Charles Dickens

'A runaway, my dear, but not a vagabond,' returned the locksmith in a gentle tone. 'He behaved himself well, did Joe--always--and was a handsome, manly fellow. Don't call him a vagabond, Martha.'

Mrs Varden coughed--and so did Miggs.

'He tried hard to gain your good opinion, Martha, I can tell you,' said the locksmith smiling, and stroking his chin. 'Ah! that he did. It seems but yesterday that he followed me out to the Maypole door one night, and begged me not to say how like a boy they used him--say here, at home, he meant, though at the time, I recollect, I didn't understand. "And how's Miss Dolly, sir?" says Joe,' pursued the locksmith, musing sorrowfully, 'Ah! Poor Joe!'

'Well, I declare,' cried Miggs. 'Oh! Goodness gracious me!'

'What's the matter now?' said Gabriel, turning sharply to her, 'Why, if here an't Miss Dolly,' said the handmaid, stooping down to look into her face, 'a-giving way to floods of tears. Oh mim! oh sir. Raly it's give me such a turn,' cried the susceptible damsel, pressing her hand upon her side to quell the palpitation of her heart, 'that you might knock me down with a feather.'

The locksmith, after glancing at Miss Miggs as if he could have wished to have a feather brought straightway, looked on with a broad stare while Dolly hurried away, followed by that sympathising young woman: then turning to his wife, stammered out, 'Is Dolly ill? Have I done anything? Is it my fault?'

'Your fault!' cried Mrs V. reproachfully. 'There--you had better make haste out.'

'What have I done?' said poor Gabriel. 'It was agreed that Mr Edward's name was never to be mentioned, and I have not spoken of him, have I?'

Mrs Varden merely replied that she had no patience with him, and bounced off after the other two. The unfortunate locksmith wound his sash about him, girded on his sword, put on his cap, and walked out.

'I am not much of a dab at my exercise,' he said under his breath, 'but I shall get into fewer scrapes at that work than at this. Every man came into the world for something; my department seems to be to make every woman cry without meaning it. It's rather hard!'

But he forgot it before he reached the end of the street, and went on with a shining face, nodding to the neighbours, and showering about his friendly greetings like mild spring rain.

Chapter 42

The Royal East London Volunteers made a brilliant sight that day: formed into lines, squares, circles, triangles, and what not, to the beating of drums, and the streaming of flags; and performed a vast number of complex evolutions, in all of which Serjeant Varden bore a conspicuous share. Having displayed their military prowess to the utmost in these warlike shows, they marched in glittering order to the Chelsea Bun House, and regaled in the adjacent taverns until dark. Then at sound of drum they fell in again, and returned amidst the shouting of His Majesty's lieges to the place from whence they came.

The homeward march being somewhat tardy,--owing to the un- soldierlike behaviour of certain corporals, who, being gentlemen of sedentary pursuits in private life and excitable out of doors, broke several windows with their bayonets, and rendered it imperative on the commanding officer to deliver them over to a strong guard, with whom they fought at intervals as they came along,--it was nine o'clock when the locksmith reached home. A hackney-coach was waiting near his door; and as he passed it, Mr Haredale looked from the window and called him by his name.

'The sight of you is good for sore eyes, sir,' said the locksmith, stepping up to him. 'I wish you had walked in though, rather than waited here.'

'There is nobody at home, I find,' Mr Haredale answered; 'besides, I desired to be as private as I could.'

'Humph!' muttered the locksmith, looking round at his house. 'Gone with Simon Tappertit to that precious Branch, no doubt.'

Mr Haredale invited him to come into the coach, and, if he were not tired or anxious to go home, to ride with him a little way that they might have some talk together.