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
'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.