I will confess that if I cared for my credit (which I do not), or had a good name to preserve (which I have not, for I am utterly indifferent to its being considered good or bad), I should regard myself as heavily compromised by having had anything to do with this fellow. Yet he never passed in at MY door--never sat in colloquy with ME until midnight.'
She took her revenge for her old grudge in thus turning his subject against him. Hers was not the nature to spare him, and she had no compunction.
'That he is a low, mercenary wretch; that I first saw him prowling about Italy (where I was, not long ago), and that I hired him there, as the suitable instrument of a purpose I happened to have; I have no objection to tell you. In short, it was worth my while, for my own pleasure--the gratification of a strong feeling--to pay a spy who would fetch and carry for money. I paid this creature. And I dare say that if I had wanted to make such a bargain, and if I could have paid him enough, and if he could have done it in the dark, free from all risk, he would have taken any life with as little scruple as he took my money. That, at least, is my opinion of him; and I see it is not very far removed from yours. Your mother's opinion of him, I am to assume (following your example of assuming this and that), was vastly different.'
'My mother, let me remind you,' said Clennam, 'was first brought into communication with him in the unlucky course of business.'
'It appears to have been an unlucky course of business that last brought her into communication with him,' returned Miss Wade; 'and business hours on that occasion were late.'
'You imply,' said Arthur, smarting under these cool-handed thrusts, of which he had deeply felt the force already, 'that there was something--'
'Mr Clennam,' she composedly interrupted, 'recollect that I do not speak by implication about the man. He is, I say again without disguise, a low mercenary wretch. I suppose such a creature goes where there is occasion for him. If I had not had occasion for him, you would not have seen him and me together.'
Wrung by her persistence in keeping that dark side of the case before him, of which there was a half-hidden shadow in his own breast, Clennam was silent.
'I have spoken of him as still living,' she added, 'but he may have been put out of the way for anything I know. For anything I care, also. I have no further occasion for him.'
With a heavy sigh and a despondent air, Arthur Clennam slowly rose.
She did not rise also, but said, having looked at him in the meanwhile with a fixed look of suspicion, and lips angrily compressed:
'He was the chosen associate of your dear friend, Mr Gowan, was he not? Why don't you ask your dear friend to help you?'
The denial that he was a dear friend rose to Arthur's lips; but he repressed it, remembering his old struggles and resolutions, and said:
'Further than that he has never seen Blandois since Blandois set out for England, Mr Gowan knows nothing additional about him. He was a chance acquaintance, made abroad.'
'A chance acquaintance made abroad!' she repeated. 'Yes. Your dear friend has need to divert himself with all the acquaintances he can make, seeing what a wife he has. I hate his wife, sir.'
The anger with which she said it, the more remarkable for being so much under her restraint, fixed Clennam's attention, and kept him on the spot. It flashed out of her dark eyes as they regarded him, quivered in her nostrils, and fired the very breath she exhaled; but her face was otherwise composed into a disdainful serenity; and her attitude was as calmly and haughtily graceful as if she had been in a mood of complete indifference.
'All I will say is, Miss Wade,' he remarked, 'that you can have received no provocation to a feeling in which I believe you have no sharer.'
'You may ask your dear friend, if you choose,' she returned, 'for his opinion upon that subject.'
'I am scarcely on those intimate terms with my dear friend,' said Arthur, in spite of his resolutions, 'that would render my approaching the subject very probable, Miss Wade.'
'I hate him,' she returned.