"You find the rent too high, do you, sir?" returns the stationer. "Rents ARE high about here. I don't know how it is exactly, but the law seems to put things up in price. Not," adds Mr. Snagsby with his apologetic cough, "that I mean to say a word against the profession I get my living by."
Mr. Weevle again glances up and down the court and then looks at the stationer. Mr. Snagsby, blankly catching his eye, looks upward for a star or so and coughs a cough expressive of not exactly seeing his way out of this conversation.
"It's a curious fact, sir," he observes, slowly rubbing his hands, "that he should have been — "
"Who's he?" interrupts Mr. Weevle.
"The deceased, you know," says Mr. Snagsby, twitching his head and right eyebrow towards the staircase and tapping his acquaintance on the button.
"Ah, to be sure!" returns the other as if he were not over-fond of the subject. "I thought we had done with him."
"I was only going to say it's a curious fact, sir, that he should have come and lived here, and been one of my writers, and then that you should come and live here, and be one of my writers too. Which there is nothing derogatory, but far from it in the appellation," says Mr. Snagsby, breaking off with a mistrust that he may have unpolitely asserted a kind of proprietorship in Mr. Weevle, "because I have known writers that have gone into brewers' houses and done really very respectable indeed. Eminently respectable, sir," adds Mr. Snagsby with a misgiving that he has not improved the matter.
"It's a curious coincidence, as you say," answers Weevle, once more glancing up and down the court.
"Seems a fate in it, don't there?" suggests the stationer.
"Just so," observes the stationer with his confirmatory cough. "Quite a fate in it. Quite a fate. Well, Mr. Weevle, I am afraid I must bid you good night" — Mr. Snagsby speaks as if it made him desolate to go, though he has been casting about for any means of escape ever since he stopped to speak — "my little woman will be looking for me else. Good night, sir!"
If Mr. Snagsby hastens home to save his little woman the trouble of looking for him, he might set his mind at rest on that score. His little woman has had her eye upon him round the Sol's Arms all this time and now glides after him with a pocket handkerchief wrapped over her head, honouring Mr. Weevle and his doorway with a searching glance as she goes past.
"You'll know me again, ma'am, at all events," says Mr. Weevle to himself; "and I can't compliment you on your appearance, whoever you are, with your head tied up in a bundle. Is this fellow NEVER coming!"
This fellow approaches as he speaks. Mr. Weevle softly holds up his finger, and draws him into the passage, and closes the street door. Then they go upstairs, Mr. Weevle heavily, and Mr. Guppy (for it is he) very lightly indeed. When they are shut into the back room, they speak low.
"I thought you had gone to Jericho at least instead of coming here," says Tony.
"Why, I said about ten."
"You said about ten," Tony repeats. "Yes, so you did say about ten. But according to my count, it's ten times ten — it's a hundred o'clock. I never had such a night in my life!"
"What has been the matter?"
"That's it!" says Tony. "Nothing has been the matter. But here have I been stewing and fuming in this jolly old crib till I have had the horrors falling on me as thick as hail. THERE'S a blessed- looking candle!" says Tony, pointing to the heavily burning taper on his table with a great cabbage head and a long winding-sheet.
"That's easily improved," Mr. Guppy observes as he takes the snuffers in hand.
"IS it?" returns his friend. "Not so easily as you think. It has been smouldering like that ever since it was lighted."
"Why, what's the matter with you, Tony?" inquires Mr. Guppy, looking at him, snuffers in hand, as he sits down with his elbow on the table.
"William Guppy," replies the other, "I am in the downs. It's this unbearably dull, suicidal room — and old Boguey downstairs, I suppose." Mr. Weevle moodily pushes the snuffers-tray from him with his elbow, leans his head on his hand, puts his feet on the fender, and looks at the fire. Mr. Guppy, observing him, slightly tosses his head and sits down on the other side of the table in an easy attitude.
"Wasn't that Snagsby talking to you, Tony?"
"Yes, and he — yes, it was Snagsby," said Mr. Weevle, altering the construction of his sentence.
"No. No business. He was only sauntering by and stopped to prose."
"I thought it was Snagsby," says Mr. Guppy, "and thought it as well that he shouldn't see me, so I waited till he was gone."
"There we go again, William G.!" cried Tony, looking up for an instant. "So mysterious and secret! By George, if we were going to commit a murder, we couldn't have more mystery about it!"
Mr. Guppy affects to smile, and with the view of changing the conversation, looks with an admiration, real or pretended, round the room at the Galaxy Gallery of British Beauty, terminating his survey with the portrait of Lady Dedlock over the mantelshelf, in which she is represented on a terrace, with a pedestal upon the terrace, and a vase upon the pedestal, and her shawl upon the vase, and a prodigious piece of fur upon the shawl, and her arm on the prodigious piece of fur, and a bracelet on her arm.
"That's very like Lady Dedlock," says Mr. Guppy. "It's a speaking likeness."
"I wish it was," growls Tony, without changing his position. "I should have some fashionable conversation, here, then."
Finding by this time that his friend is not to be wheedled into a more sociable humour, Mr. Guppy puts about upon the ill-used tack and remonstrates with him.
"Tony," says he, "I can make allowances for lowness of spirits, for no man knows what it is when it does come upon a man better than I do, and no man perhaps has a better right to know it than a man who has an unrequited image imprinted on his 'eart. But there are bounds to these things when an unoffending party is in question, and I will acknowledge to you, Tony, that I don't think your manner on the present occasion is hospitable or quite gentlemanly."
"This is strong language, William Guppy," returns Mr. Weevle.
"Sir, it may be," retorts Mr. William Guppy, "but I feel strongly when I use it."