It was a clear evening, with a bright moon. The whole landscape was silvered by its light and by the hoar-frost; and everything looked exquisitely beautiful. At first, the great serenity and peace through which they travelled, disposed them both to silence; but in a very short time the punch within them and the healthful air without, made them loquacious, and they talked incessantly. When they were halfway home, and stopped to give the horse some water, Martin (who was very generous with his money) ordered another glass of punch, which they drank between them, and which had not the effect of making them less conversational than before. Their principal topic of discourse was naturally Mr Pecksniff and his family; of whom, and of the great obligations they had heaped upon him, Tom Pinch, with the tears standing in his eyes, drew such a picture as would have inclined any one of common feeling almost to revere them; and of which Mr Pecksniff had not the slightest foresight or preconceived idea, or he certainly (being very humble) would not have sent Tom Pinch to bring the pupil home.
In this way they went on, and on, and on--in the language of the story-books--until at last the village lights appeared before them, and the church spire cast a long reflection on the graveyard grass; as if it were a dial (alas, the truest in the world!) marking, whatever light shone out of Heaven, the flight of days and weeks and years, by some new shadow on that solemn ground.
'A pretty church!' said Martin, observing that his companion slackened the slack pace of the horse, as they approached.
'Is it not?' cried Tom, with great pride. 'There's the sweetest little organ there you ever heard. I play it for them.'
'Indeed?' said Martin. 'It is hardly worth the trouble, I should think. What do you get for that, now?'
'Nothing,' answered Tom.
'Well,' returned his friend, 'you ARE a very strange fellow!'
To which remark there succeeded a brief silence.
'When I say nothing,' observed Mr Pinch, cheerfully, 'I am wrong, and don't say what I mean, because I get a great deal of pleasure from it, and the means of passing some of the happiest hours I know. It led to something else the other day; but you will not care to hear about that I dare say?'
'Oh yes I shall. What?'
'It led to my seeing,' said Tom, in a lower voice, 'one of the loveliest and most beautiful faces you can possibly picture to yourself.'
'And yet I am able to picture a beautiful one,' said his friend, thoughtfully, 'or should be, if I have any memory.'
'She came' said Tom, laying his hand upon the other's arm, 'for the first time very early in the morning, when it was hardly light; and when I saw her, over my shoulder, standing just within the porch, I turned quite cold, almost believing her to be a spirit. A moment's reflection got the better of that, of course, and fortunately it came to my relief so soon, that I didn't leave off playing.'
'Why? Because she stood there, listening. I had my spectacles on, and saw her through the chinks in the curtains as plainly as I see you; and she was beautiful. After a while she glided off, and I continued to play until she was out of hearing.'
'Why did you do that?'
'Don't you see?' responded Tom. 'Because she might suppose I hadn't seen her; and might return.'
'And did she?'
'Certainly she did. Next morning, and next evening too; but always when there were no people about, and always alone. I rose earlier and sat there later, that when she came, she might find the church door open, and the organ playing, and might not be disappointed. She strolled that way for some days, and always stayed to listen. But she is gone now, and of all unlikely things in this wide world, it is perhaps the most improbable that I shall ever look upon her face again.'
'You don't know anything more about her?'
'And you never followed her when she went away?'
'Why should I distress her by doing that?' said Tom Pinch. 'Is it likely that she wanted my company? She came to hear the organ, not to see me; and would you have had me scare her from a place she seemed to grow quite fond of? Now, Heaven bless her!' cried Tom, 'to have given her but a minute's pleasure every day, I would have gone on playing the organ at those times until I was an old man; quite contented if she sometimes thought of a poor fellow like me, as a part of the music; and more than recompensed if she ever mixed me up with anything she liked as well as she liked that!'
The new pupil was clearly very much amazed by Mr Pinch's weakness, and would probably have told him so, and given him some good advice, but for their opportune arrival at Mr Pecksniff's door; the front door this time, on account of the occasion being one of ceremony and rejoicing.