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.