Do you take sugar, sir? '
'Thank you, no tea for me.--Pardon my observing it, but that's a very remarkable watch!'
The tea-table was drawn up near the sofa, with a small interval between it and Mrs Clennam's own particular table. Mr Blandois in his gallantry had risen to hand that lady her tea (her dish of toast was already there), and it was in placing the cup conveniently within her reach that the watch, lying before her as it always did, attracted his attention. Mrs Clennam looked suddenly up at him.
'May I be permitted? Thank you. A fine old-fashioned watch,' he said, taking it in his hand. 'Heavy for use, but massive and genuine. I have a partiality for everything genuine. Such as I am, I am genuine myself. Hah! A gentleman's watch with two cases in the old fashion. May I remove it from the outer case? Thank you. Aye? An old silk watch-lining, worked with beads! I have often seen these among old Dutch people and Belgians. Quaint things!'
'They are old-fashioned, too,' said Mrs Clennam. 'Very. But this is not so old as the watch, I think?'
'I think not.'
'Extraordinary how they used to complicate these cyphers!' remarked Mr Blandois, glancing up with his own smile again. 'Now is this D. N. F.? It might be almost anything.'
'Those are the letters.'
Mr Flintwinch, who had been observantly pausing all this time with a cup of tea in his hand, and his mouth open ready to swallow the contents, began to do so: always entirely filling his mouth before he emptied it at a gulp; and always deliberating again before he refilled it.
'D. N. F. was some tender, lovely, fascinating fair-creature, I make no doubt,' observed Mr Blandois, as he snapped on the case again. 'I adore her memory on the assumption. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, I adore but too readily. It may be a vice, it may be a virtue, but adoration of female beauty and merit constitutes three parts of my character, madam.'
Mr Flintwinch had by this time poured himself out another cup of tea, which he was swallowing in gulps as before, with his eyes directed to the invalid.
'You may be heart-free here, sir,' she returned to Mr Blandois. 'Those letters are not intended, I believe, for the initials of any name.'
'Of a motto, perhaps,' said Mr Blandois, casually.
'Of a sentence. They have always stood, I believe, for Do Not Forget!'
'And naturally,' said Mr Blandois, replacing the watch and stepping backward to his former chair, 'you do not forget.'
Mr Flintwinch, finishing his tea, not only took a longer gulp than he had taken yet, but made his succeeding pause under new circumstances: that is to say, with his head thrown back and his cup held still at his lips, while his eyes were still directed at the invalid. She had that force of face, and that concentrated air of collecting her firmness or obstinacy, which represented in her case what would have been gesture and action in another, as she replied with her deliberate strength of speech: 'No, sir, I do not forget. To lead a life as monotonous as mine has been during many years, is not the way to forget. To lead a life of self-correction is not the way to forget. To be sensible of having (as we all have, every one of us, all the children of Adam!) offences to expiate and peace to make, does not justify the desire to forget. Therefore I have long dismissed it, and I neither forget nor wish to forget.'
Mr Flintwinch, who had latterly been shaking the sediment at the bottom of his tea-cup, round and round, here gulped it down, and putting the cup in the tea-tray, as done with, turned his eyes upon Mr Blandois as if to ask him what he thought of that?
'All expressed, madam,' said Mr Blandois, with his smoothest bow and his white hand on his breast, 'by the word "naturally," which I am proud to have had sufficient apprehension and appreciation (but without appreciation I could not be Blandois) to employ.'
'Pardon me, sir,' she returned, 'if I doubt the likelihood of a gentleman of pleasure, and change, and politeness, accustomed to court and to be courted--'
'Oh madam! By Heaven!'
'--If I doubt the likelihood of such a character quite comprehending what belongs to mine in my circumstances.