Perhaps I have.'
He raised his eyes to hers; and nodded with an air of banter that was charming.
'No,' he continued, thoughtfully. 'Upon the whole, my sweet, if I were you I'd keep my secret to myself. I am not at all sure--very far from it--that it would surprise our friend in any way, for he and I have had some conversation together only this morning, and he is anxious, very anxious, to establish you in some more settled manner. But whether he was surprised or not surprised, the consequence of your imparting it might be the same. Martin junior might suffer severely. I'd have compassion on Martin junior, do you know?' said Mr Pecksniff, with a persuasive smile. 'Yes. He don't deserve it, but I would.'
She wept so bitterly now, and was so much distressed, that he thought it prudent to unclasp her waist, and hold her only by the hand.
'As to our own share in the precious little mystery,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'we will keep it to ourselves, and talk of it between ourselves, and you shall think it over. You will consent, my love; you will consent, I know. Whatever you may think; you will. I seem to remember to have heard--I really don't know where, or how'--he added, with bewitching frankness, 'that you and Martin junior, when you were children, had a sort of childish fondness for each other. When we are married, you shall have the satisfaction of thinking that it didn't last to ruin him, but passed away to do him good; for we'll see then what we can do to put some trifling help in Martin junior's way. HAVE I any influence with our venerable friend? Well! Perhaps I have. Perhaps I have.'
The outlet from the wood in which these tender passages occurred, was close to Mr Pecksniff's house. They were now so near it that he stopped, and holding up her little finger, said in playful accents, as a parting fancy:
'Shall I bite it?'
Receiving no reply he kissed it instead; and then stooping down, inclined his flabby face to hers--he had a flabby face, although he WAS a good man--and with a blessing, which from such a source was quite enough to set her up in life, and prosper her from that time forth permitted her to leave him.
Gallantry in its true sense is supposed to ennoble and dignify a man; and love has shed refinements on innumerable Cymons. But Mr Pecksniff--perhaps because to one of his exalted nature these were mere grossnesses--certainly did not appear to any unusual advantage, now that he was left alone. On the contrary, he seemed to be shrunk and reduced; to be trying to hide himself within himself; and to be wretched at not having the power to do it. His shoes looked too large; his sleeve looked too long; his hair looked too limp; his features looked too mean; his exposed throat looked as if a halter would have done it good. For a minute or two, in fact, he was hot, and pale, and mean, and shy, and slinking, and consequently not at all Pecksniffian. But after that, he recovered himself, and went home with as beneficent an air as if he had been the High Priest of the summer weather.
'I have arranged to go, Papa,' said Charity, 'to-morrow.'
'So soon, my child!'
'I can't go too soon,' said Charity, 'under the circumstances. I have written to Mrs Todgers to propose an arrangement, and have requested her to meet me at the coach, at all events. You'll be quite your own master now, Mr Pinch!'
Mr Pecksniff had just gone out of the room, and Tom had just come into it.
'My own master!' repeated Tom.
'Yes, you'll have nobody to interfere with you,' said Charity. 'At least I hope you won't. Hem! It's a changing world.'
'What! are YOU going to be married, Miss Pecksniff?' asked Tom in great surprise.
'Not exactly,' faltered Cherry. 'I haven't made up my mind to be. I believe I could be, if I chose, Mr Pinch.'
'Of course you could!' said Tom. And he said it in perfect good faith. He believed it from the bottom of his heart.
'No,' said Cherry, 'I am not going to be married. Nobody is, that I know of. Hem! But I am not going to live with Papa.