Flora rose and looked to Arthur for his escort. 'Certainly,' said he, aloud; 'and Affery will light us, I dare say.'
Affery was excusing herself with 'Don't ask nothing of me, Arthur!' when Mr Flintwinch stopped her with 'Why not? Affery, what's the matter with you, woman? Why not, jade!' Thus expostulated with, she came unwillingly out of her corner, resigned the toasting-fork into one of her husband's hands, and took the candlestick he offered from the other.
'Go before, you fool!' said Jeremiah. 'Are you going up, or down, Mrs Finching?'
Flora answered, 'Down.'
'Then go before, and down, you Affery,' said Jeremiah. 'And do it properly, or I'll come rolling down the banisters, and tumbling over you!'
Affery headed the exploring party; Jeremiah closed it. He had no intention of leaving them. Clennam looking back, and seeing him following three stairs behind, in the coolest and most methodical manner exclaimed in a low voice, 'Is there no getting rid of him!' Flora reassured his mind by replying promptly, 'Why though not exactly proper Arthur and a thing I couldn't think of before a younger man or a stranger still I don't mind him if you so particularly wish it and provided you'll have the goodness not to take me too tight.'
Wanting the heart to explain that this was not at all what he meant, Arthur extended his supporting arm round Flora's figure. 'Oh my goodness me,' said she. 'You are very obedient indeed really and it's extremely honourable and gentlemanly in you I am sure but still at the same time if you would like to be a little tighter than that I shouldn't consider it intruding.'
In this preposterous attitude, unspeakably at variance with his anxious mind, Clennam descended to the basement of the house; finding that wherever it became darker than elsewhere, Flora became heavier, and that when the house was lightest she was too. Returning from the dismal kitchen regions, which were as dreary as they could be, Mistress Affery passed with the light into his father's old room, and then into the old dining-room; always passing on before like a phantom that was not to be overtaken, and neither turning nor answering when he whispered, 'Affery! I want to speak to you!'
In the dining-room, a sentimental desire came over Flora to look into the dragon closet which had so often swallowed Arthur in the days of his boyhood--not improbably because, as a very dark closet, it was a likely place to be heavy in. Arthur, fast subsiding into despair, had opened it, when a knock was heard at the outer door.
Mistress Affery, with a suppressed cry, threw her apron over her head.
'What? You want another dose!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'You shall have it, my woman, you shall have a good one! Oh! You shall have a sneezer, you shall have a teaser!'
'In the meantime is anybody going to the door?' said Arthur.
'In the meantime, I am going to the door, sir,' returned the old man so savagely, as to render it clear that in a choice of difficulties he felt he must go, though he would have preferred not to go. 'Stay here the while, all! Affery, my woman, move an inch, or speak a word in your foolishness, and I'll treble your dose!'
The moment he was gone, Arthur released Mrs Finching: with some difficulty, by reason of that lady misunderstanding his intentions, and making arrangements with a view to tightening instead of slackening.
'Affery, speak to me now!'
'Don't touch me, Arthur!' she cried, shrinking from him. 'Don't come near me. He'll see you. Jeremiah will. Don't.'
'He can't see me,' returned Arthur, suiting the action to the word, 'if I blow the candle out.'
'He'll hear you,' cried Affery.
'He can't hear me,' returned Arthur, suiting the action to the words again, 'if I draw you into this black closet, and speak here.
Why do you hide your face?'
'Because I am afraid of seeing something.'
'You can't be afraid of seeing anything in this darkness, Affery.'
'Yes I am. Much more than if it was light.'
'Why are you afraid?'
'Because the house is full of mysteries and secrets; because it's full of whisperings and counsellings; because it's full of noises. There never was such a house for noises.