On this same day, and about this very hour, Mr Willet the elder sat smokin_is pipe in a chamber at the Black Lion. Although it was hot summer weather, Mr Willet sat close to the fire. He was in a state of profound cogitation, with his own thoughts, and it was his custom at such times to stew himsel_lowly, under the impression that that process of cookery was favourable t_he melting out of his ideas, which, when he began to simmer, sometimes ooze_orth so copiously as to astonish even himself.
Mr Willet had been several thousand times comforted by his friends an_cquaintance, with the assurance that for the loss he had sustained in th_amage done to the Maypole, he could ‘come upon the county.’ But as thi_hrase happened to bear an unfortunate resemblance to the popular expressio_f ‘coming on the parish,’ it suggested to Mr Willet’s mind no mor_onsolatory visions than pauperism on an extensive scale, and ruin in _apacious aspect. Consequently, he had never failed to receive th_ntelligence with a rueful shake of the head, or a dreary stare, and had bee_lways observed to appear much more melancholy after a visit of condolenc_han at any other time in the whole four-and-twenty hours.
It chanced, however, that sitting over the fire on this particula_ccasion—perhaps because he was, as it were, done to a turn; perhaps becaus_e was in an unusually bright state of mind; perhaps because he had considere_he subject so long; perhaps because of all these favouring circumstances, taken together—it chanced that, sitting over the fire on this particula_ccasion, Mr Willet did, afar off and in the remotest depths of his intellect, perceive a kind of lurking hint or faint suggestion, that out of the publi_urse there might issue funds for the restoration of the Maypole to its forme_igh place among the taverns of the earth. And this dim ray of light did s_iffuse itself within him, and did so kindle up and shine, that at last he ha_t as plainly and visibly before him as the blaze by which he sat; and, full_ersuaded that he was the first to make the discovery, and that he ha_tarted, hunted down, fallen upon, and knocked on the head, a perfectl_riginal idea which had never presented itself to any other man, alive o_ead, he laid down his pipe, rubbed his hands, and chuckled audibly.
‘Why, father!’ cried Joe, entering at the moment, ‘you’re in spirits to-day!’
‘It’s nothing partickler,’ said Mr Willet, chuckling again. ‘It’s nothing a_ll partickler, Joseph. Tell me something about the Salwanners.’ Havin_referred this request, Mr Willet chuckled a third time, and after thes_nusual demonstrations of levity, he put his pipe in his mouth again.
‘What shall I tell you, father?’ asked Joe, laying his hand upon his sire’_houlder, and looking down into his face. ‘That I have come back, poorer tha_ church mouse? You know that. That I have come back, maimed and crippled? Yo_now that.’
‘It was took off,’ muttered Mr Willet,with his eyes upon the fire, ‘at th_efence of the Salwanners, in America, where the war is.’
‘Quite right,’ returned Joe, smiling, and leaning with his remaining elbow o_he back of his father’s chair; ‘the very subject I came to speak to yo_bout. A man with one arm, father, is not of much use in the busy world.’
This was one of those vast propositions which Mr Willet had never considere_or an instant, and required time to ‘tackle.’ Wherefore he made no answer.
‘At all events,’ said Joe, ‘he can’t pick and choose his means of earning _ivelihood, as another man may. He can’t say “I will turn my hand to this,” or “I won’t turn my hand to that,” but must take what he can do, and be thankfu_t’s no worse.—What did you say?’
Mr Willet had been softly repeating to himself, in a musing tone, the words ‘defence of the Salwanners:’ but he seemed embarrassed at having bee_verheard, and answered ‘Nothing.’
‘Now look here, father.—Mr Edward has come to England from the West Indies.
When he was lost sight of (I ran away on the same day, father), he made _oyage to one of the islands, where a school-friend of his had settled; and, finding him, wasn’t too proud to be employed on his estate, and—and in short, got on well, and is prospering, and has come over here on business of his own, and is going back again speedily. Our returning nearly at the same time, an_eeting in the course of the late troubles, has been a good thing every way; for it has not only enabled us to do old friends some service, but has opene_ path in life for me which I may tread without being a burden upon you. To b_lain, father, he can employ me; I have satisfied myself that I can be of rea_se to him; and I am going to carry my one arm away with him, and to make th_ost of it.
In the mind’s eye of Mr Willet, the West Indies, and indeed all foreig_ountries, were inhabited by savage nations, who were perpetually buryin_ipes of peace, flourishing tomahawks, and puncturing strange patterns i_heir bodies. He no sooner heard this announcement, therefore, than he leane_ack in his chair, took his pipe from his lips, and stared at his son with a_uch dismay as if he already beheld him tied to a stake, and tortured for th_ntertainment of a lively population. In what form of expression his feeling_ould have found a vent, it is impossible to say. Nor is it necessary: for, before a syllable occurred to him, Dolly Varden came running into the room, i_ears, threw herself on Joe’s breast without a word of explanation, an_lasped her white arms round his neck.
‘Dolly!’ cried Joe. ‘Dolly!’
‘Ay, call me that; call me that always,’ exclaimed the locksmith’s littl_aughter; ‘never speak coldly to me, never be distant, never again reprove m_or the follies I have long repented, or I shall die, Joe.’
‘I reprove you!’ said Joe.
‘Yes—for every kind and honest word you uttered, went to my heart. For you, who have borne so much from me—for you, who owe your sufferings and pain to m_aprice—for you to be so kind—so noble to me, Joe—’
He could say nothing to her. Not a syllable. There was an odd sort o_loquence in his one arm, which had crept round her waist: but his lips wer_ute.
‘If you had reminded me by a word—only by one short word,’ sobbed Dolly, clinging yet closer to him, ‘how little I deserved that you should treat m_ith so much forbearance; if you had exulted only for one moment in you_riumph, I could have borne it better.’
‘Triumph!’ repeated Joe, with a smile which seemed to say, ‘I am a prett_igure for that.’
‘Yes, triumph,’ she cried, with her whole heart and soul in her earnest voice, and gushing tears; ‘for it is one. I am glad to think and know it is. _ouldn’t be less humbled, dear—I wouldn’t be without the recollection of tha_ast time we spoke together in this place—no, not if I could recall the past, and make our parting, yesterday.’
Did ever lover look as Joe looked now!
‘Dear Joe,’ said Dolly, ‘I always loved you—in my own heart I always did, although I was so vain and giddy. I hoped you would come back that night. _ade quite sure you would. I prayed for it on my knees. Through all thes_ong, long years, I have never once forgotten you, or left off hoping tha_his happy time might come.’
The eloquence of Joe’s arm surpassed the most impassioned language; and so di_hat of his lips—yet he said nothing, either.
‘And now, at last,’ cried Dolly, trembling with the fervour of her speech, ‘i_ou were sick, and shattered in your every limb; if you were ailing, weak, an_orrowful; if, instead of being what you are, you were in everybody’s eyes bu_ine the wreck and ruin of a man; I would be your wife, dear love, wit_reater pride and joy, than if you were the stateliest lord in England!’
‘What have I done,’ cried Joe, ‘what have I done to meet with this reward?’
‘You have taught me,’ said Dolly, raising her pretty face to his, ‘to kno_yself, and your worth; to be something better than I was; to be mor_eserving of your true and manly nature. In years to come, dear Joe, you shal_ind that you have done so; for I will be, not only now, when we are young an_ull of hope, but when we have grown old and weary, your patient, gentle, never-tiring wife. I will never know a wish or care beyond our home and you, and I will always study how to please you with my best affection and my mos_evoted love. I will: indeed I will!’
Joe could only repeat his former eloquence—but it was very much to th_urpose.
‘They know of this, at home,’ said Dolly. ‘For your sake, I would leave eve_hem; but they know it, and are glad of it, and are as proud of you as I am, and as full of gratitude.—You’ll not come and see me as a poor friend who kne_e when I was a girl, will you, dear Joe?’
Well, well! It don’t matter what Joe said in answer, but he said a great deal; and Dolly said a great deal too: and he folded Dolly in his one arm prett_ight, considering that it was but one; and Dolly made no resistance: and i_ver two people were happy in this world—which is not an utterly miserabl_ne, with all its faults— we may, with some appearance of certainty, conclud_hat they were.
To say that during these proceedings Mr Willet the elder underwent th_reatest emotions of astonishment of which our common nature is susceptible—t_ay that he was in a perfect paralysis of surprise, and that he wandered int_he most stupendous and theretofore unattainable heights of complicate_mazement—would be to shadow forth his state of mind in the feeblest an_amest terms. If a roc, an eagle, a griffin, a flying elephant, a winged sea- horse, had suddenly appeared, and, taking him on its back, carried him bodil_nto the heart of the ‘Salwanners,’ it would have been to him as an everyda_ccurrence, in comparison with what he now beheld. To be sitting quietly by, seeing and hearing these things; to be completely overlooked, unnoticed, an_isregarded, while his son and a young lady were talking to each other in th_ost impassioned manner, kissing each other, and making themselves in al_espects perfectly at home; was a position so tremendous, so inexplicable, s_tterly beyond the widest range of his capacity of comprehension, that he fel_nto a lethargy of wonder, and could no more rouse himself than an enchante_leeper in the first year of his fairy lease, a century long.
‘Father,’ said Joe, presenting Dolly. ‘You know who this is?’
Mr Willet looked first at her, then at his son, then back again at Dolly, an_hen made an ineffectual effort to extract a whiff from his pipe, which ha_one out long ago.
‘Say a word, father, if it’s only “how d’ye do,”’ urged Joe.
‘Ah!’ replied his father. ‘Why not?’ and with this remark, which he uttered i_ low voice as though he were discussing some grave question with himself, h_sed the little finger—if any of his fingers can be said to have come unde_hat denomination—of his right hand as a tobacco-stopper, and was silen_gain.
And so he sat for half an hour at least, although Dolly, in the most endearin_f manners, hoped, a dozen times, that he was not angry with her. So he sa_or half an hour, quite motionless, and looking all the while like nothing s_uch as a great Dutch Pin or Skittle. At the expiration of that period, h_uddenly, and without the least notice, burst (to the great consternation o_he young people) into a very loud and very short laugh; and repeating, ‘Certainly, Joseph. Oh yes! Why not?’ went out for a walk.