'Harthouse, you have a couple of horses down here. Bring half a dozen more if you like, and we'll find room for 'em. There's stabling in this place for a dozen horses; and unless Nickits is belied, he kept the full number. A round dozen of 'em, sir. When that man was a boy, he went to Westminster School. Went to Westminster School as a King's Scholar, when I was principally living on garbage, and sleeping in market baskets. Why, if I wanted to keep a dozen horses — which I don't, for one's enough for me — I couldn't bear to see 'em in their stalls here, and think what my own lodging used to be. I couldn't look at 'em, sir, and not order 'em out. Yet so things come round. You see this place; you know what sort of a place it is; you are aware that there's not a completer place of its size in this kingdom or elsewhere — I don't care where — and here, got into the middle of it, like a maggot into a nut, is Josiah Bounderby. While Nickits (as a man came into my office, and told me yesterday), Nickits, who used to act in Latin, in the Westminster School plays, with the chief- justices and nobility of this country applauding him till they were black in the face, is drivelling at this minute — drivelling, sir! — in a fifth floor, up a narrow dark back street in Antwerp.'
It was among the leafy shadows of this retirement, in the long sultry summer days, that Mr. Harthouse began to prove the face which had set him wondering when he first saw it, and to try if it would change for him.
'Mrs. Bounderby, I esteem it a most fortunate accident that I find you alone here. I have for some time had a particular wish to speak to you.'
It was not by any wonderful accident that he found her, the time of day being that at which she was always alone, and the place being her favourite resort. It was an opening in a dark wood, where some felled trees lay, and where she would sit watching the fallen leaves of last year, as she had watched the falling ashes at home.
He sat down beside her, with a glance at her face.
'Your brother. My young friend Tom — '
Her colour brightened, and she turned to him with a look of interest. 'I never in my life,' he thought, 'saw anything so remarkable and so captivating as the lighting of those features!' His face betrayed his thoughts — perhaps without betraying him, for it might have been according to its instructions so to do.
'Pardon me. The expression of your sisterly interest is so beautiful — Tom should be so proud of it — I know this is inexcusable, but I am so compelled to admire.'
'Being so impulsive,' she said composedly.
'Mrs. Bounderby, no: you know I make no pretence with you. You know I am a sordid piece of human nature, ready to sell myself at any time for any reasonable sum, and altogether incapable of any Arcadian proceeding whatever.'
'I am waiting,' she returned, 'for your further reference to my brother.'
'You are rigid with me, and I deserve it. I am as worthless a dog as you will find, except that I am not false — not false. But you surprised and started me from my subject, which was your brother. I have an interest in him.'
'Have you an interest in anything, Mr. Harthouse?' she asked, half incredulously and half gratefully.
'If you had asked me when I first came here, I should have said no. I must say now — even at the hazard of appearing to make a pretence, and of justly awakening your incredulity — yes.'
She made a slight movement, as if she were trying to speak, but could not find voice; at length she said, 'Mr. Harthouse, I give you credit for being interested in my brother.'
'Thank you. I claim to deserve it. You know how little I do claim, but I will go that length. You have done so much for him, you are so fond of him; your whole life, Mrs. Bounderby, expresses such charming self-forgetfulness on his account — pardon me again — I am running wide of the subject. I am interested in him for his own sake.'
She had made the slightest action possible, as if she would have risen in a hurry and gone away. He had turned the course of what he said at that instant, and she remained.
'Mrs. Bounderby,' he resumed, in a lighter manner, and yet with a show of effort in assuming it, which was even more expressive than the manner he dismissed; 'it is no irrevocable offence in a young fellow of your brother's years, if he is heedless, inconsiderate, and expensive — a little dissipated, in the common phrase. Is he?'
'Allow me to be frank. Do you think he games at all?'
'I think he makes bets.' Mr. Harthouse waiting, as if that were not her whole answer, she added, 'I know he does.'
'Of course he loses?'