Again the man jostled him in the crooked street, again he followed the man and lost him, again he came upon the man in the court-yard looking at the house, again he followed the man and stood beside him on the door-steps.
'Who passes by this road so late? Compagnon de la Majolaine; Who passes by this road so late? Always gay!'
It was not the first time, by many, that he had recalled the song of the child's game, of which the fellow had hummed @ verse while they stood side by side; but he was so unconscious of having repeated it audibly, that he started to hear the next verse.
'Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower, Compagnon de la Majolaine; Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower, Always gay!'
Cavalletto had deferentially suggested the words and tune, supposing him to have stopped short for want of more.
'Ah! You know the song, Cavalletto?'
'By Bacchus, yes, sir! They all know it in France. I have heard it many times, sung by the little children. The last time when it I have heard,' said Mr Baptist, formerly Cavalletto, who usually went back to his native construction of sentences when his memory went near home, 'is from a sweet little voice. A little voice, very pretty, very innocent. Altro!'
'The last time I heard it,' returned Arthur, 'was in a voice quite the reverse of pretty, and quite the reverse of innocent.' He said it more to himself than to his companion, and added to himself, repeating the man's next words. 'Death of my life, sir, it's my character to be impatient!'
'EH!' cried Cavalletto, astounded, and with all his colour gone in a moment.
'What is the matter?'
'Sir! You know where I have heard that song the last time?'
With his rapid native action, his hands made the outline of a high hook nose, pushed his eyes near together, dishevelled his hair, puffed out his upper lip to represent a thick moustache, and threw the heavy end of an ideal cloak over his shoulder. While doing this, with a swiftness incredible to one who has not watched an Italian peasant, he indicated a very remarkable and sinister smile.
The whole change passed over him like a flash of light, and he stood in the same instant, pale and astonished, before his patron.
'In the name of Fate and wonder,' said Clennam, 'what do you mean? Do you know a man of the name of Blandois?'
'No!' said Mr Baptist, shaking his head.
'You have just now described a man who was by when you heard that song; have you not?'
'Yes!' said Mr Baptist, nodding fifty times.
'And was he not called Blandois?'
'No!' said Mr Baptist. 'Altro, Altro, Altro, Altro!' He could not reject the name sufficiently, with his head and his right forefinger going at once.
'Stay!' cried Clennam, spreading out the handbill on his desk. 'Was this the man? You can understand what I read aloud?'
'But look at it, too. Come here and look over me, while I read.'
Mr Baptist approached, followed every word with his quick eyes, saw and heard it all out with the greatest impatience, then clapped his two hands flat upon the bill as if he had fiercely caught some noxious creature, and cried, looking eagerly at Clennam, 'It is the man! Behold him!'
'This is of far greater moment to me' said Clennam, in great agitation, 'than you can imagine. Tell me where you knew the man.'
Mr Baptist, releasing the paper very slowly and with much discomfiture, and drawing himself back two or three paces, and making as though he dusted his hands, returned, very much against his will:
'What was he?'
'A prisoner, and--Altro! I believe yes!--an,' Mr Baptist crept closer again to whisper it, 'Assassin!'
Clennam fell back as if the word had struck him a blow: so terrible did it make his mother's communication with the man appear. Cavalletto dropped on one knee, and implored him, with a redundancy of gesticulation, to hear what had brought himself into such foul company.