'Swindles me,' retorted Mr Tapley with a beaming face. 'Turns his back on everything as made his service a creditable one, and leaves me high and dry, without a leg to stand upon. In which state I returns home. Wery good. Then all my hopeful wisions bein' crushed; and findin' that there ain't no credit for me nowhere; I abandons myself to despair, and says, "Let me do that as has the least credit in it of all; marry a dear, sweet creetur, as is wery fond of me; me bein', at the same time, wery fond of her; lead a happy life, and struggle no more again' the blight which settles on my prospects."'
'If your philosophy, Mark,' said Tom, who laughed heartily at this speech, 'be the oddest I ever heard of, it is not the least wise. Mrs Lupin has said "yes," of course?'
'Why, no, sir,' replied Mr Tapley; 'she hasn't gone so far as that yet. Which I attribute principally to my not havin' asked her. But we was wery agreeable together--comfortable, I may say--the night I come home. It's all right, sir.'
'Well!' said Tom, stopping at the Temple Gate. 'I wish you joy, Mark, with all my heart. I shall see you again to-day, I dare say. Good-bye for the present.'
'Good-bye, sir! Good-bye, Mr Pinch!' he added by way of soliloquy, as he stood looking after him. 'Although you ARE a damper to a honourable ambition. You little think it, but you was the first to dash my hopes. Pecksniff would have built me up for life, but your sweet temper pulled me down. Good-bye, Mr Pinch!'
While these confidences were interchanged between Tom Pinch and Mark, Martin and John Westlock were very differently engaged. They were no sooner left alone together than Martin said, with an effort he could not disguise:
'Mr Westlock, we have met only once before, but you have known Tom a long while, and that seems to render you familiar to me. I cannot talk freely with you on any subject unless I relieve my mind of what oppresses it just now. I see with pain that you so far mistrust me that you think me likely to impose on Tom's regardlessness of himself, or on his kind nature, or some of his good qualities.'
'I had no intention,' replied John, 'of conveying any such impression to you, and am exceedingly sorry to have done so.'
'But you entertain it?' said Martin.
'You ask me so pointedly and directly,' returned the other, 'that I cannot deny the having accustomed myself to regard you as one who, not in wantonness but in mere thoughtlessness of character, did not sufficiently consider his nature and did not quite treat it as it deserves to be treated. It is much easier to slight than to appreciate Tom Pinch.'
This was not said warmly, but was energetically spoken too; for there was no subject in the world (but one) on which the speaker felt so strongly.
'I grew into the knowledge of Tom,' he pursued, 'as I grew towards manhood; and I have learned to love him as something, infinitely better than myself. I did not think that you understood him when we met before. I did not think that you greatly cared to understand him. The instances of this which I observed in you were, like my opportunities for observation, very trivial--and were very harmless, I dare say. But they were not agreeable to me, and they forced themselves upon me; for I was not upon the watch for them, believe me. You will say,' added John, with a smile, as he subsided into more of his accustomed manner, 'that I am not by any means agreeable to you. I can only assure you, in reply, that I would not have originated this topic on any account.'
'I originated it,' said Martin; 'and so far from having any complaint to make against you, highly esteem the friendship you entertain for Tom, and the very many proofs you have given him of it. Why should I endeavour to conceal from you'--he coloured deeply though--'that I neither understood him nor cared to understand him when I was his companion; and that I am very truly sorry for it now!'
It was so sincerely said, at once so modestly and manfully, that John offered him his hand as if he had not done so before; and Martin giving his in the same open spirit, all constraint between the young men vanished.