That's desirable and proper, ain't it?'
Neither of the sisters spoke a word. Mr Jonas paused and cleared his throat, which was very dry.
'She'll not believe what I am going to say, will she, cousin?' said Jonas, timidly squeezing Miss Charity.
'Really, Mr Jonas, I don't know, until I hear what it is. It's quite impossible!'
'Why, you see,' said Jonas, 'her way always being to make game of people, I know she'll laugh, or pretend to--I know that, beforehand. But you can tell her I'm in earnest, cousin; can't you? You'll confess you know, won't you? You'll be honourable, I'm sure,' he added persuasively.
No answer. His throat seemed to grow hotter and hotter, and to be more and more difficult of control.
'You see, Cousin Charity,' said Jonas, 'nobody but you can tell her what pains I took to get into her company when you were both at the boarding-house in the city, because nobody's so well aware of it, you know. Nobody else can tell her how hard I tried to get to know you better, in order that I might get to know her without seeming to wish it; can they? I always asked you about her, and said where had she gone, and when would she come, and how lively she was, and all that; didn't I, cousin? I know you'll tell her so, if you haven't told her so already, and--and--I dare say you have, because I'm sure you're honourable, ain't you?'
Still not a word. The right arm of Mr Jonas--the elder sister sat upon his right--may have been sensible of some tumultuous throbbing which was not within itself; but nothing else apprised him that his words had had the least effect.
'Even if you kept it to yourself, and haven't told her,' resumed Jonas, 'it don't much matter, because you'll bear honest witness now; won't you? We've been very good friends from the first; haven't we? and of course we shall be quite friends in future, and so I don't mind speaking before you a bit. Cousin Mercy, you've heard what I've been saying. She'll confirm it, every word; she must. Will you have me for your husband? Eh?'
As he released his hold of Charity, to put this question with better effect, she started up and hurried away to her own room, marking her progress as she went by such a train of passionate and incoherent sound, as nothing but a slighted woman in her anger could produce.
'Let me go away. Let me go after her,' said Merry, pushing him off, and giving him--to tell the truth--more than one sounding slap upon his outstretched face.
'Not till you say yes. You haven't told me. Will you have me for your husband?'
'No, I won't. I can't bear the sight of you. I have told you so a hundred times. You are a fright. Besides, I always thought you liked my sister best. We all thought so.'
'But that wasn't my fault,' said Jonas.
'Yes it was; you know it was.'
'Any trick is fair in love,' said Jonas. 'She may have thought I liked her best, but you didn't.'
'No, you didn't. You never could have thought I liked her best, when you were by.'
'There's no accounting for tastes,' said Merry; 'at least I didn't mean to say that. I don't know what I mean. Let me go to her.'
'Say "Yes," and then I will.'
'If I ever brought myself to say so, it should only be that I might hate and tease you all my life.'
'That's as good,' cried Jonas, 'as saying it right out. It's a bargain, cousin. We're a pair, if ever there was one.'
This gallant speech was succeeded by a confused noise of kissing and slapping; and then the fair but much dishevelled Merry broke away, and followed in the footsteps of her sister.
Now whether Mr Pecksniff had been listening--which in one of his character appears impossible; or divined almost by inspiration what the matter was--which, in a man of his sagacity is far more probable; or happened by sheer good fortune to find himself in exactly the right place, at precisely the right time--which, under the special guardianship in which he lived might very reasonably happen; it is quite certain that at the moment when the sisters came together in their own room, he appeared at the chamber door.