"Pray take a seat, sir." In a very clear and pleasant young voice; a little foreign in its accent, but a very little indeed.
"I kiss your hand, miss," said Mr. Lorry, with the manners of an earlier date, as he made his formal bow again, and took his seat.
"I received a letter from the Bank, sir, yesterday, informing me that some intelligence--or discovery--"
"The word is not material, miss; either word will do."
"--respecting the small property of my poor father, whom I never saw--so long dead--"
Mr. Lorry moved in his chair, and cast a troubled look towards the hospital procession of negro cupids. As if THEY had any help for anybody in their absurd baskets!
"--rendered it necessary that I should go to Paris, there to communicate with a gentleman of the Bank, so good as to be despatched to Paris for the purpose."
"As I was prepared to hear, sir."
She curtseyed to him (young ladies made curtseys in those days), with a pretty desire to convey to him that she felt how much older and wiser he was than she. He made her another bow.
"I replied to the Bank, sir, that as it was considered necessary, by those who know, and who are so kind as to advise me, that I should go to France, and that as I am an orphan and have no friend who could go with me, I should esteem it highly if I might be permitted to place myself, during the journey, under that worthy gentleman's protection. The gentleman had left London, but I think a messenger was sent after him to beg the favour of his waiting for me here."
"I was happy," said Mr. Lorry, "to be entrusted with the charge. I shall be more happy to execute it."
"Sir, I thank you indeed. I thank you very gratefully. It was told me by the Bank that the gentleman would explain to me the details of the business, and that I must prepare myself to find them of a surprising nature. I have done my best to prepare myself, and I naturally have a strong and eager interest to know what they are."
"Naturally," said Mr. Lorry. "Yes--I--"
After a pause, he added, again settling the crisp flaxen wig at the ears, "It is very difficult to begin."
He did not begin, but, in his indecision, met her glance. The young forehead lifted itself into that singular expression--but it was pretty and characteristic, besides being singular--and she raised her hand, as if with an involuntary action she caught at, or stayed some passing shadow.
"Are you quite a stranger to me, sir?"
"Am I not?" Mr. Lorry opened his hands, and extended them outwards with an argumentative smile.
Between the eyebrows and just over the little feminine nose, the line of which was as delicate and fine as it was possible to be, the expression deepened itself as she took her seat thoughtfully in the chair by which she had hitherto remained standing. He watched her as she mused, and the moment she raised her eyes again, went on:
"In your adopted country, I presume, I cannot do better than address you as a young English lady, Miss Manette?"
"If you please, sir."
"Miss Manette, I am a man of business. I have a business charge to acquit myself of. In your reception of it, don't heed me any more than if I was a speaking machine-truly, I am not much else. I will, with your leave, relate to you, miss, the story of one of our customers."
He seemed wilfully to mistake the word she had repeated, when he added, in a hurry, "Yes, customers; in the banking business we usually call our connection our customers. He was a French gentleman; a scientific gentleman; a man of great acquirements-- a Doctor."
"Not of Beauvais?"
"Why, yes, of Beauvais. Like Monsieur Manette, your father, the gentleman was of Beauvais. Like Monsieur Manette, your father, the gentleman was of repute in Paris. I had the honour of knowing him there. Our relations were business relations, but confidential. I was at that time in our French House, and had been--oh! twenty years."
"At that time--I may ask, at what time, sir?"
"I speak, miss, of twenty years ago.