At other times I have fancied that your kindness prompted you to keep aloof from me.'
'It was very foolish; very presumptuous and ridiculous, to think so,' Tom pursued; 'but I feared you might suppose it possible that I--I--should admire you too much for my own peace; and so denied yourself the slight assistance you would otherwise have accepted from me. If such an idea has ever presented itself to you,' faltered Tom, 'pray dismiss it. I am easily made happy; and I shall live contented here long after you and Martin have forgotten me. I am a poor, shy, awkward creature; not at all a man of the world; and you should think no more of me, bless you, than if I were an old friar!'
If friars bear such hearts as thine, Tom, let friars multiply; though they have no such rule in all their stern arithmetic.
'Dear Mr Pinch!' said Mary, giving him her hand; 'I cannot tell you how your kindness moves me. I have never wronged you by the lightest doubt, and have never for an instant ceased to feel that you were all--much more than all--that Martin found you. Without the silent care and friendship I have experienced from you, my life here would have been unhappy. But you have been a good angel to me; filling me with gratitude of heart, hope, and courage.'
'I am as little like an angel, I am afraid,' replied Tom, shaking his head, 'as any stone cherubim among the grave-stones; and I don't think there are many real angels of THAT pattern. But I should like to know (if you will tell me) why you have been so very silent about Martin.'
'Because I have been afraid,' said Mary, 'of injuring you.'
'Of injuring me!' cried Tom.
'Of doing you an injury with your employer.'
The gentleman in question dived.
'With Pecksniff!' rejoined Tom, with cheerful confidence. 'Oh dear, he'd never think of us! He's the best of men. The more at ease you were, the happier he would be. Oh dear, you needn't be afraid of Pecksniff. He is not a spy.'
Many a man in Mr Pecksniff's place, if he could have dived through the floor of the pew of state and come out at Calcutta or any inhabited region on the other side of the earth, would have done it instantly. Mr Pecksniff sat down upon a hassock, and listening more attentively than ever, smiled.
Mary seemed to have expressed some dissent in the meanwhile, for Tom went on to say, with honest energy:
'Well, I don't know how it is, but it always happens, whenever I express myself in this way to anybody almost, that I find they won't do justice to Pecksniff. It is one of the most extraordinary circumstances that ever came within my knowledge, but it is so. There's John Westlock, who used to be a pupil here, one of the best- hearted young men in the world, in all other matters--I really believe John would have Pecksniff flogged at the cart's tail if he could. And John is not a solitary case, for every pupil we have had in my time has gone away with the same inveterate hatred of him. There was Mark Tapley, too, quite in another station of life,' said Tom; 'the mockery he used to make of Pecksniff when he was at the Dragon was shocking. Martin too: Martin was worse than any of 'em. But I forgot. He prepared you to dislike Pecksniff, of course. So you came with a prejudice, you know, Miss Graham, and are not a fair witness.'
Tom triumphed very much in this discovery, and rubbed his hands with great satisfaction.
'Mr Pinch,' said Mary, 'you mistake him.'
'No, no!' cried Tom. 'YOU mistake him. But,' he added, with a rapid change in his tone, 'what is the matter? Miss Graham, what is the matter?'
Mr Pecksniff brought up to the top of the pew, by slow degrees, his hair, his forehead, his eyebrow, his eye. She was sitting on a bench beside the door with her hands before her face; and Tom was bending over her.
'What is the matter?' cried Tom. 'Have I said anything to hurt you? Has any one said anything to hurt you? Don't cry. Pray tell me what it is. I cannot bear to see you so distressed. Mercy on us, I never was so surprised and grieved in all my life!'
Mr Pecksniff kept his eye in the same place.