In those moments, Mr Pancks began to give out the dangerous infection with which he was laden. It is the manner of communicating these diseases; it is the subtle way in which they go about.
'Do you mean, my good Pancks,' asked Clennam emphatically, 'that you would put that thousand pounds of yours, let us say, for instance, out at this kind of interest?'
'Certainly,' said Pancks. 'Already done it, sir.'
Mr Pancks took another long inhalation, another long exhalation, another long sagacious look at Clennam.
'I tell you, Mr Clennam, I've gone into it,' said Pancks. 'He's a man of immense resources--enormous capital--government influence. They're the best schemes afloat. They're safe. They're certain.'
'Well!' returned Clennam, looking first at him gravely and then at the fire gravely. 'You surprise me!'
'Bah!' Pancks retorted. 'Don't say that, sir. It's what you ought to do yourself! Why don't you do as I do?'
Of whom Mr Pancks had taken the prevalent disease, he could no more have told than if he had unconsciously taken a fever. Bred at first, as many physical diseases are, in the wickedness of men, and then disseminated in their ignorance, these epidemics, after a period, get communicated to many sufferers who are neither ignorant nor wicked. Mr Pancks might, or might not, have caught the illness himself from a subject of this class; but in this category he appeared before Clennam, and the infection he threw off was all the more virulent.
'And you have really invested,' Clennam had already passed to that word, 'your thousand pounds, Pancks?'
'To be sure, sir!' replied Pancks boldly, with a puff of smoke. 'And only wish it ten!'
Now, Clennam had two subjects lying heavy on his lonely mind that night; the one, his partner's long-deferred hope; the other, what he had seen and heard at his mother's. In the relief of having this companion, and of feeling that he could trust him, he passed on to both, and both brought him round again, with an increase and acceleration of force, to his point of departure.
It came about in the simplest manner. Quitting the investment subject, after an interval of silent looking at the fire through the smoke of his pipe, he told Pancks how and why he was occupied with the great National Department. 'A hard case it has been, and a hard case it is on Doyce,' he finished by saying, with all the honest feeling the topic roused in him.
'Hard indeed,' Pancks acquiesced. 'But you manage for him, Mr Clennam?'
'How do you mean ?'
'Manage the money part of the business?'
'Yes. As well as I can.'
'Manage it better, sir,' said Pancks. 'Recompense him for his toils and disappointments. Give him the chances of the time. He'll never benefit himself in that way, patient and preoccupied workman. He looks to you, sir.'
'I do my best, Pancks,' returned Clennam, uneasily. 'As to duly weighing and considering these new enterprises of which I have had no experience, I doubt if I am fit for it, I am growing old.'
'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Ha, ha!'
There was something so indubitably genuine in the wonderful laugh, and series of snorts and puffs, engendered in Mr Pancks's astonishment at, and utter rejection of, the idea, that his being quite in earnest could not be questioned.
'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Hear, hear, hear! Old? Hear him, hear him!'
The positive refusal expressed in Mr Pancks's continued snorts, no less than in these exclamations, to entertain the sentiment for a single instant, drove Arthur away from it. Indeed, he was fearful of something happening to Mr Pancks in the violent conflict that took place between the breath he jerked out of himself and the smoke he jerked into himself. This abandonment of the second topic threw him on the third.
'Young, old, or middle-aged, Pancks,' he said, when there was a favourable pause, 'I am in a very anxious and uncertain state; a state that even leads me to doubt whether anything now seeming to belong to me, may be really mine.