Let us pass to the second,' said Clennam, smiling her agitation away, making the blaze shine upon her, and putting wine and cake and fruit towards her on the table.
'I think,' said Little Dorrit--'this is the second thing, sir--I think Mrs Clennam must have found out my secret, and must know where I come from and where I go to. Where I live, I mean.'
'Indeed!' returned Clennam quickly. He asked her, after short consideration, why she supposed so.
'I think,' replied Little Dorrit, 'that Mr Flintwinch must have watched me.'
And why, Clennam asked, as he turned his eyes upon the fire, bent his brows, and considered again; why did she suppose that?
'I have met him twice. Both times near home. Both times at night, when I was going back. Both times I thought (though that may easily be my mistake), that he hardly looked as if he had met me by accident.' 'Did he say anything?'
'No; he only nodded and put his head on one side.'
'The devil take his head!' mused Clennam, still looking at the fire; 'it's always on one side.' He roused himself to persuade her to put some wine to her lips, and to touch something to eat--it was very difficult, she was so timid and shy--and then said, musing again: 'Is my mother at all changed to you?'
'Oh, not at all. She is just the same. I wondered whether I had better tell her my history. I wondered whether I might--I mean, whether you would like me to tell her. I wondered,' said Little Dorrit, looking at him in a suppliant way, and gradually withdrawing her eyes as he looked at her, 'whether you would advise me what I ought to do.'
'Little Dorrit,' said Clennam; and the phrase had already begun, between these two, to stand for a hundred gentle phrases, according to the varying tone and connection in which it was used; 'do nothing. I will have some talk with my old friend, Mrs Affery. Do nothing, Little Dorrit--except refresh yourself with such means as there are here. I entreat you to do that.'
'Thank you, I am not hungry. Nor,' said Little Dorrit, as he softly put her glass towards her, 'nor thirsty.--I think Maggy might like something, perhaps.'
'We will make her find pockets presently for all there is here,' said Clennam: 'but before we awake her, there was a third thing to say.'
'Yes. You will not be offended, sir?'
'I promise that, unreservedly.'
'It will sound strange. I hardly know how to say it. Don't think it unreasonable or ungrateful in me,' said Little Dorrit, with returning and increasing agitation.
'No, no, no. I am sure it will be natural and right. I am not afraid that I shall put a wrong construction on it, whatever it is.'
'Thank you. You are coming back to see my father again?'
'You have been so good and thoughtful as to write him a note, saying that you are coming to-morrow?'
'Oh, that was nothing! Yes.'
'Can you guess,' said Little Dorrit, folding her small hands tight in one another, and looking at him with all the earnestness of her soul looking steadily out of her eyes, 'what I am going to ask you not to do?'
'I think I can. But I may be wrong.' 'No, you are not wrong,' said Little Dorrit, shaking her head. 'If we should want it so very, very badly that we cannot do without it, let me ask you for it.'
'I Will,--I Will.'
'Don't encourage him to ask. Don't understand him if he does ask. Don't give it to him. Save him and spare him that, and you will be able to think better of him!'
Clennam said--not very plainly, seeing those tears glistening in her anxious eyes--that her wish should be sacred with him.
'You don't know what he is,' she said; 'you don't know what he really is. How can you, seeing him there all at once, dear love, and not gradually, as I have done! You have been so good to us, so delicately and truly good, that I want him to be better in your eyes than in anybody's. And I cannot bear to think,' cried Little Dorrit, covering her tears with her hands, 'I cannot bear to think that you of all the world should see him in his only moments of degradation.'
'Pray,' said Clennam, 'do not be so distressed.