In such an establishment, the white-aproned pot-boy with his shirt- sleeves arranged in a tight roll on each bare shoulder, was a mere hint of the possibility of physical force, thrown out as a matter of state and form. Exactly at the closing hour, all the guests who were left, filed out in the best order: Miss Abbey standing at the half door of the bar, to hold a ceremony of review and dismissal. All wished Miss Abbey good-night and Miss Abbey wished good- night to all, except Riderhood. The sapient pot-boy, looking on officially, then had the conviction borne in upon his soul, that the man was evermore outcast and excommunicate from the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
'You Bob Gliddery,' said Miss Abbey to this pot-boy, 'run round to Hexam's and tell his daughter Lizzie that I want to speak to her.'
With exemplary swiftness Bob Gliddery departed, and returned. Lizzie, following him, arrived as one of the two female domestics of the Fellowship Porters arranged on the snug little table by the bar fire, Miss Potterson's supper of hot sausages and mashed potatoes.
'Come in and sit ye down, girl,' said Miss Abbey. 'Can you eat a bit?'
'No thank you, Miss. I have had my supper.'
'I have had mine too, I think,' said Miss Abbey, pushing away the untasted dish, 'and more than enough of it. I am put out, Lizzie.'
'I am very sorry for it, Miss.'
'Then why, in the name of Goodness,' quoth Miss Abbey, sharply, 'do you do it?'
'I do it, Miss!'
'There, there. Don't look astonished. I ought to have begun with a word of explanation, but it's my way to make short cuts at things. I always was a pepperer. You Bob Gliddery there, put the chain upon the door and get ye down to your supper.'
With an alacrity that seemed no less referable to the pepperer fact than to the supper fact, Bob obeyed, and his boots were heard descending towards the bed of the river.
'Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie Hexam,' then began Miss Potterson, 'how often have I held out to you the opportunity of getting clear of your father, and doing well?'
'Very often, Miss.'
'Very often? Yes! And I might as well have spoken to the iron funnel of the strongest sea-going steamer that passes the Fellowship Porters.'
'No, Miss,' Lizzie pleaded; 'because that would not be thankful, and I am.'
'I vow and declare I am half ashamed of myself for taking such an interest in you,' said Miss Abbey, pettishly, 'for I don't believe I should do it if you were not good-looking. Why ain't you ugly?'
Lizzie merely answered this difficult question with an apologetic glance.
'However, you ain't,' resumed Miss Potterson, 'so it's no use going into that. I must take you as I find you. Which indeed is what I've done. And you mean to say you are still obstinate?'
'Not obstinate, Miss, I hope.'
'Firm (I suppose you call it) then?'
'Yes, Miss. Fixed like.'
'Never was an obstinate person yet, who would own to the word!' remarked Miss Potterson, rubbing her vexed nose; 'I'm sure I would, if I was obstinate; but I am a pepperer, which is different. Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie Hexam, think again. Do you know the worst of your father?'
'Do I know the worst of father!' she repeated, opening her eyes. 'Do you know the suspicions to which your father makes himself liable? Do you know the suspicions that are actually about, against him?'
The consciousness of what he habitually did, oppressed the girl heavily, and she slowly cast down her eyes.
'Say, Lizzie. Do you know?' urged Miss Abbey.
'Please to tell me what the suspicions are, Miss,' she asked after a silence, with her eyes upon the ground.
'It's not an easy thing to tell a daughter, but it must be told. It is thought by some, then, that your father helps to their death a few of those that he finds dead.'
The relief of hearing what she felt sure was a false suspicion, in place of the expected real and true one, so lightened Lizzie's breast for the moment, that Miss Abbey was amazed at her demeanour. She raised her eyes quickly, shook her head, and, in a kind of triumph, almost laughed.