I walked at once to the door of Number Thirteen--the number of Mrs. Catherick's house--and knocked, without waiting to consider beforehand how I might best present myself when I got in. The first necessity was to see Mrs. Catherick. I could then judge, from my own observation, of the safest and easiest manner of approaching the object of my visit.
The door was opened by a melancholy middle-aged woman servant. I gave her my card, and asked if I could see Mrs. Catherick. The card was taken into the front parlour, and the servant returned with a message requesting me to mention what my business was.
"Say, if you please, that my business relates to Mrs. Catherick's daughter," I replied. This was the best pretext I could think of, on the spur of the moment, to account for my visit.
The servant again retired to the parlour, again returned, and this time begged me, with a look of gloomy amazement, to walk in.
I entered a little room, with a flaring paper of the largest pattern on the walls. Chairs, tables, cheffonier, and sofa, all gleamed with the glutinous brightness of cheap upholstery. On the largest table, in the middle of the room, stood a smart Bible, placed exactly in the centre on a red and yellow woollen mat and at the side of the table nearest to the window, with a little knitting-basket on her lap, and a wheezing, blear-eyed old spaniel crouched at her feet, there sat an elderly woman, wearing a black net cap and a black silk gown, and having slate-coloured mittens on her hands. Her iron-grey hair hung in heavy bands on either side of her face--her dark eyes looked straight forward, with a hard, defiant, implacable stare. She had full square cheeks, a long, firm chin, and thick, sensual, colourless lips. Her figure was stout and sturdy, and her manner aggressively self-possessed. This was Mrs. Catherick.
"You have come to speak to me about my daughter," she said, before I could utter a word on my side. "Be so good as to mention what you have to say."
The tone of her voice was as hard, as defiant, as implacable as the expression of her eyes. She pointed to a chair, and looked me all over attentively, from head to foot, as I sat down in it. I saw that my only chance with this woman was to speak to her in her own tone, and to meet her, at the outset of our interview, on her own ground.
"You are aware," I said, "that your daughter has been lost?"
"I am perfectly aware of it."
"Have you felt any apprehension that the misfortune of her loss might be followed by the misfortune of her death?"
"Yes. Have you come here to tell me she is dead?"
She put that extraordinary question without the slightest change in her voice, her face, or her manner. She could not have appeared more perfectly unconcerned if I had told her of the death of the goat in the enclosure outside.
"Why?" I repeated. "Do you ask why I come here to tell you of your daughter's death?"
"Yes. What interest have you in me, or in her? How do you come to know anything about my daughter?"
"In this way. I met her on the night when she escaped from the Asylum, and I assisted her in reaching a place of safety."
"You did very wrong."
"I am sorry to hear her mother say so."
"Her mother does say so. How do you know she is dead?"
"I am not at liberty to say how I know it--but I DO know it."
"Are you at liberty to say how you found out my address?"
"Certainly. I got your address from Mrs. Clements."
"Mrs. Clements is a foolish woman. Did she tell you to come here?"
"She did not."
"Then, I ask you again, why did you come?"
As she was determined to have her answer, I gave it to her in the plainest possible form.
"I came," I said, "because I thought Anne Catherick's mother might have some natural interest in knowing whether she was alive or dead."
"Just so," said Mrs. Catherick, with additional self-possession. "Had you no other motive?"
I hesitated. The right answer to that question was not easy to find at a moment's notice.
"If you have no other motive," she went on, deliberately taking off her slate-coloured mittens, and rolling them up, "I have only to thank you for your visit, and to say that I will not detain you here any longer. Your information would be more satisfactory if you were willing to explain how you became possessed of it. However, it justifies me, I suppose, in going into mourning. There is not much alteration necessary in my dress, as you see. When I have changed my mittens, I shall be all in black."
She searched in the pocket of her gown, drew out a pair of black lace mittens, put them on with the stoniest and steadiest composure, and then quietly crossed her hands in her lap.
"I wish you good morning," she said.
The cool contempt of her manner irritated me into directly avowing that the purpose of my visit had not been answered yet.
"I HAVE another motive in coming here," I said.
"Ah! I thought so," remarked Mrs. Catherick.
"Your daughter's death----"
"What did she die of?"
"Of disease of the heart."
"Yes. Go on."
"Your daughter's death has been made the pretext for inflicting serious injury on a person who is very dear to me. Two men have been concerned, to my certain knowledge, in doing that wrong. One of them is Sir Percival Glyde."
I looked attentively to see if she flinched at the sudden mention of that name. Not a muscle of her stirred--the hard, defiant, implacable stare in her eyes never wavered for an instant.
"You may wonder," I went on, "how the event of your daughter's death can have been made the means of inflicting injury on another person."
"No," said Mrs. Catherick; "I don't wonder at all. This appears to be your affair. You are interested in my affairs. I am not interested in yours."