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!’