Thus night at length with slow-retreating steps departs, and the lamp-lighter going his rounds, like an executioner to a despotic king, strikes off the little heads of fire that have aspired to lessen the darkness. Thus the day cometh, whether or no.
And the day may discern, even with its dim London eye, that the court has been up all night. Over and above the faces that have fallen drowsily on tables and the heels that lie prone on hard floors instead of beds, the brick and mortar physiognomy of the very court itself looks worn and jaded. And now the neighbourhood, waking up and beginning to hear of what has happened, comes streaming in, half dressed, to ask questions; and the two policemen and the helmet (who are far less impressible externally than the court) have enough to do to keep the door.
"Good gracious, gentlemen!" says Mr. Snagsby, coming up. "What's this I hear!"
"Why, it's true," returns one of the policemen. "That's what it is. Now move on here, come!"
"Why, good gracious, gentlemen," says Mr. Snagsby, somewhat promptly backed away, "I was at this door last night betwixt ten and eleven o'clock in conversation with the young man who lodges here."
"Indeed?" returns the policeman. "You will find the young man next door then. Now move on here, some of you,"
"Not hurt, I hope?" says Mr. Snagsby.
"Hurt? No. What's to hurt him!"
Mr. Snagsby, wholly unable to answer this or any question in his troubled mind, repairs to the Sol's Arms and finds Mr. Weevle languishing over tea and toast with a considerable expression on him of exhausted excitement and exhausted tobacco-smoke.
"And Mr. Guppy likewise!" quoth Mr. Snagsby. "Dear, dear, dear! What a fate there seems in all this! And my lit--"
Mr. Snagsby's power of speech deserts him in the formation of the words "my little woman." For to see that injured female walk into the Sol's Arms at that hour of the morning and stand before the beer-engine, with her eyes fixed upon him like an accusing spirit, strikes him dumb.
"My dear," says Mr. Snagsby when his tongue is loosened, "will you take anything? A little--not to put too fine a point upon it--drop of shrub?"
"No," says Mrs. Snagsby.
"My love, you know these two gentlemen?"
"Yes!" says Mrs. Snagsby, and in a rigid manner acknowledges their presence, still fixing Mr. Snagsby with her eye.
The devoted Mr. Snagsby cannot bear this treatment. He takes Mrs. Snagsby by the hand and leads her aside to an adjacent cask.
"My little woman, why do you look at me in that way? Pray don't do it."
"I can't help my looks," says Mrs. Snagsby, "and if I could I wouldn't."
Mr. Snagsby, with his cough of meekness, rejoins, "Wouldn't you really, my dear?" and meditates. Then coughs his cough of trouble and says, "This is a dreadful mystery, my love!" still fearfully disconcerted by Mrs. Snagsby's eye.
"It IS," returns Mrs. Snagsby, shaking her head, "a dreadful mystery."
"My little woman," urges Mr. Snagsby in a piteous manner, "don't for goodness' sake speak to me with that bitter expression and look at me in that searching way! I beg and entreat of you not to do it. Good Lord, you don't suppose that I would go spontaneously combusting any person, my dear?"
"I can't say," returns Mrs. Snagsby.
On a hasty review of his unfortunate position, Mr. Snagsby "can't say" either. He is not prepared positively to deny that he may have had something to do with it. He has had something--he don't know what--to do with so much in this connexion that is mysterious that it is possible he may even be implicated, without knowing it, in the present transaction. He faintly wipes his forehead with his handkerchief and gasps.
"My life," says the unhappy stationer, "would you have any objections to mention why, being in general so delicately circumspect in your conduct, you come into a wine-vaults before breakfast?"
"Why do YOU come here?" inquires Mrs. Snagsby.
"My dear, merely to know the rights of the fatal accident which has happened to the venerable party who has been--combusted." Mr. Snagsby has made a pause to suppress a groan.