Therefore Flora said, though still not without a certain boastfulness and triumph in her legacy, that Mr F.'s Aunt was 'very lively to-day, and she thought they had better go.' But Mr F.'s Aunt proved so lively as to take the suggestion in unexpected dudgeon and declare that she would not go; adding, with several injurious expressions, that if 'He'--too evidently meaning Clennam--wanted to get rid of her, 'let him chuck her out of winder;' and urgently expressing her desire to see 'Him' perform that ceremony.
In this dilemma, Mr Pancks, whose resources appeared equal to any emergency in the Patriarchal waters, slipped on his hat, slipped out at the counting-house door, and slipped in again a moment afterwards with an artificial freshness upon him, as if he had been in the country for some weeks. 'Why, bless my heart, ma'am!' said Mr Pancks, rubbing up his hair in great astonishment, 'is that you?
How do you do, ma'am? You are looking charming to-day! I am delighted to see you. Favour me with your arm, ma'am; we'll have a little walk together, you and me, if you'll honour me with your company.' And so escorted Mr F.'s Aunt down the private staircase of the counting-house with great gallantry and success. The patriarchal Mr Casby then rose with the air of having done it himself, and blandly followed: leaving his daughter, as she followed in her turn, to remark to her former lover in a distracted whisper (which she very much enjoyed), that they had drained the cup of life to the dregs; and further to hint mysteriously that the late Mr F. was at the bottom of it.
Alone again, Clennam became a prey to his old doubts in reference to his mother and Little Dorrit, and revolved the old thoughts and suspicions. They were all in his mind, blending themselves with the duties he was mechanically discharging, when a shadow on his papers caused him to look up for the cause. The cause was Mr Pancks. With his hat thrown back upon his ears as if his wiry prongs of hair had darted up like springs and cast it off, with his jet-black beads of eyes inquisitively sharp, with the fingers of his right hand in his mouth that he might bite the nails, and with the fingers of his left hand in reserve in his pocket for another course, Mr Pancks cast his shadow through the glass upon the books and papers.
Mr Pancks asked, with a little inquiring twist of his head, if he might come in again? Clennam replied with a nod of his head in the affirmative. Mr Pancks worked his way in, came alongside the desk, made himself fast by leaning his arms upon it, and started conversation with a puff and a snort.
'Mr F.'s Aunt is appeased, I hope?' said Clennam.
'All right, sir,' said Pancks.
'I am so unfortunate as to have awakened a strong animosity in the breast of that lady,' said Clennam. 'Do you know why?'
'Does SHE know why?' said Pancks.
'I suppose not.'
'_I_ suppose not,' said Pancks.
He took out his note-book, opened it, shut it, dropped it into his hat, which was beside him on the desk, and looked in at it as it lay at the bottom of the hat: all with a great appearance of consideration.
'Mr Clennam,' he then began, 'I am in want of information, sir.'
'Connected with this firm?' asked Clennam.
'No,' said Pancks.
'With what then, Mr Pancks? That is to say, assuming that you want it of me.'
'Yes, sir; yes, I want it of you,' said Pancks, 'if I can persuade you to furnish it. A, B, C, D. DA, DE, DI, DO. Dictionary order.
Dorrit. That's the name, sir?'
Mr Pancks blew off his peculiar noise again, and fell to at his right-hand nails. Arthur looked searchingly at him; he returned the look.
'I don't understand you, Mr Pancks.'
'That's the name that I want to know about.'
'And what do you want to know?'
'Whatever you can and will tell me.' This comprehensive summary of his desires was not discharged without some heavy labouring on the part of Mr Pancks's machinery.
'This is a singular visit, Mr Pancks. It strikes me as rather extraordinary that you should come, with such an object, to me.'
'It may be all extraordinary together,' returned Pancks.