'Not at all — by no means,' replied the unabashed Mr. Jingle — 'overheard the tale — came to warn you of your danger — tender my services — prevent the hubbub. Never mind — think it an insult — leave the room' — and he turned, as if to carry the threat into execution.
'What SHALL I do!' said the poor spinster, bursting into tears. 'My brother will be furious.'
'Of course he will,' said Mr. Jingle pausing — 'outrageous.' 'Oh, Mr. Jingle, what CAN I say!' exclaimed the spinster aunt, in another flood of despair.
'Say he dreamt it,' replied Mr. Jingle coolly.
A ray of comfort darted across the mind of the spinster aunt at this suggestion. Mr. Jingle perceived it, and followed up his advantage.
'Pooh, pooh! — nothing more easy — blackguard boy — lovely woman — fat boy horsewhipped — you believed — end of the matter — all comfortable.'
Whether the probability of escaping from the consequences of this ill-timed discovery was delightful to the spinster's feelings, or whether the hearing herself described as a 'lovely woman' softened the asperity of her grief, we know not. She blushed slightly, and cast a grateful look on Mr. Jingle.
That insinuating gentleman sighed deeply, fixed his eyes on the spinster aunt's face for a couple of minutes, started melodramatically, and suddenly withdrew them.
'You seem unhappy, Mr. Jingle,' said the lady, in a plaintive voice. 'May I show my gratitude for your kind interference, by inquiring into the cause, with a view, if possible, to its removal?'
'Ha!' exclaimed Mr. Jingle, with another start — 'removal! remove my unhappiness, and your love bestowed upon a man who is insensible to the blessing — who even now contemplates a design upon the affections of the niece of the creature who — but no; he is my friend; I will not expose his vices. Miss Wardle — farewell!' At the conclusion of this address, the most consecutive he was ever known to utter, Mr. Jingle applied to his eyes the remnant of a handkerchief before noticed, and turned towards the door.
'Stay, Mr. Jingle!' said the spinster aunt emphatically. 'You have made an allusion to Mr. Tupman — explain it.'
'Never!' exclaimed Jingle, with a professional (i.e., theatrical) air. 'Never!' and, by way of showing that he had no desire to be questioned further, he drew a chair close to that of the spinster aunt and sat down.
'Mr. Jingle,' said the aunt, 'I entreat — I implore you, if there is any dreadful mystery connected with Mr. Tupman, reveal it.'
'Can I,' said Mr. Jingle, fixing his eyes on the aunt's face — 'can I see — lovely creature — sacrificed at the shrine — heartless avarice!' He appeared to be struggling with various conflicting emotions for a few seconds, and then said in a low voice —
'Tupman only wants your money.'
'The wretch!' exclaimed the spinster, with energetic indignation. (Mr. Jingle's doubts were resolved. She HAD money.)
'More than that,' said Jingle — 'loves another.'
'Another!' ejaculated the spinster. 'Who?' 'Short girl — black eyes — niece Emily.'
There was a pause.
Now, if there was one individual in the whole world, of whom the spinster aunt entertained a mortal and deep-rooted jealousy, it was this identical niece. The colour rushed over her face and neck, and she tossed her head in silence with an air of ineffable contempt. At last, biting her thin lips, and bridling up, she said —
'It can't be. I won't believe it.'
'Watch 'em,' said Jingle.
'I will,' said the aunt.
'Watch his looks.'
'He'll sit next her at table.'
'He'll flatter her.'
'He'll pay her every possible attention.'
'And he'll cut you.'
'Cut ME!' screamed the spinster aunt. 'HE cut ME; will he!' and she trembled with rage and disappointment.
'You will convince yourself?' said Jingle.
'You'll show your spirit?'
'I will.' 'You'll not have him afterwards?'
'You'll take somebody else?' 'Yes.'
Mr. Jingle fell on his knees, remained thereupon for five minutes thereafter; and rose the accepted lover of the spinster aunt — conditionally upon Mr. Tupman's perjury being made clear and manifest.
The burden of proof lay with Mr. Alfred Jingle; and he produced his evidence that very day at dinner. The spinster aunt could hardly believe her eyes. Mr. Tracy Tupman was established at Emily's side, ogling, whispering, and smiling, in opposition to Mr. Snodgrass. Not a word, not a look, not a glance, did he bestow upon his heart's pride of the evening before.
'Damn that boy!' thought old Mr. Wardle to himself. — He had heard the story from his mother. 'Damn that boy! He must have been asleep. It's all imagination.'
'Traitor!' thought the spinster aunt. 'Dear Mr. Jingle was not deceiving me. Ugh! how I hate the wretch!'
The following conversation may serve to explain to our readers this apparently unaccountable alteration of deportment on the part of Mr. Tracy Tupman.
The time was evening; the scene the garden. There were two figures walking in a side path; one was rather short and stout; the other tall and slim. They were Mr. Tupman and Mr. Jingle. The stout figure commenced the dialogue.
'How did I do it?' he inquired.
'Splendid — capital — couldn't act better myself — you must repeat the part to-morrow — every evening till further notice.'
'Does Rachael still wish it?'
'Of course — she don't like it — but must be done — avert suspicion — afraid of her brother — says there's no help for it — only a few days more — when old folks blinded — crown your happiness.'
'Love — best love — kindest regards — unalterable affection. Can I say anything for you?'
'My dear fellow,' replied the unsuspicious Mr. Tupman, fervently grasping his 'friend's' hand — 'carry my best love — say how hard I find it to dissemble — say anything that's kind: but add how sensible I am of the necessity of the suggestion she made to me, through you, this morning. Say I applaud her wisdom and admire her discretion.' 'I will. Anything more?'
'Nothing, only add how ardently I long for the time when I may call her mine, and all dissimulation may be unnecessary.'
'Certainly, certainly. Anything more?'
'Oh, my friend!' said poor Mr. Tupman, again grasping the hand of his companion, 'receive my warmest thanks for your disinterested kindness; and forgive me if I have ever, even in thought, done you the injustice of supposing that you could stand in my way. My dear friend, can I ever repay you?'
'Don't talk of it,' replied Mr. Jingle. He stopped short, as if suddenly recollecting something, and said — 'By the bye — can't spare ten pounds, can you? — very particular purpose — pay you in three days.'
'I dare say I can,' replied Mr. Tupman, in the fulness of his heart. 'Three days, you say?'
'Only three days — all over then — no more difficulties.' Mr. Tupman counted the money into his companion's hand, and he dropped it piece by piece into his pocket, as they walked towards the house.
'Be careful,' said Mr. Jingle — 'not a look.'
'Not a wink,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Not a syllable.'
'Not a whisper.'
'All your attentions to the niece — rather rude, than otherwise, to the aunt — only way of deceiving the old ones.'
'I'll take care,' said Mr. Tupman aloud.
'And I'LL take care,' said Mr. Jingle internally; and they entered the house.
The scene of that afternoon was repeated that evening, and on the three afternoons and evenings next ensuing. On the fourth, the host was in high spirits, for he had satisfied himself that there was no ground for the charge against Mr. Tupman. So was Mr. Tupman, for Mr. Jingle had told him that his affair would soon be brought to a crisis. So was Mr. Pickwick, for he was seldom otherwise. So was not Mr. Snodgrass, for he had grown jealous of Mr. Tupman. So was the old lady, for she had been winning at whist. So were Mr. Jingle and Miss Wardle, for reasons of sufficient importance in this eventful history to be narrated in another chapter.