Paul's Introduction to a New Scene

MRS. PIPCHIN'S constitution was made of such hard metal, in spite of its liability to the fleshly weaknesses of standing in need of repose after chops, and of requiring to be coaxed to sleep by the soporific agency of sweet-breads, that it utterly set at naught the predictions of Mrs. Wickam, and showed no symptoms of decline. Yet, as Paul's rapt interest inthe old lady continued unabated, Mrs. Wickam would not budge an inch from the position she had taken up. Fortifying and entrenching herself on the strong ground of her uncle's Betsey Jane, she advised Miss Berry, as a friend, to prepare herself for the worst; and forewarned her that her aunt might, at any time, be expected to go off suddenly, like a powder-mill.

Poor Berry took it all in good part, and drudged and slaved away as usual; perfectly convinced that Mrs. Pipchin was one of the most meritorious persons in the world, and making every day innumerable sacrifices of herself upon the altar of that noble old woman. But all these immolations of Berry were somehow carried to the credit of Mrs. Pipchin by Mrs. Pipchin's friends and admirers; and were made to harmonise with, and carry out, that melancholy fact of the deceased Mr. Pipchin having broken his heart in the Peruvian mines.

For example, there was an honest grocer and general dealer in the retail line of business, between whom and Mrs. Pipchin there was a small memorandum book, with a greasy red cover, perpetually in question, and concerning which divers secret councils and conferences were continually being held between the parties to the register, on the mat in the passage, and with closed doors in the parlour. Nor were there wanting dark hints from Master Bitherstone (whose temper had been made re-vengeful by the solar heats of India acting on his blood), of balances unsettled, and of a failure, on one occasion with his memory, in the supply of moist sugar at tea-time. This grocer being a bachelor, and not a man who looked upon the surface for beauty, had once made honourable offers for the hand of Berry, which Mrs. Pipchin had, with contumely and scorn, rejected. Everybody said how laudable this was in Mrs. Pipchin, relict of a man who had died of the Peruvian mines; and what a staunch, high, independent spirit the old lady had. But nobody said anything about poor Berry, who cried for six weeks (being soundly rated by her good aunt all the time), and lapsed into a state of hopeless spinsterhood.

`Berry's very fond of you, ain't she?' Paul once asked Mrs. Pipchin when they were sitting by the fire with the cat.

`Yes,' said Mrs. Pipchin.

`Why?' asked Paul.

`Why!' returned the disconcerted old lady. `How can you ask such things, Sir! why are you fond of your sister Florence?'

`Because she's very good,' said Paul. `There's nobody like Florence.'

`Well!' retorted Mrs. Pipchin, shortly, `and there's nobody like me, I suppose.'

`Ain't there really though?' asked Paul, leaning forward in his chair, and looking at her very hard.

`No,' said the old lady.

`I am glad of that,' observed Paul, rubbing his hands thoughtfully. `That's a very good thing.'

Mrs. Pipchin didn't dare to ask him why, lest she should receive some perfectly annihilating answer. But as a compensation to her wounded feelings, she harassed Master Bitherstone to that extent until bed- time, that he began that very night to make arrangements for an overland return to India, by Secreting from his supper a quarter of a round of bread and a fragment of moist Dutch cheese, as the beginning of a stock of provision to support him on the voyage.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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