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.