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Lightwood was shaking his head over the air with which his friend held forth thus--an air so whimsically open and argumentative as almost to deprive what he said of the appearance of evasion--when a shuffling was heard at the outer door, and then an undecided knock, as though some hand were groping for the knocker. 'The frolicsome youth of the neighbourhood,' said Eugene, 'whom I should be delighted to pitch from this elevation into the churchyard below, without any intermediate ceremonies, have probably turned the lamp out. I am on duty to-night, and will see to the door.'
His friend had barely had time to recall the unprecedented gleam of determination with which he had spoken of finding this girl, and which had faded out of him with the breath of the spoken words, when Eugene came back, ushering in a most disgraceful shadow of a man, shaking from head to foot, and clothed in shabby grease and smear.
'This interesting gentleman,' said Eugene, 'is the son--the occasionally rather trying son, for he has his failings--of a lady of my acquaintance. My dear Mortimer--Mr Dolls.' Eugene had no idea what his name was, knowing the little dressmaker's to be assumed, but presented him with easy confidence under the first appellation that his associations suggested.
'I gather, my dear Mortimer,' pursued Eugene, as Lightwood stared at the obscene visitor, 'from the manner of Mr Dolls--which is occasionally complicated--that he desires to make some communication to me. I have mentioned to Mr Dolls that you and I are on terms of confidence, and have requested Mr Dolls to develop his views here.'
The wretched object being much embarrassed by holding what remained of his hat, Eugene airily tossed it to the door, and put him down in a chair.
'It will be necessary, I think,' he observed, 'to wind up Mr Dolls, before anything to any mortal purpose can be got out of him. Brandy, Mr Dolls, or--?'
'Threepenn'orth Rum,' said Mr Dolls.
A judiciously small quantity of the spirit was given him in a wine- glass, and he began to convey it to his mouth, with all kinds of falterings and gyrations on the road.
'The nerves of Mr Dolls,' remarked Eugene to Lightwood, 'are considerably unstrung. And I deem it on the whole expedient to fumigate Mr Dolls.'
He took the shovel from the grate, sprinkled a few live ashes on it, and from a box on the chimney-piece took a few pastiles, which he set upon them; then, with great composure began placidly waving the shovel in front of Mr Dolls, to cut him off from his company.
'Lord bless my soul, Eugene!' cried Lightwood, laughing again, 'what a mad fellow you are! Why does this creature come to see you?'
'We shall hear,' said Wrayburn, very observant of his face withal. 'Now then. Speak out. Don't be afraid. State your business, Dolls.'
'Mist Wrayburn!' said the visitor, thickly and huskily. '--'TIS Mist Wrayburn, ain't?' With a stupid stare.
'Of course it is. Look at me. What do you want?'
Mr Dolls collapsed in his chair, and faintly said 'Threepenn'orth Rum.'
'Will you do me the favour, my dear Mortimer, to wind up Mr Dolls again?' said Eugene. 'I am occupied with the fumigation.'
A similar quantity was poured into his glass, and he got it to his lips by similar circuitous ways. Having drunk it, Mr Dolls, with an evident fear of running down again unless he made haste, proceeded to business.
'Mist Wrayburn. Tried to nudge you, but you wouldn't. You want that drection. You want t'know where she lives. DO you Mist Wrayburn?'
With a glance at his friend, Eugene replied to the question sternly, 'I do.'
'I am er man,' said Mr Dolls, trying to smite himself on the breast, but bringing his hand to bear upon the vicinity of his eye, 'er do it. I am er man er do it.'
'What are you the man to do?' demanded Eugene, still sternly.
'Er give up that drection.'
'Have you got it?'
With a most laborious attempt at pride and dignity, Mr Dolls rolled his head for some time, awakening the highest expectations, and then answered, as if it were the happiest point that could possibly be expected of him: 'No.'
'What do you mean then?'
Mr Dolls, collapsing in the drowsiest manner after his late intellectual triumph, replied: 'Threepenn'orth Rum.'
'Wind him up again, my dear Mortimer,' said Wrayburn; 'wind him up again.'
'Eugene, Eugene,' urged Lightwood in a low voice, as he complied, 'can you stoop to the use of such an instrument as this?'
'I said,' was the reply, made with that former gleam of determination, 'that I would find her out by any means, fair or foul. These are foul, and I'll take them--if I am not first tempted to break the head of Mr Dolls with the fumigator. Can you get the direction? Do you mean that? Speak! If that's what you have come for, say how much you want.'
'Ten shillings--Threepenn'orths Rum,' said Mr Dolls.
'You shall have it.'
'Fifteen shillings--Threepenn'orths Rum,' said Mr Dolls, making an attempt to stiffen himself.
'You shall have it. Stop at that. How will you get the direction you talk of?'
'I am er man,' said Mr Dolls, with majesty, 'er get it, sir.'
'How will you get it, I ask you?'
'I am ill-used vidual,' said Mr Dolls. 'Blown up morning t'night. Called names. She makes Mint money, sir, and never stands Threepenn'orth Rum.'
'Get on,' rejoined Eugene, tapping his palsied head with the fire- shovel, as it sank on his breast. 'What comes next?'
Making a dignified attempt to gather himself together, but, as it were, dropping half a dozen pieces of himself while he tried in vain to pick up one, Mr Dolls, swaying his head from side to side, regarded his questioner with what he supposed to be a haughty smile and a scornful glance.
'She looks upon me as mere child, sir. I am NOT mere child, sir. Man. Man talent. Lerrers pass betwixt 'em. Postman lerrers. Easy for man talent er get drection, as get his own drection.'
'Get it then,' said Eugene; adding very heartily under his breath, '--You Brute! Get it, and bring it here to me, and earn the money for sixty threepenn'orths of rum, and drink them all, one a top of another, and drink yourself dead with all possible expedition.' The latter clauses of these special instructions he addressed to the fire, as he gave it back the ashes he had taken from it, and replaced the shovel.
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