He had no sooner ushered Tom and his sister into his best room (where there was a beautiful little vase of fresh flowers on the table, all ready for Ruth. Just as if he had expected her, Tom said), than, seizing his hat, he bustled out again, in his most energetically bustling, way; and presently came hurrying back, as they saw through the half-opened door, attended by a fiery-faced matron attired in a crunched bonnet, with particularly long strings to it hanging down her back; in conjunction with whom he instantly began to lay the cloth for dinner, polishing up the wine-glasses with his own hands, brightening the silver top of the pepper-caster on his coat-sleeve, drawing corks and filling decanters, with a skill and expedition that were quite dazzling. And as if, in the course of this rubbing and polishing, he had rubbed an enchanted lamp or a magic ring, obedient to which there were twenty thousand supernatural slaves at least, suddenly there appeared a being in a white waistcoat, carrying under his arm a napkin, and attended by another being with an oblong box upon his head, from which a banquet, piping hot, was taken out and set upon the table.
Salmon, lamb, peas, innocent young potatoes, a cool salad, sliced cucumber, a tender duckling, and a tart--all there. They all came at the right time. Where they came from, didn't appear; but the oblong box was constantly going and coming, and making its arrival known to the man in the white waistcoat by bumping modestly against the outside of the door; for, after its first appearance, it entered the room no more. He was never surprised, this man; he never seemed to wonder at the extraordinary things he found in the box, but took them out with a face expressive of a steady purpose and impenetrable character, and put them on the table. He was a kind man; gentle in his manners, and much interested in what they ate and drank. He was a learned man, and knew the flavour of John Westlock's private sauces, which he softly and feelingly described, as he handed the little bottles round. He was a grave man, and a noiseless; for dinner being done, and wine and fruit arranged upon the board, he vanished, box and all, like something that had never been.
'Didn't I say he was a tremendous fellow in his housekeeping?' cried Tom. 'Bless my soul! It's wonderful.'
'Ah, Miss Pinch,' said John. 'This is the bright side of the life we lead in such a place. It would be a dismal life, indeed, if it didn't brighten up to-day'
'Don't believe a word he says,' cried Tom. 'He lives here like a monarch, and wouldn't change his mode of life for any consideration. He only pretends to grumble.'
No, John really did not appear to pretend; for he was uncommonly earnest in his desire to have it understood that he was as dull, solitary, and uncomfortable on ordinary occasions as an unfortunate young man could, in reason, be. It was a wretched life, he said, a miserable life. He thought of getting rid of the chambers as soon as possible; and meant, in fact, to put a bill up very shortly.
'Well' said Tom Pinch, 'I don't know where you can go, John, to be more comfortable. That's all I can say. What do YOU say, Ruth?'
Ruth trifled with the cherries on her plate, and said that she thought Mr Westlock ought to be quite happy, and that she had no doubt he was.
Ah, foolish, panting, frightened little heart, how timidly she said it!
'But you are forgetting what you had to tell, Tom; what occurred this morning,' she added in the same breath.
'So I am,' said Tom. 'We have been so talkative on other topics that I declare I have not had time to think of it. I'll tell it you at once, John, in case I should forget it altogether.'
On Tom's relating what had passed upon the wharf, his friend was very much surprised, and took such a great interest in the narrative as Tom could not quite understand. He believed he knew the old lady whose acquaintance they had made, he said; and that he might venture to say, from their description of her, that her name was Gamp.