Was the box there, when they came up to the old finger-post? The box! Was Mrs Lupin herself? Had she turned out magnificently as a hostess should, in her own chaise-cart, and was she sitting in a mahogany chair, driving her own horse Dragon (who ought to have been called Dumpling), and looking lovely? Did the stage-coach pull up beside her, shaving her very wheel, and even while the guard helped her man up with the trunk, did he send the glad echoes of his bugle careering down the chimneys of the distant Pecksniff, as if the coach expressed its exultation in the rescue of Tom Pinch?
'This is kind indeed!' said Tom, bending down to shake hands with her. 'I didn't mean to give you this trouble.'
'Trouble, Mr Pinch!' cried the hostess of the Dragon.
'Well! It's a pleasure to you, I know,' said Tom, squeezing her hand heartily. 'Is there any news?'
The hostess shook her head.
'Say you saw me,' said Tom, 'and that I was very bold and cheerful, and not a bit down-hearted; and that I entreated her to be the same, for all is certain to come right at last. Good-bye!'
'You'll write when you get settled, Mr Pinch?' said Mrs Lupin.
'When I get settled!' cried Tom, with an involuntary opening of his eyes. 'Oh, yes, I'll write when I get settled. Perhaps I had better write before, because I may find that it takes a little time to settle myself; not having too much money, and having only one friend. I shall give your love to the friend, by the way. You were always great with Mr Westlock, you know. Good-bye!'
'Good-bye!' said Mrs Lupin, hastily producing a basket with a long bottle sticking out of it. 'Take this. Good-bye!'
'Do you want me to carry it to London for you?' cried Tom. She was already turning the chaise-cart round.
'No, no,' said Mrs Lupin. 'It's only a little something for refreshment on the road. Sit fast, Jack. Drive on, sir. All right! Good-bye!'
She was a quarter of a mile off, before Tom collected himself; and then he was waving his hand lustily; and so was she.
'And that's the last of the old finger-post,' thought Tom, straining his eyes, 'where I have so often stood to see this very coach go by, and where I have parted with so many companions! I used to compare this coach to some great monster that appeared at certain times to bear my friends away into the world. And now it's bearing me away, to seek my fortune, Heaven knows where and how!'
It made Tom melancholy to picture himself walking up the lane and back to Pecksniff's as of old; and being melancholy, he looked downwards at the basket on his knee, which he had for the moment forgotten.
'She is the kindest and most considerate creature in the world,' thought Tom. 'Now I KNOW that she particularly told that man of hers not to look at me, on purpose to prevent my throwing him a shilling! I had it ready for him all the time, and he never once looked towards me; whereas that man naturally, (for I know him very well,) would have done nothing but grin and stare. Upon my word, the kindness of people perfectly melts me.'
Here he caught the coachman's eye. The coachman winked. 'Remarkable fine woman for her time of life,' said the coachman.
'I quite agree with you,' returned Tom. 'So she is.'
'Finer than many a young 'un, I mean to say,' observed the coachman. 'Eh?'
'Than many a young one,' Tom assented.
'I don't care for 'em myself when they're too young,' remarked the coachman.
This was a matter of taste, which Tom did not feel himself called upon to discuss.
'You'll seldom find 'em possessing correct opinions about refreshment, for instance, when they're too young, you know,' said the coachman; 'a woman must have arrived at maturity, before her mind's equal to coming provided with a basket like that.'
'Perhaps you would like to know what it contains?' said Tom, smiling.
As the coachman only laughed, and as Tom was curious himself, he unpacked it, and put the articles, one by one, upon the footboard. A cold roast fowl, a packet of ham in slices, a crusty loaf, a piece of cheese, a paper of biscuits, half a dozen apples, a knife, some butter, a screw of salt, and a bottle of old sherry.