The birds, so many Pecksniff consciences, sang gayly upon every branch; and Mr Pecksniff paid HIS homage to the day by ruminating on his projects as he walked along.
Chancing to trip, in his abstraction, over the spreading root of an old tree, he raised his pious eyes to take a survey of the ground before him. It startled him to see the embodied image of his thoughts not far ahead. Mary herself. And alone.
At first Mr Pecksniff stopped as if with the intention of avoiding her; but his next impulse was to advance, which he did at a brisk pace; caroling as he went so sweetly and with so much innocence that he only wanted feathers and wings to be a bird.
Hearing notes behind her, not belonging to the songsters of the grove, she looked round. Mr Pecksniff kissed his hand, and was at her side immediately.
'Communing with nature?' said Mr Pecksniff. 'So am I.'
She said the morning was so beautiful that she had walked further than she intended, and would return. Mr Pecksniff said it was exactly his case, and he would return with her.
'Take my arm, sweet girl,' said Mr Pecksniff.
Mary declined it, and walked so very fast that he remonstrated. 'You were loitering when I came upon you,' Mr Pecksniff said. 'Why be so cruel as to hurry now? You would not shun me, would you?'
'Yes, I would,' she answered, turning her glowing cheek indignantly upon him, 'you know I would. Release me, Mr Pecksniff. Your touch is disagreeable to me.'
His touch! What? That chaste patriarchal touch which Mrs Todgers-- surely a discreet lady--had endured, not only without complaint, but with apparent satisfaction! This was positively wrong. Mr Pecksniff was sorry to hear her say it.
'If you have not observed,' said Mary, 'that it is so, pray take assurance from my lips, and do not, as you are a gentleman, continue to offend me.'
'Well, well!' said Mr Pecksniff, mildly, 'I feel that I might consider this becoming in a daughter of my own, and why should I object to it in one so beautiful! It's harsh. It cuts me to the soul,' said Mr Pecksniff; 'but I cannot quarrel with you, Mary.'
She tried to say she was sorry to hear it, but burst into tears. Mr Pecksniff now repeated the Todgers performance on a comfortable scale, as if he intended it to last some time; and in his disengaged hand, catching hers, employed himself in separating the fingers with his own, and sometimes kissing them, as he pursued the conversation thus:
'I am glad we met. I am very glad we met. I am able now to ease my bosom of a heavy load, and speak to you in confidence. Mary,' said Mr Pecksniff in his tenderest tones, indeed they were so very tender that he almost squeaked: 'My soul! I love you!'
A fantastic thing, that maiden affectation! She made believe to shudder.
'I love you,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'my gentle life, with a devotion which is quite surprising, even to myself. I did suppose that the sensation was buried in the silent tomb of a lady, only second to you in qualities of the mind and form; but I find I am mistaken.'
She tried to disengage her hand, but might as well have tried to free herself from the embrace of an affectionate boa-constrictor; if anything so wily may be brought into comparison with Pecksniff.
'Although I am a widower,' said Mr Pecksniff, examining the rings upon her fingers, and tracing the course of one delicate blue vein with his fat thumb, 'a widower with two daughters, still I am not encumbered, my love. One of them, as you know, is married. The other, by her own desire, but with a view, I will confess--why not? --to my altering my condition, is about to leave her father's house. I have a character, I hope. People are pleased to speak well of me, I think. My person and manner are not absolutely those of a monster, I trust. Ah! naughty Hand!' said Mr Pecksniff, apostrophizing the reluctant prize, 'why did you take me prisoner? Go, go!'
He slapped the hand to punish it; but relenting, folded it in his waistcoat to comfort it again.