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.