'To be sure,' assented Mrs. Sparsit, eating muffin.
'Thank you, ma'am,' said Bitzer, knuckling his forehead again, in return for the favour of Mrs. Sparsit's improving conversation. 'Would you wish a little more hot water, ma'am, or is there anything else that I could fetch you?'
'Nothing just now, Bitzer.'
'Thank you, ma'am. I shouldn't wish to disturb you at your meals, ma'am, particularly tea, knowing your partiality for it,' said Bitzer, craning a little to look over into the street from where he stood; 'but there's a gentleman been looking up here for a minute or so, ma'am, and he has come across as if he was going to knock. That is his knock, ma'am, no doubt.'
He stepped to the window; and looking out, and drawing in his head again, confirmed himself with, 'Yes, ma'am. Would you wish the gentleman to be shown in, ma'am?'
'I don't know who it can be,' said Mrs. Sparsit, wiping her mouth and arranging her mittens.
'A stranger, ma'am, evidently.'
'What a stranger can want at the Bank at this time of the evening, unless he comes upon some business for which he is too late, I don't know,' said Mrs. Sparsit, 'but I hold a charge in this establishment from Mr. Bounderby, and I will never shrink from it. If to see him is any part of the duty I have accepted, I will see him. Use your own discretion, Bitzer.'
Here the visitor, all unconscious of Mrs. Sparsit's magnanimous words, repeated his knock so loudly that the light porter hastened down to open the door; while Mrs. Sparsit took the precaution of concealing her little table, with all its appliances upon it, in a cupboard, and then decamped up-stairs, that she might appear, if needful, with the greater dignity.
'If you please, ma'am, the gentleman would wish to see you,' said Bitzer, with his light eye at Mrs. Sparsit's keyhole. So, Mrs. Sparsit, who had improved the interval by touching up her cap, took her classical features down-stairs again, and entered the board- room in the manner of a Roman matron going outside the city walls to treat with an invading general.
The visitor having strolled to the window, and being then engaged in looking carelessly out, was as unmoved by this impressive entry as man could possibly be. He stood whistling to himself with all imaginable coolness, with his hat still on, and a certain air of exhaustion upon him, in part arising from excessive summer, and in part from excessive gentility. For it was to be seen with half an eye that he was a thorough gentleman, made to the model of the time; weary of everything, and putting no more faith in anything than Lucifer.
'I believe, sir,' quoth Mrs. Sparsit, 'you wished to see me.'
'I beg your pardon,' he said, turning and removing his hat; 'pray excuse me.'
'Humph!' thought Mrs. Sparsit, as she made a stately bend. 'Five and thirty, good-looking, good figure, good teeth, good voice, good breeding, well-dressed, dark hair, bold eyes.' All which Mrs. Sparsit observed in her womanly way — like the Sultan who put his head in the pail of water — merely in dipping down and coming up again.
'Please to be seated, sir,' said Mrs. Sparsit.
'Thank you. Allow me.' He placed a chair for her, but remained himself carelessly lounging against the table. 'I left my servant at the railway looking after the luggage — very heavy train and vast quantity of it in the van — and strolled on, looking about me. Exceedingly odd place. Will you allow me to ask you if it's always as black as this?'
'In general much blacker,' returned Mrs. Sparsit, in her uncompromising way.
'Is it possible! Excuse me: you are not a native, I think?'
'No, sir,' returned Mrs. Sparsit. 'It was once my good or ill fortune, as it may be — before I became a widow — to move in a very different sphere. My husband was a Powler.'
'Beg your pardon, really!' said the stranger. 'Was — ?'
Mrs. Sparsit repeated, 'A Powler.'
'Powler Family,' said the stranger, after reflecting a few moments. Mrs. Sparsit signified assent. The stranger seemed a little more fatigued than before.
'You must be very much bored here?' was the inference he drew from the communication.
'I am the servant of circumstances, sir,' said Mrs. Sparsit, 'and I have long adapted myself to the governing power of my life.'
'Very philosophical,' returned the stranger, 'and very exemplary and laudable, and — ' It seemed to be scarcely worth his while to finish the sentence, so he played with his watch-chain wearily.
'May I be permitted to ask, sir,' said Mrs. Sparsit, 'to what I am indebted for the favour of — '