He could not bear to see them. He could not bear to think they fell at sight of him. He could not bear to view reflected in them, the reproachful and irrevocable Past.
He hurriedly advanced to seize the old man's hand in his, when Mr Pecksniff interposed himself between them.
'No, young man!' said Mr Pecksniff, striking himself upon the breast, and stretching out his other arm towards his guest as if it were a wing to shelter him. 'No, sir. None of that. Strike here, sir, here! Launch your arrows at me, sir, if you'll have the goodness; not at Him!'
'Grandfather!' cried Martin. 'Hear me! I implore you, let me speak!'
'Would you, sir? Would you?' said Mr Pecksniff, dodging about, so as to keep himself always between them. 'Is it not enough, sir, that you come into my house like a thief in the night, or I should rather say, for we can never be too particular on the subject of Truth, like a thief in the day-time; bringing your dissolute companions with you, to plant themselves with their backs against the insides of parlour doors, and prevent the entrance or issuing forth of any of my household'--Mark had taken up this position, and held it quite unmoved--'but would you also strike at venerable Virtue? Would you? Know that it is not defenceless. I will be its shield, young man. Assail me. Come on, sir. Fire away!'
'Pecksniff,' said the old man, in a feeble voice. 'Calm yourself. Be quiet.'
'I can't be calm,' cried Mr Pecksniff, 'and I won't be quiet. My benefactor and my friend! Shall even my house be no refuge for your hoary pillow!'
'Stand aside!' said the old man, stretching out his hand; 'and let me see what it is I used to love so dearly.'
'It is right that you should see it, my friend,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'It is well that you should see it, my noble sir. It is desirable that you should contemplate it in its true proportions. Behold it! There it is, sir. There it is!'
Martin could hardly be a mortal man, and not express in his face something of the anger and disdain with which Mr Pecksniff inspired him. But beyond this he evinced no knowledge whatever of that gentleman's presence or existence. True, he had once, and that at first, glanced at him involuntarily, and with supreme contempt; but for any other heed he took of him, there might have been nothing in his place save empty air.
As Mr Pecksniff withdrew from between them, agreeably to the wish just now expressed (which he did during the delivery of the observations last recorded), old Martin, who had taken Mary Graham's hand in his, and whispered kindly to her, as telling her she had no cause to be alarmed, gently pushed her from him, behind his chair; and looked steadily at his grandson.
'And that,' he said, 'is he. Ah! that is he! Say what you wish to say. But come no nearer,'
'His sense of justice is so fine,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'that he will hear even him, although he knows beforehand that nothing can come of it. Ingenuous mind!' Mr Pecksniff did not address himself immediately to any person in saying this, but assuming the position of the Chorus in a Greek Tragedy, delivered his opinion as a commentary on the proceedings.
'Grandfather!' said Martin, with great earnestness. 'From a painful journey, from a hard life, from a sick-bed, from privation and distress, from gloom and disappointment, from almost hopelessness and despair, I have come back to you.'
'Rovers of this sort,' observed Mr Pecksniff, as Chorus, 'very commonly come back when they find they don't meet with the success they expected in their marauding ravages.'
'But for this faithful man,' said Martin, turning towards Mark, 'whom I first knew in this place, and who went away with me voluntarily, as a servant, but has been, throughout, my zealous and devoted friend; but for him, I must have died abroad. Far from home, far from any help or consolation; far from the probability even of my wretched fate being ever known to any one who cared to hear it--oh, that you would let me say, of being known to you!'
The old man looked at Mr Pecksniff.