Did you wish to see her?'
Mr Chester nodded.
'Then come this way, sir,' said Sim, wiping his face upon his apron. 'Follow me, sir.--Would you permit me to whisper in your ear, one half a second?'
'By all means.'
Mr Tappertit raised himself on tiptoe, applied his lips to Mr Chester's ear, drew back his head without saying anything, looked hard at him, applied them to his ear again, again drew back, and finally whispered--'The name is Joseph Willet. Hush! I say no more.'
Having said that much, he beckoned the visitor with a mysterious aspect to follow him to the parlour-door, where he announced him in the voice of a gentleman-usher. 'Mr Chester.'
'And not Mr Ed'dard, mind,' said Sim, looking into the door again, and adding this by way of postscript in his own person; 'it's his father.'
'But do not let his father,' said Mr Chester, advancing hat in hand, as he observed the effect of this last explanatory announcement, 'do not let his father be any check or restraint on your domestic occupations, Miss Varden.'
'Oh! Now! There! An't I always a-saying it!' exclaimed Miggs, clapping her hands. 'If he an't been and took Missis for her own daughter. Well, she DO look like it, that she do. Only think of that, mim!'
'Is it possible,' said Mr Chester in his softest tones, 'that this is Mrs Varden! I am amazed. That is not your daughter, Mrs Varden? No, no. Your sister.'
'My daughter, indeed, sir,' returned Mrs V., blushing with great juvenility.
'Ah, Mrs Varden!' cried the visitor. 'Ah, ma'am--humanity is indeed a happy lot, when we can repeat ourselves in others, and still be young as they. You must allow me to salute you--the custom of the country, my dear madam--your daughter too.'
Dolly showed some reluctance to perform this ceremony, but was sharply reproved by Mrs Varden, who insisted on her undergoing it that minute. For pride, she said with great severity, was one of the seven deadly sins, and humility and lowliness of heart were virtues. Wherefore she desired that Dolly would be kissed immediately, on pain of her just displeasure; at the same time giving her to understand that whatever she saw her mother do, she might safely do herself, without being at the trouble of any reasoning or reflection on the subject--which, indeed, was offensive and undutiful, and in direct contravention of the church catechism.
Thus admonished, Dolly complied, though by no means willingly; for there was a broad, bold look of admiration in Mr Chester's face, refined and polished though it sought to be, which distressed her very much. As she stood with downcast eyes, not liking to look up and meet his, he gazed upon her with an approving air, and then turned to her mother.
'My friend Gabriel (whose acquaintance I only made this very evening) should be a happy man, Mrs Varden.'
'Ah!' sighed Mrs V., shaking her head.
'Ah!' echoed Miggs.
'Is that the case?' said Mr Chester, compassionately. 'Dear me!'
'Master has no intentions, sir,' murmured Miggs as she sidled up to him, 'but to be as grateful as his natur will let him, for everythink he owns which it is in his powers to appreciate. But we never, sir'--said Miggs, looking sideways at Mrs Varden, and interlarding her discourse with a sigh--'we never know the full value of SOME wines and fig-trees till we lose 'em. So much the worse, sir, for them as has the slighting of 'em on their consciences when they're gone to be in full blow elsewhere.' And Miss Miggs cast up her eyes to signify where that might be.
As Mrs Varden distinctly heard, and was intended to hear, all that Miggs said, and as these words appeared to convey in metaphorical terms a presage or foreboding that she would at some early period droop beneath her trials and take an easy flight towards the stars, she immediately began to languish, and taking a volume of the Manual from a neighbouring table, leant her arm upon it as though she were Hope and that her Anchor. Mr Chester perceiving this, and seeing how the volume was lettered on the back, took it gently from her hand, and turned the fluttering leaves.