He sat with the outer door wide open, at all times, that he might hear the footsteps as they entered, and turned off into the chambers on the lower floor. He formed odd prepossessions too, regarding strangers in the streets; and would say within himself of such or such a man, who struck him as having anything uncommon in his dress or aspect, 'I shouldn't wonder, now, if that were he!' But it never was. And though he actually turned back and followed more than one of these suspected individuals, in a singular belief that they were going to the place he was then upon his way from, he never got any other satisfaction by it, than the satisfaction of knowing it was not the case.
Mr Fips, of Austin Friars, rather deepened than illumined the obscurity of his position; for on the first occasion of Tom's waiting on him to receive his weekly pay, he said:
'Oh! by the bye, Mr Pinch, you needn't mention it, if you please!'
Tom thought he was going to tell him a secret; so he said that he wouldn't on any account, and that Mr Fips might entirely depend upon him. But as Mr Fips said 'Very good,' in reply, and nothing more, Tom prompted him:
'Not on any account,' repeated Tom.
Mr Fips repeated: 'Very good.'
'You were going to say'--Tom hinted.
'Oh dear no!' cried Fips. 'Not at all.' However, seeing Tom confused, he added, 'I mean that you needn't mention any particulars about your place of employment, to people generally. You'll find it better not.'
'I have not had the pleasure of seeing my employer yet, sir,' observed Tom, putting his week's salary in his pocket.
'Haven't you?' said Fips. 'No, I don't suppose you have though.'
'I should like to thank him, and to know that what I have done so far, is done to his satisfaction,' faltered Tom.
'Quite right,' said Mr Fips, with a yawn. 'Highly creditable. Very proper.'
Tom hastily resolved to try him on another tack.
'I shall soon have finished with the books,' he said. 'I hope that will not terminate my engagement, sir, or render me useless?'
'Oh dear no!' retorted Fips. 'Plenty to do; plen-ty to do! Be careful how you go. It's rather dark.'
This was the very utmost extent of information Tom could ever get out of HIM. So it was dark enough in all conscience; and if Mr Fips expressed himself with a double meaning, he had good reason for doing so.
But now a circumstance occurred, which helped to divert Tom's thoughts from even this mystery, and to divide them between it and a new channel, which was a very Nile in itself.
The way it came about was this. Having always been an early riser and having now no organ to engage him in sweet converse every morning, it was his habit to take a long walk before going to the Temple; and naturally inclining, as a stranger, towards those parts of the town which were conspicuous for the life and animation pervading them, he became a great frequenter of the market-places, bridges, quays, and especially the steam-boat wharves; for it was very lively and fresh to see the people hurrying away upon their many schemes of business or pleasure, and it made Tom glad to think that there was that much change and freedom in the monotonous routine of city lives.
In most of these morning excursions Ruth accompanied him. As their landlord was always up and away at his business (whatever that might be, no one seemed to know) at a very early hour, the habits of the people of the house in which they lodged corresponded with their own. Thus they had often finished their breakfast, and were out in the summer air, by seven o'clock. After a two hours' stroll they parted at some convenient point; Tom going to the Temple, and his sister returning home, as methodically as you please.
Many and many a pleasant stroll they had in Covent Garden Market; snuffing up the perfume of the fruits and flowers, wondering at the magnificence of the pineapples and melons; catching glimpses down side avenues, of rows and rows of old women, seated on inverted baskets, shelling peas; looking unutterable things at the fat bundles of asparagus with which the dainty shops were fortified as with a breastwork; and, at the herbalist's doors, gratefully inhaling scents as of veal-stuffing yet uncooked, dreamily mixed up with capsicums, brown-paper, seeds, even with hints of lusty snails and fine young curly leeches.