
"Your exhibition must have been a paying concern in its day?"
"We wouldn't have been as we are, if it hadn't," said the wife rousing herself, "would we, father?"
"Well, no," he answered, brightening up; "people [-504-] nowadays would hardly be able to credit it, if they were told what our takings were in our best times. Many a day we've been taking money so fast, and been so busy, that at night we've measured the money by the pint, instead of taking the time and trouble to count it, and many a time we've filled a gallon jar brimfull of silver just from the little places lying between two towns that were big enough to have a bank each."
"And how much might a gallon jar-full of silver amount to?" I asked.
"Well, ours was mostly in shillings, that being our charge, and we used to measure it in pints and reckon it at twenty-two pounds a pint, that would give us within a pound or two, more or less, in the gallon, and of course we counted up exact when we came to bank."
"Then, I suppose you do not consider that your not travelling on Sundays like others in the show line injured you in a business point of view?"
"Injured us!" he exclaimed. "Why, bless you, no, sir, it not only didn't spoil business, but the beginning of our not buckling to on Sundays like others in the profession was the beginning of the real making of the concern; for before that it was a twopenny-halfpenny sort of an affair that a bare living could hardly be got out of. I suppose it was Tough-un that told you we didn't travel on Sundays?"
"Either him or his mother," I answered.
"And did they tell you how it came about?" was his next question. To which I answered that they had not.
[-505-] "Well, I'm not quite sure that they were ever told themselves," he said musingly; "it was long before their time of being with us, and before the time that I was proprietor, and thereby hangs a tale, as the sayin' is. It was my father that started the concern. He wasn't what, as the world goes, would have been called a bad man, but he was -up to the time of the happening of what I'm going to tell you about - what you, and I, and he in his later life, would have called a wicked man. He had no more notion of religion than a heathen, never mentioned the . name of God unless to take it in vain, and used Sunday just as he would any other day. That was the sort of character he was when one Sunday he was on the road a heavy thunder-storm came on, and in the midst of it the man who was standing beside him on the footboard of the van was struck dead at his feet by the lightning. He was untouched in body, but thank the Lord he was touched in soul. He felt it as a judgment and a warning, and from that instant was a converted man. His first resolve when he got over his fright was no more Sunday-work, come what might. When others in the line heard it, they tried to chaff him out of it, talked about putting the shutters up, and was he sure he knew his parish, and the like. But his lesson was not one that he was likely to forget, and he held fast to that which was right. Instead of working on Sundays, he took to attending worship wherever he might be. Instead of being a swearing man, he became a praying one; and though he couldn't read himself, he [-506-] got others to read the Scriptures to him whenever he had a chance. From his mind having got this bent, he got to putting Scripter figures in the exhibition; David slinging the pebble, Moses striking the rock, and the like; and as he got on he added groups, such as Daniel in the den of lions, and Joseph receiving his brethren in Egypt. By degrees he got a special name and a special connection through this; parents brought their children, and teachers their schools, to his when they didn't to other exhibitions. Then he took to giving to the charities of the towns he passed through. He didn't do it to advertise himself, though I say it that perhaps shouldn't, but because he had been born again, and as a thanks-offering; but at the same time there is no doubt that it did him good, and brought him patronage. Before he died he made it a first-rate concern-a better concern than belonged to any of those who had scoffed at him when he turned from his wickedness. When it passed into our hands, we carried it on in the same spirit, and with the same, and even greater, success; and I can only hope that neither me nor my partner here have been unthankful for all God's goodness to us."
Such was the story of the lives of the kind-hearted and truly Christian showman and his partner, as told to me on the first occasion of my visiting them under their own roof. They were an illiterate and, in some respects, an eccentric couple; and the wife, as will have been seen, was not without her weakness where the "pomps and vanities" were concerned. They made sport for [-507-] some of the Philistines of the neighbourhood - people who, knowing no more of them than met the eye and ear of passing observers, set them down as purse-proud, "jumped-up," and vulgar. Such an opinion, of course, did them injustice, and yet as the world judges there was some excuse for it. The things that gave colour to such an idea - their living in a fine house, and the wife's rather gorgeous taste in dress - were obvious to all: their goodness and godliness were known but to few.
When parting from them, Buckle-to observed,- "You know, sir, if ever you are at a loss for a little help for any one who you think ought to be helped, you can let me know."
I replied that I would, and in after-time I did, "many a time and oft," and never without receiving the assistance asked for. Many a fervent blessing and expression of gratitude has there been bestowed upon me, that belonged to Buckle-to, for I was forbidden to mention the name of the benefactor, even to the recipients of his bounty. He was of those who take heed to do "not their alms before men, to be seen of them." His good deeds were for the most part done in secret, and brought him but little of worldly credit, or praise from men-yet is his reward none the less sure; for are we not told of such that the Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward them openly?