But in some odd nook in Mrs Todgers's breast, up a great many steps, and in a corner easy to be overlooked, there was a secret door, with 'Woman' written on the spring, which, at a touch from Mercy's hand, had flown wide open, and admitted her for shelter.
When boarding-house accounts are balanced with all other ledgers, and the books of the Recording Angel are made up for ever, perhaps there may be seen an entry to thy credit, lean Mrs Todgers, which shall make thee beautiful!
She was growing beautiful so rapidly in Tom's eyes; for he saw that she was poor, and that this good had sprung up in her from among the sordid strivings of her life; that she might have been a very Venus in a minute more, if Miss Pecksniff had not entered with her friend.
'Mr Thomas Pinch!' said Charity, performing the ceremony of introduction with evident pride. 'Mr Moddle. Where's my sister?'
'Gone, Miss Pecksniff,' Mrs Todgers answered. 'She had appointed to be home.'
'Ah!' said Charity, looking at Tom. 'Oh, dear me!'
'She's greatly altered since she's been Anoth--since she's been married, Mrs Todgers!' observed Moddle.
'My dear Augustus!' said Miss Pecksniff, in a low voice. 'I verily believe you have said that fifty thousand times, in my hearing. What a Prose you are!'
This was succeeded by some trifling love passages, which appeared to originate with, if not to be wholly carried on by Miss Pecksniff. At any rate, Mr Moddle was much slower in his responses than is customary with young lovers, and exhibited a lowness of spirits which was quite oppressive.
He did not improve at all when Tom and he were in the streets, but sighed so dismally that it was dreadful to hear him. As a means of cheering him up, Tom told him that he wished him joy.
'Joy!' cried Moddle. 'Ha, ha!'
'What an extraordinary young man!' thought Tom.
'The Scorner has not set his seal upon you. YOU care what becomes of you?' said Moddle.
Tom admitted that it was a subject in which he certainly felt some interest.
'I don't,' said Mr Moddle. 'The Elements may have me when they please. I'm ready.'
Tom inferred from these, and other expressions of the same nature, that he was jealous. Therefore he allowed him to take his own course; which was such a gloomy one, that he felt a load removed from his mind when they parted company at the gate of Furnival's Inn.
It was now a couple of hours past John Westlock's dinner-time; and he was walking up and down the room, quite anxious for Tom's safety. The table was spread; the wine was carefully decanted; and the dinner smelt delicious.
'Why, Tom, old boy, where on earth have you been? Your box is here. Get your boots off instantly, and sit down!'
'I am sorry to say I can't stay, John,' replied Tom Pinch, who was breathless with the haste he had made in running up the stairs.
'If you'll go on with your dinner,' said Tom, 'I'll tell you my reason the while. I mustn't eat myself, or I shall have no appetite for the chops.'
'There are no chops here, my food fellow.'
'No. But there are at Islington,' said Tom.
John Westlock was perfectly confounded by this reply, and vowed he would not touch a morsel until Tom had explained himself fully. So Tom sat down, and told him all; to which he listened with the greatest interest.
He knew Tom too well, and respected his delicacy too much, to ask him why he had taken these measures without communicating with him first. He quite concurred in the expediency of Tom's immediately returning to his sister, as he knew so little of the place in which he had left her, and good-humouredly proposed to ride back with him in a cab, in which he might convey his box. Tom's proposition that he should sup with them that night, he flatly rejected, but made an appointment with him for the morrow. 'And now Tom,' he said, as they rode along, 'I have a question to ask you to which I expect a manly and straightforward answer. Do you want any money? I am pretty sure you do.'
'I don't indeed,' said Tom.