'At all events, if I was a cannibal,' said Mr George Chuzzlewit, greatly stimulated by this retort, 'I think it would occur to me that a lady who had outlived three husbands, and suffered so very little from their loss, must be most uncommonly tough.'
The strong-minded woman immediately rose.
'And I will further add,' said Mr George, nodding his head violently at every second syllable; 'naming no names, and therefore hurting nobody but those whose consciences tell them they are alluded to, that I think it would be much more decent and becoming, if those who hooked and crooked themselves into this family by getting on the blind side of some of its members before marriage, and manslaughtering them afterwards by crowing over them to that strong pitch that they were glad to die, would refrain from acting the part of vultures in regard to other members of this family who are living. I think it would be full as well, if not better, if those individuals would keep at home, contenting themselves with what they have got (luckily for them) already; instead of hovering about, and thrusting their fingers into, a family pie, which they flavour much more than enough, I can tell them, when they are fifty miles away.'
'I might have been prepared for this!' cried the strong-minded woman, looking about her with a disdainful smile as she moved towards the door, followed by her three daughters. 'Indeed I was fully prepared for it from the first. What else could I expect in such an atmosphere as this!'
'Don't direct your halfpay-officers' gaze at me, ma'am, if you please,' interposed Miss Charity; 'for I won't bear it.'
This was a smart stab at a pension enjoyed by the strong-minded woman, during her second widowhood and before her last coverture. It told immensely.
'I passed from the memory of a grateful country, you very miserable minx,' said Mrs Ned, 'when I entered this family; and I feel now, though I did not feel then, that it served me right, and that I lost my claim upon the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland when I so degraded myself. Now, my dears, if you're quite ready, and have sufficiently improved yourselves by taking to heart the genteel example of these two young ladies, I think we'll go. Mr Pecksniff, we are very much obliged to you, really. We came to be entertained, and you have far surpassed our utmost expectations, in the amusement you have provided for us. Thank you. Good-bye!'
With such departing words, did this strong-minded female paralyse the Pecksniffian energies; and so she swept out of the room, and out of the house, attended by her daughters, who, as with one accord, elevated their three noses in the air, and joined in a contemptuous titter. As they passed the parlour window on the outside, they were seen to counterfeit a perfect transport of delight among themselves; and with this final blow and great discouragement for those within, they vanished.
Before Mr Pecksniff or any of his remaining visitors could offer a remark, another figure passed this window, coming, at a great rate in the opposite direction; and immediately afterwards, Mr Spottletoe burst into the chamber. Compared with his present state of heat, he had gone out a man of snow or ice. His head distilled such oil upon his whiskers, that they were rich and clogged with unctuous drops; his face was violently inflamed, his limbs trembled; and he gasped and strove for breath.
'My good sir!' cried Mr Pecksniff.
'Oh yes!' returned the other; 'oh yes, certainly! Oh to be sure! Oh, of course! You hear him? You hear him? all of you!'
'What's the matter?' cried several voices.
'Oh nothing!' cried Spottletoe, still gasping. 'Nothing at all! It's of no consequence! Ask him! HE'll tell you!'
'I do not understand our friend,' said Mr Pecksniff, looking about him in utter amazement. 'I assure you that he is quite unintelligible to me.'
'Unintelligible, sir!' cried the other. 'Unintelligible! Do you mean to say, sir, that you don't know what has happened! That you haven't decoyed us here, and laid a plot and a plan against us! Will you venture to say that you didn't know Mr Chuzzlewit was going, sir, and that you don't know he's gone, sir?'
'Gone!' was the general cry.