'How do you know that?'
'I entreat you not to take it ill. By mere accident.' 'What accident?'
'Solely the accident of coming upon you in the street and seeing the meeting.'
'Do you speak of yourself, or of some one else?'
'Of myself. I saw it.'
'To be sure it was in the open street,' she observed, after a few moments of less and less angry reflection. 'Fifty people might have seen it. It would have signified nothing if they had.'
'Nor do I make my having seen it of any moment, nor (otherwise than as an explanation of my coming here) do I connect my visit with it or the favour that I have to ask.'
'Oh! You have to ask a favour! It occurred to me,' and the handsome face looked bitterly at him, 'that your manner was softened, Mr Clennam.'
He was content to protest against this by a slight action without contesting it in words. He then referred to Blandois' disappearance, of which it was probable she had heard? However probable it was to him, she had heard of no such thing. Let him look round him (she said) and judge for himself what general intelligence was likely to reach the ears of a woman who had been shut up there while it was rife, devouring her own heart. When she had uttered this denial, which he believed to be true, she asked him what he meant by disappearance? That led to his narrating the circumstances in detail, and expressing something of his anxiety to discover what had really become of the man, and to repel the dark suspicions that clouded about his mother's house. She heard him with evident surprise, and with more marks of suppressed interest than he had seen in her; still they did not overcome her distant, proud, and self-secluded manner. When he had finished, she said nothing but these words:
'You have not yet told me, sir, what I have to do with it, or what the favour is? Will you be so good as come to that?'
'I assume,' said Arthur, persevering, in his endeavour to soften her scornful demeanour, 'that being in communication--may I say, confidential communication?--with this person--'
'You may say, of course, whatever you like,' she remarked; 'but I do not subscribe to your assumptions, Mr Clennam, or to any one's.'
'--that being, at least in personal communication with him,' said Clennam, changing the form of his position in the hope of making it unobjectionable, 'you can tell me something of his antecedents, pursuits, habits, usual place of residence. Can give me some little clue by which to seek him out in the likeliest manner, and either produce him, or establish what has become of him. This is the favour I ask, and I ask it in a distress of mind for which I hope you will feel some consideration. If you should have any reason for imposing conditions upon me, I will respect it without asking what it is.'
'You chanced to see me in the street with the man,' she observed, after being, to his mortification, evidently more occupied with her own reflections on the matter than with his appeal. 'Then you knew the man before?'
'Not before; afterwards. I never saw him before, but I saw him again on this very night of his disappearance. In my mother's room, in fact. I left him there. You will read in this paper all that is known of him.'
He handed her one of the printed bills, which she read with a steady and attentive face.
'This is more than I knew of him,' she said, giving it back.
Clennam's looks expressed his heavy disappointment, perhaps his incredulity; for she added in the same unsympathetic tone: 'You don't believe it. Still, it is so. As to personal communication: it seems that there was personal communication between him and your mother. And yet you say you believe her declaration that she knows no more of him!'
A sufficiently expressive hint of suspicion was conveyed in these words, and in the smile by which they were accompanied, to bring the blood into Clennam's cheeks.
'Come, sir,' she said, with a cruel pleasure in repeating the stab, 'I will be as open with you as you can desire.