With these words, Wardle shook Mr. Pickwick's hand once more, and, having done the same by Perker, threw himself into an arm-chair; his jolly red face shining again with smiles and health.
"Well!" said Wardle. "Here are pretty goings on -- a pinch of your snuff, Perker, my boy -- never were such times, eh?"
"What do you mean?" inquired Mr. Pickwick.
"Mean!" replied Wardle. "Why, I think the girls are all running mad; that's no news, you'll say? Perhaps it's not; but it's true, for all that."
"You have not come up to London, of all places in the world, to tell us that, my dear sir, have you?" inquired Perker.
"No, not altogether," replied Wardle; "though it was the main cause of my coming. How's Arabella?"
"Very well," replied Mr. Pickwick, "and will be delighted to see you, I am sure."
"Black-eyed little jilt!" replied Wardle, "I had a great idea of marrying her myself, one of these odd days. But I am glad of it too, very glad."
"How did the intelligence reach you?" asked Mr. Pickwick.
"Oh, it came to my girls, of course," replied Wardle. "Arabella wrote, the day before yesterday, to say she had made a stolen match without her husband's father's consent, and so you had gone down to get it when his refusing it couldn't prevent the match, and all the rest of it. I thought it a very good time to say something serious to my girls; so I said what a dreadful thing it was that children should marry without their parent's consent, and so forth; but, bless your hearts, I couldn't make the least impression upon them. They thought it such a much more dreadful thing that there should have been a wedding without bridesmaids, that I might as well have preached to Joe himself."
Here the old gentleman stopped to laugh; and having done so to his heart's content, presently resumed.
"But this is not the best of it, it seems. This is only half the love-making and plotting that have been going forward. We have been walking on mines for the last six months, and they're sprung at last."
"What do you mean!" exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, turning pale; "no other secret marriage, I hope?"
"No, no," replied old Wardle; "not so bad as that; no."
"What then?" inquired Mr. Pickwick; "am I interested in it?"
"Shall I answer that question, Perker?" said Wardle.
"If you don't commit yourself by doing so, my dear sir."
"Well then, you are," said Wardle.
"How?" asked Mr. Pickwick anxiously. "In what way?"
"Really," replied Wardle, "you're such a fiery sort of young fellow that I am almost afraid to tell you; but, however, if Perker will sit between us to prevent mischief, I'll venture."
Having closed the room door, and fortified himself with another application to Perker's snuff-box, the old gentleman proceeded with his great disclosure in these words.
"The fact is, that my daughter Bella -- Bella, who married young Trundle, you know."
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