'E ask know,' said Mrs Plornish, 'What go wrong?'
'Come into the happy little cottage, Padrona,' returned Mr Baptist, imparting great stealthiness to his flurried back-handed shake of his right forefinger. 'Come there!'
Mrs Plornish was proud of the title Padrona, which she regarded as signifying: not so much Mistress of the house, as Mistress of the Italian tongue. She immediately complied with Mr Baptist's request, and they all went into the cottage.
'E ope you no fright,' said Mrs Plornish then, interpreting Mr Pancks in a new way with her usual fertility of resource. 'What appen? Peaka Padrona!'
'I have seen some one,' returned Baptist. 'I have rincontrato him.'
'Im? Oo him?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'A bad man. A baddest man. I have hoped that I should never see him again.' 'Ow you know him bad?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'It does not matter, Padrona. I know it too well.'
''E see you?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'No. I hope not. I believe not.'
'He says,' Mrs Plornish then interpreted, addressing her father and Pancks with mild condescension, 'that he has met a bad man, but he hopes the bad man didn't see him--Why,' inquired Mrs Plornish, reverting to the Italian language, 'why ope bad man no see?'
'Padrona, dearest,' returned the little foreigner whom she so considerately protected, 'do not ask, I pray. Once again I say it matters not. I have fear of this man. I do not wish to see him, I do not wish to be known of him--never again! Enough, most beautiful. Leave it.'
The topic was so disagreeable to him, and so put his usual liveliness to the rout, that Mrs Plornish forbore to press him further: the rather as the tea had been drawing for some time on the hob. But she was not the less surprised and curious for asking no more questions; neither was Mr Pancks, whose expressive breathing had been labouring hard since the entrance of the little man, like a locomotive engine with a great load getting up a steep incline. Maggy, now better dressed than of yore, though still faithful to the monstrous character of her cap, had been in the background from the first with open mouth and eyes, which staring and gaping features were not diminished in breadth by the untimely suppression of the subject. However, no more was said about it, though much appeared to be thought on all sides: by no means excepting the two young Plornishes, who partook of the evening meal as if their eating the bread and butter were rendered almost superfluous by the painful probability of the worst of men shortly presenting himself for the purpose of eating them. Mr Baptist, by degrees began to chirp a little; but never stirred from the seat he had taken behind the door and close to the window, though it was not his usual place. As often as the little bell rang, he started and peeped out secretly, with the end of the little curtain in his hand and the rest before his face; evidently not at all satisfied but that the man he dreaded had tracked him through all his doublings and turnings, with the certainty of a terrible bloodhound.
The entrance, at various times, of two or three customers and of Mr Plornish, gave Mr Baptist just enough of this employment to keep the attention of the company fixed upon him. Tea was over, and the children were abed, and Mrs Plornish was feeling her way to the dutiful proposal that her father should favour them with Chloe, when the bell rang again, and Mr Clennam came in.
Clennam had been poring late over his books and letters; for the waiting-rooms of the Circumlocution Office ravaged his time sorely.
Over and above that, he was depressed and made uneasy by the late occurrence at his mother's. He looked worn and solitary. He felt so, too; but, nevertheless, was returning home from his counting- house by that end of the Yard to give them the intelligence that he had received another letter from Miss Dorrit.
The news made a sensation in the cottage which drew off the general attention from Mr Baptist. Maggy, who pushed her way into the foreground immediately, would have seemed to draw in the tidings of her Little Mother equally at her ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, but that the last were obstructed by tears.