‘if you could make the Marchioness yonder, a Marchioness in real, sober earnest,’ returned Dick, ‘I’d thank you to get it done off-hand. But as you can’t, and as the question is not what you will do for me, but what you will do for somebody else who has a better claim upon you, pray, Sir, let me know what you intend doing.’

‘It’s chiefly on that account that we have come just now,’ said the single gentleman, ‘for you will have another visitor presently. We feared you would be anxious unless you knew from ourselves what steps we intended to take, and therefore came to you before we stirred in the matter.’

‘Gentlemen,’ returned Dick, ‘I thank you. Anybody in the helpless state that you see me in, is naturally anxious. Don’t let me interrupt you, Sir.’

‘Then, you see, my good fellow,’ said the Single gentleman, ‘that while we have no doubt whatever of the truth of this disclosure, which has so providentially come to light —’

‘Meaning hers?’ said Dick, pointing towards the Marchioness.

‘— Meaning hers, of course. While we have no doubt of that, or that a proper use of it would procure the poor lad’s immediate pardon and liberation, we have a great doubt whether it would, by itself, enable us to reach Quilp, the chief agent in this villany. I should tell you that this doubt has been confirmed into something very nearly approaching certainty by the best opinions we have been enabled, in this short space of time, to take upon the subject. You’ll agree with us, that to give him even the most distant chance of escape, if we could help it, would be monstrous. You say with us, no doubt, if somebody must escape, let it be any one but he.’

‘Yes,’ returned Dick, ‘certainly. That is if somebody must — but upon my word, I’m unwilling that anybody should. Since laws were made for every degree, to curb vice in others as well as in me — and so forth you know — doesn’t it strike you in that light?’

The single gentleman smiled as if the light in which Mr Swiveller had put the question were not the clearest in the world, and proceeded to explain that they contemplated proceeding by stratagem in the first instance; and that their design was to endeavour to extort a confession from the gentle Sarah.

‘When she finds how much we know, and how we know it,’ he said, ‘and that she is clearly compromised already, we are not without strong hopes that we may be enabled through her means to punish the other two effectually. If we could do that, she might go scot-free for aught I cared.’

Dick received this project in anything but a gracious manner, representing with as much warmth as he was then capable of showing, that they would find the old buck (meaning Sarah) more difficult to manage than Quilp himself — that for any tampering, terrifying, or cajolery, she was a very unpromising and unyielding subject — that she was of a kind of brass not easily melted or moulded into shape — in short, that they were no match for her, and would be signally defeated. But, it was in vain to urge them to adopt some other course. The single gentleman has been described as explaining their joint intentions, but it should have been written that they all spoke together; that if anyone of them by chance held his peace for a moment, he stood gasping and panting for an opportunity to strike in again: in a word, that they had reached that pitch of impatience and anxiety where men can neither be persuaded nor reasoned with; and that it would have been easier to turn the most impetuous wind that ever blew, than to prevail on them to reconsider their determination. So, after telling Mr Swiveller how they had not lost sight of Kit’s mother and the children; how they had never once even lost sight of Kit himself, but had been unremitting in their endeavours to procure a mitigation of his sentence; how they had been perfectly distracted between the strong proofs of his guilt and their own fading hopes of his innocence; and how he, Richard Swiveller, might keep his mind at rest, for everything should be happily adjusted between that time and night; — after telling him all this, and adding a great many kind and cordial expressions, personal to himself, which it is unnecessary to recite, Mr Garland, the Notary, and the single gentleman, took their leaves

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