Toby heard it this time; started; stopped; and shortening his sight, which had been directed a long way off as seeking the enlightenment in the very heart of the approaching year, found himself face to face with his own child, and looking close into her eyes.
Bright eyes they were. Eyes that would bear a world of looking in, before their depth was fathomed. Dark eyes, that reflected back the eyes which searched them; not flashingly, or at the owner's will, but with a clear, calm, honest, patient radiance, claiming kindred with that light which Heaven called into being. Eyes that were beautiful and true, and beaming with Hope. With Hope so young and fresh; with Hope so buoyant, vigorous, and bright, despite the twenty years of work and poverty on which they had looked; that they became a voice to Trotty Veck, and said: 'I think we have some business here--a little!'
Trotty kissed the lips belonging to the eyes, and squeezed the blooming face between his hands.
'Why, Pet,' said Trotty. 'What's to do? I didn't expect you to- day, Meg.'
'Neither did I expect to come, father,' cried the girl, nodding her head and smiling as she spoke. 'But here I am! And not alone; not alone!'
'Why you don't mean to say,' observed Trotty, looking curiously at a covered basket which she carried in her hand, 'that you--'
'Smell it, father dear,' said Meg. 'Only smell it!'
Trotty was going to lift up the cover at once, in a great hurry, when she gaily interposed her hand.
'No, no, no,' said Meg, with the glee of a child. 'Lengthen it out a little. Let me just lift up the corner; just the lit-tle ti-ny cor-ner, you know,' said Meg, suiting the action to the word with the utmost gentleness, and speaking very softly, as if she were afraid of being overheard by something inside the basket; 'there. Now. What's that?'
Toby took the shortest possible sniff at the edge of the basket, and cried out in a rapture:
'Why, it's hot!'
'It's burning hot!' cried Meg. 'Ha, ha, ha! It's scalding hot!'
'Ha, ha, ha!' roared Toby, with a sort of kick. 'It's scalding hot!'
'But what is it, father?' said Meg. 'Come. You haven't guessed what it is. And you must guess what it is. I can't think of taking it out, till you guess what it is. Don't be in such a hurry! Wait a minute! A little bit more of the cover. Now guess!'
Meg was in a perfect fright lest he should guess right too soon; shrinking away, as she held the basket towards him; curling up her pretty shoulders; stopping her ear with her hand, as if by so doing she could keep the right word out of Toby's lips; and laughing softly the whole time.
Meanwhile Toby, putting a hand on each knee, bent down his nose to the basket, and took a long inspiration at the lid; the grin upon his withered face expanding in the process, as if he were inhaling laughing gas.
'Ah! It's very nice,' said Toby. 'It an't--I suppose it an't Polonies?'
'No, no, no!' cried Meg, delighted. 'Nothing like Polonies!'
'No,' said Toby, after another sniff. 'It's--it's mellower than Polonies. It's very nice. It improves every moment. It's too decided for Trotters. An't it?'
Meg was in an ecstasy. He could not have gone wider of the mark than Trotters--except Polonies.
'Liver?' said Toby, communing with himself. 'No. There's a mildness about it that don't answer to liver. Pettitoes? No. It an't faint enough for pettitoes. It wants the stringiness of Cocks' heads. And I know it an't sausages. I'll tell you what it is.