Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But that, you have interrupted. Now, what is it you say? What is it you want?'
Never had Clennam felt more acutely that he was a prisoner in bonds, than when he saw this man before him, and could not accompany him to his mother's house. All the undiscernible difficulties and dangers he had ever feared were closing in, when he could not stir hand or foot.
'Perhaps, my friend, philosopher, man of virtue, Imbecile, what you will; perhaps,' said Rigaud, pausing in his drink to look out of his glass with his horrible smile, 'you would have done better to leave me alone?'
'No! At least,' said Clennam, 'you are known to be alive and unharmed. At least you cannot escape from these two witnesses; and they can produce you before any public authorities, or before hundreds of people!'
'But will not produce me before one,' said Rigaud, snapping his fingers again with an air of triumphant menace. 'To the Devil with your witnesses! To the Devil with your produced! To the Devil with yourself! What! Do I know what I know, for that? Have I my commodity on sale, for that? Bah, poor debtor! You have interrupted my little project. Let it pass. How then? What remains? To you, nothing; to me, all. Produce me! Is that what you want? I will produce myself, only too quickly. Contrabandist!
Give me pen, ink, and paper.'
Cavalletto got up again as before, and laid them before him in his former manner. Rigaud, after some villainous thinking and smiling, wrote, and read aloud, as follows:
'To MRS CLENNAM.
'Prison of the Marshalsea. 'At the apartment of your son.
'Dear Madam,--I am in despair to be informed to-day by our prisoner here (who has had the goodness to employ spies to seek me, living for politic reasons in retirement), that you have had fears for my safety.
'Reassure yourself, dear madam. I am well, I am strong and constant.
'With the greatest impatience I should fly to your house, but that I foresee it to be possible, under the circumstances, that you will not yet have quite definitively arranged the little proposition I have had the honour to submit to you. I name one week from this day, for a last final visit on my part; when you will unconditionally accept it or reject it, with its train of consequences.
'I suppress my ardour to embrace you and achieve this interesting business, in order that you may have leisure to adjust its details to our perfect mutual satisfaction.
'In the meanwhile, it is not too much to propose (our prisoner having deranged my housekeeping), that my expenses of lodging and nourishment at an hotel shall be paid by you. 'Receive, dear madam, the assurance of my highest and most distinguished consideration,
'A thousand friendships to that dear Flintwinch.
'I kiss the hands of Madame F.'
When he had finished this epistle, Rigaud folded it and tossed it with a flourish at Clennam's feet. 'Hola you! Apropos of producing, let somebody produce that at its address, and produce the answer here.'
'Cavalletto,' said Arthur. 'Will you take this fellow's letter?'
But, Cavalletto's significant finger again expressing that his post was at the door to keep watch over Rigaud, now he had found him with so much trouble, and that the duty of his post was to sit on the floor backed up by the door, looking at Rigaud and holding his own ankles,--Signor Panco once more volunteered. His services being accepted, Cavalletto suffered the door to open barely wide enough to admit of his squeezing himself out, and immediately shut it on him.
'Touch me with a finger, touch me with an epithet, question my superiority as I sit here drinking my wine at my pleasure,' said Rigaud, 'and I follow the letter and cancel my week's grace. You wanted me? You have got me! How do you like me?'
'You know,' returned Clennam, with a bitter sense of his helplessness, 'that when I sought you, I was not a prisoner.'
'To the Devil with you and your prison,' retorted Rigaud, leisurely, as he took from his pocket a case containing the materials for making cigarettes, and employed his facile hands in folding a few for present use; 'I care for neither of you. Contrabandist! A light.'
Again Cavalletto got up, and gave him what he wanted.