Little Dorrit HTML version
The Word of a Gentleman
When Mr and Mrs Flintwinch panted up to the door of the old house in the
twilight, Jeremiah within a second of Affery, the stranger started back. 'Death of
my soul!' he exclaimed. 'Why, how did you get here?'
Mr Flintwinch, to whom these words were spoken, repaid the stranger's wonder
in full. He gazed at him with blank astonishment; he looked over his own
shoulder, as expecting to see some one he had not been aware of standing
behind him; he gazed at the stranger again, speechlessly, at a loss to know what
he meant; he looked to his wife for explanation; receiving none, he pounced upon
her, and shook her with such heartiness that he shook her cap off her head,
saying between his teeth, with grim raillery, as he did it, 'Affery, my woman, you
must have a dose, my woman! This is some of your tricks! You have been
dreaming again, mistress. What's it about? Who is it? What does it mean! Speak
out or be choked! It's the only choice I'll give you.'
Supposing Mistress Affery to have any power of election at the moment, her
choice was decidedly to be choked; for she answered not a syllable to this
adjuration, but, with her bare head wagging violently backwards and forwards,
resigned herself to her punishment. The stranger, however, picking up her cap
with an air of gallantry, interposed.
'Permit me,' said he, laying his hand on the shoulder of Jeremiah, who stopped
and released his victim. 'Thank you. Excuse me. Husband and wife I know, from
this playfulness. Haha! Always agreeable to see that relation playfully
maintained. Listen! May I suggest that somebody up-stairs, in the dark, is
becoming energetically curious to know what is going on here?'
This reference to Mrs Clennam's voice reminded Mr Flintwinch to step into the
hall and call up the staircase. 'It's all right, I am here, Affery is coming with your
light.' Then he said to the latter flustered woman, who was putting her cap on,
'Get out with you, and get up-stairs!' and then turned to the stranger and said to
him, 'Now, sir, what might you please to want?'
'I am afraid,' said the stranger, 'I must be so troublesome as to propose a candle.'
'True,' assented Jeremiah. 'I was going to do so. Please to stand where you are
while I get one.'
The visitor was standing in the doorway, but turned a little into the gloom of the
house as Mr Flintwinch turned, and pursued him with his eyes into the little room,
where he groped about for a phosphorus box. When he found it, it was damp, or
otherwise out of order; and match after match that he struck into it lighted
sufficiently to throw a dull glare about his groping face, and to sprinkle his hands
with pale little spots of fire, but not sufficiently to light the candle. The stranger,
taking advantage of this fitful illumination of his visage, looked intently and
wonderingly at him. Jeremiah, when he at last lighted the candle, knew he had
been doing this, by seeing the last shade of a lowering watchfulness clear away
from his face, as it broke into the doubtful smile that was a large ingredient in its