you may depend upon its going to-day. You might suppose, said Mrs Varden, frowning at her husband, from Vardens sitting there so glum and silent, that he objected to this arrangement; but you must not mind that, sir, if you please. Its his way at home. Out of doors, he can be cheerful and talkative enough.
Now, the fact was, that the unfortunate locksmith, blessing his stars to find his helpmate in such good humour, had been sitting with a beaming face, hearing this discourse with a joy past all expression. Wherefore this sudden attack quite took him by surprise.
My dear Martha he said.
Oh yes, I dare say, interrupted Mrs Varden, with a smile of mingled scorn and pleasantry. Very dear! We all know that.
No, but my good soul, said Gabriel, you are quite mistaken. You are indeed. I was delighted to find you so kind and ready. I waited, my dear, anxiously, I assure you, to hear what you would say.
You waited anxiously, repeated Mrs V. Yes! Thank you, Varden. You waited, as you always do, that I might bear the blame, if any came of it. But I am used to it, said the lady with a kind of solemn titter, and thats my comfort!
I give you my word, Martha said Gabriel.
Let me give you my word, my dear, interposed his wife with a Christian smile, that such discussions as these between married people, are much better left alone. Therefore, if you please, Varden, well drop the subject. I have no wish to pursue it. I could. I might say a great deal. But I would rather not. Pray dont say any more.
I dont want to say any more, rejoined the goaded locksmith.
Well then, dont, said Mrs Varden.
Nor did I begin it, Martha, added the locksmith, good-humouredly, I must say that.
You did not begin it, Varden! exclaimed his wife, opening her eyes very wide and looking round upon the company, as though she would say, You hear this man! You did not begin it, Varden! But you shall not say I was out of temper. No, you did not begin it, oh dear no, not you, my dear!
Well, well, said the locksmith. Thats settled then.
Oh yes, rejoined his wife, quite. If you like to say Dolly began it, my dear, I shall not contradict you. I know my duty. I need know it, I am sure. I am often obliged to bear it in mind, when my inclination perhaps would be for the moment to forget it. Thank you, Varden. And so, with a mighty show of humility and forgiveness, she folded her hands, and looked round again, with a smile which plainly said, If you desire to see the first and foremost among female martyrs, here she is, on view!
This little incident, illustrative though it was of Mrs Vardens extraordinary sweetness and amiability, had so strong a tendency to check the conversation and to disconcert all parties but that excellent lady, that only a few monosyllables were uttered until Edward withdrew; which he presently did, thanking the lady of the house a great many times for her condescension, and whispering in Dollys ear that he would call on the morrow, in case there should happen to be an answer to the notewhich, indeed, she knew without his telling, as Barnaby and his friend Grip had dropped in on the previous night to prepare her for the visit which was then terminating.
Gabriel, who had attended Edward to the door, came back with his hands in his pockets; and, after fidgeting about the room in a very uneasy manner, and casting a great many sidelong looks at Mrs Varden (who with the calmest countenance in the world was five fathoms deep in the Protestant Manual), inquired
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