At length they stood at the corner from which they had begun, and it had fallen quite dark, and they were no wiser.
It happened that in the street they had several times passed a dingy house, apparently empty, with bills in the windows, announcing that it was to let. The bills, as a variety in the funeral procession, almost amounted to a decoration. Perhaps because they kept the house separated in his mind, or perhaps because Mr Meagles and himself had twice agreed in passing, 'It is clear she don't live there,' Clennam now proposed that they should go back and try that house before finally going away. Mr Meagles agreed, and back they went.
They knocked once, and they rang once, without any response.
'Empty,' said Mr Meagles, listening. 'Once more,' said Clennam, and knocked again. After that knock they heard a movement below, and somebody shuffling up towards the door.
The confined entrance was so dark that it was impossible to make out distinctly what kind of person opened the door; but it appeared to be an old woman. 'Excuse our troubling you,' said Clennam. 'Pray can you tell us where Miss Wade lives?' The voice in the darkness unexpectedly replied, 'Lives here.'
'Is she at home?'
No answer coming, Mr Meagles asked again. 'Pray is she at home?'
After another delay, 'I suppose she is,' said the voice abruptly; 'you had better come in, and I'll ask.'
They 'were summarily shut into the close black house; and the figure rustling away, and speaking from a higher level, said, 'Come up, if you please; you can't tumble over anything.' They groped their way up-stairs towards a faint light, which proved to be the light of the street shining through a window; and the figure left them shut in an airless room.
'This is odd, Clennam,' said Mr Meagles, softly.
'Odd enough,' assented Clennam in the same tone, 'but we have succeeded; that's the main point. Here's a light coming!'
The light was a lamp, and the bearer was an old woman: very dirty, very wrinkled and dry. 'She's at home,' she said (and the voice was the same that had spoken before); 'she'll come directly.' Having set the lamp down on the table, the old woman dusted her hands on her apron, which she might have done for ever without cleaning them, looked at the visitors with a dim pair of eyes, and backed out.
The lady whom they had come to see, if she were the present occupant of the house, appeared to have taken up her quarters there as she might have established herself in an Eastern caravanserai. A small square of carpet in the middle of the room, a few articles of furniture that evidently did not belong to the room, and a disorder of trunks and travelling articles, formed the whole of her surroundings. Under some former regular inhabitant, the stifling little apartment had broken out into a pier-glass and a gilt table; but the gilding was as faded as last year's flowers, and the glass was so clouded that it seemed to hold in magic preservation all the fogs and bad weather it had ever reflected. The visitors had had a minute or two to look about them, when the door opened and Miss Wade came in.
She was exactly the same as when they had parted. just as handsome, just as scornful, just as repressed. She manifested no surprise in seeing them, nor any other emotion. She requested them to be seated; and declining to take a seat herself, at once anticipated any introduction of their business.
'I apprehend,' she said, 'that I know the cause of your favouring me with this visit. We may come to it at once.'
'The cause then, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'is Tattycoram.'
'So I supposed.'
'Miss Wade,' said Mr Meagles, 'will you be so kind as to say whether you know anything of her?'
'Surely. I know she is here with me.'
'Then, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'allow me to make known to you that I shall be happy to have her back, and that my wife and daughter will be happy to have her back. She has been with us a long time: we don't forget her claims upon us, and I hope we know how to make allowances.'
'You hope to know how to make allowances?' she returned, in a level, measured voice.