And yet again. And many times again. In effect, for ever!"
"And not only here, but you will go to Mr. Snagsby's too, perhaps? That visit not succeeding either, you will go again perhaps?"
"And again," repeats mademoiselle, cataleptic with determination. "And yet again. And yet again. And many times again. In effect, for ever!"
"Very well. Now, Mademoiselle Hortense, let me recommend you to take the candle and pick up that money of yours. I think you will find it behind the clerk's partition in the corner yonder."
She merely throws a laugh over her shoulder and stands her ground with folded arms.
"You will not, eh?"
"No, I will not!"
"So much the poorer you; so much the richer I! Look, mistress, this is the key of my wine-cellar. It is a large key, but the keys of prisons are larger. In this city there are houses of correction (where the treadmills are, for women), the gates of which are very strong and heavy, and no doubt the keys too. I am afraid a lady of your spirit and activity would find it an inconvenience to have one of those keys turned upon her for any length of time. What do you think?"
"I think," mademoiselle replies without any action and in a clear, obliging voice, "that you are a miserable wretch."
"Probably," returns Mr. Tulkinghorn, quietly blowing his nose. "But I don't ask what you think of myself; I ask what you think of the prison."
"Nothing. What does it matter to me?"
"Why, it matters this much, mistress," says the lawyer, deliberately putting away his handkerchief and adjusting his frill; "the law is so despotic here that it interferes to prevent any of our good English citizens from being troubled, even by a lady's visits against his desire. And on his complaining that he is so troubled, it takes hold of the troublesome lady and shuts her up in prison under hard discipline. Turns the key upon her, mistress." Illustrating with the cellar-key.
"Truly?" returns mademoiselle in the same pleasant voice. "That is droll! But--my faith!--still what does it matter to me?"
"My fair friend," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, "make another visit here, or at Mr. Snagsby's, and you shall learn."
"In that case you will send me to the prison, perhaps?"
It would be contradictory for one in mademoiselle's state of agreeable jocularity to foam at the mouth, otherwise a tigerish expansion thereabouts might look as if a very little more would make her do it.
"In a word, mistress," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, "I am sorry to be unpolite, but if you ever present yourself uninvited here--or there--again, I will give you over to the police. Their gallantry is great, but they carry troublesome people through the streets in an ignominious manner, strapped down on a board, my good wench."
"I will prove you," whispers mademoiselle, stretching out her hand, "I will try if you dare to do it!"
"And if," pursues the lawyer without minding her, "I place you in that good condition of being locked up in jail, it will be some time before you find yourself at liberty again."
"I will prove you," repeats mademoiselle in her former whisper.
"And now," proceeds the lawyer, still without minding her, "you had better go. Think twice before you come here again."
"Think you," she answers, "twice two hundred times!"
"You were dismissed by your lady, you know," Mr. Tulkinghorn observes, following her out upon the staircase, "as the most implacable and unmanageable of women. Now turn over a new leaf and take warning by what I say to you. For what I say, I mean; and what I threaten, I will do, mistress."
She goes down without answering or looking behind her. When she is gone, he goes down too, and returning with his cobweb-covered bottle, devotes himself to a leisurely enjoyment of its contents, now and then, as he throws his head back in his chair, catching sight of the pertinacious Roman pointing from the ceiling.
It matters little now how much I thought of my living mother who had told me evermore to consider her dead.