'What do you want?'
'We are poor, widow, we are poor,' he retorted, stretching out his right hand, and rubbing his thumb upon its palm.
'Poor!' she cried. 'And what am I?'
'Comparisons are odious,' said the blind man. 'I don't know, I don't care. I say that we are poor. My friend's circumstances are indifferent, and so are mine. We must have our rights, widow, or we must be bought off. But you know that, as well as I, so where is the use of talking?'
She still walked wildly to and fro. At length, stopping abruptly before him, she said:
'Is he near here?'
'He is. Close at hand.'
'Then I am lost!'
'Not lost, widow,' said the blind man, calmly; 'only found. Shall I call him?'
'Not for the world,' she answered, with a shudder.
'Very good,' he replied, crossing his legs again, for he had made as though he would rise and walk to the door. 'As you please, widow. His presence is not necessary that I know of. But both he and I must live; to live, we must eat and drink; to eat and drink, we must have money:--I say no more.'
'Do you know how pinched and destitute I am?' she retorted. 'I do not think you do, or can. If you had eyes, and could look around you on this poor place, you would have pity on me. Oh! let your heart be softened by your own affliction, friend, and have some sympathy with mine.'
The blind man snapped his fingers as he answered:
'--Beside the question, ma'am, beside the question. I have the softest heart in the world, but I can't live upon it. Many a gentleman lives well upon a soft head, who would find a heart of the same quality a very great drawback. Listen to me. This is a matter of business, with which sympathies and sentiments have nothing to do. As a mutual friend, I wish to arrange it in a satisfactory manner, if possible; and thus the case stands.--If you are very poor now, it's your own choice. You have friends who, in case of need, are always ready to help you. My friend is in a more destitute and desolate situation than most men, and, you and he being linked together in a common cause, he naturally looks to you to assist him. He has boarded and lodged with me a long time (for as I said just now, I am very soft-hearted), and I quite approve of his entertaining this opinion. You have always had a roof over your head; he has always been an outcast. You have your son to comfort and assist you; he has nobody at all. The advantages must not be all one side. You are in the same boat, and we must divide the ballast a little more equally.'
She was about to speak, but he checked her, and went on.
'The only way of doing this, is by making up a little purse now and then for my friend; and that's what I advise. He bears you no malice that I know of, ma'am: so little, that although you have treated him harshly more than once, and driven him, I may say, out of doors, he has that regard for you that I believe even if you disappointed him now, he would consent to take charge of your son, and to make a man of him.'
He laid a great stress on these latter words, and paused as if to find out what effect they had produced. She only answered by her tears.
'He is a likely lad,' said the blind man, thoughtfully, 'for many purposes, and not ill-disposed to try his fortune in a little change and bustle, if I may judge from what I heard of his talk with you to-night.--Come. In a word, my friend has pressing necessity for twenty pounds. You, who can give up an annuity, can get that sum for him. It's a pity you should be troubled. You seem very comfortable here, and it's worth that much to remain so. Twenty pounds, widow, is a moderate demand. You know where to apply for it; a post will bring it you.--Twenty pounds!'
She was about to answer him again, but again he stopped her.
'Don't say anything hastily; you might be sorry for it. Think of it a little while. Twenty pounds--of other people's money--how easy! Turn it over in your mind. I'm in no hurry. Night's coming on, and if I don't sleep here, I shall not go far.