The honest man bestowed a glance on Mr Chuzzlewit, as who should say 'You see!' and addressed himself to Tom in these terms:
'Mr Pinch, I have left the vestry-window unfastened. Will you do me the favour to go and secure it; then bring the keys of the sacred edifice to me!'
'The vestry-window, sir?' cried Tom.
'You understand me, Mr Pinch, I think,' returned his patron. 'Yes, Mr Pinch, the vestry-window. I grieve to say that sleeping in the church after a fatiguing ramble, I overheard just now some fragments,' he emphasised that word, 'of a dialogue between two parties; and one of them locking the church when he went out, I was obliged to leave it myself by the vestry-window. Do me the favour to secure that vestry-window, Mr Pinch, and then come back to me.'
No physiognomist that ever dwelt on earth could have construed Tom's face when he heard these words. Wonder was in it, and a mild look of reproach, but certainly no fear or guilt, although a host of strong emotions struggled to display themselves. He bowed, and without saying one word, good or bad, withdrew.
'Pecksniff,' cried Martin, in a tremble, 'what does all this mean? You are not going to do anything in haste, you may regret!'
'No, my good sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, firmly, 'No. But I have a duty to discharge which I owe to society; and it shall be discharged, my friend, at any cost!'
Oh, late-remembered, much-forgotten, mouthing, braggart duty, always owed, and seldom paid in any other coin than punishment and wrath, when will mankind begin to know thee! When will men acknowledge thee in thy neglected cradle, and thy stunted youth, and not begin their recognition in thy sinful manhood and thy desolate old age! Oh, ermined Judge whose duty to society is, now, to doom the ragged criminal to punishment and death, hadst thou never, Man, a duty to discharge in barring up the hundred open gates that wooed him to the felon's dock, and throwing but ajar the portals to a decent life! Oh, prelate, prelate, whose duty to society it is to mourn in melancholy phrase the sad degeneracy of these bad times in which thy lot of honours has been cast, did nothing go before thy elevation to the lofty seat, from which thou dealest out thy homilies to other tarriers for dead men's shoes, whose duty to society has not begun! Oh! magistrate, so rare a country gentleman and brave a squire, had you no duty to society, before the ricks were blazing and the mob were mad; or did it spring up, armed and booted from the earth, a corps of yeomanry full-grown!
Mr Pecksniff's duty to society could not be paid till Tom came back. The interval which preceded the return of that young man, he occupied in a close conference with his friend; so that when Tom did arrive, he found the two quite ready to receive him. Mary was in her own room above, whither Mr Pecksniff, always considerate, had besought old Martin to entreat her to remain some half-hour longer, that her feelings might be spared.
When Tom came back, he found old Martin sitting by the window, and Mr Pecksniff in an imposing attitude at the table. On one side of him was his pocket-handkerchief; and on the other a little heap (a very little heap) of gold and silver, and odd pence. Tom saw, at a glance, that it was his own salary for the current quarter.
'Have you fastened the vestry-window, Mr Pinch?' said Pecksniff.
'Thank you. Put down the keys if you please, Mr Pinch.'
Tom placed them on the table. He held the bunch by the key of the organ-loft (though it was one of the smallest), and looked hard at it as he laid it down. It had been an old, old friend of Tom's; a kind companion to him, many and many a day.
'Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff, shaking his head; 'oh, Mr Pinch! I wonder you can look me in the face!'
Tom did it though; and notwithstanding that he has been described as stooping generally, he stood as upright then as man could stand.
'Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff, taking up his handkerchief, as if he felt that he should want it soon, 'I will not dwell upon the past. I will spare you, and I will spare myself, that pain at least.'
Tom's was not a very bright eye, but it was a very expressive one when he looked at Mr Pecksniff, and said:
'Thank you, sir.