John Westlock smiled, but made no answer.
'By the bye,' said Martin, 'that reminds me. What's your opinion of Pecksniff? How did he use you? What do you think of him now?-- Coolly, you know, when it's all over?'
'Ask Pinch,' returned the old pupil. 'He knows what my sentiments used to be upon the subject. They are not changed, I assure you.'
'No, no,' said Martin, 'I'd rather have them from you.'
'But Pinch says they are unjust,' urged John with a smile.
'Oh! well! Then I know what course they take beforehand,' said Martin; 'and, therefore, you can have no delicacy in speaking plainly. Don't mind me, I beg. I don't like him I tell you frankly. I am with him because it happens from particular circumstances to suit my convenience. I have some ability, I believe, in that way; and the obligation, if any, will most likely be on his side and not mine. At the lowest mark, the balance will be even, and there'll be no obligation at all. So you may talk to me, as if I had no connection with him.'
'If you press me to give my opinion--' returned John Westlock.
'Yes, I do,' said Martin. 'You'll oblige me.'
'--I should say,' resumed the other, 'that he is the most consummate scoundrel on the face of the earth.'
'Oh!' said Martin, as coolly as ever. 'That's rather strong.'
'Not stronger than he deserves,' said John; 'and if he called upon me to express my opinion of him to his face, I would do so in the very same terms, without the least qualification. His treatment of Pinch is in itself enough to justify them; but when I look back upon the five years I passed in that house, and remember the hyprocrisy, the knavery, the meannesses, the false pretences, the lip service of that fellow, and his trading in saintly semblances for the very worst realities; when I remember how often I was the witness of all this and how often I was made a kind of party to it, by the fact of being there, with him for my teacher; I swear to you that I almost despise myself.'
Martin drained his glass, and looked at the fire.
'I don't mean to say that is a right feeling,' pursued John Westlock 'because it was no fault of mine; and I can quite understand--you for instance, fully appreciating him, and yet being forced by circumstances to remain there. I tell you simply what my feeling is; and even now, when, as you say, it's all over; and when I have the satisfaction of knowing that he always hated me, and we always quarrelled, and I always told him my mind; even now, I feel sorry that I didn't yield to an impulse I often had, as a boy, of running away from him and going abroad.'
'Why abroad?' asked Martin, turning his eyes upon the speaker.
'In search,' replied John Westlock, shrugging his shoulders, 'of the livelihood I couldn't have earned at home. There would have been something spirited in that. But, come! Fill your glass, and let us forget him.'
'As soon as you please,' said Martin. 'In reference to myself and my connection with him, I have only to repeat what I said before. I have taken my own way with him so far, and shall continue to do so, even more than ever; for the fact is, to tell you the truth, that I believe he looks to me to supply his defects, and couldn't afford to lose me. I had a notion of that in first going there. Your health!'
'Thank you,' returned young Westlock. 'Yours. And may the new pupil turn out as well as you can desire!'
'What new pupil?'
'The fortunate youth, born under an auspicious star,' returned John Westlock, laughing; 'whose parents, or guardians, are destined to be hooked by the advertisement. What! Don't you know that he has advertised again?'
'Oh, yes. I read it just before dinner in the old newspaper. I know it to be his; having some reason to remember the style. Hush! Here's Pinch. Strange, is it not, that the more he likes Pecksniff (if he can like him better than he does), the greater reason one has to like HIM? Not a word more, or we shall spoil his whole enjoyment.'
Tom entered as the words were spoken, with a radiant smile upon his face; and rubbing his hands, more from a sense of delight than because he was cold (for he had been running fast), sat down in his warm corner again, and was as happy as only Tom Pinch could be. There is no other simile that will express his state of mind.