'But my mind runs so much upon this matter,' he said, 'that I lose myself.'
'Hah! Yet I don't see,' returned Mr Flintwinch, quite at his leisure, 'why it should trouble YOU, Arthur.'
'No,' said Mr Flintwinch, very shortly and decidedly: much as if he were of the canine race, and snapped at Arthur's hand.
'Is it nothing to see those placards about? Is it nothing to me to see my mother's name and residence hawked up and down in such an association?'
'I don't see,' returned Mr Flintwinch, scraping his horny cheek, 'that it need signify much to you. But I'll tell you what I do see, Arthur,' glancing up at the windows; 'I see the light of fire and candle in your mother's room!'
'And what has that to do with it?'
'Why, sir, I read by it,' said Mr Flintwinch, screwing himself at him, 'that if it's advisable (as the proverb says it is) to let sleeping dogs lie, it's just as advisable, perhaps, to let missing dogs lie. Let 'em be. They generally turn up soon enough.'
Mr Flintwinch turned short round when he had made this remark, and went into the dark hall. Clennam stood there, following him with his eyes, as he dipped for a light in the phosphorus-box in the little room at the side, got one after three or four dips, and lighted the dim lamp against the wall. All the while, Clennam was pursuing the probabilities--rather as if they were being shown to him by an invisible hand than as if he himself were conjuring them up--of Mr Flintwinch's ways and means of doing that darker deed, and removing its traces by any of the black avenues of shadow that lay around them.
'Now, sir,' said the testy Jeremiah; 'will it be agreeable to walk up-stairs?'
'My mother is alone, I suppose?'
'Not alone,' said Mr Flintwinch. 'Mr Casby and his daughter are with her. They came in while I was smoking, and I stayed behind to have my smoke out.'
This was the second disappointment. Arthur made no remark upon it, and repaired to his mother's room, where Mr Casby and Flora had been taking tea, anchovy paste, and hot buttered toast. The relics of those delicacies were not yet removed, either from the table or from the scorched countenance of Affery, who, with the kitchen toasting-fork still in her hand, looked like a sort of allegorical personage; except that she had a considerable advantage over the general run of such personages in point of significant emblematical purpose.
Flora had spread her bonnet and shawl upon the bed, with a care indicative of an intention to stay some time. Mr Casby, too, was beaming near the hob, with his benevolent knobs shining as if the warm butter of the toast were exuding through the patriarchal skull, and with his face as ruddy as if the colouring matter of the anchovy paste were mantling in the patriarchal visage. Seeing this, as he exchanged the usual salutations, Clennam decided to speak to his mother without postponement.
It had long been customary, as she never changed her room, for those who had anything to say to her apart, to wheel her to her desk; where she sat, usually with the back of her chair turned towards the rest of the room, and the person who talked with her seated in a corner, on a stool which was always set in that place for that purpose. Except that it was long since the mother and son had spoken together without the intervention of a third person, it was an ordinary matter of course within the experience of visitors for Mrs Clennam to be asked, with a word of apology for the interruption, if she could be spoken with on a matter of business, and, on her replying in the affirmative, to be wheeled into the position described.
Therefore, when Arthur now made such an apology, and such a request, and moved her to her desk and seated himself on the stool, Mrs Finching merely began to talk louder and faster, as a delicate hint that she could overhear nothing, and Mr Casby stroked his long white locks with sleepy calmness.
'Mother, I have heard something to-day which I feel persuaded you don't know, and which I think you should know, of the antecedents of that man I saw here.'
'I know nothing of the antecedents of the man you saw here, Arthur.'
She spoke aloud.