As to Polly, she was full as noisy and vehement as the children; and it was not until she was quite out of breath, and her hair was hanging all about her flushed face, and her new christening attire was very much dishevelled, that any pause took place in the confusion. Even then, the smallest Toodle but one remained in her lap, holding on tight with both arms round her neck; while the smallest Toodle but two mounted on the back of the chair, and made desperate efforts, with one leg in the air, to kiss her round the corner.
'Look! there's a pretty little lady come to see you,' said Polly; 'and see how quiet she is! what a beautiful little lady, ain't she?'
This reference to Florence, who had been standing by the door not unobservant of what passed, directed the attention of the younger branches towards her; and had likewise the happy effect of leading to the formal recognition of Miss Nipper, who was not quite free from a misgiving that she had been already slighted.
'Oh do come in and sit down a minute, Susan, please,' said Polly. 'This is my sister Jemima, this is. Jemima, I don't know what I should ever do with myself, if it wasn't for Susan Nipper; I shouldn't be here now but for her.'
'Oh do sit down, Miss Nipper, if you please,' quoth Jemima.
Susan took the extreme corner of a chair, with a stately and ceremonious aspect.
'I never was so glad to see anybody in all my life; now really I never was, Miss Nipper,' said Jemima.
Susan relaxing, took a little more of the chair, and smiled graciously.
'Do untie your bonnet-strings, and make yourself at home, Miss Nipper, please,' entreated Jemima. 'I am afraid it's a poorer place than you're used to; but you'll make allowances, I'm sure.'
The black-eyed was so softened by this deferential behaviour, that she caught up little Miss Toodle who was running past, and took her to Banbury Cross immediately.
'But where's my pretty boy?' said Polly. 'My poor fellow? I came all this way to see him in his new clothes.'
'Ah what a pity!' cried Jemima. 'He'll break his heart, when he hears his mother has been here. He's at school, Polly.'
'Yes. He went for the first time yesterday, for fear he should lose any learning. But it's half-holiday, Polly: if you could only stop till he comes home - you and Miss Nipper, leastways,' said Jemima, mindful in good time of the dignity of the black-eyed.
'And how does he look, Jemima, bless him!' faltered Polly.
'Well, really he don't look so bad as you'd suppose,' returned Jemima.
'Ah!' said Polly, with emotion, 'I knew his legs must be too short.'
His legs is short,' returned Jemima; 'especially behind; but they'll get longer, Polly, every day.'
It was a slow, prospective kind of consolation; but the cheerfulness and good nature with which it was administered, gave it a value it did not intrinsically possess. After a moment's silence, Polly asked, in a more sprightly manner:
'And where's Father, Jemima dear?' - for by that patriarchal appellation, Mr Toodle was generally known in the family.
'There again!' said Jemima. 'What a pity! Father took his dinner with him this morning, and isn't coming home till night. But he's always talking of you, Polly, and telling the children about you; and is the peaceablest, patientest, best-temperedest soul in the world, as he always was and will be!'
'Thankee, Jemima,' cried the simple Polly; delighted by the speech, and disappointed by the absence.
'Oh you needn't thank me, Polly,' said her sister, giving her a sounding kiss upon the cheek, and then dancing little Paul cheerfully. 'I say the same of you sometimes, and think it too.'
In spite of the double disappointment, it was impossible to regard in the light of a failure a visit which was greeted with such a reception; so the sisters talked hopefully about family matters, and about Biler, and about all his brothers and sisters: while the black-eyed, having performed several journeys to Banbury Cross and back, took sharp note of the furniture, the Dutch clock, the cupboard, the castle on the mantel-piece with red and green windows in it, susceptible of illumination by a candle-end within; and the pair of small black velvet kittens, each with a lady's reticule in its mouth; regarded by the Staggs's Gardeners as prodigies of imitative art.