'But a word. You spoke of being indebted to the charitable help of some stranger for the means of returning to England. Who is he? And what help in money did he render you?'
Although he asked this question of Martin, he did not look towards him, but kept his eyes on Mr Pecksniff as before. It appeared to have become a habit with him, both in a literal and figurative sense, to look to Mr Pecksniff alone.
Martin took out his pencil, tore a leaf from his pocket-book, and hastily wrote down the particulars of his debt to Mr Bevan. The old man stretched out his hand for the paper, and took it; but his eyes did not wander from Mr Pecksniff's face.
'It would be a poor pride and a false humility,' said Martin, in a low voice, 'to say, I do not wish that to be paid, or that I have any present hope of being able to pay it. But I never felt my poverty so deeply as I feel it now.'
'Read it to me, Pecksniff,' said the old man.
Mr Pecksniff, after approaching the perusal of the paper as if it were a manuscript confession of a murder, complied.
'I think, Pecksniff,' said old Martin, 'I could wish that to be discharged. I should not like the lender, who was abroad, who had no opportunity of making inquiry, and who did (as he thought) a kind action, to suffer.'
'An honourable sentiment, my dear sir. Your own entirely. But a dangerous precedent,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'permit me to suggest.'
'It shall not be a precedent,' returned the old man. 'It is the only recognition of him. But we will talk of it again. You shall advise me. There is nothing else?'
'Nothing else,' said Mr Pecksniff buoyantly, 'but for you to recover this intrusion--this cowardly and indefensible outrage on your feelings--with all possible dispatch, and smile again.'
'You have nothing more to say?' inquired the old man, laying his hand with unusual earnestness on Mr Pecksniff's sleeve.
Mr Pecksniff would not say what rose to his lips. For reproaches he observed, were useless.
'You have nothing at all to urge? You are sure of that! If you have, no matter what it is, speak freely. I will oppose nothing that you ask of me,' said the old man.
The tears rose in such abundance to Mr Pecksniff's eyes at this proof of unlimited confidence on the part of his friend, that he was fain to clasp the bridge of his nose convulsively before he could at all compose himself. When he had the power of utterance again, he said with great emotion, that he hoped he should live to deserve this; and added, that he had no other observation whatever to make.
For a few moments the old man sat looking at him, with that blank and motionless expression which is not uncommon in the faces of those whose faculties are on the wane, in age. But he rose up firmly too, and walked towards the door, from which Mark withdrew to make way for him.
The obsequious Mr Pecksniff proffered his arm. The old man took it. Turning at the door, he said to Martin, waving him off with his hand,
'You have heard him. Go away. It is all over. Go!'
Mr Pecksniff murmured certain cheering expressions of sympathy and encouragement as they retired; and Martin, awakening from the stupor into which the closing portion of this scene had plunged him, to the opportunity afforded by their departure, caught the innocent cause of all in his embrace, and pressed her to his heart.
'Dear girl!' said Martin. 'He has not changed you. Why, what an impotent and harmless knave the fellow is!'
'You have restrained yourself so nobly! You have borne so much!'
'Restrained myself!' cried Martin, cheerfully. 'You were by, and were unchanged, I knew. What more advantage did I want? The sight of me was such a bitterness to the dog, that I had my triumph in his being forced to endure it. But tell me, love--for the few hasty words we can exchange now are precious--what is this which has been rumoured to me? Is it true that you are persecuted by this knave's addresses?'
'I was, dear Martin, and to some extent am now; but my chief source of unhappiness has been anxiety for you.