The Trusty AgentEDITH went out alone that day, and returned home early. It was but a few minutes after ten o'clock, when her carriage rolled along the street in which she lived.
There was the same enforced composure on her face, that there had been when she was dressing; and the wreath upon her head encircled the same cold and steady brow. But it would have been better to have seen its leaves and flowers reft into fragments by her passionate hand, or rendered shapeless by the fitful searches of a throbbing and bewildered brain for any resting-place, than adorning such tranquillity. So obdurate, so unapproachable, so unrelenting, one would have thought that nothing could soften such a woman's nature, and that everything in life had hardened it.
Arrived at her own door, she was alighting, when some one coming quietly from the hall, and standing bareheaded, offered her his arm. The servant being thrust aside, she had no choice but to touch it; and she then knew whose arm it was.
`How is your patient, Sir?' she said, with a curled lip.
`He is better,' returned Carker. `He is doing very well. I have left him for the night.'
She bent her head, and was passing up the staircase, when he followed and said, speaking at the bottom:
`Madam! May I beg the favour of a minute's audience?'
She stopped and turned her eyes back. `It is an unreasonable time, Sir, and I am fatigued. Is your business urgent?'
`It is very urgent,' returned Carker. `As I am so fortunate as to have met you, let me press my petition.'
She looked down for a moment at his glistening mouth; and he looked up at her, standing above him in her stately dress, and thought, again, how beautiful she was.
`Where is Miss Dombey?' she asked the servant, aloud.
`In the morning room, Ma'am.'
`Show the way there!' Turning her eyes again on the attentive gentleman at the bottom of the stairs, and informing him with a slight motion of her head, that he was at liberty to follow, she passed on.
`I beg your pardon! Madam! Mrs. Dombey!' cried the soft and nimble Carker at her side in a moment. `May I be permitted to entreat that Miss Dombey is not present?'
She confronted him, with a quick look, but with the same self-possession and steadiness.
`I would spare Miss Dombey,' said Carker, in a low voice, `the knowledge of what I have to say. At least, Madam, I would leave it to you to decide whether she shall know of it or not. I owe that to you. It is my bounden duty to you. After our former interview, it would be monstrous in me if I did otherwise.'
She slowly withdrew her eyes from his face, and turning to the servant, said, `Some other room.' He led the way to a drawing-room, which he speedily lighted up and then left them. While he remained, not a word was spoken. Edith enthroned herself upon a couch by the fire; and Mr. Carker, with his hat in his hand and his eyes bent upon the carpet, stood before her, at some little distance.
`Before I hear you, Sir,' said Edith, when the door was closed, `I wish you to hear me.'
`To be addressed by Mrs. Dombey,' he returned, `even in accents of unmerited reproach, is an honour I so greatly esteem, that although I were not her servant in all things, I should defer to such a wish, most readily.'
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