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From the workshop of the Golden Key, there issued forth a tinkling
sound, so merry and good-humoured, that it suggested the idea of
some one working blithely, and made quite pleasant music. No man
who hammered on at a dull monotonous duty, could have brought such
cheerful notes from steel and iron; none but a chirping, healthy,
honest-hearted fellow, who made the best of everything, and felt
kindly towards everybody, could have done it for an instant. He
might have been a coppersmith, and still been musical. If he had
sat in a jolting waggon, full of rods of iron, it seemed as if he
would have brought some harmony out of it.
Tink, tink, tink--clear as a silver bell, and audible at every
pause of the streets' harsher noises, as though it said, 'I don't
care; nothing puts me out; I am resolved to he happy.' Women
scolded, children squalled, heavy carts went rumbling by, horrible
cries proceeded from the lungs of hawkers; still it struck in
again, no higher, no lower, no louder, no softer; not thrusting
itself on people's notice a bit the more for having been outdone by
louder sounds--tink, tink, tink, tink, tink.
It was a perfect embodiment of the still small voice, free from all
cold, hoarseness, huskiness, or unhealthiness of any kind; foot-
passengers slackened their pace, and were disposed to linger near
it; neighbours who had got up splenetic that morning, felt good-
humour stealing on them as they heard it, and by degrees became
quite sprightly; mothers danced their babies to its ringing; still
the same magical tink, tink, tink, came gaily from the workshop of
the Golden Key.
Who but the locksmith could have made such music! A gleam of sun
shining through the unsashed window, and chequering the dark
workshop with a broad patch of light, fell full upon him, as though
attracted by his sunny heart. There he stood working at his anvil,
his face all radiant with exercise and gladness, his sleeves turned
up, his wig pushed off his shining forehead--the easiest, freest,
happiest man in all the world. Beside him sat a sleek cat, purring
and winking in the light, and falling every now and then into an
idle doze, as from excess of comfort. Toby looked on from a tall
bench hard by; one beaming smile, from his broad nut-brown face
down to the slack-baked buckles in his shoes. The very locks that
hung around had something jovial in their rust, and seemed like
gouty gentlemen of hearty natures, disposed to joke on their
infirmities. There was nothing surly or severe in the whole scene.
It seemed impossible that any one of the innumerable keys could fit
a churlish strong-box or a prison-door. Cellars of beer and wine,
rooms where there were fires, books, gossip, and cheering laughter--
these were their proper sphere of action. Places of distrust and
cruelty, and restraint, they would have left quadruple-locked for
Tink, tink, tink. The locksmith paused at last, and wiped his
brow. The silence roused the cat, who, jumping softly down, crept
to the door, and watched with tiger eyes a bird-cage in an opposite
window. Gabriel lifted Toby to his mouth, and took a hearty
Then, as he stood upright, with his head flung back, and his portly
chest thrown out, you would have seen that Gabriel's lower man was
clothed in military gear. Glancing at the wall beyond, there might
have been espied, hanging on their several pegs, a cap and feather,
broadsword, sash, and coat of scarlet; which any man learned in
such matters would have known from their make and pattern to be the
uniform of a serjeant in the Royal East London Volunteers.
As the locksmith put his mug down, empty, on the bench whence it
had smiled on him before, he glanced at these articles with a
laughing eye, and looking at them with his head a little on one
side, as though he would get them all into a focus, said, leaning
on his hammer:
'Time was, now, I remember, when I was like to run mad with the
desire to wear a coat of that colour. If any one (except my
father) had called me a fool for my pains, how I should have fired
and fumed! But what a fool I must have been, sure-ly!'
'Ah!' sighed Mrs Varden, who had entered unobserved. 'A fool
indeed. A man at your time of life, Varden, should know better
'Why, what a ridiculous woman you are, Martha,' said the locksmith,
turning round with a smile.
'Certainly,' replied Mrs V. with great demureness. 'Of course I
am. I know that, Varden. Thank you.'
'I mean--' began the locksmith.
'Yes,' said his wife, 'I know what you mean. You speak quite plain
enough to be understood, Varden. It's very kind of you to adapt
yourself to my capacity, I am sure.'
'Tut, tut, Martha,' rejoined the locksmith; 'don't take offence at
nothing. I mean, how strange it is of you to run down
volunteering, when it's done to defend you and all the other women,
and our own fireside and everybody else's, in case of need.'
'It's unchristian,' cried Mrs Varden, shaking her head.
'Unchristian!' said the locksmith. 'Why, what the devil--'
Mrs Varden looked at the ceiling, as in expectation that the
consequence of this profanity would be the immediate descent of the
four-post bedstead on the second floor, together with the best
sitting-room on the first; but no visible judgment occurring, she
heaved a deep sigh, and begged her husband, in a tone of
resignation, to go on, and by all means to blaspheme as much as
possible, because he knew she liked it.
The locksmith did for a moment seem disposed to gratify her, but he
gave a great gulp, and mildly rejoined:
'I was going to say, what on earth do you call it unchristian for?
Which would be most unchristian, Martha--to sit quietly down and
let our houses be sacked by a foreign army, or to turn out like men
and drive 'em off? Shouldn't I be a nice sort of a Christian, if I
crept into a corner of my own chimney and looked on while a parcel
of whiskered savages bore off Dolly--or you?'
When he said 'or you,' Mrs Varden, despite herself, relaxed into a
smile. There was something complimentary in the idea. 'In such a
state of things as that, indeed--' she simpered.
'As that!' repeated the locksmith. 'Well, that would be the state
of things directly. Even Miggs would go. Some black tambourine-
player, with a great turban on, would be bearing HER off, and,
unless the tambourine-player was proof against kicking and
scratching, it's my belief he'd have the worst of it. Ha ha ha!
I'd forgive the tambourine-player. I wouldn't have him interfered
with on any account, poor fellow.' And here the locksmith laughed
again so heartily, that tears came into his eyes--much to Mrs
Varden's indignation, who thought the capture of so sound a
Protestant and estimable a private character as Miggs by a pagan
negro, a circumstance too shocking and awful for contemplation.
The picture Gabriel had drawn, indeed, threatened serious
consequences, and would indubitably have led to them, but luckily
at that moment a light footstep crossed the threshold, and Dolly,
running in, threw her arms round her old father's neck and hugged
'Here she is at last!' cried Gabriel. 'And how well you look,
Doll, and how late you are, my darling!'
How well she looked? Well? Why, if he had exhausted every
laudatory adjective in the dictionary, it wouldn't have been praise
enough. When and where was there ever such a plump, roguish,
comely, bright-eyed, enticing, bewitching, captivating, maddening
little puss in all this world, as Dolly! What was the Dolly of
five years ago, to the Dolly of that day! How many coachmakers,
saddlers, cabinet-makers, and professors of other useful arts, had
deserted their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and, most of
all, their cousins, for the love of her! How many unknown
gentlemen--supposed to be of mighty fortunes, if not titles--had
waited round the corner after dark, and tempted Miggs the
incorruptible, with golden guineas, to deliver offers of marriage
folded up in love-letters! How many disconsolate fathers and
substantial tradesmen had waited on the locksmith for the same
purpose, with dismal tales of how their sons had lost their
appetites, and taken to shut themselves up in dark bedrooms, and
wandering in desolate suburbs with pale faces, and all because of
Dolly Varden's loveliness and cruelty! How many young men, in all
previous times of unprecedented steadiness, had turned suddenly
wild and wicked for the same reason, and, in an ecstasy of
unrequited love, taken to wrench off door-knockers, and invert the
boxes of rheumatic watchmen! How had she recruited the king's
service, both by sea and land, through rendering desperate his
loving subjects between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five! How
many young ladies had publicly professed, with tears in their eyes,
that for their tastes she was much too short, too tall, too bold,
too cold, too stout, too thin, too fair, too dark--too everything
but handsome! How many old ladies, taking counsel together, had
thanked Heaven their daughters were not like her, and had hoped she
might come to no harm, and had thought she would come to no good,
and had wondered what people saw in her, and had arrived at the
conclusion that she was 'going off' in her looks, or had never come
on in them, and that she was a thorough imposition and a popular
And yet here was this same Dolly Varden, so whimsical and hard to
please that she was Dolly Varden still, all smiles and dimples and
pleasant looks, and caring no more for the fifty or sixty young
fellows who at that very moment were breaking their hearts to marry
her, than if so many oysters had been crossed in love and opened
Dolly hugged her father as has been already stated, and having
hugged her mother also, accompanied both into the little parlour
where the cloth was already laid for dinner, and where Miss Miggs--
a trifle more rigid and bony than of yore--received her with a sort
of hysterical gasp, intended for a smile. Into the hands of that
young virgin, she delivered her bonnet and walking dress (all of a
dreadful, artful, and designing kind), and then said with a laugh,
which rivalled the locksmith's music, 'How glad I always am to be
at home again!'
'And how glad we always are, Doll,' said her father, putting back
the dark hair from her sparkling eyes, 'to have you at home. Give
me a kiss.'
If there had been anybody of the male kind there to see her do it--
but there was not--it was a mercy.
'I don't like your being at the Warren,' said the locksmith, 'I
can't bear to have you out of my sight. And what is the news over
'What news there is, I think you know already,' replied his
daughter. 'I am sure you do though.'
'Ay?' cried the locksmith. 'What's that?'
'Come, come,' said Dolly, 'you know very well. I want you to tell
me why Mr Haredale--oh, how gruff he is again, to be sure!--has
been away from home for some days past, and why he is travelling
about (we know he IS travelling, because of his letters) without
telling his own niece why or wherefore.'
'Miss Emma doesn't want to know, I'll swear,' returned the
'I don't know that,' said Dolly; 'but I do, at any rate. Do tell
me. Why is he so secret, and what is this ghost story, which
nobody is to tell Miss Emma, and which seems to be mixed up with
his going away? Now I see you know by your colouring so.'
'What the story means, or is, or has to do with it, I know no more
than you, my dear,' returned the locksmith, 'except that it's some
foolish fear of little Solomon's--which has, indeed, no meaning in
it, I suppose. As to Mr Haredale's journey, he goes, as I believe--'
'Yes,' said Dolly.
'As I believe,' resumed the locksmith, pinching her cheek, 'on
business, Doll. What it may be, is quite another matter. Read
Blue Beard, and don't be too curious, pet; it's no business of
yours or mine, depend upon that; and here's dinner, which is much
more to the purpose.'
Dolly might have remonstrated against this summary dismissal of the
subject, notwithstanding the appearance of dinner, but at the
mention of Blue Beard Mrs Varden interposed, protesting she could
not find it in her conscience to sit tamely by, and hear her child
recommended to peruse the adventures of a Turk and Mussulman--far
less of a fabulous Turk, which she considered that potentate to be.
She held that, in such stirring and tremendous times as those in
which they lived, it would be much more to the purpose if Dolly
became a regular subscriber to the Thunderer, where she would have
an opportunity of reading Lord George Gordon's speeches word for
word, which would be a greater comfort and solace to her, than a
hundred and fifty Blue Beards ever could impart. She appealed in
support of this proposition to Miss Miggs, then in waiting, who
said that indeed the peace of mind she had derived from the perusal
of that paper generally, but especially of one article of the very
last week as ever was, entitled 'Great Britain drenched in gore,'
exceeded all belief; the same composition, she added, had also
wrought such a comforting effect on the mind of a married sister of
hers, then resident at Golden Lion Court, number twenty-sivin,
second bell-handle on the right-hand door-post, that, being in a
delicate state of health, and in fact expecting an addition to her
family, she had been seized with fits directly after its perusal,
and had raved of the Inquisition ever since; to the great
improvement of her husband and friends. Miss Miggs went on to say
that she would recommend all those whose hearts were hardened to
hear Lord George themselves, whom she commended first, in respect
of his steady Protestantism, then of his oratory, then of his eyes,
then of his nose, then of his legs, and lastly of his figure
generally, which she looked upon as fit for any statue, prince, or
angel, to which sentiment Mrs Varden fully subscribed.
Mrs Varden having cut in, looked at a box upon the mantelshelf,
painted in imitation of a very red-brick dwelling-house, with a
yellow roof; having at top a real chimney, down which voluntary
subscribers dropped their silver, gold, or pence, into the parlour;
and on the door the counterfeit presentment of a brass plate,
whereon was legibly inscribed 'Protestant Association:'--and
looking at it, said, that it was to her a source of poignant misery
to think that Varden never had, of all his substance, dropped
anything into that temple, save once in secret--as she afterwards
discovered--two fragments of tobacco-pipe, which she hoped would
not be put down to his last account. That Dolly, she was grieved
to say, was no less backward in her contributions, better loving,
as it seemed, to purchase ribbons and such gauds, than to encourage
the great cause, then in such heavy tribulation; and that she did
entreat her (her father she much feared could not be moved) not to
despise, but imitate, the bright example of Miss Miggs, who flung
her wages, as it were, into the very countenance of the Pope, and
bruised his features with her quarter's money.
'Oh, mim,' said Miggs, 'don't relude to that. I had no intentions,
mim, that nobody should know. Such sacrifices as I can make, are
quite a widder's mite. It's all I have,' cried Miggs with a great
burst of tears--for with her they never came on by degrees--'but
it's made up to me in other ways; it's well made up.'
This was quite true, though not perhaps in the sense that Miggs
intended. As she never failed to keep her self-denial full in Mrs
Varden's view, it drew forth so many gifts of caps and gowns and
other articles of dress, that upon the whole the red-brick house
was perhaps the best investment for her small capital she could
possibly have hit upon; returning her interest, at the rate of
seven or eight per cent in money, and fifty at least in personal
repute and credit.
'You needn't cry, Miggs,' said Mrs Varden, herself in tears; 'you
needn't be ashamed of it, though your poor mistress IS on the same
Miggs howled at this remark, in a peculiarly dismal way, and said
she knowed that master hated her. That it was a dreadful thing to
live in families and have dislikes, and not give satisfactions.
That to make divisions was a thing she could not abear to think of,
neither could her feelings let her do it. That if it was master's
wishes as she and him should part, it was best they should part,
and she hoped he might be the happier for it, and always wished him
well, and that he might find somebody as would meet his
dispositions. It would be a hard trial, she said, to part from
such a missis, but she could meet any suffering when her conscience
told her she was in the rights, and therefore she was willing even
to go that lengths. She did not think, she added, that she could
long survive the separations, but, as she was hated and looked upon
unpleasant, perhaps her dying as soon as possible would be the best
endings for all parties. With this affecting conclusion, Miss
Miggs shed more tears, and sobbed abundantly.
'Can you bear this, Varden?' said his wife in a solemn voice,
laying down her knife and fork.
'Why, not very well, my dear,' rejoined the locksmith, 'but I try
to keep my temper.'
'Don't let there be words on my account, mim,' sobbed Miggs. 'It's
much the best that we should part. I wouldn't stay--oh, gracious
me!--and make dissensions, not for a annual gold mine, and found in
tea and sugar.'
Lest the reader should be at any loss to discover the cause of Miss
Miggs's deep emotion, it may be whispered apart that, happening to
be listening, as her custom sometimes was, when Gabriel and his
wife conversed together, she had heard the locksmith's joke
relative to the foreign black who played the tambourine, and
bursting with the spiteful feelings which the taunt awoke in her
fair breast, exploded in the manner we have witnessed. Matters
having now arrived at a crisis, the locksmith, as usual, and for
the sake of peace and quietness, gave in.
'What are you crying for, girl?' he said. 'What's the matter with
you? What are you talking about hatred for? I don't hate you; I
don't hate anybody. Dry your eyes and make yourself agreeable, in
Heaven's name, and let us all be happy while we can.'
The allied powers deeming it good generalship to consider this a
sufficient apology on the part of the enemy, and confession of
having been in the wrong, did dry their eyes and take it in good
part. Miss Miggs observed that she bore no malice, no not to her
greatest foe, whom she rather loved the more indeed, the greater
persecution she sustained. Mrs Varden approved of this meek and
forgiving spirit in high terms, and incidentally declared as a
closing article of agreement, that Dolly should accompany her to
the Clerkenwell branch of the association, that very night. This
was an extraordinary instance of her great prudence and policy;
having had this end in view from the first, and entertaining a
secret misgiving that the locksmith (who was bold when Dolly was in
question) would object, she had backed Miss Miggs up to this
point, in order that she might have him at a disadvantage. The
manoeuvre succeeded so well that Gabriel only made a wry face, and
with the warning he had just had, fresh in his mind, did not dare
to say one word.
The difference ended, therefore, in Miggs being presented with a
gown by Mrs Varden and half-a-crown by Dolly, as if she had
eminently distinguished herself in the paths of morality and
goodness. Mrs V., according to custom, expressed her hope that
Varden would take a lesson from what had passed and learn more
generous conduct for the time to come; and the dinner being now
cold and nobody's appetite very much improved by what had passed,
they went on with it, as Mrs Varden said, 'like Christians.'
As there was to be a grand parade of the Royal East London
Volunteers that afternoon, the locksmith did no more work; but sat
down comfortably with his pipe in his mouth, and his arm round his
pretty daughter's waist, looking lovingly on Mrs V., from time to
time, and exhibiting from the crown of his head to the sole of his
foot, one smiling surface of good humour. And to be sure, when it
was time to dress him in his regimentals, and Dolly, hanging about
him in all kinds of graceful winning ways, helped to button and
buckle and brush him up and get him into one of the tightest coats
that ever was made by mortal tailor, he was the proudest father in
'What a handy jade it is!' said the locksmith to Mrs Varden, who
stood by with folded hands--rather proud of her husband too--while
Miggs held his cap and sword at arm's length, as if mistrusting
that the latter might run some one through the body of its own
accord; 'but never marry a soldier, Doll, my dear.'
Dolly didn't ask why not, or say a word, indeed, but stooped her
head down very low to tie his sash.
'I never wear this dress,' said honest Gabriel, 'but I think of
poor Joe Willet. I loved Joe; he was always a favourite of mine.
Poor Joe!--Dear heart, my girl, don't tie me in so tight.'
Dolly laughed--not like herself at all--the strangest little laugh
that could be--and held her head down lower still.
'Poor Joe!' resumed the locksmith, muttering to himself; 'I always
wish he had come to me. I might have made it up between them, if
he had. Ah! old John made a great mistake in his way of acting by
that lad--a great mistake.--Have you nearly tied that sash, my
What an ill-made sash it was! There it was, loose again and
trailing on the ground. Dolly was obliged to kneel down, and
recommence at the beginning.
'Never mind young Willet, Varden,' said his wife frowning; 'you
might find some one more deserving to talk about, I think.'
Miss Miggs gave a great sniff to the same effect.
'Nay, Martha,' cried the locksmith, 'don't let us bear too hard
upon him. If the lad is dead indeed, we'll deal kindly by his
'A runaway and a vagabond!' said Mrs Varden.
Miss Miggs expressed her concurrence as before.
'A runaway, my dear, but not a vagabond,' returned the locksmith in
a gentle tone. 'He behaved himself well, did Joe--always--and was
a handsome, manly fellow. Don't call him a vagabond, Martha.'
Mrs Varden coughed--and so did Miggs.
'He tried hard to gain your good opinion, Martha, I can tell you,'
said the locksmith smiling, and stroking his chin. 'Ah! that he
did. It seems but yesterday that he followed me out to the Maypole
door one night, and begged me not to say how like a boy they used
him--say here, at home, he meant, though at the time, I recollect,
I didn't understand. "And how's Miss Dolly, sir?" says Joe,'
pursued the locksmith, musing sorrowfully, 'Ah! Poor Joe!'
'Well, I declare,' cried Miggs. 'Oh! Goodness gracious me!'
'What's the matter now?' said Gabriel, turning sharply to her,
'Why, if here an't Miss Dolly,' said the handmaid, stooping down to
look into her face, 'a-giving way to floods of tears. Oh mim! oh
sir. Raly it's give me such a turn,' cried the susceptible damsel,
pressing her hand upon her side to quell the palpitation of her
heart, 'that you might knock me down with a feather.'
The locksmith, after glancing at Miss Miggs as if he could have
wished to have a feather brought straightway, looked on with a
broad stare while Dolly hurried away, followed by that sympathising
young woman: then turning to his wife, stammered out, 'Is Dolly
ill? Have I done anything? Is it my fault?'
'Your fault!' cried Mrs V. reproachfully. 'There--you had better
make haste out.'
'What have I done?' said poor Gabriel. 'It was agreed that Mr
Edward's name was never to be mentioned, and I have not spoken of
him, have I?'
Mrs Varden merely replied that she had no patience with him, and
bounced off after the other two. The unfortunate locksmith wound
his sash about him, girded on his sword, put on his cap, and walked
'I am not much of a dab at my exercise,' he said under his breath,
'but I shall get into fewer scrapes at that work than at this.
Every man came into the world for something; my department seems to
be to make every woman cry without meaning it. It's rather hard!'
But he forgot it before he reached the end of the street, and went
on with a shining face, nodding to the neighbours, and showering
about his friendly greetings like mild spring rain.