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11. 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 in the old lady continued unbated, 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.
'I hope, Miss Berry,' Mrs Wickam would observe, 'that you'll come into whatever little
property there may be to leave. You deserve it, I am sure, for yours is a trying life.
Though there don't seem much worth coming into - you'll excuse my being so open - in
this dismal den.'
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 that 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 revengeful by the solar
heats of India acting on his blood), of balances unsettled, and of a failure, on one
occasion within 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
'Berry's very fond of you, ain't she?' Paul once asked Mrs Pipchin when they were
sitting by the fire with the cat.