There had been something dreadful in the noiseless skill of his cold, white hands, with the fingers lithely twisting about and twining one over another like serpents. Clennam could not prevent himself from shuddering inwardly, as if he had been looking on at a nest of those creatures.
'Hola, Pig!' cried Rigaud, with a noisy stimulating cry, as if Cavalletto were an Italian horse or mule. 'What! The infernal old jail was a respectable one to this. There was dignity in the bars and stones of that place. It was a prison for men. But this? Bah! A hospital for imbeciles!'
He smoked his cigarette out, with his ugly smile so fixed upon his face that he looked as though he were smoking with his drooping beak of a nose, rather than with his mouth; like a fancy in a weird picture. When he had lighted a second cigarette at the still burning end of the first, he said to Clennam:
'One must pass the time in the madman's absence. One must talk. One can't drink strong wine all day long, or I would have another bottle. She's handsome, sir. Though not exactly to my taste, still, by the Thunder and the Lightning! handsome. I felicitate you on your admiration.'
'I neither know nor ask,' said Clennam, 'of whom you speak.'
'Della bella Gowana, sir, as they say in Italy. Of the Gowan, the fair Gowan.'
'Of whose husband you were the--follower, I think?'
'Sir? Follower? You are insolent. The friend.'
'Do you sell all your friends?'
Rigaud took his cigarette from his mouth, and eyed him with a momentary revelation of surprise. But he put it between his lips again, as he answered with coolness:
'I sell anything that commands a price. How do your lawyers live, your politicians, your intriguers, your men of the Exchange? How do you live? How do you come here? Have you sold no friend? Lady of mine! I rather think, yes!'
Clennam turned away from him towards the window, and sat looking out at the wall.
'Effectively, sir,' said Rigaud, 'Society sells itself and sells me: and I sell Society. I perceive you have acquaintance with another lady. Also handsome. A strong spirit. Let us see. How do they call her? Wade.'
He received no answer, but could easily discern that he had hit the mark.
'Yes,' he went on, 'that handsome lady and strong spirit addresses me in the street, and I am not insensible. I respond. That handsome lady and strong spirit does me the favour to remark, in full confidence, "I have my curiosity, and I have my chagrins. You are not more than ordinarily honourable, perhaps?" I announce myself, "Madame, a gentleman from the birth, and a gentleman to the death; but NOT more than ordinarily honourable. I despise such a weak fantasy." Thereupon she is pleased to compliment. "The difference between you and the rest is," she answers, "that you say so." For she knows Society. I accept her congratulations with gallantry and politeness. Politeness and little gallantries are inseparable from my character. She then makes a proposition, which is, in effect, that she has seen us much together; that it appears to her that I am for the passing time the cat of the house, the friend of the family; that her curiosity and her chagrins awaken the fancy to be acquainted with their movements, to know the manner of their life, how the fair Gowana is beloved, how the fair Gowana is cherished, and so on. She is not rich, but offers such and such little recompenses for the little cares and derangements of such services; and I graciously--to do everything graciously is a part of my character--consent to accept them. O yes! So goes the world. It is the mode.'
Though Clennam's back was turned while he spoke, and thenceforth to the end of the interview, he kept those glittering eyes of his that were too near together, upon him, and evidently saw in the very carriage of the head, as he passed with his braggart recklessness from clause to clause of what he said, that he was saying nothing which Clennam did not already know.
'Whoof! The fair Gowana!' he said, lighting a third cigarette with a sound as if his lightest breath could blow her away.