Whether it is possible to make him acquainted by any means with the real character and purpose of that young female whose strange, whose very strange position, in reference to himself'--here Mr Pecksniff sunk his voice to an impressive whisper--'really casts a shadow of disgrace and shame upon this family; and who, we know'--here he raised his voice again --'else why is she his companion? harbours the very basest designs upon his weakness and his property.'
In their strong feeling on this point, they, who agreed in nothing else, all concurred as one mind. Good Heaven, that she should harbour designs upon his property! The strong-minded lady was for poison, her three daughters were for Bridewell and bread-and-water, the cousin with the toothache advocated Botany Bay, the two Miss Pecksniffs suggested flogging. Nobody but Mr Tigg, who, notwithstanding his extreme shabbiness, was still understood to be in some sort a lady's man, in right of his upper lip and his frogs, indicated a doubt of the justifiable nature of these measures; and he only ogled the three Miss Chuzzlewits with the least admixture of banter in his admiration, as though he would observe, 'You are positively down upon her to too great an extent, my sweet creatures, upon my soul you are!'
'Now,' said Mr Pecksniff, crossing his two forefingers in a manner which was at once conciliatory and argumentative; 'I will not, upon the one hand, go so far as to say that she deserves all the inflictions which have been so very forcibly and hilariously suggested;' one of his ornamental sentences; 'nor will I, upon the other, on any account compromise my common understanding as a man, by making the assertion that she does not. What I would observe is, that I think some practical means might be devised of inducing our respected, shall I say our revered--?'
'No!' interposed the strong-minded woman in a loud voice.
'Then I will not,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'You are quite right, my dear madam, and I appreciate and thank you for your discriminating objection--our respected relative, to dispose himself to listen to the promptings of nature, and not to the--'
'Go on, Pa!' cried Mercy.
'Why, the truth is, my dear,' said Mr Pecksniff, smiling upon his assembled kindred, 'that I am at a loss for a word. The name of those fabulous animals (pagan, I regret to say) who used to sing in the water, has quite escaped me.'
Mr George Chuzzlewit suggested 'swans.'
'No,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Not swans. Very like swans, too. Thank you.'
The nephew with the outline of a countenance, speaking for the first and last time on that occasion, propounded 'Oysters.'
'No,' said Mr Pecksniff, with his own peculiar urbanity, 'nor oysters. But by no means unlike oysters; a very excellent idea; thank you, my dear sir, very much. Wait! Sirens. Dear me! sirens, of course. I think, I say, that means might be devised of disposing our respected relative to listen to the promptings of nature, and not to the siren-like delusions of art. Now we must not lose sight of the fact that our esteemed friend has a grandson, to whom he was, until lately, very much attached, and whom I could have wished to see here to-day, for I have a real and deep regard for him. A fine young man. a very fine young man! I would submit to you, whether we might not remove Mr Chuzzlewit's distrust of us, and vindicate our own disinterestedness by--'
'If Mr George Chuzzlewit has anything to say to ME,' interposed the strong-minded woman, sternly, 'I beg him to speak out like a man; and not to look at me and my daughters as if he could eat us.'
'As to looking, I have heard it said, Mrs Ned,' returned Mr George, angrily, 'that a cat is free to contemplate a monarch; and therefore I hope I have some right, having been born a member of this family, to look at a person who only came into it by marriage. As to eating, I beg to say, whatever bitterness your jealousies and disappointed expectations may suggest to you, that I am not a cannibal, ma'am.'
'I don't know that!' cried the strong-minded woman.