Little Dorrit 099

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‘Faith, madam, no; I am neither born nor bred in England. In effect, I am of no country,’ said Mr Blandois, stretching out his leg and smiting it: ‘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 and everywhere!’

‘You have no ties, probably. Are not married?’

‘Madam,’ said Mr Blandois, with an ugly fall of his eyebrows, ‘I adore your 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, and to fancy that she caught an expression in his eyes which attracted her own eyes so that she could not get them away. The effect of this fancy was to keep her staring at him with the tea-pot in her hand, not only to her own great uneasiness, but manifestly to his, too; and, through them both, to Mrs Clennam’s and Mr Flintwinch’s. Thus a few ghostly moments supervened, when they were all confusedly staring without knowing why.

‘Affery,’ her mistress was the first to say, ‘what is the matter with you?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Mistress Affery, with her disengaged left hand extended 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 contrasted surprisingly with the slight force of his words. ‘How is it possible to understand this good creature?’

‘It’s _not_ possible,’ said Mr Flintwinch, screwing himself rapidly in that direction. ‘She don’t know what she means. She’s an idiot, a wanderer 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 over her head, and in a twinkling vanished. The visitor gradually broke into a smile, and sat down again.

‘You’ll excuse her, Mr Blandois,’ said Jeremiah, pouring out the tea himself, ‘she’s failing and breaking up; that’s what she’s about. Do you take sugar, sir?’

‘Thank you, no tea for me.–Pardon my observing it, but that’s a very remarkable watch!’

The tea-table was drawn up near the sofa, with a small interval between it and Mrs Clennam’s own particular table. Mr Blandois in his gallantry had risen to hand that lady her tea (her dish of toast was already there), and it was in placing the cup conveniently within her reach that the 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 have a 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 remove it from the outer case? Thank you. Aye? An old silk watch-lining, worked with 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 Mr Blandois, 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 cup of 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 it at a gulp; and always deliberating again before he refilled it.

‘D. N. F. was some tender, lovely, fascinating fair-creature, I make no doubt,’ observed Mr Blandois, as he snapped on the case again. ‘I adore her 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, but adoration of female beauty and merit constitutes three parts of my character, 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 to the invalid.

‘You may be heart-free here, sir,’ she returned to Mr Blandois. ‘Those letters 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 stepping backward to his former chair, ‘you do _not_ forget.’

Mr Flintwinch, finishing his tea, not only took a longer gulp than he had 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 his lips, while his eyes were still directed at the invalid. She had that force of face, and that concentrated air of collecting her firmness or obstinacy, which represented in her case what would have been gesture and action in another, as she replied with her deliberate strength of speech:

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

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

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