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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 16
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    CHAPTER 15

    Mrs Flintwinch has another Dream

    The debilitated old house in the city, wrapped in its mantle of
    soot, and leaning heavily on the crutches that had partaken of its
    decay and worn out with it, never knew a healthy or a cheerful
    interval, let what would betide. If the sun ever touched it, it
    was but with a ray, and that was gone in half an hour; if the
    moonlight ever fell upon it, it was only to put a few patches on
    its doleful cloak, and make it look more wretched. The stars, to
    be sure, coldly watched it when the nights and the smoke were clear
    enough; and all bad weather stood by it with a rare fidelity. You
    should alike find rain, hail, frost, and thaw lingering in that
    dismal enclosure when they had vanished from other places; and as
    to snow, you should see it there for weeks, long after it had
    changed from yellow to black, slowly weeping away its grimy life.
    The place had no other adherents. As to street noises, the
    rumbling of wheels in the lane merely rushed in at the gateway in
    going past, and rushed out again: making the listening Mistress
    Affery feel as if she were deaf, and recovered the sense of hearing
    by instantaneous flashes. So with whistling, singing, talking,
    laughing, and all pleasant human sounds. They leaped the gap in a
    moment, and went upon their way.
    The varying light of fire and candle in Mrs Clennam's room made the
    greatest change that ever broke the dead monotony of the spot. In
    her two long narrow windows, the fire shone sullenly all day, and
    sullenly all night. On rare occasions it flashed up passionately,
    as she did; but for the most part it was suppressed, like her, and
    preyed upon itself evenly and slowly. During many hours of the
    short winter days, however, when it was dusk there early in the
    afternoon, changing distortions of herself in her wheeled chair, of
    Mr Flintwinch with his wry neck, of Mistress Affery coming and
    going, would be thrown upon the house wall that was over the
    gateway, and would hover there like shadows from a great magic
    lantern. As the room-ridden invalid settled for the night, these
    would gradually disappear: Mistress Affery's magnified shadow
    always flitting about, last, until it finally glided away into the
    air, as though she were off upon a witch excursion. Then the
    solitary light would burn unchangingly, until it burned pale before
    the dawn, and at last died under the breath of Mrs Affery, as her
    shadow descended on it from the witch-region of sleep.

    Strange, if the little sick-room fire were in effect a beacon fire,
    summoning some one, and that the most unlikely some one in the
    world, to the spot that MUST be come to. Strange, if the little
    sick-room light were in effect a watch-light, burning in that place
    every night until an appointed event should be watched out! Which
    of the vast multitude of travellers, under the sun and the stars,
    climbing the dusty hills and toiling along the weary plains,
    journeying by land and journeying by sea, coming and going so
    strangely, to meet and to act and react on one another; which of
    the host may, with no suspicion of the journey's end, be travelling
    surely hither?

    Time shall show us. The post of honour and the post of shame, the
    general's station and the drummer's, a peer's statue in Westminster
    Abbey and a seaman's hammock in the bosom of the deep, the mitre
    and the workhouse, the woolsack and the gallows, the throne and the
    guillotine--the travellers to all are on the great high road, but
    it has wonderful divergencies, and only Time shall show us whither
    each traveller is bound.

    On a wintry afternoon at twilight, Mrs Flintwinch, having been
    heavy all day, dreamed this dream:

    She thought she was in the kitchen getting the kettle ready for
    tea, and was warming herself with her feet upon the fender and the
    skirt of her gown tucked up, before the collapsed fire in the
    middle of the grate, bordered on either hand by a deep cold black
    ravine. She thought that as she sat thus, musing upon the question
    whether life was not for some people a rather dull invention, she
    was frightened by a sudden noise behind her. She thought that she
    had been similarly frightened once last week, and that the noise
    was of a mysterious kind--a sound of rustling and of three or four
    quick beats like a rapid step; while a shock or tremble was
    communicated to her heart, as if the step had shaken the floor, or
    even as if she had been touched by some awful hand. She thought
    that this revived within her certain old fears of hers that the
    house was haunted; and that she flew up the kitchen stairs without
    knowing how she got up, to be nearer company.

    Mistress Affery thought that on reaching the hall, she saw the door
    of her liege lord's office standing open, and the room empty. That
    she went to the ripped-up window in the little room by the street
    door to connect her palpitating heart, through the glass, with
    living things beyond and outside the haunted house. That she then
    saw, on the wall over the gateway, the shadows of the two clever
    ones in conversation above. That she then went upstairs with her
    shoes in her hand, partly to be near the clever ones as a match for
    most ghosts, and partly to hear what they were talking about.

    'None of your nonsense with me,' said Mr Flintwinch. 'I won't take
    it from you.'

    Mrs Flintwinch dreamed that she stood behind the door, which was
    just ajar, and most distinctly heard her husband say these bold
    words.

    'Flintwinch,' returned Mrs Clennam, in her usual strong low voice,
    'there is a demon of anger in you. Guard against it.'

    'I don't care whether there's one or a dozen,' said Mr Flintwinch,
    forcibly suggesting in his tone that the higher number was nearer
    the mark. 'If there was fifty, they should all say, None of your
    nonsense with me, I won't take it from you--I'd make 'em say it,
    whether they liked it or not.'

    'What have I done, you wrathful man?' her strong voice asked.

    'Done?' said Mr Flintwinch. 'Dropped down upon me.'

    'If you mean, remonstrated with you--'

    'Don't put words into my mouth that I don't mean,' said Jeremiah,
    sticking to his figurative expression with tenacious and
    impenetrable obstinacy: 'I mean dropped down upon me.'

    'I remonstrated with you,' she began again, 'because--'

    'I won't have it!' cried Jeremiah. 'You dropped down upon me.'

    'I dropped down upon you, then, you ill-conditioned man,' (Jeremiah
    chuckled at having forced her to adopt his phrase,) 'for having
    been needlessly significant to Arthur that morning. I have a right
    to complain of it as almost a breach of confidence. You did not
    mean it--'

    'I won't have it!' interposed the contradictory Jeremiah, flinging
    back the concession. 'I did mean it.'

    'I suppose I must leave you to speak in soliloquy if you choose,'
    she replied, after a pause that seemed an angry one. 'It is
    useless my addressing myself to a rash and headstrong old man who
    has a set purpose not to hear me.'

    'Now, I won't take that from you either,' said Jeremiah. 'I have
    no such purpose. I have told you I did mean it. Do you wish to
    know why I meant it, you rash and headstrong old woman?'

    'After all, you only restore me my own words,' she said, struggling
    with her indignation. 'Yes.'

    'This is why, then. Because you hadn't cleared his father to him,
    and you ought to have done it. Because, before you went into any
    tantrum about yourself, who are--'

    'Hold there, Flintwinch!' she cried out in a changed voice: 'you
    may go a word too far.'

    The old man seemed to think so. There was another pause, and he
    had altered his position in the room, when he spoke again more
    mildly:

    'I was going to tell you why it was. Because, before you took your
    own part, I thought you ought to have taken the part of Arthur's
    father. Arthur's father! I had no particular love for Arthur's
    father. I served Arthur's father's uncle, in this house, when
    Arthur's father was not much above me--was poorer as far as his
    pocket went--and when his uncle might as soon have left me his heir
    as have left him. He starved in the parlour, and I starved in the
    kitchen; that was the principal difference in our positions; there
    was not much more than a flight of breakneck stairs between us. I
    never took to him in those times; I don't know that I ever took to
    him greatly at any time. He was an undecided, irresolute chap, who
    had everything but his orphan life scared out of him when he was
    young. And when he brought you home here, the wife his uncle had
    named for him, I didn't need to look at you twice (you were a good-
    looking woman at that time) to know who'd be master. You have
    stood of your own strength ever since. Stand of your own strength
    now. Don't lean against the dead.'

    'I do not--as you call it--lean against the dead.'

    'But you had a mind to do it, if I had submitted,' growled
    Jeremiah, 'and that's why you drop down upon me. You can't forget
    that I didn't submit. I suppose you are astonished that I should
    consider it worth my while to have justice done to Arthur's father?

    Hey? It doesn't matter whether you answer or not, because I know
    you are, and you know you are. Come, then, I'll tell you how it
    is. I may be a bit of an oddity in point of temper, but this is my
    temper--I can't let anybody have entirely their own way. You are
    a determined woman, and a clever woman; and when you see your
    purpose before you, nothing will turn you from it. Who knows that
    better than I do?'

    'Nothing will turn me from it, Flintwinch, when I have justified it
    to myself. Add that.'

    'Justified it to yourself? I said you were the most determined
    woman on the face of the earth (or I meant to say so), and if you
    are determined to justify any object you entertain, of course
    you'll do it.'

    'Man! I justify myself by the authority of these Books,' she
    cried, with stern emphasis, and appearing from the sound that
    followed to strike the dead-weight of her arm upon the table.

    'Never mind that,' returned Jeremiah calmly, 'we won't enter into
    that question at present. However that may be, you carry out your
    purposes, and you make everything go down before them. Now, I
    won't go down before them. I have been faithful to you, and useful
    to you, and I am attached to you. But I can't consent, and I won't
    consent, and I never did consent, and I never will consent to be
    lost in you. Swallow up everybody else, and welcome. The
    peculiarity of my temper is, ma'am, that I won't be swallowed up
    alive.'

    Perhaps this had Originally been the mainspring of the
    understanding between them. Descrying thus much of force of
    character in Mr Flintwinch, perhaps Mrs Clennam had deemed alliance
    with him worth her while.

    'Enough and more than enough of the subject,' said she gloomily.

    'Unless you drop down upon me again,' returned the persistent
    Flintwinch, 'and then you must expect to hear of it again.'

    Mistress Affery dreamed that the figure of her lord here began
    walking up and down the room, as if to cool his spleen, and that
    she ran away; but that, as he did not issue forth when she had
    stood listening and trembling in the shadowy hall a little time,
    she crept up-stairs again, impelled as before by ghosts and
    curiosity, and once more cowered outside the door.

    'Please to light the candle, Flintwinch,' Mrs Clennam was saying,
    apparently wishing to draw him back into their usual tone. 'It is
    nearly time for tea. Little Dorrit is coming, and will find me in
    the dark.'

    Mr Flintwinch lighted the candle briskly, and said as he put it
    down upon the table:

    'What are you going to do with Little Dorrit? Is she to come to
    work here for ever? To come to tea here for ever? To come
    backwards and forwards here, in the same way, for ever?'
    'How can you talk about "for ever" to a maimed creature like me?
    Are we not all cut down like the grass of the field, and was not I
    shorn by the scythe many years ago: since when I have been lying
    here, waiting to be gathered into the barn?'

    'Ay, ay! But since you have been lying here--not near dead--
    nothing like it--numbers of children and young people, blooming
    women, strong men, and what not, have been cut down and carried;
    and still here are you, you see, not much changed after all. Your
    time and mine may be a long one yet. When I say for ever, I mean
    (though I am not poetical) through all our time.' Mr Flintwinch
    gave this explanation with great calmness, and calmly waited for an
    answer.

    'So long as Little Dorrit is quiet and industrious, and stands in
    need of the slight help I can give her, and deserves it; so long,
    I suppose, unless she withdraws of her own act, she will continue
    to come here, I being spared.'

    'Nothing more than that?' said Flintwinch, stroking his mouth and
    chin.

    'What should there be more than that! What could there be more
    than that!' she ejaculated in her sternly wondering way.

    Mrs Flintwinch dreamed, that, for the space of a minute or two,
    they remained looking at each other with the candle between them,
    and that she somehow derived an impression that they looked at each
    other fixedly.

    'Do you happen to know, Mrs Clennam,' Affery's liege lord then
    demanded in a much lower voice, and with an amount of expression
    that seemed quite out of proportion to the simple purpose of his
    words, 'where she lives?'

    'No.'

    'Would you--now, would you like to know?' said Jeremiah with a
    pounce as if he had sprung upon her.

    'If I cared to know, I should know already. Could I not have asked
    her any day?'

    'Then you don't care to know?'

    'I do not.'

    Mr Flintwinch, having expelled a long significant breath said, with
    his former emphasis, 'For I have accidentally--mind!--found out.'

    'Wherever she lives,' said Mrs Clennam, speaking in one unmodulated
    hard voice, and separating her words as distinctly as if she were
    reading them off from separate bits of metal that she took up one
    by one, 'she has made a secret of it, and she shall always keep her
    secret from me.'

    'After all, perhaps you would rather not have known the fact, any
    how?' said Jeremiah; and he said it with a twist, as if his words
    had come out of him in his own wry shape.

    'Flintwinch,' said his mistress and partner, flashing into a sudden
    energy that made Affery start, 'why do you goad me? Look round
    this room. If it is any compensation for my long confinement
    within these narrow limits--not that I complain of being afflicted;
    you know I never complain of that--if it is any compensation to me
    for long confinement to this room, that while I am shut up from all
    pleasant change I am also shut up from the knowledge of some things
    that I may prefer to avoid knowing, why should you, of all men,
    grudge me that belief?'

    'I don't grudge it to you,' returned Jeremiah.

    'Then say no more. Say no more. Let Little Dorrit keep her secret
    from me, and do you keep it from me also. Let her come and go,
    unobserved and unquestioned. Let me suffer, and let me have what
    alleviation belongs to my condition. Is it so much, that you
    torment me like an evil spirit?'

    'I asked you a question. That's all.'

    'I have answered it. So, say no more. Say no more.' Here the
    sound of the wheeled chair was heard upon the floor, and Affery's
    bell rang with a hasty jerk.

    More afraid of her husband at the moment than of the mysterious
    sound in the kitchen, Affery crept away as lightly and as quickly
    as she could, descended the kitchen stairs almost as rapidly as she
    had ascended them, resumed her seat before the fire, tucked up her
    skirt again, and finally threw her apron over her head. Then the
    bell rang once more, and then once more, and then kept on ringing;
    in despite of which importunate summons, Affery still sat behind
    her apron, recovering her breath.

    At last Mr Flintwinch came shuffling down the staircase into the
    hall, muttering and calling 'Affery woman!' all the way. Affery
    still remaining behind her apron, he came stumbling down the
    kitchen stairs, candle in hand, sidled up to her, twitched her
    apron off, and roused her.

    'Oh Jeremiah!' cried Affery, waking. 'What a start you gave me!'

    'What have you been doing, woman?' inquired Jeremiah. 'You've been
    rung for fifty times.'

    'Oh Jeremiah,' said Mistress Affery, 'I have been a-dreaming!'

    Reminded of her former achievement in that way, Mr Flintwinch held
    the candle to her head, as if he had some idea of lighting her up
    for the illumination of the kitchen.

    'Don't you know it's her tea-time?' he demanded with a vicious
    grin, and giving one of the legs of Mistress Affery's chair a kick.

    'Jeremiah? Tea-time? I don't know what's come to me. But I got
    such a dreadful turn, Jeremiah, before I went--off a-dreaming, that
    I think it must be that.'

    'Yoogh! Sleepy-Head!' said Mr Flintwinch, 'what are you talking
    about?'

    'Such a strange noise, Jeremiah, and such a curious movement. In
    the kitchen here--just here.'

    Jeremiah held up his light and looked at the blackened ceiling,
    held down his light and looked at the damp stone floor, turned
    round with his light and looked about at the spotted and blotched
    walls.

    'Rats, cats, water, drains,' said Jeremiah.

    Mistress Affery negatived each with a shake of her head. 'No,
    Jeremiah; I have felt it before. I have felt it up-stairs, and
    once on the staircase as I was going from her room to ours in the
    night--a rustle and a sort of trembling touch behind me.'

    'Affery, my woman,' said Mr Flintwinch grimly, after advancing his
    nose to that lady's lips as a test for the detection of spirituous
    liquors, 'if you don't get tea pretty quick, old woman, you'll
    become sensible of a rustle and a touch that'll send you flying to
    the other end of the kitchen.'

    This prediction stimulated Mrs Flintwinch to bestir herself, and to
    hasten up-stairs to Mrs Clennam's chamber. But, for all that, she
    now began to entertain a settled conviction that there was
    something wrong in the gloomy house. Henceforth, she was never at
    peace in it after daylight departed; and never went up or down
    stairs in the dark without having her apron over her head, lest she
    should see something.

    What with these ghostly apprehensions and her singular dreams, Mrs
    Flintwinch fell that evening into a haunted state of mind, from
    which it may be long before this present narrative descries any
    trace of her recovery. In the vagueness and indistinctness of all
    her new experiences and perceptions, as everything about her was
    mysterious to herself she began to be mysterious to others: and
    became as difficult to be made out to anybody's satisfaction as she
    found the house and everything in it difficult to make out to her
    own.

    She had not yet finished preparing Mrs Clennam's tea, when the soft
    knock came to the door which always announced Little Dorrit.
    Mistress Affery looked on at Little Dorrit taking off her homely
    bonnet in the hall, and at Mr Flintwinch scraping his jaws and
    contemplating her in silence, as expecting some wonderful
    consequence to ensue which would frighten her out of her five wits
    or blow them all three to pieces.

    After tea there came another knock at the door, announcing Arthur.
    Mistress Affery went down to let him in, and he said on entering,
    'Affery, I am glad it's you. I want to ask you a question.'
    Affery immediately replied, 'For goodness sake don't ask me
    nothing, Arthur! I am frightened out of one half of my life, and
    dreamed out of the other. Don't ask me nothing! I don't know
    which is which, or what is what!'--and immediately started away
    from him, and came near him no more.

    Mistress Affery having no taste for reading, and no sufficient
    light for needlework in the subdued room, supposing her to have the
    inclination, now sat every night in the dimness from which she had
    momentarily emerged on the evening of Arthur Clennam's return,
    occupied with crowds of wild speculations and suspicions respecting
    her mistress and her husband and the noises in the house. When the
    ferocious devotional exercises were engaged in, these speculations
    would distract Mistress Affery's eyes towards the door, as if she
    expected some dark form to appear at those propitious moments, and
    make the party one too many.

    Otherwise, Affery never said or did anything to attract the
    attention of the two clever ones towards her in any marked degree,
    except on certain occasions, generally at about the quiet hour
    towards bed-time, when she would suddenly dart out of her dim
    corner, and whisper with a face of terror to Mr Flintwinch, reading
    the paper near Mrs Clennam's little table: 'There, jeremiah! Now!
    What's that noise?'

    Then the noise, if there were any, would have ceased, and Mr
    Flintwinch would snarl, turning upon her as if she had cut him down
    that moment against his will, 'Affery, old woman, you shall have a
    dose, old woman, such a dose! You have been dreaming again!'
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