'And so,' he said, when he had gazed at his friend for some time in silent pleasure, 'so you really are a gentleman at last, John. Well, to be sure!'
'Trying to be, Tom; trying to be,' he rejoined good-humouredly. 'There is no saying what I may turn out, in time.'
'I suppose you wouldn't carry your own box to the mail now?' said Tom Pinch, smiling; 'although you lost it altogether by not taking it.'
'Wouldn't I?' retorted John. 'That's all you know about it, Pinch. It must be a very heavy box that I wouldn't carry to get away from Pecksniff's, Tom.'
'There!' cried Pinch, turning to Martin, 'I told you so. The great fault in his character is his injustice to Pecksniff. You mustn't mind a word he says on that subject. His prejudice is most extraordinary.'
'The absence of anything like prejudice on Tom's part, you know,' said John Westlock, laughing heartily, as he laid his hand on Mr Pinch's shoulder, 'is perfectly wonderful. If one man ever had a profound knowledge of another, and saw him in a true light, and in his own proper colours, Tom has that knowledge of Mr Pecksniff.'
'Why, of course I have,' cried Tom. 'That's exactly what I have so often said to you. If you knew him as well as I do--John, I'd give almost any money to bring that about--you'd admire, respect, and reverence him. You couldn't help it. Oh, how you wounded his feelings when you went away!'
'If I had known whereabout his feelings lay,' retorted young Westlock, 'I'd have done my best, Tom, with that end in view, you may depend upon it. But as I couldn't wound him in what he has not, and in what he knows nothing of, except in his ability to probe them to the quick in other people, I am afraid I can lay no claim to your compliment.'
Mr Pinch, being unwilling to protract a discussion which might possibly corrupt Martin, forbore to say anything in reply to this speech; but John Westlock, whom nothing short of an iron gag would have silenced when Mr Pecksniff's merits were once in question, continued notwithstanding.
'HIS feelings! Oh, he's a tender-hearted man. HIS feelings! Oh, he's a considerate, conscientious, self-examining, moral vagabond, he is! HIS feelings! Oh!--what's the matter, Tom?'
Mr Pinch was by this time erect upon the hearth-rug, buttoning his coat with great energy.
'I can't bear it,' said Tom, shaking his head. 'No. I really cannot. You must excuse me, John. I have a great esteem and friendship for you; I love you very much; and have been perfectly charmed and overjoyed to-day, to find you just the same as ever; but I cannot listen to this.'
'Why, it's my old way, Tom; and you say yourself that you are glad to find me unchanged.'
'Not in this respect,' said Tom Pinch. 'You must excuse me, John. I cannot, really; I will not. It's very wrong; you should be more guarded in your expressions. It was bad enough when you and I used to be alone together, but under existing circumstances, I can't endure it, really. No. I cannot, indeed.'
'You are quite right!' exclaimed the other, exchanging looks with Martin. 'and I am quite wrong, Tom. I don't know how the deuce we fell on this unlucky theme. I beg your pardon with all my heart.'
'You have a free and manly temper, I know,' said Pinch; 'and therefore, your being so ungenerous in this one solitary instance, only grieves me the more. It's not my pardon you have to ask, John. You have done ME nothing but kindnesses.'
'Well! Pecksniff's pardon then,' said young Westlock. 'Anything Tom, or anybody. Pecksniff's pardon--will that do? Here! let us drink Pecksniff's health!'
'Thank you,' cried Tom, shaking hands with him eagerly, and filling a bumper. 'Thank you; I'll drink it with all my heart, John. Mr Pecksniff's health, and prosperity to him!'
John Westlock echoed the sentiment, or nearly so; for he drank Mr Pecksniff's health, and Something to him--but what, was not quite audible. The general unanimity being then completely restored, they drew their chairs closer round the fire, and conversed in perfect harmony and enjoyment until bed-time.