"Oh, yes!" said I.
"Coavinses has been arrested by the Great Bailiff," said Mr. Skimpole. "He will never do violence to the sunshine any more."
It quite shocked me to hear it, for I had already recalled with anything but a serious association the image of the man sitting on the sofa that night wiping his head.
"His successor informed me of it yesterday," said Mr. Skimpole. "His successor is in my house now--in possession, I think he calls it. He came yesterday, on my blue-eyed daughter's birthday. I put it to him, 'This is unreasonable and inconvenient. If you had a blue-eyed daughter you wouldn't like ME to come, uninvited, on HER birthday?' But he stayed."
Mr. Skimpole laughed at the pleasant absurdity and lightly touched the piano by which he was seated.
"And he told me," he said, playing little chords where I shall put full stops, "The Coavinses had left. Three children. No mother. And that Coavinses' profession. Being unpopular. The rising Coavinses. Were at a considerable disadvantage."
Mr. Jarndyce got up, rubbing his head, and began to walk about. Mr. Skimpole played the melody of one of Ada's favourite songs. Ada and I both looked at Mr. Jarndyce, thinking that we knew what was passing in his mind.
After walking and stopping, and several times leaving off rubbing his head, and beginning again, my guardian put his hand upon the keys and stopped Mr. Skimpole's playing. "I don't like this, Skimpole," he said thoughtfully.
Mr. Skimpole, who had quite forgotten the subject, looked up surprised.
"The man was necessary," pursued my guardian, walking backward and forward in the very short space between the piano and the end of the room and rubbing his hair up from the back of his head as if a high east wind had blown it into that form. "If we make such men necessary by our faults and follies, or by our want of worldly knowledge, or by our misfortunes, we must not revenge ourselves upon them. There was no harm in his trade. He maintained his children. One would like to know more about this."
"Oh! Coavinses?" cried Mr. Skimpole, at length perceiving what he meant. "Nothing easier. A walk to Coavinses' headquarters, and you can know what you will."
Mr. Jarndyce nodded to us, who were only waiting for the signal. "Come! We will walk that way, my dears. Why not that way as soon as another!" We were quickly ready and went out. Mr. Skimpole went with us and quite enjoyed the expedition. It was so new and so refreshing, he said, for him to want Coavinses instead of Coavinses wanting him!
He took us, first, to Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, where there was a house with barred windows, which he called Coavinses' Castle. On our going into the entry and ringing a bell, a very hideous boy came out of a sort of office and looked at us over a spiked wicket.
"Who did you want?" said the boy, fitting two of the spikes into his chin.
"There was a follower, or an officer, or something, here," said Mr. Jarndyce, "who is dead."
"Yes?" said the boy. "Well?"
"I want to know his name, if you please?"
"Name of Neckett," said the boy.
"And his address?"
"Bell Yard," said the boy. "Chandler's shop, left hand side, name of Blinder."
"Was he--I don't know how to shape the question--" murmured my guardian, "industrious?"
"Was Neckett?" said the boy. "Yes, wery much so. He was never tired of watching. He'd set upon a post at a street corner eight or ten hours at a stretch if he undertook to do it."
"He might have done worse," I heard my guardian soliloquize. "He might have undertaken to do it and not done it. Thank you. That's all I want."
We left the boy, with his head on one side and his arms on the gate, fondling and sucking the spikes, and went back to Lincoln's Inn, where Mr. Skimpole, who had not cared to remain nearer Coavinses, awaited us. Then we all went to Bell Yard, a narrow alley at a very short distance. We soon found the chandler's shop. In it was a good-natured-looking old woman with a dropsy, or an asthma, or perhaps both.