'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. Wardle's carriage, which in common humanity had a dickey behind for the fat boy, who, if there had been a footboard instead, would have rolled off and killed himself in his very first nap.
Driving to the George and Vulture, they found that Arabella and her maid had sent for a hackney-coach immediately on the receipt of a short note from Emily announcing her arrival in town, and had proceeded straight to the Adelphi. As Wardle had business to transact in the city, they sent the carriage and the fat boy to his hotel, with the information that he and Mr. Pickwick would return together to dinner at five o'clock.
Charged with this message, the fat boy returned, slumbering as peaceably in his dickey, over the stones, as if it had been a down bed on watch springs. By some extraordinary miracle he awoke of his own accord, when the coach stopped, and giving himself a good shake to stir up his faculties, went upstairs to execute his commission.
Now, whether the shake had jumbled the fat boy's faculties together, instead of arranging them in proper order, or had roused such a quantity of new ideas within him as to render him oblivious of ordinary forms and ceremonies, or (which is also possible) had proved unsuccessful in preventing his falling asleep as he ascended the stairs, it is an undoubted fact that he walked into the sitting-room without previously knocking at the door; and so beheld a gentleman with his arms clasping his young mistress's waist, sitting very lovingly by her side on a sofa, while Arabella and her pretty handmaid feigned to be absorbed in looking out of a window at the other end of the room. At the sight of this phenomenon, the fat boy uttered an interjection, the ladies a scream, and the gentleman an oath, almost simultaneously.
'Wretched creature, what do you want here?' said the gentleman, who it is needless to say was Mr. Snodgrass.
To this the fat boy, considerably terrified, briefly responded, 'Missis.'
'What do you want me for,' inquired Emily, turning her head aside, 'you stupid creature?'
'Master and Mr. Pickwick is a-going to dine here at five,' replied the fat boy.
'Leave the room!' said Mr. Snodgrass, glaring upon the bewildered youth.
'No, no, no,' added Emily hastily. 'Bella, dear, advise me.'
Upon this, Emily and Mr. Snodgrass, and Arabella and Mary, crowded into a corner, and conversed earnestly in whispers for some minutes, during which the fat boy dozed.
'Joe,' said Arabella, at length, looking round with a most bewitching smile, 'how do you do, Joe?'
'Joe,' said Emily, 'you're a very good boy; I won't forget you, Joe.'
'Joe,' said Mr. Snodgrass, advancing to the astonished youth, and seizing his hand, 'I didn't know you before. There's five shillings for you, Joe!"
'I'll owe you five, Joe,' said Arabella, 'for old acquaintance sake, you know;' and another most captivating smile was bestowed upon the corpulent intruder.
The fat boy's perception being slow, he looked rather puzzled at first to account for this sudden prepossession in his favour, and stared about him in a very alarming manner. At length his broad face began to show symptoms of a grin of proportionately broad dimensions; and then, thrusting half-a-crown into each of his pockets, and a hand and wrist after it, he burst into a horse laugh: being for the first and only time in his existence.
'He understands us, I see,' said Arabella. 'He had better have something to eat, immediately,' remarked Emily.
The fat boy almost laughed again when he heard this suggestion. Mary, after a little more whispering, tripped forth from the group and said —
'I am going to dine with you to-day, sir, if you have no objection.'
'This way,' said the fat boy eagerly. 'There is such a jolly meat-pie!'
With these words, the fat boy led the way downstairs; his pretty companion captivating all the waiters and angering all the chambermaids as she followed him to the eating-room.
There was the meat-pie of which the youth had spoken so feelingly, and there were, moreover, a steak, and a dish of potatoes, and a pot of porter.
'Sit down,' said the fat boy. 'Oh, my eye, how prime! I am SO hungry.'
Having apostrophised his eye, in a species of rapture, five or six times, the youth took the head of the little table, and Mary seated herself at the bottom.
'Will you have some of this?' said the fat boy, plunging into the pie up to the very ferules of the knife and fork.
'A little, if you please,' replied Mary.
The fat boy assisted Mary to a little, and himself to a great deal, and was just going to begin eating when he suddenly laid down his knife and fork, leaned forward in his chair, and letting his hands, with the knife and fork in them, fall on his knees, said, very slowly —
'I say! How nice you look!'
This was said in an admiring manner, and was, so far, gratifying; but still there was enough of the cannibal in the young gentleman's eyes to render the compliment a double one.
'Dear me, Joseph,' said Mary, affecting to blush, 'what do you mean?'
The fat boy, gradually recovering his former position, replied with a heavy sigh, and, remaining thoughtful for a few moments, drank a long draught of the porter. Having achieved this feat, he sighed again, and applied himself assiduously to the pie.
'What a nice young lady Miss Emily is!' said Mary, after a long silence.
The fat boy had by this time finished the pie. He fixed his eyes on Mary, and replied — 'I knows a nicerer.'
'Indeed!' said Mary.