I will do anything Tom, anything, to gain a livelihood by my own exertions. My hopes do not soar above that, now.'
High-hearted, noble Tom! Sorry to find the pride of his old companion humbled, and to hear him speaking in this altered strain at once, at once, he drove from his breast the inability to contend with its deep emotions, and spoke out bravely.
'Your hopes do not soar above that!' cried Tom. 'Yes they do. How can you talk so! They soar up to the time when you will be happy with her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will be able to claim her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will not be able to believe that you were ever cast down in spirit, or poor in pocket, Martin. Advice, and friendly counsel! Why, of course. But you shall have better advice and counsel (though you cannot have more friendly) than mine. You shall consult John Westlock. We'll go there immediately. It is yet so early that I shall have time to take you to his chambers before I go to business; they are in my way; and I can leave you there, to talk over your affairs with him. So come along. Come along. I am a man of occupation now, you know,' said Tom, with his pleasantest smile; 'and have no time to lose. Your hopes don't soar higher than that? I dare say they don't. I know you, pretty well. They'll be soaring out of sight soon, Martin, and leaving all the rest of us leagues behind.'
'Aye! But I may be a little changed,' said Martin, 'since you knew me pretty well, Tom.'
'What nonsense!' exclaimed Tom. 'Why should you be changed? You talk as if you were an old man. I never heard such a fellow! Come to John Westlock's, come. Come along, Mark Tapley. It's Mark's doing, I have no doubt; and it serves you right for having such a grumbler for your companion.'
'There's no credit to be got through being jolly with YOU, Mr Pinch, anyways,' said Mark, with his face all wrinkled up with grins. 'A parish doctor might be jolly with you. There's nothing short of goin' to the U-nited States for a second trip, as would make it at all creditable to be jolly, arter seein' you again!'
Tom laughed, and taking leave of his sister, hurried Mark and Martin out into the street, and away to John Westlock's by the nearest road; for his hour of business was very near at hand, and he prided himself on always being exact to his time.
John Westlock was at home, but, strange to say, was rather embarrassed to see them; and when Tom was about to go into the room where he was breakfasting, said he had a stranger there. It appeared to be a mysterious stranger, for John shut that door as he said it, and led them into the next room.
He was very much delighted, though, to see Mark Tapley; and received Martin with his own frank courtesy. But Martin felt that he did not inspire John Westlock with any unusual interest; and twice or thrice observed that he looked at Tom Pinch doubtfully; not to say compassionately. He thought, and blushed to think, that he knew the cause of this.
'I apprehend you are engaged,' said Martin, when Tom had announced the purport of their visit. 'If you will allow me to come again at your own time, I shall be glad to do so.'
'I AM engaged,' replied John, with some reluctance; 'but the matter on which I am engaged is one, to say the truth, more immediately demanding your knowledge than mine.'
'Indeed!' cried Martin.
'It relates to a member of your family, and is of a serious nature. If you will have the kindness to remain here, it will be a satisfaction to me to have it privately communicated to you, in order that you may judge of its importance for yourself.'
'And in the meantime,' said Tom, 'I must really take myself off, without any further ceremony.'
'Is your business so very particular,' asked Martin, 'that you cannot remain with us for half an hour? I wish you could. What IS your business, Tom?'
It was Tom's turn to be embarrassed now; but he plainly said, after a little hesitation:
'Why, I am not at liberty to say what it is, Martin; though I hope soon to be in a condition to do so, and am aware of no other reason to prevent my doing so now, than the request of my employer.