Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER LII.

Secret Intelligence.

GOOD Mrs. Brown and her daughter Alice, kept silent company together, in their own dwelling. It was early in the evening, and late in the spring. But a few days had elapsed since Mr. Dombey had told Major Bagstock of his singular intelligence, singularly obtained, which might turn out to be valueless, and might turn out to be true; and the world was not satisfied yet.

The mother and daughter sat for a long time without interchanging a word: almost without motion. The old woman's face was shrewdly anxious and expectant; that of her daughter was expectant too, but in a less sharp degree, and sometimes it darkened, as if with gathering disappointment and incredulity. The old woman, without heeding these changes in its expression, though her eyes were often turned towards it, sat mumbling and munching, and listening confidently.

Their abode, though poor and miserable, was not so utterly wretched as in the days when only good Mrs. Brown inhabited it. Some few attempts at cleanliness and order were manifest, though made in a reckless, gipsy way, that might have connected them, at a glance, with the younger woman. The shades of evening thickened and deepened as the two kept silence, until the blackened walls were nearly lost in the prevailing gloom.

Then Alice broke the silence which had lasted so long, and said :

"You may give him up, mother. He'll not come here."

"Death give him up!" returned the old woman, impatiently. "He will come here."

"We shall see," said Alice.

"We shall see him," returned her mother.

"And doomsday," said the daughter.

"You think I'm in my second childhood, I know!" croaked

the old woman "That's the respect and duty that I get from my own gal, but I'm wiser than you take me for. He'll come. T'other day when I touched his coat in the street, he looked round as if I was a toad. But Lord, to see him when I said their names, and asked him if he'd like to find out where they was!"

"Was it so angry ?" asked her daughter, roused to interest in

a moment.

Angry? ask if it was bloody. That's more like the word. Angry? Ha, ha! To call that only angry!" said the old woman, hobbling to the cupboard, and lighting a candle, which displayed the workings of her mouth to ugly advantage, as she brought it to the table. "I might as well call your face only angry, when you think or talk about 'em."

It was something different from that, truly, as she sat as still as a crouched tigress, with her kindling eyes.

"Hark!" said the old woman, triumphantly. "I hear a step coming. It's not the tread of any one that lives about here, or comes this way often. We don't walk like that. We should grow proud on such neighbors! Do you hear him ?”

"I believe you are right, mother," replied Alice, in a low voice. "Peace! open the door."

As she drew herself within her shawl, and gathered it about her, the old woman complied; and peering out, and beckoning, gave admission to Mr. Dombey, who stopped when he had set his foot within the door, and looked distrustfully around.

"It's a poor place for a great gentleman like your worship," said the old woman, curtseying and chattering. "I told you so, but there's no harm in it."

"Who is that?" asked Mr. Dombey, looking at her companion.

66

"That's my handsome daughter," said the old woman. worship won't mind her. She knows all about it."

A shadow fell upon his face not less expressive than if he had groaned aloud, "Who does not know all about it !" but he looked at her steadily, and she, without any acknowledgment of his presence, looked at him. The shadow on his face was darker when he turned his glance away from her; and even then it wandered

"Your

back again, furtively, as if he were haunted by her bold eyes, and some remembrance they inspired.

"Woman," said Mr. Dombey to the old witch who was chuckling and leering close at his elbow, and who, when he turned to address her, pointed stealthily at her daughter, and rubbed her hands, and pointed again, " Woman! I believe that I am weak and forgetful of my station in coming here, but you know why I come, and what you offered when you stopped me in the street the other day. What is it that you have to tell me concerning what I want know; and how does it happen that I can find voluntary intelligence in a hovel like this," with a disdainful glance about him, "when I have exerted my power and means to obtain it in vain? I do not think,” he said, after a moment's pause, during which he had observed her, sternly, "that you are so audacious as to mean to trifle with me, or endeavor to impose upon me. But if you have that purpose, you had better stop on the threshold of your scheme. My humor is not a trifling one, and my acknowledgment will be severe."

"Oh a proud, hard gentleman!" chuckled the old woman, shaking her head, and rubbing her shrivelled hands, "oh hard, hard, hard! But your worship shall see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears; not with ours-and if your worship's put upon their track, you won't mind paying something for it, will you, honorable deary ?"

"Money," returned Mr. Dombey, apparently relieved, and reassured by this inquiry, "will bring about unlikely things, I know. It may turn even means as unexpected and unpromising as these, to account. Yes. For any reliable information I receive, I will pay. But I must have the information first, and judge for myself of its value."

"Do you know nothing more powerful than money?" asked the younger woman, without rising, or altering her attitude.

"Not here, I should imagine," said Mr. Dombey.

"You should know of something that is more powerful elsewhere, as I judge," she returned. "Do you know nothing of a woman's anger ?"

"You have a saucy tongue, Jade," said Mr. Dombey.

"Not usually," she answered, without any show of emotion: "I speak to you now, that you may understand us better, and

rely more on us. A woman's anger is pretty much the same here, as in your fine house. I am angry. I have been so many years. I have as good cause for my anger as you have for yours, and its object is the same man.”

He started in spite of himself, and looked at her with astonish

ment.

"Yes," she said, with a kind of laugh. "Wide as the distance may seem between us, it is so. How it is so, is no matter; that is my story, and I keep my story to myself. I would bring you and him together, because I have a rage against him. My mother there, is avaricious and poor; and she would sell any tidings she could glean, or anything, or anybody, for money. It is fair enough perhaps, that you should pay her some, if she can help you to what you want to know. But that is not my motive. I have told you what mine is, and it would be as strong and all sufficient with me if you haggled and bargained with her for a sixpence. I have done. My saucy tongue says no more, if you wait here till sunrise to-morrow."

The old woman who had shown great uneasiness during this speech which had a tendency to depreciate her expected gains, pulled Mr. Dombey softly by the sleeve, and whispered to him. not to mind her. He glanced at them both, by turns, with a haggard look, and said, in a deeper voice than was usual with him:

"Go on-what do you know?"

"Oh, not so fast, your worship! we must wait for some one," answered the old woman. "It's to be got from some one elsewormed out-screwed and twisted from him.”

"What do you mean?" said Mr. Dombey.

"Patience," she croaked, laying her hand, like a claw, upon his arm. "Patience. I'll get at it. I know I can! If he was to hold it back from me," said good Mrs. Brown, crooking her ten fingers, "I'd tear it out of him!"

1

Mr. Dombey followed her with his eyes as she hobbled to the door, and looked out again, and then his glance sought her daughter; but she remained impassive, silent, and regardless of him.

"Do you tell me, woman," he said, when the bent figure of

Mrs. Brown came back, shaking its head and chattering to itself, "that there is another person expected here?"

"Yes!" said the old woman, looking up into his face, and nodding.

"From whom you are to extract the intelligence that is to be useful to me?"

"Yes," said the old woman nodding again.

"A stranger ?"

"Chut!" said the old woman, with a shrill laugh. "What signifies! Well, well; no. No stranger to your worship. But he won't see you. He'd be afraid of you, and wouldn't talk. You'll stand behind that door, and judge him for yourself. We don't ask to be believed on trust. What! Your worship doubts the room behind the door? Oh the suspicion of you rich gentlefolks! Look at it, then."

Her sharp eye had detected an involuntary expression of this feeling on his part, which was not unreasonable under the circumstances. In satisfaction of it she now took the candle to the door she spoke of. Mr. Dombey looked in; assured himself that it was an empty, crazy room; and signed to her to put the light back in its place.

"How long," he asked, "before this person comes ?"

"Not long," she answered. "Would your worship sit down for a few odd minutes."

He made no answer; but began pacing the room with an irresolute air, as if he were undecided whether to remain or depart, and as if he had some quarrel with himself for being there at all. But soon his tread grew slower and heavier, and his face more sternly thoughtful; as the object with which he had come, fixed itself in his mind, and dilated there again.

While he thus walked up and down with his eyes on the ground, Mrs. Brown, in the chair from which she had risen to receive him, sat listening anew. The monotony of his step, or the uncertainty of age, made her so slow of hearing, that a footfall without had sounded in her daughter's ears for some moments, and she had looked up hastily to warn her mother of its approach, before the old woman was roused by it. But then she started from her seat, and whispering "Here he is!" hurried her visitor to his place of observation, and put a bottle and glass

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »