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Having seen his portmanteaus safely housed in the hotel he chose, and having appointed his dinner hour, Barbox Brothers went out for a walk in the busy streets. And now it began to be suspected by him that Mugby Junction was a Junction of many branches, invisible as well as visible, and had joined him to an endless number of by-ways. For, whereas he would, but a little while ago, have walked these streets blindly brooding, he now had eyes and thoughts for a new external world. How the many toiling people lived, and loved, and died; how wonderful it was to consider the various trainings of eye and hand, the nice distinctions of sight and touch, that separated them into classes of workers, and even into classes of workers at subdivisions of one complete whole which combined their many intelligences and forces, though of itself but some cheap object of use or ornament in common life; how good it was to know that such assembling in a multitude on their part, and such contribution of their several dexterities towards a civilising end, did not deteriorate them as it was the fashion of the supercilious Mayflies of humanity to pretend, but engendered among them a self-respect, and yet a modest desire to be much wiser than they were (the first evinced in their well-balanced bearing and manner of speech when he stopped to ask a question; the second, in the announcements of their popular studies and amusements on the public walls); these considerations, and a host of such, made his walk a memorable one. "I too am but a little part of a great whole," he began to think; "and to be serviceable to myself and others, or to be happy, I must cast my interest into, and draw it out of, the common stock."
Although he had arrived at his journey's end for the day by noon, he had since insensibly walked about the town so far and so long that the lamp-lighters were now at their work in the streets, and the shops were sparkling up brilliantly. Thus reminded to turn towards his quarters, he was in the act of doing so, when a very little hand crept into his, and a very little voice said:
"Oh! if you please, I am lost!"
He looked down, and saw a very little fair-haired girl.
"Yes," she said, confirming her words with a serious nod. "I am indeed. I am lost!"
Greatly perplexed, he stopped, looked about him for help, descried none, and said, bending low.
"Where do you live, my child?"
"I don't know where I live," she returned. "I am lost."
"What is your name?"
"What is your other name?"
The reply was prompt, but unintelligible.
Imitating the sound as he caught it, he hazarded the guess, "Trivits."
"Oh no!" said the child, shaking her head. "Nothing like that."
"Say it again, little one."
An unpromising business. For this time it had quite a different sound.
He made the venture, " Paddens?"
"Oh no!" said the child. "Nothing like that."
"Once more. Let us try it again, dear."
A most hopeless business. This time it swelled into four syllables. "It can't be Tappitarver?" said Barbox Brothers, rubbing his head with his hat in discomfiture.
"No! It ain't," the child quietly assented.
On her trying this unfortunate name once more, with extraordinary efforts at distinctness, it swelled into eight syllables at least.
"Ah! I think," said Barbox Brothers with a desperate air of resignation, "that we had better give it up."
"But I am lost," said the child, nestling her little hand more closely in his, "and you'll take care of me, won't you?"
If ever a man were disconcerted by division between compassion on the one hand, and the very imbecility of irresolution on the other, here the man was. "Lost!" he repeated, looking down at the child. "I am sure I am. What is to be done?"
"Where do you live?" asked the child, looking up at him wistfully.
"Over there," he answered, pointing vaguely in the direction of his hotel.
"Hadn't we better go there?" said the child.
"Really," he replied, "I don't know but what we had."
So they set off, hand-in-hand. He, through comparison of himself against his little companion, with a clumsy feeling on him as if he had just developed into a foolish giant. She, clearly elevated in her own tiny opinion by having got him so neatly out of his embarrassment.
"We are going to have dinner when we get there, I suppose?" said Polly.
"Well," he rejoined, "I--Yes, I suppose we are."
"Do you like your dinner?" asked the child.
"Why, on the whole," said Barbox Brothers, "yes, I think I do."
"I do mine," said Polly. "Have you any brothers and sisters?"
"No. Have you?"
"Mine are dead."
"Oh!" said Barbox Brothers. With that absurd sense of unwieldiness of mind and body weighing him down, he would have not known how to pursue the conversation beyond this curt rejoinder, but that the child was always ready for him.
"What," she asked, turning her soft hand coaxingly in his, "are you going to do to amuse me after dinner?"
"Upon my soul, Polly," exclaimed Barbox Brothers, very much at a loss, "I have not the slightest idea!"
"Then I tell you what," said Polly. "Have you got any cards at your house?"
"Plenty," said Barbox Brothers in a boastful vein.
"Very well. Then I'll build houses, and you shall look at me. You mustn't blow, you know."
"Oh no," said Barbox Brothers. "No, no, no. No blowing. Blowing's not fair."
He flattered himself that he had said this pretty well for an idiotic monster; but the child, instantly perceiving the awkwardness of his attempt to adapt himself to her level, utterly destroyed his hopeful opinion of himself by saying compassionately: "What a funny man you are!"
Feeling, after this melancholy failure, as if he every minute grew bigger and heavier in person, and weaker in mind, Barbox gave himself up for a bad job. No giant ever submitted more meekly to be led in triumph by all-conquering Jack than he to be bound in slavery to Polly.
"Do you know any stories?" she asked him.
He was reduced to the humiliating confession: "No."
"What a dunce you must be, mustn't you?" said Polly.
He was reduced to the humiliating confession: "Yes."
"Would you like me to teach you a story? But you must remember it, you know, and be able to tell it right to somebody else afterwards."
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Short Stories -- by Charles Dickens