I know I'm a restraint here, and as I wish everybody to enjoy themselves as they best can, I feel I had better go.'
'No, no, Martha,' cried the locksmith. 'Stop here. I'm sure we shall be very sorry to lose you, eh Joe!' Joe started, and said 'Certainly.'
'Thank you, Varden, my dear,' returned his wife; 'but I know your wishes better. Tobacco and beer, or spirits, have much greater attractions than any I can boast of, and therefore I shall go and sit upstairs and look out of window, my love. Good night, Mr Joseph. I'm very glad to have seen you, and I only wish I could have provided something more suitable to your taste. Remember me very kindly if you please to old Mr Willet, and tell him that whenever he comes here I have a crow to pluck with him. Good night!'
Having uttered these words with great sweetness of manner, the good lady dropped a curtsey remarkable for its condescension, and serenely withdrew.
And it was for this Joe had looked forward to the twenty-fifth of March for weeks and weeks, and had gathered the flowers with so much care, and had cocked his hat, and made himself so smart! This was the end of all his bold determination, resolved upon for the hundredth time, to speak out to Dolly and tell her how he loved her! To see her for a minute--for but a minute--to find her going out to a party and glad to go; to be looked upon as a common pipe- smoker, beer-bibber, spirit-guzzler, and tosspot! He bade farewell to his friend the locksmith, and hastened to take horse at the Black Lion, thinking as he turned towards home, as many another Joe has thought before and since, that here was an end to all his hopes--that the thing was impossible and never could be--that she didn't care for him--that he was wretched for life--and that the only congenial prospect left him, was to go for a soldier or a sailor, and get some obliging enemy to knock his brains out as soon as possible.
Joe Willet rode leisurely along in his desponding mood, picturing the locksmith's daughter going down long country-dances, and poussetting dreadfully with bold strangers--which was almost too much to bear--when he heard the tramp of a horse's feet behind him, and looking back, saw a well-mounted gentleman advancing at a smart canter. As this rider passed, he checked his steed, and called him of the Maypole by his name. Joe set spurs to the grey mare, and was at his side directly.
'I thought it was you, sir,' he said, touching his hat. 'A fair evening, sir. Glad to see you out of doors again.'
The gentleman smiled and nodded. 'What gay doings have been going on to-day, Joe? Is she as pretty as ever? Nay, don't blush, man.'
'If I coloured at all, Mr Edward,' said Joe, 'which I didn't know I did, it was to think I should have been such a fool as ever to have any hope of her. She's as far out of my reach as--as Heaven is.'
'Well, Joe, I hope that's not altogether beyond it,' said Edward, good-humouredly. 'Eh?'
'Ah!' sighed Joe. 'It's all very fine talking, sir. Proverbs are easily made in cold blood. But it can't be helped. Are you bound for our house, sir?'
'Yes. As I am not quite strong yet, I shall stay there to-night, and ride home coolly in the morning.'
'If you're in no particular hurry,' said Joe after a short silence, 'and will bear with the pace of this poor jade, I shall be glad to ride on with you to the Warren, sir, and hold your horse when you dismount. It'll save you having to walk from the Maypole, there and back again. I can spare the time well, sir, for I am too soon.'
'And so am I,' returned Edward, 'though I was unconsciously riding fast just now, in compliment I suppose to the pace of my thoughts, which were travelling post. We will keep together, Joe, willingly, and be as good company as may be. And cheer up, cheer up, think of the locksmith's daughter with a stout heart, and you shall win her yet.'
Joe shook his head; but there was something so cheery in the buoyant hopeful manner of this speech, that his spirits rose under its influence, and communicated as it would seem some new impulse even to the grey mare, who, breaking from her sober amble into a gentle trot, emulated the pace of Edward Chester's horse, and appeared to flatter herself that he was doing his very best.