This Miggs was a tall young lady, very much addicted to pattens in private life; slender and shrewish, of a rather uncomfortable figure, and though not absolutely ill-looking, of a sharp and acid visage. As a general principle and abstract proposition, Miggs held the male sex to be utterly contemptible and unworthy of notice; to be fickle, false, base, sottish, inclined to perjury, and wholly undeserving. When particularly exasperated against them (which, scandal said, was when Sim Tappertit slighted her most) she was accustomed to wish with great emphasis that the whole race of women could but die off, in order that the men might be brought to know the real value of the blessings by which they set so little store; nay, her feeling for her order ran so high, that she sometimes declared, if she could only have good security for a fair, round number--say ten thousand--of young virgins following her example, she would, to spite mankind, hang, drown, stab, or poison herself, with a joy past all expression.
It was the voice of Miggs that greeted the locksmith, when he knocked at his own house, with a shrill cry of 'Who's there?'
'Me, girl, me,' returned Gabriel.
What, already, sir!' said Miggs, opening the door with a look of surprise. 'We were just getting on our nightcaps to sit up,--me and mistress. Oh, she has been SO bad!'
Miggs said this with an air of uncommon candour and concern; but the parlour-door was standing open, and as Gabriel very well knew for whose ears it was designed, he regarded her with anything but an approving look as he passed in.
'Master's come home, mim,' cried Miggs, running before him into the parlour. 'You was wrong, mim, and I was right. I thought he wouldn't keep us up so late, two nights running, mim. Master's always considerate so far. I'm so glad, mim, on your account. I'm a little'--here Miggs simpered--'a little sleepy myself; I'll own it now, mim, though I said I wasn't when you asked me. It ain't of no consequence, mim, of course.'
'You had better,' said the locksmith, who most devoutly wished that Barnaby's raven was at Miggs's ankles, 'you had better get to bed at once then.'
'Thanking you kindly, sir,' returned Miggs, 'I couldn't take my rest in peace, nor fix my thoughts upon my prayers, otherways than that I knew mistress was comfortable in her bed this night; by rights she ought to have been there, hours ago.'
'You're talkative, mistress,' said Varden, pulling off his greatcoat, and looking at her askew.
'Taking the hint, sir,' cried Miggs, with a flushed face, 'and thanking you for it most kindly, I will make bold to say, that if I give offence by having consideration for my mistress, I do not ask your pardon, but am content to get myself into trouble and to be in suffering.'
Here Mrs Varden, who, with her countenance shrouded in a large nightcap, had been all this time intent upon the Protestant Manual, looked round, and acknowledged Miggs's championship by commanding her to hold her tongue.
Every little bone in Miggs's throat and neck developed itself with a spitefulness quite alarming, as she replied, 'Yes, mim, I will.'
'How do you find yourself now, my dear?' said the locksmith, taking a chair near his wife (who had resumed her book), and rubbing his knees hard as he made the inquiry.
'You're very anxious to know, an't you?' returned Mrs Varden, with her eyes upon the print. 'You, that have not been near me all day, and wouldn't have been if I was dying!'
'My dear Martha--' said Gabriel.
Mrs Varden turned over to the next page; then went back again to the bottom line over leaf to be quite sure of the last words; and then went on reading with an appearance of the deepest interest and study.
'My dear Martha,' said the locksmith, 'how can you say such things, when you know you don't mean them? If you were dying! Why, if there was anything serious the matter with you, Martha, shouldn't I be in constant attendance upon you?'
'Yes!' cried Mrs Varden, bursting into tears, 'yes, you would.