'Yes, indeed!' replied the fat boy, with unwonted vivacity.
'What's her name?' inquired Mary.
'So's hers,' said the fat boy. 'You're her.' The boy grinned to add point to the compliment, and put his eyes into something between a squint and a cast, which there is reason to believe he intended for an ogle.
'You mustn't talk to me in that way,' said Mary; 'you don't mean it.'
'Don't I, though?' replied the fat boy. 'I say?'
'Are you going to come here regular?'
'No,' rejoined Mary, shaking her head, 'I'm going away again to-night. Why?'
'Oh,' said the fat boy, in a tone of strong feeling; 'how we should have enjoyed ourselves at meals, if you had been!'
'I might come here sometimes, perhaps, to see you,' said Mary, plaiting the table-cloth in assumed coyness, 'if you would do me a favour.'
The fat boy looked from the pie-dish to the steak, as if he thought a favour must be in a manner connected with something to eat; and then took out one of the half-crowns and glanced at it nervously.
'Don't you understand me?' said Mary, looking slily in his fat face.
Again he looked at the half-crown, and said faintly, 'No.'
'The ladies want you not to say anything to the old gentleman about the young gentleman having been upstairs; and I want you too.'
'Is that all?' said the fat boy, evidently very much relieved, as he pocketed the half-crown again. 'Of course I ain't a-going to.'
'You see,' said Mary, 'Mr. Snodgrass is very fond of Miss Emily, and Miss Emily's very fond of him, and if you were to tell about it, the old gentleman would carry you all away miles into the country, where you'd see nobody.'
'No, no, I won't tell,' said the fat boy stoutly.
'That's a dear,' said Mary. 'Now it's time I went upstairs, and got my lady ready for dinner.'
'Don't go yet,' urged the fat boy.
'I must,' replied Mary. 'Good-bye, for the present.'
The fat boy, with elephantine playfulness, stretched out his arms to ravish a kiss; but as it required no great agility to elude him, his fair enslaver had vanished before he closed them again; upon which the apathetic youth ate a pound or so of steak with a sentimental countenance, and fell fast asleep.
There was so much to say upstairs, and there were so many plans to concert for elopement and matrimony in the event of old Wardle continuing to be cruel, that it wanted only half an hour of dinner when Mr. Snodgrass took his final adieu. The ladies ran to Emily's bedroom to dress, and the lover, taking up his hat, walked out of the room. He had scarcely got outside the door, when he heard Wardle's voice talking loudly, and looking over the banisters beheld him, followed by some other gentlemen, coming straight upstairs. Knowing nothing of the house, Mr. Snodgrass in his confusion stepped hastily back into the room he had just quitted, and passing thence into an inner apartment (Mr. Wardle's bedchamber), closed the door softly, just as the persons he had caught a glimpse of entered the sitting-room. These were Mr. Wardle, Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, and Mr. Benjamin Allen, whom he had no difficulty in recognising by their voices.
'Very lucky I had the presence of mind to avoid them,' thought Mr. Snodgrass with a smile, and walking on tiptoe to another door near the bedside; 'this opens into the same passage, and I can walk quietly and comfortably away.'
There was only one obstacle to his walking quietly and comfortably away, which was that the door was locked and the key gone.
'Let us have some of your best wine to-day, waiter,' said old Wardle, rubbing his hands.
'You shall have some of the very best, sir,' replied the waiter.
'Let the ladies know we have come in.'
Devoutly and ardently did Mr. Snodgrass wish that the ladies could know he had come in. He ventured once to whisper, 'Waiter!' through the keyhole, but the probability of the wrong waiter coming to his relief, flashed upon his mind, together with a sense of the strong resemblance between his own situation and that in which another gentleman had been recently found in a neighbouring hotel (an account of whose misfortunes had appeared under the head of 'Police' in that morning's paper), he sat himself on a portmanteau, and trembled violently.
'We won't wait a minute for Perker,' said Wardle, looking at his watch; 'he is always exact. He will be here, in time, if he means to come; and if he does not, it's of no use waiting. Ha! Arabella!'
'My sister!' exclaimed Mr. Benjamin Allen, folding her in a most romantic embrace.
'Oh, Ben, dear, how you do smell of tobacco,' said Arabella, rather overcome by this mark of affection.
'Do I?' said Mr. Benjamin Allen. 'Do I, Bella? Well, perhaps I do.'
Perhaps he did, having just left a pleasant little smoking-party of twelve medical students, in a small back parlour with a large fire.
'But I am delighted to see you,' said Mr. Ben Allen. 'Bless you, Bella!'
'There,' said Arabella, bending forward to kiss her brother; 'don't take hold of me again, Ben, dear, because you tumble me so.'
At this point of the reconciliation, Mr. Ben Allen allowed his feelings and the cigars and porter to overcome him, and looked round upon the beholders with damp spectacles.
'Is nothing to be said to me?' cried Wardle, with open arms.
'A great deal,' whispered Arabella, as she received the old gentleman's hearty caress and congratulation. 'You are a hard-hearted, unfeeling, cruel monster.'
'You are a little rebel,' replied Wardle, in the same tone, 'and I am afraid I shall be obliged to forbid you the house. People like you, who get married in spite of everybody, ought not to be let loose on society. But come!' added the old gentleman aloud, 'here's the dinner; you shall sit by me. Joe; why, damn the boy, he's awake!'
To the great distress of his master, the fat boy was indeed in a state of remarkable vigilance, his eyes being wide open, and looking as if they intended to remain so. There was an alacrity in his manner, too, which was equally unaccountable; every time his eyes met those of Emily or Arabella, he smirked and grinned; once, Wardle could have sworn, he saw him wink.
This alteration in the fat boy's demeanour originated in his increased sense of his own importance, and the dignity he acquired from having been taken into the confidence of the young ladies; and the smirks, and grins, and winks were so many condescending assurances that they might depend upon his fidelity. As these tokens were rather calculated to awaken suspicion than allay it, and were somewhat embarrassing besides, they were occasionally answered by a frown or shake of the head from Arabella, which the fat boy, considering as hints to be on his guard, expressed his perfect understanding of, by smirking, grinning, and winking, with redoubled assiduity.
'Joe,' said Mr. Wardle, after an unsuccessful search in all his pockets, 'is my snuff-box on the sofa?'
'No, sir,' replied the fat boy.
'Oh, I recollect; I left it on my dressing-table this morning,' said Wardle. 'Run into the next room and fetch it.'
The fat boy went into the next room; and, having been absent about a minute, returned with the snuff-box, and the palest face that ever a fat boy wore.
'What's the matter with the boy?' exclaimed Wardle.
'Nothen's the matter with me,' replied Joe nervously.
'Have you been seeing any spirits?' inquired the old gentleman.
'Or taking any?' added Ben Allen.
'I think you're right,' whispered Wardle across the table. 'He is intoxicated, I'm sure.'
Ben Allen replied that he thought he was; and, as that gentleman had seen a vast deal of the disease in question, Wardle was confirmed in an impression which had been hovering about his mind for half an hour, and at once arrived at the conclusion that the fat boy was drunk.
'Just keep your eye upon him for a few minutes,' murmured Wardle. 'We shall soon find out whether he is or not.'
The unfortunate youth had only interchanged a dozen words with Mr. Snodgrass, that gentleman having implored him to make a private appeal to some friend to release him, and then pushed him out with the snuff-box, lest his prolonged absence should lead to a discovery. He ruminated a little with a most disturbed expression of face, and left the room in search of Mary.
But Mary had gone home after dressing her mistress, and the fat boy came back again more disturbed than before.
Wardle and Mr. Ben Allen exchanged glances. 'Joe!' said Wardle.
'What did you go away for?'
The fat boy looked hopelessly in the face of everybody at table, and stammered out that he didn't know.
'Oh,' said Wardle, 'you don't know, eh? Take this cheese to Mr. Pickwick.'