Little Dorrit 080


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‘Hush!’ repeated Flora, ‘I have now told you all, confidence is established between us hush, for Arthur’s sake I will always be a friend to you my dear girl and in Arthur’s name you may always rely upon me.’

The nimble fingers laid aside the work, and the little figure rose and kissed her hand. ‘You are very cold,’ said Flora, changing to her own natural kind-hearted manner, and gaining greatly by the change. ‘Don’t work to-day. I am sure you are not well I am sure you are not strong.’

‘It is only that I feel a little overcome by your kindness, and by Mr Clennam’s kindness in confiding me to one he has known and loved so long.’

‘Well really my dear,’ said Flora, who had a decided tendency to be always honest when she gave herself time to think about it, ‘it’s as well to leave that alone now, for I couldn’t undertake to say after all, but it doesn’t signify lie down a little!’

‘I have always been strong enough to do what I want to do, and I shall be quite well directly,’ returned Little Dorrit, with a faint smile. ‘You have overpowered me with gratitude, that’s all. If I keep near the window for a moment I shall be quite myself.’

Flora opened a window, sat her in a chair by it, and considerately retired to her former place. It was a windy day, and the air stirring on Little Dorrit’s face soon brightened it. In a very few minutes she returned to her basket of work, and her nimble fingers were as nimble as ever.

Quietly pursuing her task, she asked Flora if Mr Clennam had told her where she lived? When Flora replied in the negative, Little Dorrit said that she understood why he had been so delicate, but that she felt sure he would approve of her confiding her secret to Flora, and that she would therefore do so now with Flora’s permission. Receiving an encouraging answer, she condensed the narrative of her life into a few scanty words about herself and a glowing eulogy upon her father; and Flora took it all in with a natural tenderness that quite understood it, and in which there was no incoherence.

When dinner-time came, Flora drew the arm of her new charge through hers, and led her down-stairs, and presented her to the Patriarch and Mr Pancks, who were already in the dining-room waiting to begin. (Mr F.’s Aunt was, for the time, laid up in ordinary in her chamber.) By those gentlemen she was received according to their characters; the Patriarch appearing to do her some inestimable service in saying that he was glad to see her, glad to see her; and Mr Pancks blowing off his favourite sound as a salute.

In that new presence she would have been bashful enough under any circumstances, and particularly under Flora’s insisting on her drinking a glass of wine and eating of the best that was there; but her constraint was greatly increased by Mr Pancks. The demeanour of that gentleman at first suggested to her mind that he might be a taker of likenesses, so intently did he look at her, and so frequently did he glance at the little note-book by his side. Observing that he made no sketch, however, and that he talked about business only, she began to have suspicions that he represented some creditor of her father’s, the balance due to whom was noted in that pocket volume. Regarded from this point of view Mr Pancks’s puffings expressed injury and impatience, and each of his louder snorts became a demand for payment.

But here again she was undeceived by anomalous and incongruous conduct on the part of Mr Pancks himself. She had left the table half an hour, and was at work alone. Flora had ‘gone to lie down’ in the next room, concurrently with which retirement a smell of something to drink had broken out in the house. The Patriarch was fast asleep, with his philanthropic mouth open under a yellow pocket-handkerchief in the dining-room. At this quiet time, Mr Pancks softly appeared before her, urbanely nodding.

‘Find it a little dull, Miss Dorrit?’ inquired Pancks in a low voice.

‘No, thank you, sir,’ said Little Dorrit.

‘Busy, I see,’ observed Mr Pancks, stealing into the room by inches. ‘What are those now, Miss Dorrit?’

‘Handkerchiefs.’

‘Are they, though!’ said Pancks. ‘I shouldn’t have thought it.’ Not in the least looking at them, but looking at Little Dorrit. ‘Perhaps you wonder who I am. Shall I tell you? I am a fortune-teller.’

Little Dorrit now began to think he was mad.

‘I belong body and soul to my proprietor,’ said Pancks; ‘you saw my proprietor having his dinner below. But I do a little in the other way, sometimes; privately, very privately, Miss Dorrit.’

Little Dorrit looked at him doubtfully, and not without alarm. ‘I wish you’d show me the palm of your hand,’ said Pancks. ‘I should like to have a look at it. Don’t let me be troublesome.’

He was so far troublesome that he was not at all wanted there, but she laid her work in her lap for a moment, and held out her left hand with her thimble on it.

‘Years of toil, eh?’ said Pancks, softly, touching it with his blunt forefinger. ‘But what else are we made for? Nothing. Hallo!’ looking into the lines. ‘What’s this with bars? It’s a College! And what’s this with a grey gown and a black velvet cap? it’s a father! And what’s this with a clarionet? It’s an uncle! And what’s this in dancing-shoes? It’s a sister! And what’s this straggling about in an idle sort of a way? It’s a brother! And what’s this thinking for ‘em all? Why, this is you, Miss Dorrit!’

Her eyes met his as she looked up wonderingly into his face, and she thought that although his were sharp eyes, he was a brighter and gentler-looking man than she had supposed at dinner. His eyes were on her hand again directly, and her opportunity of confirming or correcting the impression was gone.

‘Now, the deuce is in it,’ muttered Pancks, tracing out a line in her hand with his clumsy finger, ‘if this isn’t me in the corner here! What do I want here? What’s behind me?’

He carried his finger slowly down to the wrist, and round the wrist, and affected to look at the back of the hand for what was behind him.

‘Is it any harm?’ asked Little Dorrit, smiling.

‘Deuce a bit!’ said Pancks. ‘What do you think it’s worth?’

‘I ought to ask you that. I am not the fortune-teller.’

‘True,’ said Pancks. ‘What’s it worth? You shall live to see, Miss Dorrit.’

Releasing the hand by slow degrees, he drew all his fingers through his prongs of hair, so that they stood up in their most portentous manner; and repeated slowly, ‘Remember what I say, Miss Dorrit. You shall live to see.’

She could not help showing that she was much surprised, if it were only by his knowing so much about her.

‘Ah! That’s it!’ said Pancks, pointing at her. ‘Miss Dorrit, not that, ever!’


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