She was more than gracious; she was kind and cordial. Whether the recollection of the old service Tom had rendered her in knocking Mr Jonas on the head had wrought this change in her opinions; or whether her separation from her parent had reconciled her to all human-kind, or to all that interesting portion of human-kind which was not friendly to him; or whether the delight of having some new female acquaintance to whom to communicate her interesting prospects was paramount to every other consideration; cordial and kind Miss Pecksniff was. And twice Miss Pecksniff kissed Miss Pinch upon the cheek.
'Augustus--Mr Pinch, you know. My dear girl!' said Miss Pecksniff, aside. 'I never was so ashamed in my life.'
Ruth begged her not to think of it.
'I mind your brother less than anybody else,' simpered Miss Pecksniff. 'But the indelicacy of meeting any gentleman under such circumstances! Augustus, my child, did you--'
Here Miss Pecksniff whispered in his ear. The suffering Moddle repeated:
'Twenty-four pound ten!'
'Oh, you silly man! I don't mean them,' said Miss Pecksniff. 'I am speaking of the--'
Here she whispered him again.
'If it's the same patterned chintz as that in the window; thirty- two, twelve, six,' said Moddle, with a sigh. 'And very dear.'
Miss Pecksniff stopped him from giving any further explanation by laying her hand upon his lips, and betraying a soft embarrassment. She then asked Tom Pinch which way he was going.
'I was going to see if I could find your sister,' answered Tom, 'to whom I wished to say a few words. We were going to Mrs Todgers's, where I had the pleasure of seeing her before.'
'It's of no use your going on, then,' said Cherry, 'for we have not long left there; and I know she is not at home. But I'll take you to my sister's house, if you please. Augustus--Mr Moddle, I mean-- and myself, are on our way to tea there, now. You needn't think of HIM,' she added, nodding her head as she observed some hesitation on Tom's part. 'He is not at home.'
'Are you sure?' asked Tom.
'Oh, I am quite sure of that. I don't want any MORE revenge,' said Miss Pecksniff, expressively. 'But, really, I must beg you two gentlemen to walk on, and allow me to follow with Miss Pinch. My dear, I never was so taken by surprise!'
In furtherance of this bashful arrangement, Moddle gave his arm to Tom; and Miss Pecksniff linked her own in Ruth's.
'Of course, my love,' said Miss Pecksniff, 'it would be useless for me to disguise, after what you have seen, that I am about to be united to the gentleman who is walking with your brother. It would be in vain to conceal it. What do you think of him? Pray, let me have your candid opinion.'
Ruth intimated that, as far as she could judge, he was a very eligible swain.
'I am curious to know,' said Miss Pecksniff, with loquacious frankness, 'whether you have observed, or fancied, in this very short space of time, that he is of a rather melancholy turn?'
'So very short a time,' Ruth pleaded.
'No, no; but don't let that interfere with your answer,' returned Miss Pecksniff. 'I am curious to hear what you say.'
Ruth acknowledged that he had impressed her at first sight as looking 'rather low.'
'No, really?' said Miss Pecksniff. 'Well! that is quite remarkable! Everybody says the same. Mrs Todgers says the same; and Augustus informs me that it is quite a joke among the gentlemen in the house. Indeed, but for the positive commands I have laid upon him, I believe it would have been the occasion of loaded fire-arms being resorted to more than once. What do you think is the cause of his appearance of depression?'
Ruth thought of several things; such as his digestion, his tailor, his mother, and the like. But hesitating to give utterance to any one of them, she refrained from expressing an opinion.
'My dear,' said Miss Pecksniff; 'I shouldn't wish it to be known, but I don't mind mentioning it to you, having known your brother for so many years--I refused Augustus three times.