Tom made himself as spruce as he could before leaving home, and when John Westlock, through the half-opened parlour door, had glimpses of that brave little sister brushing the collar of his coat in the passage, taking up loose stitches in his gloves and hovering lightly about and about him, touching him up here and there in the height of her quaint, little, old-fashioned tidiness, he called to mind the fancy-portraits of her on the wall of the Pecksniffian workroom, and decided with uncommon indignation that they were gross libels, and not half pretty enough; though, as hath been mentioned in its place, the artists always made those sketches beautiful, and he had drawn at least a score of them with his own hands.
'Tom,' he said, as they were walking along, 'I begin to think you must be somebody's son.'
'I suppose I am,' Tom answered in his quiet way.
'But I mean somebody's of consequence.'
'Bless your heart,' replied Tom, 'my poor father was of no consequence, nor my mother either.'
'You remember them perfectly, then?'
'Remember them? oh dear yes. My poor mother was the last. She died when Ruth was a mere baby, and then we both became a charge upon the savings of that good old grandmother I used to tell you of. You remember! Oh! There's nothing romantic in our history, John.'
'Very well,' said John in quiet despair. 'Then there is no way of accounting for my visitor of this morning. So we'll not try, Tom.'
They did try, notwithstanding, and never left off trying until they got to Austin Friars, where, in a very dark passage on the first floor, oddly situated at the back of a house, across some leads, they found a little blear-eyed glass door up in one corner, with MR. FIPS painted on it in characters which were meant to be transparent. There was also a wicked old sideboard hiding in the gloom hard by, meditating designs upon the ribs of visitors; and an old mat, worn into lattice work, which, being useless as a mat (even if anybody could have seen it, which was impossible), had for many years directed its industry into another channel, and regularly tripped up every one of Mr Fips's clients.
Mr Fips, hearing a violent concussion between a human hat and his office door, was apprised, by the usual means of communication, that somebody had come to call upon him, and giving that somebody admission, observed that it was 'rather dark.'
'Dark indeed,' John whispered in Tom Pinch's ear. 'Not a bad place to dispose of a countryman in, I should think, Tom.'
Tom had been already turning over in his mind the possibility of their having been tempted into that region to furnish forth a pie; but the sight of Mr Fips, who was small and spare, and looked peaceable, and wore black shorts and powder, dispelled his doubts.
'Walk in,' said Mr Fips.
They walked in. And a mighty yellow-jaundiced little office Mr Fips had of it; with a great, black, sprawling splash upon the floor in one corner, as if some old clerk had cut his throat there, years ago, and had let out ink instead of blood.
'I have brought my friend Mr Pinch, sir,' said John Westlock.
'Be pleased to sit,' said Mr Fips.
They occupied the two chairs, and Mr Fips took the office stool from the stuffing whereof he drew forth a piece of horse-hair of immense length, which he put into his mouth with a great appearance of appetite.
He looked at Tom Pinch curiously, but with an entire freedom from any such expression as could be reasonably construed into an unusual display of interest. After a short silence, during which Mr Fips was so perfectly unembarrassed as to render it manifest that he could have broken it sooner without hesitation, if he had felt inclined to do so, he asked if Mr Westlock had made his offer fully known to Mr Pinch.
John answered in the affirmative.
'And you think it worth your while, sir, do you?' Mr Fips inquired of Tom.
'I think it a piece of great good fortune, sir,' said Tom. 'I am exceedingly obliged to you for the offer.'
'Not to me,' said Mr Fips.