If Joseph Willet, the denounced and proscribed of 'prentices, had happened to be at
home when his father's courtly guest presented himself before the Maypole door--that
is, if it had not perversely chanced to be one of the half-dozen days in the whole year on
which he was at liberty to absent himself for as many hours without question or
reproach--he would have contrived, by hook or crook, to dive to the very bottom of Mr
Chester's mystery, and to come at his purpose with as much certainty as though he had
been his confidential adviser. In that fortunate case, the lovers would have had quick
warning of the ills that threatened them, and the aid of various timely and wise
suggestions to boot; for all Joe's readiness of thought and action, and all his sympathies
and good wishes, were enlisted in favour of the young people, and were staunch in
devotion to their cause. Whether this disposition arose out of his old prepossessions in
favour of the young lady, whose history had surrounded her in his mind, almost from his
cradle, with circumstances of unusual interest; or from his attachment towards the
young gentleman, into whose confidence he had, through his shrewdness and alacrity,
and the rendering of sundry important services as a spy and messenger, almost
imperceptibly glided; whether they had their origin in either of these sources, or in the
habit natural to youth, or in the constant badgering and worrying of his venerable
parent, or in any hidden little love affair of his own which gave him something of a
fellow-feeling in the matter, it is needless to inquire--especially as Joe was out of the
way, and had no opportunity on that particular occasion of testifying to his sentiments
either on one side or the other.
It was, in fact, the twenty-fifth of March, which, as most people know to their cost, is,
and has been time out of mind, one of those unpleasant epochs termed quarter-days.
On this twenty-fifth of March, it was John Willet's pride annually to settle, in hard cash,
his account with a certain vintner and distiller in the city of London; to give into whose
hands a canvas bag containing its exact amount, and not a penny more or less, was the
end and object of a journey for Joe, so surely as the year and day came round.
This journey was performed upon an old grey mare, concerning whom John had an
indistinct set of ideas hovering about him, to the effect that she could win a plate or cup
if she tried. She never had tried, and probably never would now, being some fourteen or
fifteen years of age, short in wind, long in body, and rather the worse for wear in respect
of her mane and tail. Notwithstanding these slight defects, John perfectly gloried in the
animal; and when she was brought round to the door by Hugh, actually retired into the
bar, and there, in a secret grove of lemons, laughed with pride.
'There's a bit of horseflesh, Hugh!' said John, when he had recovered enough self-
command to appear at the door again. 'There's a comely creature! There's high mettle!