'I beg Mr Dorrit to offer a thousand apologies and indeed they would be far too few for such an intrusion which I know must appear extremely bold in a lady and alone too, but I thought it best upon the whole however difficult and even apparently improper though Mr F.'s Aunt would have willingly accompanied me and as a character of great force and spirit would probably have struck one possessed of such a knowledge of life as no doubt with so many changes must have been acquired, for Mr F. himself said frequently that although well educated in the neighbourhood of Blackheath at as high as eighty guineas which is a good deal for parents and the plate kept back too on going away but that is more a meanness than its value that he had learnt more in his first years as a commercial traveller with a large commission on the sale of an article that nobody would hear of much less buy which preceded the wine trade a long time than in the whole six years in that academy conducted by a college Bachelor, though why a Bachelor more clever than a married man I do not see and never did but pray excuse me that is not the point.'
Mr Dorrit stood rooted to the carpet, a statue of mystification.
'I must openly admit that I have no pretensions,' said Flora, 'but having known the dear little thing which under altered circumstances appears a liberty but is not so intended and Goodness knows there was no favour in half-a-crown a-day to such a needle as herself but quite the other way and as to anything lowering in it far from it the labourer is worthy of his hire and I am sure I only wish he got it oftener and more animal food and less rheumatism in the back and legs poor soul.'
'Madam,' said Mr Dorrit, recovering his breath by a great effort, as the relict of the late Mr Finching stopped to take hers; 'madam,' said Mr Dorrit, very red in the face, 'if I understand you to refer to--ha--to anything in the antecedents of--hum--a daughter of mine, involving--ha hum--daily compensation, madam, I beg to observe that the--ha--fact, assuming it--ha--to be fact, never was within my knowledge. Hum. I should not have permitted it. Ha. Never! Never!'
'Unnecessary to pursue the subject,' returned Flora, 'and would not have mentioned it on any account except as supposing it a favourable and only letter of introduction but as to being fact no doubt whatever and you may set your mind at rest for the very dress I have on now can prove it and sweetly made though there is no denying that it would tell better on a better figure for my own is much too fat though how to bring it down I know not, pray excuse me I am roving off again.' Mr Dorrit backed to his chair in a stony way, and seated himself, as Flora gave him a softening look and played with her parasol.
'The dear little thing,' said Flora, 'having gone off perfectly limp and white and cold in my own house or at least papa's for though not a freehold still a long lease at a peppercorn on the morning when Arthur--foolish habit of our youthful days and Mr Clennam far more adapted to existing circumstances particularly addressing a stranger and that stranger a gentleman in an elevated station--communicated the glad tidings imparted by a person of name of Pancks emboldens me.'
At the mention of these two names, Mr Dorrit frowned, stared, frowned again, hesitated with his fingers at his lips, as he had hesitated long ago, and said, 'Do me the favour to--ha--state your pleasure, madam.'
'Mr Dorrit,' said Flora, 'you are very kind in giving me permission and highly natural it seems to me that you should be kind for though more stately I perceive a likeness filled out of course but a likeness still, the object of my intruding is my own without the slightest consultation with any human being and most decidedly not with Arthur--pray excuse me Doyce and Clennam I don't know what I am saying Mr Clennam solus--for to put that individual linked by a golden chain to a purple time when all was ethereal out of any anxiety would be worth to me the ransom of a monarch not that I have the least idea how much that would come to but using it as the total of all I have in the world and more.'
Mr Dorrit, without greatly regarding the earnestness of these latter words, repeated, 'State your pleasure, madam.'
'It's not likely I well know,' said Flora, 'but it's possible and being possible when I had the gratification of reading in the papers that you had arrived from Italy and were going back I made up my mind to try it for you might come across him or hear something of him and if so what a blessing and relief to all!'
'Allow me to ask, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, with his ideas in wild confusion, 'to whom--ha--To whom,' he repeated it with a raised voice in mere desperation, 'you at present allude?'
'To the foreigner from Italy who disappeared in the City as no doubt you have read in the papers equally with myself,' said Flora, 'not referring to private sources by the name of Pancks from which one gathers what dreadfully ill-natured things some people are wicked enough to whisper most likely judging others by themselves and what the uneasiness and indignation of Arthur--quite unable to overcome it Doyce and Clennam--cannot fail to be.'
It happened, fortunately for the elucidation of any intelligible result, that Mr Dorrit had heard or read nothing about the matter. This caused Mrs Finching, with many apologies for being in great practical difficulties as to finding the way to her pocket among the stripes of her dress at length to produce a police handbill, setting forth that a foreign gentleman of the name of Blandois, last from Venice, had unaccountably disappeared on such a night in such a part of the city of London; that he was known to have entered such a house, at such an hour; that he was stated by the inmates of that house to have left it, about so many minutes before midnight; and that he had never been beheld since.