Mr Flintwinch presented the gentleman commended to the consideration of Clennam and Co. Mrs Clennam, who had the letter lying before her, bent her head and requested him to sit. They looked very closely at one another. That was but natural curiosity. 'I thank you, sir, for thinking of a disabled woman like me. Few who come here on business have any remembrance to bestow on one so removed from observation. It would be idle to expect that they should have. Out of sight, out of mind. While I am grateful for the exception, I don't complain of the rule. '
Mr Blandois, in his most gentlemanly manner, was afraid he had disturbed her by unhappily presenting himself at such an unconscionable time. For which he had already offered his best apologies to Mr--he begged pardon--but by name had not the distinguished honour--
'Mr Flintwinch has been connected with the House many years.'
Mr Blandois was Mr Flintwinch's most obedient humble servant. He entreated Mr Flintwinch to receive the assurance of his profoundest consideration.
'My husband being dead,' said Mrs Clennam, 'and my son preferring another pursuit, our old House has no other representative in these days than Mr Flintwinch. '
'What do you call yourself?' was the surly demand of that gentleman. 'You have the head of two men.'
'My sex disqualifies me,' she proceeded with merely a slight turn of her eyes in jeremiah's direction, 'from taking a responsible part in the business, even if I had the ability; and therefore Mr Flintwinch combines my interest with his own, and conducts it. It is not what it used to be; but some of our old friends (principally the writers of this letter) have the kindness not to forget us, and we retain the power of doing what they entrust to us as efficiently as we ever did. This however is not interesting to you. You are English, sir?'
'Faith, madam, no; I am neither born nor bred in England. In effect, I am of no country,' said Mr Blandois, stretching out his leg and smiting it: 'I descend from half-a-dozen countries.'
'You have been much about the world?'
'It is true. By Heaven, madam, I have been here and there and everywhere!'
'You have no ties, probably. Are not married?'
'Madam,' said Mr Blandois, with an ugly fall of his eyebrows, 'I adore your sex, but I am not married--never was.'
Mistress Affery, who stood at the table near him, pouring out the tea, happened in her dreamy state to look at him as he said these words, and to fancy that she caught an expression in his eyes which attracted her own eyes so that she could not get them away. The effect of this fancy was to keep her staring at him with the tea- pot in her hand, not only to her own great uneasiness, but manifestly to his, too; and, through them both, to Mrs Clennam's and Mr Flintwinch's. Thus a few ghostly moments supervened, when they were all confusedly staring without knowing why.
'Affery,' her mistress was the first to say, 'what is the matter with you?'
'I don't know,' said Mistress Affery, with her disengaged left hand extended towards the visitor. 'It ain't me. It's him!'
'What does this good woman mean?' cried Mr Blandois, turning white, hot, and slowly rising with a look of such deadly wrath that it contrasted surprisingly with the slight force of his words. 'How is it possible to understand this good creature?'
'It's NOT possible,' said Mr Flintwinch, screwing himself rapidly in that direction. 'She don't know what she means. She's an idiot, a wanderer in her mind. She shall have a dose, she shall have such a dose! Get along with you, my woman,' he added in her ear, 'get along with you, while you know you're Affery, and before you're shaken to yeast.'
Mistress Affery, sensible of the danger in which her identity stood, relinquished the tea-pot as her husband seized it, put her apron over her head, and in a twinkling vanished. The visitor gradually broke into a smile, and sat down again.
'You'll excuse her, Mr Blandois,' said Jeremiah, pouring out the tea himself, 'she's failing and breaking up; that's what she's about.