'So I'll keep it to myself,' said Tom, with a sigh. 'I'll keep it to myself.'
And to work he went again, more assiduously than ever, with the pens, and the ruler, and the india-rubber, and the pencils, and the red ink, that he might forget it.
He had laboured away another hour or more, when he heard a footstep in the entry, down below.
'Ah!' said Tom, looking towards the door; 'time was, not long ago either, when that would have set me wondering and expecting. But I have left off now.'
The footstep came on, up the stairs.
'Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,' said Tom, counting. 'Now you'll stop. Nobody ever comes past the thirty-eighth stair.'
The person did, certainly, but only to take breath; for up the footstep came again. Forty, forty-one, forty-two, and so on.
The door stood open. As the tread advanced, Tom looked impatiently and eagerly towards it. When a figure came upon the landing, and arriving in the doorway, stopped and gazed at him, he rose up from his chair, and half believed he saw a spirit.
Old Martin Chuzzlewit! The same whom he had left at Mr Pecksniff's, weak and sinking!
The same? No, not the same, for this old man, though old, was strong, and leaned upon his stick with a vigorous hand, while with the other he signed to Tom to make no noise. One glance at the resolute face, the watchful eye, the vigorous hand upon the staff, the triumphant purpose in the figure, and such a light broke in on Tom as blinded him.
'You have expected me,' said Martin, 'a long time.'
'I was told that my employer would arrive soon,' said Tom; 'but--'
'I know. You were ignorant who he was. It was my desire. I am glad it has been so well observed. I intended to have been with you much sooner. I thought the time had come. I thought I could know no more, and no worse, of him, than I did on that day when I saw you last. But I was wrong.'
He had by this time come up to Tom, and now he grasped his hand.
'I have lived in his house, Pinch, and had him fawning on me days and weeks and months. You know it. I have suffered him to treat me like his tool and instrument. You know it; you have seen me there. I have undergone ten thousand times as much as I could have endured if I had been the miserable weak old man he took me for. You know it. I have seen him offer love to Mary. You know it; who better-- who better, my true heart! I have had his base soul bare before me, day by day, and have not betrayed myself once. I never could have undergone such torture but for looking forward to this time.'
He stopped, even in the passion of his speech--if that can be called passion which was so resolute and steady--to press Tom's hand again. Then he said, in great excitement:
'Close the door, close the door. He will not be long after me, but may come too soon. The time now drawing on,' said the old man, hurriedly--his eyes and whole face brightening as he spoke--'will make amends for all. I wouldn't have him die or hang himself, for millions of golden pieces! Close the door!'
Tom did so; hardly knowing yet whether he was awake or in a dream.
SHEDS NEW AND BRIGHTER LIGHT UPON THE VERY DARK PLACE; AND CONTAINS THE SEQUEL OF THE ENTERPRISE OF MR JONAS AND HIS FRIEND
The night had now come, when the old clerk was to be delivered over to his keepers. In the midst of his guilty distractions, Jonas had not forgotten it.
It was a part of his guilty state of mind to remember it; for on his persistence in the scheme depended one of his precautions for his own safety. A hint, a word, from the old man, uttered at such a moment in attentive ears, might fire the train of suspicion, and destroy him. His watchfulness of every avenue by which the discovery of his guilt might be approached, sharpened with his sense of the danger by which he was encompassed. With murder on his soul, and its innumerable alarms and terrors dragging at him night and day, he would have repeated the crime, if he had seen a path of safety stretching out beyond.