Charles Dickens

'On one other condition, and that is, that you stay and help us to eat it.'

Poor little Ruth was seized with a palpitation of the heart when Tom committed this appalling indiscretion, for she felt that if the dish turned out a failure, she never would be able to hold up her head before John Westlock again. Quite unconscious of her state of mind, John accepted the invitation with all imaginable heartiness; and after a little more pleasantry concerning this same pudding, and the tremendous expectations he made believe to entertain of it, she blushingly resumed her occupation, and he took a chair.

'I am here much earlier than I intended, Tom; but I will tell you, what brings me, and I think I can answer for your being glad to hear it. Is that anything you wish to show me?'

'Oh dear no!' cried Tom, who had forgotten the blotted scrap of paper in his hand, until this inquiry brought it to his recollection. '"A respectable young man, aged thirty-five"--The beginning of a description of myself. That's all.'

'I don't think you will have occasion to finish it, Tom. But how is it you never told me you had friends in London?'

Tom looked at his sister with all his might; and certainly his sister looked with all her might at him.

'Friends in London!' echoed Tom.

'Ah!' said Westlock, 'to be sure.'

'Have YOU any friends in London, Ruth, my dear!' asked Tom.

'No, Tom.'

'I am very happy to hear that I have,' said Tom, 'but it's news to me. I never knew it. They must be capital people to keep a secret, John.'

'You shall judge for yourself,' returned the other. 'Seriously, Tom, here is the plain state of the case. As I was sitting at breakfast this morning, there comes a knock at my door.'

'On which you cried out, very loud, "Come in!"' suggested Tom.

'So I did. And the person who knocked, not being a respectable young man, aged thirty-five, from the country, came in when he was invited, instead of standing gaping and staring about him on the landing. Well! When he came in, I found he was a stranger; a grave, business-like, sedate-looking, stranger. "Mr Westlock?" said he. "That is my name," said I. "The favour of a few words with you?" said he. "Pray be seated, sir," said I.'

Here John stopped for an instant, to glance towards the table, where Tom's sister, listening attentively, was still busy with the basin, which by this time made a noble appearance. Then he resumed:

'The pudding having taken a chair, Tom--'

'What!' cried Tom.

'Having taken a chair.'

'You said a pudding.'

'No, no,' replied John, colouring rather; 'a chair. The idea of a stranger coming into my rooms at half-past eight o'clock in the morning, and taking a pudding! Having taken a chair, Tom, a chair-- amazed me by opening the conversation thus: "I believe you are acquainted, sir, with Mr Thomas Pinch?"

'No!' cried Tom.

'His very words, I assure you. I told him I was. Did I know where you were at present residing? Yes. In London? Yes. He had casually heard, in a roundabout way, that you had left your situation with Mr Pecksniff. Was that the fact? Yes, it was. Did you want another? Yes, you did.'

'Certainly,' said Tom, nodding his head.

'Just what I impressed upon him. You may rest assured that I set that point beyond the possibility of any mistake, and gave him distinctly to understand that he might make up his mind about it. Very well.'

"Then," said he, "I think I can accommodate him."'

Tom's sister stopped short.

'Lord bless me!' cried Tom. 'Ruth, my dear, "think I can accommodate him."'

'Of course I begged him,' pursued John Westlock, glancing at Tom's sister, who was not less eager in her interest than Tom himself, 'to proceed, and said that I would undertake to see you immediately. He replied that he had very little to say, being a man of few words, but such as it was, it was to the purpose--and so, indeed, it turned out--for he immediately went on to tell me that a friend of his was in want of a kind of secretary and librarian; and that although the salary was small, being only a hundred pounds a year, with neither board nor lodging, still the duties were not heavy, and there the post was.