Would you mind giving 'em to Mrs Varden, Joe?'
'Oh no, sir,' Joe replied, and endeavouring, but not with the greatest possible success, to hide his disappointment. 'I shall be very glad, I'm sure.'
'That's right,' said the locksmith, patting him on the back. 'It don't matter who has 'em, Joe?'
'Not a bit, sir.'--Dear heart, how the words stuck in his throat!
'Come in,' said Gabriel. 'I have just been called to tea. She's in the parlour.'
'She,' thought Joe. 'Which of 'em I wonder--Mrs or Miss?' The locksmith settled the doubt as neatly as if it had been expressed aloud, by leading him to the door, and saying, 'Martha, my dear, here's young Mr Willet.'
Now, Mrs Varden, regarding the Maypole as a sort of human mantrap, or decoy for husbands; viewing its proprietor, and all who aided and abetted him, in the light of so many poachers among Christian men; and believing, moreover, that the publicans coupled with sinners in Holy Writ were veritable licensed victuallers; was far from being favourably disposed towards her visitor. Wherefore she was taken faint directly; and being duly presented with the crocuses and snowdrops, divined on further consideration that they were the occasion of the languor which had seized upon her spirits. 'I'm afraid I couldn't bear the room another minute,' said the good lady, 'if they remained here. WOULD you excuse my putting them out of window?'
Joe begged she wouldn't mention it on any account, and smiled feebly as he saw them deposited on the sill outside. If anybody could have known the pains he had taken to make up that despised and misused bunch of flowers!--
'I feel it quite a relief to get rid of them, I assure you,' said Mrs Varden. 'I'm better already.' And indeed she did appear to have plucked up her spirits.
Joe expressed his gratitude to Providence for this favourable dispensation, and tried to look as if he didn't wonder where Dolly was.
'You're sad people at Chigwell, Mr Joseph,' said Mrs V.
'I hope not, ma'am,' returned Joe.
'You're the cruellest and most inconsiderate people in the world,' said Mrs Varden, bridling. 'I wonder old Mr Willet, having been a married man himself, doesn't know better than to conduct himself as he does. His doing it for profit is no excuse. I would rather pay the money twenty times over, and have Varden come home like a respectable and sober tradesman. If there is one character,' said Mrs Varden with great emphasis, 'that offends and disgusts me more than another, it is a sot.'
'Come, Martha, my dear,' said the locksmith cheerily, 'let us have tea, and don't let us talk about sots. There are none here, and Joe don't want to hear about them, I dare say.'
At this crisis, Miggs appeared with toast.
'I dare say he does not,' said Mrs Varden; 'and I dare say you do not, Varden. It's a very unpleasant subiect, I have no doubt, though I won't say it's personal'--Miggs coughed--'whatever I may be forced to think'--Miggs sneezed expressively. 'You never will know, Varden, and nobody at young Mr Willet's age--you'll excuse me, sir--can be expected to know, what a woman suffers when she is waiting at home under such circumstances. If you don't believe me, as I know you don't, here's Miggs, who is only too often a witness of it--ask her.'
'Oh! she were very bad the other night, sir, indeed she were, said Miggs. 'If you hadn't the sweetness of an angel in you, mim, I don't think you could abear it, I raly don't.'
'Miggs,' said Mrs Varden, 'you're profane.'
'Begging your pardon, mim,' returned Miggs, with shrill rapidity, 'such was not my intentions, and such I hope is not my character, though I am but a servant.'
'Answering me, Miggs, and providing yourself,' retorted her mistress, looking round with dignity, 'is one and the same thing. How dare you speak of angels in connection with your sinful fellow-beings--mere'--said Mrs Varden, glancing at herself in a neighbouring mirror, and arranging the ribbon of her cap in a more becoming fashion--'mere worms and grovellers as we are!'
'I did not intend, mim, if you please, to give offence,' said Miggs, confident in the strength of her compliment, and developing strongly in the throat as usual, 'and I did not expect it would be took as such.