The house-door was heard to close upon them, their steps were heard passing over the dull pavement of the echoing court-yard, and still nobody had added a word. Mrs Clennam and Jeremiah had exchanged a look; and had then looked, and looked still, at Affery, who sat mending the stocking with great assiduity.
'Come!' said Mr Flintwinch at length, screwing himself a curve or two in the direction of the window-seat, and rubbing the palms of his hands on his coat-tail as if he were preparing them to do something: 'Whatever has to be said among us had better be begun to be said without more loss of time.--So, Affery, my woman, take yourself away!'
In a moment Affery had thrown the stocking down, started up, caught hold of the windowsill with her right hand, lodged herself upon the window-seat with her right knee, and was flourishing her left hand, beating expected assailants off.
'No, I won't, Jeremiah--no, I won't--no, I won't! I won't go! I'll stay here. I'll hear all I don't know, and say all I know. I will, at last, if I die for it. I will, I will, I will, I will!'
Mr Flintwinch, stiffening with indignation and amazement, moistened the fingers of one hand at his lips, softly described a circle with them in the palm of the other hand, and continued with a menacing grin to screw himself in the direction of his wife; gasping some remark as he advanced, of which, in his choking anger, only the words, 'Such a dose!' were audible.
'Not a bit nearer, Jeremiah!' cried Affery, never ceasing to beat the air. 'Don't come a bit nearer to me, or I'll rouse the neighbourhood! I'll throw myself out of window. I'll scream Fire and Murder! I'll wake the dead! Stop where you are, or I'll make shrieks enough to wake the dead!'
The determined voice of Mrs Clennam echoed 'Stop!' Jeremiah had stopped already. 'It is closing in, Flintwinch. Let her alone. Affery, do you turn against me after these many years?'
'I do, if it's turning against you to hear what I don't know, and say what I know. I have broke out now, and I can't go back. I am determined to do it. I will do it, I will, I will, I will! If that's turning against you, yes, I turn against both of you two clever ones. I told Arthur when he first come home to stand up against you. I told him it was no reason, because I was afeard of my life of you, that he should be. All manner of things have been a-going on since then, and I won't be run up by Jeremiah, nor yet I won't be dazed and scared, nor made a party to I don't know what, no more. I won't, I won't, I won't! I'll up for Arthur when he has nothing left, and is ill, and in prison, and can't up for himself. I will, I will, I will, I will!'
'How do you know, you heap of confusion,' asked Mrs Clennam sternly, 'that in doing what you are doing now, you are even serving Arthur?'
'I don't know nothing rightly about anything,' said Affery; 'and if ever you said a true word in your life, it's when you call me a heap of confusion, for you two clever ones have done your most to make me such. You married me whether I liked it or not, and you've led me, pretty well ever since, such a life of dreaming and frightening as never was known, and what do you expect me to be but a heap of confusion? You wanted to make me such, and I am such; but I won't submit no longer; no, I won't, I won't, I won't, I won't!' She was still beating the air against all comers.
After gazing at her in silence, Mrs Clennam turned to Rigaud. 'You see and hear this foolish creature. Do you object to such a piece of distraction remaining where she is?'
'I, madame,' he replied, 'do I? That's a question for you.'
'I do not,' she said, gloomily. 'There is little left to choose now. Flintwinch, it is closing in.'
Mr Flintwinch replied by directing a look of red vengeance at his wife, and then, as if to pinion himself from falling upon her, screwed his crossed arms into the breast of his waistcoat, and with his chin very near one of his elbows stood in a corner, watching Rigaud in the oddest attitude.