'Then listen, if you please. Can you hear me now?'
'That's well. Show me to Mrs. Winkle's room, without announcing me.'
As the little old gentleman uttered this command, he slipped five shillings into the waiter's hand, and looked steadily at him.
'Really, sir,' said the waiter, 'I don't know, sir, whether — '
'Ah! you'll do it, I see,' said the little old gentleman. 'You had better do it at once. It will save time.'
There was something so very cool and collected in the gentleman's manner, that the waiter put the five shillings in his pocket, and led him upstairs without another word.
'This is the room, is it?' said the gentleman. 'You may go.' The waiter complied, wondering much who the gentleman could be, and what he wanted; the little old gentleman, waiting till he was out of sight, tapped at the door.
'Come in,' said Arabella.
'Um, a pretty voice, at any rate,' murmured the little old gentleman; 'but that's nothing.' As he said this, he opened the door and walked in. Arabella, who was sitting at work, rose on beholding a stranger — a little confused — but by no means ungracefully so.
'Pray don't rise, ma'am,' said the unknown, walking in, and closing the door after him. 'Mrs. Winkle, I believe?'
Arabella inclined her head.
'Mrs. Nathaniel Winkle, who married the son of the old man at Birmingham?' said the stranger, eyeing Arabella with visible curiosity.
Again Arabella inclined her head, and looked uneasily round, as if uncertain whether to call for assistance.
'I surprise you, I see, ma'am,' said the old gentleman.
'Rather, I confess,' replied Arabella, wondering more and more.
'I'll take a chair, if you'll allow me, ma'am,' said the stranger.
He took one; and drawing a spectacle-case from his pocket, leisurely pulled out a pair of spectacles, which he adjusted on his nose.
'You don't know me, ma'am?' he said, looking so intently at Arabella that she began to feel alarmed.
'No, sir,' she replied timidly.
'No,' said the gentleman, nursing his left leg; 'I don't know how you should. You know my name, though, ma'am.'
'Do I?' said Arabella, trembling, though she scarcely knew why. 'May I ask what it is?'
'Presently, ma'am, presently,' said the stranger, not having yet removed his eyes from her countenance. 'You have been recently married, ma'am?'
'I have,' replied Arabella, in a scarcely audible tone, laying aside her work, and becoming greatly agitated as a thought, that had occurred to her before, struck more forcibly upon her mind.
'Without having represented to your husband the propriety of first consulting his father, on whom he is dependent, I think?' said the stranger.
Arabella applied her handkerchief to her eyes.
'Without an endeavour, even, to ascertain, by some indirect appeal, what were the old man's sentiments on a point in which he would naturally feel much interested?' said the stranger.
'I cannot deny it, Sir,' said Arabella.
'And without having sufficient property of your own to afford your husband any permanent assistance in exchange for the worldly advantages which you knew he would have gained if he had married agreeably to his father's wishes?' said the old gentleman. 'This is what boys and girls call disinterested affection, till they have boys and girls of their own, and then they see it in a rougher and very different light!'
Arabella's tears flowed fast, as she pleaded in extenuation that she was young and inexperienced; that her attachment had alone induced her to take the step to which she had resorted; and that she had been deprived of the counsel and guidance of her parents almost from infancy.
'It was wrong,' said the old gentleman in a milder tone, 'very wrong. It was romantic, unbusinesslike, foolish.'
'It was my fault; all my fault, Sir,' replied poor Arabella, weeping.
'Nonsense,' said the old gentleman; 'it was not your fault that he fell in love with you, I suppose? Yes it was, though,' said the old gentleman, looking rather slily at Arabella. 'It was your fault. He couldn't help it.'
This little compliment, or the little gentleman's odd way of paying it, or his altered manner — so much kinder than it was, at first — or all three together, forced a smile from Arabella in the midst of her tears.
'Where's your husband?' inquired the old gentleman, abruptly; stopping a smile which was just coming over his own face.
'I expect him every instant, sir,' said Arabella. 'I persuaded him to take a walk this morning. He is very low and wretched at not having heard from his father.'
'Low, is he?' said the old gentlemen. 'Serve him right!'
'He feels it on my account, I am afraid,' said Arabella; 'and indeed, Sir, I feel it deeply on his. I have been the sole means of bringing him to his present condition.'
'Don't mind it on his account, my dear,' said the old gentleman. 'It serves him right. I am glad of it — actually glad of it, as far as he is concerned.'
The words were scarcely out of the old gentleman's lips, when footsteps were heard ascending the stairs, which he and Arabella seemed both to recognise at the same moment. The little gentleman turned pale; and, making a strong effort to appear composed, stood up, as Mr. Winkle entered the room.
'Father!' cried Mr. Winkle, recoiling in amazement.
'Yes, sir,' replied the little old gentleman. 'Well, Sir, what have you got to say to me?'
Mr. Winkle remained silent.
'You are ashamed of yourself, I hope, Sir?' said the old gentleman.
Still Mr. Winkle said nothing.
'Are you ashamed of yourself, Sir, or are you not?' inquired the old gentleman.
'No, Sir,' replied Mr. Winkle, drawing Arabella's arm through his. 'I am not ashamed of myself, or of my wife either.'
'Upon my word!' cried the old gentleman ironically.
'I am very sorry to have done anything which has lessened your affection for me, Sir,' said Mr. Winkle; 'but I will say, at the same time, that I have no reason to be ashamed of having this lady for my wife, nor you of having her for a daughter.'
'Give me your hand, Nat,' said the old gentleman, in an altered voice. 'Kiss me, my love. You are a very charming little daughter-in-law after all!'
In a few minutes' time Mr. Winkle went in search of Mr. Pickwick, and returning with that gentleman, presented him to his father, whereupon they shook hands for five minutes incessantly.
'Mr. Pickwick, I thank you most heartily for all your kindness to my son,' said old Mr. Winkle, in a bluff, straightforward way. 'I am a hasty fellow, and when I saw you last, I was vexed and taken by surprise. I have judged for myself now, and am more than satisfied. Shall I make any more apologies, Mr. Pickwick?'
'Not one,' replied that gentleman. 'You have done the only thing wanting to complete my happiness.'
Hereupon there was another shaking of hands for five minutes longer, accompanied by a great number of complimentary speeches, which, besides being complimentary, had the additional and very novel recommendation of being sincere.
Sam had dutifully seen his father to the Belle Sauvage, when, on returning, he encountered the fat boy in the court, who had been charged with the delivery of a note from Emily Wardle.
'I say,' said Joe, who was unusually loquacious, 'what a pretty girl Mary is, isn't she? I am SO fond of her, I am!'
Mr. Weller made no verbal remark in reply; but eyeing the fat boy for a moment, quite transfixed at his presumption, led him by the collar to the corner, and dismissed him with a harmless but ceremonious kick. After which, he walked home, whistling.