There is a tremendous irony in the personal changes that face Rip after he emerges from his twenty year slumbler. Mostly this focuses on the death of his wife, who used to henpeck Rip mercilessly before his protracted slumber. Note how Rip responds to this happy (for him) change in his life situation:
There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence.
This of course represents tremendous irony, as for the discerning reader, the plight of Rip's poor wife in having a husband who would tend to everybody else's business except for his own is certainly not to be envied. We can definitely feel sympathy for her and the situation that she faced on a daily basis as her husband did nothing to help look after her and their children. Now that Rip has returned to find his wife dead, he is able to pursue his meandering lifestyle with "impunity" because of his age. Rip finds that the change in his personal circumstances has meant that he can finally do what he wants without responsibility, and without the presence of his wife to remind him of what he should do, and therefore lives out the last of his days in happiness.