Mr. Weevle admits that he has been wrong and begs Mr. William Guppy to think no more about it. Mr. William Guppy, however, having got the advantage, cannot quite release it without a little more injured remonstrance.
"No! Dash it, Tony," says that gentleman, "you really ought to be careful how you wound the feelings of a man who has an unrequited image imprinted on his 'eart and who is NOT altogether happy in those chords which vibrate to the tenderest emotions. You, Tony, possess in yourself all that is calculated to charm the eye and allure the taste. It is not — happily for you, perhaps, and I may wish that I could say the same — it is not your character to hover around one flower. The ole garden is open to you, and your airy pinions carry you through it. Still, Tony, far be it from me, I am sure, to wound even your feelings without a cause!"
Tony again entreats that the subject may be no longer pursued, saying emphatically, "William Guppy, drop it!" Mr. Guppy acquiesces, with the reply, "I never should have taken it up, Tony, of my own accord."
"And now," says Tony, stirring the fire, "touching this same bundle of letters. Isn't it an extraordinary thing of Krook to have appointed twelve o'clock to-night to hand 'em over to me?"
"Very. What did he do it for?"
"What does he do anything for? HE don't know. Said to-day was his birthday and he'd hand 'em over to-night at twelve o'clock. He'll have drunk himself blind by that time. He has been at it all day."
"He hasn't forgotten the appointment, I hope?"
"Forgotten? Trust him for that. He never forgets anything. I saw him to-night, about eight — helped him to shut up his shop — and he had got the letters then in his hairy cap. He pulled it off and showed 'em me. When the shop was closed, he took them out of his cap, hung his cap on the chair-back, and stood turning them over before the fire. I heard him a little while afterwards, through the floor here, humming like the wind, the only song he knows — about Bibo, and old Charon, and Bibo being drunk when he died, or something or other. He has been as quiet since as an old rat asleep in his hole."
"And you are to go down at twelve?"
"At twelve. And as I tell you, when you came it seemed to me a hundred."
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy after considering a little with his legs crossed, "he can't read yet, can he?"
"Read! He'll never read. He can make all the letters separately, and he knows most of them separately when he sees them; he has got on that much, under me; but he can't put them together. He's too old to acquire the knack of it now — and too drunk."
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy, uncrossing and recrossing his legs, "how do you suppose he spelt out that name of Hawdon?"
"He never spelt it out. You know what a curious power of eye he has and how he has been used to employ himself in copying things by eye alone. He imitated it, evidently from the direction of a letter, and asked me what it meant."
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy, uncrossing and recrossing his legs again, "should you say that the original was a man's writing or a woman's?"
"A woman's. Fifty to one a lady's — slopes a good deal, and the end of the letter 'n,' long and hasty."
Mr. Guppy has been biting his thumb-nail during this dialogue, generally changing the thumb when he has changed the cross leg. As he is going to do so again, he happens to look at his coat-sleeve. It takes his attention. He stares at it, aghast.
"Why, Tony, what on earth is going on in this house to-night? Is there a chimney on fire?"
"Chimney on fire!"
"Ah!" returns Mr. Guppy. "See how the soot's falling. See here, on my arm! See again, on the table here! Confound the stuff, it won't blow off — smears like black fat!"
They look at one another, and Tony goes listening to the door, and a little way upstairs, and a little way downstairs. Comes back and says it's all right and all quiet, and quotes the remark he lately made to Mr. Snagsby about their cooking chops at the Sol's Arms.
"And it was then," resumes Mr. Guppy, still glancing with remarkable aversion at the coat-sleeve, as they pursue their conversation before the fire, leaning on opposite sides of the table, with their heads very near together, "that he told you of his having taken the bundle of letters from his lodger's portmanteau?"
"That was the time, sir," answers Tony, faintly adjusting his whiskers. "Whereupon I wrote a line to my dear boy, the Honourable William Guppy, informing him of the appointment for to-night and advising him not to call before, Boguey being a slyboots."
The light vivacious tone of fashionable life which is usually assumed by Mr. Weevle sits so ill upon him to-night that he abandons that and his whiskers together, and after looking over his shoulder, appears to yield himself up a prey to the horrors again.
"You are to bring the letters to your room to read and compare, and to get yourself into a position to tell him all about them. That's the arrangement, isn't it, Tony?" asks Mr. Guppy, anxiously biting his thumb-nail.
"You can't speak too low. Yes. That's what he and I agreed."
"I tell you what, Tony — "
"You can't speak too low," says Tony once more. Mr. Guppy nods his sagacious head, advances it yet closer, and drops into a whisper.
"I tell you what. The first thing to be done is to make another packet like the real one so that if he should ask to see the real one while it's in my possession, you can show him the dummy."
"And suppose he detects the dummy as soon as he sees it, which with his biting screw of an eye is about five hundred times more likely than not," suggests Tony.
"Then we'll face it out. They don't belong to him, and they never did. You found that, and you placed them in my hands — a legal friend of yours — for security. If he forces us to it, they'll be producible, won't they?"
"Ye-es," is Mr. Weevle's reluctant admission.
"Why, Tony," remonstrates his friend, "how you look! You don't doubt William Guppy? You don't suspect any harm?"
"I don't suspect anything more than I know, William," returns the other gravely.
"And what do you know?" urges Mr. Guppy, raising his voice a little; but on his friend's once more warning him, "I tell you, you can't speak too low," he repeats his question without any sound at all, forming with his lips only the words, "What do you know?"