'Chron-ic,' he repeated with some difficulty. 'Chron-ic. A chronic disorder. I have been its victim from childhood. It is carrying me to my grave.'
'Heaven forbid!' cried Mrs Todgers.
'Yes, it is,' said Mr Pecksniff, reckless with despair. 'I am rather glad of it, upon the whole. You are like her, Mrs Todgers.'
'Don't squeeze me so tight, pray, Mr Pecksniff. If any of the gentlemen should notice us.'
'For her sake,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Permit me--in honour of her memory. For the sake of a voice from the tomb. You are VERY like her Mrs Todgers! What a world this is!'
'Ah! Indeed you may say that!' cried Mrs Todgers.
'I'm afraid it is a vain and thoughtless world,' said Mr Pecksniff, overflowing with despondency. 'These young people about us. Oh! what sense have they of their responsibilities? None. Give me your other hand, Mrs Todgers.'
The lady hesitated, and said 'she didn't like.'
'Has a voice from the grave no influence?' said Mr Pecksniff, with, dismal tenderness. 'This is irreligious! My dear creature.'
'Hush!' urged Mrs Todgers. 'Really you mustn't.'
'It's not me,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Don't suppose it's me; it's the voice; it's her voice.'
Mrs Pecksniff deceased, must have had an unusually thick and husky voice for a lady, and rather a stuttering voice, and to say the truth somewhat of a drunken voice, if it had ever borne much resemblance to that in which Mr Pecksniff spoke just then. But perhaps this was delusion on his part.
'It has been a day of enjoyment, Mrs Todgers, but still it has been a day of torture. It has reminded me of my loneliness. What am I in the world?'
'An excellent gentleman, Mr Pecksniff,' said Mrs Todgers.
'There is consolation in that too,' cried Mr Pecksniff. 'Am I?'
'There is no better man living,' said Mrs Todgers, 'I am sure.'
Mr Pecksniff smiled through his tears, and slightly shook his head. 'You are very good,' he said, 'thank you. It is a great happiness to me, Mrs Todgers, to make young people happy. The happiness of my pupils is my chief object. I dote upon 'em. They dote upon me too-- sometimes.'
'Always,' said Mrs Todgers.
'When they say they haven't improved, ma'am,' whispered Mr Pecksniff, looking at her with profound mystery, and motioning to her to advance her ear a little closer to his mouth. 'When they say they haven't improved, ma'am, and the premium was too high, they lie! I shouldn't wish it to be mentioned; you will understand me; but I say to you as to an old friend, they lie.'
'Base wretches they must be!' said Mrs Todgers.
'Madam,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'you are right. I respect you for that observation. A word in your ear. To Parents and Guardians. This is in confidence, Mrs Todgers?'
'The strictest, of course!' cried that lady.
'To Parents and Guardians,' repeated Mr Pecksniff. 'An eligible opportunity now offers, which unites the advantages of the best practical architectural education with the comforts of a home, and the constant association with some, who, however humble their sphere and limited their capacity--observe!--are not unmindful of their moral responsibilities.'
Mrs Todgers looked a little puzzled to know what this might mean, as well she might; for it was, as the reader may perchance remember, Mr Pecksniff's usual form of advertisement when he wanted a pupil; and seemed to have no particular reference, at present, to anything. But Mr Pecksniff held up his finger as a caution to her not to interrupt him.
'Do you know any parent or guardian, Mrs Todgers,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'who desires to avail himself of such an opportunity for a young gentleman? An orphan would be preferred. Do you know of any orphan with three or four hundred pound?'
Mrs Todgers reflected, and shook her head.
'When you hear of an orphan with three or four hundred pound,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'let that dear orphan's friends apply, by letter post- paid, to S. P., Post Office, Salisbury. I don't know who he is exactly. Don't be