His wife had closed the door, and thrown herself before it, on the ground, upon her knees. She held up her hands to him now, and besought him not to be harsh with her, for she had interposed in fear of bloodshed.
'So, so!' said Jonas, looking down upon her, as he fetched his breath. 'These are your friends, are they, when I am away? You plot and tamper with this sort of people, do you?'
'No, indeed! I have no knowledge of these secrets, and no clue to their meaning. I have never seen him since I left home but once-- but twice--before to-day.'
'Oh!' sneered Jonas, catching at this correction. 'But once, but twice, eh? Which do you mean? Twice and once, perhaps. Three times! How many more, you lying jade?'
As he made an angry motion with his hand, she shrunk down hastily. A suggestive action! Full of a cruel truth!
'How many more times?' he repeated.
'No more. The other morning, and to-day, and once besides.'
He was about to retort upon her, when the clock struck. He started stopped, and listened; appearing to revert to some engagement, or to some other subject, a secret within his own breast, recalled to him by this record of the progress of the hours.
'Don't lie there! Get up!'
Having helped her to rise, or rather hauled her up by the arm, he went on to say:
'Listen to me, young lady; and don't whine when you have no occasion, or I may make some for you. If I find him in my house again, or find that you have seen him in anybody else's house, you'll repent it. If you are not deaf and dumb to everything that concerns me, unless you have my leave to hear and speak, you'll repent it. If you don't obey exactly what I order, you'll repent it. Now, attend. What's the time?'
'It struck eight a minute ago.'
He looked towards her intently; and said, with a laboured distinctness, as if he had got the words off by heart:
'I have been travelling day and night, and am tired. I have lost some money, and that don't improve me. Put my supper in the little off-room below, and have the truckle-bed made. I shall sleep there to-night, and maybe to-morrow night; and if I can sleep all day to- morrow, so much the better, for I've got trouble to sleep off, if I can. Keep the house quiet, and don't call me. Mind! Don't call me. Don't let anybody call me. Let me lie there.'
She said it should be done. Was that all?
'All what? You must be prying and questioning!' he angrily retorted. 'What more do you want to know?'
'I want to know nothing, Jonas, but what you tell me. All hope of confidence between us has long deserted me!'
'Ecod, I should hope so!' he muttered.
'But if you will tell me what you wish, I will be obedient and will try to please you. I make no merit of that, for I have no friend in my father or my sister, but am quite alone. I am very humble and submissive. You told me you would break my spirit, and you have done so. Do not break my heart too!'
She ventured, as she said these words, to lay her hand upon his shoulder. He suffered it to rest there, in his exultation; and the whole mean, abject, sordid, pitiful soul of the man, looked at her, for the moment, through his wicked eyes.
For the moment only; for, with the same hurried return to something within himself, he bade her, in a surly tone, show her obedience by executing his commands without delay. When she had withdrawn he paced up and down the room several times; but always with his right hand clenched, as if it held something; which it did not, being empty. When he was tired of this, he threw himself into a chair, and thoughtfully turned up the sleeve of his right arm, as if he were rather musing about its strength than examining it; but, even then, he kept the hand clenched.
He was brooding in this chair, with his eyes cast down upon the ground, when Mrs Gamp came in to tell him that the little room was ready. Not being quite sure of her reception after interfering in the quarrel, Mrs Gamp, as a means of interesting and propitiating her patron, affected a deep solicitude in Mr Chuffey.