'Snodgrass!-since last Christmas!' were the first broken words that issued from the lips of the confounded gentleman.
'Since last Christmas,' replied Wardle; 'that's plain enough, and very bad spectacles we must have worn, not to have discovered it before.'
'I don't understand it,' said Mr. Pickwick, ruminating; 'I cannot really understand it.'
'It's easy enough to understand it,' replied the choleric old gentleman. 'If you had been a younger man, you would have been in the secret long ago; and besides,' added Wardle, after a moment's hesitation, 'the truth is, that, knowing nothing of this matter, I have rather pressed Emily for four or five months past, to receive favourably (if she could; I would never attempt to force a girl's inclinations) the addresses of a young gentleman down in our neighbourhood. I have no doubt that, girl-like, to enhance her own value and increase the ardour of Mr. Snodgrass, she has represented this matter in very glowing colours, and that they have both arrived at the conclusion that they are a terribly- persecuted pair of unfortunates, and have no resource but clandestine matrimony, or charcoal. Now the question is, what's to be done?'
'What have YOU done?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'I mean what did you do when your married daughter told you this?'
'Oh, I made a fool of myself of course,' rejoined Wardle.
'Just so,' interposed Perker, who had accompanied this dialogue with sundry twitchings of his watch-chain, vindictive rubbings of his nose, and other symptoms of impatience. 'That's very natural; but how?'
'I went into a great passion and frightened my mother into a fit,' said Wardle.
'That was judicious,' remarked Perker; 'and what else?'
'I fretted and fumed all next day, and raised a great disturbance,' rejoined the old gentleman. 'At last I got tired of rendering myself unpleasant and making everybody miserable; so I hired a carriage at Muggleton, and, putting my own horses in it, came up to town, under pretence of bringing Emily to see Arabella.'
'Miss Wardle is with you, then?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'To be sure she is,' replied Wardle. 'She is at Osborne's Hotel in the Adelphi at this moment, unless your enterprising friend has run away with her since I came out this morning.'
'You are reconciled then?' said Perker.
'Not a bit of it,' answered Wardle; 'she has been crying and moping ever since, except last night, between tea and supper, when she made a great parade of writing a letter that I pretended to take no notice of.'
'You want my advice in this matter, I suppose?' said Perker, looking from the musing face of Mr. Pickwick to the eager countenance of Wardle, and taking several consecutive pinches of his favourite stimulant.
'I suppose so,' said Wardle, looking at Mr. Pickwick.
'Certainly,' replied that gentleman.
'Well then,' said Perker, rising and pushing his chair back, 'my advice is, that you both walk away together, or ride away, or get away by some means or other, for I'm tired of you, and just talk this matter over between you. If you have not settled it by the next time I see you, I'll tell you what to do.'
'This is satisfactory,' said Wardle, hardly knowing whether to smile or be offended.
'Pooh, pooh, my dear Sir,' returned Perker. 'I know you both a great deal better than you know yourselves. You have settled it already, to all intents and purposes.'
Thus expressing himself, the little gentleman poked his snuff- box first into the chest of Mr. Pickwick, and then into the waistcoat of Mr. Wardle, upon which they all three laughed, especially the two last-named gentlemen, who at once shook hands again, without any obvious or particular reason.
'You dine with me to-day,' said Wardle to Perker, as he showed them out.
'Can't promise, my dear Sir, can't promise,' replied Perker. 'I'll look in, in the evening, at all events.'
'I shall expect you at five,' said Wardle. 'Now, Joe!' And Joe having been at length awakened, the two friends departed in Mr.