Holding it, he proceeded to say:
'A history of a strange marriage, and a strange mother, and a revenge, and a suppression.--Aye, aye, aye? this pulse is beating curiously! It appears to me that it doubles while I touch it. Are these the usual changes of your malady, madame?'
There was a struggle in her maimed arm as she twisted it away, but there was none in her face. On his face there was his own smile.
'I have lived an adventurous life. I am an adventurous character. I have known many adventurers; interesting spirits--amiable society! To one of them I owe my knowledge and my proofs--I repeat it, estimable lady--proofs--of the ravishing little family history I go to commence. You will be charmed with it. But, bah! I forget. One should name a history. Shall I name it the history of a house? But, bah, again. There are so many houses. Shall I name it the history of this house?'
Leaning over the sofa, poised on two legs of his chair and his left elbow; that hand often tapping her arm to beat his words home; his legs crossed; his right hand sometimes arranging his hair, sometimes smoothing his moustache, sometimes striking his nose, always threatening her whatever it did; coarse, insolent, rapacious, cruel, and powerful, he pursued his narrative at his ease.
'In fine, then, I name it the history of this house. I commence it. There live here, let us suppose, an uncle and nephew. The uncle, a rigid old gentleman of strong force of character; the nephew, habitually timid, repressed, and under constraint.'
Mistress Affery, fixedly attentive in the window-seat, biting the rolled up end of her apron, and trembling from head to foot, here cried out,'Jeremiah, keep off from me! I've heerd, in my dreams, of Arthur's father and his uncle. He's a talking of them. It was before my time here; but I've heerd in my dreams that Arthur's father was a poor, irresolute, frightened chap, who had had everything but his orphan life scared out of him when he was young, and that he had no voice in the choice of his wife even, but his uncle chose her. There she sits! I heerd it in my dreams, and you said it to her own self.'
As Mr Flintwinch shook his fist at her, and as Mrs Clennam gazed upon her, Rigaud kissed his hand to her. 'Perfectly right, dear Madame Flintwinch. You have a genius for dreaming.'
'I don't want none of your praises,' returned Affery. 'I don't want to have nothing at all to say to you. But Jeremiah said they was dreams, and I'll tell 'em as such!' Here she put her apron in her mouth again, as if she were stopping somebody else's mouth-- perhaps jeremiah's, which was chattering with threats as if he were grimly cold.
'Our beloved Madame Flintwinch,' said Rigaud, 'developing all of a sudden a fine susceptibility and spirituality, is right to a marvel. Yes. So runs the history. Monsieur, the uncle, commands the nephew to marry. Monsieur says to him in effect, "My nephew, I introduce to you a lady of strong force of character, like myself--a resolved lady, a stern lady, a lady who has a will that can break the weak to powder: a lady without pity, without love, implacable, revengeful, cold as the stone, but raging as the fire."
Ah! what fortitude! Ah, what superiority of intellectual strength! Truly, a proud and noble character that I describe in the supposed words of Monsieur, the uncle. Ha, ha, ha! Death of my soul, I love the sweet lady!'
Mrs Clennam's face had changed. There was a remarkable darkness of colour on it, and the brow was more contracted. 'Madame, madame,' said Rigaud, tapping her on the arm, as if his cruel hand were sounding a musical instrument, 'I perceive I interest you. I perceive I awaken your sympathy. Let us go on.'
The drooping nose and the ascending moustache had, however, to be hidden for a moment with the white hand, before he could go on; he enjoyed the effect he made so much.
'The nephew, being, as the lucid Madame Flintwinch has remarked, a poor devil who has had everything but his orphan life frightened and famished out of him--the nephew abases his head, and makes response: "My uncle, it is to you to command.