At length the house was closed for the night; and there being now no help for it, Mark put the best face he could upon the matter, and walked doggedly to the bar-door.
'If I look at her,' said Mark to himself, 'I'm done. I feel that I'm a-going fast.'
'You have come at last,' said Mrs Lupin.
Aye, Mark said: There he was.
'And you are determined to leave us, Mark?' cried Mrs Lupin.
'Why, yes; I am,' said Mark; keeping his eyes hard upon the floor.
'I thought,' pursued the landlady, with a most engaging hesitation, 'that you had been--fond--of the Dragon?'
'So I am,' said Mark.
'Then,' pursued the hostess--and it really was not an unnatural inquiry--'why do you desert it?'
But as he gave no manner of answer to this question; not even on its being repeated; Mrs Lupin put his money into his hand, and asked him--not unkindly, quite the contrary--what he would take?
It is proverbial that there are certain things which flesh and blood cannot bear. Such a question as this, propounded in such a manner, at such a time, and by such a person, proved (at least, as far as, Mark's flesh and blood were concerned) to be one of them. He looked up in spite of himself directly; and having once looked up, there was no looking down again; for of all the tight, plump, buxom, bright-eyed, dimple-faced landladies that ever shone on earth, there stood before him then, bodily in that bar, the very pink and pineapple.
'Why, I tell you what,' said Mark, throwing off all his constraint in an instant and seizing the hostess round the waist--at which she was not at all alarmed, for she knew what a good young man he was-- 'if I took what I liked most, I should take you. If I only thought what was best for me, I should take you. If I took what nineteen young fellows in twenty would be glad to take, and would take at any price, I should take you. Yes, I should,' cried Mr Tapley, shaking his head expressively enough, and looking (in a momentary state of forgetfulness) rather hard at the hostess's ripe lips. 'And no man wouldn't wonder if I did!'
Mrs Lupin said he amazed her. She was astonished how he could say such things. She had never thought it of him.
'Why, I never thought if of myself till now!' said Mark, raising his eyebrows with a look of the merriest possible surprise. 'I always expected we should part, and never have no explanation; I meant to do it when I come in here just now; but there's something about you, as makes a man sensible. Then let us have a word or two together; letting it be understood beforehand,' he added this in a grave tone, to prevent the possibility of any mistake, 'that I'm not a-going to make no love, you know.'
There was for just one second a shade, though not by any means a dark one, on the landlady's open brow. But it passed off instantly, in a laugh that came from her very heart.
'Oh, very good!' she said; 'if there is to be no love-making, you had better take your arm away.'
'Lord, why should I!' cried Mark. 'It's quite innocent.'
'Of course it's innocent,' returned the hostess, 'or I shouldn't allow it.'
'Very well!' said Mark. 'Then let it be.'
There was so much reason in this that the landlady laughed again, suffered it to remain, and bade him say what he had to say, and be quick about it. But he was an impudent fellow, she added.
'Ha ha! I almost think I am!' cried Mark, 'though I never thought so before. Why, I can say anything to-night!'
'Say what you're going to say if you please, and be quick,' returned the landlady, 'for I want to get to bed.'
'Why, then, my dear good soul,' said Mark, 'and a kinder woman than you are never drawed breath--let me see the man as says she did!-- what would be the likely consequence of us two being--'
'Oh nonsense!' cried Mrs Lupin. 'Don't talk about that any more.'
'No, no, but it an't nonsense,' said Mark; 'and I wish you'd attend. What would be the likely consequence of us two being married? If I can't be content and comfortable in this here lively Dragon now, is it to be looked for as I should be then? By no means.