He had lowered his own voice; but she rejected that advance towards confidence as she rejected every other, and spoke in her usual key and in her usual stern voice.
'I have received it on no circuitous information; it has come to me direct.' She asked him, exactly as before, if he were there to tell her what it was?
'I thought it right that you should know it.'
'And what is it?'
'He has been a prisoner in a French gaol.'
She answered with composure, 'I should think that very likely.'
' But in a gaol for criminals, mother. On an accusation of murder.'
She started at the word, and her looks expressed her natural horror. Yet she still spoke aloud, when she demanded:--
'Who told you so?'
'A man who was his fellow-prisoner.'
'That man's antecedents, I suppose, were not known to you, before he told you?'
'Though the man himself was?'
'My case and Flintwinch's, in respect of this other man! I dare say the resemblance is not so exact, though, as that your informant became known to you through a letter from a correspondent with whom he had deposited money? How does that part of the parallel stand?'
Arthur had no choice but to say that his informant had not become known to him through the agency of any such credentials, or indeed of any credentials at all. Mrs Clennam's attentive frown expanded by degrees into a severe look of triumph, and she retorted with emphasis, 'Take care how you judge others, then. I say to you, Arthur, for your good, take care how you judge!' Her emphasis had been derived from her eyes quite as much as from the stress she laid upon her words. She continued to look at him; and if, when he entered the house, he had had any latent hope of prevailing in the least with her, she now looked it out of his heart.
'Mother, shall I do nothing to assist you?'
'Will you entrust me with no confidence, no charge, no explanation?
Will you take no counsel with me? Will you not let me come near you?'
'How can you ask me? You separated yourself from my affairs. It was not my act; it was yours. How can you consistently ask me such a question? You know that you left me to Flintwinch, and that he occupies your place.'
Glancing at Jeremiah, Clennam saw in his very gaiters that his attention was closely directed to them, though he stood leaning against the wall scraping his jaw, and pretended to listen to Flora as she held forth in a most distracting manner on a chaos of subjects, in which mackerel, and Mr F.'s Aunt in a swing, had become entangled with cockchafers and the wine trade.
'A prisoner, in a French gaol, on an accusation of murder,' repeated Mrs Clennam, steadily going over what her son had said. 'That is all you know of him from the fellow-prisoner?'
'In substance, all.'
'And was the fellow-prisoner his accomplice and a murderer, too? But, of course, he gives a better account of himself than of his friend; it is needless to ask. This will supply the rest of them here with something new to talk about. Casby, Arthur tells me--'
'Stay, mother! Stay, stay!' He interrupted her hastily, for it had not entered his imagination that she would openly proclaim what he had told her.
'What now?' she said with displeasure. 'What more?'
'I beg you to excuse me, Mr Casby--and you, too, Mrs Finching--for one other moment with my mother--'
He had laid his hand upon her chair, or she would otherwise have wheeled it round with the touch of her foot upon the ground. They were still face to face. She looked at him, as he ran over the possibilities of some result he had not intended, and could not foresee, being influenced by Cavalletto's disclosure becoming a matter of notoriety, and hurriedly arrived at the conclusion that it had best not be talked about; though perhaps he was guided by no more distinct reason than that he had taken it for granted that his mother would reserve it to herself and her partner.
'What now?' she said again, impatiently. 'What is it?'
'I did not mean, mother, that you should repeat what I have communicated.