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bell with the greatest fury, charging the porter who kept watch
with delinquency in withholding letters or messages that could not
fail to have been entrusted to him, and demanding restitution on
the spot. The dawn coming, the morning coming, and the day coming,
and neither message nor letter coming with either, he went down to
the country house. There, the report was, Mr. Bounderby away, and
Mrs. Bounderby in town. Left for town suddenly last evening. Not
even known to be gone until receipt of message, importing that her
return was not to be expected for the present.
In these circumstances he had nothing for it but to follow her to
town. He went to the house in town. Mrs. Bounderby not there. He
looked in at the Bank. Mr. Bounderby away and Mrs. Sparsit away.
Mrs. Sparsit away? Who could have been reduced to sudden extremity
for the company of that griffin!
'Well! I don't know,' said Tom, who had his own reasons for being
uneasy about it. 'She was off somewhere at daybreak this morning.
She's always full of mystery; I hate her. So I do that white chap;
he's always got his blinking eyes upon a fellow.'
'Where were you last night, Tom?'
'Where was I last night!' said Tom. 'Come! I like that. I was
waiting for you, Mr. Harthouse, till it came down as I never saw it
come down before. Where was I too! Where were you, you mean.'
'I was prevented from coming - detained.'
'Detained!' murmured Tom. 'Two of us were detained. I was
detained looking for you, till I lost every train but the mail. It
would have been a pleasant job to go down by that on such a night,
and have to walk home through a pond. I was obliged to sleep in
town after all.'
'Where? Why, in my own bed at Bounderby's.'
'Did you see your sister?'
'How the deuce,' returned Tom, staring, 'could I see my sister when
she was fifteen miles off?'
Cursing these quick retorts of the young gentleman to whom he was
so true a friend, Mr. Harthouse disembarrassed himself of that
interview with the smallest conceivable amount of ceremony, and
debated for the hundredth time what all this could mean? He made
only one thing clear. It was, that whether she was in town or out
of town, whether he had been premature with her who was so hard to
comprehend, or she had lost courage, or they were discovered, or
some mischance or mistake, at present incomprehensible, had
occurred, he must remain to confront his fortune, whatever it was.
The hotel where he was known to live when condemned to that region
of blackness, was the stake to which he was tied. As to all the
rest - What will be, will be.
'So, whether I am waiting for a hostile message, or an assignation,
or a penitent remonstrance, or an impromptu wrestle with my friend
Bounderby in the Lancashire manner - which would seem as likely as
anything else in the present state of affairs - I'll dine,' said
Mr. James Harthouse. 'Bounderby has the advantage in point of
weight; and if anything of a British nature is to come off between
us, it may be as well to be in training.'
Therefore he rang the bell, and tossing himself negligently on a
sofa, ordered 'Some dinner at six - with a beefsteak in it,' and
got through the intervening time as well as he could. That was not
particularly well; for he remained in the greatest perplexity, and,
as the hours went on, and no kind of explanation offered itself,
his perplexity augmented at compound interest.
However, he took affairs as coolly as it was in human nature to do,
and entertained himself with the facetious idea of the training
more than once. 'It wouldn't be bad,' he yawned at one time, 'to
give the waiter five shillings, and throw him.' At another time it
occurred to him, 'Or a fellow of about thirteen or fourteen stone
might be hired by the hour.' But these jests did not tell
materially on the afternoon, or his suspense; and, sooth to say,
they both lagged fearfully.
It was impossible, even before dinner, to avoid often walking about
in the pattern of the carpet, looking out of the window, listening
at the door for footsteps, and occasionally becoming rather hot
when any steps approached that room. But, after dinner, when the
day turned to twilight, and the twilight turned to night, and still
no communication was made to him, it began to be as he expressed
it, 'like the Holy Office and slow torture.' However, still true
to his conviction that indifference was the genuine high-breeding
(the only conviction he had), he seized this crisis as the
opportunity for ordering candles and a newspaper.
He had been trying in vain, for half an hour, to read this
newspaper, when the waiter appeared and said, at once mysteriously
'Beg your pardon, sir. You're wanted, sir, if you please.'
A general recollection that this was the kind of thing the Police
said to the swell mob, caused Mr. Harthouse to ask the waiter in
return, with bristling indignation, what the Devil he meant by
'Beg your pardon, sir. Young lady outside, sir, wishes to see
'Outside this door, sir.'
Giving the waiter to the personage before mentioned, as a block-
head duly qualified for that consignment, Mr. Harthouse hurried
into the gallery. A young woman whom he had never seen stood
there. Plainly dressed, very quiet, very pretty. As he conducted
her into the room and placed a chair for her, he observed, by the
light of the candles, that she was even prettier than he had at
first believed. Her face was innocent and youthful, and its
expression remarkably pleasant. She was not afraid of him, or in
any way disconcerted; she seemed to have her mind entirely
preoccupied with the occasion of her visit, and to have substituted
that consideration for herself.
'I speak to Mr. Harthouse?' she said, when they were alone.
'To Mr. Harthouse.' He added in his mind, 'And you speak to him
with the most confiding eyes I ever saw, and the most earnest voice
(though so quiet) I ever heard.'
'If I do not understand - and I do not, sir' - said Sissy, 'what
your honour as a gentleman binds you to, in other matters:' the
blood really rose in his face as she began in these words: 'I am
sure I may rely upon it to keep my visit secret, and to keep secret
what I am going to say. I will rely upon it, if you will tell me I
may so far trust - '
'You may, I assure you.'
'I am young, as you see; I am alone, as you see. In coming to you,
sir, I have no advice or encouragement beyond my own hope.' He
thought, 'But that is very strong,' as he followed the momentary
upward glance of her eyes. He thought besides, 'This is a very odd
beginning. I don't see where we are going.'
'I think,' said Sissy, 'you have already guessed whom I left just
'I have been in the greatest concern and uneasiness during the last
four-and-twenty hours (which have appeared as many years),' he
returned, 'on a lady's account. The hopes I have been encouraged
to form that you come from that lady, do not deceive me, I trust.'
'I left her within an hour.'
'At - !'
'At her father's.'
Mr. Harthouse's face lengthened in spite of his coolness, and his
perplexity increased. 'Then I certainly,' he thought, 'do not see
where we are going.'
'She hurried there last night. She arrived there in great
agitation, and was insensible all through the night. I live at her
father's, and was with her. You may be sure, sir, you will never
see her again as long as you live.'
Mr. Harthouse drew a long breath; and, if ever man found himself in
the position of not knowing what to say, made the discovery beyond
all question that he was so circumstanced. The child-like
ingenuousness with which his visitor spoke, her modest
fearlessness, her truthfulness which put all artifice aside, her
entire forgetfulness of herself in her earnest quiet holding to the
object with which she had come; all this, together with her
reliance on his easily given promise - which in itself shamed him -
presented something in which he was so inexperienced, and against
which he knew any of his usual weapons would fall so powerless;
that not a word could he rally to his relief.
At last he said:
'So startling an announcement, so confidently made, and by such
lips, is really disconcerting in the last degree. May I be
permitted to inquire, if you are charged to convey that information
to me in those hopeless words, by the lady of whom we speak?'
'I have no charge from her.'
'The drowning man catches at the straw. With no disrespect for
your judgment, and with no doubt of your sincerity, excuse my
saying that I cling to the belief that there is yet hope that I am
not condemned to perpetual exile from that lady's presence.'
'There is not the least hope. The first object of my coming here,
sir, is to assure you that you must believe that there is no more
hope of your ever speaking with her again, than there would be if
she had died when she came home last night.'
'Must believe? But if I can't - or if I should, by infirmity of
nature, be obstinate - and won't - '