"Why has he not made his situation known to me? Sick!- -give me my hat and cloak. Poor!--what house?--what number?"
"Oh, you mustn't go there, sir," said Milly, leaving her father-in- law, and calmly confronting him with her collected little face and folded hands.
"Not go there?"
"Oh dear, no!" said Milly, shaking her head as at a most manifest and self-evident impossibility. "It couldn't be thought of!"
"What do you mean? Why not?"
"Why, you see, sir," said Mr. William Swidger, persuasively and confidentially, "that's what I say. Depend upon it, the young gentleman would never have made his situation known to one of his own sex. Mrs. Williams has got into his confidence, but that's quite different. They all confide in Mrs. William; they all trust HER. A man, sir, couldn't have got a whisper out of him; but woman, sir, and Mrs. William combined--!"
"There is good sense and delicacy in what you say, William," returned Mr. Redlaw, observant of the gentle and composed face at his shoulder. And laying his finger on his lip, he secretly put his purse into her hand.
"Oh dear no, sir!" cried Milly, giving it back again. "Worse and worse! Couldn't be dreamed of!"
Such a staid matter-of-fact housewife she was, and so unruffled by the momentary haste of this rejection, that, an instant afterwards, she was tidily picking up a few leaves which had strayed from between her scissors and her apron, when she had arranged the holly.
Finding, when she rose from her stooping posture, that Mr. Redlaw was still regarding her with doubt and astonishment, she quietly repeated--looking about, the while, for any other fragments that might have escaped her observation:
"Oh dear no, sir! He said that of all the world he would not be known to you, or receive help from you--though he is a student in your class. I have made no terms of secrecy with you, but I trust to your honour completely."
"Why did he say so?"
"Indeed I can't tell, sir," said Milly, after thinking a little, "because I am not at all clever, you know; and I wanted to be useful to him in making things neat and comfortable about him, and employed myself that way. But I know he is poor, and lonely, and I think he is somehow neglected too.--How dark it is!"
The room had darkened more and more. There was a very heavy gloom and shadow gathering behind the Chemist's chair.
"What more about him?" he asked.
"He is engaged to be married when he can afford it," said Milly, "and is studying, I think, to qualify himself to earn a living. I have seen, a long time, that he has studied hard and denied himself much.--How very dark it is!"
"It's turned colder, too," said the old man, rubbing his hands. "There's a chill and dismal feeling in the room. Where's my son William? William, my boy, turn the lamp, and rouse the fire!"
Milly's voice resumed, like quiet music very softly played:
"He muttered in his broken sleep yesterday afternoon, after talking to me" (this was to herself) "about some one dead, and some great wrong done that could never be forgotten; but whether to him or to another person, I don't know. Not BY him, I am sure."
"And, in short, Mrs. William, you see--which she wouldn't say herself, Mr. Redlaw, if she was to stop here till the new year after this next one--" said Mr.