Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/31

CHAPTER 30. The Word of a Gentleman

When Mr and Mrs Flintwinch panted up to the door of the old house in thetwilight, Jeremiah within a second of Affery, the stranger started back.'Death of my soul!' he exclaimed. 'Why, how did you get here?'

Mr Flintwinch, to whom these words were spoken, repaid the stranger'swonder in full. He gazed at him with blank astonishment; he looked overhis own shoulder, as expecting to see some one he had not been aware ofstanding behind him; he gazed at the stranger again, speechlessly, ata loss to know what he meant; he looked to his wife for explanation;receiving none, he pounced upon her, and shook her with such heartinessthat he shook her cap off her head, saying between his teeth, with grimraillery, as he did it, 'Affery, my woman, you must have a dose, mywoman! This is some of your tricks! You have been dreaming again,mistress. What's it about? Who is it? What does it mean! Speak out or bechoked! It's the only choice I'll give you.'

Supposing Mistress Affery to have any power of election at the moment,her choice was decidedly to be choked; for she answered not a syllableto this adjuration, but, with her bare head wagging violently backwardsand forwards, resigned herself to her punishment. The stranger, however,picking up her cap with an air of gallantry, interposed.

'Permit me,' said he, laying his hand on the shoulder of Jeremiah, whostopped and released his victim. 'Thank you. Excuse me. Husband andwife I know, from this playfulness. Haha! Always agreeable to see thatrelation playfully maintained. Listen! May I suggest that somebodyup-stairs, in the dark, is becoming energetically curious to know whatis going on here?'

This reference to Mrs Clennam's voice reminded Mr Flintwinch to stepinto the hall and call up the staircase. 'It's all right, I am here,Affery is coming with your light.' Then he said to the latterflustered woman, who was putting her cap on, 'Get out with you, and getup-stairs!' and then turned to the stranger and said to him, 'Now, sir,what might you please to want?'

'I am afraid,' said the stranger, 'I must be so troublesome as topropose a candle.'

'True,' assented Jeremiah. 'I was going to do so. Please to stand whereyou are while I get one.'

The visitor was standing in the doorway, but turned a little into thegloom of the house as Mr Flintwinch turned, and pursued him with hiseyes into the little room, where he groped about for a phosphorus box.When he found it, it was damp, or otherwise out of order; and matchafter match that he struck into it lighted sufficiently to throw a dullglare about his groping face, and to sprinkle his hands with pale littlespots of fire, but not sufficiently to light the candle. The stranger,taking advantage of this fitful illumination of his visage, lookedintently and wonderingly at him. Jeremiah, when he at last lightedthe candle, knew he had been doing this, by seeing the last shade ofa lowering watchfulness clear away from his face, as it broke into thedoubtful smile that was a large ingredient in its expression.

'Be so good,' said Jeremiah, closing the house door, and taking a prettysharp survey of the smiling visitor in his turn, 'as to step into mycounting-house.--It's all right, I tell you!' petulantly breaking off toanswer the voice up-stairs, still unsatisfied, though Affery was there,speaking in persuasive tones. 'Don't I tell you it's all right? Preservethe woman, has she no reason at all in her!'

'Timorous,' remarked the stranger.

'Timorous?' said Mr Flintwinch, turning his head to retort, as he wentbefore with the candle. 'More courageous than ninety men in a hundred,sir, let me tell you.'

'Though an invalid?'

'Many years an invalid. Mrs Clennam. The only one of that name leftin the House now. My partner.'

Saying something apologetically as he crossed the hall, to the effectthat at that time of night they were not in the habit of receiving anyone, and were always shut up, Mr Flintwinch led the way into his ownoffice, which presented a sufficiently business-like appearance. Here heput the light on his desk, and said to the stranger, with his wryesttwist upon him, 'Your commands.'

'My name is Blandois.'

'Blandois. I don't know it,' said Jeremiah.

'I thought it possible,' resumed the other, 'that you might have beenadvised from Paris--'

'We have had no advice from Paris respecting anybody of the name ofBlandois,' said Jeremiah.



Jeremiah stood in his favourite attitude. The smiling Mr Blandois,opening his cloak to get his hand to a breast-pocket, paused to say,with a laugh in his glittering eyes, which it occurred to Mr Flintwinchwere too near together:

'You are so like a friend of mine! Not so identically the same as Isupposed when I really did for the moment take you to be the same in thedusk--for which I ought to apologise; permit me to do so; a readinessto confess my errors is, I hope, a part of the frankness of mycharacter--still, however, uncommonly like.'

'Indeed?' said Jeremiah, perversely. 'But I have not received any letterof advice from anywhere respecting anybody of the name of Blandois.'

'Just so,' said the stranger.

'_Just_ so,' said Jeremiah.

Mr Blandois, not at all put out by this omission on the part of thecorrespondents of the house of Clennam and Co., took his pocket-bookfrom his breast-pocket, selected a letter from that receptacle, andhanded it to Mr Flintwinch. 'No doubt you are well acquainted with thewriting. Perhaps the letter speaks for itself, and requires no advice.You are a far more competent judge of such affairs than I am. It is mymisfortune to be, not so much a man of business, as what the world calls(arbitrarily) a gentleman.'

Mr Flintwinch took the letter, and read, under date of Paris, 'We haveto present to you, on behalf of a highly esteemed correspondent of ourFirm, M. Blandois, of this city,' &c. &c. 'Such facilities as he mayrequire and such attentions as may lie in your power,' &c. &c. 'Alsohave to add that if you will honour M. Blandois' drafts at sight to theextent of, say Fifty Pounds sterling (50_l_.),' &c. &c.

'Very good, sir,' said Mr Flintwinch. 'Take a chair. To the extent ofanything that our House can do--we are in a retired, old-fashioned,steady way of business, sir--we shall be happy to render you our bestassistance. I observe, from the date of this, that we could not yet beadvised of it. Probably you came over with the delayed mail that bringsthe advice.'

'That I came over with the delayed mail, sir,' returned Mr Blandois,passing his white hand down his high-hooked nose, 'I know to the costof my head and stomach: the detestable and intolerable weather havingracked them both. You see me in the plight in which I came out of thepacket within this half-hour. I ought to have been here hours ago,and then I should not have to apologise--permit me to apologise--forpresenting myself so unreasonably, and frightening--no, by-the-bye, yousaid not frightening; permit me to apologise again--the esteemed lady,Mrs Clennam, in her invalid chamber above stairs.'

Swagger and an air of authorised condescension do so much, thatMr Flintwinch had already begun to think this a highly gentlemanlypersonage. Not the less unyielding with him on that account, he scrapedhis chin and said, what could he have the honour of doing for MrBlandois to-night, out of business hours?

'Faith!' returned that gentleman, shrugging his cloaked shoulders,'I must change, and eat and drink, and be lodged somewhere. Have thekindness to advise me, a total stranger, where, and money is a matter ofperfect indifference until to-morrow. The nearer the place, the better.Next door, if that's all.'

Mr Flintwinch was slowly beginning, 'For a gentleman of your habits,there is not in this immediate neighbourhood any hotel--' when MrBlandois took him up.

'So much for my habits! my dear sir,' snapping his fingers. 'A citizenof the world has no habits. That I am, in my poor way, a gentleman,by Heaven! I will not deny, but I have no unaccommodating prejudicedhabits. A clean room, a hot dish for dinner, and a bottle of notabsolutely poisonous wine, are all I want tonight. But I want that muchwithout the trouble of going one unnecessary inch to get it.'

'There is,' said Mr Flintwinch, with more than his usual deliberation,as he met, for a moment, Mr Blandois' shining eyes, which were restless;'there is a coffee-house and tavern close here, which, so far, I canrecommend; but there's no style about it.'

'I dispense with style!' said Mr Blandois, waving his hand. 'Do me thehonour to show me the house, and introduce me there (if I am not tootroublesome), and I shall be infinitely obliged.'

Mr Flintwinch, upon this, looked up his hat, and lighted Mr Blandoisacross the hall again. As he put the candle on a bracket, where thedark old panelling almost served as an extinguisher for it, he bethoughthimself of going up to tell the invalid that he would not be absent fiveminutes.

'Oblige me,' said the visitor, on his saying so, 'by presenting my cardof visit. Do me the favour to add that I shall be happy to wait on MrsClennam, to offer my personal compliments, and to apologise for havingoccasioned any agitation in this tranquil corner, if it should suit herconvenience to endure the presence of a stranger for a few minutes,after he shall have changed his wet clothes and fortified himself withsomething to eat and drink.'

Jeremiah made all despatch, and said, on his return, 'She'll be gladto see you, sir; but, being conscious that her sick room has noattractions, wishes me to say that she won't hold you to your offer, incase you should think better of it.'

'To think better of it,' returned the gallant Blandois, 'would be toslight a lady; to slight a lady would be to be deficient in chivalrytowards the sex; and chivalry towards the sex is a part of mycharacter!' Thus expressing himself, he threw the draggled skirt of hiscloak over his shoulder, and accompanied Mr Flintwinch to the tavern;taking up on the road a porter who was waiting with his portmanteau onthe outer side of the gateway.

The house was kept in a homely manner, and the condescension of MrBlandois was infinite. It seemed to fill to inconvenience the little barin which the widow landlady and her two daughters received him; it wasmuch too big for the narrow wainscoted room with a bagatelle-board init, that was first proposed for his reception; it perfectly swamped thelittle private holiday sitting-room of the family, which was finallygiven up to him. Here, in dry clothes and scented linen, with sleekedhair, a great ring on each forefinger and a massive show of watch-chain,Mr Blandois waiting for his dinner, lolling on a window-seat with hisknees drawn up, looked (for all the difference in the setting of thejewel) fearfully and wonderfully like a certain Monsieur Rigaud who hadonce so waited for his breakfast, lying on the stone ledge of the irongrating of a cell in a villainous dungeon at Marseilles.

His greed at dinner, too, was closely in keeping with the greed ofMonsieur Rigaud at breakfast. His avaricious manner of collecting allthe eatables about him, and devouring some with his eyes while devouringothers with his jaws, was the same manner. His utter disregard ofother people, as shown in his way of tossing the little womanly toysof furniture about, flinging favourite cushions under his boots for asofter rest, and crushing delicate coverings with his big body and hisgreat black head, had the same brute selfishness at the bottom of it.The softly moving hands that were so busy among the dishes had the oldwicked facility of the hands that had clung to the bars. And when hecould eat no more, and sat sucking his delicate fingers one by one andwiping them on a cloth, there wanted nothing but the substitution ofvine-leaves to finish the picture.

On this man, with his moustache going up and his nose coming down inthat most evil of smiles, and with his surface eyes looking as if theybelonged to his dyed hair, and had had their natural power of reflectinglight stopped by some similar process, Nature, always true, and neverworking in vain, had set the mark, Beware! It was not her fault, if thewarning were fruitless. She is never to blame in any such instance.

Mr Blandois, having finished his repast and cleaned his fingers, tooka cigar from his pocket, and, lying on the window-seat again, smoked itout at his leisure, occasionally apostrophising the smoke as it partedfrom his thin lips in a thin stream:

'Blandois, you shall turn the tables on society, my little child. Haha!Holy blue, you have begun well, Blandois! At a pinch, an excellentmaster in English or French; a man for the bosom of families! You havea quick perception, you have humour, you have ease, you have insinuatingmanners, you have a good appearance; in effect, you are a gentleman! Agentleman you shall live, my small boy, and a gentleman you shall die.You shall win, however the game goes. They shall all confess your merit,Blandois. You shall subdue the society which has grievously wrongedyou, to your own high spirit. Death of my soul! You are high spirited byright and by nature, my Blandois!'

To such soothing murmurs did this gentleman smoke out his cigar anddrink out his bottle of wine. Both being finished, he shook himself intoa sitting attitude; and with the concluding serious apostrophe, 'Hold,then! Blandois, you ingenious one, have all your wits about you!' aroseand went back to the house of Clennam and Co.

He was received at the door by Mistress Affery, who, under instructionsfrom her lord, had lighted up two candles in the hall and a third on thestaircase, and who conducted him to Mrs Clennam's room. Tea was preparedthere, and such little company arrangements had been made as usuallyattended the reception of expected visitors. They were slight on thegreatest occasion, never extending beyond the production of the Chinatea-service, and the covering of the bed with a sober and sad drapery.For the rest, there was the bier-like sofa with the block upon it, andthe figure in the widow's dress, as if attired for execution; the firetopped by the mound of damped ashes; the grate with its second littlemound of ashes; the kettle and the smell of black dye; all as they hadbeen for fifteen years.

Mr Flintwinch presented the gentleman commended to the consideration ofClennam and Co. Mrs Clennam, who had the letter lying before her, benther head and requested him to sit. They looked very closely at oneanother. That was but natural curiosity.

'I thank you, sir, for thinking of a disabled woman like me. Few whocome here on business have any remembrance to bestow on one so removedfrom observation. It would be idle to expect that they should have. Outof sight, out of mind. While I am grateful for the exception, I don'tcomplain of the rule.'

Mr Blandois, in his most gentlemanly manner, was afraid he had disturbedher by unhappily presenting himself at such an unconscionable time. Forwhich he had already offered his best apologies to Mr--he beggedpardon--but by name had not the distinguished honour--

'Mr Flintwinch has been connected with the House many years.'

Mr Blandois was Mr Flintwinch's most obedient humble servant. Heentreated Mr Flintwinch to receive the assurance of his profoundestconsideration.

'My husband being dead,' said Mrs Clennam, 'and my son preferringanother pursuit, our old House has no other representative in these daysthan Mr Flintwinch.'

'What do you call yourself?' was the surly demand of that gentleman.'You have the head of two men.'

'My sex disqualifies me,' she proceeded with merely a slight turn ofher eyes in Jeremiah's direction, 'from taking a responsible part inthe business, even if I had the ability; and therefore Mr Flintwinchcombines my interest with his own, and conducts it. It is not what itused to be; but some of our old friends (principally the writers of thisletter) have the kindness not to forget us, and we retain the powerof doing what they entrust to us as efficiently as we ever did. Thishowever is not interesting to you. You are English, sir?'

'Faith, madam, no; I am neither born nor bred in England. In effect, Iam of no country,' said Mr Blandois, stretching out his leg and smitingit: 'I descend from half-a-dozen countries.'

'You have been much about the world?'

'It is true. By Heaven, madam, I have been here and there andeverywhere!'

'You have no ties, probably. Are not married?'

'Madam,' said Mr Blandois, with an ugly fall of his eyebrows, 'I adoreyour sex, but I am not married--never was.'

Mistress Affery, who stood at the table near him, pouring out the tea,happened in her dreamy state to look at him as he said these words, andto fancy that she caught an expression in his eyes which attracted herown eyes so that she could not get them away. The effect of this fancywas to keep her staring at him with the tea-pot in her hand, not only toher own great uneasiness, but manifestly to his, too; and, through themboth, to Mrs Clennam's and Mr Flintwinch's. Thus a few ghostly momentssupervened, when they were all confusedly staring without knowing why.

'Affery,' her mistress was the first to say, 'what is the matter withyou?'

'I don't know,' said Mistress Affery, with her disengaged left handextended towards the visitor. 'It ain't me. It's him!'

'What does this good woman mean?' cried Mr Blandois, turning white, hot,and slowly rising with a look of such deadly wrath that it contrastedsurprisingly with the slight force of his words. 'How is it possible tounderstand this good creature?'

'It's _not_ possible,' said Mr Flintwinch, screwing himself rapidlyin that direction. 'She don't know what she means. She's an idiot, awanderer in her mind. She shall have a dose, she shall have such a dose!Get along with you, my woman,' he added in her ear, 'get along with you,while you know you're Affery, and before you're shaken to yeast.'

Mistress Affery, sensible of the danger in which her identity stood,relinquished the tea-pot as her husband seized it, put her apron overher head, and in a twinkling vanished. The visitor gradually broke intoa smile, and sat down again.

'You'll excuse her, Mr Blandois,' said Jeremiah, pouring out the teahimself, 'she's failing and breaking up; that's what she's about. Do youtake sugar, sir?'

'Thank you, no tea for me.--Pardon my observing it, but that's a veryremarkable watch!'

The tea-table was drawn up near the sofa, with a small interval betweenit and Mrs Clennam's own particular table. Mr Blandois in his gallantryhad risen to hand that lady her tea (her dish of toast was alreadythere), and it was in placing the cup conveniently within her reach thatthe watch, lying before her as it always did, attracted his attention.Mrs Clennam looked suddenly up at him.

'May I be permitted? Thank you. A fine old-fashioned watch,' he said,taking it in his hand. 'Heavy for use, but massive and genuine. I havea partiality for everything genuine. Such as I am, I am genuine myself.Hah! A gentleman's watch with two cases in the old fashion. May I removeit from the outer case? Thank you. Aye? An old silk watch-lining, workedwith beads! I have often seen these among old Dutch people and Belgians.Quaint things!'

'They are old-fashioned, too,' said Mrs Clennam.

'Very. But this is not so old as the watch, I think?'

'I think not.'

'Extraordinary how they used to complicate these cyphers!' remarked MrBlandois, glancing up with his own smile again. 'Now is this D. N. F.?It might be almost anything.'

'Those are the letters.'

Mr Flintwinch, who had been observantly pausing all this time with a cupof tea in his hand, and his mouth open ready to swallow the contents,began to do so: always entirely filling his mouth before he emptied itat a gulp; and always deliberating again before he refilled it.

'D. N. F. was some tender, lovely, fascinating fair-creature, I make nodoubt,' observed Mr Blandois, as he snapped on the case again. 'I adoreher memory on the assumption. Unfortunately for my peace of mind,I adore but too readily. It may be a vice, it may be a virtue, butadoration of female beauty and merit constitutes three parts of mycharacter, madam.'

Mr Flintwinch had by this time poured himself out another cup of tea,which he was swallowing in gulps as before, with his eyes directed tothe invalid.

'You may be heart-free here, sir,' she returned to Mr Blandois. 'Thoseletters are not intended, I believe, for the initials of any name.'

'Of a motto, perhaps,' said Mr Blandois, casually.

'Of a sentence. They have always stood, I believe, for Do Not Forget!'

'And naturally,' said Mr Blandois, replacing the watch and steppingbackward to his former chair, 'you do _not_ forget.'

Mr Flintwinch, finishing his tea, not only took a longer gulp than hehad taken yet, but made his succeeding pause under new circumstances:that is to say, with his head thrown back and his cup held still at hislips, while his eyes were still directed at the invalid. She had thatforce of face, and that concentrated air of collecting her firmness orobstinacy, which represented in her case what would have been gestureand action in another, as she replied with her deliberate strength ofspeech:

'No, sir, I do not forget. To lead a life as monotonous as mine has beenduring many years, is not the way to forget. To lead a life ofself-correction is not the way to forget. To be sensible of having (aswe all have, every one of us, all the children of Adam!) offencesto expiate and peace to make, does not justify the desire to forget.Therefore I have long dismissed it, and I neither forget nor wish toforget.'

Mr Flintwinch, who had latterly been shaking the sediment at the bottomof his tea-cup, round and round, here gulped it down, and putting thecup in the tea-tray, as done with, turned his eyes upon Mr Blandois asif to ask him what he thought of that?

'All expressed, madam,' said Mr Blandois, with his smoothest bow and hiswhite hand on his breast, 'by the word ”naturally,” which I am proudto have had sufficient apprehension and appreciation (but withoutappreciation I could not be Blandois) to employ.'

'Pardon me, sir,' she returned, 'if I doubt the likelihood of agentleman of pleasure, and change, and politeness, accustomed to courtand to be courted--'

'Oh madam! By Heaven!'

'--If I doubt the likelihood of such a character quite comprehendingwhat belongs to mine in my circumstances. Not to obtrude doctrine uponyou,' she looked at the rigid pile of hard pale books before her, '(foryou go your own way, and the consequences are on your own head), I willsay this much: that I shape my course by pilots, strictly by proved andtried pilots, under whom I cannot be shipwrecked--can not be--and thatif I were unmindful of the admonition conveyed in those three letters, Ishould not be half as chastened as I am.'

It was curious how she seized the occasion to argue with some invisibleopponent. Perhaps with her own better sense, always turning upon herselfand her own deception.

'If I forgot my ignorances in my life of health and freedom, I mightcomplain of the life to which I am now condemned. I never do; I neverhave done. If I forgot that this scene, the Earth, is expressly meant tobe a scene of gloom, and hardship, and dark trial, for the creatures whoare made out of its dust, I might have some tenderness for its vanities.But I have no such tenderness. If I did not know that we are, every one,the subject (most justly the subject) of a wrath that must be satisfied,and against which mere actions are nothing, I might repine at thedifference between me, imprisoned here, and the people who pass thatgateway yonder. But I take it as a grace and favour to be elected tomake the satisfaction I am making here, to know what I know for certainhere, and to work out what I have worked out here. My affliction mightotherwise have had no meaning to me. Hence I would forget, and I doforget, nothing. Hence I am contented, and say it is better with methan with millions.'

As she spoke these words, she put her hand upon the watch, and restoredit to the precise spot on her little table which it always occupied.With her touch lingering upon it, she sat for some moments afterwards,looking at it steadily and half-defiantly.

Mr Blandois, during this exposition, had been strictly attentive,keeping his eyes fastened on the lady, and thoughtfully stroking hismoustache with his two hands. Mr Flintwinch had been a little fidgety,and now struck in.

'There, there, there!' said he. 'That is quite understood, Mrs Clennam,and you have spoken piously and well. Mr Blandois, I suspect, is notof a pious cast.'

'On the contrary, sir!' that gentleman protested, snapping his fingers.'Your pardon! It's a part of my character. I am sensitive, ardent,conscientious, and imaginative. A sensitive, ardent, conscientious, andimaginative man, Mr Flintwinch, must be that, or nothing!'

There was an inkling of suspicion in Mr Flintwinch's face that he mightbe nothing, as he swaggered out of his chair (it was characteristic ofthis man, as it is of all men similarly marked, that whatever he did,he overdid, though it were sometimes by only a hairsbreadth), andapproached to take his leave of Mrs Clennam.

'With what will appear to you the egotism of a sick old woman, sir,' shethen said, 'though really through your accidental allusion, I havebeen led away into the subject of myself and my infirmities. Being soconsiderate as to visit me, I hope you will be likewise so considerateas to overlook that. Don't compliment me, if you please.' For he wasevidently going to do it. 'Mr Flintwinch will be happy to render you anyservice, and I hope your stay in this city may prove agreeable.'

Mr Blandois thanked her, and kissed his hand several times. 'This is anold room,' he remarked, with a sudden sprightliness of manner, lookinground when he got near the door, 'I have been so interested that I havenot observed it. But it's a genuine old room.'

'It is a genuine old house,' said Mrs Clennam, with her frozen smile. 'Aplace of no pretensions, but a piece of antiquity.'

'Faith!' cried the visitor. 'If Mr Flintwinch would do me the favour totake me through the rooms on my way out, he could hardly oblige me more.An old house is a weakness with me. I have many weaknesses, but nonegreater. I love and study the picturesque in all its varieties. I havebeen called picturesque myself. It is no merit to be picturesque--Ihave greater merits, perhaps--but I may be, by an accident. Sympathy,sympathy!'

'I tell you beforehand, Mr Blandois, that you'll find it very dingy andvery bare,' said Jeremiah, taking up the candle. 'It's not worth yourlooking at.'But Mr Blandois, smiting him in a friendly manner on theback, only laughed; so the said Blandois kissed his hand again to MrsClennam, and they went out of the room together.

'You don't care to go up-stairs?' said Jeremiah, on the landing.

'On the contrary, Mr Flintwinch; if not tiresome to you, I shall beravished!'

Mr Flintwinch, therefore, wormed himself up the staircase, and MrBlandois followed close. They ascended to the great garret bed-roomwhich Arthur had occupied on the night of his return. 'There, MrBlandois!' said Jeremiah, showing it, 'I hope you may think that worthcoming so high to see. I confess I don't.'

Mr Blandois being enraptured, they walked through other garrets andpassages, and came down the staircase again. By this time Mr Flintwinchhad remarked that he never found the visitor looking at any room, afterthrowing one quick glance around, but always found the visitor lookingat him, Mr Flintwinch. With this discovery in his thoughts, he turnedabout on the staircase for another experiment. He met his eyes directly;and on the instant of their fixing one another, the visitor, withthat ugly play of nose and moustache, laughed (as he had done at everysimilar moment since they left Mrs Clennam's chamber) a diabolicallysilent laugh.

As a much shorter man than the visitor, Mr Flintwinch was at thephysical disadvantage of being thus disagreeably leered at from aheight; and as he went first down the staircase, and was usually astep or two lower than the other, this disadvantage was at the timeincreased. He postponed looking at Mr Blandois again until thisaccidental inequality was removed by their having entered the late MrClennam's room. But, then twisting himself suddenly round upon him, hefound his look unchanged.

'A most admirable old house,' smiled Mr Blandois. 'So mysterious. Do younever hear any haunted noises here?'

'Noises,' returned Mr Flintwinch. 'No.'

'Nor see any devils?'

'Not,' said Mr Flintwinch, grimly screwing himself at his questioner,'not any that introduce themselves under that name and in thatcapacity.'

'Haha! A portrait here, I see.'

(Still looking at Mr Flintwinch, as if he were the portrait.)

'It's a portrait, sir, as you observe.'

'May I ask the subject, Mr Flintwinch?'

'Mr Clennam, deceased. Her husband.'

'Former owner of the remarkable watch, perhaps?' said the visitor.

Mr Flintwinch, who had cast his eyes towards the portrait, twistedhimself about again, and again found himself the subject of the samelook and smile. 'Yes, Mr Blandois,' he replied tartly. 'It was his, andhis uncle's before him, and Lord knows who before him; and that's all Ican tell you of its pedigree.'

'That's a strongly marked character, Mr Flintwinch, our friendup-stairs.'

'Yes, sir,' said Jeremiah, twisting himself at the visitor again, as hedid during the whole of this dialogue, like some screw-machine thatfell short of its grip; for the other never changed, and he alwaysfelt obliged to retreat a little. 'She is a remarkable woman. Greatfortitude--great strength of mind.'

'They must have been very happy,' said Blandois.

'Who?' demanded Mr Flintwinch, with another screw at him.

Mr Blandois shook his right forefinger towards the sick room, and hisleft forefinger towards the portrait, and then, putting his arms akimboand striding his legs wide apart, stood smiling down at Mr Flintwinchwith the advancing nose and the retreating moustache.

'As happy as most other married people, I suppose,' returned MrFlintwinch. 'I can't say. I don't know. There are secrets in allfamilies.'

'Secrets!' cried Mr Blandois, quickly. 'Say it again, my son.'

'I say,' replied Mr Flintwinch, upon whom he had swelled himself sosuddenly that Mr Flintwinch found his face almost brushed by the dilatedchest. 'I say there are secrets in all families.'

'So there are,' cried the other, clapping him on both shoulders, androlling him backwards and forwards. 'Haha! you are right. So there are!Secrets! Holy Blue! There are the devil's own secrets in some families,Mr Flintwinch!' With that, after clapping Mr Flintwinch on bothshoulders several times, as if in a friendly and humorous way he wererallying him on a joke he had made, he threw up his arms, threw backhis head, hooked his hands together behind it, and burst into a roar oflaughter. It was in vain for Mr Flintwinch to try another screw at him.He had his laugh out.

'But, favour me with the candle a moment,' he said, when he had done.'Let us have a look at the husband of the remarkable lady. Hah!' holdingup the light at arm's length. 'A decided expression of face here too,though not of the same character. Looks as if he were saying, what isit--Do Not Forget--does he not, Mr Flintwinch? By Heaven, sir, he does!'

As he returned the candle, he looked at him once more; and then,leisurely strolling out with him into the hall, declared it to be acharming old house indeed, and one which had so greatly pleased him thathe would not have missed inspecting it for a hundred pounds.

Throughout these singular freedoms on the part of Mr Blandois, whichinvolved a general alteration in his demeanour, making it much coarserand rougher, much more violent and audacious than before, Mr Flintwinch,whose leathern face was not liable to many changes, preserved itsimmobility intact. Beyond now appearing perhaps, to have been lefthanging a trifle too long before that friendly operation of cuttingdown, he outwardly maintained an equable composure. They had broughttheir survey to a close in the little room at the side of the hall, andhe stood there, eyeing Mr Blandois.

'I am glad you are so well satisfied, sir,' was his calm remark. 'Ididn't expect it. You seem to be quite in good spirits.'

'In admirable spirits,' returned Blandois. 'Word of honour! never morerefreshed in spirits. Do you ever have presentiments, Mr Flintwinch?'

'I am not sure that I know what you mean by the term, sir,' replied thatgentleman.

'Say, in this case, Mr Flintwinch, undefined anticipations of pleasureto come.'

'I can't say I'm sensible of such a sensation at present,' returned MrFlintwinch with the utmost gravity. 'If I should find it coming on, I'llmention it.'

'Now I,' said Blandois, 'I, my son, have a presentiment to-night that weshall be well acquainted. Do you find it coming on?'

'N-no,' returned Mr Flintwinch, deliberately inquiring of himself. 'Ican't say I do.'

'I have a strong presentiment that we shall become intimatelyacquainted.--You have no feeling of that sort yet?'

'Not yet,' said Mr Flintwinch.

Mr Blandois, taking him by both shoulders again, rolled him about alittle in his former merry way, then drew his arm through his own, andinvited him to come off and drink a bottle of wine like a dear deep olddog as he was.

Without a moment's indecision, Mr Flintwinch accepted the invitation,and they went out to the quarters where the traveller was lodged,through a heavy rain which had rattled on the windows, roofs, andpavements, ever since nightfall. The thunder and lightning had long agopassed over, but the rain was furious. On their arrival at Mr Blandois'room, a bottle of port wine was ordered by that gallant gentleman; who(crushing every pretty thing he could collect, in the soft dispositionof his dainty figure) coiled himself upon the window-seat, while MrFlintwinch took a chair opposite to him, with the table between them. MrBlandois proposed having the largest glasses in the house, to which MrFlintwinch assented. The bumpers filled, Mr Blandois, with a roysteringgaiety, clinked the top of his glass against the bottom of MrFlintwinch's, and the bottom of his glass against the top of MrFlintwinch's, and drank to the intimate acquaintance he foresaw.Mr Flintwinch gravely pledged him, and drank all the wine he could get,and said nothing. As often as Mr Blandois clinked glasses (which wasat every replenishment), Mr Flintwinch stolidly did his part of theclinking, and would have stolidly done his companion's part of the wineas well as his own: being, except in the article of palate, a mere cask.

In short, Mr Blandois found that to pour port wine into the reticentFlintwinch was, not to open him but to shut him up. Moreover, he hadthe appearance of a perfect ability to go on all night; or, if occasionwere, all next day and all next night; whereas Mr Blandois soon grewindistinctly conscious of swaggering too fiercely and boastfully. Hetherefore terminated the entertainment at the end of the third bottle.

'You will draw upon us to-morrow, sir,' said Mr Flintwinch, with abusiness-like face at parting.

'My Cabbage,' returned the other, taking him by the collar with bothhands, 'I'll draw upon you; have no fear. Adieu, my Flintwinch. Receiveat parting;' here he gave him a southern embrace, and kissed him soundlyon both cheeks; 'the word of a gentleman! By a thousand Thunders, youshall see me again!'

He did not present himself next day, though the letter of advice cameduly to hand. Inquiring after him at night, Mr Flintwinch found, withsurprise, that he had paid his bill and gone back to the Continent byway of Calais. Nevertheless, Jeremiah scraped out of his cogitatingface a lively conviction that Mr Blandois would keep his word on thisoccasion, and would be seen again.