I don't doubt it, Varden. Certainly you would. That's as much as to tell me that you would be hovering round me like a vulture, waiting till the breath was out of my body, that you might go and marry somebody else.'

Miggs groaned in sympathy--a little short groan, checked in its birth, and changed into a cough. It seemed to say, 'I can't help it. It's wrung from me by the dreadful brutality of that monster master.'

'But you'll break my heart one of these days,' added Mrs Varden, with more resignation, 'and then we shall both be happy. My only desire is to see Dolly comfortably settled, and when she is, you may settle ME as soon as you like.'

'Ah!' cried Miggs--and coughed again.

Poor Gabriel twisted his wig about in silence for a long time, and then said mildly, 'Has Dolly gone to bed?'

'Your master speaks to you,' said Mrs Varden, looking sternly over her shoulder at Miss Miggs in waiting.

'No, my dear, I spoke to you,' suggested the locksmith.

'Did you hear me, Miggs?' cried the obdurate lady, stamping her foot upon the ground. 'YOU are beginning to despise me now, are you? But this is example!'

At this cruel rebuke, Miggs, whose tears were always ready, for large or small parties, on the shortest notice and the most reasonable terms, fell a crying violently; holding both her hands tight upon her heart meanwhile, as if nothing less would prevent its splitting into small fragments. Mrs Varden, who likewise possessed that faculty in high perfection, wept too, against Miggs; and with such effect that Miggs gave in after a time, and, except for an occasional sob, which seemed to threaten some remote intention of breaking out again, left her mistress in possession of the field. Her superiority being thoroughly asserted, that lady soon desisted likewise, and fell into a quiet melancholy.

The relief was so great, and the fatiguing occurrences of last night so completely overpowered the locksmith, that he nodded in his chair, and would doubtless have slept there all night, but for the voice of Mrs Varden, which, after a pause of some five minutes, awoke him with a start.

'If I am ever,' said Mrs V.--not scolding, but in a sort of monotonous remonstrance--'in spirits, if I am ever cheerful, if I am ever more than usually disposed to be talkative and comfortable, this is the way I am treated.'

'Such spirits as you was in too, mim, but half an hour ago!' cried Miggs. 'I never see such company!'

'Because,' said Mrs Varden, 'because I never interfere or interrupt; because I never question where anybody comes or goes; because my whole mind and soul is bent on saving where I can save, and labouring in this house;--therefore, they try me as they do.'

'Martha,' urged the locksmith, endeavouring to look as wakeful as possible, 'what is it you complain of? I really came home with every wish and desire to be happy. I did, indeed.'

'What do I complain of!' retorted his wife. 'Is it a chilling thing to have one's husband sulking and falling asleep directly he comes home--to have him freezing all one's warm-heartedness, and throwing cold water over the fireside? Is it natural, when I know he went out upon a matter in which I am as much interested as anybody can be, that I should wish to know all that has happened, or that he should tell me without my begging and praying him to do it? Is that natural, or is it not?'

'I am very sorry, Martha,' said the good-natured locksmith. 'I was really afraid you were not disposed to talk pleasantly; I'll tell you everything; I shall only be too glad, my dear.'

'No, Varden,' returned his wife, rising with dignity. 'I dare say-- thank you! I'm not a child to be corrected one minute and petted the next--I'm a little too old for that, Varden. Miggs, carry the light.--YOU can be cheerful, Miggs, at least'

Miggs, who, to this moment, had been in the very depths of compassionate despondency, passed instantly into the liveliest state conceivable, and tossing her head as she glanced towards the locksmith, bore off her mistress and the light together.

Charles Dickens
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