'None of your eyes at me,' said Mr F.'s Aunt, shivering with hostility. 'Take that.'
'That' was the crust of the piece of toast. Clennam accepted the boon with a look of gratitude, and held it in his hand under the pressure of a little embarrassment, which was not relieved when Mr F.'s Aunt, elevating her voice into a cry of considerable power, exclaimed, 'He has a proud stomach, this chap! He's too proud a chap to eat it!' and, coming out of her chair, shook her venerable fist so very close to his nose as to tickle the surface. But for the timely return of Flora, to find him in this difficult situation, further consequences might have ensued. Flora, without the least discomposure or surprise, but congratulating the old lady in an approving manner on being 'very lively to-night', handed her back to her chair.
'He has a proud stomach, this chap,' said Mr F.'s relation, on being reseated. 'Give him a meal of chaff!'
'Oh! I don't think he would like that, aunt,' returned Flora.
'Give him a meal of chaff, I tell you,' said Mr F.'s Aunt, glaring round Flora on her enemy. 'It's the only thing for a proud stomach. Let him eat up every morsel. Drat him, give him a meal of chaff!'
Under a general pretence of helping him to this refreshment, Flora got him out on the staircase; Mr F.'s Aunt even then constantly reiterating, with inexpressible bitterness, that he was 'a chap,' and had a 'proud stomach,' and over and over again insisting on that equine provision being made for him which she had already so strongly prescribed.
'Such an inconvenient staircase and so many corner-stairs Arthur,' whispered Flora, 'would you object to putting your arm round me under my pelerine?'
With a sense of going down-stairs in a highly-ridiculous manner, Clennam descended in the required attitude, and only released his fair burden at the dining-room door; indeed, even there she was rather difficult to be got rid of, remaining in his embrace to murmur, 'Arthur, for mercy's sake, don't breathe it to papa!'
She accompanied Arthur into the room, where the Patriarch sat alone, with his list shoes on the fender, twirling his thumbs as if he had never left off. The youthful Patriarch, aged ten, looked out of his picture-frame above him with no calmer air than he. Both smooth heads were alike beaming, blundering, and bumpy.
'Mr Clennam, I am glad to see you. I hope you are well, sir, I hope you are well. Please to sit down, please to sit down.'
'I had hoped, sir,' said Clennam, doing so, and looking round with a face of blank disappointment, 'not to find you alone.'
'Ah, indeed?' said the Patriarch, sweetly. 'Ah, indeed?'
'I told you so you know papa,' cried Flora.
'Ah, to be sure!' returned the Patriarch. 'Yes, just so. Ah, to be sure!'
'Pray, sir,'demanded Clennam, anxiously, 'is Miss Wade gone?'
'Miss--? Oh, you call her Wade,' returned Mr Casby. 'Highly proper.' Arthur quickly returned, 'What do you call her?'
'Wade,' said Mr Casby. 'Oh, always Wade.'
After looking at the philanthropic visage and the long silky white hair for a few seconds, during which Mr Casby twirled his thumbs, and smiled at the fire as if he were benevolently wishing it to burn him that he might forgive it, Arthur began:
'I beg your pardon, Mr Casby--'
'Not so, not so,' said the Patriarch, 'not so.'
'--But, Miss Wade had an attendant with her--a young woman brought up by friends of mine, over whom her influence is not considered very salutary, and to whom I should be glad to have the opportunity of giving the assurance that she has not yet forfeited the interest of those protectors.'
'Really, really?' returned the Patriarch.
'Will you therefore be so good as to give me the address of Miss Wade?'
'Dear, dear, dear!' said the Patriarch, 'how very unfortunate! If you had only sent in to me when they were here! I observed the young woman, Mr Clennam. A fine full-coloured young woman, Mr Clennam, with very dark hair and very dark eyes. If I mistake not, if I mistake not?'
Arthur assented, and said once more with new expression, 'If you would be so good as to give me the address.'
'Dear, dear, dear!' exclaimed the Patriarch in sweet regret.