'I will not deny that it is a pleasure to me to find you so full of zeal. We will consider that topic as disposed of.'
'No, my dear sir,' cried Mr Pecksniff, 'not as disposed of, until I have purged my house of this pollution.'
'That will follow,' said the old man, 'in its own time. I look upon that as done.'
'You are very good, sir,' answered Mr Pecksniff, shaking his hand. 'You do me honour. You MAY look upon it as done, I assure you.'
'There is another topic,' said Martin, 'on which I hope you will assist me. You remember Mary, cousin?'
'The young lady that I mentioned to you, my dears, as having interested me so very much,' remarked Mr Pecksniff. 'Excuse my interrupting you, sir.'
'I told you her history?' said the old man.
'Which I also mentioned, you will recollect, my dears,' cried Mr Pecksniff. 'Silly girls, Mr Chuzzlewit--quite moved by it, they were!"
'Why, look now!' said Martin, evidently pleased; 'I feared I should have had to urge her case upon you, and ask you to regard her favourably for my sake. But I find you have no jealousies! Well! You have no cause for any, to be sure. She has nothing to gain from me, my dears, and she knows it.'
The two Miss Pecksniffs murmured their approval of this wise arrangement, and their cordial sympathy with its interesting object.
'If I could have anticipated what has come to pass between us four,' said the old man thoughfully; 'but it is too late to think of that. You would receive her courteously, young ladies, and be kind to her, if need were?'
Where was the orphan whom the two Miss Pecksniffs would not have cherished in their sisterly bosom! But when that orphan was commended to their care by one on whom the dammed-up love of years was gushing forth, what exhaustless stores of pure affection yearned to expend themselves upon her!
An interval ensued, during which Mr Chuzzlewit, in an absent frame of mind, sat gazing at the ground, without uttering a word; and as it was plain that he had no desire to be interrupted in his meditations, Mr Pecksniff and his daughters were profoundly silent also. During the whole of the foregoing dialogue, he had borne his part with a cold, passionless promptitude, as though he had learned and painfully rehearsed it all a hundred times. Even when his expressions were warmest and his language most encouraging, he had retained the same manner, without the least abatement. But now there was a keener brightness in his eye, and more expression in his voice, as he said, awakening from his thoughtful mood:
'You know what will be said of this? Have you reflected?'
'Said of what, my dear sir?' Mr Pecksniff asked.
'Of this new understanding between us.'
Mr Pecksniff looked benevolently sagacious, and at the same time far above all earthly misconstruction, as he shook his head, and observed that a great many things would be said of it, no doubt.
'A great many,' rejoined the old man. 'Some will say that I dote in my old age; that illness has shaken me; that I have lost all strength of mind, and have grown childish. You can bear that?'
Mr Pecksniff answered that it would be dreadfully hard to bear, but he thought he could, if he made a great effort.
'Others will say--I speak of disappointed, angry people only--that you have lied and fawned, and wormed yourself through dirty ways into my favour; by such concessions and such crooked deeds, such meannesses and vile endurances, as nothing could repay; no, not the legacy of half the world we live in. You can bear that?'
Mr Pecksniff made reply that this would be also very hard to bear, as reflecting, in some degree, on the discernment of Mr Chuzzlewit. Still he had a modest confidence that he could sustain the calumny, with the help of a good conscience, and that gentleman's friendship.
'With the great mass of slanderers,' said old Martin, leaning back in his chair, 'the tale, as I clearly foresee, will run thus: That to mark my contempt for the rabble whom I despised, I chose from among them the very worst, and made him do my will, and pampered and enriched him at the cost of all the rest.