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That afternoon, when he had slept off his fatigue; had shaved, and
washed, and dressed, and freshened himself from top to toe; when he
had dined, comforted himself with a pipe, an extra Toby, a nap in
the great arm-chair, and a quiet chat with Mrs Varden on everything
that had happened, was happening, or about to happen, within the
sphere of their domestic concern; the locksmith sat himself down at
the tea-table in the little back-parlour: the rosiest, cosiest,
merriest, heartiest, best-contented old buck, in Great Britain or
out of it.
There he sat, with his beaming eye on Mrs V., and his shining face
suffused with gladness, and his capacious waistcoat smiling in
every wrinkle, and his jovial 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 the
greater honour of Dolly and Joseph Willet, who had gone out
walking, and for whom 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 real undoubted china, patterned with
divers round-faced mandarins holding up broad umbrellas, was now
displayed in all its glory; to tempt whose appetites a clear,
transparent, juicy ham, garnished with cool green lettuce-leaves
and fragrant cucumber, reposed upon a shady table, covered with a
snow-white cloth; for whose delight, preserves and jams, crisp
cakes and other pastry, short to eat, with cunning twists, and
cottage loaves, and rolls of bread both white 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 in ankle, laughing in face and mood, in all respects
delicious to behold--there sat the locksmith among all and every
these delights, the sun that shone upon them all: the centre of the
system: the source of light, heat, life, and frank enjoyment in the
bright household world.
And when had Dolly ever been the Dolly of that afternoon? To see
how she came in, arm-in-arm with Joe; and how she made an effort
not to blush or seem at all confused; and how she made believe she
didn't care to sit on his side of the table; and how she coaxed the
locksmith in a whisper not to joke; and how her colour came and
went in a little restless flutter of happiness, which made her do
everything wrong, and yet so charmingly wrong that it was better
than right!--why, the locksmith could have looked on at this (as he
mentioned to Mrs Varden when they retired for the night) for four-
and-twenty hours at a stretch, and never wished it done.
The recollections, too, with which they made merry over that long
protracted tea! The glee with which the locksmith asked Joe if he
remembered that stormy night 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--the unmerciful manner in
which they rallied Mrs Varden about putting those flowers outside
that very window--the difficulty Mrs Varden found in joining the
laugh against herself, at first, and the extraordinary perception
she had of the joke when she overcame it--the confidential
statements of Joe concerning the precise day and hour when he was
first conscious of being fond of Dolly, and Dolly's blushing
admissions, half volunteered and half extorted, as to the time from
which she dated the discovery that she 'didn't mind' Joe--here was
an exhaustless fund of mirth and conversation.
Then, there was a great deal to be said regarding Mrs Varden's
doubts, and motherly alarms, and shrewd suspicions; and it appeared
that from Mrs Varden's penetration and extreme sagacity nothing had
ever been hidden. She had known it all along. She had seen it
from the first. She had always predicted it. She had been aware
of it before the principals. She had said within herself (for she
remembered the exact words) 'that young Willet is certainly
looking after our Dolly, and I must look after HIM.' Accordingly,
she had looked after him, and had observed many little
circumstances (all of which she named) so exceedingly 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 and
most 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 not forgotten--nor the night when Dolly fainted on his name
being mentioned--nor the times upon times when Mrs Varden, ever
watchful and prudent, had found her pining in her own chamber. In
short, nothing was forgotten; and everything by some means or other
brought them back to the conclusion, that that was the happiest
hour in all their lives; consequently, that everything must have
occurred for the best, and nothing could be suggested which would
have made it better.
While they were in the full glow of such discourse as this, there
came a startling knock at the door, opening from the street into
the workshop, which had been kept closed all day that the house
might be more quiet. Joe, as in duty bound, would hear of nobody
but himself going to open it; and accordingly left the room for
It would have been odd enough, certainly, if Joe had forgotten the
way to this door; and even if he had, as it was a pretty large one
and stood straight before him, he could not easily have missed it.
But Dolly, perhaps because she was in the flutter of spirits before
mentioned, or perhaps because she thought he would not be able to
open it with his one arm--she could have had no other reason--
hurried out after him; and they stopped so long in the passage--no
doubt owing to Joe's entreaties that she would not expose herself
to the draught of July air which must infallibly come rushing in on
this same door being opened--that the knock was repeated, in a yet
more startling manner than before.
'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 of being in a violent hurry.
'Well,' said the locksmith, when he reappeared: 'what is it? eh
Joe? what are you laughing at?'
'Nothing, sir. It's coming in.'
'Who's coming in? what's coming in?' Mrs Varden, as much at a loss
as her husband, could only shake her head in answer to his
inquiring look: so, the locksmith 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 of curiosity and wonder
shining in his jolly face.
Instead of some person or persons straightway appearing, divers
remarkable sounds were heard, first in the workshop and afterwards
in the little dark passage between it and the parlour, as though
some unwieldy chest or heavy piece of furniture were being brought
in, by an amount of human strength inadequate to the task. At
length after much struggling and humping, and bruising of the wall
on both sides, the door was forced open as by a battering-ram; and
the locksmith, steadily regarding what appeared beyond, smote his
thigh, elevated his eyebrows, opened his mouth, and cried in a loud
voice 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 a small boy and a very large box by which she was
accompanied, and advancing with such precipitation that her bonnet
flew off her head, burst into the room, 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
inexpressible desperation. 'She was born to be a damper, this
young woman! nothing can prevent it!'
'Ho master, ho mim!' cried Miggs, 'can I constrain my feelings in
these here once 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 from Joe to Miggs, with his eyebrows still elevated and his
mouth still open. When his eyes got back to Miggs, they rested on
'To think,' cried Miggs with hysterical joy, 'that Mr Joe, and dear
Miss Dolly, 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 all respects so affable and mild; and me not
knowing of it, and not being in the ways 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 Miggs clinked her pattens after the manner of a pair of
cymbals, at this juncture; and then resumed, in the softest
'And did my missis think--ho goodness, did she think--as her own
Miggs, which supported her under so many trials, and understood her
natur' when them as intended well but acted rough, went so deep
into her feelings--did she think as her own Miggs would ever leave
her? Did she think as Miggs, though she was but a servant, and
knowed that servitudes was no inheritances, would forgit that she
was the humble instruments as always made it comfortable between
them two when they fell out, and always told master of the meekness
and forgiveness of her blessed dispositions! Did she think as
Miggs had no attachments! Did she think that wages was her only
To none of these interrogatories, whereof every one was more
pathetically delivered than the last, did Mrs Varden answer one
word: but Miggs, not at all abashed by this circumstance, turned to
the small boy in attendance--her eldest nephew--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, addressed herself to him: requesting that on his
return home he would console his parents for the loss of her, his
aunt, by delivering to them a faithful statement of his having left
her in the bosom of that family, with which, as his aforesaid
parents well knew, her best affections were incorporated; that he
would remind them that nothing less than her imperious sense of
duty, and devoted attachment to her old master and missis, likewise
Miss Dolly and young Mr Joe, should ever have induced her to
decline that pressing invitation which they, his parents, had, as
he could testify, given her, to lodge and board with them, free of
all cost and charge, for evermore; lastly, that he would help her
with her box upstairs, and then repair straight home, bearing her
blessing and her strong injunctions to mingle in his prayers a
supplication that he might in course of time grow up a locksmith,
or a Mr Joe, and have Mrs Vardens and Miss Dollys for his relations
Having brought this admonition to an end--upon which, to say the
truth, the young gentleman for whose benefit it was designed,
bestowed little or no heed, having to all appearance his faculties
absorbed in the contemplation of the sweetmeats,--Miss Miggs
signified to the company in general that they were not to be
uneasy, for she would soon return; and, with her nephew's aid,
prepared to 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. Let her leave the house this moment.'
Miggs, hearing this, let her end of the box fall heavily to the
floor, gave a very loud sniff, crossed her arms, screwed down the
corners of her mouth, and cried, in an ascending scale, 'Ho, good
gracious!' three distinct times.
'You hear what your mistress says, my love,' remarked the
locksmith. 'You had better 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 to her; 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, made of 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
'Times is changed, is they, mim!' cried Miggs, bridling; 'you can
spare me now, can you? You can keep 'em down without me? You're
not in wants of any one to scold, or throw the blame upon, no
longer, an't you, mim? I'm glad to find you've grown so
independent. I wish you joy, I'm sure!'
With that she dropped a curtsey, and keeping her head erect, her
ear towards Mrs Varden, and her eye on the rest of the company, as
she alluded to them in her remarks, proceeded:
'I'm quite delighted, I'm sure, to find sich independency, feeling
sorry though, at the same time, mim, that you should have been
forced into submissions when you couldn't help yourself--he he he!
It must be great vexations, 'specially considering how ill you
always spoke of Mr Joe--to have him 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 HAVE heerd say,
that the coachmaker thought twice about it--he he he!--and that he
told a young man as was a frind of his, that he hoped he knowed
better than to be 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 inclinations so 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 as some one
as they was acquainted with, was a poor good-natur'd mean-spirited
creetur, as went out fishing for a wife one day, and caught a
Tartar. Of course I never to my knowledge see the poor person
himself. Nor did you neither, 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 with teeming spite and spleen, that she seemed like to
'I'm glad Miss Dolly can laugh,' cried Miggs with a feeble titter.
'I like to see folks a-laughing--so do you, mim, don't you? You
was always glad to see people in spirits, wasn't you, mim? And you
always did your best to keep 'em cheerful, didn't you, mim?
Though there an't such a great deal to laugh at now either; is
there, mim? It an't so much of a catch, after looking out so sharp
ever 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't have a husband with one arm, anyways. I would
have two arms. I would have two arms, 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 them in 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 could get, and think themselves well
off too; but her vexation and chagrin being of that internally
bitter sort which finds no relief in words, and is aggravated to
madness by want of contradiction, she could hold out no longer, and
burst into a storm of sobs and tears.
In this extremity she fell on the unlucky nephew, tooth and nail,
and plucking a handful of hair from his head, demanded to know how
long she was to stand there to be insulted, and whether or no he
meant to help her to carry out the box again, and if he took a
pleasure in hearing his family reviled: with other inquiries of
that nature; at which disgrace and provocation, the small boy, who
had been all this time gradually lashed into rebellion by the sight
of unattainable pastry, walked off indignant, leaving his aunt and
the box to follow 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 the exertion of getting there, and with her
sobs and tears, sat down upon her property to rest and grieve,
until she could ensnare some other youth to help her 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 Toby again, my dear; Dolly
shall sing us a song; and we'll be all the merrier for this