It was like hearing his voice in a strange country.
"My dear Miss Summerson, that you should be out at this hour, and in such weather!"
He had heard from my guardian of my having been called away on some uncommon business and said so to dispense with any explanation. I told him that we had but just left a coach and were going--but then I was obliged to look at my companion.
"Why, you see, Mr. Woodcourt"--he had caught the name from me--"we are a-going at present into the next street. Inspector Bucket."
Mr. Woodcourt, disregarding my remonstrances, had hurriedly taken off his cloak and was putting it about me. "That's a good move, too," said Mr. Bucket, assisting, "a very good move."
"May I go with you?" said Mr. Woodcourt. I don't know whether to me or to my companion.
"Why, Lord!" exclaimed Mr. Bucket, taking the answer on himself. "Of course you may."
It was all said in a moment, and they took me between them, wrapped in the cloak.
"I have just left Richard," said Mr. Woodcourt. "I have been sitting with him since ten o'clock last night."
"Oh, dear me, he is ill!"
"No, no, believe me; not ill, but not quite well. He was depressed and faint--you know he gets so worried and so worn sometimes--and Ada sent to me of course; and when I came home I found her note and came straight here. Well! Richard revived so much after a little while, and Ada was so happy and so convinced of its being my doing, though God knows I had little enough to do with it, that I remained with him until he had been fast asleep some hours. As fast asleep as she is now, I hope!"
His friendly and familiar way of speaking of them, his unaffected devotion to them, the grateful confidence with which I knew he had inspired my darling, and the comfort he was to her; could I separate all this from his promise to me? How thankless I must have been if it had not recalled the words he said to me when he was so moved by the change in my appearance: "I will accept him as a trust, and it shall be a sacred one!"
We now turned into another narrow street. "Mr. Woodcourt," said Mr. Bucket, who had eyed him closely as we came along, "our business takes us to a law-stationer's here, a certain Mr. Snagsby's. What, you know him, do you?" He was so quick that he saw it in an instant.
"Yes, I know a little of him and have called upon him at this place."
"Indeed, sir?" said Mr. Bucket. "Then you will be so good as to let me leave Miss Summerson with you for a moment while I go and have half a word with him?"
The last police-officer with whom he had conferred was standing silently behind us. I was not aware of it until he struck in on my saying I heard some one crying.
"Don't be alarmed, miss," he returned. "It's Snagsby's servant."
"Why, you see," said Mr. Bucket, "the girl's subject to fits, and has 'em bad upon her to-night. A most contrary circumstance it is, for I want certain information out of that girl, and she must be brought to reason somehow."
"At all events, they wouldn't be up yet if it wasn't for her, Mr. Bucket," said the other man. "She's been at it pretty well all night, sir."
"Well, that's true," he returned. "My light's burnt out. Show yours a moment."
All this passed in a whisper a door or two from the house in which I could faintly hear crying and moaning. In the little round of light produced for the purpose, Mr. Bucket went up to the door and knocked. The door was opened after he had knocked twice, and he went in, leaving us standing in the street.
"Miss Summerson," said Mr. Woodcourt, "if without obtruding myself on your confidence I may remain near you, pray let me do so."
"You are truly kind," I answered. "I need wish to keep no secret of my own from you; if I keep any, it is another's."
"I quite understand. Trust me, I will remain near you only so long as I can fully respect it."
"I trust implicitly to you," I said. "I know and deeply feel how sacredly you keep your promise."
After a short time the little round of light shone out again, and Mr.