He was not so much surprised at the man's being there, as at his having got close to him so quietly and swiftly; for another person had been at his elbow one instant before; and he had not in the meantime been conscious of any change or pressure in the knot of people among whom he stood. He and Ruth had frequently remarked how noiselessly this landlord of theirs came into and went out of his own house; but Tom was not the less amazed to see him at his elbow now.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Pinch,' he said in his ear. 'I am rather infirm, and out of breath, and my eyes are not very good. I am not as young as I was, sir. You don't see a gentleman in a large cloak down yonder, with a lady on his arm; a lady in a veil and a black shawl; do you?'
If HE did not, it was curious that in speaking he should have singled out from all the crowd the very people whom he described; and should have glanced hastily from them to Tom, as if he were burning to direct his wandering eyes.
'A gentleman in a large cloak!' said Tom, 'and a lady in a black shawl! Let me see!'
'Yes, yes!' replied the other, with keen impatience. 'A gentleman muffled up from head to foot--strangely muffled up for such a morning as this--like an invalid, with his hand to his face at this minute, perhaps. No, no, no! not there,' he added, following Tom's gaze; 'the other way; in that direction; down yonder.' Again he indicated, but this time in his hurry, with his outstretched finger, the very spot on which the progress of these persons was checked at that moment.
'There are so many people, and so much motion, and so many objects,' said Tom, 'that I find it difficult to--no, I really don't see a gentleman in a large cloak, and a lady in a black shawl. There's a lady in a red shawl over there!'
'No, no, no!' cried his landlord, pointing eagerly again, 'not there. The other way; the other way. Look at the cabin steps. To the left. They must be near the cabin steps. Do you see the cabin steps? There's the bell ringing already! DO you see the steps?'
'Stay!' said Tom, 'you're right. Look! there they go now. Is that the gentleman you mean? Descending at this minute, with the folds of a great cloak trailing down after him?'
'The very man!' returned the other, not looking at what Tom pointed out, however, but at Tom's own face. 'Will you do me a kindness, sir, a great kindness? Will you put that letter in his hand? Only give him that! He expects it. I am charged to do it by my employers, but I am late in finding him, and, not being as young as I have been, should never be able to make my way on board and off the deck again in time. Will you pardon my boldness, and do me that great kindness?'
His hands shook, and his face bespoke the utmost interest and agitation, as he pressed the letter upon Tom, and pointed to its destination, like the Tempter in some grim old carving.
To hesitate in the performance of a good-natured or compassionate office was not in Tom's way. He took the letter; whispered Ruth to wait till he returned, which would be immediately; and ran down the steps with all the expedition he could make. There were so many people going down, so many others coming up, such heavy goods in course of transit to and fro, such a ringing of bell, blowing-off of steam, and shouting of men's voices, that he had much ado to force his way, or keep in mind to which boat he was going. But he reached the right one with good speed, and going down the cabin-stairs immediately, described the object of his search standing at the upper end of the saloon, with his back towards him, reading some notice which was hung against the wall. As Tom advanced to give him the letter, he started, hearing footsteps, and turned round.
What was Tom's astonishment to find in him the man with whom he had had the conflict in the field--poor Mercy's husband. Jonas!
Tom understood him to say, what the devil did he want; but it was not easy to make out what he said; he spoke so indistinctly.
'I want nothing with you for myself,' said Tom; 'I was asked, a moment since, to give you this letter.