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The Two Destinies

25. I Keep My Appointment
THE poverty-stricken aspect of the street when we entered it, the dirty and dilapidated
condition of the house when we drew up at the door, would have warned most men, in
my position, to prepare themselves for a distressing discovery when they were admitted
to the interior of the dwelling. The first impression which the place produced on my mind
suggested, on the contrary, that the boy's answers to my questions had led me astray. It
was simply impossible to associate Mrs. Van Brandt (as I remembered her) with the
spectacle of such squalid poverty as I now beheld. I rang the door-bell, feeling persuaded
beforehand that my inquiries would lead to no useful result.
As I lifted my hand to the bell, my little companion's dread of a beating revived in full
force. He hid himself behind me; and when I asked what he was about, he answered,
confidentially: "Please stand between us, sir, when mother opens the door!"
A tall and truculent woman answered the bell. No introduction was necessary. Holding a
cane in her hand, she stood self-proclaimed as my small friend's mother.
"I thought it was that vagabond of a boy of mine," she explained, as an apology for the
exhibition of the cane. "He has been gone on an errand more than two hours. What did
you please to want, sir?"
I interceded for the unfortunate boy before I entered on my own business.
"I must beg you to forgive your son this time," I said. "I found him lost in the streets; and
I have brought him home."
The woman's astonishment when she heard what I had done, and discovered her son
behind me, literally struck her dumb. The language of the eye, superseding on this
occasion the language of the tongue, plainly revealed the impression that I had produced
on her: "You bring my lost brat home in a cab! Mr. Stranger, you are mad."
"I hear that you have a lady named Brand lodging in the house," I went on. "I dare say I
am mistaken in supposing her to be a lady of the same name whom I know. But I should
like to make sure whether I am right or wrong. Is it too late to disturb your lodger to-
night?"
The woman recovered the use of her tongue.
"My lodger is up and waiting for that little fool, who doesn't know his way about London
yet!" She emphasized those words by shaking her brawny fist at her son--who instantly
returned to his place of refuge behind the tail of my coat. "Have you got the money?"
inquired the terrible person, shouting at her hidden offspring over my shoulder. "Or have
you lost that as well as your own stupid little self?"
 
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