Peter Magnus was stricken motionless on the spot, and gazed from one to the other, with a countenance expressive of the extremities of horror and surprise. This certainly was, to all appearance, very unaccountable behaviour; but the fact is, that Mr. Pickwick no sooner put on his spectacles, than he at once recognised in the future Mrs. Magnus the lady into whose room he had so unwarrantably intruded on the previous night; and the spectacles had no sooner crossed Mr. Pickwick's nose, than the lady at once identified the countenance which she had seen surrounded by all the horrors of a nightcap. So the lady screamed, and Mr. Pickwick started.
'Mr. Pickwick!' exclaimed Mr. Magnus, lost in astonishment, 'what is the meaning of this, Sir? What is the meaning of it, Sir?' added Mr. Magnus, in a threatening, and a louder tone.
'Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, somewhat indignant at the very sudden manner in which Mr. Peter Magnus had conjugated himself into the imperative mood, 'I decline answering that question.'
'You decline it, Sir?' said Mr. Magnus.
'I do, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'I object to say anything which may compromise that lady, or awaken unpleasant recollections in her breast, without her consent and permission.'
'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'do you know this person?'
'Know him!' repeated the middle-aged lady, hesitating.
'Yes, know him, ma'am; I said know him,' replied Mr. Magnus, with ferocity.
'I have seen him,' replied the middle-aged lady.
'Where?' inquired Mr. Magnus, 'where?'
'That,' said the middle-aged lady, rising from her seat, and averting her head--'that I would not reveal for worlds.'
'I understand you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and respect your delicacy; it shall never be revealed by ME depend upon it.'
'Upon my word, ma'am,' said Mr. Magnus, 'considering the situation in which I am placed with regard to yourself, you carry this matter off with tolerable coolness--tolerable coolness, ma'am.'
'Cruel Mr. Magnus!' said the middle-aged lady; here she wept very copiously indeed.
'Address your observations to me, sir,' interposed Mr. Pickwick; 'I alone am to blame, if anybody be.'
'Oh! you alone are to blame, are you, sir?' said Mr. Magnus; 'I--I--see through this, sir. You repent of your determination now, do you?'
'My determination!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Your determination, Sir. Oh! don't stare at me, Sir,' said Mr. Magnus; 'I recollect your words last night, Sir. You came down here, sir, to expose the treachery and falsehood of an individual on whose truth and honour you had placed implicit reliance--eh?' Here Mr. Peter Magnus indulged in a prolonged sneer; and taking off his green spectacles--which he probably found superfluous in his fit of jealousy--rolled his little eyes about, in a manner frightful to behold.
'Eh?' said Mr. Magnus; and then he repeated the sneer with increased effect. 'But you shall answer it, Sir.'
'Answer what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Never mind, sir,' replied Mr. Magnus, striding up and down the room. 'Never mind.'
There must be something very comprehensive in this phrase of 'Never mind,' for we do not recollect to have ever witnessed a quarrel in the street, at a theatre, public room, or elsewhere, in which it has not been the standard reply to all belligerent inquiries. 'Do you call yourself a gentleman, sir?'--'Never mind, sir.' 'Did I offer to say anything to the young woman, sir?'--'Never mind, sir.' 'Do you want your head knocked up against that wall, sir?' --'Never mind, sir.' It is observable, too, that there would appear to be some hidden taunt in this universal 'Never mind,' which rouses more indignation in the bosom of the individual addressed, than the most lavish abuse could possibly awaken.
We do not mean to assert that the application of this brevity to himself, struck exactly that indignation to Mr. Pickwick's soul, which it would infallibly have roused in a vulgar breast. We merely record the fact that Mr. Pickwick opened the room door, and abruptly called out, 'Tupman, come here!'