Mr Pancks, whom Affery had just shown in, was addressing an inquiry to Mrs Clennam on the subject of her health, coupled with the remark that, 'happening to find himself in that direction,' he had looked in to inquire, on behalf of his proprietor, how she found herself. Mrs Clennam, with a deep contraction of her brows, was looking at him.
'Mr Casby knows,' said she, 'that I am not subject to changes. The change that I await here is the great change.'
'Indeed, ma'am?' returned Mr Pancks, with a wandering eye towards the figure of the little seamstress on her knee picking threads and fraying of her work from the carpet. 'You look nicely, ma'am.'
'I bear what I have to bear,' she answered. 'Do you what you have to do.' 'Thank you, ma'am,' said Mr Pancks, 'such is my endeavour.'
'You are often in this direction, are you not?' asked Mrs Clennam.
'Why, yes, ma'am,' said Pancks, 'rather so lately; I have lately been round this way a good deal, owing to one thing and another.' 'Beg Mr Casby and his daughter not to trouble themselves, by deputy, about me. When they wish to see me, they know I am here to see them. They have no need to trouble themselves to send. You have no need to trouble yourself to come.' 'Not the least trouble, ma'am,' said Mr Pancks. 'You really are looking uncommonly nicely, ma'am.'
'Thank you. Good evening.'
The dismissal, and its accompanying finger pointed straight at the door, was so curt and direct that Mr Pancks did not see his way to prolong his visit. He stirred up his hair with his sprightliest expression, glanced at the little figure again, said 'Good evening, ma 'am; don't come down, Mrs Affery, I know the road to the door,' and steamed out. Mrs Clennam, her chin resting on her hand, followed him with attentive and darkly distrustful eyes; and Affery stood looking at her as if she were spell-bound.
Slowly and thoughtfully, Mrs Clennam's eyes turned from the door by which Pancks had gone out, to Little Dorrit, rising from the carpet. With her chin drooping more heavily on her hand, and her eyes vigilant and lowering, the sick woman sat looking at her until she attracted her attention. Little Dorrit coloured under such a gaze, and looked down. Mrs Clennam still sat intent.
'Little Dorrit,' she said, when she at last broke silence, 'what do you know of that man?'
'I don't know anything of him, ma'am, except that I have seen him about, and that he has spoken to me.'
'What has he said to you?'
'I don't understand what he has said, he is so strange. But nothing rough or disagreeable.'
'Why does he come here to see you?'
'I don't know, ma'am,' said Little Dorrit, with perfect frankness.
'You know that he does come here to see you?'
'I have fancied so,' said Little Dorrit. 'But why he should come here or anywhere for that, ma'am, I can't think.'
Mrs Clennam cast her eyes towards the ground, and with her strong, set face, as intent upon a subject in her mind as it had lately been upon the form that seemed to pass out of her view, sat absorbed. Some minutes elapsed before she came out of this thoughtfulness, and resumed her hard composure.
Little Dorrit in the meanwhile had been waiting to go, but afraid to disturb her by moving. She now ventured to leave the spot where she had been standing since she had risen, and to pass gently round by the wheeled chair. She stopped at its side to say 'Good night, ma'am.'
Mrs Clennam put out her hand, and laid it on her arm. Little Dorrit, confused under the touch, stood faltering. Perhaps some momentary recollection of the story of the Princess may have been in her mind.
'Tell me, Little Dorrit,' said Mrs Clennam, 'have you many friends now?'
'Very few, ma'am. Besides you, only Miss Flora and--one more.'
'Meaning,' said Mrs Clennam, with her unbent finger again pointing to the door, 'that man?'
'Oh no, ma'am!'
'Some friend of his, perhaps?'
'No ma'am.' Little Dorrit earnestly shook her head. 'Oh no! No one at all like him, or belonging to him.'
'Well!' said Mrs Clennam, almost smiling.