The host, thus reminded of his duties, instantly betook himself to piling up all kinds of irreconcilable and contradictory viands in Tom's plate, and a very capital breakfast Tom made, and very much the better for it Tom felt.
'That's all right,' said John, after contemplating his visitor's proceedings with infinite satisfaction. 'Now, about our plans. You are going to stay with me, of course. Where's your box?'
'It's at the Inn,' said Tom. 'I didn't intend—'
'Never mind what you didn't intend,' John Westlock interposed. 'What you DID intend is more to the purpose. You intended, in coming here, to ask my advice, did you not, Tom?'
'And to take it when I gave it to you?'
'Yes,' rejoined Tom, smiling, 'if it were good advice, which, being yours, I have no doubt it will be.'
'Very well. Then don't be an obstinate old humbug in the outset, Tom, or I shall shut up shop and dispense none of that invaluable commodity. You are on a visit to me. I wish I had an organ for you, Tom!'
'So do the gentlemen downstairs, and the gentlemen overhead I have no doubt,' was Tom's reply.
'Let me see. In the first place, you will wish to see your sister this morning,' pursued his friend, 'and of course you will like to go there alone. I'll walk part of the way with you; and see about a little business of my own, and meet you here again in the afternoon. Put that in your pocket, Tom. It's only the key of the door. If you come home first you'll want it.'
'Really,' said Tom, 'quartering one's self upon a friend in this way—'
'Why, there are two keys,' interposed John Westlock. 'I can't open the door with them both at once, can I? What a ridiculous fellow you are, Tom? Nothing particular you'd like for dinner, is there?'
'Oh dear no,' said Tom.
'Very well, then you may as well leave it to me. Have a glass of cherry brandy, Tom?'
'Not a drop! What remarkable chambers these are!' said Pinch 'there's everything in 'em!'
'Bless your soul, Tom, nothing but a few little bachelor contrivances! the sort of impromptu arrangements that might have suggested themselves to Philip Quarll or Robinson Crusoe, that's all. What do you say? Shall we walk?'
'By all means,' cried Tom. 'As soon as you like.'
Accordingly John Westlock took the French rolls out of his boots, and put his boots on, and dressed himself; giving Tom the paper to read in the meanwhile. When he returned, equipped for walking, he found Tom in a brown study, with the paper in his hand.
'No,' said Mr Pinch, 'No. I have been looking over the advertising sheet, thinking there might be something in it which would be likely to suit me. But, as I often think, the strange thing seems to be that nobody is suited. Here are all kinds of employers wanting all sorts of servants, and all sorts of servants wanting all kinds of employers, and they never seem to come together. Here is a gentleman in a public office in a position of temporary difficulty, who wants to borrow five hundred pounds; and in the very next advertisement here is another gentleman who has got exactly that sum to lend. But he'll never lend it to him, John, you'll find! Here is a lady possessing a moderate independence, who wants to board and lodge with a quiet, cheerful family; and here is a family describing themselves in those very words, "a quiet, cheerful family," who want exactly such a lady to come and live with them. But she'll never go, John! Neither do any of these single gentlemen who want an airy bedroom, with the occasional use of a parlour, ever appear to come to terms with these other people who live in a rural situation remarkable for its bracing atmosphere, within five minutes' walk of the Royal Exchange. Even those letters of the alphabet who are always running away from their friends and being entreated at the tops of columns to come back, never DO come back, if we may judge from the number of times they are asked to do it and don't. It really seems,' said Tom, relinquishing the paper with a thoughtful sigh, 'as if people had the same gratification in printing their complaints as in making them known by word of mouth; as if they found it a comfort and consolation to proclaim "I want such and such a thing, and I can't get it, and I don't expect I ever shall!"'
John Westlock laughed at the idea, and they went out together. So many years had passed since Tom was last in London, and he had known so little of it then, that his interest in all he saw was very great. He was particularly anxious, among other notorious localities, to have those streets pointed out to him which were appropriated to the slaughter of countrymen; and was quite disappointed to find, after half-an-hour's walking, that he hadn't had his pocket picked. But on John Westlock's inventing a pickpocket for his gratification, and pointing out a highly respectable stranger as one of that fraternity, he was much delighted.
His friend accompanied him to within a short distance of Camberwell and having put him beyond the possibility of mistaking the wealthy brass-and-copper founder's, left him to make his visit. Arriving before the great bell-handle, Tom gave it a gentle pull. The porter appeared.
'Pray does Miss Pinch live here?' said Tom.
'Miss Pinch is governess here,' replied the porter.
At the same time he looked at Tom from head to foot, as if he would have said, 'You are a nice man, YOU are; where did YOU come from?'
'It's the same young lady,' said Tom. 'It's quite right. Is she at home?'
'I don't know, I'm sure,' rejoined the porter.
'Do you think you could have the goodness to ascertain?' said Tom. He had quite a delicacy in offering the suggestion, for the possibility of such a step did not appear to present itself to the porter's mind at all.
The fact was that the porter in answering the gate-bell had, according to usage, rung the house-bell (for it is as well to do these things in the Baronial style while you are about it), and that there the functions of his office had ceased. Being hired to open and shut the gate, and not to explain himself to strangers, he left this little incident to be developed by the footman with the tags, who, at this juncture, called out from the door steps:
'Hollo, there! wot are you up to? This way, young man!'
'Oh!' said Tom, hurrying towards him. 'I didn't observe that there was anybody else. Pray is Miss Pinch at home?'
'She's IN,' replied the footman. As much as to say to Tom: 'But if you think she has anything to do with the proprietorship of this place you had better abandon that idea.'
'I wish to see her, if you please,' said Tom.
The footman, being a lively young man, happened to have his attention caught at that moment by the flight of a pigeon, in which he took so warm an interest that his gaze was rivetted on the bird until it was quite out of sight. He then invited Tom to come in, and showed him into a parlour.
'Hany neem?' said the young man, pausing languidly at the door.
It was a good thought; because without providing the stranger, in case he should happen to be of a warm temper, with a sufficient excuse for knocking him down, it implied this young man's estimate of his quality, and relieved his breast of the oppressive burden of rating him in secret as a nameless and obscure individual.
'Say her brother, if you please,' said Tom.
'Mother?' drawled the footman.
'Brother,' repeated Tom, slightly raising his voice. 'And if you will say, in the first instance, a gentleman, and then say her brother, I shall be obliged to you, as she does not expect me or know I am in London, and I do not wish to startle her.'
The young man's interest in Tom's observations had ceased long before this time, but he kindly waited until now; when, shutting the door, he withdrew.
'Dear me!' said Tom. 'This is very disrespectful and uncivil behaviour. I hope these are new servants here, and that Ruth is very differently treated.'
His cogitations were interrupted by the sound of voices in the adjoining room. They seemed to be engaged in high dispute, or in indignant reprimand of some offender; and gathering strength occasionally, broke out into a perfect whirlwind. It was in one of these gusts, as it appeared to Tom, that the footman announced him; for an abrupt and unnatural calm took place, and then a dead silence. He was standing before the window, wondering what domestic quarrel might have caused these sounds, and hoping Ruth had nothing to do with it, when the door opened, and his sister ran into his arms.
'Why, bless my soul!' said Tom, looking at her with great pride, when they had tenderly embraced each other, 'how altered you are Ruth! I should scarcely have known you, my love, if I had seen you anywhere else, I declare! You are so improved,' said Tom, with inexpressible delight; 'you are so womanly; you are so—positively, you know, you are so handsome!'
'If YOU think so Tom—'
'Oh, but everybody must think so, you know,' said Tom, gently smoothing down her hair. 'It's matter of fact; not opinion. But what's the matter?' said Tom, looking at her more intently, 'how flushed you are! and you have been crying.'
'No, I have not, Tom.'
'Nonsense,' said her brother stoutly. 'That's a story. Don't tell me! I know better. What is it, dear? I'm not with Mr Pecksniff now. I am going to try and settle myself in London; and if you are not happy here (as I very much fear you are not, for I begin to think you have been deceiving me with the kindest and most affectionate intention) you shall not remain here.'
Oh! Tom's blood was rising; mind that! Perhaps the Boar's Head had something to do with it, but certainly the footman had. So had the sight of his pretty sister—a great deal to do with it. Tom could bear a good deal himself, but he was proud of her, and pride is a sensitive thing. He began to think, 'there are more Pecksniffs than one, perhaps,' and by all the pins and needles that run up and down in angry veins, Tom was in a most unusual tingle all at once!
'We will talk about it, Tom,' said Ruth, giving him another kiss to pacify him. 'I am afraid I cannot stay here.'
'Cannot!' replied Tom. 'Why then, you shall not, my love. Heyday! You are not an object of charity! Upon my word!'
Tom was stopped in these exclamations by the footman, who brought a message from his master, importing that he wished to speak with him before he went, and with Miss Pinch also.
'Show the way,' said Tom. 'I'll wait upon him at once.'
Accordingly they entered the adjoining room from which the noise of altercation had proceeded; and there they found a middle-aged gentleman, with a pompous voice and manner, and a middle-aged lady, with what may be termed an excisable face, or one in which starch and vinegar were decidedly employed. There was likewise present that eldest pupil of Miss Pinch, whom Mrs Todgers, on a previous occasion, had called a syrup, and who was now weeping and sobbing spitefully.
'My brother, sir,' said Ruth Pinch, timidly presenting Tom.
'Oh!' cried the gentleman, surveying Tom attentively. 'You really are Miss Pinch's brother, I presume? You will excuse my asking. I don't observe any resemblance.'
'Miss Pinch has a brother, I know,' observed the lady.
'Miss Pinch is always talking about her brother, when she ought to be engaged upon my education,' sobbed the pupil.
'Sophia! Hold your tongue!' observed the gentleman. 'Sit down, if you please,' addressing Tom.
Tom sat down, looking from one face to another, in mute surprise.
'Remain here, if you please, Miss Pinch,' pursued the gentleman, looking slightly over his shoulder.
Tom interrupted him here, by rising to place a chair for his sister. Having done which he sat down again.
'I am glad you chance to have called to see your sister to-day, sir,' resumed the brass-and-copper founder. 'For although I do not approve, as a principle, of any young person engaged in my family in the capacity of a governess, receiving visitors, it happens in this case to be well timed. I am sorry to inform you that we are not at all satisfied with your sister.'
'We are very much DISsatisfied with her,' observed the lady.
'I'd never say another lesson to Miss Pinch if I was to be beat to death for it!' sobbed the pupil.
'Sophia!' cried her father. 'Hold your tongue!'
'Will you allow me to inquire what your ground of dissatisfaction is?' asked Tom.
'Yes,' said the gentleman, 'I will. I don't recognize it as a right; but I will. Your sister has not the slightest innate power of commanding respect. It has been a constant source of difference between us. Although she has been in this family for some time, and although the young lady who is now present has almost, as it were, grown up under her tuition, that young lady has no respect for her. Miss Pinch has been perfectly unable to command my daughter's respect, or to win my daughter's confidence. Now,' said the gentleman, allowing the palm of his hand to fall gravely down upon the table: 'I maintain that there is something radically wrong in that! You, as her brother, may be disposed to deny it—'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Tom. 'I am not at all disposed to deny it. I am sure that there is something radically wrong; radically monstrous, in that.'
'Good Heavens!' cried the gentleman, looking round the room with dignity, 'what do I find to be the case! what results obtrude themselves upon me as flowing from this weakness of character on the part of Miss Pinch! What are my feelings as a father, when, after my desire (repeatedly expressed to Miss Pinch, as I think she will not venture to deny) that my daughter should be choice in her expressions, genteel in her deportment, as becomes her station in life, and politely distant to her inferiors in society, I find her, only this very morning, addressing Miss Pinch herself as a beggar!'
'A beggarly thing,' observed the lady, in correction.
'Which is worse,' said the gentleman, triumphantly; 'which is worse. A beggarly thing. A low, coarse, despicable expression!'
'Most despicable,' cried Tom. 'I am glad to find that there is a just appreciation of it here.'
'So just, sir,' said the gentleman, lowering his voice to be the more impressive. 'So just, that, but for my knowing Miss Pinch to be an unprotected young person, an orphan, and without friends, I would, as I assured Miss Pinch, upon my veracity and personal character, a few minutes ago, I would have severed the connection between us at that moment and from that time.'
'Bless my soul, sir!' cried Tom, rising from his seat; for he was now unable to contain himself any longer; 'don't allow such considerations as those to influence you, pray. They don't exist, sir. She is not unprotected. She is ready to depart this instant. Ruth, my dear, get your bonnet on!'
'Oh, a pretty family!' cried the lady. 'Oh, he's her brother! There's no doubt about that!'
'As little doubt, madam,' said Tom, 'as that the young lady yonder is the child of your teaching, and not my sister's. Ruth, my dear, get your bonnet on!'
'When you say, young man,' interposed the brass-and-copper founder, haughtily, 'with that impertinence which is natural to you, and which I therefore do not condescend to notice further, that the young lady, my eldest daughter, has been educated by any one but Miss Pinch, you—I needn't proceed. You comprehend me fully. I have no doubt you are used to it.'
'Sir!' cried Tom, after regarding him in silence for some little time. 'If you do not understand what I mean, I will tell you. If you do understand what I mean, I beg you not to repeat that mode of expressing yourself in answer to it. My meaning is, that no man can expect his children to respect what he degrades.'
'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed the gentleman. 'Cant! cant! The common cant!'
'The common story, sir!' said Tom; 'the story of a common mind. Your governess cannot win the confidence and respect of your children, forsooth! Let her begin by winning yours, and see what happens then.'
'Miss Pinch is getting her bonnet on, I trust, my dear?' said the gentleman.
'I trust she is,' said Tom, forestalling the reply. 'I have no doubt she is. In the meantime I address myself to you, sir. You made your statement to me, sir; you required to see me for that purpose; and I have a right to answer it. I am not loud or turbulent,' said Tom, which was quite true, 'though I can scarcely say as much for you, in your manner of addressing yourself to me. And I wish, on my sister's behalf, to state the simple truth.'
'You may state anything you like, young man,' returned the gentleman, affecting to yawn. 'My dear, Miss Pinch's money.'
'When you tell me,' resumed Tom, who was not the less indignant for keeping himself quiet, 'that my sister has no innate power of commanding the respect of your children, I must tell you it is not so; and that she has. She is as well bred, as well taught, as well qualified by nature to command respect, as any hirer of a governess you know. But when you place her at a disadvantage in reference to every servant in your house, how can you suppose, if you have the gift of common sense, that she is not in a tenfold worse position in reference to your daughters?'
'Pretty well! Upon my word,' exclaimed the gentleman, 'this is pretty well!'
'It is very ill, sir,' said Tom. 'It is very bad and mean, and wrong and cruel. Respect! I believe young people are quick enough to observe and imitate; and why or how should they respect whom no one else respects, and everybody slights? And very partial they must grow—oh, very partial!—to their studies, when they see to what a pass proficiency in those same tasks has brought their governess! Respect! Put anything the most deserving of respect before your daughters in the light in which you place her, and you will bring it down as low, no matter what it is!'
'You speak with extreme impertinence, young man,' observed the gentleman.
'I speak without passion, but with extreme indignation and contempt for such a course of treatment, and for all who practice it,' said Tom. 'Why, how can you, as an honest gentleman, profess displeasure or surprise at your daughter telling my sister she is something beggarly and humble, when you are for ever telling her the same thing yourself in fifty plain, outspeaking ways, though not in words; and when your very porter and footman make the same delicate announcement to all comers? As to your suspicion and distrust of her; even of her word; if she is not above their reach, you have no right to employ her.'
'No right!' cried the brass-and-copper founder.
'Distinctly not,' Tom answered. 'If you imagine that the payment of an annual sum of money gives it to you, you immensely exaggerate its power and value. Your money is the least part of your bargain in such a case. You may be punctual in that to half a second on the clock, and yet be Bankrupt. I have nothing more to say,' said Tom, much flushed and flustered, now that it was over, 'except to crave permission to stand in your garden until my sister is ready.'
Not waiting to obtain it, Tom walked out.
Before he had well begun to cool, his sister joined him. She was crying; and Tom could not bear that any one about the house should see her doing that.
'They will think you are sorry to go,' said Tom. 'You are not sorry to go?'
'No, Tom, no. I have been anxious to go for a very long time.'
'Very well, then! Don't cry!' said Tom.
'I am so sorry for YOU, dear,' sobbed Tom's sister.
'But you ought to be glad on my account,' said Tom. 'I shall be twice as happy with you for a companion. Hold up your head. There! Now we go out as we ought. Not blustering, you know, but firm and confident in ourselves.'
The idea of Tom and his sister blustering, under any circumstances, was a splendid absurdity. But Tom was very far from feeling it to be so, in his excitement; and passed out at the gate with such severe determination written in his face that the porter hardly knew him again.
It was not until they had walked some short distance, and Tom found himself getting cooler and more collected, that he was quite restored to himself by an inquiry from his sister, who said in her pleasant little voice:
'Where are we going, Tom?'
'Dear me!' said Tom, stopping, 'I don't know.'
'Don't you—don't you live anywhere, dear?' asked Tom's sister looking wistfully in his face.
'No,' said Tom. 'Not at present. Not exactly. I only arrived this morning. We must have some lodgings.'
He didn't tell her that he had been going to stay with his friend John, and could on no account think of billeting two inmates upon him, of whom one was a young lady; for he knew that would make her uncomfortable, and would cause her to regard herself as being an inconvenience to him. Neither did he like to leave her anywhere while he called on John, and told him of this change in his arrangements; for he was delicate of seeming to encroach upon the generous and hospitable nature of his friend. Therefore he said again, 'We must have some lodgings, of course;' and said it as stoutly as if he had been a perfect Directory and Guide-Book to all the lodgings in London.
'Where shall we go and look for 'em?' said Tom. 'What do you think?'
Tom's sister was not much wiser on such a topic than he was. So she squeezed her little purse into his coat-pocket, and folding the little hand with which she did so on the other little hand with which she clasped his arm, said nothing.
'It ought to be a cheap neighbourhood,' said Tom, 'and not too far from London. Let me see. Should you think Islington a good place?'
'I should think it was an excellent place, Tom.'
'It used to be called Merry Islington, once upon a time,' said Tom. 'Perhaps it's merry now; if so, it's all the better. Eh?'
'If it's not too dear,' said Tom's sister.
'Of course, if it's not too dear,' assented Tom. 'Well, where IS Islington? We can't do better than go there, I should think. Let's go.'
Tom's sister would have gone anywhere with him; so they walked off, arm in arm, as comfortably as possible. Finding, presently, that Islington was not in that neighbourhood, Tom made inquiries respecting a public conveyance thither; which they soon obtained. As they rode along they were very full of conversation indeed, Tom relating what had happened to him, and Tom's sister relating what had happened to her, and both finding a great deal more to say than time to say it in; for they had only just begun to talk, in comparison with what they had to tell each other, when they reached their journey's end.
'Now,' said Tom, 'we must first look out for some very unpretending streets, and then look out for bills in the windows.'
So they walked off again, quite as happily as if they had just stepped out of a snug little house of their own, to look for lodgings on account of somebody else. Tom's simplicity was unabated, Heaven knows; but now that he had somebody to rely upon him, he was stimulated to rely a little more upon himself, and was, in his own opinion, quite a desperate fellow.
After roaming up and down for hours, looking at some scores of lodgings, they began to find it rather fatiguing, especially as they saw none which were at all adapted to their purpose. At length, however, in a singular little old-fashioned house, up a blind street, they discovered two small bedrooms and a triangular parlour, which promised to suit them well enough. Their desiring to take possession immediately was a suspicious circumstance, but even this was surmounted by the payment of their first week's rent, and a reference to John Westlock, Esquire, Furnival's Inn, High Holborn.
Ah! It was a goodly sight, when this important point was settled, to behold Tom and his sister trotting round to the baker's, and the butcher's, and the grocer's, with a kind of dreadful delight in the unaccustomed cares of housekeeping; taking secret counsel together as they gave their small orders, and distracted by the least suggestion on the part of the shopkeeper! When they got back to the triangular parlour, and Tom's sister, bustling to and fro, busy about a thousand pleasant nothings, stopped every now and then to give old Tom a kiss or smile upon him, Tom rubbed his hands as if all Islington were his.
It was late in the afternoon now, though, and high time for Tom to keep his appointment. So, after agreeing with his sister that in consideration of not having dined, they would venture on the extravagance of chops for supper at nine, he walked out again to narrate these marvellous occurrences to John.
'I am quite a family man all at once,' thought Tom. 'If I can only get something to do, how comfortable Ruth and I may be! Ah, that if! But it's of no use to despond. I can but do that, when I have tried everything and failed; and even then it won't serve me much. Upon my word,' thought Tom, quickening his pace, 'I don't know what John will think has become of me. He'll begin to be afraid I have strayed into one of those streets where the countrymen are murdered; and that I have been made meat pies of, or some such horrible thing.'
TOM PINCH, GOING ASTRAY, FINDS THAT HE IS NOT THE ONLY PERSON IN THAT PREDICAMENT. HE RETALIATES UPON A FALLEN FOE
Tom's evil genius did not lead him into the dens of any of those preparers of cannibalic pastry, who are represented in many standard country legends as doing a lively retail business in the Metropolis; nor did it mark him out as the prey of ring-droppers, pea and thimble-riggers, duffers, touters, or any of those bloodless sharpers, who are, perhaps, a little better known to the Police. He fell into conversation with no gentleman who took him into a public-house, where there happened to be another gentleman who swore he had more money than any gentleman, and very soon proved he had more money than one gentleman by taking his away from him; neither did he fall into any other of the numerous man-traps which are set up without notice, in the public grounds of this city. But he lost his way. He very soon did that; and in trying to find it again he lost it more and more.
Now, Tom, in his guileless distrust of London, thought himself very knowing in coming to the determination that he would not ask to be directed to Furnival's Inn, if he could help it; unless, indeed, he should happen to find himself near the Mint, or the Bank of England; in which case he would step in, and ask a civil question or two, confiding in the perfect respectability of the concern. So on he went, looking up all the streets he came near, and going up half of them; and thus, by dint of not being true to Goswell Street, and filing off into Aldermanbury, and bewildering himself in Barbican, and being constant to the wrong point of the compass in London Wall, and then getting himself crosswise into Thames Street, by an instinct that would have been marvellous if he had had the least desire or reason to go there, he found himself, at last, hard by the Monument.
The Man in the Monument was quite as mysterious a being to Tom as the Man in the Moon. It immediately occurred to him that the lonely creature who held himself aloof from all mankind in that pillar like some old hermit was the very man of whom to ask his way. Cold, he might be; little sympathy he had, perhaps, with human passion—the column seemed too tall for that; but if Truth didn't live in the base of the Monument, notwithstanding Pope's couplet about the outside of it, where in London (thought Tom) was she likely to be found!
Coming close below the pillar, it was a great encouragement to Tom to find that the Man in the Monument had simple tastes; that stony and artificial as his residence was, he still preserved some rustic recollections; that he liked plants, hung up bird-cages, was not wholly cut off from fresh groundsel, and kept young trees in tubs. The Man in the Monument, himself, was sitting outside the door—his own door: the Monument-door: what a grand idea!—and was actually yawning, as if there were no Monument to stop his mouth, and give him a perpetual interest in his own existence.
Tom was advancing towards this remarkable creature, to inquire the way to Furnival's Inn, when two people came to see the Monument. They were a gentleman and a lady; and the gentleman said, 'How much a-piece?'
The Man in the Monument replied, 'A Tanner.'
It seemed a low expression, compared with the Monument.
The gentleman put a shilling into his hand, and the Man in the Monument opened a dark little door. When the gentleman and lady had passed out of view, he shut it again, and came slowly back to his chair.
He sat down and laughed.
'They don't know what a many steps there is!' he said. 'It's worth twice the money to stop here. Oh, my eye!'
The Man in the Monument was a Cynic; a worldly man! Tom couldn't ask his way of HIM. He was prepared to put no confidence in anything he said.
'My gracious!' cried a well-known voice behind Mr Pinch. 'Why, to be sure it is!'
At the same time he was poked in the back by a parasol. Turning round to inquire into this salute, he beheld the eldest daughter of his late patron.
'Miss Pecksniff!' said Tom.
'Why, my goodness, Mr Pinch!' cried Cherry. 'What are you doing here?'
'I have rather wandered from my way,' said Tom. 'I—'
'I hope you have run away,' said Charity. 'It would be quite spirited and proper if you had, when my Papa so far forgets himself.'
'I have left him,' returned Tom. 'But it was perfectly understood on both sides. It was not done clandestinely.'
'Is he married?' asked Cherry, with a spasmodic shake of her chin.
'No, not yet,' said Tom, colouring; 'to tell you the truth, I don't think he is likely to be, if—if Miss Graham is the object of his passion.'
'Tcha, Mr Pinch!' cried Charity, with sharp impatience, 'you're very easily deceived. You don't know the arts of which such a creature is capable. Oh! it's a wicked world.'
'You are not married?' Tom hinted, to divert the conversation.
'N—no!' said Cherry, tracing out one particular paving-stone in Monument Yard with the end of her parasol. 'I—but really it's quite impossible to explain. Won't you walk in?'
'You live here, then?' said Tom
'Yes,' returned Miss Pecksniff, pointing with her parasol to Todgers's; 'I reside with this lady, AT PRESENT.'
The great stress on the two last words suggested to Tom that he was expected to say something in reference to them. So he said.
'Only at present! Are you going home again soon?'
'No, Mr Pinch,' returned Charity. 'No, thank you. No! A mother-in-law who is younger than—I mean to say, who is as nearly as possible about the same age as one's self, would not quite suit my spirit. Not quite!' said Cherry, with a spiteful shiver.
'I thought from your saying "at present"'—Tom observed.
'Really, upon my word! I had no idea you would press me so very closely on the subject, Mr Pinch,' said Charity, blushing, 'or I should not have been so foolish as to allude to—oh really!—won't you walk in?'
Tom mentioned, to excuse himself, that he had an appointment in Furnival's Inn, and that coming from Islington he had taken a few wrong turnings, and arrived at the Monument instead. Miss Pecksniff simpered very much when he asked her if she knew the way to Furnival's Inn, and at length found courage to reply.
'A gentleman who is a friend of mine, or at least who is not exactly a friend so much as a sort of acquaintance—Oh upon my word, I hardly know what I say, Mr Pinch; you mustn't suppose there is any engagement between us; or at least if there is, that it is at all a settled thing as yet—is going to Furnival's Inn immediately, I believe upon a little business, and I am sure he would be very glad to accompany you, so as to prevent your going wrong again. You had better walk in. You will very likely find my sister Merry here,' she said with a curious toss of her head, and anything but an agreeable smile.
'Then, I think, I'll endeavour to find my way alone,' said Tom, 'for I fear she would not be very glad to see me. That unfortunate occurrence, in relation to which you and I had some amicable words together, in private, is not likely to have impressed her with any friendly feeling towards me. Though it really was not my fault.'
'She has never heard of that, you may depend,' said Cherry, gathering up the corners of her mouth, and nodding at Tom. 'I am far from sure that she would bear you any mighty ill will for it, if she had.'
'You don't say so?' cried Tom, who was really concerned by this insinuation.
'I say nothing,' said Charity. 'If I had not already known what shocking things treachery and deceit are in themselves, Mr Pinch, I might perhaps have learnt it from the success they meet with—from the success they meet with.' Here she smiled as before. 'But I don't say anything. On the contrary, I should scorn it. You had better walk in!'
There was something hidden here, which piqued Tom's interest and troubled his tender heart. When, in a moment's irresolution, he looked at Charity, he could not but observe a struggle in her face between a sense of triumph and a sense of shame; nor could he but remark how, meeting even his eyes, which she cared so little for, she turned away her own, for all the splenetic defiance in her manner.
An uneasy thought entered Tom's head; a shadowy misgiving that the altered relations between himself and Pecksniff were somehow to involve an altered knowledge on his part of other people, and were to give him an insight into much of which he had had no previous suspicion. And yet he put no definite construction upon Charity's proceedings. He certainly had no idea that as he had been the audience and spectator of her mortification, she grasped with eager delight at any opportunity of reproaching her sister with his presence in HER far deeper misery; for he knew nothing of it, and only pictured that sister as the same giddy, careless, trivial creature she always had been, with the same slight estimation of himself which she had never been at the least pains to conceal. In short, he had merely a confused impression that Miss Pecksniff was not quite sisterly or kind; and being curious to set it right, accompanied her as she desired.
The house-door being opened, she went in before Tom, requesting him to follow her; and led the way to the parlour door.
'Oh, Merry!' she said, looking in, 'I am so glad you have not gone home. Who do you think I have met in the street, and brought to see you! Mr Pinch! There. Now you ARE surprised, I am sure!'
Not more surprised than Tom was, when he looked upon her. Not so much. Not half so much.
'Mr Pinch has left Papa, my dear,' said Cherry, 'and his prospects are quite flourishing. I have promised that Augustus, who is going that way, shall escort him to the place he wants. Augustus, my child, where are you?'
With these words Miss Pecksniff screamed her way out of the parlour, calling on Augustus Moddle to appear; and left Tom Pinch alone with her sister.
If she had always been his kindest friend; if she had treated him through all his servitude with such consideration as was never yet received by struggling man; if she had lightened every moment of those many years, and had ever spared and never wounded him; his honest heart could not have swelled before her with a deeper pity, or a purer freedom from all base remembrance than it did then.
'My gracious me! You are really the last person in the world I should have thought of seeing, I am sure!'
Tom was sorry to hear her speaking in her old manner. He had not expected that. Yet he did not feel it a contradiction that he should be sorry to see her so unlike her old self, and sorry at the same time to hear her speaking in her old manner. The two things seemed quite natural.
'I wonder you find any gratification in coming to see me. I can't think what put it in your head. I never had much in seeing you. There was no love lost between us, Mr Pinch, at any time, I think.'
Her bonnet lay beside her on the sofa, and she was very busy with the ribbons as she spoke. Much too busy to be conscious of the work her fingers did.
'We never quarrelled,' said Tom.—Tom was right in that, for one person can no more quarrel without an adversary, than one person can play at chess, or fight a duel. 'I hoped you would be glad to shake hands with an old friend. Don't let us rake up bygones,' said Tom. 'If I ever offended you, forgive me.'
She looked at him for a moment; dropped her bonnet from her hands; spread them before her altered face, and burst into tears.
'Oh, Mr Pinch!' she said, 'although I never used you well, I did believe your nature was forgiving. I did not think you could be cruel.'
She spoke as little like her old self now, for certain, as Tom could possibly have wished. But she seemed to be appealing to him reproachfully, and he did not understand her.
'I seldom showed it—never—I know that. But I had that belief in you, that if I had been asked to name the person in the world least likely to retort upon me, I would have named you, confidently.'
'Would have named me!' Tom repeated.
'Yes,' she said with energy, 'and I have often thought so.'
After a moment's reflection, Tom sat himself upon a chair beside her.
'Do you believe,' said Tom, 'oh, can you think, that what I said just now, I said with any but the true and plain intention which my words professed? I mean it, in the spirit and the letter. If I ever offended you, forgive me; I may have done so, many times. You never injured or offended me. How, then, could I possibly retort, if even I were stern and bad enough to wish to do it!'
After a little while she thanked him, through her tears and sobs, and told him she had never been at once so sorry and so comforted, since she left home. Still she wept bitterly; and it was the greater pain to Tom to see her weeping, from her standing in especial need, just then, of sympathy and tenderness.
'Come, come!' said Tom, 'you used to be as cheerful as the day was long.'
'Ah! used!' she cried, in such a tone as rent Tom's heart.
'And will be again,' said Tom.
'No, never more. No, never, never more. If you should talk with old Mr Chuzzlewit, at any time,' she added, looking hurriedly into his face—'I sometimes thought he liked you, but suppressed it—will you promise me to tell him that you saw me here, and that I said I bore in mind the time we talked together in the churchyard?'
Tom promised that he would.
'Many times since then, when I have wished I had been carried there before that day, I have recalled his words. I wish that he should know how true they were, although the least acknowledgment to that effect has never passed my lips and never will.'
Tom promised this, conditionally too. He did not tell her how improbable it was that he and the old man would ever meet again, because he thought it might disturb her more.
'If he should ever know this, through your means, dear Mr Pinch,' said Mercy, 'tell him that I sent the message, not for myself, but that he might be more forbearing and more patient, and more trustful to some other person, in some other time of need. Tell him that if he could know how my heart trembled in the balance that day, and what a very little would have turned the scale, his own would bleed with pity for me.'
'Yes, yes,' said Tom, 'I will.'
'When I appeared to him the most unworthy of his help, I was—I know I was, for I have often, often, thought about it since—the most inclined to yield to what he showed me. Oh! if he had relented but a little more; if he had thrown himself in my way for but one other quarter of an hour; if he had extended his compassion for a vain, unthinking, miserable girl, in but the least degree; he might, and I believe he would, have saved her! Tell him that I don't blame him, but am grateful for the effort that he made; but ask him for the love of God, and youth, and in merciful consideration for the struggle which an ill-advised and unwakened nature makes to hide the strength it thinks its weakness—ask him never, never, to forget this, when he deals with one again!'
Although Tom did not hold the clue to her full meaning, he could guess it pretty nearly. Touched to the quick, he took her hand and said, or meant to say, some words of consolation. She felt and understood them, whether they were spoken or no. He was not quite certain, afterwards, but that she had tried to kneel down at his feet, and bless him.
He found that he was not alone in the room when she had left it. Mrs Todgers was there, shaking her head. Tom had never seen Mrs Todgers, it is needless to say, but he had a perception of her being the lady of the house; and he saw some genuine compassion in her eyes, that won his good opinion.
'Ah, sir! You are an old friend, I see,' said Mrs Todgers.
'Yes,' said Tom.
'And yet,' quoth Mrs Todgers, shutting the door softly, 'she hasn't told you what her troubles are, I'm certain.'
Tom was struck by these words, for they were quite true. 'Indeed,' he said, 'she has not.'
'And never would,' said Mrs Todgers, 'if you saw her daily. She never makes the least complaint to me, or utters a single word of explanation or reproach. But I know,' said Mrs Todgers, drawing in her breath, 'I know!'
Tom nodded sorrowfully, 'So do I.'
'I fully believe,' said Mrs Todgers, taking her pocket-handkerchief from the flat reticule, 'that nobody can tell one half of what that poor young creature has to undergo. But though she comes here, constantly, to ease her poor full heart without his knowing it; and saying, "Mrs Todgers, I am very low to-day; I think that I shall soon be dead," sits crying in my room until the fit is past; I know no more from her. And, I believe,' said Mrs Todgers, putting back her handkerchief again, 'that she considers me a good friend too.'
Mrs Todgers might have said her best friend. Commercial gentlemen and gravy had tried Mrs Todgers's temper; the main chance—it was such a very small one in her case, that she might have been excused for looking sharp after it, lest it should entirely vanish from her sight—had taken a firm hold on Mrs Todgers's attention. But in some odd nook in Mrs Todgers's breast, up a great many steps, and in a corner easy to be overlooked, there was a secret door, with 'Woman' written on the spring, which, at a touch from Mercy's hand, had flown wide open, and admitted her for shelter.
When boarding-house accounts are balanced with all other ledgers, and the books of the Recording Angel are made up for ever, perhaps there may be seen an entry to thy credit, lean Mrs Todgers, which shall make thee beautiful!
She was growing beautiful so rapidly in Tom's eyes; for he saw that she was poor, and that this good had sprung up in her from among the sordid strivings of her life; that she might have been a very Venus in a minute more, if Miss Pecksniff had not entered with her friend.
'Mr Thomas Pinch!' said Charity, performing the ceremony of introduction with evident pride. 'Mr Moddle. Where's my sister?'
'Gone, Miss Pecksniff,' Mrs Todgers answered. 'She had appointed to be home.'
'Ah!' said Charity, looking at Tom. 'Oh, dear me!'
'She's greatly altered since she's been Anoth—since she's been married, Mrs Todgers!' observed Moddle.
'My dear Augustus!' said Miss Pecksniff, in a low voice. 'I verily believe you have said that fifty thousand times, in my hearing. What a Prose you are!'
This was succeeded by some trifling love passages, which appeared to originate with, if not to be wholly carried on by Miss Pecksniff. At any rate, Mr Moddle was much slower in his responses than is customary with young lovers, and exhibited a lowness of spirits which was quite oppressive.
He did not improve at all when Tom and he were in the streets, but sighed so dismally that it was dreadful to hear him. As a means of cheering him up, Tom told him that he wished him joy.
'Joy!' cried Moddle. 'Ha, ha!'
'What an extraordinary young man!' thought Tom.
'The Scorner has not set his seal upon you. YOU care what becomes of you?' said Moddle.
Tom admitted that it was a subject in which he certainly felt some interest.
'I don't,' said Mr Moddle. 'The Elements may have me when they please. I'm ready.'
Tom inferred from these, and other expressions of the same nature, that he was jealous. Therefore he allowed him to take his own course; which was such a gloomy one, that he felt a load removed from his mind when they parted company at the gate of Furnival's Inn.
It was now a couple of hours past John Westlock's dinner-time; and he was walking up and down the room, quite anxious for Tom's safety. The table was spread; the wine was carefully decanted; and the dinner smelt delicious.
'Why, Tom, old boy, where on earth have you been? Your box is here. Get your boots off instantly, and sit down!'
'I am sorry to say I can't stay, John,' replied Tom Pinch, who was breathless with the haste he had made in running up the stairs.
'If you'll go on with your dinner,' said Tom, 'I'll tell you my reason the while. I mustn't eat myself, or I shall have no appetite for the chops.'
'There are no chops here, my food fellow.'
'No. But there are at Islington,' said Tom.
John Westlock was perfectly confounded by this reply, and vowed he would not touch a morsel until Tom had explained himself fully. So Tom sat down, and told him all; to which he listened with the greatest interest.
He knew Tom too well, and respected his delicacy too much, to ask him why he had taken these measures without communicating with him first. He quite concurred in the expediency of Tom's immediately returning to his sister, as he knew so little of the place in which he had left her, and good-humouredly proposed to ride back with him in a cab, in which he might convey his box. Tom's proposition that he should sup with them that night, he flatly rejected, but made an appointment with him for the morrow. 'And now Tom,' he said, as they rode along, 'I have a question to ask you to which I expect a manly and straightforward answer. Do you want any money? I am pretty sure you do.'
'I don't indeed,' said Tom.
'I believe you are deceiving me.'
'No. With many thanks to you, I am quite in earnest,' Tom replied. 'My sister has some money, and so have I. If I had nothing else, John, I have a five-pound note, which that good creature, Mrs Lupin, of the Dragon, handed up to me outside the coach, in a letter begging me to borrow it; and then drove off as hard as she could go.'
'And a blessing on every dimple in her handsome face, say I!' cried John, 'though why you should give her the preference over me, I don't know. Never mind. I bide my time, Tom.'
'And I hope you'll continue to bide it,' returned Tom, gayly. 'For I owe you more, already, in a hundred other ways, than I can ever hope to pay.'
They parted at the door of Tom's new residence. John Westlock, sitting in the cab, and, catching a glimpse of a blooming little busy creature darting out to kiss Tom and to help him with his box, would not have had the least objection to change places with him.
Well! she WAS a cheerful little thing; and had a quaint, bright quietness about her that was infinitely pleasant. Surely she was the best sauce for chops ever invented. The potatoes seemed to take a pleasure in sending up their grateful steam before her; the froth upon the pint of porter pouted to attract her notice. But it was all in vain. She saw nothing but Tom. Tom was the first and last thing in the world.
As she sat opposite to Tom at supper, fingering one of Tom's pet tunes upon the table-cloth, and smiling in his face, he had never been so happy in his life.
In walking from the city with his sentimental friend, Tom Pinch had looked into the face, and brushed against the threadbare sleeve, of Mr Nadgett, man of mystery to the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company. Mr Nadgett naturally passed away from Tom's remembrance as he passed out of his view; for he didn't know him, and had never heard his name.
As there are a vast number of people in the huge metropolis of England who rise up every morning not knowing where their heads will rest at night, so there are a multitude who shooting arrows over houses as their daily business, never know on whom they fall. Mr Nadgett might have passed Tom Pinch ten thousand times; might even have been quite familiar with his face, his name, pursuits, and character; yet never once have dreamed that Tom had any interest in any act or mystery of his. Tom might have done the like by him of course. But the same private man out of all the men alive, was in the mind of each at the same moment; was prominently connected though in a different manner, with the day's adventures of both; and formed, when they passed each other in the street, the one absorbing topic of their thoughts.
Why Tom had Jonas Chuzzlewit in his mind requires no explanation. Why Mr Nadgett should have had Jonas Chuzzlewit in his, is quite another thing.
But, somehow or other, that amiable and worthy orphan had become a part of the mystery of Mr Nadgett's existence. Mr Nadgett took an interest in his lightest proceedings; and it never flagged or wavered. He watched him in and out of the Assurance Office, where he was now formally installed as a Director; he dogged his footsteps in the streets; he stood listening when he talked; he sat in coffee-rooms entering his name in the great pocket-book, over and over again; he wrote letters to himself about him constantly; and, when he found them in his pocket, put them in the fire, with such distrust and caution that he would bend down to watch the crumpled tinder while it floated upwards, as if his mind misgave him, that the mystery it had contained might come out at the chimney-pot.
And yet all this was quite a secret. Mr Nadgett kept it to himself, and kept it close. Jonas had no more idea that Mr Nadgett's eyes were fixed on him, than he had that he was living under the daily inspection and report of a whole order of Jesuits. Indeed Mr Nadgett's eyes were seldom fixed on any other objects than the ground, the clock, or the fire; but every button on his coat might have been an eye, he saw so much.
The secret manner of the man disarmed suspicion in this wise; suggesting, not that he was watching any one, but that he thought some other man was watching him. He went about so stealthily, and kept himself so wrapped up in himself, that the whole object of his life appeared to be, to avoid notice and preserve his own mystery. Jonas sometimes saw him in the street, hovering in the outer office, waiting at the door for the man who never came, or slinking off with his immovable face and drooping head, and the one beaver glove dangling before him; but he would as soon have thought of the cross upon the top of St. Paul's Cathedral taking note of what he did, or slowly winding a great net about his feet, as of Nadgett's being engaged in such an occupation.
Mr Nadgett made a mysterious change about this time in his mysterious life: for whereas he had, until now, been first seen every morning coming down Cornhill, so exactly like the Nadgett of the day before as to occasion a popular belief that he never went to bed or took his clothes off, he was now first seen in Holborn, coming out of Kingsgate Street; and it was soon discovered that he actually went every morning to a barber's shop in that street to get shaved; and that the barber's name was Sweedlepipe. He seemed to make appointments with the man who never came, to meet him at this barber's; for he would frequently take long spells of waiting in the shop, and would ask for pen and ink, and pull out his pocket-book, and be very busy over it for an hour at a time. Mrs Gamp and Mr Sweedlepipe had many deep discoursings on the subject of this mysterious customer; but they usually agreed that he had speculated too much and was keeping out of the way.
He must have appointed the man who never kept his word, to meet him at another new place too; for one day he was found, for the first time, by the waiter at the Mourning Coach-Horse, the House-of-call for Undertakers, down in the City there, making figures with a pipe-stem in the sawdust of a clean spittoon; and declining to call for anything, on the ground of expecting a gentleman presently. As the gentleman was not honourable enough to keep his engagement, he came again next day, with his pocket-book in such a state of distention that he was regarded in the bar as a man of large property. After that, he repeated his visits every day, and had so much writing to do, that he made nothing of emptying a capacious leaden inkstand in two sittings. Although he never talked much, still, by being there among the regular customers, he made their acquaintance, and in course of time became quite intimate with Mr Tacker, Mr Mould's foreman; and even with Mr Mould himself, who openly said he was a long-headed man, a dry one, a salt fish, a deep file, a rasper; and made him the subject of many other flattering encomiums.
At the same time, too, he told the people at the Assurance Office, in his own mysterious way, that there was something wrong (secretly wrong, of course) in his liver, and that he feared he must put himself under the doctor's hands. He was delivered over to Jobling upon this representation; and though Jobling could not find out where his liver was wrong, wrong Mr Nadgett said it was; observing that it was his own liver, and he hoped he ought to know. Accordingly, he became Mr Jobling's patient; and detailing his symptoms in his slow and secret way, was in and out of that gentleman's room a dozen times a day.
As he pursued all these occupations at once; and all steadily; and all secretly; and never slackened in his watchfulness of everything that Mr Jonas said and did, and left unsaid and undone; it is not improbable that they were, secretly, essential parts of some great scheme which Mr Nadgett had on foot.
It was on the morning of this very day on which so much had happened to Tom Pinch, that Nadgett suddenly appeared before Mr Montague's house in Pall Mall—he always made his appearance as if he had that moment come up a trap—when the clocks were striking nine. He rang the bell in a covert under-handed way, as though it were a treasonable act; and passed in at the door, the moment it was opened wide enough to receive his body. That done, he shut it immediately with his own hands.
Mr Bailey, taking up his name without delay, returned with a request that he would follow him into his master's chamber. The chairman of the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Board was dressing, and received him as a business person who was often backwards and forwards, and was received at all times for his business' sake.
'Well, Mr Nadgett?'
Mr Nadgett put his hat upon the ground and coughed. The boy having withdrawn and shut the door, he went to it softly, examined the handle, and returned to within a pace or two of the chair in which Mr Montague sat.
'Any news, Mr Nadgett?'
'I think we have some news at last, sir.'
'I am happy to hear it. I began to fear you were off the scent, Mr Nadgett.'
'No, sir. It grows cold occasionally. It will sometimes. We can't help that.'
'You are truth itself, Mr Nadgett. Do you report a great success?'
'That depends upon your judgment and construction of it,' was his answer, as he put on his spectacles.
'What do you think of it yourself? Have you pleased yourself?'
Mr Nadgett rubbed his hands slowly, stroked his chin, looked round the room, and said, 'Yes, yes, I think it's a good case. I am disposed to think it's a good case. Will you go into it at once?'
'By all means.'
Mr Nadgett picked out a certain chair from among the rest, and having planted it in a particular spot, as carefully as if he had been going to vault over it, placed another chair in front of it; leaving room for his own legs between them. He then sat down in chair number two, and laid his pocket-book, very carefully, on chair number one. He then untied the pocket-book, and hung the string over the back of chair number one. He then drew both the chairs a little nearer Mr Montague, and opening the pocket-book spread out its contents. Finally he selected a certain memorandum from the rest, and held it out to his employer, who, during the whole of these preliminary ceremonies, had been making violent efforts to conceal his impatience.
'I wish you wouldn't be so fond of making notes, my excellent friend,' said Tigg Montague with a ghastly smile. 'I wish you would consent to give me their purport by word of mouth.'
'I don't like word of mouth,' said Mr Nadgett gravely. 'We never know who's listening.'
Mr Montague was going to retort, when Nadgett handed him the paper, and said, with quiet exultation in his tone, 'We'll begin at the beginning, and take that one first, if you please, sir.'
The chairman cast his eyes upon it, coldly, and with a smile which did not render any great homage to the slow and methodical habits of his spy. But he had not read half-a-dozen lines when the expression of his face began to change, and before he had finished the perusal of the paper, it was full of grave and serious attention.
'Number Two,' said Mr Nadgett, handing him another, and receiving back the first. 'Read Number Two, sir, if you please. There is more interest as you go on.'
Tigg Montague leaned backward in his chair, and cast upon his emissary such a look of vacant wonder (not unmingled with alarm), that Mr Nadgett considered it necessary to repeat the request he had already twice preferred; with the view to recalling his attention to the point in hand. Profiting by the hint, Mr Montague went on with Number Two, and afterwards with Numbers Three, and Four, and Five, and so on.
These documents were all in Mr Nadgett's writing, and were apparently a series of memoranda, jotted down from time to time upon the backs of old letters, or any scrap of paper that came first to hand. Loose straggling scrawls they were, and of very uninviting exterior; but they had weighty purpose in them, if the chairman's face were any index to the character of their contents.
The progress of Mr Nadgett's secret satisfaction arising out of the effect they made, kept pace with the emotions of the reader. At first, Mr Nadgett sat with his spectacles low down upon his nose, looking over them at his employer, and nervously rubbing his hands. After a little while, he changed his posture in his chair for one of greater ease, and leisurely perused the next document he held ready as if an occasional glance at his employer's face were now enough and all occasion for anxiety or doubt were gone. And finally he rose and looked out of the window, where he stood with a triumphant air until Tigg Montague had finished.
'And this is the last, Mr Nadgett!' said that gentleman, drawing a long breath.
'That, sir, is the last.'
'You are a wonderful man, Mr Nadgett!'
'I think it is a pretty good case,' he returned as he gathered up his papers. 'It cost some trouble, sir.'
'The trouble shall be well rewarded, Mr Nadgett.' Nadgett bowed. 'There is a deeper impression of Somebody's Hoof here, than I had expected, Mr Nadgett. I may congratulate myself upon your being such a good hand at a secret.'
'Oh! nothing has an interest to me that's not a secret,' replied Nadgett, as he tied the string about his pocket-book, and put it up. 'It always takes away any pleasure I may have had in this inquiry even to make it known to you.'
'A most invaluable constitution,' Tigg retorted. 'A great gift for a gentleman employed as you are, Mr Nadgett. Much better than discretion; though you possess that quality also in an eminent degree. I think I heard a double knock. Will you put your head out of window, and tell me whether there is anybody at the door?'
Mr Nadgett softly raised the sash, and peered out from the very corner, as a man might who was looking down into a street from whence a brisk discharge of musketry might be expected at any moment. Drawing in his head with equal caution, he observed, not altering his voice or manner:
'Mr Jonas Chuzzlewit!'
'I thought so,' Tigg retorted.
'Shall I go?'
'I think you had better. Stay though! No! remain here, Mr Nadgett, if you please.'
It was remarkable how pale and flurried he had become in an instant. There was nothing to account for it. His eye had fallen on his razors; but what of them!
Mr Chuzzlewit was announced.
'Show him up directly. Nadgett! don't you leave us alone together. Mind you don't, now! By the Lord!' he added in a whisper to himself: 'We don't know what may happen.'
Saying this, he hurriedly took up a couple of hair-brushes, and began to exercise them on his own head, as if his toilet had not been interrupted. Mr Nadgett withdrew to the stove, in which there was a small fire for the convenience of heating curling-irons; and taking advantage of so favourable an opportunity for drying his pocket-handkerchief, produced it without loss of time. There he stood, during the whole interview, holding it before the bars, and sometimes, but not often, glancing over his shoulder.
'My dear Chuzzlewit!' cried Montague, as Jonas entered. 'You rise with the lark. Though you go to bed with the nightingale, you rise with the lark. You have superhuman energy, my dear Chuzzlewit!'
'Ecod!' said Jonas, with an air of langour and ill-humour, as he took a chair, 'I should be very glad not to get up with the lark, if I could help it. But I am a light sleeper; and it's better to be up than lying awake, counting the dismal old church-clocks, in bed.'
'A light sleeper!' cried his friend. 'Now, what is a light sleeper? I often hear the expression, but upon my life I have not the least conception what a light sleeper is.'
'Hallo!' said Jonas, 'Who's that? Oh, old what's-his-name: looking (as usual) as if he wanted to skulk up the chimney.'
'Ha, ha! I have no doubt he does.'
'Well! He's not wanted here, I suppose,' said Jonas. 'He may go, mayn't he?'
'Oh, let him stay, let him stay!' said Tigg. 'He's a mere piece of furniture. He has been making his report, and is waiting for further orders. He has been told,' said Tigg, raising his voice, 'not to lose sight of certain friends of ours, or to think that he has done with them by any means. He understands his business.'
'He need,' replied Jonas; 'for of all the precious old dummies in appearance that I ever saw, he's about the worst. He's afraid of me, I think.'
'It's my belief,' said Tigg, 'that you are Poison to him. Nadgett! give me that towel!'
He had as little occasion for a towel as Jonas had for a start. But Nadgett brought it quickly; and, having lingered for a moment, fell back upon his old post by the fire.
'You see, my dear fellow,' resumed Tigg, 'you are too—what's the matter with your lips? How white they are!'
'I took some vinegar just now,' said Jonas. 'I had oysters for my breakfast. Where are they white?' he added, muttering an oath, and rubbing them upon his handkerchief. 'I don't believe they ARE white.'
'Now I look again, they are not,' replied his friend. 'They are coming right again.'
'Say what you were going to say,' cried Jonas angrily, 'and let my face be! As long as I can show my teeth when I want to (and I can do that pretty well), the colour of my lips is not material.'
'Quite true,' said Tigg. 'I was only going to say that you are too quick and active for our friend. He is too shy to cope with such a man as you, but does his duty well. Oh, very well! But what is a light sleeper?'
'Hang a light sleeper!' exclaimed Jonas pettishly.
'No, no,' interrupted Tigg. 'No. We'll not do that.'
'A light sleeper ain't a heavy one,' said Jonas in his sulky way; 'don't sleep much, and don't sleep well, and don't sleep sound.'
'And dreams,' said Tigg, 'and cries out in an ugly manner; and when the candle burns down in the night, is in an agony; and all that sort of thing. I see!'
They were silent for a little time. Then Jonas spoke:
'Now we've done with child's talk, I want to have a word with you. I want to have a word with you before we meet up yonder to-day. I am not satisfied with the state of affairs.'
'Not satisfied!' cried Tigg. 'The money comes in well.'
'The money comes in well enough,' retorted Jonas, 'but it don't come out well enough. It can't be got at easily enough. I haven't sufficient power; it is all in your hands. Ecod! what with one of your by-laws, and another of your by-laws, and your votes in this capacity, and your votes in that capacity, and your official rights, and your individual rights, and other people's rights who are only you again, there are no rights left for me. Everybody else's rights are my wrongs. What's the use of my having a voice if it's always drowned? I might as well be dumb, and it would be much less aggravating. I'm not a-going to stand that, you know.'
'No!' said Tigg in an insinuating tone.
'No!' returned Jonas, 'I'm not indeed. I'll play old Gooseberry with the office, and make you glad to buy me out at a good high figure, if you try any of your tricks with me.'
'I give you my honour—' Montague began.
'Oh! confound your honour,' interrupted Jonas, who became more coarse and quarrelsome as the other remonstrated, which may have been a part of Mr Montague's intention; 'I want a little more control over the money. You may have all the honour, if you like; I'll never bring you to book for that. But I'm not a-going to stand it, as it is now. If you should take it into your honourable head to go abroad with the bank, I don't see much to prevent you. Well! That won't do. I've had some very good dinners here, but they'd come too dear on such terms; and therefore, that won't do.'
'I am unfortunate to find you in this humour,' said Tigg, with a remarkable kind of smile; 'for I was going to propose to you—for your own advantage; solely for your own advantage—that you should venture a little more with us.'
'Was you, by G—?' said Jonas, with a short laugh.
'Yes. And to suggest,' pursued Montague, 'that surely you have friends; indeed, I know you have; who would answer our purpose admirably, and whom we should be delighted to receive.'
'How kind of you! You'd be delighted to receive 'em, would you?' said Jonas, bantering.
'I give you my sacred honour, quite transported. As your friends, observe!'
'Exactly,' said Jonas; 'as my friends, of course. You'll be very much delighted when you get 'em, I have no doubt. And it'll be all to my advantage, won't it?'
'It will be very much to your advantage,' answered Montague poising a brush in each hand, and looking steadily upon him. 'It will be very much to your advantage, I assure you.'
'And you can tell me how,' said Jonas, 'can't you?'
'SHALL I tell you how?' returned the other.
'I think you had better,' said Jonas. 'Strange things have been done in the Assurance way before now, by strange sorts of men, and I mean to take care of myself.'
'Chuzzlewit!' replied Montague, leaning forward, with his arms upon his knees, and looking full into his face. 'Strange things have been done, and are done every day; not only in our way, but in a variety of other ways; and no one suspects them. But ours, as you say, my good friend, is a strange way; and we strangely happen, sometimes, to come into the knowledge of very strange events.'
He beckoned to Jonas to bring his chair nearer; and looking slightly round, as if to remind him of the presence of Nadgett, whispered in his ear.
From red to white; from white to red again; from red to yellow; then to a cold, dull, awful, sweat-bedabbled blue. In that short whisper, all these changes fell upon the face of Jonas Chuzzlewit; and when at last he laid his hand upon the whisperer's mouth, appalled, lest any syllable of what he said should reach the ears of the third person present, it was as bloodless and as heavy as the hand of Death.
He drew his chair away, and sat a spectacle of terror, misery, and rage. He was afraid to speak, or look, or move, or sit still. Abject, crouching, and miserable, he was a greater degradation to the form he bore, than if he had been a loathsome wound from head to heel.
His companion leisurely resumed his dressing, and completed it, glancing sometimes with a smile at the transformation he had effected, but never speaking once.
'You'll not object,' he said, when he was quite equipped, 'to venture further with us, Chuzzlewit, my friend?'
His pale lips faintly stammered out a 'No.'
'Well said! That's like yourself. Do you know I was thinking yesterday that your father-in-law, relying on your advice as a man of great sagacity in money matters, as no doubt you are, would join us, if the thing were well presented to him. He has money?'
'Yes, he has money.'
'Shall I leave Mr Pecksniff to you? Will you undertake for Mr Pecksniff.'
'I'll try. I'll do my best.'
'A thousand thanks,' replied the other, clapping him upon the shoulder. 'Shall we walk downstairs? Mr Nadgett! Follow us, if you please.'
They went down in that order. Whatever Jonas felt in reference to Montague; whatever sense he had of being caged, and barred, and trapped, and having fallen down into a pit of deepest ruin; whatever thoughts came crowding on his mind even at that early time, of one terrible chance of escape, of one red glimmer in a sky of blackness; he no more thought that the slinking figure half-a-dozen stairs behind him was his pursuing Fate, than that the other figure at his side was his Good Angel.
CONTAINING SOME FURTHER PARTICULARS OF THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY OF THE PINCHES; WITH STRANGE NEWS FROM THE CITY, NARROWLY CONCERNING TOM
Pleasant little Ruth! Cheerful, tidy, bustling, quiet little Ruth! No doll's house ever yielded greater delight to its young mistress, than little Ruth derived from her glorious dominion over the triangular parlour and the two small bedrooms.
To be Tom's housekeeper. What dignity! Housekeeping, upon the commonest terms, associated itself with elevated responsibilities of all sorts and kinds; but housekeeping for Tom implied the utmost complication of grave trusts and mighty charges. Well might she take the keys out of the little chiffonier which held the tea and sugar; and out of the two little damp cupboards down by the fireplace, where the very black beetles got mouldy, and had the shine taken out of their backs by envious mildew; and jingle them upon a ring before Tom's eyes when he came down to breakfast! Well might she, laughing musically, put them up in that blessed little pocket of hers with a merry pride! For it was such a grand novelty to be mistress of anything, that if she had been the most relentless and despotic of all little housekeepers, she might have pleaded just that much for her excuse, and have been honourably acquitted.
So far from being despotic, however, there was a coyness about her very way of pouring out the tea, which Tom quite revelled in. And when she asked him what he would like to have for dinner, and faltered out 'chops' as a reasonably good suggestion after their last night's successful supper, Tom grew quite facetious, and rallied her desperately.
'I don't know, Tom,' said his sister, blushing, 'I am not quite confident, but I think I could make a beef-steak pudding, if I tried, Tom.'
'In the whole catalogue of cookery, there is nothing I should like so much as a beef-steak pudding!' cried Tom, slapping his leg to give the greater force to this reply.
'Yes, dear, that's excellent! But if it should happen not to come quite right the first time,' his sister faltered; 'if it should happen not to be a pudding exactly, but should turn out a stew, or a soup, or something of that sort, you'll not be vexed, Tom, will you?'
The serious way in which she looked at Tom; the way in which Tom looked at her; and the way in which she gradually broke into a merry laugh at her own expense, would have enchanted you.
'Why,' said Tom 'this is capital. It gives us a new, and quite an uncommon interest in the dinner. We put into a lottery for a beefsteak pudding, and it is impossible to say what we may get. We may make some wonderful discovery, perhaps, and produce such a dish as never was known before.'
'I shall not be at all surprised if we do, Tom,' returned his sister, still laughing merrily, 'or if it should prove to be such a dish as we shall not feel very anxious to produce again; but the meat must come out of the saucepan at last, somehow or other, you know. We can't cook it into nothing at all; that's a great comfort. So if you like to venture, I will.'
'I have not the least doubt,' rejoined Tom, 'that it will come out an excellent pudding, or at all events, I am sure that I shall think it so. There is naturally something so handy and brisk about you, Ruth, that if you said you could make a bowl of faultless turtle soup, I should believe you.'
And Tom was right. She was precisely that sort of person. Nobody ought to have been able to resist her coaxing manner; and nobody had any business to try. Yet she never seemed to know it was her manner at all. That was the best of it.
Well! she washed up the breakfast cups, chatting away the whole time, and telling Tom all sorts of anecdotes about the brass-and-copper founder; put everything in its place; made the room as neat as herself;—you must not suppose its shape was half as neat as hers though, or anything like it—and brushed Tom's old hat round and round and round again, until it was as sleek as Mr Pecksniff. Then she discovered, all in a moment, that Tom's shirt-collar was frayed at the edge; and flying upstairs for a needle and thread, came flying down again with her thimble on, and set it right with wonderful expertness; never once sticking the needle into his face, although she was humming his pet tune from first to last, and beating time with the fingers of her left hand upon his neckcloth. She had no sooner done this, than off she was again; and there she stood once more, as brisk and busy as a bee, tying that compact little chin of hers into an equally compact little bonnet; intent on bustling out to the butcher's, without a minute's loss of time; and inviting Tom to come and see the steak cut, with his own eyes. As to Tom, he was ready to go anywhere; so off they trotted, arm-in-arm, as nimbly as you please; saying to each other what a quiet street it was to lodge in, and how very cheap, and what an airy situation.
To see the butcher slap the steak, before he laid it on the block, and give his knife a sharpening, was to forget breakfast instantly. It was agreeable, too—it really was—to see him cut it off, so smooth and juicy. There was nothing savage in the act, although the knife was large and keen; it was a piece of art, high art; there was delicacy of touch, clearness of tone, skillful handling of the subject, fine shading. It was the triumph of mind over matter; quite.
Perhaps the greenest cabbage-leaf ever grown in a garden was wrapped about this steak, before it was delivered over to Tom. But the butcher had a sentiment for his business, and knew how to refine upon it. When he saw Tom putting the cabbage-leaf into his pocket awkwardly, he begged to be allowed to do it for him; 'for meat,' he said with some emotion, 'must be humoured, not drove.'
Back they went to the lodgings again, after they had bought some eggs, and flour, and such small matters; and Tom sat gravely down to write at one end of the parlour table, while Ruth prepared to make the pudding at the other end; for there was nobody in the house but an old woman (the landlord being a mysterious sort of man, who went out early in the morning, and was scarcely ever seen); and saving in mere household drudgery, they waited on themselves.
'What are you writing, Tom?' inquired his sister, laying her hand upon his shoulder.
'Why, you see, my dear,' said Tom, leaning back in his chair, and looking up in her face, 'I am very anxious, of course, to obtain some suitable employment; and before Mr Westlock comes this afternoon, I think I may as well prepare a little description of myself and my qualifications; such as he could show to any friend of his.'
'You had better do the same for me, Tom, also,' said his sister, casting down her eyes. 'I should dearly like to keep house for you and take care of you always, Tom; but we are not rich enough for that.'
'We are not rich,' returned Tom, 'certainly; and we may be much poorer. But we will not part if we can help it. No, no; we will make up our minds Ruth, that unless we are so very unfortunate as to render me quite sure that you would be better off away from me than with me, we will battle it out together. I am certain we shall be happier if we can battle it out together. Don't you think we shall?'
'Oh, tut, tut!' interposed Tom, tenderly. 'You mustn't cry.'
'No, no; I won't, Tom. But you can't afford it, dear. You can't, indeed.'
'We don't know that,' said Tom. 'How are we to know that, yet awhile, and without trying? Lord bless my soul!'—Tom's energy became quite grand—'there is no knowing what may happen, if we try hard. And I am sure we can live contentedly upon a very little—if we can only get it.'
'Yes; that I am sure we can, Tom.'
'Why, then,' said Tom, 'we must try for it. My friend, John Westlock, is a capital fellow, and very shrewd and intelligent. I'll take his advice. We'll talk it over with him—both of us together. You'll like John very much, when you come to know him, I am certain. Don't cry, don't cry. YOU make a beef-steak pudding, indeed!' said Tom, giving her a gentle push. 'Why, you haven't boldness enough for a dumpling!'
'You WILL call it a pudding, Tom. Mind! I told you not!'
'I may as well call it that, till it proves to be something else,' said Tom. 'Oh, you are going to work in earnest, are you?'
Aye, aye! That she was. And in such pleasant earnest, moreover, that Tom's attention wandered from his writing every moment. First, she tripped downstairs into the kitchen for the flour, then for the pie-board, then for the eggs, then for the butter, then for a jug of water, then for the rolling-pin, then for a pudding-basin, then for the pepper, then for the salt; making a separate journey for everything, and laughing every time she started off afresh. When all the materials were collected she was horrified to find she had no apron on, and so ran UPstairs by way of variety, to fetch it. She didn't put it on upstairs, but came dancing down with it in her hand; and being one of those little women to whom an apron is a most becoming little vanity, it took an immense time to arrange; having to be carefully smoothed down beneath—Oh, heaven, what a wicked little stomacher!—and to be gathered up into little plaits by the strings before it could be tied, and to be tapped, rebuked, and wheedled, at the pockets, before it would set right, which at last it did, and when it did—but never mind; this is a sober chronicle. And then, there were her cuffs to be tucked up, for fear of flour; and she had a little ring to pull off her finger, which wouldn't come off (foolish little ring!); and during the whole of these preparations she looked demurely every now and then at Tom, from under her dark eyelashes, as if they were all a part of the pudding, and indispensable to its composition.
For the life and soul of him, Tom could get no further in his writing than, 'A respectable young man, aged thirty-five,' and this, notwithstanding the show she made of being supernaturally quiet, and going about on tiptoe, lest she should disturb him; which only served as an additional means of distracting his attention, and keeping it upon her.
'Tom,' she said at last, in high glee. 'Tom!'
'What now?' said Tom, repeating to himself, 'aged thirty-five!'
'Will you look here a moment, please?'
As if he hadn't been looking all the time!
'I am going to begin, Tom. Don't you wonder why I butter the inside of the basin?' said his busy little sister.
'Not more than you do, I dare say,' replied Tom, laughing. 'For I believe you don't know anything about it.'
'What an infidel you are, Tom! How else do you think it would turn out easily when it was done! For a civil-engineer and land-surveyor not to know that! My goodness, Tom!'
It was wholly out of the question to try to write. Tom lined out 'respectable young man, aged thirty-five;' and sat looking on, pen in hand, with one of the most loving smiles imaginable.
Such a busy little woman as she was! So full of self-importance and trying so hard not to smile, or seem uncertain about anything! It was a perfect treat to Tom to see her with her brows knit, and her rosy lips pursed up, kneading away at the crust, rolling it out, cutting it up into strips, lining the basin with it, shaving it off fine round the rim, chopping up the steak into small pieces, raining down pepper and salt upon them, packing them into the basin, pouring in cold water for gravy, and never venturing to steal a look in his direction, lest her gravity should be disturbed; until, at last, the basin being quite full and only wanting the top crust, she clapped her hands all covered with paste and flour, at Tom, and burst out heartily into such a charming little laugh of triumph, that the pudding need have had no other seasoning to commend it to the taste of any reasonable man on earth.
'Where's the pudding?' said Tom. For he was cutting his jokes, Tom was.
'Where!' she answered, holding it up with both hands. 'Look at it!'
'THAT a pudding!' said Tom.
'It WILL be, you stupid fellow, when it's covered in,' returned his sister. Tom still pretending to look incredulous, she gave him a tap on the head with the rolling-pin, and still laughing merrily, had returned to the composition of the top crust, when she started and turned very red. Tom started, too, for following her eyes, he saw John Westlock in the room.
'Why, my goodness, John! How did YOU come in?'
'I beg pardon,' said John—' your sister's pardon especially—but I met an old lady at the street door, who requested me to enter here; and as you didn't hear me knock, and the door was open, I made bold to do so. I hardly know,' said John, with a smile, 'why any of us should be disconcerted at my having accidentally intruded upon such an agreeable domestic occupation, so very agreeably and skillfully pursued; but I must confess that I am. Tom, will you kindly come to my relief?'
'Mr John Westlock,' said Tom. 'My sister.'
'I hope that, as the sister of so old a friend,' said John, laughing 'you will have the goodness to detach your first impressions of me from my unfortunate entrance.'
'My sister is not indisposed perhaps to say the same to you on her own behalf,' retorted Tom.
John said, of course, that this was quite unnecessary, for he had been transfixed in silent admiration; and he held out his hand to Miss Pinch; who couldn't take it, however, by reason of the flour and paste upon her own. This, which might seem calculated to increase the general confusion and render matters worse, had in reality the best effect in the world, for neither of them could help laughing; and so they both found themselves on easy terms immediately.
'I am delighted to see you,' said Tom. 'Sit down.'
'I can only think of sitting down on one condition,' returned his friend; 'and that is, that your sister goes on with the pudding, as if you were still alone.'
'That I am sure she will,' said Tom. 'On one other condition, and that is, that you stay and help us to eat it.'
Poor little Ruth was seized with a palpitation of the heart when Tom committed this appalling indiscretion, for she felt that if the dish turned out a failure, she never would be able to hold up her head before John Westlock again. Quite unconscious of her state of mind, John accepted the invitation with all imaginable heartiness; and after a little more pleasantry concerning this same pudding, and the tremendous expectations he made believe to entertain of it, she blushingly resumed her occupation, and he took a chair.
'I am here much earlier than I intended, Tom; but I will tell you, what brings me, and I think I can answer for your being glad to hear it. Is that anything you wish to show me?'
'Oh dear no!' cried Tom, who had forgotten the blotted scrap of paper in his hand, until this inquiry brought it to his recollection. '"A respectable young man, aged thirty-five"—The beginning of a description of myself. That's all.'
'I don't think you will have occasion to finish it, Tom. But how is it you never told me you had friends in London?'
Tom looked at his sister with all his might; and certainly his sister looked with all her might at him.
'Friends in London!' echoed Tom.
'Ah!' said Westlock, 'to be sure.'
'Have YOU any friends in London, Ruth, my dear!' asked Tom.
'I am very happy to hear that I have,' said Tom, 'but it's news to me. I never knew it. They must be capital people to keep a secret, John.'
'You shall judge for yourself,' returned the other. 'Seriously, Tom, here is the plain state of the case. As I was sitting at breakfast this morning, there comes a knock at my door.'
'On which you cried out, very loud, "Come in!"' suggested Tom.
'So I did. And the person who knocked, not being a respectable young man, aged thirty-five, from the country, came in when he was invited, instead of standing gaping and staring about him on the landing. Well! When he came in, I found he was a stranger; a grave, business-like, sedate-looking, stranger. "Mr Westlock?" said he. "That is my name," said I. "The favour of a few words with you?" said he. "Pray be seated, sir," said I.'
Here John stopped for an instant, to glance towards the table, where Tom's sister, listening attentively, was still busy with the basin, which by this time made a noble appearance. Then he resumed:
'The pudding having taken a chair, Tom—'
'What!' cried Tom.
'Having taken a chair.'
'You said a pudding.'
'No, no,' replied John, colouring rather; 'a chair. The idea of a stranger coming into my rooms at half-past eight o'clock in the morning, and taking a pudding! Having taken a chair, Tom, a chair—amazed me by opening the conversation thus: "I believe you are acquainted, sir, with Mr Thomas Pinch?"
'No!' cried Tom.
'His very words, I assure you. I told him I was. Did I know where you were at present residing? Yes. In London? Yes. He had casually heard, in a roundabout way, that you had left your situation with Mr Pecksniff. Was that the fact? Yes, it was. Did you want another? Yes, you did.'
'Certainly,' said Tom, nodding his head.
'Just what I impressed upon him. You may rest assured that I set that point beyond the possibility of any mistake, and gave him distinctly to understand that he might make up his mind about it. Very well.'
"Then," said he, "I think I can accommodate him."'
Tom's sister stopped short.
'Lord bless me!' cried Tom. 'Ruth, my dear, "think I can accommodate him."'
'Of course I begged him,' pursued John Westlock, glancing at Tom's sister, who was not less eager in her interest than Tom himself, 'to proceed, and said that I would undertake to see you immediately. He replied that he had very little to say, being a man of few words, but such as it was, it was to the purpose—and so, indeed, it turned out—for he immediately went on to tell me that a friend of his was in want of a kind of secretary and librarian; and that although the salary was small, being only a hundred pounds a year, with neither board nor lodging, still the duties were not heavy, and there the post was. Vacant, and ready for your acceptance.'
'Good gracious me!' cried Tom; 'a hundred pounds a year! My dear John! Ruth, my love! A hundred pounds a year!'
'But the strangest part of the story,' resumed John Westlock, laying his hand on Tom's wrist, to bespeak his attention, and repress his ecstasies for the moment; 'the strangest part of the story, Miss Pinch, is this. I don't know this man from Adam; neither does this man know Tom.'
'He can't,' said Tom, in great perplexity, 'if he's a Londoner. I don't know any one in London.'
'And on my observing,' John resumed, still keeping his hand upon Tom's wrist, 'that I had no doubt he would excuse the freedom I took in inquiring who directed him to me; how he came to know of the change which had taken place in my friend's position; and how he came to be acquainted with my friend's peculiar fitness for such an office as he had described; he drily said that he was not at liberty to enter into any explanations.'
'Not at liberty to enter into any explanations!' repeated Tom, drawing a long breath.
'"I must be perfectly aware," he said,' John added, '"that to any person who had ever been in Mr Pecksniff's neighbourhood, Mr Thomas Pinch and his acquirements were as well known as the Church steeple, or the Blue Dragon."'
'The Blue Dragon!' repeated Tom, staring alternately at his friend and his sister.
'Aye, think of that! He spoke as familiarly of the Blue Dragon, I give you my word, as if he had been Mark Tapley. I opened my eyes, I can tell you, when he did so; but I could not fancy I had ever seen the man before, although he said with a smile, "You know the Blue Dragon, Mr Westlock; you kept it up there, once or twice, yourself." Kept it up there! So I did. You remember, Tom?'
Tom nodded with great significance, and, falling into a state of deeper perplexity than before, observed that this was the most unaccountable and extraordinary circumstance he had ever heard of in his life.
'Unaccountable?' his friend repeated. 'I became afraid of the man. Though it was broad day, and bright sunshine, I was positively afraid of him. I declare I half suspected him to be a supernatural visitor, and not a mortal, until he took out a common-place description of pocket-book, and handed me this card.'
'Mr Fips,' said Tom, reading it aloud. 'Austin Friars. Austin Friars sounds ghostly, John.'
'Fips don't, I think,' was John's reply. 'But there he lives, Tom, and there he expects us to call this morning. And now you know as much of this strange incident as I do, upon my honour.'
Tom's face, between his exultation in the hundred pounds a year, and his wonder at this narration, was only to be equalled by the face of his sister, on which there sat the very best expression of blooming surprise that any painter could have wished to see. What the beef-steak pudding would have come to, if it had not been by this time finished, astrology itself could hardly determine.
'Tom,' said Ruth, after a little hesitation, 'perhaps Mr Westlock, in his friendship for you, knows more of this than he chooses to tell.'
'No, indeed!' cried John, eagerly. 'It is not so, I assure you. I wish it were. I cannot take credit to myself, Miss Pinch, for any such thing. All that I know, or, so far as I can judge, am likely to know, I have told you.'
'Couldn't you know more, if you thought proper?' said Ruth, scraping the pie-board industriously.
'No,' retorted John. 'Indeed, no. It is very ungenerous in you to be so suspicious of me when I repose implicit faith in you. I have unbounded confidence in the pudding, Miss Pinch.'
She laughed at this, but they soon got back into a serious vein, and discussed the subject with profound gravity. Whatever else was obscure in the business, it appeared to be quite plain that Tom was offered a salary of one hundred pounds a year; and this being the main point, the surrounding obscurity rather set it off than otherwise.
Tom, being in a great flutter, wished to start for Austin Friars instantly, but they waited nearly an hour, by John's advice, before they departed. Tom made himself as spruce as he could before leaving home, and when John Westlock, through the half-opened parlour door, had glimpses of that brave little sister brushing the collar of his coat in the passage, taking up loose stitches in his gloves and hovering lightly about and about him, touching him up here and there in the height of her quaint, little, old-fashioned tidiness, he called to mind the fancy-portraits of her on the wall of the Pecksniffian workroom, and decided with uncommon indignation that they were gross libels, and not half pretty enough; though, as hath been mentioned in its place, the artists always made those sketches beautiful, and he had drawn at least a score of them with his own hands.