It's an awkward position to be placed in,' said Tom, with an uneasy sense of seeming to doubt his friend, 'as I feel every day; but I really cannot help it, can I, John?'
John Westlock replied in the negative; and Martin, expressing himself perfectly satisfied, begged them not to say another word; though he could not help wondering very much what curious office Tom held, and why he was so secret, and embarrassed, and unlike himself, in reference to it. Nor could he help reverting to it, in his own mind, several times after Tom went away, which he did as soon as this conversation was ended, taking Mr Tapley with him, who, as he laughingly said, might accompany him as far as Fleet Street without injury.
'And what do you mean to do, Mark?' asked Tom, as they walked on together.
'Mean to do, sir?' returned Mr Tapley.
'Aye. What course of life do you mean to pursue?'
'Well, sir,' said Mr Tapley. 'The fact is, that I have been a-thinking rather of the matrimonial line, sir.'
'You don't say so, Mark!' cried Tom.
'Yes, sir. I've been a-turnin' of it over.'
'And who is the lady, Mark?'
'The which, sir?' said Mr Tapley.
'The lady. Come! You know what I said,' replied Tom, laughing, 'as well as I do!'
Mr Tapley suppressed his own inclination to laugh; and with one of his most whimsically-twisted looks, replied:
'You couldn't guess, I suppose, Mr Pinch?'
'How is it possible?' said Tom. 'I don't know any of your flames, Mark. Except Mrs Lupin, indeed.'
'Well, sir!' retorted Mr Tapley. 'And supposing it was her!'
Tom stopping in the street to look at him, Mr Tapley for a moment presented to his view an utterly stolid and expressionless face; a perfect dead wall of countenance. But opening window after window in it with astonishing rapidity, and lighting them all up as for a general illumination, he repeated:
'Supposin', for the sake of argument, as it was her, sir!'
'Why I thought such a connection wouldn't suit you, Mark, on any terms!' cried Tom.
'Well, sir! I used to think so myself, once,' said Mark. 'But I ain't so clear about it now. A dear, sweet creetur, sir!'
'A dear, sweet creature? To be sure she is,' cried Tom. 'But she always was a dear, sweet creature, was she not?'
'WAS she not!' assented Mr Tapley.
'Then why on earth didn't you marry her at first, Mark, instead of wandering abroad, and losing all this time, and leaving her alone by herself, liable to be courted by other people?'
'Why, sir,' retorted Mr Tapley, in a spirit of unbounded confidence, 'I'll tell you how it come about. You know me, Mr Pinch, sir; there ain't a gentleman alive as knows me better. You're acquainted with my constitution, and you're acquainted with my weakness. My constitution is, to be jolly; and my weakness is, to wish to find a credit in it. Wery good, sir. In this state of mind, I gets a notion in my head that she looks on me with a eye of--with what you may call a favourable sort of a eye in fact,' said Mr Tapley, with modest hesitation.
'No doubt,' replied Tom. 'We knew that perfectly well when we spoke on this subject long ago; before you left the Dragon.'
Mr Tapley nodded assent. 'Well, sir! But bein' at that time full of hopeful wisions, I arrives at the conclusion that no credit is to be got out of such a way of life as that, where everything agreeable would be ready to one's hand. Lookin' on the bright side of human life in short, one of my hopeful wisions is, that there's a deal of misery awaitin' for me; in the midst of which I may come out tolerable strong, and be jolly under circumstances as reflects some credit. I goes into the world, sir, wery boyant, and I tries this. I goes aboard ship first, and wery soon discovers (by the ease with which I'm jolly, mind you) as there's no credit to be got THERE. I might have took warning by this, and gave it up; but I didn't. I gets to the U-nited States; and then I DO begin, I won't deny it, to feel some little credit in sustaining my spirits. What follows? Jest as I'm a-beginning to come out, and am a-treadin' on the werge, my master deceives me.'
'Deceives you!' cried Tom.