Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/5

CHAPTER 4. Mrs Flintwinch has a Dream

When Mrs Flintwinch dreamed, she usually dreamed, unlike the son of herold mistress, with her eyes shut. She had a curiously vivid dream thatnight, and before she had left the son of her old mistress many hours.In fact it was not at all like a dream; it was so very real in everyrespect. It happened in this wise.

The bed-chamber occupied by Mr and Mrs Flintwinch was within a few pacesof that to which Mrs Clennam had been so long confined. It was not onthe same floor, for it was a room at the side of the house, which wasapproached by a steep descent of a few odd steps, diverging from themain staircase nearly opposite to Mrs Clennam's door. It could scarcelybe said to be within call, the walls, doors, and panelling of the oldplace were so cumbrous; but it was within easy reach, in any undress,at any hour of the night, in any temperature. At the head of the bedand within a foot of Mrs Flintwinch's ear, was a bell, the line of whichhung ready to Mrs Clennam's hand. Whenever this bell rang, up startedAffery, and was in the sick room before she was awake.

Having got her mistress into bed, lighted her lamp, and given her goodnight, Mrs Flintwinch went to roost as usual, saving that her lord hadnot yet appeared. It was her lord himself who became--unlike thelast theme in the mind, according to the observation of mostphilosophers--the subject of Mrs Flintwinch's dream.

It seemed to her that she awoke after sleeping some hours, and foundJeremiah not yet abed. That she looked at the candle she had leftburning, and, measuring the time like King Alfred the Great, wasconfirmed by its wasted state in her belief that she had been asleep forsome considerable period. That she arose thereupon, muffled herself upin a wrapper, put on her shoes, and went out on the staircase, muchsurprised, to look for Jeremiah.

The staircase was as wooden and solid as need be, and Affery wentstraight down it without any of those deviations peculiar to dreams.She did not skim over it, but walked down it, and guided herself by thebanisters on account of her candle having died out. In one corner ofthe hall, behind the house-door, there was a little waiting-room, like awell-shaft, with a long narrow window in it as if it had been ripped up.In this room, which was never used, a light was burning.

Mrs Flintwinch crossed the hall, feeling its pavement cold to herstockingless feet, and peeped in between the rusty hinges on the door,which stood a little open. She expected to see Jeremiah fast asleep orin a fit, but he was calmly seated in a chair, awake, and in his usualhealth. But what--hey?--Lord forgive us!--Mrs Flintwinch muttered someejaculation to this effect, and turned giddy.

For, Mr Flintwinch awake, was watching Mr Flintwinch asleep. He sat onone side of the small table, looking keenly at himself on the other sidewith his chin sunk on his breast, snoring. The waking Flintwinch had hisfull front face presented to his wife; the sleeping Flintwinch wasin profile. The waking Flintwinch was the old original; the sleepingFlintwinch was the double, just as she might have distinguished betweena tangible object and its reflection in a glass, Affery made out thisdifference with her head going round and round.

If she had had any doubt which was her own Jeremiah, it would have beenresolved by his impatience. He looked about him for an offensive weapon,caught up the snuffers, and, before applying them to the cabbage-headedcandle, lunged at the sleeper as though he would have run him throughthe body.

'Who's that? What's the matter?' cried the sleeper, starting.

Mr Flintwinch made a movement with the snuffers, as if he would haveenforced silence on his companion by putting them down his throat; thecompanion, coming to himself, said, rubbing his eyes, 'I forgot where Iwas.'

'You have been asleep,' snarled Jeremiah, referring to his watch, 'twohours. You said you would be rested enough if you had a short nap.'

'I have had a short nap,' said Double.

'Half-past two o'clock in the morning,' muttered Jeremiah. 'Where's yourhat? Where's your coat? Where's the box?'

'All here,' said Double, tying up his throat with sleepy carefulness ina shawl. 'Stop a minute. Now give me the sleeve--not that sleeve, theother one. Ha! I'm not as young as I was.' Mr Flintwinch had pulledhim into his coat with vehement energy. 'You promised me a second glassafter I was rested.'

'Drink it!' returned Jeremiah, 'and--choke yourself, I was goingto say--but go, I mean.' At the same time he produced the identicalport-wine bottle, and filled a wine-glass.

'Her port-wine, I believe?' said Double, tasting it as if he were in theDocks, with hours to spare. 'Her health.'

He took a sip.

'Your health!'

He took another sip.

'His health!'

He took another sip.

'And all friends round St Paul's.' He emptied and put down thewine-glass half-way through this ancient civic toast, and took up thebox. It was an iron box some two feet square, which he carried under hisarms pretty easily. Jeremiah watched his manner of adjusting it, withjealous eyes; tried it with his hands, to be sure that he had a firmhold of it; bade him for his life be careful what he was about; and thenstole out on tiptoe to open the door for him. Affery, anticipatingthe last movement, was on the staircase. The sequence of things wasso ordinary and natural, that, standing there, she could hear the dooropen, feel the night air, and see the stars outside.

But now came the most remarkable part of the dream. She felt so afraidof her husband, that being on the staircase, she had not the power toretreat to her room (which she might easily have done before he hadfastened the door), but stood there staring. Consequently when he cameup the staircase to bed, candle in hand, he came full upon her. Helooked astonished, but said not a word. He kept his eyes upon her, andkept advancing; and she, completely under his influence, kept retiringbefore him. Thus, she walking backward and he walking forward, theycame into their own room. They were no sooner shut in there, than MrFlintwinch took her by the throat, and shook her until she was black inthe face.

'Why, Affery, woman--Affery!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'What have you beendreaming of? Wake up, wake up! What's the matter?'

'The--the matter, Jeremiah?' gasped Mrs Flintwinch, rolling her eyes.

'Why, Affery, woman--Affery! You have been getting out of bed in yoursleep, my dear! I come up, after having fallen asleep myself, below, andfind you in your wrapper here, with the nightmare. Affery, woman,' saidMr Flintwinch, with a friendly grin on his expressive countenance, 'ifyou ever have a dream of this sort again, it'll be a sign of your beingin want of physic. And I'll give you such a dose, old woman--such adose!'

Mrs Flintwinch thanked him and crept into bed.