After combating, for nearly a week, the feeling which impelled me to revisit the place I had quitted under the circumstances already detailed, I yielded to it at length; and determining that this time I would present myself by the light of day, bent my steps thither early in the morning.
I walked past the house, and took several turns in the street, with that kind of hesitation which is natural to a man who is conscious that the visit he is about to pay is unexpected, and may not be very acceptable. However, as the door of the shop was shut, and it did not appear likely that I should be recognized by those within, if I continued merely to pass up and down before it, I soon conquered this irresolution, and found myself in the Curiosity Dealer’s warehouse.
The old man and another person were together in the back part, and there seemed to have been high words between them, for their voices which were raised to a very high pitch suddenly stopped on my entering, and the old man advancing hastily towards me, said in a tremulous tone that he was very glad I had come.
‘You interrupted us at a critical moment,’ said he, pointing to the man whom I had found in company with him; ‘this fellow will murder me one of these days. He would have done so, long ago, if he had dared.’
‘Bah! You would swear away my life if you could,’ returned the other, after bestowing a stare and a frown on me; ‘we all know that!’
‘I almost think I could,’ cried the old man, turning feebly upon him. ‘If oaths, or prayers, or words, could rid me of you, they should. I would be quit of you, and would be relieved if you were dead.’
‘I know it,’ returned the other. ‘I said so, didn’t I? But neither oaths, or prayers, nor words, will kill me, and therefore I live, and mean to live.’
‘And his mother died!’ cried the old man, passionately clasping his hands and looking upward; ‘and this is Heaven’s justice!’
The other stood lounging with his foot upon a chair, and regarded him with a contemptuous sneer. He was a young man of one-and-twenty or thereabouts; well made, and certainly handsome, though the expression of his face was far from prepossessing, having in common with his manner and even his dress, a dissipated, insolent air which repelled one.
‘Justice or no justice,’ said the young fellow, ‘here I am and here I shall stop till such time as I think fit to go, unless you send for assistance to put me out—which you won’t do, I know. I tell you again that I want to see my sister.’
‘Your sister!’ said the old man bitterly.
‘Ah! You can’t change the relationship,’ returned the other. ‘If you could, you’d have done it long ago. I want to see my sister, that you keep cooped up here, poisoning her mind with your sly secrets and pretending an affection for her that you may work her to death, and add a few scraped shillings every week to the money you can hardly count. I want to see her; and I will.’
‘Here’s a moralist to talk of poisoned minds! Here’s a generous spirit to scorn scraped-up shillings!’ cried the old man, turning from him to me. ‘A profligate, sir, who has forfeited every claim not only upon those who have the misfortune to be of his blood, but upon society which knows nothing of him but his misdeeds. A liar too,’ he added, in a lower voice as he drew closer to me, ‘who knows how dear she is to me, and seeks to wound me even there, because there is a stranger nearby.’
‘Strangers are nothing to me, grandfather,’ said the young fellow catching at the word, ‘nor I to them, I hope. The best they can do, is to keep an eye to their business and leave me to mine. There’s a friend of mine waiting outside, and as it seems that I may have to wait some time, I’ll call him in, with your leave.’