Page:Dombey and Son.djvu/626

This page needs to be proofread.

clearing a space on the deal table, that he might write the word there, she once more made her signal with a shaking hand.

"Now I tell you before hand what it is, Misses Brown," said Rob, "it’s no use asking me anything else. I won’t answer anything else; I can’t. How long it was to be before they met, or whose plan it was that they was to go away alone, I don’t know no more than you do. I don’t know any more about it. If I was to tell you how I found out this word, you’d believe that. Shall I tell you, Misses Brown?"

"Yes, Rob."

"Well then, Misses Brown. The way—now you won’t ask any more, you know?" said Rob, turning his eyes, which were now fast getting drowsy and stupid, upon her.

"Not another word," said Mrs. Brown.

"Well then, the way was this. When a certain person left the lady with me, he put a piece of paper with a direction written on it in the lady’s hand, saying it was in case she should forget. She wasn’t afraid of forgetting, for she tore it up as soon as his back was turned, and when I put up the carriage steps, I shook out one of the pieces—she sprinkled the rest out of the window, I suppose, for there was none there afterwards, though I looked for 'em. There was only one word on it, and that was this, if you must and will know. But remember! You ’re upon your oath, Misses Brown!"

Mrs. Brown knew that, she said. Rob, having nothing more to say, began to chalk, slowly and laboriously, on the table.

"'D,'" the old woman read aloud, when he had formed the letter.

"Will you hold your tongue, Misses Brown?" he exclaimed, covering it with his hand, and turning impatiently upon her. "I won’t have it read out. Be quiet, will you!"

"Then write large, Rob," she returned, repeating her secret signal; "for my eyes are not good, even at print."

Muttering to himself, and returning to his work with an ill will, Rob went on with the word. As he bent his head down, the person for whose information he so unconsciously laboured, moved from the door behind him to within a short stride of his shoulder, and looked eagerly towards the creeping track of his hand upon the table. At the same time, Alice, from her opposite chair, watched it narrowly as it shaped the letters, and repeated each one on her lips as he made it, without articulating it aloud. At the end of every letter her eyes and Mr. Dombey’s met, as if each of them sought to be confirmed by the other; and thus they both spelt D. I. J. O. N.

"There!" said the Grinder, moistening the palm of his hand hastily, to obliterate the word; and not content with smearing it out, rubbing and planing all trace of it away with his coat-sleeve, until the very colour of the chalk was gone from the table. "Now, I hope you ’re contented, Misses Brown!"

The old woman, in token of her being so, released his arm and patted his back; and the Grinder, overcome with mortification, cross-examination, and liquor, folded his arms on the table, laid his head upon them, and fell asleep.