He is of a most amiable and sensitive nature, always ready to shed tears if you look at him, which is extremely charming; and he has never recovered the effect of that cruelty. For it WAS cruel,' said Miss Pecksniff, with a self-conviction candour that might have adorned the diadem of her own papa. 'There is no doubt of it. I look back upon my conduct now with blushes. I always liked him. I felt that he was not to me what the crowd of young men who had made proposals had been, but something very different. Then what right had I to refuse him three times?'
'It was a severe trial of his fidelity, no doubt,' said Ruth.
'My dear,' returned Miss Pecksniff. 'It was wrong. But such is the caprice and thoughtlessness of our sex! Let me be a warning to you. Don't try the feelings of any one who makes you an offer, as I have tried the feelings of Augustus; but if you ever feel towards a person as I really felt towards him, at the very time when I was driving him to distraction, let that feeling find expression, if that person throws himself at your feet, as Augustus Moddle did at mine. Think,' said Miss Pecksniff, 'what my feelings would have been, if I had goaded him to suicide, and it had got into the papers!'
Ruth observed that she would have been full of remorse, no doubt.
'Remorse!' cried Miss Pecksniff, in a sort of snug and comfortable penitence. 'What my remorse is at this moment, even after making reparation by accepting him, it would be impossible to tell you! Looking back upon my giddy self, my dear, now that I am sobered down and made thoughtful, by treading on the very brink of matrimony; and contemplating myself as I was when I was like what you are now; I shudder. I shudder. What is the consequence of my past conduct? Until Augustus leads me to the altar he is not sure of me. I have blighted and withered the affections of his heart to that extent that he is not sure of me. I see that preying on his mind and feeding on his vitals. What are the reproaches of my conscience, when I see this in the man I love!'
Ruth endeavoured to express some sense of her unbounded and flattering confidence; and presumed that she was going to be married soon.
'Very soon indeed,' returned Miss Pecksniff. 'As soon as our house is ready. We are furnishing now as fast as we can.'
In the same vein of confidence Miss Pecksniff ran through a general inventory of the articles that were already bought with the articles that remained to be purchased; what garments she intended to be married in, and where the ceremony was to be performed; and gave Miss Pinch, in short (as she told her), early and exclusive information on all points of interest connected with the event.
While this was going forward in the rear, Tom and Mr Moddle walked on, arm in arm, in the front, in a state of profound silence, which Tom at last broke; after thinking for a long time what he could say that should refer to an indifferent topic, in respect of which he might rely, with some degree of certainty, on Mr Moddle's bosom being unruffled.
'I wonder,' said Tom, 'that in these crowded streets the foot- passengers are not oftener run over.'
Mr Moddle, with a dark look, replied:
'The drivers won't do it.'
'Do you mean?' Tom began--
'That there are some men,' interrupted Moddle, with a hollow laugh, 'who can't get run over. They live a charmed life. Coal waggons recoil from them, and even cabs refuse to run them down. Ah!' said Augustus, marking Tom's astonishment. 'There are such men. One of 'em is a friend of mine.'
'Upon my word and honour,' thought Tom, 'this young gentleman is in a state of mind which is very serious indeed!' Abandoning all idea of conversation, he did not venture to say another word, but he was careful to keep a tight hold upon Augustus's arm, lest he should fly into the road, and making another and a more successful attempt, should get up a private little Juggernaut before the eyes of his betrothed. Tom was so afraid of his committing this rash act, that he had scarcely ever experienced such mental relief as when they arrived in safety at Mrs Jonas Chuzzlewit's house.