'You had better have a little plug made,' he said, looking round at Tom, after blowing a shrill whistle into the barrel of the key. 'It's the only way of preventing them from getting stopped up. You'll find the lock go the better, too, I dare say, for a little oil.'
Tom thanked him; but was too much occupied with his own speculations, and John Westlock's looks, to be very talkative. In the meantime Mr Fips opened the door, which yielded to his hand very unwillingly, and with a horribly discordant sound. He took the key out, when he had done so, and gave it to Tom.
'Aye, aye!' said Mr Fips. 'The dust lies rather thick here.'
Truly, it did. Mr Fips might have gone so far as to say, very thick. It had accumulated everywhere; lay deep on everything, and in one part, where a ray of sun shone through a crevice in the shutter and struck upon the opposite wall, it went twirling round and round, like a gigantic squirrel-cage.
Dust was the only thing in the place that had any motion about it. When their conductor admitted the light freely, and lifting up the heavy window-sash, let in the summer air, he showed the mouldering furniture, discoloured wainscoting and ceiling, rusty stove, and ashy hearth, in all their inert neglect. Close to the door there stood a candlestick, with an extinguisher upon it; as if the last man who had been there had paused, after securing a retreat, to take a parting look at the dreariness he left behind, and then had shut out light and life together, and closed the place up like a tomb.
There were two rooms on that floor; and in the first or outer one a narrow staircase, leading to two more above. These last were fitted up as bed-chambers. Neither in them, nor in the rooms below, was any scarcity of convenient furniture observable, although the fittings were of a bygone fashion; but solitude and want of use seemed to have rendered it unfit for any purposes of comfort, and to have given it a grisly, haunted air.
Movables of every kind lay strewn about, without the least attempt at order, and were intermixed with boxes, hampers, and all sorts of lumber. On all the floors were piles of books, to the amount, perhaps, of some thousands of volumes: these, still in bales; those, wrapped in paper, as they had been purchased; others scattered singly or in heaps; not one upon the shelves which lined the walls. To these Mr Fips called Tom's attention.
'Before anything else can be done, we must have them put in order, catalogued, and ranged upon the book-shelves, Mr Pinch. That will do to begin with, I think, sir.'
Tom rubbed his hands in the pleasant anticipation of a task so congenial to his taste, and said:
'An occupation full of interest for me, I assure you. It will occupy me, perhaps, until Mr.--'
'Until Mr.--' repeated Fips; as much as to ask Tom what he was stopping for.
'I forgot that you had not mentioned the gentleman's name,' said Tom.
'Oh!' cried Mr Fips, pulling on his glove, 'didn't I? No, by-the- bye, I don't think I did. Ah! I dare say he'll be here soon. You will get on very well together, I have no doubt. I wish you success I am sure. You won't forget to shut the door? It'll lock of itself if you slam it. Half-past nine, you know. Let us say from half- past nine to four, or half-past four, or thereabouts; one day, perhaps, a little earlier, another day, perhaps, a little later, according as you feel disposed, and as you arrange your work. Mr Fips, Austin Friars of course you'll remember? And you won't forget to slam the door, if you please!'
He said all this in such a comfortable, easy manner, that Tom could only rub his hands, and nod his head, and smile in acquiescence which he was still doing, when Mr Fips walked coolly out.
'Why, he's gone!' cried Tom.
'And what's more, Tom,' said John Westlock, seating himself upon a pile of books, and looking up at his astonished friend, 'he is evidently not coming back again; so here you are, installed. Under rather singular circumstances, Tom!'
It was such an odd affair throughout, and Tom standing there among the books with his hat in one hand and the key in the other, looked so prodigiously confounded, that his friend could not help laughing heartily.