‘All expressed, madam,’ said Mr Blandois, with his smoothest bow and his white hand on his breast, ‘by the word “naturally,” which I am proud to have had sufficient apprehension and appreciation (but without appreciation I could not be Blandois) to employ.’
‘Pardon me, sir,’ she returned, ‘if I doubt the likelihood of a gentleman of pleasure, and change, and politeness, accustomed to court and to be courted–’
‘Oh madam! By Heaven!’
‘–If I doubt the likelihood of such a character quite comprehending what belongs to mine in my circumstances. Not to obtrude doctrine upon you,’ she looked at the rigid pile of hard pale books before her, ‘(for you go your own way, and the consequences are on your own head), I will say this much: that I shape my course by pilots, strictly by proved and tried pilots, under whom I cannot be shipwrecked–can not be–and that if I were unmindful of the admonition conveyed in those three letters, I should not be half as chastened as I am.’
It was curious how she seized the occasion to argue with some invisible opponent. Perhaps with her own better sense, always turning upon herself and her own deception.
‘If I forgot my ignorances in my life of health and freedom, I might complain of the life to which I am now condemned. I never do; I never have done. If I forgot that this scene, the Earth, is expressly meant to be a scene of gloom, and hardship, and dark trial, for the creatures who are made out of its dust, I might have some tenderness for its vanities. But I have no such tenderness. If I did not know that we are, every one, the subject (most justly the subject) of a wrath that must be satisfied, and against which mere actions are nothing, I might repine at the difference between me, imprisoned here, and the people who pass that gateway yonder. But I take it as a grace and favour to be elected to make the satisfaction I am making here, to know what I know for certain here, and to work out what I have worked out here. My affliction might otherwise have had no meaning to me. Hence I would forget, and I do forget, nothing. Hence I am contented, and say it is better with me than with millions.’
As she spoke these words, she put her hand upon the watch, and restored it to the precise spot on her little table which it always occupied. With her touch lingering upon it, she sat for some moments afterwards, looking at it steadily and half-defiantly.
Mr Blandois, during this exposition, had been strictly attentive, keeping his eyes fastened on the lady, and thoughtfully stroking his moustache with his two hands. Mr Flintwinch had been a little fidgety, and now struck in.
‘There, there, there!’ said he. ‘That is quite understood, Mrs Clennam, and you have spoken piously and well. Mr Blandois, I suspect, is not of a pious cast.’
‘On the contrary, sir!’ that gentleman protested, snapping his fingers. ‘Your pardon! It’s a part of my character. I am sensitive, ardent, conscientious, and imaginative. A sensitive, ardent, conscientious, and imaginative man, Mr Flintwinch, must be that, or nothing!’
There was an inkling of suspicion in Mr Flintwinch’s face that he might be nothing, as he swaggered out of his chair (it was characteristic of this man, as it is of all men similarly marked, that whatever he did, he overdid, though it were sometimes by only a hairsbreadth), and approached to take his leave of Mrs Clennam.
‘With what will appear to you the egotism of a sick old woman, sir,’ she then said, ‘though really through your accidental allusion, I have been led away into the subject of myself and my infirmities. Being so considerate as to visit me, I hope you will be likewise so considerate as to overlook that. Don’t compliment me, if you please.’ For he was evidently going to do it. ‘Mr Flintwinch will be happy to render you any service, and I hope your stay in this city may prove agreeable.’
Mr Blandois thanked her, and kissed his hand several times. ‘This is an old room,’ he remarked, with a sudden sprightliness of manner, looking round when he got near the door, ‘I have been so interested that I have not observed it. But it’s a genuine old room.’
‘It is a genuine old house,’ said Mrs Clennam, with her frozen smile. ‘A place of no pretensions, but a piece of antiquity.’
‘Faith!’ cried the visitor. ‘If Mr Flintwinch would do me the favour to take me through the rooms on my way out, he could hardly oblige me more. An old house is a weakness with me. I have many weaknesses, but none greater. I love and study the picturesque in all its varieties. I have been called picturesque myself. It is no merit to be picturesque–I have greater merits, perhaps–but I may be, by an accident. Sympathy, sympathy!’
‘I tell you beforehand, Mr Blandois, that you’ll find it very dingy and very bare,’ said Jeremiah, taking up the candle. ‘It’s not worth your looking at.’But Mr Blandois, smiting him in a friendly manner on the back, only laughed; so the said Blandois kissed his hand again to Mrs Clennam, and they went out of the room together.
‘You don’t care to go up-stairs?’ said Jeremiah, on the landing.
‘On the contrary, Mr Flintwinch; if not tiresome to you, I shall be ravished!’
Mr Flintwinch, therefore, wormed himself up the staircase, and Mr Blandois followed close. They ascended to the great garret bed-room which Arthur had occupied on the night of his return. ‘There, Mr Blandois!’ said Jeremiah, showing it, ‘I hope you may think that worth coming so high to see. I confess I don’t.’
Mr Blandois being enraptured, they walked through other garrets and passages, and came down the staircase again. By this time Mr Flintwinch had remarked that he never found the visitor looking at any room, after throwing one quick glance around, but always found the visitor looking at him, Mr Flintwinch. With this discovery in his thoughts, he turned about on the staircase for another experiment. He met his eyes directly; and on the instant of their fixing one another, the visitor, with that ugly play of nose and moustache, laughed (as he had done at every similar moment since they left Mrs Clennam’s chamber) a diabolically silent laugh.
As a much shorter man than the visitor, Mr Flintwinch was at the physical disadvantage of being thus disagreeably leered at from a height; and as he went first down the staircase, and was usually a step or two lower than the other, this disadvantage was at the time increased. He postponed looking at Mr Blandois again until this accidental inequality was removed by their having entered the late Mr Clennam’s room. But, then twisting himself suddenly round upon him, he found his look unchanged.
‘A most admirable old house,’ smiled Mr Blandois. ‘So mysterious. Do you never hear any haunted noises here?’
‘Noises,’ returned Mr Flintwinch. ‘No.’
‘Nor see any devils?’
‘Not,’ said Mr Flintwinch, grimly screwing himself at his questioner, ‘not any that introduce themselves under that name and in that capacity.’
‘Haha! A portrait here, I see.’
(Still looking at Mr Flintwinch, as if he were the portrait.)
‘It’s a portrait, sir, as you observe.’
‘May I ask the subject, Mr Flintwinch?’
‘Mr Clennam, deceased. Her husband.’