The man stepped forward for a few paces, followed by the two friends and their legal adviser. He stopped at a door.
'Is this the room?' murmured the little gentleman.
Sam nodded assent.
Old Wardle opened the door; and the whole three walked into the room just as Mr. Jingle, who had that moment returned, had produced the licence to the spinster aunt.
The spinster uttered a loud shriek, and throwing herself into a chair, covered her face with her hands. Mr. Jingle crumpled up the licence, and thrust it into his coat pocket. The unwelcome visitors advanced into the middle of the room. 'You — you are a nice rascal, arn't you?' exclaimed Wardle, breathless with passion.
'My dear Sir, my dear sir,' said the little man, laying his hat on the table, 'pray, consider — pray. Defamation of character: action for damages. Calm yourself, my dear sir, pray — '
'How dare you drag my sister from my house?' said the old man.
Ay — ay — very good,' said the little gentleman, 'you may ask that. How dare you, sir? — eh, sir?'
'Who the devil are you?' inquired Mr. Jingle, in so fierce a tone, that the little gentleman involuntarily fell back a step or two.
'Who is he, you scoundrel,' interposed Wardle. 'He's my lawyer, Mr. Perker, of Gray's Inn. Perker, I'll have this fellow prosecuted — indicted — I'll — I'll — I'll ruin him. And you,' continued Mr. Wardle, turning abruptly round to his sister — 'you, Rachael, at a time of life when you ought to know better, what do you mean by running away with a vagabond, disgracing your family, and making yourself miserable? Get on your bonnet and come back. Call a hackney-coach there, directly, and bring this lady's bill, d'ye hear — d'ye hear?' 'Cert'nly, Sir,' replied Sam, who had answered Wardle's violent ringing of the bell with a degree of celerity which must have appeared marvellous to anybody who didn't know that his eye had been applied to the outside of the keyhole during the whole interview.
'Get on your bonnet,' repeated Wardle.
'Do nothing of the kind,' said Jingle. 'Leave the room, Sir — no business here — lady's free to act as she pleases — more than one-and-twenty.'
'More than one-and-twenty!' ejaculated Wardle contemptuously. 'More than one-and-forty!'
'I ain't,' said the spinster aunt, her indignation getting the better of her determination to faint.
'You are,' replied Wardle; 'you're fifty if you're an hour.'
Here the spinster aunt uttered a loud shriek, and became senseless.
'A glass of water,' said the humane Mr. Pickwick, summoning the landlady.
'A glass of water!' said the passionate Wardle. 'Bring a bucket, and throw it all over her; it'll do her good, and she richly deserves it.'
'Ugh, you brute!' ejaculated the kind-hearted landlady. 'Poor dear.' And with sundry ejaculations of 'Come now, there's a dear — drink a little of this — it'll do you good — don't give way so — there's a love,' etc. etc., the landlady, assisted by a chambermaid, proceeded to vinegar the forehead, beat the hands, titillate the nose, and unlace the stays of the spinster aunt, and to administer such other restoratives as are usually applied by compassionate females to ladies who are endeavouring to ferment themselves into hysterics.
'Coach is ready, Sir,' said Sam, appearing at the door.
'Come along,' cried Wardle. 'I'll carry her downstairs.'
At this proposition, the hysterics came on with redoubled violence. The landlady was about to enter a very violent protest against this proceeding, and had already given vent to an indignant inquiry whether Mr. Wardle considered himself a lord of the creation, when Mr. Jingle interposed —
'Boots,' said he, 'get me an officer.'
'Stay, stay,' said little Mr. Perker. 'Consider, Sir, consider.'
'I'll not consider,' replied Jingle. 'She's her own mistress — see who dares to take her away — unless she wishes it.'
'I WON'T be taken away,' murmured the spinster aunt. 'I DON'T wish it.' (Here there was a frightful relapse.)
'My dear Sir,' said the little man, in a low tone, taking Mr. Wardle and Mr. Pickwick apart — 'my dear Sir, we're in a very awkward situation. It's a distressing case — very; I never knew one more so; but really, my dear sir, really we have no power to control this lady's actions. I warned you before we came, my dear sir, that there was nothing to look to but a compromise.'
There was a short pause.
'What kind of compromise would you recommend?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, my dear Sir, our friend's in an unpleasant position — very much so. We must be content to suffer some pecuniary loss.'
'I'll suffer any, rather than submit to this disgrace, and let her, fool as she is, be made miserable for life,' said Wardle.
'I rather think it can be done,' said the bustling little man. 'Mr. Jingle, will you step with us into the next room for a moment?'
Mr. Jingle assented, and the quartette walked into an empty apartment.
'Now, sir,' said the little man, as he carefully closed the door, 'is there no way of accommodating this matter — step this way, sir, for a moment — into this window, Sir, where we can be alone — there, sir, there, pray sit down, sir. Now, my dear Sir, between you and I, we know very well, my dear Sir, that you have run off with this lady for the sake of her money. Don't frown, Sir, don't frown; I say, between you and I, WE know it. We are both men of the world, and WE know very well that our friends here, are not — eh?'
Mr. Jingle's face gradually relaxed; and something distantly resembling a wink quivered for an instant in his left eye.
'Very good, very good,' said the little man, observing the impression he had made. 'Now, the fact is, that beyond a few hundreds, the lady has little or nothing till the death of her mother — fine old lady, my dear Sir.'
'OLD,' said Mr. Jingle briefly but emphatically.
'Why, yes,' said the attorney, with a slight cough. 'You are right, my dear Sir, she is rather old. She comes of an old family though, my dear Sir; old in every sense of the word. The founder of that family came into Kent when Julius Caesar invaded Britain; — only one member of it, since, who hasn't lived to eighty-five, and he was beheaded by one of the Henrys. The old lady is not seventy-three now, my dear Sir.' The little man paused, and took a pinch of snuff.
'Well,' cried Mr. Jingle.
'Well, my dear sir — you don't take snuff! — ah! so much the better — expensive habit — well, my dear Sir, you're a fine young man, man of the world — able to push your fortune, if you had capital, eh?'
'Well,' said Mr. Jingle again.
'Do you comprehend me?'
'Don't you think — now, my dear Sir, I put it to you don't you think — that fifty pounds and liberty would be better than Miss Wardle and expectation?'
'Won't do — not half enough!' said Mr. Jingle, rising.
'Nay, nay, my dear Sir,' remonstrated the little attorney, seizing him by the button. 'Good round sum — a man like you could treble it in no time — great deal to be done with fifty pounds, my dear Sir.'
'More to be done with a hundred and fifty,' replied Mr. Jingle coolly.
'Well, my dear Sir, we won't waste time in splitting straws,' resumed the little man, 'say — say — seventy.' 'Won't do,' said Mr. Jingle.
'Don't go away, my dear sir — pray don't hurry,' said the little man. 'Eighty; come: I'll write you a cheque at once.'
'Won't do,' said Mr. Jingle.
'Well, my dear Sir, well,' said the little man, still detaining him; 'just tell me what WILL do.'
'Expensive affair,' said Mr. Jingle. 'Money out of pocket — posting, nine pounds; licence, three — that's twelve — compensation, a hundred — hundred and twelve — breach of honour — and loss of the lady — '
'Yes, my dear Sir, yes,' said the little man, with a knowing look, 'never mind the last two items. That's a hundred and twelve — say a hundred — come.'
'And twenty,' said Mr. Jingle.
'Come, come, I'll write you a cheque,' said the little man; and down he sat at the table for that purpose.
'I'll make it payable the day after to-morrow,' said the little man, with a look towards Mr. Wardle; 'and we can get the lady away, meanwhile.' Mr. Wardle sullenly nodded assent.
'A hundred,' said the little man.
'And twenty,' said Mr. Jingle.
'My dear Sir,' remonstrated the little man.
'Give it him,' interposed Mr. Wardle, 'and let him go.'
The cheque was written by the little gentleman, and pocketed by Mr. Jingle.
'Now, leave this house instantly!' said Wardle, starting up.
'My dear Sir,' urged the little man.