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Mr Dolls now struck out the highly unexpected discovery that he had been insulted by Lightwood, and stated his desire to 'have it out with him' on the spot, and defied him to come on, upon the liberal terms of a sovereign to a halfpenny. Mr Dolls then fell a crying, and then exhibited a tendency to fall asleep. This last manifestation as by far the most alarming, by reason of its threatening his prolonged stay on the premises, necessitated vigorous measures. Eugene picked up his worn-out hat with the tongs, clapped it on his head, and, taking him by the collar--all this at arm's length--conducted him down stairs and out of the precincts into Fleet Street. There, he turned his face westward, and left him.
When he got back, Lightwood was standing over the fire, brooding in a sufficiently low-spirited manner.
'I'll wash my hands of Mr Dolls physically--' said Eugene, 'and be with you again directly, Mortimer.'
'I would much prefer,' retorted Mortimer, 'your washing your hands of Mr Dolls, morally, Eugene.'
'So would I,' said Eugene; 'but you see, dear boy, I can't do without him.'
In a minute or two he resumed his chair, as perfectly unconcerned as usual, and rallied his friend on having so narrowly escaped the prowess of their muscular visitor.
'I can't be amused on this theme,' said Mortimer, restlessly. 'You can make almost any theme amusing to me, Eugene, but not this.'
'Well!' cried Eugene, 'I am a little ashamed of it myself, and therefore let us change the subject.'
'It is so deplorably underhanded,' said Mortimer. 'It is so unworthy of you, this setting on of such a shameful scout.'
'We have changed the subject!' exclaimed Eugene, airily. 'We have found a new one in that word, scout. Don't be like Patience on a mantelpiece frowning at Dolls, but sit down, and I'll tell you something that you really will find amusing. Take a cigar. Look at this of mine. I light it--draw one puff--breathe the smoke out-- there it goes--it's Dolls!--it's gone--and being gone you are a man again.'
'Your subject,' said Mortimer, after lighting a cigar, and comforting himself with a whiff or two, 'was scouts, Eugene.'
'Exactly. Isn't it droll that I never go out after dark, but I find myself attended, always by one scout, and often by two?'
Lightwood took his cigar from his lips in surprise, and looked at his friend, as if with a latent suspicion that there must be a jest or hidden meaning in his words.
'On my honour, no,' said Wrayburn, answering the look and smiling carelessly; 'I don't wonder at your supposing so, but on my honour, no. I say what I mean. I never go out after dark, but I find myself in the ludicrous situation of being followed and observed at a distance, always by one scout, and often by two.'
'Are you sure, Eugene?'
'Sure? My dear boy, they are always the same.'
'But there's no process out against you. The Jews only threaten. They have done nothing. Besides, they know where to find you, and I represent you. Why take the trouble?'
'Observe the legal mind!' remarked Eugene, turning round to the furniture again, with an air of indolent rapture. 'Observe the dyer's hand, assimilating itself to what it works in,--or would work in, if anybody would give it anything to do. Respected solicitor, it's not that. The schoolmaster's abroad.'
'Ay! Sometimes the schoolmaster and the pupil are both abroad. Why, how soon you rust in my absence! You don't understand yet? Those fellows who were here one night. They are the scouts I speak of, as doing me the honour to attend me after dark.'
'How long has this been going on?' asked Lightwood, opposing a serious face to the laugh of his friend.
'I apprehend it has been going on, ever since a certain person went off. Probably, it had been going on some little time before I noticed it: which would bring it to about that time.'
'Do you think they suppose you to have inveigled her away?'
'My dear Mortimer, you know the absorbing nature of my professional occupations; I really have not had leisure to think about it.'
'Have you asked them what they want? Have you objected?'
'Why should I ask them what they want, dear fellow, when I am indifferent what they want? Why should I express objection, when I don't object?'
'You are in your most reckless mood. But you called the situation just now, a ludicrous one; and most men object to that, even those who are utterly indifferent to everything else.'
'You charm me, Mortimer, with your reading of my weaknesses. (By-the-by, that very word, Reading, in its critical use, always charms me. An actress's Reading of a chambermaid, a dancer's Reading of a hornpipe, a singer's Reading of a song, a marine painter's Reading of the sea, the kettle-drum's Reading of an instrumental passage, are phrases ever youthful and delightful.) I was mentioning your perception of my weaknesses. I own to the weakness of objecting to occupy a ludicrous position, and therefore I transfer the position to the scouts.'
'I wish, Eugene, you would speak a little more soberly and plainly, if it were only out of consideration for my feeling less at ease than you do.'
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Our Mutual Friend -- by Charles Dickens