It was the touch of a hand; of a man's hand.
The man was dressed like a traveller, in a foraging cap with fur about it, and a heap of cloak. He looked like a foreigner. He had a quantity of hair and moustache--jet black, except at the shaggy ends, where it had a tinge of red--and a high hook nose. He laughed at Mistress Affery's start and cry; and as he laughed, his moustache went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache.
'What's the matter?' he asked in plain English. 'What are you frightened at?'
'At you,' panted Affery.
'And the dismal evening, and--and everything,' said Affery. 'And here! The wind has been and blown the door to, and I can't get in.'
'Hah!' said the gentleman, who took that very coolly. 'Indeed! Do you know such a name as Clennam about here?'
'Lord bless us, I should think I did, I should think I did!' cried Affery, exasperated into a new wringing of hands by the inquiry.
'Where about here?'
'Where!' cried Affery, goaded into another inspection of the keyhole. 'Where but here in this house? And she's all alone in her room, and lost the use of her limbs and can't stir to help herself or me, and t'other clever one's out, and Lord forgive me!' cried Affery, driven into a frantic dance by these accumulated considerations, 'if I ain't a-going headlong out of my mind!'
Taking a warmer view of the matter now that it concerned himself, the gentleman stepped back to glance at the house, and his eye soon rested on the long narrow window of the little room near the hall- door.
'Where may the lady be who has lost the use of her limbs, madam?' he inquired, with that peculiar smile which Mistress Affery could not choose but keep her eyes upon.
'Up there!' said Affery. 'Them two windows.'
'Hah! I am of a fair size, but could not have the honour of presenting myself in that room without a ladder. Now, madam, frankly --frankness is a part of my character--shall I open the door for you?'
'Yes, bless you, sir, for a dear creetur, and do it at once,' cried Affery, 'for she may be a-calling to me at this very present minute, or may be setting herself a fire and burning herself to death, or there's no knowing what may be happening to her, and me a-going out of my mind at thinking of it!'
'Stay, my good madam!' He restrained her impatience with a smooth white hand. 'Business-hours, I apprehend, are over for the day?' 'Yes, yes, yes,' cried Affery. 'Long ago.'
'Let me make, then, a fair proposal. Fairness is a part of my character. I am just landed from the packet-boat, as you may see.'
He showed her that his cloak was very wet, and that his boots were saturated with water; she had previously observed that he was dishevelled and sallow, as if from a rough voyage, and so chilled that he could not keep his teeth from chattering. 'I am just landed from the packet-boat, madam, and have been delayed by the weather: the infernal weather! In consequence of this, madam, some necessary business that I should otherwise have transacted here within the regular hours (necessary business because money- business), still remains to be done. Now, if you will fetch any authorised neighbouring somebody to do it in return for my opening the door, I'll open the door. If this arrangement should be objectionable, I'll--' and with the same smile he made a significant feint of backing away.
Mistress Affery, heartily glad to effect the proposed compromise, gave in her willing adhesion to it. The gentleman at once requested her to do him the favour of holding his cloak, took a short run at the narrow window, made a leap at the sill, clung his way up the bricks, and in a moment had his hand at the sash, raising it. His eyes looked so very sinister, as he put his leg into the room and glanced round at Mistress Affery, that she thought with a sudden coldness, if he were to go straight up-stairs to murder the invalid, what could she do to prevent him?
Happily he had no such purpose; for he reappeared, in a moment, at the house door.