'I act upon instructions.'
'To your friend, sir, then,' said Tom. 'To the gentleman with whom I am to engage, and whose confidence I shall endeavour to deserve. When he knows me better, sir, I hope he will not lose his good opinion of me. He will find me punctual and vigilant, and anxious to do what is right. That I think I can answer for, and so,' looking towards him, 'can Mr Westlock.'
'Most assuredly,' said John.
Mr Fips appeared to have some little difficulty in resuming the conversation. To relieve himself, he took up the wafer-stamp, and began stamping capital F's all over his legs.
'The fact is,' said Mr Fips, 'that my friend is not, at this present moment, in town.'
Tom's countenance fell; for he thought this equivalent to telling him that his appearance did not answer; and that Fips must look out for somebody else.
'When do you think he will be in town, sir?' he asked.
'I can't say; it's impossible to tell. I really have no idea. But,' said Fips, taking off a very deep impression of the wafer- stamp upon the calf of his left leg, and looking steadily at Tom, 'I don't know that it's a matter of much consequence.'
Poor Tom inclined his head deferentially, but appeared to doubt that.
'I say,' repeated Mr Fips, 'that I don't know it's a matter of much consequence. The business lies entirely between yourself and me, Mr Pinch. With reference to your duties, I can set you going; and with reference to your salary, I can pay it. Weekly,' said Mr Fips, putting down the wafer-stamp, and looking at John Westlock and Tom Pinch by turns, 'weekly; in this office; at any time between the hours of four and five o'clock in the afternoon.' As Mr Fips said this, he made up his face as if he were going to whistle. But he didn't.
'You are very good,' said Tom, whose countenance was now suffused with pleasure; 'and nothing can be more satisfactory or straightforward. My attendance will be required--'
'From half-past nine to four o'clock or so, I should say,' interrupted Mr Fips. 'About that.'
'I did not mean the hours of attendance,' retorted Tom, 'which are light and easy, I am sure; but the place.'
'Oh, the place! The place is in the Temple.'
Tom was delighted.
'Perhaps,' said Mr Fips, 'you would like to see the place?'
'Oh, dear!' cried Tom. 'I shall only be too glad to consider myself engaged, if you will allow me; without any further reference to the place.'
'You may consider yourself engaged, by all means,' said Mr Fips; 'you couldn't meet me at the Temple Gate in Fleet Street, in an hour from this time, I suppose, could you?'
Certainly Tom could.
'Good,' said Mr Fips, rising. 'Then I will show you the place; and you can begin your attendance to-morrow morning. In an hour, therefore, I shall see you. You too, Mr Westlock? Very good. Take care how you go. It's rather dark.'
With this remark, which seemed superfluous, he shut them out upon the staircase, and they groped their way into the street again. The interview had done so little to remove the mystery in which Tom's new engagement was involved, and had done so much to thicken it, that neither could help smiling at the puzzled looks of the other. They agreed, however, that the introduction of Tom to his new office and office companions could hardly fail to throw a light upon the subject; and therefore postponed its further consideration until after the fulfillment of the appointment they had made with Mr Fips.
After looking at John Westlock's chambers, and devoting a few spare minutes to the Boar's Head, they issued forth again to the place of meeting. The time agreed upon had not quite come; but Mr Fips was already at the Temple Gate, and expressed his satisfaction at their punctuality.
He led the way through sundry lanes and courts, into one more quiet and more gloomy than the rest, and, singling out a certain house, ascended a common staircase; taking from his pocket, as he went, a bunch of rusty keys. Stopping before a door upon an upper story, which had nothing but a yellow smear of paint where custom would have placed the tenant's name, he began to beat the dust out of one of these keys, very deliberately, upon the great broad handrail of the balustrade.