Home | Site Map
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
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
'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,
'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
'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 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
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
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
'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,
'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
'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
'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
'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
'Not at liberty to enter into any explanations!' repeated Tom, drawing a
'"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
'The Blue Dragon!' repeated Tom, staring alternately at his friend and
'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
'Couldn't you know more, if you thought proper?' said Ruth, scraping the
'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.
'Tom,' he said, as they were walking along, 'I begin to think you must
be somebody's son.'
'I suppose I am,' Tom answered in his quiet way.
'But I mean somebody's of consequence.'
'Bless your heart,' replied Tom, 'my poor father was of no consequence,
nor my mother either.'
'You remember them perfectly, then?'
'Remember them? oh dear yes. My poor mother was the last. She died when
Ruth was a mere baby, and then we both became a charge upon the savings
of that good old grandmother I used to tell you of. You remember! Oh!
There's nothing romantic in our history, John.'
'Very well,' said John in quiet despair. 'Then there is no way of
accounting for my visitor of this morning. So we'll not try, Tom.'
They did try, notwithstanding, and never left off trying until they
got to Austin Friars, where, in a very dark passage on the first floor,
oddly situated at the back of a house, across some leads, they found a
little blear-eyed glass door up in one corner, with Mr FIPS painted on
it in characters which were meant to be transparent. There was also a
wicked old sideboard hiding in the gloom hard by, meditating designs
upon the ribs of visitors; and an old mat, worn into lattice work,
which, being useless as a mat (even if anybody could have seen it, which
was impossible), had for many years directed its industry into another
channel, and regularly tripped up every one of Mr Fips's clients.
Mr Fips, hearing a violent concussion between a human hat and his office
door, was apprised, by the usual means of communication, that somebody
had come to call upon him, and giving that somebody admission, observed
that it was 'rather dark.'
'Dark indeed,' John whispered in Tom Pinch's ear. 'Not a bad place to
dispose of a countryman in, I should think, Tom.'
Tom had been already turning over in his mind the possibility of their
having been tempted into that region to furnish forth a pie; but the
sight of Mr Fips, who was small and spare, and looked peaceable, and
wore black shorts and powder, dispelled his doubts.
'Walk in,' said Mr Fips.
They walked in. And a mighty yellow-jaundiced little office Mr Fips
had of it; with a great, black, sprawling splash upon the floor in one
corner, as if some old clerk had cut his throat there, years ago, and
had let out ink instead of blood.
'I have brought my friend Mr Pinch, sir,' said John Westlock.
'Be pleased to sit,' said Mr Fips.
They occupied the two chairs, and Mr Fips took the office stool from the
stuffing whereof he drew forth a piece of horse-hair of immense length,
which he put into his mouth with a great appearance of appetite.
He looked at Tom Pinch curiously, but with an entire freedom from any
such expression as could be reasonably construed into an unusual
display of interest. After a short silence, during which Mr Fips was
so perfectly unembarrassed as to render it manifest that he could have
broken it sooner without hesitation, if he had felt inclined to do so,
he asked if Mr Westlock had made his offer fully known to Mr Pinch.
John answered in the affirmative.
'And you think it worth your while, sir, do you?' Mr Fips inquired of
'I think it a piece of great good fortune, sir,' said Tom. 'I am
exceedingly obliged to you for the offer.'
'Not to me,' said Mr Fips. 'I act upon instructions.'
'To your friend, sir, then,' said Tom. 'To the gentleman with whom I am
to engage, and whose confidence I shall endeavour to deserve. When he
knows me better, sir, I hope he will not lose his good opinion of me.
He will find me punctual and vigilant, and anxious to do what is right.
That I think I can answer for, and so,' looking towards him, 'can Mr
'Most assuredly,' said John.
Mr Fips appeared to have some little difficulty in resuming the
conversation. To relieve himself, he took up the wafer-stamp, and began
stamping capital F's all over his legs.
'The fact is,' said Mr Fips, 'that my friend is not, at this present
moment, in town.'
Tom's countenance fell; for he thought this equivalent to telling him
that his appearance did not answer; and that Fips must look out for
'When do you think he will be in town, sir?' he asked.
'I can't say; it's impossible to tell. I really have no idea. But,' said
Fips, taking off a very deep impression of the wafer-stamp upon the calf
of his left leg, and looking steadily at Tom, 'I don't know that it's a
matter of much consequence.'
Poor Tom inclined his head deferentially, but appeared to doubt that.
'I say,' repeated Mr Fips, 'that I don't know it's a matter of much
consequence. The business lies entirely between yourself and me, Mr
Pinch. With reference to your duties, I can set you going; and with
reference to your salary, I can pay it. Weekly,' said Mr Fips, putting
down the wafer-stamp, and looking at John Westlock and Tom Pinch by
turns, 'weekly; in this office; at any time between the hours of four
and five o'clock in the afternoon.' As Mr Fips said this, he made up his
face as if he were going to whistle. But he didn't.
'You are very good,' said Tom, whose countenance was now suffused with
pleasure; 'and nothing can be more satisfactory or straightforward. My
attendance will be required--'
'From half-past nine to four o'clock or so, I should say,' interrupted
Mr Fips. 'About that.'
'I did not mean the hours of attendance,' retorted Tom, 'which are light
and easy, I am sure; but the place.'
'Oh, the place! The place is in the Temple.'
Tom was delighted.
'Perhaps,' said Mr Fips, 'you would like to see the place?'
'Oh, dear!' cried Tom. 'I shall only be too glad to consider myself
engaged, if you will allow me; without any further reference to the
'You may consider yourself engaged, by all means,' said Mr Fips; 'you
couldn't meet me at the Temple Gate in Fleet Street, in an hour from
this time, I suppose, could you?'
Certainly Tom could.
'Good,' said Mr Fips, rising. 'Then I will show you the place; and you
can begin your attendance to-morrow morning. In an hour, therefore, I
shall see you. You too, Mr Westlock? Very good. Take care how you go.
It's rather dark.'
With this remark, which seemed superfluous, he shut them out upon
the staircase, and they groped their way into the street again. The
interview had done so little to remove the mystery in which Tom's
new engagement was involved, and had done so much to thicken it, that
neither could help smiling at the puzzled looks of the other. They
agreed, however, that the introduction of Tom to his new office and
office companions could hardly fail to throw a light upon the subject;
and therefore postponed its further consideration until after the
fulfillment of the appointment they had made with Mr Fips.
After looking at John Westlock's chambers, and devoting a few spare
minutes to the Boar's Head, they issued forth again to the place of
meeting. The time agreed upon had not quite come; but Mr Fips was
already at the Temple Gate, and expressed his satisfaction at their
He led the way through sundry lanes and courts, into one more quiet and
more gloomy than the rest, and, singling out a certain house, ascended
a common staircase; taking from his pocket, as he went, a bunch of rusty
keys. Stopping before a door upon an upper story, which had nothing
but a yellow smear of paint where custom would have placed the
tenant's name, he began to beat the dust out of one of these keys, very
deliberately, upon the great broad handrail of the balustrade.
'You had better have a little plug made,' he said, looking round at Tom,
after blowing a shrill whistle into the barrel of the key. 'It's the
only way of preventing them from getting stopped up. You'll find the
lock go the better, too, I dare say, for a little oil.'
Tom thanked him; but was too much occupied with his own speculations,
and John Westlock's looks, to be very talkative. In the meantime Mr Fips
opened the door, which yielded to his hand very unwillingly, and with a
horribly discordant sound. He took the key out, when he had done so, and
gave it to Tom.
'Aye, aye!' said Mr Fips. 'The dust lies rather thick here.'
Truly, it did. Mr Fips might have gone so far as to say, very thick.
It had accumulated everywhere; lay deep on everything, and in one part,
where a ray of sun shone through a crevice in the shutter and struck
upon the opposite wall, it went twirling round and round, like a
Dust was the only thing in the place that had any motion about it. When
their conductor admitted the light freely, and lifting up the heavy
window-sash, let in the summer air, he showed the mouldering furniture,
discoloured wainscoting and ceiling, rusty stove, and ashy hearth, in
all their inert neglect. Close to the door there stood a candlestick,
with an extinguisher upon it; as if the last man who had been there
had paused, after securing a retreat, to take a parting look at
the dreariness he left behind, and then had shut out light and life
together, and closed the place up like a tomb.
There were two rooms on that floor; and in the first or outer one a
narrow staircase, leading to two more above. These last were fitted
up as bed-chambers. Neither in them, nor in the rooms below, was any
scarcity of convenient furniture observable, although the fittings
were of a bygone fashion; but solitude and want of use seemed to have
rendered it unfit for any purposes of comfort, and to have given it a
grisly, haunted air.
Movables of every kind lay strewn about, without the least attempt at
order, and were intermixed with boxes, hampers, and all sorts of lumber.
On all the floors were piles of books, to the amount, perhaps, of some
thousands of volumes: these, still in bales; those, wrapped in paper,
as they had been purchased; others scattered singly or in heaps; not one
upon the shelves which lined the walls. To these Mr Fips called Tom's
'Before anything else can be done, we must have them put in order,
catalogued, and ranged upon the book-shelves, Mr Pinch. That will do to
begin with, I think, sir.'
Tom rubbed his hands in the pleasant anticipation of a task so congenial
to his taste, and said:
'An occupation full of interest for me, I assure you. It will occupy me,
perhaps, until Mr--'
'Until Mr--' repeated Fips; as much as to ask Tom what he was stopping
'I forgot that you had not mentioned the gentleman's name,' said Tom.
'Oh!' cried Mr Fips, pulling on his glove, 'didn't I? No, by-the-bye,
I don't think I did. Ah! I dare say he'll be here soon. You will get on
very well together, I have no doubt. I wish you success I am sure. You
won't forget to shut the door? It'll lock of itself if you slam it.
Half-past nine, you know. Let us say from half-past nine to four, or
half-past four, or thereabouts; one day, perhaps, a little earlier,
another day, perhaps, a little later, according as you feel disposed,
and as you arrange your work. Mr Fips, Austin Friars of course you'll
remember? And you won't forget to slam the door, if you please!'
He said all this in such a comfortable, easy manner, that Tom could only
rub his hands, and nod his head, and smile in acquiescence which he was
still doing, when Mr Fips walked coolly out.
'Why, he's gone!' cried Tom.
'And what's more, Tom,' said John Westlock, seating himself upon a pile
of books, and looking up at his astonished friend, 'he is evidently not
coming back again; so here you are, installed. Under rather singular
It was such an odd affair throughout, and Tom standing there among
the books with his hat in one hand and the key in the other, looked
so prodigiously confounded, that his friend could not help laughing
heartily. Tom himself was tickled; no less by the hilarity of his friend
than by the recollection of the sudden manner in which he had been
brought to a stop, in the very height of his urbane conference with
Mr Fips; so by degrees Tom burst out laughing too; and each making the
other laugh more, they fairly roared.
When they had had their laugh out, which did not happen very soon, for
give John an inch that way and he was sure to take several ells, being
a jovial, good-tempered fellow, they looked about them more closely,
groping among the lumber for any stray means of enlightenment that might
turn up. But no scrap or shred of information could they find. The books
were marked with a variety of owner's names, having, no doubt, been
bought at sales, and collected here and there at different times; but
whether any one of these names belonged to Tom's employer, and, if so,
which of them, they had no means whatever of determining. It occurred to
John as a very bright thought to make inquiry at the steward's office,
to whom the chambers belonged, or by whom they were held; but he came
back no wiser than he went, the answer being, 'Mr Fips, of Austin
'After all, Tom, I begin to think it lies no deeper than this. Fips
is an eccentric man; has some knowledge of Pecksniff; despises him, of
course; has heard or seen enough of you to know that you are the man he
wants; and engages you in his own whimsical manner.'
'But why in his own whimsical manner?' asked Tom.
'Oh! why does any man entertain his own whimsical taste? Why does Mr
Fips wear shorts and powder, and Mr Fips's next-door neighbour boots and
Tom, being in that state of mind in which any explanation is a great
relief, adopted this last one (which indeed was quite as feasible as any
other) readily, and said he had no doubt of it. Nor was his faith at all
shaken by his having said exactly the same thing to each suggestion of
his friend's in turn, and being perfectly ready to say it again if he
had any new solution to propose.
As he had not, Tom drew down the window-sash, and folded the shutter;
and they left the rooms. He closed the door heavily, as Mr Fips had
desired him; tried it, found it all safe, and put the key in his pocket.
They made a pretty wide circuit in going back to Islington, as they had
time to spare, and Tom was never tired of looking about him. It was well
he had John Westlock for his companion, for most people would have
been weary of his perpetual stoppages at shop-windows, and his frequent
dashes into the crowded carriage-way at the peril of his life, to get
the better view of church steeples, and other public buildings. But John
was charmed to see him so much interested, and every time Tom came back
with a beaming face from among the wheels of carts and hackney-coaches,
wholly unconscious of the personal congratulations addressed to him by
the drivers, John seemed to like him better than before.
There was no flour on Ruth's hands when she received them in the
triangular parlour, but there were pleasant smiles upon her face, and a
crowd of welcomes shining out of every smile, and gleaming in her bright
eyes. By the bye, how bright they were! Looking into them for but
a moment, when you took her hand, you saw, in each, such a capital
miniature of yourself, representing you as such a restless, flashing,
eager, brilliant little fellow--
Ah! if you could only have kept them for your own miniature! But,
wicked, roving, restless, too impartial eyes, it was enough for any one
to stand before them, and, straightway, there he danced and sparkled
quite as merrily as you!
The table was already spread for dinner; and though it was spread with
nothing very choice in the way of glass or linen, and with green-handled
knives, and very mountebanks of two-pronged forks, which seemed to be
trying how far asunder they could possibly stretch their legs without
converting themselves into double the number of iron toothpicks, it
wanted neither damask, silver, gold, nor china; no, nor any other
garniture at all. There it was; and, being there, nothing else would
have done as well.
The success of that initiative dish; that first experiment of hers in
cookery; was so entire, so unalloyed and perfect, that John Westlock and
Tom agreed she must have been studying the art in secret for a long time
past; and urged her to make a full confession of the fact. They were
exceedingly merry over this jest, and many smart things were said
concerning it; but John was not as fair in his behaviour as might
have been expected, for, after luring Tom Pinch on for a long time,
he suddenly went over to the enemy, and swore to everything his sister
said. However, as Tom observed the same night before going to bed, it
was only in joke, and John had always been famous for being polite
to ladies, even when he was quite a boy. Ruth said, 'Oh! indeed!' She
didn't say anything else.
It is astonishing how much three people may find to talk about. They
scarcely left off talking once. And it was not all lively chat which
occupied them; for when Tom related how he had seen Mr Pecksniff's
daughters, and what a change had fallen on the younger, they were very
John Westlock became quite absorbed in her fortunes; asking many
questions of Tom Pinch about her marriage, inquiring whether her husband
was the gentleman whom Tom had brought to dine with him at Salisbury;
in what degree of relationship they stood towards each other, being
different persons; and taking, in short, the greatest interest in the
subject. Tom then went into it, at full length; he told how Martin had
gone abroad, and had not been heard of for a long time; how Dragon Mark
had borne him company; how Mr Pecksniff had got the poor old doting
grandfather into his power; and how he basely sought the hand of Mary
Graham. But not a word said Tom of what lay hidden in his heart; his
heart, so deep, and true, and full of honour, and yet with so much room
for every gentle and unselfish thought; not a word.
Tom, Tom! The man in all this world most confident in his sagacity and
shrewdness; the man in all this world most proud of his distrust of
other men, and having most to show in gold and silver as the gains
belonging to his creed; the meekest favourer of that wise doctrine,
Every man for himself, and God for us all (there being high wisdom in
the thought that the Eternal Majesty of Heaven ever was, or can be, on
the side of selfish lust and love!); shall never find, oh, never find,
be sure of that, the time come home to him, when all his wisdom is an
idiot's folly, weighed against a simple heart!
Well, well, Tom, it was simple too, though simple in a different way, to
be so eager touching that same theatre, of which John said, when tea was
done, he had the absolute command, so far as taking parties in without
the payment of a sixpence was concerned; and simpler yet, perhaps, never
to suspect that when he went in first, alone, he paid the money! Simple
in thee, dear Tom, to laugh and cry so heartily at such a sorry show,
so poorly shown; simple to be so happy and loquacious trudging home
with Ruth; simple to be so surprised to find that merry present of
a cookery-book awaiting her in the parlour next morning, with the
beef-steak-pudding-leaf turned down and blotted out. There! Let
the record stand! Thy quality of soul was simple, simple, quite
contemptible, Tom Pinch!