I hope I know my own unworthiness, and that I hate and despise myself and all my fellow-creatures as every practicable Christian should.'
'You'll have the goodness, if you please,' said Mrs Varden, loftily, 'to step upstairs and see if Dolly has finished dressing, and to tell her that the chair that was ordered for her will be here in a minute, and that if she keeps it waiting, I shall send it away that instant.--I'm sorry to see that you don't take your tea, Varden, and that you don't take yours, Mr Joseph; though of course it would be foolish of me to expect that anything that can be had at home, and in the company of females, would please YOU.'
This pronoun was understood in the plural sense, and included both gentlemen, upon both of whom it was rather hard and undeserved, for Gabriel had applied himself to the meal with a very promising appetite, until it was spoilt by Mrs Varden herself, and Joe had as great a liking for the female society of the locksmith's house--or for a part of it at all events--as man could well entertain.
But he had no opportunity to say anything in his own defence, for at that moment Dolly herself appeared, and struck him quite dumb with her beauty. Never had Dolly looked so handsome as she did then, in all the glow and grace of youth, with all her charms increased a hundredfold by a most becoming dress, by a thousand little coquettish ways which nobody could assume with a better grace, and all the sparkling expectation of that accursed party. It is impossible to tell how Joe hated that party wherever it was, and all the other people who were going to it, whoever they were.
And she hardly looked at him--no, hardly looked at him. And when the chair was seen through the open door coming blundering into the workshop, she actually clapped her hands and seemed glad to go. But Joe gave her his arm--there was some comfort in that--and handed her into it. To see her seat herself inside, with her laughing eyes brighter than diamonds, and her hand--surely she had the prettiest hand in the world--on the ledge of the open window, and her little finger provokingly and pertly tilted up, as if it wondered why Joe didn't squeeze or kiss it! To think how well one or two of the modest snowdrops would have become that delicate bodice, and how they were lying neglected outside the parlour window! To see how Miggs looked on with a face expressive of knowing how all this loveliness was got up, and of being in the secret of every string and pin and hook and eye, and of saying it ain't half as real as you think, and I could look quite as well myself if I took the pains! To hear that provoking precious little scream when the chair was hoisted on its poles, and to catch that transient but not-to-be-forgotten vision of the happy face within-- what torments and aggravations, and yet what delights were these! The very chairmen seemed favoured rivals as they bore her down the street.
There never was such an alteration in a small room in a small time as in that parlour when they went back to finish tea. So dark, so deserted, so perfectly disenchanted. It seemed such sheer nonsense to be sitting tamely there, when she was at a dance with more lovers than man could calculate fluttering about her--with the whole party doting on and adoring her, and wanting to marry her. Miggs was hovering about too; and the fact of her existence, the mere circumstance of her ever having been born, appeared, after Dolly, such an unaccountable practical joke. It was impossible to talk. It couldn't be done. He had nothing left for it but to stir his tea round, and round, and round, and ruminate on all the fascinations of the locksmith's lovely daughter.
Gabriel was dull too. It was a part of the certain uncertainty of Mrs Varden's temper, that when they were in this condition, she should be gay and sprightly.
'I need have a cheerful disposition, I am sure,' said the smiling housewife, 'to preserve any spirits at all; and how I do it I can scarcely tell.'
'Ah, mim,' sighed Miggs, 'begging your pardon for the interruption, there an't a many like you.'
'Take away, Miggs,' said Mrs Varden, rising, 'take away, pray.