The door had been opened to admit another soldier-looking man of less prepossessing appearance at first sight and a weather-tanned, bright-eyed wholesome woman with a basket, who, from her entrance, had been exceedingly attentive to all Mr. George had said. Mr. George had received them with a familiar nod and a friendly look, but without any more particular greeting in the midst of his address. He now shook them cordially by the hand and said, "Miss Summerson and gentlemen, this is an old comrade of mine, Matthew Bagnet. And this is his wife, Mrs. Bagnet."
Mr. Bagnet made us a stiff military bow, and Mrs. Bagnet dropped us a curtsy.
"Real good friends of mine, they are," sald Mr. George. "It was at their house I was taken."
"With a second-hand wiolinceller," Mr. Bagnet put in, twitching his head angrily. "Of a good tone. For a friend. That money was no object to."
"Mat," said Mr. George, "you have heard pretty well all I have been saying to this lady and these two gentlemen. I know it meets your approval?"
Mr. Bagnet, after considering, referred the point to his wife. "Old girl," said he. "Tell him. Whether or not. It meets my approval."
"Why, George," exclaimed Mrs. Bagnet, who had been unpacking her basket, in which there was a piece of cold pickled pork, a little tea and sugar, and a brown loaf, "you ought to know it don't. You ought to know it's enough to drive a person wild to hear you. You won't be got off this way, and you won't be got off that way — what do you mean by such picking and choosing? It's stuff and nonsense, George."
"Don't be severe upon me in my misfortunes, Mrs. Bagnet," said the trooper lightly.
"Oh! Bother your misfortunes," cried Mrs. Bagnet, "if they don't make you more reasonable than that comes to. I never was so ashamed in my life to hear a man talk folly as I have been to hear you talk this day to the present company. Lawyers? Why, what but too many cooks should hinder you from having a dozen lawyers if the gentleman recommended them to you"
"This is a very sensible woman," said my guardian. "I hope you will persuade him, Mrs. Bagnet."
"Persuade him, sir?" she returned. "Lord bless you, no. You don't know George. Now, there!" Mrs. Bagnet left her basket to point him out with both her bare brown hands. "There he stands! As self-willed and as determined a man, in the wrong way, as ever put a human creature under heaven out of patience! You could as soon take up and shoulder an eight and forty pounder by your own strength as turn that man when he has got a thing into his head and fixed it there. Why, don't I know him!" cried Mrs. Bagnet. "Don't I know you, George! You don't mean to set up for a new character with ME after all these years, I hope?"
Her friendly indignation had an exemplary effect upon her husband, who shook his head at the trooper several times as a silent recommendation to him to yield. Between whiles, Mrs. Bagnet looked at me; and I understood from the play of her eyes that she wished me to do something, though I did not comprehend what.
"But I have given up talking to you, old fellow, years and years," said Mrs. Bagnet as she blew a little dust off the pickled pork, looking at me again; "and when ladies and gentlemen know you as well as I do, they'll give up talking to you too. If you are not too headstrong to accept of a bit of dinner, here it is."
"I accept it with many thanks," returned the trooper.
"Do you though, indeed?" said Mrs. Bagnet, continuing to grumble on good-humouredly. "I'm sure I'm surprised at that. I wonder you don't starve in your own way also. It would only be like you. Perhaps you'll set your mind upon THAT next." Here she again looked at me, and I now perceived from her glances at the door and at me, by turns, that she wished us to retire and to await her following us outside the prison. Communicating this by similar means to my guardian and Mr. Woodcourt, I rose.
"We hope you will think better of it, Mr. George," said I, "and we shall come to see you again, trusting to find you more reasonable."
"More grateful, Miss Summerson, you can't find me," he returned.
"But more persuadable we can, I hope," said I. "And let me entreat you to consider that the clearing up of this mystery and the discovery of the real perpetrator of this deed may be of the last importance to others besides yourself."
He heard me respectfully but without much heeding these words, which I spoke a little turned from him, already on my way to the door; he was observing (this they afterwards told me) my height and figure, which seemed to catch his attention all at once.
"'Tis curious," said he. "And yet I thought so at the time!"
My guardian asked him what he meant.
"Why, sir," he answered, "when my ill fortune took me to the dead man's staircase on the night of his murder, I saw a shape so like Miss Summerson's go by me in the dark that I had half a mind to speak to it."
For an instant I felt such a shudder as I never felt before or since and hope I shall never feel again.
"It came downstairs as I went up," said the trooper, "and crossed the moonlighted window with a loose black mantle on; I noticed a deep fringe to it. However, it has nothing to do with the present subject, excepting that Miss Summerson looked so like it at the moment that it came into my head."
I cannot separate and define the feelings that arose in me after this; it is enough that the vague duty and obligation I had felt upon me from the first of following the investigation was, without my distinctly daring to ask myself any question, increased, and that I was indignantly sure of there being no possibility of a reason for my being afraid.
We three went out of the prison and walked up and down at some short distance from the gate, which was in a retired place. We had not waited long when Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet came out too and quickly joined us.
There was a tear in each of Mrs. Bagnet's eyes, and her face was flushed and hurried. "I didn't let George see what I thought about it, you know, miss," was her first remark when she came up, "but he's in a bad way, poor old fellow!"
"Not with care and prudence and good help," said my guardian.
"A gentleman like you ought to know best, sir," returned Mrs. Bagnet, hurriedly drying her eyes on the hem of her grey cloak, "but I am uneasy for him. He has been so careless and said so much that he never meant. The gentlemen of the juries might not understand him as Lignum and me do. And then such a number of circumstances have happened bad for him, and such a number of people will be brought forward to speak against him, and Bucket is so deep."
"With a second-hand wiolinceller. And said he played the fife. When a boy," Mr. Bagnet added with great solemnity.
"Now, I tell you, miss," said Mrs. Bagnet; "and when I say miss, I mean all! Just come into the corner of the wall and I'll tell you!"
Mrs. Bagnet hurried us into a more secluded place and was at first too breathless to proceed, occasioning Mr. Bagnet to say, "Old girl! Tell 'em!"
"Why, then, miss," the old girl proceeded, untying the strings of her bonnet for more air, "you could as soon move Dover Castle as move George on this point unless you had got a new power to move him with. And I have got it!"
"You are a jewel of a woman," said my guardian. "Go on!"
"Now, I tell you, miss," she proceeded, clapping her hands in her hurry and agitation a dozen times in every sentence, "that what he says concerning no relations is all bosh. They don't know of him, but he does know of them. He has said more to me at odd times than to anybody else, and it warn't for nothing that he once spoke to my Woolwich about whitening and wrinkling mothers' heads. For fifty pounds he had seen his mother that day. She's alive and must be brought here straight!"