His relations with her father and mother were like those on which a widower son-in-law might have stood. If the twin sister who was dead had lived to pass away in the bloom of womanhood, and he had been her husband, the nature of his intercourse with Mr and Mrs Meagles would probably have been just what it was. This imperceptibly helped to render habitual the impression within him, that he had done with, and dismissed that part of life.
He invariably heard of Minnie from them, as telling them in her letters how happy she was, and how she loved her husband; but inseparable from that subject, he invariably saw the old cloud on Mr Meagles's face. Mr Meagles had never been quite so radiant since the marriage as before. He had never quite recovered the separation from Pet. He was the same good-humoured, open creature; but as if his face, from being much turned towards the pictures of his two children which could show him only one look, unconsciously adopted a characteristic from them, it always had now, through all its changes of expression, a look of loss in it.
One wintry Saturday when Clennam was at the cottage, the Dowager Mrs Gowan drove up, in the Hampton Court equipage which pretended to be the exclusive equipage of so many individual proprietors. She descended, in her shady ambuscade of green fan, to favour Mr and Mrs Meagles with a call.
'And how do you both do, Papa and Mama Meagles?' said she, encouraging her humble connections. 'And when did you last hear from or about my poor fellow?'
My poor fellow was her son; and this mode of speaking of him politely kept alive, without any offence in the world, the pretence that he had fallen a victim to the Meagles' wiles.
'And the dear pretty one?' said Mrs Gowan. 'Have you later news of her than I have?'
Which also delicately implied that her son had been captured by mere beauty, and under its fascination had forgone all sorts of worldly advantages.
' I am sure,' said Mrs Gowan, without straining her attention on the answers she received, 'it's an unspeakable comfort to know they continue happy. My poor fellow is of such a restless disposition, and has been so used to roving about, and to being inconstant and popular among all manner of people, that it's the greatest comfort in life. I suppose they're as poor as mice, Papa Meagles?'
Mr Meagles, fidgety under the question, replied, 'I hope not, ma'am. I hope they will manage their little income.'
'Oh! my dearest Meagles!' returned the lady, tapping him on the arm with the green fan and then adroitly interposing it between a yawn and the company, 'how can you, as a man of the world and one of the most business-like of human beings--for you know you are business-like, and a great deal too much for us who are not--'
(Which went to the former purpose, by making Mr Meagles out to be an artful schemer.)
'--How can you talk about their managing their little means? My poor dear fellow! The idea of his managing hundreds! And the sweet pretty creature too. The notion of her managing! Papa Meagles! Don't!'
'Well, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, gravely, 'I am sorry to admit, then, that Henry certainly does anticipate his means.'
'My dear good man--I use no ceremony with you, because we are a kind of relations;--positively, Mama Meagles,' exclaimed Mrs Gowan cheerfully, as if the absurd coincidence then flashed upon her for the first time, 'a kind of relations! My dear good man, in this world none of us can have everything our own way.'
This again went to the former point, and showed Mr Meagles with all good breeding that, so far, he had been brilliantly successful in his deep designs. Mrs Gowan thought the hit so good a one, that she dwelt upon it; repeating 'Not everything. No, no; in this world we must not expect everything, Papa Meagles.'
'And may I ask, ma'am,' retorted Mr Meagles, a little heightened in colour, 'who does expect everything?'
'Oh, nobody, nobody!' said Mrs Gowan. 'I was going to say--but you put me out. You interrupting Papa, what was I going to say?'
Drooping her large green fan, she looked musingly at Mr Meagles while she thought about it; a performance not tending to the cooling of that gentleman's rather heated spirits.