Why have I cultivated you in the manner I have done since the morning? On the ground of your own merits? No. They're very great, I've no doubt at all; but not on the ground of them. Another's merits have had their weight, and have had far more weight with Me. Then why not speak free?'
'Unaffectedly, John,' said Clennam, 'you are so good a fellow and I have so true a respect for your character, that if I have appeared to be less sensible than I really am of the fact that the kind services you have rendered me to-day are attributable to my having been trusted by Miss Dorrit as her friend--I confess it to be a fault, and I ask your forgiveness.'
'Oh! why not,' John repeated with returning scorn, 'why not speak free!'
'I declare to you,' returned Arthur, 'that I do not understand you.
Look at me. Consider the trouble I have been in. Is it likely that I would wilfully add to my other self-reproaches, that of being ungrateful or treacherous to you. I do not understand you.'
john's incredulous face slowly softened into a face of doubt. He rose, backed into the garret-window of the room, beckoned Arthur to come there, and stood looking at him thoughtfully. 'Mr Clennam, do you mean to say that you don't know?'
'Lord,' said Young John, appealing with a gasp to the spikes on the wall. 'He says, What!'
Clennam looked at the spikes, and looked at John; and looked at the spikes, and looked at John.
'He says What! And what is more,' exclaimed Young John, surveying him in a doleful maze, 'he appears to mean it! Do you see this window, sir?'
'Of course I see this window.'
'See this room?'
'Why, of course I see this room.'
'That wall opposite, and that yard down below? They have all been witnesses of it, from day to day, from night to night, from week to week, from month to month. For how often have I seen Miss Dorrit here when she has not seen me!'
'Witnesses of what?' said Clennam.
'Of Miss Dorrit's love.'
'You,' said John. And touched him with the back of his hand upon the breast, and backed to his chair, and sat down on it with a pale face, holding the arms, and shaking his head at him.
If he had dealt Clennam a heavy blow, instead of laying that light touch upon him, its effect could not have been to shake him more. He stood amazed; his eyes looking at John; his lips parted, and seeming now and then to form the word 'Me!' without uttering it; his hands dropped at his sides; his whole appearance that of a man who has been awakened from sleep, and stupefied by intelligence beyond his full comprehension.
'Me!' he at length said aloud.
'Ah!' groaned Young John. 'You!'
He did what he could to muster a smile, and returned, 'Your fancy. You are completely mistaken.'
'I mistaken, sir!' said Young John. '_I_ completely mistaken on that subject! No, Mr Clennam, don't tell me so. On any other, if you like, for I don't set up to be a penetrating character, and am well aware of my own deficiencies. But, _I_ mistaken on a point that has caused me more smart in my breast than a flight of savages' arrows could have done! _I_ mistaken on a point that almost sent me into my grave, as I sometimes wished it would, if the grave could only have been made compatible with the tobacco- business and father and mother's feelings! I mistaken on a point that, even at the present moment, makes me take out my pocket- handkercher like a great girl, as people say: though I am sure I don't know why a great girl should be a term of reproach, for every rightly constituted male mind loves 'em great and small. Don't tell me so, don't tell me so!'
Still highly respectable at bottom, though absurd enough upon the surface, Young John took out his pocket-handkerchief with a genuine absence both of display and concealment, which is only to be seen in a man with a great deal of good in him, when he takes out his pocket-handkerchief for the purpose of wiping his eyes. Having dried them, and indulged in the harmless luxury of a sob and a sniff, he put it up again.