Mr Westlock and you, sir, had a little difference the other day; you have had many little differences.'
'Little differences!' cried Charity.
'Little differences!' echoed Mercy.
'My loves!' said Mr Pecksniff, with the same serene upraising of his hand; 'My dears!' After a solemn pause he meekly bowed to Mr Pinch, as who should say, 'Proceed;' but Mr Pinch was so very much at a loss how to resume, and looked so helplessly at the two Miss Pecksniffs, that the conversation would most probably have terminated there, if a good-looking youth, newly arrived at man's estate, had not stepped forward from the doorway and taken up the thread of the discourse.
'Come, Mr Pecksniff,' he said, with a smile, 'don't let there be any ill-blood between us, pray. I am sorry we have ever differed, and extremely sorry I have ever given you offence. Bear me no ill-will at parting, sir.'
'I bear,' answered Mr Pecksniff, mildly, 'no ill-will to any man on earth.'
'I told you he didn't,' said Pinch, in an undertone; 'I knew he didn't! He always says he don't.'
'Then you will shake hands, sir?' cried Westlock, advancing a step or two, and bespeaking Mr Pinch's close attention by a glance.
'Umph!' said Mr Pecksniff, in his most winning tone.
'You will shake hands, sir.'
'No, John,' said Mr Pecksniff, with a calmness quite ethereal; 'no, I will not shake hands, John. I have forgiven you. I had already forgiven you, even before you ceased to reproach and taunt me. I have embraced you in the spirit, John, which is better than shaking hands.'
'Pinch,' said the youth, turning towards him, with a hearty disgust of his late master, 'what did I tell you?'
Poor Pinch looked down uneasily at Mr Pecksniff, whose eye was fixed upon him as it had been from the first; and looking up at the ceiling again, made no reply.
'As to your forgiveness, Mr Pecksniff,' said the youth, 'I'll not have it upon such terms. I won't be forgiven.'
'Won't you, John?' retorted Mr Pecksniff, with a smile. 'You must. You can't help it. Forgiveness is a high quality; an exalted virtue; far above YOUR control or influence, John. I WILL forgive you. You cannot move me to remember any wrong you have ever done me, John.'
'Wrong!' cried the other, with all the heat and impetuosity of his age. 'Here's a pretty fellow! Wrong! Wrong I have done him! He'll not even remember the five hundred pounds he had with me under false pretences; or the seventy pounds a year for board and lodging that would have been dear at seventeen! Here's a martyr!'
'Money, John,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'is the root of all evil. I grieve to see that it is already bearing evil fruit in you. But I will not remember its existence. I will not even remember the conduct of that misguided person'--and here, although he spoke like one at peace with all the world, he used an emphasis that plainly said "I have my eye upon the rascal now"--'that misguided person who has brought you here to-night, seeking to disturb (it is a happiness to say, in vain) the heart's repose and peace of one who would have shed his dearest blood to serve him.'
The voice of Mr Pecksniff trembled as he spoke, and sobs were heard from his daughters. Sounds floated on the air, moreover, as if two spirit voices had exclaimed: one, 'Beast!' the other, 'Savage!'
'Forgiveness,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'entire and pure forgiveness is not incompatible with a wounded heart; perchance when the heart is wounded, it becomes a greater virtue. With my breast still wrung and grieved to its inmost core by the ingratitude of that person, I am proud and glad to say that I forgive him. Nay! I beg,' cried Mr Pecksniff, raising his voice, as Pinch appeared about to speak, 'I beg that individual not to offer a remark; he will truly oblige me by not uttering one word, just now. I am not sure that I am equal to the trial. In a very short space of time, I shall have sufficient fortitude, I trust to converse with him as if these events had never happened. But not,' said Mr Pecksniff, turning round again towards the fire, and waving his hand in the direction of the door, 'not now.'
'Bah!' cried John Westlock, with the utmost disgust and disdain the monosyllable is capable of expressing.