Little Tommy Tucker

There were but three persons in the car; a merchant, deep in the income list of the Traveller, an old lady with two band-boxes, a man in the corner with his hat pulled over his eyes. Tommy opened the door, peeped in, hesitated, looked into another car, came back, gave his little fiddle a shove on his shoulder, and walked in.

“Hi! Little Tommy Tucker Plays for his supper,”

shouted the young exquisite lounging on the platform in tancoloured coat and lavender kid gloves.

“O Kids, you’re there, are you? Well, I’d rather play for it than loaf for it, I had,” said Tommy stoutly.

The merchant shot a careless glance over the top of his paper at the sound of this petit dialogue, and the old lady smiled benignly; the man in the corner neither looked not smiled.

Nobody would have thought, to look at that man in the corner, that he was at that very moment deserting a wife and five children. Yet that is precisely what he was doing.

A villain? Oh no, that is not the word. A brute? Not by any means. A man, weak, unfortunate, discouraged, and selfish, as weak, unfortunate, and discouraged people are apt to be; that was the amount of it. His panoramas never paid him for the use of his halls. His travelling tin-type saloon had trundled him into a sheriff’s hands. His petroleum speculations had crashed like a bubble. His black and gold sign, F. Harmon, Photographer, had swung now for nearly a year over the dentist’s rooms, and he had had the patronage of precisely six old women and three babies. He had drifted to the theatre in the evenings, he did not care now to remember how many times—the fellows asked him, and it made him forget his troubles; the next morning his empty purse would gape at him, and Annie’s mouth would quiver. A man must have his glass, too, on Sundays, and—well, perhaps a little oftener. He had not always been fit to go to work after it; and Annie’s mouth would quiver. It will be seen at once that it was exceedingly hard on a man that his wife’s mouth should quiver. “Confound it! Why couldn’t she scold or cry? These still women aggravated a fellow beyond reason.”

Well, then the children had been sick; measles, whooping cough, scarlatina, mumps, he was sure he did not know what not; every one of them from the baby up. There was medicine, and there were doctor’s bills, and there was sitting up with them at night—their mother usually did that. Then she must needs pale down herself, like a poorly-finished photograph; all her colour and roundness and sparkle gone; and if ever a man liked to have a pretty wife about it was he. Moreover she had a cough, and her shoulders had grown round, stooping so much over the heavy baby, and her breath came short, and she had a way of being tired. Then she never stirred out of the house—he found out about that one day; she had no bonnet, and her shawl had been cut up into blankets for the crib. The children had stopped going to school. “They could not buy the new arithmetic,” their mother said, half under her breath. Yesterday there was nothing for dinner but Johnny-cake, nor a large one at that. To-morrow the saloon rents were due. Annie talked about pawning one of the bureaus. Annie had had great purple rings under her eyes for six weeks.

He would not bear the purple rings and quivering mouth any longer. He hated the sight of her, for the sight stung him. He hated the corn-cake and the untaught children. He hated the whole dreary, dragging, needy home. The ruin of it dogged him like a ghost, and he should be the ruin of it as long as he stayed in it. Once fairly rid of him, his scolding and drinking, his wasting and failing, Annie would send the children to work, and find ways to live. She had energy and invention, a plenty of it in her young, fresh days, before he came across her life to drag her down. Perhaps he should make a golden fortune, and come back to her some summer day with a silk dress and servants, and make it all up; in theory this was about what he expected to do. But if his ill-luck went westward with him, and the silk dress never turned up, why, she would forget him, and be better off, and that would be the end of it.

So here he was, ticketed and started, fairly bound for Colorada, sitting with his hat over his eyes, and thinking about it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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