`Polly, my gal,' said Mr. Toodle, with a young Toodle on each knee, and two more making tea for him, and plenty more scattered about--Mr. Toodle was never out of children, but always kept a good supply on hand--`you an't seen our Biler lately, have you?'
`No,' replied Polly, `but he's almost certain to look in tonight. It's his right evening, and he's very regular.'
`I suppose,' said Mr. Toodle, relishing his meal infinitely, `as our Biler is a doin' now about as well as a boy can do, eh, Polly?'
`Oh! he's a doing beautiful!' responded Polly.
`He an't got to be at all secret-like--has he, Polly?' inquired Mr. Toodle.
`No!' said Mrs. Toodle, plumply.
`I'm glad he an't got to be at all secret-like, Polly,' observed Mr. Toodle in his slow and measured way, and shovelling in his bread and butter with a clasp knife, as if he were stoking himself, `because that don't look well; do it, Polly?'
`Why, of course it don't, father. How can you ask!'
`You see, my boys and gals,' said Mr. Toodle, looking round upon his family, `wotever you're up to in a honest way, it's my opinion as you can't do better than be open. If you find yourselves in cuttings or in tunnels, don't you play no secret games. Keep your whistles going, and let's know where you are.'
The rising Toodles set up a shrill murmur, expressive of their resolution to profit by the paternal advice.
`But what makes you say this along of Rob, father?' asked his wife, anxiously.
`Polly, old 'ooman,' said Mr. Toodle, `I don't know as I said it partickler along o' Rob, I'm sure. I starts light with Rob only; I comes to a branch; I takes on what I finds there; and a whole train of ideas gets coupled on to him, afore I knows where I am, or where they comes from. What a Junction a man's thoughts is,' said Mr. Toodle, `to-be-sure!'
This profound reflection Mr. Toodle washed down with a pint mug of tea, and proceeded to solidify with a great weight of bread and butter; charging his young daughters meanwhile, to keep plenty of hot water in the pot, as he was uncommon dry, and should take the indefinite quantity of `a sight of mugs,' before his thirst was appeased.
In satisfying himself, however, Mr. Toodle was not regardless of the younger branches about him, who, although they had made their own evening repast, were on the look-out for irregular morsels, as possessing a relish. These he distributed now and then to the expectant circle, by holding out great wedges of bread and butter, to be bitten at by the family in lawful succession, and by serving out small doses of tea in like manner with a spoon; which snacks had such a relish in the mouths of these young Toodles, that, after partaking of the same, they performed private dances of ecstasy among themselves, and stood on one leg apiece, and hopped, and indulged in other saltatory tokens of gladness. These vents for their excitement found, they gradually closed about Mr. Toodle again, and eyed him hard as he got through more bread and butter and tea; affecting, however, to have no further expectations of their own in reference to those viands, but to be conversing on foreign subjects, and whispering confidently.
Mr. Toodle, in the midst of this family group, and setting an awful example to his children in the way of appetite, was conveying the two young Toodles on his knees to Birmingham by special engine, and was contemplating the rest over a barrier of bread and butter, when Rob the Grinder, in his sou'wester hat and mourning slops, presented himself, and was received with a general rush of brothers and sisters.
`Well, mother!' said Rob, dutifully kissing her; `how are you, mother?'
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