She was particularly delighted when Clennam assured her that there were hospitals, and very kindly conducted hospitals, in Rome. Mr Pancks rose into new distinction in virtue of being specially remembered in the letter. Everybody was pleased and interested, and Clennam was well repaid for his trouble. 'But you are tired, sir. Let me make you a cup of tea,' said Mrs Plornish, 'if you'd condescend to take such a thing in the cottage; and many thanks to you, too, I am sure, for bearing us in mind so kindly.'
Mr Plornish deeming it incumbent on him, as host, to add his personal acknowledgments, tendered them in the form which always expressed his highest ideal of a combination of ceremony with sincerity.
'John Edward Nandy,' said Mr Plornish, addressing the old gentleman. 'Sir. It's not too often that you see unpretending actions without a spark of pride, and therefore when you see them give grateful honour unto the same, being that if you don't, and live to want 'em, it follows serve you right.'
To which Mr Nandy replied:
'I am heartily of your opinion, Thomas, and which your opinion is the same as mine, and therefore no more words and not being backwards with that opinion, which opinion giving it as yes, Thomas, yes, is the opinion in which yourself and me must ever be unanimously jined by all, and where there is not difference of opinion there can be none but one opinion, which fully no, Thomas, Thomas, no !'
Arthur, with less formality, expressed himself gratified by their high appreciation of so very slight an attention on his part; and explained as to the tea that he had not yet dined, and was going straight home to refresh after a long day's labour, or he would have readily accepted the hospitable offer. As Mr Pancks was somewhat noisily getting his steam up for departure, he concluded by asking that gentleman if he would walk with him? Mr Pancks said he desired no better engagement, and the two took leave of Happy Cottage.
'If you will come home with me, Pancks,' said Arthur, when they got into the street, 'and will share what dinner or supper there is, it will be next door to an act of charity; for I am weary and out of sorts to-night.'
'Ask me to do a greater thing than that,' said Pancks, 'when you want it done, and I'll do it.'
Between this eccentric personage and Clennam, a tacit understanding and accord had been always improving since Mr Pancks flew over Mr Rugg's back in the Marshalsea Yard. When the carriage drove away on the memorable day of the family's departure, these two had looked after it together, and had walked slowly away together. When the first letter came from little Dorrit, nobody was more interested in hearing of her than Mr Pancks. The second letter, at that moment in Clennam's breast-pocket, particularly remembered him by name. Though he had never before made any profession or protestation to Clennam, and though what he had just said was little enough as to the words in which it was expressed, Clennam had long had a growing belief that Mr Pancks, in his own odd way, was becoming attached to him. All these strings intertwining made Pancks a very cable of anchorage that night.
'I am quite alone,' Arthur explained as they walked on. 'My partner is away, busily engaged at a distance on his branch of our business, and you shall do just as you like.'
'Thank you. You didn't take particular notice of little Altro just now; did you?' said Pancks.
'He's a bright fellow, and I like him,' said Pancks. 'Something has gone amiss with him to-day. Have you any idea of any cause that can have overset him?'
'You surprise me! None whatever.'
Mr Pancks gave his reasons for the inquiry. Arthur was quite unprepared for them, and quite unable to suggest an explanation of them.
'Perhaps you'll ask him,' said Pancks, 'as he's a stranger?'
'Ask him what?' returned Clennam.
'What he has on his mind.'
'I ought first to see for myself that he has something on his mind, I think,' said Clennam.