I gave him a little time to recover. He consumed it in putting his hand to his forehead and taking it away again, and in backing his chair into the corner behind him.
"My intention was to remark, miss," said Mr. Guppy, "dear me — something bronchial, I think — hem! — to remark that you was so good on that occasion as to repel and repudiate that declaration. You — you wouldn't perhaps object to admit that? Though no witnesses are present, it might be a satisfaction to — to your mind — if you was to put in that admission."
"There can be no doubt," said I, "that I declined your proposal without any reservation or qualification whatever, Mr. Guppy."
"Thank you, miss," he returned, measuring the table with his troubled hands. "So far that's satisfactory, and it does you credit. Er — this is certainly bronchial! — must be in the tubes — er — you wouldn't perhaps be offended if I was to mention — not that it's necessary, for your own good sense or any person's sense must show 'em that — if I was to mention that such declaration on my part was final, and there terminated?"
"I quite understand that," said I.
"Perhaps — er — it may not be worth the form, but it might be a satisfaction to your mind — perhaps you wouldn't object to admit that, miss?" said Mr. Guppy.
"I admit it most fully and freely," said I.
"Thank you," returned Mr. Guppy. "Very honourable, I am sure. I regret that my arrangements in life, combined with circumstances over which I have no control, will put it out of my power ever to fall back upon that offer or to renew it in any shape or form whatever, but it will ever be a retrospect entwined — er — with friendship's bowers." Mr. Guppy's bronchitis came to his relief and stopped his measurement of the table.
"I may now perhaps mention what I wished to say to you?" I began.
"I shall be honoured, I am sure," said Mr. Guppy. "I am so persuaded that your own good sense and right feeling, miss, will — will keep you as square as possible — that I can have nothing but pleasure, I am sure, in hearing any observations you may wish to offer."
"You were so good as to imply, on that occasion — "
"Excuse me, miss," said Mr. Guppy, "but we had better not travel out of the record into implication. I cannot admit that I implied anything."
"You said on that occasion," I recommenced, "that you might possibly have the means of advancing my interests and promoting my fortunes by making discoveries of which I should be the subject. I presume that you founded that belief upon your general knowledge of my being an orphan girl, indebted for everything to the benevolence of Mr. Jarndyce. Now, the beginning and the end of what I have come to beg of you is, Mr. Guppy, that you will have the kindness to relinquish all idea of so serving me. I have thought of this sometimes, and I have thought of it most lately — since I have been ill. At length I have decided, in case you should at any time recall that purpose and act upon it in any way, to come to you and assure you that you are altogether mistaken. You could make no discovery in reference to me that would do me the least service or give me the least pleasure. I am acquainted with my personal history, and I have it in my power to assure you that you never can advance my welfare by such means. You may, perhaps, have abandoned this project a long time. If so, excuse my giving you unnecessary trouble. If not, I entreat you, on the assurance I have given you, henceforth to lay it aside. I beg you to do this, for my peace."
"I am bound to confess," said Mr. Guppy, "that you express yourself, miss, with that good sense and right feeling for which I gave you credit. Nothing can be more satisfactory than such right feeling, and if I mistook any intentions on your part just now, I am prepared to tender a full apology. I should wish to be understood, miss, as hereby offering that apology — limiting it, as your own good sense and right feeling will point out the necessity of, to the present proceedings."
I must say for Mr. Guppy that the snuffling manner he had had upon him improved very much. He seemed truly glad to be able to do something I asked, and he looked ashamed.
"If you will allow me to finish what I have to say at once so that I may have no occasion to resume," I went on, seeing him about to speak, "you will do me a kindness, sir. I come to you as privately as possible because you announced this impression of yours to me in a confidence which I have really wished to respect — and which I always have respected, as you remember. I have mentioned my illness. There really is no reason why I should hesitate to say that I know very well that any little delicacy I might have had in making a request to you is quite removed. Therefore I make the entreaty I have now preferred, and I hope you will have sufficient consideration for me to accede to it."
I must do Mr. Guppy the further justice of saying that he had looked more and more ashamed and that he looked most ashamed and very earnest when he now replied with a burning face, "Upon my word and honour, upon my life, upon my soul, Miss Summerson, as I am a living man, I'll act according to your wish! I'll never go another step in opposition to it. I'll take my oath to it if it will be any satisfaction to you. In what I promise at this present time touching the matters now in question," continued Mr. Guppy rapidly, as if he were repeating a familiar form of words, "I speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so — "
"I am quite satisfied," said I, rising at this point, "and I thank you very much. Caddy, my dear, I am ready!"
Mr. Guppy's mother returned with Caddy (now making me the recipient of her silent laughter and her nudges), and we took our leave. Mr. Guppy saw us to the door with the air of one who was either imperfectly awake or walking in his sleep; and we left him there, staring.
But in a minute he came after us down the street without any hat, and with his long hair all blown about, and stopped us, saying fervently, "Miss Summerson, upon my honour and soul, you may depend upon me!"
"I do," said I, "quite confidently."
"I beg your pardon, miss," said Mr. Guppy, going with one leg and staying with the other, "but this lady being present — your own witness — it might be a satisfaction to your mind (which I should wish to set at rest) if you was to repeat those admissions."
"Well, Caddy," said I, turning to her, "perhaps you will not be surprised when I tell you, my dear, that there never has been any engagement — "
"No proposal or promise of marriage whatsoever," suggested Mr. Guppy.
"No proposal or promise of marriage whatsoever," said I, "between this gentleman — "
"William Guppy, of Penton Place, Pentonville, in the county of Middlesex," he murmured.
"Between this gentleman, Mr. William Guppy, of Penton Place, Pentonville, in the county of Middlesex, and myself."