: Nearly Bedtime
"Children of wealth or want, to each is given
One spot of green, and all the blue of heaven!"
"Mind! mind! I say, Tom, you're frizzing that 'erring black!"
"My eyes! don't it smell fine? Oh! I do wish father'd come. He's allus a
long time when the supper's 'ot;" and Bob, as he spoke, heaved a sigh of
such prodigious depth that it might have come from
is boots--if he had
possessed any, poor little man!
These two small boys, Tom and Bob Gull, were six years old.
"We is only twinses," Bob would say.
Perhaps he said "only" to make us understand that they were just alike
in the matter of age, but that there the likeness ended.
Bob, the merry and talkative, was the one who led Tom, the quiet and
silent. Bob's twinkling, puppy-like eyes--which peeped at you through a
tangled fringe of brown hair--were the exact contrast to Tom's shy blue
eyes, shaded by long, fair, girlish lashes. And Bob's jolly little round
figure seemed to say, "Anything, be it meagre soup or even dry bread,
fattens me;" while Tom's thin little limbs gave one a thought of
unconscious cravings for appetising food.
The room where they were watching for father was a third floor front
in Pleasant Court, not far from Waterloo Junction. Like many such
"living-rooms," it can be best described by telling you that everything
in it which should be large was small, and the other way about.
For instance, the fireplace was small and the crack under the door very
large. The cupboard was very roomy, but the things kept in it very much
too small and scarce. The bed was wide, but the blanket and counterpane
Was there nothing that was as big as it should be?
Yes, indeed! In spite of these unsatisfactory surroundings, there was as
large-hearted a love to be found in the small family which these four
walls sheltered from the cold outside world, as any one could wish to
"I don't believe father's never coming;" and Bob sighed again.
By this time the herring had found a cindery resting-place on a plate
before the fire, and the twins were sitting side by side, with their
bare toes on the fender and their eyes fixed upon the door, watching
eagerly, like two little terriers.
But the sigh was answered by a distant sound, the plod--plod--plodding
of weary feet up the two flights of uncarpeted stairs.
Then there was a grand commotion! The cushionless armchair was dragged
nearer the fire; the old slippers dropped sole uppermost into the
fender. And then Bob and Tom clung with a vice-like embrace each to
an arm of the tall, gaunt, kindly eyed man who had opened the door.
"Father, father! the 'erring's done just lubly. I am glad you're come
at last!" This from Bob.
The father's hard, rough hand rested upon his tangled crop, but his eyes
were looking into Tom's upturned face.
"And Tom, eh?" he asked.
"Jolly glad," answered the child readily.
Then the three sat down to their evening meal.
Would you like to know what it consisted of?
Tea, of a watery description, but hot (Bob took care of that) and
sweet--at least, father's cup, owing to Tom's kindly attentions with a
grimy thumb and finger. The herring. This, of course, was the chief
dish. Several tit-bits, trembling upon father's fork, find their way
into the "twinses'" mouths.
Lastly, bread and dripping.
* * * * *
Gull had tried to teach his motherless lads "to do as mother used." So
there followed a systematic cleaning and arranging of the small supply
Tom was the first to find a seat upon father's knee as he sat by the
fire; but Bob soon climbed opposite to him, and together they looked
with expectant eyes into father's face.
And father rubbed his head ruefully as he said, "Eh! I've got to tell
the little lads summat to-night, have I? But there's nothing new been
done, as far as I knows. It's the old dull story, bairnies. The fewest
tips when the weather's the bitterest."
Gull was an outside porter at Waterloo Junction; and a slight lameness,
caused by rheumatism, often cost him dearly. If his step could have
been quicker, it would many times have taken him in the front of the
younger porters, who darted forward and seemed to get all the jobs. The
sixpences came very slowly into his pocket.
To-night he felt more than usually down, as he expressed it; and when
he felt Tom's little bare toes slipping for warmth under his strong
brown hand, tears crept into his eyes, and had to be rubbed away with
the back of his sleeve.
Bob was very quick to notice this.
"I say," he cried, "you've been and gone and got something in your eye!"
"Smuts," suggested Tom.
"Oh, let me get them out, father! Do! I'll be ever so gentle." And Bob
suited the action to the word by raising himself on his knees to a level
with Gull's face, and thrusting a screw of his old jacket into the
corner of the suffering eye.
The operation ended in merry laughter, and the boys never knew that the
smuts were really tears forced to the surface by an overburdened heart.
"Father was just real funny," that evening, as Bob whispered to Tom,
when half the blanket covered them, later on--"just real funny, wasn't
And Tom answered sleepily, but happily, "Yes, jolly."
Meanwhile, the tired bread-winner sat alone by the fire, with all the
fun faded from his face as he wondered "how long bad times lasted with
most folks?" It was not until, with the childlike simplicity that was
part of his nature, he had knelt and repeated the short and perfect
prayer with which his little lads had made him so familiar, that any
look of comfort or hope returned to his care-lined face.
A little anxiety, but a very pressing one just now, came with the
thought that the four dear little feet, which had been treading the
world for the past weeks chilled and barefooted, would very probably
have to curl up piteously on the cold pavement for some time longer.
To get two pairs of small boots, and hope for money to pay for them
by-and-by, never entered Gull's head. He had always paid his way
without owing any man anything, as his father had before him.
Poor father! and poor little twins!
Yet wishes are sometimes carried quickly to their fulfilment; for a
divine Lord changes them into prayers as they go upward.
The following evening, just at the hour when his boys were again
straining their ears for the first sound of his footsteps, Gull was
standing against one of the lamp posts outside Waterloo Station. He
was peering anxiously into the face of every passenger who entered
the station, every traveller who drove up from the busy streets,
every business man who hurried in from the City.
Gull's lips were hard set. His eyes had a strained, anxious look; his
expression was that of a warrior who was fighting a battle against heavy
All day long there had been an inward struggle. Hour by hour the fight
had been prolonged. Would honesty win the day? Was Gull leaning upon a
strength mightier than his own?
He kept one hand buried in his pocket, always fingering there a
something which was the cause of all this mental disturbance. His
other hand buttoned and unbuttoned his overcoat with nervous
And as he watched, two gentlemen came towards him under the gas lamps.
They were walking arm-in-arm, and talking earnestly about shares and
stocks, and all those mysterious and fascinating things, that a certain
Mr. Weller said "always went up and down in the city."
When Gull saw them he started forward, and looked searchingly into the
face of the elder of the two. Then he followed them closely into the
station--shuffling along lamely but resolutely.
Twice he put out his hand to touch this gentleman's sleeves, but
something stronger than his will seemed to hold him back.
At the platform gate the ticket collector spoke to him.
"What! are you going by the 6.5, Gull?"
"No," he answered; "but I'm bound to have a word with yon gent before he
"If it's a tip you're after, you're on the wrong tack, mate. I know yon
gentleman too well." But he let Gull through the gate.
Mr. Kingsley, the elder traveller, was settling himself in a
first-class carriage, and leisurely enjoying the delightful employment
of lighting his first cigar after a long day's work, when Gull opened
the door and looked in.
"Beg pardon, sir," he began, "but did I carry a box for you this morning
to the South Eastern, sir?"
Mr. Kingsley looked him well over before he answered, with a twinkle of
amusement in his little bright eyes--
"What if you did, man? Wasn't the sixpence heavy enough?"
Gull knew now that he had found the man he wanted. He drew his hand from
his pocket and held a bright half-sovereign towards Mr. Kingsley.
"That's what you give me, in mistake, sir," he said huskily, adding,
"I'm glad I remembered who 'twas as give it to me."
Again Mr. Kingsley looked the porter well over. Then he turned his eyes
to the further end of the railway carriage, and was relieved to see that
his fellow-passenger was, to all appearance, deeply interested in his
evening paper. I say, to all appearance, for the truth is that he was
listening to all that passed; and it is from him that I heard this
story, which is no fiction.
Still, though satisfied that he was unnoticed, Mr. Kingsley did not take
the proffered coin. After a moment's pause he said--
"How did you find out that I was coming back this way to-night?"
"I seemed to know as you was a 'season,' sir," Gull answered, "and I
watched for you."
"Well, well, man! and now, as to that half-sovereign. I expect it will
be of more use to you than to me--eh? Keep it, man; keep it."
Gull's pale cheeks flushed.
He stammered out, "You'd--you'd best take it back, sir." It seemed to
him as if this was some new form of that terrible temptation which had
been assailing him all that long day; and he thrust the half-sovereign
"No, no! Keep it, man!" repeated Mr. Kingsley. "I'm not going to say a
word about your honesty. You are just as much a man as I am; and a true
man is always honest. But keep it, because the Christmas bells will
"Thank you, sir."
Written, the words appear cold; but said, as Gull said them, they
carried an amount of warmth and gratitude which quite satisfied Mr.
Kingsley without the half-involuntary speech that followed, "So there
will be boots for the little lads, after all!"
* * * * *
"Bless the man! How jolly you look! Did you get your tanner, then?"
This was the ticket collector's greeting as Gull passed.
"Yon gent's a trump, and no mistake!" answered the other as he hurried
along, eager for the delight which such a story would bring to the
little ears now listening for his coming in that third floor front in
* * * * *
I wonder what it was that moved Mr. Kingsley to a wider generosity that
evening than was at all usual in the money-wise, business man? Could
it have been that he was led to it partly by the fact--though he was
quite unconscious of it--that there was something similar in the home
relations of these two men?
For Mr. Kingsley was also a widower; and it was his little only daughter
who was pressing her tiny nose against the window-pane, and trying to
guess how many people would go by the gate before daddy set it swinging
and came up the drive.
Patsy's greeting was quite as loving and vigorous as the one the
"twinses" gave their father every day. The slippers warming at the fire
were elegant braided ones, bound round with velvet. Well! what of that?
It was the love that thought of putting them there which made them so
comfortable; and so, in that respect, Gull's were quite as good to wear
as Mr. Kingsley's.
When the two were comfortably settled, Patsy began to rummage in all
"It's Christmas present night!" she cried. "Where's my little yellow
Mr. Kingsley felt in his pockets with a musing air.
"I don't know what my little maid will say," he said at last,
producing four half-crowns; "but I have no nice half-sovereign for her
to-night--only these big ugly white things. It is true they will buy
quite as many toys. And I might have had 'the yellow money,' only now,
I expect, it is turned into shoeleather."
At the opening of this speech Patsy's face had borne an expression of
disgust and disappointment; but before it was finished, it changed to
one of undisguised interest.
"Oh! I'm sure you've been in a fairy tale to-day, daddy! You know I
just love fairy stories. Do begin at once, before nurse comes. Tell
me about it quickly--do, please."
And so, out of the materials that Gull had given him, Mr. Kingsley
pleased his little daughter by weaving a wonderful modern fairy story.
He had rather a talent that way, and had learnt by experience the kind
of stories that the little ones like best. This time his narrative was
"truer" than he knew; and Patsy acknowledged, when it was done, that it
was "the nicest and beautifullest that she had heard for a long time."
And while Patsy's father was telling the story in his way, another
version of it was being repeated again and again to the twins, high up
in that old London house.
They were never tired of hearing it, never tired of asking questions;
and all the time the feeling of gratitude in their father's heart--which
had been like a little seed, planted there by the kind words and gift
of Mr. Kingsley--grew and grew until he longed to do something. He
had only as yet said, "Thank you, sir;" but now he longed to show his
gratitude in a more fitting way. So thought the "twinses," too, for Bob
"Father, shouldn't I just like to do something nice for that gentleman!
I wonder whether you're like to see him again?"
"In course, lad. I shall often see him pass, I'll never forget him;
but it's not so likely as he'll remember me. Got summat better to do,
I reckon. Yes; he'll come most days, seeing as he's a 'season.' But,
there--you're right! I don't feel as if I shall be able to rest until
I've done 'summat nice for him,' as you says, if it's only to carry his
bag for nothing. But summat bigger nor that would ease me more. What a
rale gent he is, to be sure!"
There was no disguising the tears that stood in Gull's eyes now; and
strange to say, he did not try to hide from his "little lads" that they
He made the boys put their feet, now so stoutly booted, in a row upon
the fender. How the brass tips shone in the firelight! And there was
such a jolly noise when the heels knocked against the floor! Bob made
the grand discovery that he could dance a hornpipe. And his sturdy feet
careered over the floor, clattering, tapping, and jumping, until the
quiet Tom was roused into clapping and "hurrahing" with delight.
* * * * *
His "act of irregular charity," as he called it, quickly faded from Mr.
Kingsley's mind--so quickly, too, that when one of the outside porters
occasionally helped him more readily than usual, or seemed less eager
for the accustomed "tip," he never thought that it might have any
connection with that Christmas Eve adventure. He was short-sighted, too,
and not very quick to recognize faces. He did not know that as he passed
out of the station every morning, Gull's eyes followed him with a
pleasant remembering look, that Gull's hand was always ready to throw
back the doors of the hansom if the day was wet and he drove, and that
Gull's feet were swift to carry their owner away before the accustomed
"coppers" could be offered.
The first question that always greeted Gull when he got home to his boys
in the evening was, from Bob--
"Did you see our gentleman to-day, father?" echoed by Tom's eager--
"Did you, father?"
* * * * *
A year had nearly passed away. Christmas was coming again, this time
dressed in a mantle of thick, choking fog and biting frost. The days
seemed to be turned into night. People and things looked queerly
distorted and unnaturally large. The street lamps tried to pierce the
gloom all day with foolish, blinking eyes; and every one took his full
measure of grumbling.
One evening Mr. Kingsley hurried up the steps to Waterloo Junction with
a feeling of relief that the unknown perils of the gloomy streets were
safely past. He pushed his way through a little group of idlers near one
of the doors, and was turning towards the booking-office, when he was
startled by a violent commotion close behind him. He turned to find two
men--both tall, but one powerful and thick-set, the other meagre and
ill-clad--engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle.
His first impulse was to continue his way and leave them to fight it
"It is some wretched, drunken tramp," he said to himself. But a second
look showed him that there was too much desperate method on the part of
both for this to be the case; and he was looking round for a policeman
to interpose the "stern arm of the law," when the struggle was ended as
abruptly as it had begun.
The stronger man of the two suddenly flung his antagonist from him with
an angry oath, and then disappeared in the fog. He left the other lying
almost at Mr. Kingsley's feet--flung there upon his back, with one hand
hidden beneath him. He lay motionless as death, silenced by the force
with which his head had struck the ground. His white face and closed
eyes sent a quick fear to Mr. Kingsley's kindly heart as he bent over
him, and he turned to the two porters who hurried up, to say--
"The man's terribly hurt, I'm afraid. There was a quarrel, and he was
While one of the men answered him the other stooped down to look at the
prostrate figure, and then started to his feet again, crying--
"Mate--it's Gull! It's Gull, I tell you! What does it mean?"
With the help of the policeman, who appeared at this moment, and watched
by the usual curious crowd of onlookers, they bathed Gull's face with
cold water, forced brandy between his lips, and chafed his cold hands.
Then it was that they discovered, tightly clasped in the hand upon which
he had been lying, a folded leather case. The policeman unbent the
convulsive fingers, and examined this with careful eyes.
"However did Gull get hold of this, I wonder?" was his exclamation.
Mr. Kingsley looked at it with a puzzled expression. It had a strange
resemblance to his own pocket-book! Thrusting his hand hurriedly into
his various pockets proved to him, without a doubt, that his it was
indeed. And a few words were sufficient to convince the policeman of his
right to claim it.
But here a sudden movement from Gull turned all eyes towards him once
He raised himself to a sitting position, and with one hand to his poor
dazed head, gazed with dim, half-unconscious eyes at the other held
before him--wide open and empty!
As he gazed, a bitter cry escaped his lips.
"Then the brute has made off with it, after all!"
* * * * *
This, you see, was the way in which Gull "eased himself," as he
expressed it, and satisfied the demands that gratitude made upon his
I have very little more to tell you, and that you could almost guess for
Gull spent a few quiet days on his bed, attended devotedly by his little
lads, who were much over-awed at father's "bein' took bad," and filled
with wide-eyed wonder when "our gentleman" climbed the old staircase
more than once, to see how father was, and to provide for him some new
Once again, two versions of a true story were told in two separate
homes. It was the version that the "twinses" heard which was the
shortest in the telling.
"Tell us all about it, father," said Bob, when Gull was "rested" enough
to talk to his boys.
"Nay, lad, there ain't much to tell. I just collared the thief as he
was making off with Mr. Kingsley's pocket-book, and he didn't like it
somehow, and threw me down. But that's all about it."
"Oh! but you got the pocket-book from him first, you know, father."
"Ay! I did that," Gull answered, with a smile; and there the telling
of the story ended. I don't know when the acting of it will be
finished, for there was a difference in the lives of Gull and his
"twinses" from that day forward--"all along of Mr. Kingsley's kindness,"
as they would tell you; but "because I have found an honest man," as Mr.
Kingsley himself would say to little Patsy.