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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 4

Little Dorrit

Chapter 4

Mrs Flintwinch has a Dream

When Mrs Flintwinch dreamed, she usually dreamed, unlike the son of
her old mistress, with her eyes shut. She had a curiously vivid
dream that night, and before she had left the son of her old
mistress many hours. In fact it was not at all like a dream; it
was so very real in every respect. It happened in this wise.

The bed-chamber occupied by Mr and Mrs Flintwinch was within a few
paces of that to which Mrs Clennam had been so long confined. It
was not on the same floor, for it was a room at the side of the
house, which was approached by a steep descent of a few odd steps,
diverging from the main staircase nearly opposite to Mrs Clennam's
door. It could scarcely be said to be within call, the walls,
doors, and panelling of the old place were so cumbrous; but it was
within easy reach, in any undress, at any hour of the night, in any
temperature. At the head of the bed and within a foot of Mrs
Flintwinch's ear, was a bell, the line of which hung ready to Mrs
Clennam's hand. Whenever this bell rang, up started Affery, and
was in the sick room before she was awake.

Having got her mistress into bed, lighted her lamp, and given her
good night, Mrs Flintwinch went to roost as usual, saving that her
lord had not yet appeared. It was her lord himself who became--
unlike the last theme in the mind, according to the observation of
most philosophers--the subject of Mrs Flintwinch's dream.
It seemed to her that she awoke after sleeping some hours, and
found Jeremiah not yet abed. That she looked at the candle she had
left burning, and, measuring the time like King Alfred the Great,
was confirmed by its wasted state in her belief that she had been
asleep for some considerable period. That she arose thereupon,
muffled herself up in a wrapper, put on her shoes, and went out on
the staircase, much surprised, to look for Jeremiah.

The staircase was as wooden and solid as need be, and Affery went
straight down it without any of those deviations peculiar to
dreams. She did not skim over it, but walked down it, and guided
herself by the banisters on account of her candle having died out.
In one corner of the hall, behind the house-door, there was a
little waiting-room, like a well-shaft, with a long narrow window
in it as if it had been ripped up. In this room, which was never
used, a light was burning.

Mrs Flintwinch crossed the hall, feeling its pavement cold to her
stockingless feet, and peeped in between the rusty hinges on the
door, which stood a little open. She expected to see Jeremiah fast
asleep or in a fit, but he was calmly seated in a chair, awake, and
in his usual health. But what--hey?--Lord forgive us!--Mrs
Flintwinch muttered some ejaculation to this effect, and turned

For, Mr Flintwinch awake, was watching Mr Flintwinch asleep. He
sat on one side of the small table, looking keenly at himself on
the other side with his chin sunk on his breast, snoring. The
waking Flintwinch had his full front face presented to his wife;
the sleeping Flintwinch was in profile. The waking Flintwinch was
the old original; the sleeping Flintwinch was the double. just as
she might have distinguished between a tangible object and its
reflection in a glass, Affery made out this difference with her
head going round and round.

If she had had any doubt which was her own Jeremiah, it would have
been resolved by his impatience. He looked about him for an
offensive weapon, caught up the snuffers, and, before applying them
to the cabbage-headed candle, lunged at the sleeper as though he
would have run him through the body.

'Who's that? What's the matter?' cried the sleeper, starting.

Mr Flintwinch made a movement with the snuffers, as if he would
have enforced silence on his companion by putting them down his
throat; the companion, coming to himself, said, rubbing his eyes,
'I forgot where I was.'

'You have been asleep,' snarled Jeremiah, referring to his watch,
'two hours. You said you would be rested enough if you had a short

'I have had a short nap,' said Double.

'Half-past two o'clock in the morning,' muttered Jeremiah.
'Where's your hat? Where's your coat? Where's the box?'

'All here,' said Double, tying up his throat with sleepy
carefulness in a shawl. 'Stop a minute. Now give me the sleeve--
not that sleeve, the other one. Ha! I'm not as young as I was.'
Mr Flintwinch had pulled him into his coat with vehement energy.
'You promised me a second glass after I was rested.'

'Drink it!' returned Jeremiah, 'and--choke yourself, I was going to
say--but go, I mean.'At the same time he produced the identical
port-wine bottle, and filled a wine-glass.

'Her port-wine, I believe?' said Double, tasting it as if he were
in the Docks, with hours to spare. 'Her health.'

He took a sip.

'Your health!'

He took another sip.

'His health!'

He took another sip.

'And all friends round St Paul's.' He emptied and put down the
wine-glass half-way through this ancient civic toast, and took up
the box. It was an iron box some two feet square, which he carried
under his arms pretty easily. Jeremiah watched his manner of
adjusting it, with jealous eyes; tried it with his hands, to be
sure that he had a firm hold of it; bade him for his life be
careful what he was about; and then stole out on tiptoe to open the
door for him. Affery, anticipating the last movement, was on the
staircase. The sequence of things was so ordinary and natural,
that, standing there, she could hear the door open, feel the night
air, and see the stars outside.

But now came the most remarkable part of the dream. She felt so
afraid of her husband, that being on the staircase, she had not the
power to retreat to her room (which she might easily have done
before he had fastened the door), but stood there staring.
Consequently when he came up the staircase to bed, candle in hand,
he came full upon her. He looked astonished, but said not a word.
He kept his eyes upon her, and kept advancing; and she, completely
under his influence, kept retiring before him. Thus, she walking
backward and he walking forward, they came into their own room.
They were no sooner shut in there, than Mr Flintwinch took her by
the throat, and shook her until she was black in the face.

'Why, Affery, woman--Affery!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'What have you
been dreaming of? Wake up, wake up! What's the matter?'

'The--the matter, Jeremiah?' gasped Mrs Flintwinch, rolling her

'Why, Affery, woman--Affery! You have been getting out of bed in
your sleep, my dear! I come up, after having fallen asleep myself,
below, and find you in your wrapper here, with the nightmare.
Affery, woman,' said Mr Flintwinch, with a friendly grin on his
expressive countenance, 'if you ever have a dream of this sort
again, it'll be a sign of your being in want of physic. And I'll
give you such a dose, old woman--such a dose!'

Mrs Flintwinch thanked him and crept into bed.

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