Little Dorrit 013


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‘Girl?’ said Mrs Flintwinch in a rather sharp key.

‘It was a girl, surely, whom I saw near you–almost hidden in the dark corner?’

‘Oh! She? Little Dorrit? _She_‘s nothing; she’s a whim of–hers.’ It was a peculiarity of Affery Flintwinch that she never spoke of Mrs Clennam by name. ‘But there’s another sort of girls than that about. Have you forgot your old sweetheart? Long and long ago, I’ll be bound.’

‘I suffered enough from my mother’s separating us, to remember her. I recollect her very well.’

‘Have you got another?’

‘No.’

‘Here’s news for you, then. She’s well to do now, and a widow. And if you like to have her, why you can.’

‘And how do you know that, Affery?’

‘Them two clever ones have been speaking about it.–There’s Jeremiah on the stairs!’ She was gone in a moment.

Mrs Flintwinch had introduced into the web that his mind was busily weaving, in that old workshop where the loom of his youth had stood, the last thread wanting to the pattern. The airy folly of a boy’s love had found its way even into that house, and he had been as wretched under its hopelessness as if the house had been a castle of romance. Little more than a week ago at Marseilles, the face of the pretty girl from whom he had parted with regret, had had an unusual interest for him, and a tender hold upon him, because of some resemblance, real or imagined, to this first face that had soared out of his gloomy life into the bright glories of fancy. He leaned upon the sill of the long low window, and looking out upon the blackened forest of chimneys again, began to dream; for it had been the uniform tendency of this man’s life–so much was wanting in it to think about, so much that might have been better directed and happier to speculate upon–to make him a dreamer, after all.

CHAPTER 4. Mrs Flintwinch has a Dream

When Mrs Flintwinch dreamed, she usually dreamed, unlike the son of her old mistress, with her eyes shut. She had a curiously vivid dream that night, 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 every respect. It happened in this wise.

The bed-chamber occupied by Mr and Mrs Flintwinch was within a few paces of that to which Mrs Clennam had been so long confined. It was not on the same floor, for it was a room at the side of the house, which was approached by a steep descent of a few odd steps, diverging from the main staircase nearly opposite to Mrs Clennam’s door. It could scarcely be said to be within call, the walls, doors, and panelling of the old place 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 bed and within a foot of Mrs Flintwinch’s ear, was a bell, the line of which hung ready to Mrs Clennam’s hand. Whenever this bell rang, up started Affery, and was in the sick room before she was awake.

Having got her mistress into bed, lighted her lamp, and given her good night, Mrs Flintwinch went to roost as usual, saving that her lord had not yet appeared. It was her lord himself who became–unlike the last theme in the mind, according to the observation of most philosophers–the subject of Mrs Flintwinch’s dream.

It seemed to her that she awoke after sleeping some hours, and found Jeremiah not yet abed. That she looked at the candle she had left burning, and, measuring the time like King Alfred the Great, was confirmed by its wasted state in her belief that she had been asleep for some considerable period. That she arose thereupon, muffled herself up in a wrapper, put on her shoes, and went out on the staircase, much surprised, to look for Jeremiah.

The staircase was as wooden and solid as need be, and Affery went straight down it without any of those deviations peculiar to dreams. She did not skim over it, but walked down it, and guided herself by the banisters on account of her candle having died out. In one corner of the hall, behind the house-door, there was a little waiting-room, like a well-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 her stockingless feet, and peeped in between the rusty hinges on the door, which stood a little open. She expected to see Jeremiah fast asleep or in a fit, but he was calmly seated in a chair, awake, and in his usual health. But what–hey?–Lord forgive us!–Mrs Flintwinch muttered some ejaculation to this effect, and turned giddy.

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

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

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

Mr Flintwinch made a movement with the snuffers, as if he would have enforced silence on his companion by putting them down his throat; the companion, coming to himself, said, rubbing his eyes, ‘I forgot where I was.’

‘You have been asleep,’ snarled Jeremiah, referring to his watch, ‘two hours. 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 your hat? Where’s your coat? Where’s the box?’

‘All here,’ said Double, tying up his throat with sleepy carefulness in a shawl. ‘Stop a minute. Now give me the sleeve–not that sleeve, the other one. Ha! I’m not as young as I was.’ Mr Flintwinch had pulled him into his coat with vehement energy. ‘You promised me a second glass after I was rested.’

‘Drink it!’ returned Jeremiah, ‘and–choke yourself, I was going to say–but go, I mean.’ At the same time he produced the identical port-wine bottle, and filled a wine-glass.

‘Her port-wine, I believe?’ said Double, tasting it as if he were in the Docks, with hours to spare. ‘Her health.’

He took a sip.

‘Your health!’

He took another sip.


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