Why did you leave us in such terrible suspense?'
'Sickness, distance; the dread of hinting at our real condition, the impossibility of concealing it except in perfect silence; the knowledge that the truth would have pained you infinitely more than uncertainty and doubt,' said Martin, hurriedly; as indeed everything else was done and said, in those few hurried moments, 'were the causes of my writing only once. But Pecksniff? You needn't fear to tell me the whole tale; for you saw me with him face to face, hearing him speak, and not taking him by the throat; what is the history of his pursuit of you? Is it known to my grandfather?'
'And he assists him in it?'
'No,' she answered eagerly.
'Thank Heaven!' cried Martin, 'that it leaves his mind unclouded in that one respect!'
'I do not think,' said Mary, 'it was known to him at first. When this man had sufficiently prepared his mind, he revealed it to him by degrees. I think so, but I only know it from my own impression: now from anything they told me. Then he spoke to me alone.'
'My grandfather did?' said Martin.
'Yes--spoke to me alone, and told me--'
'What the hound had said,' cried Martin. 'Don't repeat it.'
'And said I knew well what qualities he possessed; that he was moderately rich; in good repute; and high in his favour and confidence. But seeing me very much distressed, he said that he would not control or force my inclinations, but would content himself with telling me the fact. He would not pain me by dwelling on it, or reverting to it; nor has he ever done so since, but has truly kept his word.'
'The man himself?--' asked Martin.
'He has had few opportunities of pursuing his suit. I have never walked out alone, or remained alone an instant in his presence. Dear Martin, I must tell you,' she continued, 'that the kindness of your grandfather to me remains unchanged. I am his companion still. An indescribable tenderness and compassion seem to have mingled themselves with his old regard; and if I were his only child, I could not have a gentler father. What former fancy or old habit survives in this, when his heart has turned so cold to you, is a mystery I cannot penetrate; but it has been, and it is, a happiness to me, that I remained true to him; that if he should wake from his delusion, even at the point of death, I am here, love, to recall you to his thoughts.'
Martin looked with admiration on her glowing face, and pressed his lips to hers.
'I have sometimes heard, and read,' she said, 'that those whose powers had been enfeebled long ago, and whose lives had faded, as it were, into a dream, have been known to rouse themselves before death, and inquire for familiar faces once very dear to them; but forgotten, unrecognized, hated even, in the meantime. Think, if with his old impressions of this man, he should suddenly resume his former self, and find in him his only friend!'
'I would not urge you to abandon him, dearest,' said Martin, 'though I could count the years we are to wear out asunder. But the influence this fellow exercises over him has steadily increased, I fear.'
She could not help admitting that. Steadily, imperceptibly, and surely, until it was paramount and supreme. She herself had none; and yet he treated her with more affection than at any previous time. Martin thought the inconsistency a part of his weakness and decay.
'Does the influence extend to fear?' said Martin. 'Is he timid of asserting his own opinion in the presence of this infatuation? I fancied so just now.'
'I have thought so, often. Often when we are sitting alone, almost as we used to do, and I have been reading a favourite book to him or he has been talking quite cheerfully, I have observed that the entrance of Mr Pecksniff has changed his whole demeanour. He has broken off immediately, and become what you have seen to-day. When we first came here he had his impetuous outbreaks, in which it was not easy for Mr Pecksniff with his utmost plausibility to appease him.