'Why, mother, no,' returned Mr Meagles, 'not exactly there. I can't quite leave it there; I must say just half-a-dozen words more. Mrs Gowan, I hope I am not over-sensitive. I believe I don't look it.'
'Indeed you do not,' said Mrs Gowan, shaking her head and the great green fan together, for emphasis.
'Thank you, ma'am; that's well. Notwithstanding which, I feel a little--I don't want to use a strong word--now shall I say hurt?' asked Mr Meagles at once with frankness and moderation, and with a conciliatory appeal in his tone.
'Say what you like,' answered Mrs Gowan. 'It is perfectly indifferent to me.'
'No, no, don't say that,' urged Mr Meagles, 'because that's not responding amiably. I feel a little hurt when I hear references made to consequences having been foreseen, and to its being too late now, and so forth.'
'Do you, Papa Meagles?' said Mrs Gowan. 'I am not surprised.'
'Well, ma'am,' reasoned Mr Meagles, 'I was in hopes you would have been at least surprised, because to hurt me wilfully on so tender a subject is surely not generous.' 'I am not responsible,' said Mrs Gowan, 'for your conscience, you know.'
Poor Mr Meagles looked aghast with astonishment.
'If I am unluckily obliged to carry a cap about with me, which is yours and fits you,' pursued Mrs Gowan, 'don't blame me for its pattern, Papa Meagles, I beg!' 'Why, good Lord, ma'am!' Mr Meagles broke out, 'that's as much as to state--'
'Now, Papa Meagles, Papa Meagles,' said Mrs Gowan, who became extremely deliberate and prepossessing in manner whenever that gentleman became at all warm, 'perhaps to prevent confusion, I had better speak for myself than trouble your kindness to speak for me.
It's as much as to state, you begin. If you please, I will finish the sentence. It is as much as to state--not that I wish to press it or even recall it, for it is of no use now, and my only wish is to make the best of existing circumstances--that from the first to the last I always objected to this match of yours, and at a very late period yielded a most unwilling consent to it.'
'Mother!' cried Mr Meagles. 'Do you hear this! Arthur! Do you hear this!'
'The room being of a convenient size,' said Mrs Gowan, looking about as she fanned herself, 'and quite charmingly adapted in all respects to conversation, I should imagine I am audible in any part of it.'
Some moments passed in silence, before Mr Meagles could hold himself in his chair with sufficient security to prevent his breaking out of it at the next word he spoke. At last he said: 'Ma'am, I am very unwilling to revive them, but I must remind you what my opinions and my course were, all along, on that unfortunate subject.'
'O, my dear sir!' said Mrs Gowan, smiling and shaking her head with accusatory intelligence, 'they were well understood by me, I assure you.'
'I never, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'knew unhappiness before that time, I never knew anxiety before that time. It was a time of such distress to me that--' That Mr Meagles could really say no more about it, in short, but passed his handkerchief before his Face.
'I understood the whole affair,' said Mrs Gowan, composedly looking over her fan. 'As you have appealed to Mr Clennam, I may appeal to Mr Clennam, too. He knows whether I did or not.'
'I am very unwilling,' said Clennam, looked to by all parties, 'to take any share in this discussion, more especially because I wish to preserve the best understanding and the clearest relations with Mr Henry Gowan. I have very strong reasons indeed, for entertaining that wish. Mrs Gowan attributed certain views of furthering the marriage to my friend here, in conversation with me before it took place; and I endeavoured to undeceive her. I represented that I knew him (as I did and do) to be strenuously opposed to it, both in opinion and action.'
'You see?' said Mrs Gowan, turning the palms of her hands towards Mr Meagles, as if she were Justice herself, representing to him that he had better confess, for he had not a leg to stand on.