'It's mutual, of course,' returned John. 'It always was, I hope. If I had known you had been coming, Tom, I would have had something for breakfast. I would rather have such a surprise than the best breakfast in the world, myself; but yours is another case, and I have no doubt you are as hungry as a hunter. You must make out as well as you can, Tom, and we'll recompense ourselves at dinner-time. You take sugar, I know; I recollect the sugar at Pecksniff's. Ha, ha, ha! How IS Pecksniff? When did you come to town? DO begin at something or other, Tom. There are only scraps here, but they are not at all bad. Boar's Head potted. Try it, Tom. Make a beginning whatever you do. What an old Blade you are! I am delighted to see you.'
While he delivered himself of these words in a state of great commotion, John was constantly running backwards and forwards to and from the closet, bringing out all sorts of things in pots, scooping extraordinary quantities of tea out of the caddy, dropping French rolls into his boots, pouring hot water over the butter, and making a variety of similar mistakes without disconcerting himself in the least.
'There!' said John, sitting down for the fiftieth time, and instantly starting up again to make some other addition to the breakfast. 'Now we are as well off as we are likely to be till dinner. And now let us have the news, Tom. Imprimis, how's Pecksniff?'
'I don't know how he is,' was Tom's grave answer.
John Westlock put the teapot down, and looked at him, in astonishment.
'I don't know how he is,' said Thomas Pinch; 'and, saving that I wish him no ill, I don't care. I have left him, John. I have left him for ever.'
'Why, no, for he dismissed me. But I had first found out that I was mistaken in him; and I could not have remained with him under any circumstances. I grieve to say that you were right in your estimate of his character. It may be a ridiculous weakness, John, but it has been very painful and bitter to me to find this out, I do assure you.'
Tom had no need to direct that appealing look towards his friend, in mild and gentle deprecation of his answering with a laugh. John Westlock would as soon have thought of striking him down upon the floor.
'It was all a dream of mine,' said Tom, 'and it is over. I'll tell you how it happened, at some other time. Bear with my folly, John. I do not, just now, like to think or speak about it.'
'I swear to you, Tom,' returned his friend, with great earnestness of manner, after remaining silent for a few moments, 'that when I see, as I do now, how deeply you feel this, I don't know whether to be glad or sorry that you have made the discovery at last. I reproach myself with the thought that I ever jested on the subject; I ought to have known better.'
'My dear friend,' said Tom, extending his hand, 'it is very generous and gallant in you to receive me and my disclosure in this spirit; it makes me blush to think that I should have felt a moment's uneasiness as I came along. You can't think what a weight is lifted off my mind,' said Tom, taking up his knife and fork again, and looking very cheerful. 'I shall punish the Boar's Head dreadfully.'
The host, thus reminded of his duties, instantly betook himself to piling up all kinds of irreconcilable and contradictory viands in Tom's plate, and a very capital breakfast Tom made, and very much the better for it Tom felt.
'That's all right,' said John, after contemplating his visitor's proceedings with infinite satisfaction. 'Now, about our plans. You are going to stay with me, of course. Where's your box?'
'It's at the Inn,' said Tom. 'I didn't intend--'
'Never mind what you didn't intend,' John Westlock interposed. 'What you DID intend is more to the purpose. You intended, in coming here, to ask my advice, did you not, Tom?'
'And to take it when I gave it to you?'
'Yes,' rejoined Tom, smiling, 'if it were good advice, which, being yours, I have no doubt it will be.'