'Here's Mr. Maldon begs the favour of a word, sir.'
'I am but this moment quit of Mr. Maldon,' said his master.
'Yes, sir,' returned Uriah; 'but Mr. Maldon has come back, and he begs the favour of a word.'
As he held the door open with his hand, Uriah looked at me, and looked at Agnes, and looked at the dishes, and looked at the plates, and looked at every object in the room, I thought, — yet seemed to look at nothing; he made such an appearance all the while of keeping his red eyes dutifully on his master. 'I beg your pardon. It's only to say, on reflection,' observed a voice behind Uriah, as Uriah's head was pushed away, and the speaker's substituted — 'pray excuse me for this intrusion — that as it seems I have no choice in the matter, the sooner I go abroad the better. My cousin Annie did say, when we talked of it, that she liked to have her friends within reach rather than to have them banished, and the old Doctor — '
'Doctor Strong, was that?' Mr. Wickfield interposed, gravely.
'Doctor Strong, of course,' returned the other; 'I call him the old Doctor; it's all the same, you know.'
'I don't know,' returned Mr. Wickfield.
'Well, Doctor Strong,' said the other — 'Doctor Strong was of the same mind, I believed. But as it appears from the course you take with me he has changed his mind, why there's no more to be said, except that the sooner I am off, the better. Therefore, I thought I'd come back and say, that the sooner I am off the better. When a plunge is to be made into the water, it's of no use lingering on the bank.'
'There shall be as little lingering as possible, in your case, Mr. Maldon, you may depend upon it,' said Mr. Wickfield.
'Thank'ee,' said the other. 'Much obliged. I don't want to look a gift-horse in the mouth, which is not a gracious thing to do; otherwise, I dare say, my cousin Annie could easily arrange it in her own way. I suppose Annie would only have to say to the old Doctor — '
'Meaning that Mrs. Strong would only have to say to her husband — do I follow you?' said Mr. Wickfield.
'Quite so,' returned the other, ' — would only have to say, that she wanted such and such a thing to be so and so; and it would be so and so, as a matter of course.'
'And why as a matter of course, Mr. Maldon?' asked Mr. Wickfield, sedately eating his dinner.
'Why, because Annie's a charming young girl, and the old Doctor — Doctor Strong, I mean — is not quite a charming young boy,' said Mr. Jack Maldon, laughing. 'No offence to anybody, Mr. Wickfield. I only mean that I suppose some compensation is fair and reasonable in that sort of marriage.'
'Compensation to the lady, sir?' asked Mr. Wickfield gravely.
'To the lady, sir,' Mr. Jack Maldon answered, laughing. But appearing to remark that Mr. Wickfield went on with his dinner in the same sedate, immovable manner, and that there was no hope of making him relax a muscle of his face, he added: 'However, I have said what I came to say, and, with another apology for this intrusion, I may take myself off. Of course I shall observe your directions, in considering the matter as one to be arranged between you and me solely, and not to be referred to, up at the Doctor's.'
'Have you dined?' asked Mr. Wickfield, with a motion of his hand towards the table.
'Thank'ee. I am going to dine,' said Mr. Maldon, 'with my cousin Annie. Good-bye!'
Mr. Wickfield, without rising, looked after him thoughtfully as he went out. He was rather a shallow sort of young gentleman, I thought, with a handsome face, a rapid utterance, and a confident, bold air. And this was the first I ever saw of Mr. Jack Maldon; whom I had not expected to see so soon, when I heard the Doctor speak of him that morning.
When we had dined, we went upstairs again, where everything went on exactly as on the previous day. Agnes set the glasses and decanters in the same corner, and Mr. Wickfield sat down to drink, and drank a good deal. Agnes played the piano to him, sat by him, and worked and talked, and played some games at dominoes with me. In good time she made tea; and afterwards, when I brought down my books, looked into them, and showed me what she knew of them (which was no slight matter, though she said it was), and what was the best way to learn and understand them. I see her, with her modest, orderly, placid manner, and I hear her beautiful calm voice, as I write these words. The influence for all good, which she came to exercise over me at a later time, begins already to descend upon my breast. I love little Em'ly, and I don't love Agnes — no, not at all in that way — but I feel that there are goodness, peace, and truth, wherever Agnes is; and that the soft light of the coloured window in the church, seen long ago, falls on her always, and on me when I am near her, and on everything around.