Poor me, poor me, my cough is rattling dry!' and coughs in confirmation horribly.
'Where do you come from?'
'Come from London, deary.' (Her cough still rending her.)
'Where are you going to?'
'Back to London, deary. I came here, looking for a needle in a haystack, and I ain't found it. Look'ee, deary; give me three-and- sixpence, and don't you be afeard for me. I'll get back to London then, and trouble no one. I'm in a business.--Ah, me! It's slack, it's slack, and times is very bad!--but I can make a shift to live by it.'
'Do you eat opium?'
'Smokes it,' she replies with difficulty, still racked by her cough. 'Give me three-and-sixpence, and I'll lay it out well, and get back. If you don't give me three-and-sixpence, don't give me a brass farden. And if you do give me three-and-sixpence, deary, I'll tell you something.'
He counts the money from his pocket, and puts it in her hand. She instantly clutches it tight, and rises to her feet with a croaking laugh of satisfaction.
'Bless ye! Hark'ee, dear genl'mn. What's your Chris'en name?'
'Edwin, Edwin, Edwin,' she repeats, trailing off into a drowsy repetition of the word; and then asks suddenly: 'Is the short of that name Eddy?'
'It is sometimes called so,' he replies, with the colour starting to his face.
'Don't sweethearts call it so?' she asks, pondering.
'How should I know?'
'Haven't you a sweetheart, upon your soul?'
She is moving away, with another 'Bless ye, and thank'ee, deary!' when he adds: 'You were to tell me something; you may as well do so.'
'So I was, so I was. Well, then. Whisper. You be thankful that your name ain't Ned.'
He looks at her quite steadily, as he asks: 'Why?'
'Because it's a bad name to have just now.'
'How a bad name?'
'A threatened name. A dangerous name.'
'The proverb says that threatened men live long,' he tells her, lightly.
'Then Ned--so threatened is he, wherever he may be while I am a- talking to you, deary--should live to all eternity!' replies the woman.
She has leaned forward to say it in his ear, with her forefinger shaking before his eyes, and now huddles herself together, and with another 'Bless ye, and thank'ee!' goes away in the direction of the Travellers' Lodging House.
This is not an inspiriting close to a dull day. Alone, in a sequestered place, surrounded by vestiges of old time and decay, it rather has a tendency to call a shudder into being. He makes for the better-lighted streets, and resolves as he walks on to say nothing of this to-night, but to mention it to Jack (who alone calls him Ned), as an odd coincidence, to-morrow; of course only as a coincidence, and not as anything better worth remembering.
Still, it holds to him, as many things much better worth remembering never did. He has another mile or so, to linger out before the dinner-hour; and, when he walks over the bridge and by the river, the woman's words are in the rising wind, in the angry sky, in the troubled water, in the flickering lights. There is some solemn echo of them even in the Cathedral chime, which strikes a sudden surprise to his heart as he turns in under the archway of the gatehouse.
And so HE goes up the postern stair.
John Jasper passes a more agreeable and cheerful day than either of his guests. Having no music-lessons to give in the holiday season, his time is his own, but for the Cathedral services. He is early among the shopkeepers, ordering little table luxuries that his nephew likes. His nephew will not be with him long, he tells his provision-dealers, and so must be petted and made much of. While out on his hospitable preparations, he looks in on Mr. Sapsea; and mentions that dear Ned, and that inflammable young spark of Mr. Crisparkle's, are to dine at the gatehouse to-day, and make up their difference. Mr. Sapsea is by no means friendly towards the inflammable young spark. He says that his complexion is 'Un- English.' And when Mr. Sapsea has once declared anything to be Un- English, he considers that thing everlastingly sunk in the bottomless pit.