It’s the story of John Peerybingle, a carrier (someone who transports goods for others) and his wife, Dot. They live in a modest home with their baby and the baby’s nanny, Tilly Slowboy. They are good friends with Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter, Bertha, who both work by making toys for the Scroogish Mr. Tackleton to sell. Mr. Tackleton has somehow gotten a young friend of the group, May, to agree to marry him, though she has admitted to him that she does not love him and she still pines for Edward, Caleb’s son who is thought to have died in South America.
The story opens with John coming home to a scene of domestic tranquility, complete with a cricket on the hearth which Dot regards with special affection because she first heard it the night John brought his young wife home and “It seemed so full of promise and encouragement. It seemed to say, you would be kind and gentle with me.” It’s “music” has cheered and encouraged her many a time, and she comments, “This has been a happy home, John; and I love the Cricket for its sake!”
John has brought home an elderly gentlemen whom he had picked up in his work, but those who were supposed to retrieve him did not come for him. They make him feel at home for the time being.
There are various comings and goings and discussion with and about their friends, particularly the upcoming wedding between Mr. Tackleton and May. In one conversation between John and Tacklelton,
“Bah! what’s home?” cried Tackleton. “Four walls and a ceiling! (why don’t you kill that Cricket? I would! I always do. I hate their noise.) There are four walls and a ceiling at my house. Come to me!”
“You kill your Crickets, eh?” said John.
“Scrunch ’em, sir,” returned the other, setting his heel heavily on the floor.
Everyone is invited to a pre-wedding celebration, and at one point there, Tackleton shows John a scene through a window where the elderly visitor takes off his wig, is revealed to be quite young, and interacts with Dot very familiarly. Tackleton assumes Dot is being unfaithful. John is at first quite angry and thinks murderous thoughts against the imposter, but the cricket somehow turns into a sort of a fairy and reminds him of all Dot’s good qualities. John decides that in his love for Dot, the best thing he can do is release her to marry the person she actually loves.
But, as you can guess, Dot is not being at all unfaithful or untrue. As to what is really going on and who the stranger is, I’ll leave for you to find out in the book.
I do like Dickens, and I have enjoyed listening to audiobooks of his works that I am already familiar with, but I am finding that when I listen to an audiobook of one of his books I haven’t read before, it takes me a very long time to get into them. It usually takes him a while to get through the characterizations and set-up, and my mind tends to wander in that part until he actually gets going with the story. But I enjoyed going back through the online version. So I don’t know if Dickens (at least unread Dickens) is better read rather than listened to, or if I just get more out of him the second time through a story rather than the first. I don’t think the narrator helped this version much, so that contributed as well. I didn’t enjoy the story much at the beginning, but by the end I thought it was very sweet, and enjoyed it much more going over it again. I especially liked what Dot said at the end of explaining to her husband what was going on:
“Now, my dear husband, take me to your heart again! That’s my home, John; and never, never think of sending me to any other!”
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)