There may have been, in the presence of those idle heaps of dust among the busiest stir of life, something to increase his wavering; but there he walked, awakening the echoes as he paced up and down, until the church clock, striking the quarters for the second time since he had been there, roused him from his meditation. Shaking off his incertitude as the air parted with the sound of the bells, he walked rapidly to the house, and knocked at the door.
Mr Pecksniff was seated in the landlady's little room, and his visitor found him reading--by an accident; he apologised for it--an excellent theological work. There were cake and wine upon a little table--by another accident, for which he also apologised. Indeed he said, he had given his visitor up, and was about to partake of that simple refreshment with his children, when he knocked at the door.
'Your daughters are well?' said old Martin, laying down his hat and stick.
Mr Pecksniff endeavoured to conceal his agitation as a father when he answered Yes, they were. They were good girls, he said, very good. He would not venture to recommend Mr Chuzzlewit to take the easy-chair, or to keep out of the draught from the door. If he made any such suggestion, he would expose himself, he feared, to most unjust suspicion. He would, therefore, content himself with remarking that there was an easy-chair in the room, and that the door was far from being air-tight. This latter imperfection, he might perhaps venture to add, was not uncommonly to be met with in old houses.
The old man sat down in the easy-chair, and after a few moments' silence, said:
'In the first place, let me thank you for coming to London so promptly, at my almost unexplained request; I need scarcely add, at my cost.'
'At YOUR cost, my good sir!' cried Mr Pecksniff, in a tone of great surprise.
'It is not,' said Martin, waving his hand impatiently, 'my habit to put my--well! my relatives--to any personal expense to gratify my caprices.'
'Caprices, my good sir!' cried Mr Pecksniff
'That is scarcely the proper word either, in this instance,' said the old man. 'No. You are right.'
Mr Pecksniff was inwardly very much relieved to hear it, though he didn't at all know why.
'You are right,' repeated Martin. 'It is not a caprice. It is built up on reason, proof, and cool comparison. Caprices never are. Moreover, I am not a capricious man. I never was.'
'Most assuredly not,' said Mr Pecksniff.
'How do you know?' returned the other quickly. 'You are to begin to know it now. You are to test and prove it, in time to come. You and yours are to find that I can be constant, and am not to be diverted from my end. Do you hear?'
'Perfectly,' said Mr Pecksniff.
'I very much regret,' Martin resumed, looking steadily at him, and speaking in a slow and measured tone; 'I very much regret that you and I held such a conversation together, as that which passed between us at our last meeting. I very much regret that I laid open to you what were then my thoughts of you, so freely as I did. The intentions that I bear towards you now are of another kind; deserted by all in whom I have ever trusted; hoodwinked and beset by all who should help and sustain me; I fly to you for refuge. I confide in you to be my ally; to attach yourself to me by ties of Interest and Expectation'--he laid great stress upon these words, though Mr Pecksniff particularly begged him not to mention it; 'and to help me to visit the consequences of the very worst species of meanness, dissimulation, and subtlety, on the right heads.'
'My noble sir!' cried Mr Pecksniff, catching at his outstretched hand. 'And YOU regret the having harboured unjust thoughts of me! YOU with those grey hairs!'
'Regrets,' said Martin, 'are the natural property of grey hairs; and I enjoy, in common with all other men, at least my share of such inheritance. And so enough of that. I regret having been severed from you so long. If I had known you sooner, and sooner used you as you well deserve, I might have been a happier man.'
Mr Pecksniff looked up to the ceiling, and clasped his hands in rapture.