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On this same day, and about this very hour, Mr Willet the elder sat
smoking his 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 himself slowly, under the impression
that that process of cookery was favourable to the melting out of
his ideas, which, when he began to simmer, sometimes oozed forth so
copiously as to astonish even himself.
Mr Willet had been several thousand times comforted by his friends
and acquaintance, with the assurance that for the loss he had
sustained in the damage done to the Maypole, he could 'come upon
the county.' But as this phrase happened to bear an unfortunate
resemblance to the popular expression of 'coming on the parish,' it
suggested to Mr Willet's mind no more consolatory visions than
pauperism on an extensive scale, and ruin in a capacious aspect.
Consequently, he had never failed to receive the intelligence with
a rueful shake of the head, or a dreary stare, and had been always
observed to appear much more melancholy after a visit of condolence
than at any other time in the whole four-and-twenty hours.
It chanced, however, that sitting over the fire on this particular
occasion--perhaps because he was, as it were, done to a turn;
perhaps because he was in an unusually bright state of mind;
perhaps because he had considered the subject so long; perhaps
because of all these favouring circumstances, taken together--it
chanced that, sitting over the fire on this particular occasion, 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 public purse there might issue funds for the restoration of the
Maypole to its former high place among the taverns of the earth.
And this dim ray of light did so diffuse itself within him, and did
so kindle up and shine, that at last he had it as plainly and
visibly before him as the blaze by which he sat; and, fully
persuaded that he was the first to make the discovery, and that he
had started, hunted down, fallen upon, and knocked on the head, a
perfectly original idea which had never presented itself to any
other man, alive or dead, he laid down his pipe, rubbed his hands,
and chuckled audibly.
'Why, father!' cried Joe, entering at the moment, 'you're in
'It's nothing partickler,' said Mr Willet, chuckling again. 'It's
nothing at all partickler, Joseph. Tell me something about the
Salwanners.' Having preferred this request, Mr Willet chuckled a
third time, and after these unusual 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's shoulder, and looking down into his face. 'That I have
come back, poorer than a church mouse? You know that. That I have
come back, maimed and crippled? You know that.'
'It was took off,' muttered Mr Willet,with his eyes upon the fire,
'at the defence of the Salwanners, in America, where the war is.'
'Quite right,' returned Joe, smiling, and leaning with his
remaining elbow on the back of his father's chair; 'the very
subject I came to speak to you about. 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
considered for 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 a livelihood, 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 thankful it's no worse.--What did you
Mr Willet had been softly repeating to himself, in a musing tone,
the words 'defence of the Salwanners:' but he seemed embarrassed at
having been overheard, 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 a voyage 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, and meeting 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 opened a path in life for me which I
may tread without being a burden upon you. To be plain, father, he
can employ me; I have satisfied myself that I can be of real use to
him; and I am going to carry my one arm away with him, and to make
the most of it.
In the mind's eye of Mr Willet, the West Indies, and indeed all
foreign countries, were inhabited by savage nations, who were
perpetually burying pipes of peace, flourishing tomahawks, and
puncturing strange patterns in their bodies. He no sooner heard
this announcement, therefore, than he leaned back in his chair,
took his pipe from his lips, and stared at his son with as much
dismay as if he already beheld him tied to a stake, and tortured
for the entertainment of a lively population. In what form of
expression his feelings would 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, in tears, threw
herself on Joe's breast without a word of explanation, and clasped
her white arms round his neck.
'Dolly!' cried Joe. 'Dolly!'
'Ay, call me that; call me that always,' exclaimed the locksmith's
little daughter; 'never speak coldly to me, never be distant, never
again reprove me for the follies I have long repented, or I shall
'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 my caprice--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 of eloquence in his one arm, which had crept round her waist:
but his lips were mute.
'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 me with so much forbearance; if you had exulted only
for one moment in your triumph, I could have borne it better.'
'Triumph!' repeated Joe, with a smile which seemed to say, 'I am a
pretty figure 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. I wouldn't be less humbled, dear--I wouldn't
be without the recollection of that last time we spoke together in
this place--no, not if I could recall the past, and make our
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. I made quite sure you would. I prayed for
it on my knees. Through all these long, long years, I have never
once forgotten you, or left off hoping that this happy time might
The eloquence of Joe's arm surpassed the most impassioned language;
and so did that of his lips--yet he said nothing, either.
'And now, at last,' cried Dolly, trembling with the fervour of her
speech, 'if you were sick, and shattered in your every limb; if you
were ailing, weak, and sorrowful; if, instead of being what you
are, you were in everybody's eyes but mine the wreck and ruin of a
man; I would be your wife, dear love, with greater 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
'You have taught me,' said Dolly, raising her pretty face to his,
'to know myself, and your worth; to be something better than I
was; to be more deserving of your true and manly nature. In years
to come, dear Joe, you shall find that you have done so; for I will
be, not only now, when we are young and full 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 most devoted love. I will: indeed I will!'
Joe could only repeat his former eloquence--but it was very much to
'They know of this, at home,' said Dolly. 'For your sake, I would
leave even them; 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 knew me 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 pretty tight, considering that it was but one; and
Dolly made no resistance: and if ever two people were happy in this
world--which is not an utterly miserable one, with all its faults--
we may, with some appearance of certainty, conclude that they
To say that during these proceedings Mr Willet the elder underwent
the greatest emotions of astonishment of which our common nature is
susceptible--to say that he was in a perfect paralysis of surprise,
and that he wandered into the most stupendous and theretofore
unattainable heights of complicated amazement--would be to shadow
forth his state of mind in the feeblest and lamest 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
bodily into the heart of the 'Salwanners,' it would have been to
him as an everyday occurrence, in comparison with what he now
beheld. To be sitting quietly by, seeing and hearing these things;
to be completely overlooked, unnoticed, and disregarded, while his
son and a young lady were talking to each other in the most
impassioned manner, kissing each other, and making themselves in
all respects perfectly at home; was a position so tremendous, so
inexplicable, so utterly beyond the widest range of his capacity of
comprehension, that he fell into a lethargy of wonder, and could no
more rouse himself than an enchanted sleeper 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, and then made an ineffectual effort to extract a whiff from
his pipe, which had gone out long ago.
'Say a word, father, if it's only "how d'ye do,"' urged Joe.
'Certainly, Joseph,' answered Mr Willet. 'Oh yes! Why not?'
'To be sure,' said Joe. 'Why not?'
'Ah!' replied his father. 'Why not?' and with this remark, which
he uttered in a low voice as though he were discussing some grave
question with himself, he used the little finger--if any of his
fingers can be said to have come under that denomination--of his
right hand as a tobacco-stopper, and was silent again.
And so he sat for half an hour at least, although Dolly, in the
most endearing of manners, hoped, a dozen times, that he was not
angry with her. So he sat for half an hour, quite motionless, and
looking all the while like nothing so much as a great Dutch Pin or
Skittle. At the expiration of that period, he suddenly, and
without the least notice, burst (to the great consternation of the
young people) into a very loud and very short laugh; and
repeating, 'Certainly, Joseph. Oh yes! Why not?' went out for a