Tom was almost at his wit's end what to say between the two, and had already made a gesture as if he would call Mr Pecksniff's attention to the gentleman who had last addressed him, when Martin saved him further trouble, by doing so himself.
'Mr Pecksniff,' he said, softly rapping the table twice or thrice, and moving a step or two nearer, so that he could have touched him with his hand; 'you heard what I said just now. Do me the favour to reply, if you please. I ask you'--he raised his voice a little here--'what you mean by this?'
'I will talk to you, sir,' said Mr Pecksniff in a severe voice, as he looked at him for the first time, 'presently.'
'You are very obliging,' returned Martin; 'presently will not do. I must trouble you to talk to me at once.'
Mr Pecksniff made a feint of being deeply interested in his pocketbook, but it shook in his hands; he trembled so.
'Now,' retorted Martin, rapping the table again. 'Now. Presently will not do. Now!'
'Do you threaten me, sir?' cried Mr Pecksniff.
Martin looked at him, and made no answer; but a curious observer might have detected an ominous twitching at his mouth, and perhaps an involuntary attraction of his right hand in the direction of Mr Pecksniff's cravat.
'I lament to be obliged to say, sir,' resumed Mr Pecksniff, 'that it would be quite in keeping with your character if you did threaten me. You have deceived me. You have imposed upon a nature which you knew to be confiding and unsuspicious. You have obtained admission, sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, rising, 'to this house, on perverted statements and on false pretences.'
'Go on,' said Martin, with a scornful smile. 'I understand you now. What more?'
'Thus much more, sir,' cried Mr Pecksniff, trembling from head to foot, and trying to rub his hands, as though he were only cold. 'Thus much more, if you force me to publish your shame before a third party, which I was unwilling and indisposed to do. This lowly roof, sir, must not be contaminated by the presence of one who has deceived, and cruelly deceived, an honourable, beloved, venerated, and venerable gentleman; and who wisely suppressed that deceit from me when he sought my protection and favour, knowing that, humble as I am, I am an honest man, seeking to do my duty in this carnal universe, and setting my face against all vice and treachery. I weep for your depravity, sir,' said Mr Pecksniff; 'I mourn over your corruption, I pity your voluntary withdrawal of yourself from the flowery paths of purity and peace;' here he struck himself upon his breast, or moral garden; 'but I cannot have a leper and a serpent for an inmate. Go forth,' said Mr Pecksniff, stretching out his hand: 'go forth, young man! Like all who know you, I renounce you!'
With what intention Martin made a stride forward at these words, it is impossible to say. It is enough to know that Tom Pinch caught him in his arms, and that, at the same moment, Mr Pecksniff stepped back so hastily, that he missed his footing, tumbled over a chair, and fell in a sitting posture on the ground; where he remained without an effort to get up again, with his head in a corner, perhaps considering it the safest place.
'Let me go, Pinch!' cried Martin, shaking him away. 'Why do you hold me? Do you think a blow could make him a more abject creature than he is? Do you think that if I spat upon him, I could degrade him to a lower level than his own? Look at him. Look at him, Pinch!'
Mr Pinch involuntarily did so. Mr Pecksniff sitting, as has been already mentioned, on the carpet, with his head in an acute angle of the wainscot, and all the damage and detriment of an uncomfortable journey about him, was not exactly a model of all that is prepossessing and dignified in man, certainly. Still he WAS Pecksniff; it was impossible to deprive him of that unique and paramount appeal to Tom. And he returned Tom's glance, as if he would have said, 'Aye, Mr Pinch, look at me! Here I am! You know what the Poet says about an honest man; and an honest man is one of the few great works that can be seen for nothing! Look at me!'
'I tell you,' said Martin, 'that as he lies there, disgraced, bought, used; a cloth for dirty hands, a mat for dirty feet, a lying, fawning, servile hound, he is the very last and worst among the vermin of the world.