Little Dorrit 014


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‘His health!’

He took another sip.

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

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

‘Why, Affery, woman–Affery!’ said Mr Flintwinch. ‘What have you been dreaming 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 your sleep, my dear! I come up, after having fallen asleep myself, below, and find you in your wrapper here, with the nightmare. Affery, woman,’ said Mr Flintwinch, with a friendly grin on his expressive countenance, ‘if you ever have a dream of this sort again, it’ll be a sign of your being in want of physic. And I’ll give you such a dose, old woman–such a dose!’

Mrs Flintwinch thanked him and crept into bed.

CHAPTER 5. Family Affairs

As the city clocks struck nine on Monday morning, Mrs Clennam was wheeled by Jeremiah Flintwinch of the cut-down aspect to her tall cabinet. When she had unlocked and opened it, and had settled herself at its desk, Jeremiah withdrew–as it might be, to hang himself more effectually–and her son appeared.

‘Are you any better this morning, mother?’

She shook her head, with the same austere air of luxuriousness that she had shown over-night when speaking of the weather. ‘I shall never be better any more. It is well for me, Arthur, that I know it and can bear it.’

Sitting with her hands laid separately upon the desk, and the tall cabinet towering before her, she looked as if she were performing on a dumb church organ. Her son thought so (it was an old thought with him), while he took his seat beside it.

She opened a drawer or two, looked over some business papers, and put them back again. Her severe face had no thread of relaxation in it, by which any explorer could have been guided to the gloomy labyrinth of her thoughts.

‘Shall I speak of our affairs, mother? Are you inclined to enter upon business?’

‘Am I inclined, Arthur? Rather, are you? Your father has been dead a year and more. I have been at your disposal, and waiting your pleasure, ever since.’

‘There was much to arrange before I could leave; and when I did leave, I travelled a little for rest and relief.’

She turned her face towards him, as not having heard or understood his last words.

‘For rest and relief.’

She glanced round the sombre room, and appeared from the motion of her lips to repeat the words to herself, as calling it to witness how little of either it afforded her.

‘Besides, mother, you being sole executrix, and having the direction and management of the estate, there remained little business, or I might say none, that I could transact, until you had had time to arrange matters to your satisfaction.’

‘The accounts are made out,’ she returned. ‘I have them here. The vouchers have all been examined and passed. You can inspect them when you like, Arthur; now, if you please.’

‘It is quite enough, mother, to know that the business is completed. Shall I proceed then?’

‘Why not?’ she said, in her frozen way.

‘Mother, our House has done less and less for some years past, and our dealings have been progressively on the decline. We have never shown much confidence, or invited much; we have attached no people to us; the track we have kept is not the track of the time; and we have been left far behind. I need not dwell on this to you, mother. You know it necessarily.’

‘I know what you mean,’ she answered, in a qualified tone.

‘Even this old house in which we speak,’ pursued her son, ‘is an instance of what I say. In my father’s earlier time, and in his uncle’s time before him, it was a place of business–really a place of business, and business resort. Now, it is a mere anomaly and incongruity here, out of date and out of purpose. All our consignments have long been made to Rovinghams’ the commission-merchants; and although, as a check upon them, and in the stewardship of my father’s resources, your judgment and watchfulness have been actively exerted, still those qualities would have influenced my father’s fortunes equally, if you had lived in any private dwelling: would they not?’

‘Do you consider,’ she returned, without answering his question, ‘that a house serves no purpose, Arthur, in sheltering your infirm and afflicted–justly infirm and righteously afflicted–mother?’

‘I was speaking only of business purposes.’

‘With what object?’


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