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Chapter 80

  • That afternoon, when he had slept off his fatigue; had shaved, and washed, an_ressed, and freshened himself from top to toe; when he had dined, comforte_imself with a pipe, an extra Toby, a nap in the great arm-chair, and a quie_hat with Mrs Varden on everything that had happened, was happening, or abou_o happen, within the sphere of their domestic concern; the locksmith sa_imself down at the tea-table in the little back-parlour: the rosiest, cosiest, merriest, heartiest, best-contented old buck, in Great Britain or ou_f it.
  • There he sat, with his beaming eye on Mrs V., and his shining face suffuse_ith gladness, and his capacious waistcoat smiling in every wrinkle, and hi_ovial humour peeping from under the table in the very plumpness of his legs; a sight to turn the vinegar of misanthropy into purest milk of human kindness.
  • There he sat, watching his wife as she decorated the room with flowers for th_reater honour of Dolly and Joseph Willet, who had gone out walking, and fo_hom the tea-kettle had been singing gaily on the hob full twenty minutes, chirping as never kettle chirped before; for whom the best service of rea_ndoubted china, patterned with divers round-faced mandarins holding up broa_mbrellas, was now displayed in all its glory; to tempt whose appetites _lear, transparent, juicy ham, garnished with cool green lettuce-leaves an_ragrant cucumber, reposed upon a shady table, covered with a snow-whit_loth; for whose delight, preserves and jams, crisp cakes and other pastry, short to eat, with cunning twists, and cottage loaves, and rolls of bread bot_hite and brown, were all set forth in rich profusion; in whose youth Mrs V.
  • herself had grown quite young, and stood there in a gown of red and white: symmetrical in figure, buxom in bodice, ruddy in cheek and lip, faultless i_nkle, laughing in face and mood, in all respects delicious to behold—ther_at the locksmith among all and every these delights, the sun that shone upo_hem all: the centre of the system: the source of light, heat, life, and fran_njoyment in the bright household world.
  • And when had Dolly ever been the Dolly of that afternoon? To see how she cam_n, arm-in-arm with Joe; and how she made an effort not to blush or seem a_ll confused; and how she made believe she didn’t care to sit on his side o_he table; and how she coaxed the locksmith in a whisper not to joke; and ho_er colour came and went in a little restless flutter of happiness, which mad_er do everything wrong, and yet so charmingly wrong that it was better tha_ight!—why, the locksmith could have looked on at this (as he mentioned to Mr_arden when they retired for the night) for four- and-twenty hours at _tretch, and never wished it done.
  • The recollections, too, with which they made merry over that long protracte_ea! The glee with which the locksmith asked Joe if he remembered that storm_ight at the Maypole when he first asked after Dolly—the laugh they all had, about that night when she was going out to the party in the sedan-chair—th_nmerciful manner in which they rallied Mrs Varden about putting those flower_utside that very window—the difficulty Mrs Varden found in joining the laug_gainst herself, at first, and the extraordinary perception she had of th_oke when she overcame it—the confidential statements of Joe concerning th_recise day and hour when he was first conscious of being fond of Dolly, an_olly’s blushing admissions, half volunteered and half extorted, as to th_ime from which she dated the discovery that she ‘didn’t mind’ Joe—here was a_xhaustless fund of mirth and conversation.
  • Then, there was a great deal to be said regarding Mrs Varden’s doubts, an_otherly alarms, and shrewd suspicions; and it appeared that from Mrs Varden’_enetration and extreme sagacity nothing had ever been hidden. She had know_t all along. She had seen it from the first. She had always predicted it. Sh_ad been aware of it before the principals. She had said within herself (fo_he remembered the exact words) ‘that young Willet is certainly looking afte_ur Dolly, and I must look after him.’ Accordingly, she had looked after him, and had observed many little circumstances (all of which she named) s_xceedingly minute that nobody else could make anything out of them even now; and had, it seemed from first to last, displayed the most unbounded tact an_ost consummate generalship.
  • Of course the night when Joe would ride homeward by the side of the chaise, and when Mrs Varden would insist upon his going back again, was no_orgotten—nor the night when Dolly fainted on his name being mentioned—nor th_imes upon times when Mrs Varden, ever watchful and prudent, had found he_ining in her own chamber. In short, nothing was forgotten; and everything b_ome means or other brought them back to the conclusion, that that was th_appiest hour in all their lives; consequently, that everything must hav_ccurred for the best, and nothing could be suggested which would have made i_etter.
  • While they were in the full glow of such discourse as this, there came _tartling knock at the door, opening from the street into the workshop, whic_ad been kept closed all day that the house might be more quiet. Joe, as i_uty bound, would hear of nobody but himself going to open it; and accordingl_eft the room for that purpose.
  • It would have been odd enough, certainly, if Joe had forgotten the way to thi_oor; and even if he had, as it was a pretty large one and stood straigh_efore him, he could not easily have missed it. But Dolly, perhaps because sh_as in the flutter of spirits before mentioned, or perhaps because she though_e would not be able to open it with his one arm—she could have had no othe_eason— hurried out after him; and they stopped so long in the passage—n_oubt owing to Joe’s entreaties that she would not expose herself to th_raught of July air which must infallibly come rushing in on this same doo_eing opened—that the knock was repeated, in a yet more startling manner tha_efore.
  • ‘Is anybody going to open that door?’ cried the locksmith. ‘Or shall I come?’
  • Upon that, Dolly went running back into the parlour, all dimples and blushes; and Joe opened it with a mighty noise, and other superfluous demonstrations o_eing in a violent hurry.
  • ‘Well,’ said the locksmith, when he reappeared: ‘what is it? eh Joe? what ar_ou laughing at?’
  • ‘Nothing, sir. It’s coming in.’
  • ‘Who’s coming in? what’s coming in?’ Mrs Varden, as much at a loss as he_usband, could only shake her head in answer to his inquiring look: so, th_ocksmith wheeled his chair round to command a better view of the room-door, and stared at it with his eyes wide open, and a mingled expression o_uriosity and wonder shining in his jolly face.
  • Instead of some person or persons straightway appearing, divers remarkabl_ounds were heard, first in the workshop and afterwards in the little dar_assage between it and the parlour, as though some unwieldy chest or heav_iece of furniture were being brought in, by an amount of human strengt_nadequate to the task. At length after much struggling and humping, an_ruising of the wall on both sides, the door was forced open as by _attering-ram; and the locksmith, steadily regarding what appeared beyond, smote his thigh, elevated his eyebrows, opened his mouth, and cried in a lou_oice expressive of the utmost consternation:
  • ‘Damme, if it an’t Miggs come back!’
  • The young damsel whom he named no sooner heard these words, than deserting _mall boy and a very large box by which she was accompanied, and advancin_ith such precipitation that her bonnet flew off her head, burst into th_oom, clasped her hands (in which she held a pair of pattens, one in each), raised her eyes devotedly to the ceiling, and shed a flood of tears.
  • ‘The old story!’ cried the locksmith, looking at her in inexpressibl_esperation. ‘She was born to be a damper, this young woman! nothing ca_revent it!’
  • ‘Ho master, ho mim!’ cried Miggs, ‘can I constrain my feelings in these her_nce agin united moments! Ho Mr Warsen, here’s blessedness among relations, sir! Here’s forgivenesses of injuries, here’s amicablenesses!’
  • The locksmith looked from his wife to Dolly, and from Dolly to Joe, and fro_oe to Miggs, with his eyebrows still elevated and his mouth still open. Whe_is eyes got back to Miggs, they rested on her; fascinated.
  • ‘To think,’ cried Miggs with hysterical joy, ‘that Mr Joe, and dear Mis_olly, has raly come together after all as has been said and done contrairy!
  • To see them two a-settin’ along with him and her, so pleasant and in al_espects so affable and mild; and me not knowing of it, and not being in th_ays to make no preparations for their teas. Ho what a cutting thing it is, and yet what sweet sensations is awoke within me!’
  • Either in clasping her hands again, or in an ecstasy of pious joy, Miss Migg_linked her pattens after the manner of a pair of cymbals, at this juncture; and then resumed, in the softest accents:
  • ‘And did my missis think—ho goodness, did she think—as her own Miggs, whic_upported her under so many trials, and understood her natur’ when them a_ntended well but acted rough, went so deep into her feelings—did she think a_er own Miggs would ever leave her? Did she think as Miggs, though she was bu_ servant, and knowed that servitudes was no inheritances, would forgit tha_he was the humble instruments as always made it comfortable between them tw_hen they fell out, and always told master of the meekness and forgiveness o_er blessed dispositions! Did she think as Miggs had no attachments! Did sh_hink that wages was her only object!’
  • To none of these interrogatories, whereof every one was more patheticall_elivered than the last, did Mrs Varden answer one word: but Miggs, not at al_bashed by this circumstance, turned to the small boy in attendance—her eldes_ephew—son of her own married sister—born in Golden Lion Court, number twenty- sivin, and bred in the very shadow of the second bell-handle on the right- hand door-post—and with a plentiful use of her pocket- handkerchief, addresse_erself to him: requesting that on his return home he would console hi_arents for the loss of her, his aunt, by delivering to them a faithfu_tatement of his having left her in the bosom of that family, with which, a_is aforesaid parents well knew, her best affections were incorporated; tha_e would remind them that nothing less than her imperious sense of duty, an_evoted attachment to her old master and missis, likewise Miss Dolly and youn_r Joe, should ever have induced her to decline that pressing invitation whic_hey, his parents, had, as he could testify, given her, to lodge and boar_ith them, free of all cost and charge, for evermore; lastly, that he woul_elp her with her box upstairs, and then repair straight home, bearing he_lessing and her strong injunctions to mingle in his prayers a supplicatio_hat he might in course of time grow up a locksmith, or a Mr Joe, and have Mr_ardens and Miss Dollys for his relations and friends.
  • Having brought this admonition to an end—upon which, to say the truth, th_oung gentleman for whose benefit it was designed, bestowed little or no heed, having to all appearance his faculties absorbed in the contemplation of th_weetmeats,—Miss Miggs signified to the company in general that they were no_o be uneasy, for she would soon return; and, with her nephew’s aid, prepare_o bear her wardrobe up the staircase.
  • ‘My dear,’ said the locksmith to his wife. ‘Do you desire this?’
  • ‘I desire it!’ she answered. ‘I am astonished—I am amazed—at her audacity. Le_er leave the house this moment.’
  • Miggs, hearing this, let her end of the box fall heavily to the floor, gave _ery loud sniff, crossed her arms, screwed down the corners of her mouth, an_ried, in an ascending scale, ‘Ho, good gracious!’ three distinct times.
  • ‘You hear what your mistress says, my love,’ remarked the locksmith. ‘You ha_etter go, I think. Stay; take this with you, for the sake of old service.’
  • Miss Miggs clutched the bank-note he took from his pocket-book and held out t_er; deposited it in a small, red leather purse; put the purse in her pocket (displaying, as she did so, a considerable portion of some under-garment, mad_f flannel, and more black cotton stocking than is commonly seen in public); and, tossing her head, as she looked at Mrs Varden, repeated—
  • ‘Ho, good gracious!’
  • ‘I think you said that once before, my dear,’ observed the locksmith.
  • ‘Times is changed, is they, mim!’ cried Miggs, bridling; ‘you can spare m_ow, can you? You can keep ’em down without me? You’re not in wants of any on_o scold, or throw the blame upon, no longer, an’t you, mim? I’m glad to fin_ou’ve grown so independent. I wish you joy, I’m sure!’
  • With that she dropped a curtsey, and keeping her head erect, her ear toward_rs Varden, and her eye on the rest of the company, as she alluded to them i_er remarks, proceeded:
  • ‘I’m quite delighted, I’m sure, to find sich independency, feeling sorr_hough, at the same time, mim, that you should have been forced int_ubmissions when you couldn’t help yourself—he he he! It must be grea_exations, ‘specially considering how ill you always spoke of Mr Joe—to hav_im for a son-in-law at last; and I wonder Miss Dolly can put up with him, either, after being off and on for so many years with a coachmaker. But I hav_eerd say, that the coachmaker thought twice about it—he he he!—and that h_old a young man as was a frind of his, that he hoped he knowed better than t_e drawed into that; though she and all the family did pull uncommon strong!’
  • Here she paused for a reply, and receiving none, went on as before.
  • ‘I have heerd say, mim, that the illnesses of some ladies was all pretensions, and that they could faint away, stone dead, whenever they had the inclination_o to do. Of course I never see sich cases with my own eyes—ho no! He he he!
  • Nor master neither—ho no! He he he! I have heerd the neighbours make remark a_ome one as they was acquainted with, was a poor good-natur’d mean-spirite_reetur, as went out fishing for a wife one day, and caught a Tartar. O_ourse I never to my knowledge see the poor person himself. Nor did yo_either, mim—ho no. I wonder who it can be—don’t you, mim? No doubt you do, mim. Ho yes. He he he!’
  • Again Miggs paused for a reply; and none being offered, was so oppressed wit_eeming spite and spleen, that she seemed like to burst.
  • ‘I’m glad Miss Dolly can laugh,’ cried Miggs with a feeble titter. ‘I like t_ee folks a-laughing—so do you, mim, don’t you? You was always glad to se_eople in spirits, wasn’t you, mim? And you always did your best to keep ’e_heerful, didn’t you, mim? Though there an’t such a great deal to laugh at no_ither; is there, mim? It an’t so much of a catch, after looking out so shar_ver since she was a little chit, and costing such a deal in dress and show, to get a poor, common soldier, with one arm, is it, mim? He he! I wouldn’_ave a husband with one arm, anyways. I would have two arms. I would have tw_rms, if it was me, though instead of hands they’d only got hooks at the end, like our dustman!’
  • Miss Miggs was about to add, and had, indeed, begun to add, that, taking the_n the abstract, dustmen were far more eligible matches than soldiers, though, to be sure, when people were past choosing they must take the best they coul_et, and think themselves well off too; but her vexation and chagrin being o_hat internally bitter sort which finds no relief in words, and is aggravate_o madness by want of contradiction, she could hold out no longer, and burs_nto a storm of sobs and tears.
  • In this extremity she fell on the unlucky nephew, tooth and nail, and pluckin_ handful of hair from his head, demanded to know how long she was to stan_here to be insulted, and whether or no he meant to help her to carry out th_ox again, and if he took a pleasure in hearing his family reviled: with othe_nquiries of that nature; at which disgrace and provocation, the small boy, who had been all this time gradually lashed into rebellion by the sight o_nattainable pastry, walked off indignant, leaving his aunt and the box t_ollow at their leisure. Somehow or other, by dint of pushing and pulling, they did attain the street at last; where Miss Miggs, all blowzed with th_xertion of getting there, and with her sobs and tears, sat down upon he_roperty to rest and grieve, until she could ensnare some other youth to hel_er home.
  • ‘It’s a thing to laugh at, Martha, not to care for,’ whispered the locksmith, as he followed his wife to the window, and good- humouredly dried her eyes.
  • ‘What does it matter? You had seen your fault before. Come! Bring up Tob_gain, my dear; Dolly shall sing us a song; and we’ll be all the merrier fo_his interruption!’