My dear Cherry, Pinch a gentleman! The idea!'
'What a wicked girl you are!' cried Mrs Todgers, embracing her with great affection. 'You are quite a quiz, I do declare! My dear Miss Pecksniff, what a happiness your sister's spirits must be to your pa and self!'
'He's the most hideous, goggle-eyed creature, Mrs Todgers, in existence,' resumed Merry: 'quite an ogre. The ugliest, awkwardest frightfullest being, you can imagine. This is his sister, so I leave you to suppose what SHE is. I shall be obliged to laugh outright, I know I shall!' cried the charming girl, 'I never shall be able to keep my countenance. The notion of a Miss Pinch presuming to exist at all is sufficient to kill one, but to see her --oh my stars!'
Mrs Todgers laughed immensely at the dear love's humour, and declared she was quite afraid of her, that she was. She was so very severe.
'Who is severe?' cried a voice at the door. 'There is no such thing as severity in our family, I hope!' And then Mr Pecksniff peeped smilingly into the room, and said, 'May I come in, Mrs Todgers?'
Mrs Todgers almost screamed, for the little door of communication between that room and the inner one being wide open, there was a full disclosure of the sofa bedstead in all its monstrous impropriety. But she had the presence of mind to close this portal in the twinkling of an eye; and having done so, said, though not without confusion, 'Oh yes, Mr Pecksniff, you can come in, if you please.'
'How are we to-day,' said Mr Pecksniff, jocosely. 'and what are our plans? Are we ready to go and see Tom Pinch's sister? Ha, ha, ha! Poor Thomas Pinch!'
'Are we ready,' returned Mrs Todgers, nodding her head with mysterious intelligence, 'to send a favourable reply to Mr Jinkins's round-robin? That's the first question, Mr Pecksniff.'
'Why Mr Jinkins's robin, my dear madam?' asked Mr Pecksniff, putting one arm round Mercy, and the other round Mrs Todgers, whom he seemed, in the abstraction of the moment, to mistake for Charity. 'Why Mr Jinkins's?'
'Because he began to get it up, and indeed always takes the lead in the house,' said Mrs Todgers, playfully. 'That's why, sir.'
'Jinkins is a man of superior talents,' observed Mr Pecksniff. 'I have conceived a great regard for Jinkins. I take Jinkins's desire to pay polite attention to my daughters, as an additional proof of the friendly feeling of Jinkins, Mrs Todgers.'
'Well now,' returned that lady, 'having said so much, you must say the rest, Mr Pecksniff; so tell the dear young ladies all about it.'
With these words she gently eluded Mr Pecksniff's grasp, and took Miss Charity into her own embrace; though whether she was impelled to this proceeding solely by the irrepressible affection she had conceived for that young lady, or whether it had any reference to a lowering, not to say distinctly spiteful expression which had been visible in her face for some moments, has never been exactly ascertained. Be this as it may, Mr Pecksniff went on to inform his daughters of the purport and history of the round-robin aforesaid, which was in brief, that the commercial gentlemen who helped to make up the sum and substance of that noun of multitude signifying many, called Todgers's, desired the honour of their presence at the general table, so long as they remained in the house, and besought that they would grace the board at dinner-time next day, the same being Sunday. He further said, that Mrs Todgers being a consenting party to this invitation, he was willing, for his part, to accept it; and so left them that he might write his gracious answer, the while they armed themselves with their best bonnets for the utter defeat and overthrow of Miss Pinch.
Tom Pinch's sister was governess in a family, a lofty family; perhaps the wealthiest brass and copper founders' family known to mankind. They lived at Camberwell; in a house so big and fierce, that its mere outside, like the outside of a giant's castle, struck terror into vulgar minds and made bold persons quail.