Why, that's well! Now you are brave again.'
'I am endeavouring to be,' she answered, smiling through her tears.
'Endeavouring to be anything that's good, and being it, is, with you, all one. Don't I know that of old?' cried Martin, gayly. 'So! That's famous! Now I can tell you all my plans as cheerfully as if you were my little wife already, Mary.'
She hung more closely on his arm, and looking upwards in his face, bade him speak on.
'You see,' said Martin, playing with the little hand upon his wrist, 'that my attempts to advance myself at home have been baffled and rendered abortive. I will not say by whom, Mary, for that would give pain to us both. But so it is. Have you heard him speak of late of any relative of mine or his, called Pecksniff? Only tell me what I ask you, no more.'
'I have heard, to my surprise, that he is a better man than was supposed.'
'I thought so,' interrupted Martin.
'And that it is likely we may come to know him, if not to visit and reside with him and--I think--his daughters. He HAS daughters, has he, love?'
'A pair of them,' Martin answered. 'A precious pair! Gems of the first water!'
'Ah! You are jesting!'
'There is a sort of jesting which is very much in earnest, and includes some pretty serious disgust,' said Martin. 'I jest in reference to Mr Pecksniff (at whose house I have been living as his assistant, and at whose hands I have received insult and injury), in that vein. Whatever betides, or however closely you may be brought into communication with this family, never forget that, Mary; and never for an instant, whatever appearances may seem to contradict me, lose sight of this assurance--Pecksniff is a scoundrel.'
'In thought, and in deed, and in everything else. A scoundrel from the topmost hair of his head, to the nethermost atom of his heel. Of his daughters I will only say that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are dutiful young ladies, and take after their father closely. This is a digression from the main point, and yet it brings me to what I was going to say.'
He stopped to look into her eyes again, and seeing, in a hasty glance over his shoulder, that there was no one near, and that Mark was still intent upon the fog, not only looked at her lips, too, but kissed them into the bargain.
'Now I am going to America, with great prospects of doing well, and of returning home myself very soon; it may be to take you there for a few years, but, at all events, to claim you for my wife; which, after such trials, I should do with no fear of your still thinking it a duty to cleave to him who will not suffer me to live (for this is true), if he can help it, in my own land. How long I may be absent is, of course, uncertain; but it shall not be very long. Trust me for that.'
'In the meantime, dear Martin--'
'That's the very thing I am coming to. In the meantime you shall hear, constantly, of all my goings-on. Thus.'
He paused to take from his pocket the letter he had written overnight, and then resumed:
'In this fellow's employment, and living in this fellow's house (by fellow, I mean Mr Pecksniff, of course), there is a certain person of the name of Pinch. Don't forget; a poor, strange, simple oddity, Mary; but thoroughly honest and sincere; full of zeal; and with a cordial regard for me. Which I mean to return one of these days, by setting him up in life in some way or other.'
'Your old kind nature, Martin!'
'Oh!' said Martin, 'that's not worth speaking of, my love. He's very grateful and desirous to serve me; and I am more than repaid. Now one night I told this Pinch my history, and all about myself and you; in which he was not a little interested, I can tell you, for he knows you! Aye, you may look surprised--and the longer the better for it becomes you--but you have heard him play the organ in the church of that village before now; and he has seen you listening to his music; and has caught his inspiration from you, too!'
'Was HE the organist?' cried Mary.