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A more ridiculous and feeble spectacle than this tottering wretch making unsteady sallies into the roadway, and as often staggering back again, oppressed by terrors of vehicles that were a long way off or were nowhere, the streets could not have shown. Over and over again, when the course was perfectly clear, he set out, got half way, described a loop, turned, and went back again; when he might have crossed and re-crossed half a dozen times. Then, he would stand shivering on the edge of the pavement, looking up the street and looking down, while scores of people jostled him, and crossed, and went on. Stimulated in course of time by the sight of so many successes, he would make another sally, make another loop, would all but have his foot on the opposite pavement, would see or imagine something coming, and would stagger back again. There, he would stand making spasmodic preparations as if for a great leap, and at last would decide on a start at precisely the wrong moment, and would be roared at by drivers, and would shrink back once more, and stand in the old spot shivering, with the whole of the proceedings to go through again.
'It strikes me,' remarked Eugene coolly, after watching him for some minutes, 'that my friend is likely to be rather behind time if he has any appointment on hand.' With which remark he strolled on, and took no further thought of him.
Lightwood was at home when he got to the Chambers, and had dined alone there. Eugene drew a chair to the fire by which he was having his wine and reading the evening paper, and brought a glass, and filled it for good fellowship's sake.
'My dear Mortimer, you are the express picture of contented industry, reposing (on credit) after the virtuous labours of the day.'
'My dear Eugene, you are the express picture of discontented idleness not reposing at all. Where have you been?'
'I have been,' replied Wrayburn, '--about town. I have turned up at the present juncture, with the intention of consulting my highly intelligent and respected solicitor on the position of my affairs.'
'Your highly intelligent and respect solicitor is of opinion that your affairs are in a bad way, Eugene.'
'Though whether,' said Eugene thoughtfully, 'that can be intelligently said, now, of the affairs of a client who has nothing to lose and who cannot possibly be made to pay, may be open to question.'
'You have fallen into the hands of the Jews, Eugene.'
'My dear boy,' returned the debtor, very composedly taking up his glass, 'having previously fallen into the hands of some of the Christians, I can bear it with philosophy.'
'I have had an interview to-day, Eugene, with a Jew, who seems determined to press us hard. Quite a Shylock, and quite a Patriarch. A picturesque grey-headed and grey-bearded old Jew, in a shovel-hat and gaberdine.'
'Not,' said Eugene, pausing in setting down his glass, 'surely not my worthy friend Mr Aaron?'
'He calls himself Mr Riah.'
'By-the-by,' said Eugene, 'it comes into my mind that--no doubt with an instinctive desire to receive him into the bosom of our Church--I gave him the name of Aaron!'
'Eugene, Eugene,' returned Lightwood, 'you are more ridiculous than usual. Say what you mean.'
'Merely, my dear fellow, that I have the honour and pleasure of a speaking acquaintance with such a Patriarch as you describe, and that I address him as Mr Aaron, because it appears to me Hebraic, expressive, appropriate, and complimentary. Notwithstanding which strong reasons for its being his name, it may not be his name.'
'I believe you are the absurdest man on the face of the earth,' said Lightwood, laughing.
'Not at all, I assure you. Did he mention that he knew me?'
'He did not. He only said of you that he expected to be paid by you.'
'Which looks,' remarked Eugene with much gravity, 'like NOT knowing me. I hope it may not be my worthy friend Mr Aaron, for, to tell you the truth, Mortimer, I doubt he may have a prepossession against me. I strongly suspect him of having had a hand in spiriting away Lizzie.'
'Everything,' returned Lightwood impatiently, 'seems, by a fatality, to bring us round to Lizzie. "About town" meant about Lizzie, just now, Eugene.'
'My solicitor, do you know,' observed Eugene, turning round to the furniture, 'is a man of infinite discernment!'
'Did it not, Eugene?'
'Yes it did, Mortimer.'
'And yet, Eugene, you know you do not really care for her.'
Eugene Wrayburn rose, and put his hands in his pockets, and stood with a foot on the fender, indolently rocking his body and looking at the fire. After a prolonged pause, he replied: 'I don't know that. I must ask you not to say that, as if we took it for granted.'
'But if you do care for her, so much the more should you leave her to herself.'
Having again paused as before, Eugene said: 'I don't know that, either. But tell me. Did you ever see me take so much trouble about anything, as about this disappearance of hers? I ask, for information.'
'My dear Eugene, I wish I ever had!'
'Then you have not? Just so. You confirm my own impression. Does that look as if I cared for her? I ask, for information.'
'I asked YOU for information, Eugene,' said Mortimer reproachfully.
'Dear boy, I know it, but I can't give it. I thirst for information. What do I mean? If my taking so much trouble to recover her does not mean that I care for her, what does it mean? "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper, where's the peck," &c.?'
Though he said this gaily, he said it with a perplexed and inquisitive face, as if he actually did not know what to make of himself. 'Look on to the end--' Lightwood was beginning to remonstrate, when he caught at the words:
'Ah! See now! That's exactly what I am incapable of doing. How very acute you are, Mortimer, in finding my weak place! When we were at school together, I got up my lessons at the last moment, day by day and bit by bit; now we are out in life together, I get up my lessons in the same way. In the present task I have not got beyond this:--I am bent on finding Lizzie, and I mean to find her, and I will take any means of finding her that offer themselves. Fair means or foul means, are all alike to me. I ask you--for information--what does that mean? When I have found her I may ask you--also for information--what do I mean now? But it would be premature in this stage, and it's not the character of my mind.'
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Our Mutual Friend -- by Charles Dickens